BUDAPEST, HUNGARY: About 100,000 sympathizers of Hungary’s government marched Saturday to parliament in support of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has come under heavy criticism from the European Union for laws seen as curbing democracy.


The procession set out from Heroes’ Square and began arriving two hours later at the Neo-Gothic legislature on the banks of the Danube River.


Marchers carried Hungarian flags, candles, torches and signs expressing their support for Orban, while many sang patriotic and folk songs, including the national anthem, as they made their way along the nearly 2.5-mile route.


One sign compared Hungary’s long history with the relatively young age of its critics: “EU, 55; IMF, 67; U.S., 236; Hungary 1,116.” Others said “Viktor is our man” and “Justice for Hungary!”


A statement from the Interior Ministry described the event as “the largest pro-government demonstration in memory,” estimating the crowd at nearly 400,000 people. But reporters at the scene estimated a far lower turnout — around 100,000.


Seeking financial assistance from the EU and the International Monetary Fund, Orban last week said changes would be made to some of the laws that have prompted threats of court action by the EU and were approved last year by his party’s two-thirds majority.


International criticism has centered on the government’s efforts to increase political control over the central bank, the judiciary, churches and the media, as well as changes to electoral law.