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Eastern Europe

Ethnic Hungarians march for autonomy in Romania

Ethnic Hungarians are demanding autonomy in Romanian communities. Transylvania was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until after World War I, when the ethnic Romanian majority created their own country.

Tens of thousands of people held protests on Sunday in Hungary and Romania to demand autonomy for the 1.2 million ethnic Hungarians living in Romania.

The marches - with people singing, waving Hungarian flags, and riding horses and carriages - happened in communities of Transylvania, including the town of Targu Secuiesc.

A wide range of Transylvanian groups and organizations took part in organizing the protests. In Hungary, thousands took part in demonstrations in Budapest and other cities to show solidarity.

Hungarians compose about 6 percent of Romania's population. Their leader, Kelemen Hunor, told The Associated Press news agency on Sunday that they want territorial autonomy to maintain their ethnic identity and grow economically.

Romanian politicians have opposed granting the minority, often referred to as "Seklers", that status. Romanian President Crin Antonescu lashed out at the autonomy movement on Sunday, referring to it as "inacceptable."

The topic is also one of heated debate in the run-up to elections in Hungary early next year. Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Urban, is keen to secure the votes of the ethnic Hungarians residing abroad, who have the right to cast their ballot in the parliamentary vote early next year.

An estimated ten million Hungarians live in today's Hungary, over two million more live in neighboring countries, such as Romania, Slovakia and Serbia, that emerged after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire one hundred years ago.

Many more people with Hungarian ancestry live in the Ukraine and also other parts of the world, such as the United States or Germany.

mkg/rg (dpa, AP)