BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) -- 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 long procession dubbed the "Peace March for Hungary" left Heroes' Square at 1500 GMT (10 a.m. EST) 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 four-kilometer (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, putting it at around 100,000, while organizers said 1 million attended.
Seeking financial assistance from the EU and the International Monetary Fund, Orban this week said changes would be made to some of the laws which 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 the electoral law, which are seen as favoring Orban's right-wing Fidesz party.
People at the pro-government event said they wanted to defend Orban from unjust attacks by the EU.
"The aim is to show that this government is not alone and enjoys strong support from Hungarian society," said Zsolt Bayer, a journalist who helped organize the march. "The European Union needs to see that we agree with most of the government's measures and that we feel bad about what the EU is doing to us."
Sarolta Iglodi, from the central Hungarian town of Erdokertes, carried a sign in English saying there was democracy in Hungary.
"Our critics in Paris, Brussels and New York should come here to see how we live," Iglodi said.
On Tuesday, the European Commission launched legal challenges against Hungary, saying the new constitution and related legislation that took effect Jan. 1 undermined the independence of the national central bank and the judiciary and did not respect data privacy principles.
Orban will meet next week with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to seek a solution to the problematic issues.
At a separate event in Buda Castle, several thousand people demanded the resignation of President Pal Schmitt. Schmitt has been hounded by suspicions of plagiarism, after Hungarian magazine HVG found that nearly all of his 1992 doctoral dissertation at the University of Physical Education is a close translation of two earlier works by other authors.
Schmitt, a former Olympic fencing champion whose thesis analyzed the modern Olympic Games, has rejected the allegations, which are expected to be examined by a panel of university scholars.