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Hungary: Government ending disputed anti-Soros ad campaign

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — The Hungarian government said Wednesday it will soon end its disputed ad campaign against Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros.

The billboards, posters and TV ads have been criticized by Hungarian Jewish leaders and others for their anti-Semitic overtones.

Including a photo of a smiling Soros with the caption "Let's not allow Soros to have the last laugh," they were set up to promote the government's anti-migration policies while taking aim at Soros' support for refugees and migrants.

The ads, estimated to have cost some $21 million, have been practically unavoidable in Budapest for the past weeks and will be removed just as Hungary hosts its biggest-ever sports event, the World Aquatics Championships.

The ads also reflect the conflict between the Soros ideal of an "open society" and Prime Minister Viktor Orban's desire to turn Hungary into an "illiberal state."

Soros, who last month said Orban had set up a corrupt "mafia state" in Hungary, thanked those critical of the ads.

"I am distressed by the current Hungarian regime's use of anti-Semitic imagery as part of its deliberate disinformation campaign," Soros said in a brief statement Tuesday. "Equally, I am heartened that together with countless fellow citizens the leadership of the Hungarian Jewish community has spoken out against the campaign."

The Government Information Center said its campaign would end Saturday. Nonetheless, opposition activists said they would go on with a plan to remove some of the billboards themselves.

"If it's true that the government is removing the ads because of the international attention tied to the world swimming championships, the doublespeak of Fidesz (Orban's party) has been revealed," said the opposition Together party.

About 20 Together members and supporters took down several of the large billboards in Budapest late Wednesday afternoon.

"It's a great feeling to finally do this in the light of day," Gyorgy Kober, a member of party's political council, said. "I am proud to be able to do something against the government."

A statement from lawmakers of the governing Fidesz party said Together and other opposition parties were "defending their master," Soros, with their criticism of the billboards.

"The Hungarian people have made it clear that they want no part of the 'Soros plan' and the settlement of migrants," the Fidesz parliamentary group said.

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