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article imageSlovak activists in park bench protest over Hungary homeless law

By AFP     Nov 8, 2018 in World

Slovak activists on Thursday transformed segmented park benches in Bratislava into comfortable places to sleep in a silent protest against a law in EU neighbour Hungary criminalising homelessness.

"These segmented benches prevent people from lying down. For us, they represent hostile, anti-homeless architecture," Sandra Pazman Tordova, organiser of this solidarity campaign, told AFP.

Protesters stacked special narrow mattresses high enough to create a soft, level sleeping surface over armrests segmenting park benches to prevent anyone from stretching out on them.

Wearing deep blue bathrobes over their clothes, they then stretched out on the benches for a nap.

The protest comes as some candidates in municipal elections that will be held across Slovakia on Saturday have been campaigning on measures inspired by Hungary's move to ban sleeping rough.

"Some local politicians declared during the current pre-election campaign that homeless people should be expelled from city centres and even promised their voters that they will push through measures similar to those in Hungary," Tordova said.

Rough sleeping in EU member Hungary was banned in October under a homelessness law adopted by right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government that critics have described as "cruel".

With police now empowered to remove rough sleepers from streets and dismantle huts and shacks, a Hungarian government official said that the law "serves the interests of society as a whole".

But Pazman Tordova, who works for the Proti prudu NGO focused on helping the homeless, insisted that "repression is not a solution".

Homeless people in Slovakia have limited access to shelters.

There are only 250 beds in the 24-hour shelters in the capital Bratislava, a city of 420,000 people.

According to official statistics, there are at least 2,064 homeless people in the capital but NGOs estimate their population at 4,000.

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