Budapest activists claim support for referendum on Olympics

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Opponents of Budapest's bid to host the 2024 Olympics said Friday they had secured more than enough support for a citywide referendum on the candidacy.

The Momentum Movement, a new political group, said it has presented election officials with petition forms signed by 266,151 people, far more than the minimum of 138,000 valid signatures needed.

"Over a quarter million signatures have come together so this money is spent on modern hospitals and well-equipped schools instead of on the Olympics," said Momentum chairman Andras Fekete-Gyor, adding it would be "cowardly" if authorities tried to block the referendum or withdrew the candidacy without allowing the referendum to take place.

"We emphatically request Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Mayor Istvan Tarlos to hold the referendum and refrain from blocking it from being held," Fekete-Gyor said at Budapest City Hall. "Not asking people's opinions about organizing the Olympics in Hungary was a huge omission on their part."

Earlier Friday, Tarlos said he would consider withdrawing if enough people backed the referendum but said it was "treason" on part of the opposition to abandon its support for the bid.

The head of the Hungarian Olympic Committee said the decision was up to the Budapest Assembly and blamed the opposition parties, some of which helped gather signatures for the referendum, with splitting Hungarian society.

"With this activity, they have greatly weakened and constantly weaken Budapest's chances and weaken Hungary's bid," committee chairman Zsolt Borkai said in a statement.

The bid has received strong backing from Orban, an avid sports enthusiast, though last year he compared Budapest to David competing against the Goliaths of Los Angeles and Paris, the remaining bidders after Hamburg and Rome withdrew their candidacies.

Fekete-Gyor said election officials had 45 days to review the signatures and determine whether the valid number had been reached. Several earlier attempts to hold similar referendums in Budapest or nationally were either blocked by the courts or abandoned.

The International Olympic Committee will select the host city in September.