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In Hungary Top opposition paper sold to government ally

Nepszabadsag's sudden closure on October 8 came as a shock to its 60-strong staff of journalists who were not given advance warning

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A person holds a copy of Nepszabadsag daily during a protest by journalists of Hungary's biggest opposition newspaper Nepszabadsag and their supporters in Budapest on October 16, 2016 play

A person holds a copy of Nepszabadsag daily during a protest by journalists of Hungary's biggest opposition newspaper Nepszabadsag and their supporters in Budapest on October 16, 2016

(AFP/File)

A Hungarian firm with close government links said Tuesday it has bought the publisher of the country's top opposition newspaper Nepszabadsag, whose recent unexpected closure has sparked fears of growing state control of the media.

"Opimus Press Zrt announces that it has acquired 100 percent of shares of Mediaworks," read a statement posted Tuesday evening by the firm on the website of the Budapest stock exchange.

Created earlier this year, Opimus has been linked to Hungarian oligarch Lorinc Meszaros, an ally of populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Nepszabadsag's sudden closure on October 8 came as a shock to its 60-strong staff of journalists who were not given advance warning.

Mediaworks, owned by Austrian magnate Heinrich Pecina, said that halting the left-leaning paper's online and print operations was done purely for commercial reasons, citing losses in recent years.

But critics insist the decision was a fresh sign of Orban's push to stifle critical media voices.

Nepszabadsag journalists said the sale confirmed speculation that the newspaper would land in "pro-government" hands.

"Opimus Press has put two people in charge, Janos Loczi and Gabor Liszkay, who ran the openly pro-government newspaper Magyar Idoek," the reporters said in a statement on Facebook.

The opposition news website 444.hu said it is "unimaginable that Liszkay, a hardline Orban supporter, will publish Nepszabadsag true to its former spirit".

As the leading opposition paper, Nepszabadsag -- meaning "Freedom of the People" -- had published several news scoops that embarrassed the right-wing government, especially in the run-up to the recent anti-migrant referendum.

Since the paper's closure, Nepszabadsag staff have set up shop in a makeshift office donated by a sympathetic company in Budapest, as they consider their next moves.

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