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Hungarian president resigns amid pedophilia pardon scandal

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Katalin Novak is aligned with Hungarian PM Orban

Katalin Novak is aligned with Hungarian PM Orban

Hungary's President Katalin Novak announced on national television on Saturday that she was resigning, as she faced mounting pressure for issuing a presidential pardon to a man convicted as an accomplice for helping to cover up a sex abuse case at a children's home.

"I made a mistake," Novak said. "Today is the last day that I address you as a president."

Novak, 46, is a close ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban and a member of his party, Fidesz. She returned from an official visit to Qatar at short notice to make the announcement.

Why was the president under pressure?

She had faced intense criticism from some members of the public and opposition parties since the news of the presidential pardon became public knowledge on February 2.

Independet news site 444 revealed that one of the pardons had been granted to the former deputy director of a children's home who had helped his boss cover up sexually abusing children and adolescents there. The news outlet also spoke with the pardoned man, who said he had not directly requested clemency but said it was too soon for him to answer further questions.

The pardons were issued last April to around two dozen people, on the eve of a visit to Hungary by Pope Francis.

"I made a decision to grant a pardon last April believing that the convict did not abuse the vulnerability of children whom he had overseen," Novak said on Saturday. "I made a mistake as the pardon and the lack of reasoning was suitable to trigger doubts over the zero tolerance that applies to pedophilia."

Novak was also Hungary's family mminister prior to becoming president.

At least in theory, the pardon would make it possible for the former convict to return to his previous work as a physical education teacher.

Protests on Friday outside presidential palace

A large protest was staged outside her office on Friday evening, with roughly 1,000 demonstrators gathering and some putting children's toys — some with tape covering their mouths — on the ground outside the building.

Orban has also responded quickly in a bid to limit the fallout. On Thursday, he submitted a constitutional amendment to parliament that would make it impossible for presidents to issue pardons for crimes committed against children in the future.

Announcing the plan on social media, Orban said his first thought would be to cut anyone "in half or into pieces" if they were to touch one of his children or grandchildren.

msh/wd (AFP, Reuters)