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The exterior facade of the Central European University, a school founded by billionaire philanthropist Gorge Soros, is seen in Budapest, Hungary, March 7, 2017. Picture taken March 7, 2017. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh


BUDAPEST (Reuters) - A draft law tightening Hungary's rules on foreign universities would force the closure of Budapest's Central European University, founded by billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros, the institution said in a statement.

Hungary's right-wing populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban has sharply criticised civil society organisations funded by Soros, accusing them of opposing his migration policies.

Orban, who has toughened his anti-migration rhetoric ahead of 2018 parliamentary elections, also says the NGOs receive funding from abroad, represent foreign interests and meddle in Hungarian affairs.

Under the bill submitted to parliament on Tuesday, foreign universities must have a campus in Budapest and in their home country. CEU currently only operates in Hungary's capital Budapest.

"The amendments would require CEU to open an additional campus in the state of New York. Forcing CEU to do so would have no educational benefit and would incur needless financial and human resource costs," the university said in its statement.

"The proposed legislation targets CEU directly and is therefore discriminatory and unacceptable," it said, calling for the bill to be scrapped.

Asked if the government intended to close CEU, spokesman Zoltan Kovacs told Reuters: "The aim of the government is to keep the law and make everybody keep the law... The legal amendments apply to everyone, and thus CEU also has to comply with them."

Under the terms of the draft law, universities must comply with the new law by Feb. 15, 2018.

CEU, founded in 1991 following the collapse of communism, has 1,400 students, and staff from more than 130 countries.

Open Society Foundations have been active in Hungary for three decades and Soros has financed foreign scholarships for several Fidesz politicians, including Orban at the time when communism collapsed in Hungary.

But in recent times the Hungarian-American businessman has become the target of increased criticism by Orban and other leaders in former communist eastern and central Europe.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's crackdown on foreign-funded charities drove Soros's foundation out of Russia two years ago.

(Reporting by Krisztina Than)

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