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WorldDonald Trump says 'controversial' Hungary prime minister Viktor Orban doing 'tremendous job'

22:35  13 may  2019
22:35  13 may  2019 Source:   usatoday.com

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Donald Trump says 'controversial' Hungary prime minister Viktor Orban doing 'tremendous job'© Thomson Reuters U.S. President Donald Trump greets Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump praised Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Monday, saying he is doing a "tremendous job" despite protests over crackdowns on the Hungarian judiciary and media.

Orban is "probably like me," Trump said before a private meeting in the Oval Office. "A little controversial.”

Orban returned the favor by praising his host. Each praised the other for new restrictions on immigration.

Trump to host Hungary's Orban at White House next week

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U.S. lawmakers and international organizations had called on Trump to cancel the meeting with Orban, citing the authoritarian record of the prime minister whom critics call the "Viktator."

Once considered a centrist – during a first stint as prime minister in 1999, he backed Hungary's membership in NATO as a way to reduce Russian influence – Orban is now a hero to right-wing nationalists. He is seeking to get closer to authoritarian regimes like Russia, Turkey and China.

Saying he wants “an alternative to liberal democracy," Orban has also instituted restrictions on immigrants and refugees seeking to enter his country. That effort includes construction of a razor-wire fence at Hungary's border.

By promoting media organizations loyal to him, and cutting back on the authority of the judiciary, Orban's critics say he is looking to silence institutions that could challenge his rule. Orban also closed Central European University in Budapest because it received funding from billionaire philanthropist George Soros, a native of Hungary.

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In a 2017 speech, Orban praised both Trump and his 2016 presidential campaign slogan, "America First."

"We say the same: 'Hungary first, and then everyone else,'" Orban said.

Lawmakers in both parties had urged Trump to confront Orban on his efforts to consolidate power and restrict democracy in Hungary.

“Under Orban, the election process has become less competitive and the judiciary is increasingly controlled by the state,” Sen. James Risch, the GOP chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, wrote with other lawmakers in a letter to Trump on Friday.

Risch and the other senators warned that Orban’s government has also clamped down on press freedom, and they raised alarms about Hungary’s growing alliance with Russia.

“While the U.S. has sought to counter Kremlin aggression across Europe, we remain profoundly concerned about the close relationship between (Hungary) and Moscow,” Risch and the other senators wrote.

Trump says will meet Putin, Xi at G20 summit in Japan

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Other critics have been more pointed, blasting Trump for even inviting Orban to the White House.

“The visit is a grievous mistake – not just because it will be seen as an endorsement of a leader who has successfully dismantled a democracy, but also because it will signal affirmation of an agenda that is fundamentally threatening to transatlantic security,” Rob Berschinski, senior vice president for policy at Human Rights First, and Hal Brands, an international studies professor at Johns Hopkins University, wrote in a recent Washington Post op-ed.

“Over the past nine years, the Hungarian leader has accomplished many of the anti-democratic actions Trump can only tweet about,” they write, pointing to Orban’s overhaul of Hungary’s constitution and the weakening of Hungary’s judiciary, among other steps.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump says 'controversial' Hungary prime minister Viktor Orban doing 'tremendous job'

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