Hungary: Criticism makes it hard to cooperate with West

Peter Szijjarto, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary, is interviewed by AP on Mar. 24, 2023, at the UN headquarters. (AP)
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Updated 25 March 2023
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Hungary: Criticism makes it hard to cooperate with West

  • “You know, when Finnish and Swedish politicians question the democratic nature of our political system, that’s really unacceptable,” Szijjártó said
  • A vote on Sweden is harder to predict, he said

UNITED NATIONS: The West’s steady criticism of Hungary on democratic and cultural issues makes the small European country’s right-wing government reluctant to offer support on practical matters, specifically NATO’s buildup against Russia, Hungary’s foreign minister said.
In an interview with AP, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó also said Friday that his country has not voted on whether to allow Finland and Sweden to join NATO because Hungarian lawmakers are sick of those countries’ critiques of Hungarian domestic affairs.
Lawmakers from the governing party plan to vote Monday in favor of the Finnish request but “serious concerns were raised” about Finland and Sweden in recent months “mostly because of the very disrespectful behavior of the political elites of both countries toward Hungary,” Szijjártó said.
“You know, when Finnish and Swedish politicians question the democratic nature of our political system, that’s really unacceptable,” he said.
A vote on Sweden is harder to predict, Szijjártó said.
The EU, which includes 21 NATO countries, has frozen billions in funds to Budapest and accused populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban of cracking down on media freedom and other rights. Orban’s administration has also been accused of tolerating an entrenched culture of corruption and co-opting state institutions to serve the governing Fidesz party.
In a European Parliament resolution, EU lawmakers declared last year that Hungary had become “a hybrid regime of electoral autocracy” under Orban’s nationalist government and that its undermining of the bloc’s democratic values had taken Hungary out of the community of democracies.
That criticism raised objections within Hungary and made it hard for the government to support Finland and Sweden’s bids to join NATO, Szijjártó said. Skeptics insist that Hungary has simply been trying to win lucrative concessions.
When it comes to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Szijjártó said that his country’s advocacy of peace does not mean accepting that Russia would keep the territory it currently controls.
“You know, stopping the war and sitting around the table does not mean that you accept the status quo,” he said. “When the war stops and the peace talks start, it’s not necessary that the borders would be where the front lines are. We know this from our own history as well ... Cease-fire has to come now.”
As for relations with the United States, Szijjártó said they had a heyday under former President Donald Trump. His government found things more difficult under President Joe Biden.
In perfect, nearly unaccented English, Szijjártó explained that Hungary is “a clearly rightist, right-wing, Christian Democratic, conservative, patriotic government.” He then went on in terms that would be familiar to millions of Americans.
“So we are basically against the mainstream in any attributes of ours. And if you are against the liberal mainstream, and in the meantime, you are successful, and in the meantime, you continue to win elections, it’s not digestible for the liberal mainstream itself,” he said. “Under President Trump, the political relationship was as good as never before.”
Key to that relationship was Trump’s acceptance of Hungary’s policies toward its own citizens.
The law has been condemned by human rights groups and politicians from around Europe as an attack on Hungary’s pride community.
Szijjártó said Trump was more welcoming of such measures than the Biden administration.
“He never wanted to impose anything. He never wanted to put pressure on us to change our way of thinking about family. He never wanted us to change our way of thinking about migration. He never wanted us to change our way of thinking about social issues,” Szijjártó said.
He also said Trump’s attitude toward Russia would be more welcome by some parties today.
During Trump’s term in the White House, Russia did not start “any attack against anyone,” Szijjártó said.


Kremlin says Kyiv should ‘reflect’ on troop withdrawal

Updated 3 sec ago
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Kremlin says Kyiv should ‘reflect’ on troop withdrawal

  • Kremlin: The current dynamic of the situation at the front shows us clearly that it’s continuing to worsen for the Ukrainians
MOSCOW: Ukraine should “reflect” on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s call to withdraw its troops from the east and south of the country to open peace talks as its military situation is worsening, the Kremlin said Sunday.
“The current dynamic of the situation at the front shows us clearly that it’s continuing to worsen for the Ukrainians,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, as Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and world leaders met in Switzerland to discuss how to end the conflict.
“It’s probable that a politician who puts the interests of his country above his own and those of his masters would reflect on such a proposal,” Peskov said.
Zelensky and other leaders have rejected Putin’s demand that Ukraine pull its troops out of the east and south of the country and drop its bid for NATO membership, in order for Moscow to halt its offensive.
Peskov said it was not an “ultimatum” but “a peace initiative that takes into account the realities on the ground.”
Zelensky has pledged to make peace proposals once they have the backing of the international community at the talks in Burgenstock, Switzerland, to which Putin was not invited.

Daesh linked-hostage takers at Russian detention center killed, guards freed

Updated 16 June 2024
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Daesh linked-hostage takers at Russian detention center killed, guards freed

  • Daesh members who are due to appear in court on terrorism charges are among the hostage takers

MOSCOW: Russian special forces freed two guards and killed several men linked to Daesh who had taken them hostage at a detention center in the southern city of Rostov on Sunday, the prison service said.

Intense automatic gunfire could be heard in footage published on Russian Telegram channels.

“The criminals were eliminated,” Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service said in a statement, which said a “special operation” had taken place to free the hostages.

“The employees who were being held hostage were released. They are uninjured,” the prison service said.

The hostage takers, who included some already convicted of terrorism offenses, had knocked out the bars of a window in their cell and entered a guard room where they took at least two prison officers hostage, Russian media said.

State media said that some of the men were accused of affiliation with the Daesh militant group, which claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a Moscow concert hall in March.

Before special forces stormed the detention center, one of the hostage takers was shown by the 112 Telegram channel brandishing a knife beside one of the bound guards.

The hostage taker wore a headband with the flag used by the Daesh that bears an Arabic inscription.


China Premier Li starts Australia trip with Adelaide panda announcement, winery visit

Updated 16 June 2024
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China Premier Li starts Australia trip with Adelaide panda announcement, winery visit

  • Li Qiang, China’s second-highest ranked official and the first Chinese premier to visit Australia in seven years
  • The pandas at Adelaide’s zoo would return to China in November and it would get to select two new giant pandas

China Premier Li Qiang made a low-key start on Sunday to a four-day trip to Australia with visits to a South Australian winery and Adelaide Zoo, where he announced Beijing would provide two new pandas after the current pair go home later this year.
Li, China’s second-highest ranked official and the first Chinese premier to visit Australia in seven years, is due to meet Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Monday. He arrived in the South Australia state capital late on Saturday, saying bilateral relations were “back on track.”
China, Australia’s largest trade partner, imposed restrictions on a raft of Australian agricultural and mineral exports in 2020 during a diplomatic dispute that has now largely eased.
On Sunday, Li’s first official stop was to visit a pair of pandas on loan from China to Adelaide’s zoo, where Australian Broadcasting Corp. television showed crowds gathered, some waving Chinese flags, while others held signs that read “No more panda propaganda.”
At the zoo, Li announced the pandas would return to China in November and the zoo would get to select two new giant pandas, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.
The pandas had “become envoys of friendship between China and Australia, and a symbol of the profound friendship between the two peoples,” Li said, according to a statement from the Chinese embassy.
“China is ready to continue with the cooperative research with Australia on the conservation of giant pandas, and hopes that Australia will continue to be an amicable home for giant pandas,” Li added.
The pandas, Fu Ni and Wang Wang, have been at the zoo since 2009 but have not successfully bred, the ABC reported.
Li later attended an event with South Australia wine exporters, who until recently have been shut out of the Chinese market in a dispute that suspended A$20 billion ($13 billion) in Australian agriculture and mineral exports last year.
Speaking at the winery in the Adelaide suburb of Magill, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the venue was chosen “because of course one of the impediments that has been removed is the export of Australian wine and we welcome that.”
Earlier on Sunday, Wong said Li’s visit was “really important” in showing stabilized ties between the two major trading partners.
“It comes after two years of very deliberate, very patient work by this government to bring about a stabilization of the relationship,” Wong told the ABC.
On the pandas, Wong, who lives in Adelaide, said the animals “have been a great part of the lives of many Adelaide families.”
On Monday, Li will visit the capital Canberra for a meeting with Albanese.
During the talks, the prime minister is expected to bring up the case of Australian writer Yang Hengjun who was given a suspended death sentence on espionage charges in February, as well as an incident last month where a Chinese military jet dropped flares near an Australian defense helicopter.
Li’s final stop on Tuesday will be in resource-rich mining state Western Australia. Australia is the biggest supplier of iron ore to China, which has been an investor in Australian mining projects, though some recent Chinese investment in critical minerals has been blocked by Australia on national interest grounds.
Li arrived from New Zealand, where he highlighted Chinese demand for its agricultural products.
Canberra and Wellington are seeking to balance trade with regional security concerns over China’s ambitions in the Pacific Islands and on issues including human rights the contested South China Sea.


Wildfire north of Los Angeles spreads as authorities issue evacuation orders

Updated 16 June 2024
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Wildfire north of Los Angeles spreads as authorities issue evacuation orders

  • The blaze that is being called the Post Fire burned more than 14.5 square kilometers near the Interstate 5 freeway in Gorman

GORMAN, California: Authorities issued evacuation orders Saturday as a wildfire in Los Angeles County spread thousands of acres close to a major highway and threatened nearby structures, officials said.
The blaze that is being called the Post Fire burned more than 14.5 square kilometers near the Interstate 5 freeway in Gorman, which is about 100 kilometers northwest of Los Angeles, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The flames broke out at around 1:45 p.m., authorities said.
The Los Angeles County Fire Department did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the evacuations, whether there were injuries reported and the latest size of the blaze. An investigation is ongoing.


Biden slams Supreme Court at $28 million fundraiser with Obama, Clooney, Julia Roberts

Updated 16 June 2024
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Biden slams Supreme Court at $28 million fundraiser with Obama, Clooney, Julia Roberts

  • US President Joe Biden: ‘The Supreme Court has never been as out of kilter as it is today’
  • ‘The fact of the matter is that there has never been a court that is this far out of step’

LOS ANGELES: President Joe Biden slammed the US Supreme Court as “out of kilter” at a glitzy fundraiser in Los Angeles on Saturday with former President Barack Obama and top Hollywood celebrities that has raised $28 million.

Late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel began by showing a video montage contrasting Biden’s record with that of his predecessor and current Republican challenger Donald Trump. He drew cheers from the audience at a packed Peacock Theater in downtown Los Angeles, where Hollywood celebrities George Clooney and Julia Roberts were among the guests.

Biden, a Democrat who has frequently denounced specific decisions but resisted a full-throated attack on the court itself, said on Saturday “the Supreme Court has never been as out of kilter as it is today.”

“The fact of the matter is that there has never been a court that is this far out of step,” Biden said. He noted that conservative Justice Clarence Thomas had said the court, which overturned the half-century-old federal right to abortion, should reconsider such things as in vitro fertilization and contraception.

Trump nominated three of the six conservatives who control the nine-member court. He and Biden are in a tight rematch race for the Nov. 5 election.

If Trump is elected again, Biden said, he “is likely to have two new Supreme Court nominees.”

“The idea that if he’s reelected, he’s going to appoint two more who are flying flags upside down... I think it is one of the scariest parts,” Biden said.

He was referring to a recent controversy involving Justice Samuel Alito, who allowed flags associated with the movement to reverse Trump’s 2020 loss to Biden — including an upside-down American flag — to fly outside his homes in Virginia and New Jersey.

Democratic lawmakers, citing the flag displays, have said Alito should recuse himself from a case involving Trump’s claim of presidential immunity from prosecution on federal criminal charges relating to his efforts to overturn the 2020 results.

Since Biden took office, the court’s conservative majority has also restricted affirmative action, gay rights, gun control and environmental regulation. It has blocked the president’s agenda on immigration, student loans, vaccine mandates and climate change.

Obama said “the power of the Supreme Court is determined by elections. What we’re seeing now is a byproduct of 2016” when Trump was elected. “Hopefully we have learned our lesson. Because these elections matter.”

‘LARGEST DEMOCRATIC FUNDRAISER’

The Biden campaign hoped the star-studded event would display strength and momentum despite Biden’s low approval ratings and concerns about the age of the president, who is 81.

“This will be one of the biggest fundraisers we’ve had,” said Ajay Jain Bhutoria, deputy finance chair at the Democratic National Committee. A Biden campaign spokeswoman said “$28 million heading into President Biden’s LA fundraiser — and counting. This is the largest Democratic fundraiser in history.”

The Biden campaign outraised the $26 million a March fundraiser in New York City generated where comedian and TV host Stephen Colbert hosted Biden, Obama and former President Bill Clinton. The top-ticket package for the LA event costs $500,000, campaign officials said.

Other celebrities who took the stage at the Saturday event included Jack Black, Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn and Sheryl Lee Ralph.

In recent weeks, Mark Hamill of Star Wars fame made a White House briefing room appearance to praise the president, Robert De Niro showed up in lower Manhattan for a press conference at the Biden campaign’s behest and Steven Spielberg has been helping the Biden campaign with storytelling.

Actor Michael Douglas held a fundraiser for the president and artists Queen Latifah, Lenny Kravitz, Lizzo, James Taylor, Christina Aguilera and Barbra Streisand have all performed to help Biden raise money.

Biden campaign’s fundraising in April lagged Trump’s for the first time, after the former president ramped up his joint operation with the Republican National Committee and headlined high-dollar fundraisers.

Democrats still maintained an overall cash advantage over Trump and the Biden campaign continues to have a considerably larger war chest.

Biden and Trump are tied in national polls with less than five months to go before the election, while Trump has the edge in the battleground states that will decide the election, recent polls show. On economic issues like inflation, Trump scores higher with voters overall than Biden.

Democrats have long counted on the liberal Los Angeles area as a rich source of financial backing. Republicans often decry Democrats nationwide as funded by Hollywood elites and California liberals.

But the state’s donors bankroll presidential campaigns on both sides of the aisle. Biden and Trump have both raised more in the state for their reelection bids than anywhere else, according to fundraising disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Biden raised $24 million through April 30 in California, and Trump $11.7 million, according to the Federal Election Commission.

The president was largely unable to host high-dollar Hollywood fundraisers for much of 2023 because of industry strikes. But since they were resolved, Biden has headlined several fundraisers in the state, including one in December where top tickets approached $1 million.