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Hungary PM Orban flags further wage hikes ahead of 2022 election

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during a business conference in Budapest, Hungary, June 9, 2021. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

Hungary will raise nurses' salaries by 21% from January and plans to lift the monthly minimum wage to 200,000 forints ($644), Prime Minister Viktor Orban told state radio today (8 October), Reuters, writes Krisztina Than.

Orban, who faces elections next year, said talks on the minimum wage hike were still underway. The government will cut taxes for businesses if they are ready to raise the minimum wage, he added.

He also flagged a 10% pay hike for teachers for 2022.

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Orban's handouts for voters ahead of what is expected to be a tight election include measures such as a $2-billion income-tax rebate for families, a waiver of income tax for young workers, grants for home renovations and extra pension payments. Read more.

($1=310.41 forints)

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Hungarian doctors warn of 'sad Christmas' as COVID cases soar

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Hungary reported 10,265 new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday (17 November), its highest daily tally since the end of March, prompting the country's Medical Chamber to call for a ban on mass events and mandatory mask wearing in closed spaces, write Krisztina Than and Anita Komuves.

In a statement, the Hungarian Medical Chamber also said entry to restaurants, theatres and cinemas should be conditional on a COVID-19 immunity certificate.

"We must slow down the increase in the number of patients, a flooding of hospitals (with COVID-19 patients) or many families will have a very sad Christmas," they said.

"Apart from a slowing vaccination campaign, we have not seen any preventive measures (to contain the pandemic)."

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The daily tally is getting close to the peak of 11,265 reached during the third wave of the pandemic in a country with hardly any restrictions in place and where the vaccination rate is below the European Union average.

A new wave of infections has swept across Central Europe with hospitals struggling to cope in some countries like neighbouring Romania. Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland have all tightened rules on mask wearing and introduced measures to curb infections.

In Hungary, the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is facing a close election in early 2022, has urged people to take up vaccines and announced mandatory inoculations at state institutions. It also empowered private companies to make vaccinations mandatory for employees.

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But it has refrained from making mask wearing mandatory in closed spaces - apart from on public transport and in hospitals - and there are no other restrictions in place.

On Tuesday, the government said it was monitoring cases, and "if necessary will take further measures".

The government has not replied to emailed Reuters questions.

Hungary, a country of 10 million, has reported 32,514 deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic but only 5.78 million of its people are fully vaccinated. More than 1.66 million people have received a booster shot.

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Hungary's Orban hits Czech campaign trail to back PM Babis

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Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban review the guard of honour during the welcoming ceremony at the Kramar's Villa in Prague, Czech Republic, September 29, 2021. REUTERS/David W Cerny
Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis meets with Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban at the Kramar's Villa in Prague, Czech Republic, September 29, 2021. REUTERS/David W Cerny

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban backed his Czech counterpart Andrej Babis' s re-election bid on Wednesday (29 September), making a display of the close ties between the two central European leaders who have supported each other in disputes with the EU, write Robert Muller and Jan Lopatka.

The Czech Republic holds a parliamentary election on 8-9 October. Opinion polls put Babis' centrist ANO party ahead of rivals but some show him falling short of partners to form a majority government, which could hand power to a coalition between the main opposition centre-left and centre-right groups.

On the campaign trail, accompanied by Orban, Babis stressed how he and the Hungarian leader had blocked the European Commission's plan to distribute asylum seekers around the bloc under a quota system following Europe's 2015 migration crisis.

"We push for our national interests together" in the EU, Babis said after introducing Orban at a joint news conference in the northern town of Usti nad Laben, where the Czech leader heads the ANO party's ticket.

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Orban also praised their countries' close cooperation as well as the Czech Republic's economic success.

"We in Hungary are ready to maintain close, friendly, sober cooperation with Andrej Babis's government," said Orban, whose right-wing Fidesz party has governed Hungary since 2010, often clashing with Brussels over immigration and reforms of the media, the judiciary, academic institutions and NGOs.

Earlier this week, the Czech government agreed to send 50 police officers to help guard the Hungarian border with Serbia, which Babis also visited last week.

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Babis, a billionaire businessman, has grown increasingly positive about cooperation within the central European Visegrad Group and particularly with Orban in the past few years, despite the EU's concerns over the rule of law in Hungary.

The Czech Republic did not join the majority of EU states this year in signing a letter protesting against Hungarian legislation banning the use of materials seen as promoting homosexuality and gender reassignment at schools.

One of the two main opposition coalitions contesting the Czech election, the Pirate Party/Mayors, attacked Babis over his ties with Orban.

"Viktor Orban shifted Hungary from democracy to autocracy over the past 10 years," its chief Ivan Bartos said on Facebook.

"He liquidates free media, liquidates the opposition, free enterprise, spies on journalists... Such policy is the model for Andrej Babis."

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Hungary

Pope urges Hungary to be more open to needy outsiders

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Pope Francis (pictured) said on Sunday (12 September) that Hungary could preserve its Christian roots while opening up to the needy, an apparent response to nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban's stand that Muslim immigration could destroy its heritage, write Philip Pullella and Gergely Szakacs.

Francis was in Hungary for an unusually short stay that underlined differences with the anti-immigrant Orban, his political opposite.

Closing a Church congress with a Mass for tens of thousands of people in central Budapest, Francis used the imagery of a cross to show that something as deeply rooted as religious belief did not exclude a welcoming attitude.

"The cross, planted in the ground, not only invites us to be well-rooted, it also raises and extends its arms towards everyone," he said in his remarks after the Mass.

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"The cross urges us to keep our roots firm, but without defensiveness; to draw from the wellsprings, opening ourselves to the thirst of the men and women of our time," he said at the end of the open-air Mass, which Orban attended with his wife.

"My wish is that you be like that: grounded and open, rooted and considerate," the pope said.

Francis has often denounced what he sees as a resurgence of nationalist and populist movements, and has called for European unity, and criticised countries that try to solve the migration crisis with unilateral or isolationist actions.

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Orban, by contrast, told the Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia last week the only solution to migration was for the European Union to "give all rights back to the nation state".

Pope Francis arrives to meet with representatives of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, Hungary, September 12, 2021. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
Pope Francis greets people as he arrives in Heroes' Square in Budapest, Hungary, September 12, 2021. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
Pope Francis arrives at Budapest International Airport in Budapest, Hungary, September 12, 2021. Vatican Media/­Handout via REUTERS   ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

The pope has called for migrants to be welcomed and integrated to tackle what he has called Europe's "demographic winter". Orban said in Slovenia that today's migrants "are all Muslims" and that only "the traditional Christian family policy can help us out of that demographic crisis."

Francis, 84, who spent only around seven hours in Budapest, met Orban and President Janos Ader at the start of his visit.

The Vatican said the meeting which was also attended by the Vatican's top two diplomats and a Hungarian cardinal, lasted about 40 minutes and was cordial.

"I asked Pope Francis not to let Christian Hungary perish," Orban said on Facebook. Hungarian news agency MTI said Orban gave Francis a facsimile of a letter that 13th century King Bela IV sent to Pope Innocent IV asking for help in fighting the Tartars.

Later on Sunday Francis arrived in Slovakia, where he will stay much longer, visiting four cities before returning to Rome on Wednesday.

The brevity of his Budapest stay has prompted diplomats and Catholic media to suggest the pope is giving priority to Slovakia, in effect snubbing Hungary. Read more.

The Vatican has called the Budapest visit a "spiritual pilgrimage". Orban's office has said comparisons with the Slovakia leg would be "misleading".

The trip is the pope's first since undergoing major surgery in July. Francis told reporters on the plane taking him to Budapest that he was "feeling fine".

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