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Hungary's leader calls for change at the top in June European elections at a far right gathering

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Hungary's leader calls for change at the top in June European elections at a far right gathering
News

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Hungary's leader calls for change at the top in June European elections at a far right gathering

2024-04-17 21:38 Last Updated At:21:41

BRUSSELS (AP) — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on Wednesday urged voters to reject mainstream political parties in upcoming European Union elections for their failure of leadership and said Ukraine must never be allowed to join the bloc or NATO.

Orbán, the keynote speaker at a gathering in Brussels of international far right politicians and supporters, railed against EU climate policy and agriculture rules that he said have left farmers in great difficulty. He said that Europe’s “migration crisis” is now bigger than ever.

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Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

BRUSSELS (AP) — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on Wednesday urged voters to reject mainstream political parties in upcoming European Union elections for their failure of leadership and said Ukraine must never be allowed to join the bloc or NATO.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Germany's Hans-Georg Maassen attends the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Germany's Hans-Georg Maassen attends the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Activist Gloria von Thurn-und-Taxis looks at her electronic device as she attends the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Activist Gloria von Thurn-und-Taxis looks at her electronic device as she attends the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

French politician Eric Zemmour, center, speaks with the media as he arrives for the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

French politician Eric Zemmour, center, speaks with the media as he arrives for the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

From left, Lawyer Paul Coleman, Catholic priest Father Benedict Kiely and activist Gloria von Thurn-und-Taxis attend the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

From left, Lawyer Paul Coleman, Catholic priest Father Benedict Kiely and activist Gloria von Thurn-und-Taxis attend the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Police look on as demonstrators hold a banner outside the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Police look on as demonstrators hold a banner outside the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Former MEP and Honorary President of the Reform UK party Nigel Farage speaks during the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Former MEP and Honorary President of the Reform UK party Nigel Farage speaks during the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Former MEP and Honorary President of the Reform UK party Nigel Farage, right, and member of the Flemish separatist party Vlaams Belang Filip Dewinter arrive for the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Former MEP and Honorary President of the Reform UK party Nigel Farage, right, and member of the Flemish separatist party Vlaams Belang Filip Dewinter arrive for the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Police guard outside the front entrance of the event venue as the National Conservatism conference takes place in Brussels, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Police guard outside the front entrance of the event venue as the National Conservatism conference takes place in Brussels, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

“The sense of this European election is: change the leadership,” Orbán told an audience of about 200 people, as campaigning heats up for Europe-wide polls on June 6-9. “If the leadership proves to be bad, it must be replaced. That’s so simple,” the right-wing populist leader said, to applause.

Orbán — a self-proclaimed “illiberal democrat” — took aim at the EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, for using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to attack his country. “The bureaucrats in Brussels tried to suffocate Hungary financially,” he said.

The commission has denied Hungary access to billions of euros over concerns about democratic backsliding in the country and the possible mismanagement of EU money.

The Hungarian leader, who has been in office since 2010, also underlined the failure of EU sanctions to stop the war in Ukraine. Addressing the fact that he’s often described in the media as a staunch ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Orbán said: “My mother is not happy.”

He said Hungary’s biggest concern is that it does not want to share a common border with Russia again and that Ukraine should not be allowed to join the EU and NATO. “Guys, you have to understand that you are a buffer zone country. You can’t change your house number,” he said.

Ukraine has applied to join both organizations, but it’s unlikely that it will be permitted to do so while the war rages on, and Hungary has routinely vetoed high-level talks with the country and funds to keep its conflict-ravaged economy afloat, standing alone against its Western partners.

Orbán said “Ukraine is now just a protectorate” relying on Western money and weapons and is “not a sovereign state anymore.” However, NATO and EU leaders insist that the war is an existential question for Europe and that Putin must not be allowed to win.

The National Conservative conference, a gathering of strident nationalists and fundamentalist Christians, resumed earlier on Wednesday after winning a legal challenge against authorities in the Belgian capital who feared the event could pose a threat to public order.

French far-right figurehead Eric Zemmour had been scheduled to criticize the EU’s new migrant and asylum rules at the event Tuesday but was turned away by police. He returned Wednesday, was quickly surrounded by media, stood for a few photos with admirers and retired to the VIP room.

Emir Kir, mayor of the Saint-Joss neighborhood where it was held, had ordered police to prevent people from entering.

Kir acted after a group of anti-fascists threatened to disrupt the meeting. Indeed, the group had harassed conference organizers in recent days, forcing them to change venues twice. No protesters were in sight hours after police began to shut the event down but around 50 gathered after most participants had left on Tuesday.

After an overnight legal challenge, a Brussels judge put stayed the closure order. On Tuesday, Nigel Farage, the man credited with taking Britain out of the European Union, addressed the crowd, saying that “a new form of evil ideology” had tried to silence the conference.

The Belgian and British leaders expressed concern about developments.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, a liberal and opponent of the far right, called the shutdown unacceptable in a post on the X platform.

“Municipal autonomy is a cornerstone of our democracy but can never overrule the Belgian constitution guaranteeing the freedom of speech and peaceful assembly since 1830. Banning political meetings is unconstitutional. Full stop,” he wrote.

A spokeswoman for Rishi Sunak said the British prime minister thought the move was “extremely disturbing.”

NatCon 2024, as the event is dubbed, is a haven for many of those on Europe's extreme right that mainstream parties fear most. Surveys suggest that centrist parties are likely to retain power after the June elections, but possibly with a reduced majority.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Germany's Hans-Georg Maassen attends the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Germany's Hans-Georg Maassen attends the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Activist Gloria von Thurn-und-Taxis looks at her electronic device as she attends the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Activist Gloria von Thurn-und-Taxis looks at her electronic device as she attends the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

French politician Eric Zemmour, center, speaks with the media as he arrives for the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

French politician Eric Zemmour, center, speaks with the media as he arrives for the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

From left, Lawyer Paul Coleman, Catholic priest Father Benedict Kiely and activist Gloria von Thurn-und-Taxis attend the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

From left, Lawyer Paul Coleman, Catholic priest Father Benedict Kiely and activist Gloria von Thurn-und-Taxis attend the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Police look on as demonstrators hold a banner outside the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Police look on as demonstrators hold a banner outside the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Former MEP and Honorary President of the Reform UK party Nigel Farage speaks during the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Former MEP and Honorary President of the Reform UK party Nigel Farage speaks during the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Former MEP and Honorary President of the Reform UK party Nigel Farage, right, and member of the Flemish separatist party Vlaams Belang Filip Dewinter arrive for the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Former MEP and Honorary President of the Reform UK party Nigel Farage, right, and member of the Flemish separatist party Vlaams Belang Filip Dewinter arrive for the National Conservatism conference in Brussels, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Police guard outside the front entrance of the event venue as the National Conservatism conference takes place in Brussels, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Police guard outside the front entrance of the event venue as the National Conservatism conference takes place in Brussels, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

KALAMATA, Greece (AP) — Nine Egyptian men went on trial in southern Greece on Tuesday, accused of causing a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants and sent shockwaves through the European Union’s border protection and asylum operations.

Outside the courthouse, a small group of protesters clashed with riot police as the proceedings got underway. There were no reports of serious injuries but two people were detained.

The defendants, most in their 20s, face up to life in prison if convicted on multiple criminal charges over the sinking of the “Adriana” fishing trawler on June 14 last year off the southern coast of Greece.

International human rights groups argue that their right to a fair trial is being compromised as they face judgment before an investigation is concluded into claims that the Greek coast guard may have botched the rescue attempt.

More than 500 people are believed to have gone down with the fishing trawler, which had been traveling from Libya to Italy. Following the sinking, 104 people were rescued — mostly migrants from Syria, Pakistan and Egypt — and 82 bodies were recovered.

The protesters could be heard inside the packed courtroom as presiding judge Eftichia Kontaratou read out the names of the nine defendants.

Defense lawyer Spyros Pantazis asked the court to declare itself incompetent to try the case, arguing that the sinking occurred outside Greek territorial waters. “The court be turned into an international punisher,” Pantazis told the panel of three judges. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres last year described the shipwreck as “horrific."

The sinking renewed pressure on European governments to protect the lives of migrants and asylum seekers trying to reach the continent, as the number of people traveling illegally across the Mediterranean continues to rise every year.

Lawyers from Greek human rights groups are representing the nine Egyptians, who deny the smuggling charges.

“There’s a real risk that these nine survivors could be found ‘guilty’ on the basis of incomplete and questionable evidence, given that the official investigation into the role of the coast guard has not yet been completed,” said Judith Sunderland, an associate director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch.

Authorities say the defendants were identified by other survivors and the indictments are based on their testimonies.

The European border protection agency Frontex says illegal border detections at EU frontiers increased for three consecutive years through 2023, reaching the highest level since the 2015-2016 migration crisis — driven largely by arrivals at the sea borders.

Police guard outside a court house in Kalamata, southwestern Greece, on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. Nine Egyptian men go on trial in southern Greece on Tuesday, accused of causing a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants and sent shockwaves through the European Union’s border protection and asylum operations. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Police guard outside a court house in Kalamata, southwestern Greece, on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. Nine Egyptian men go on trial in southern Greece on Tuesday, accused of causing a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants and sent shockwaves through the European Union’s border protection and asylum operations. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

A protester bleeds after clashes with police outside a court house in Kalamata, southwestern Greece, on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. Nine Egyptian men go on trial in southern Greece on Tuesday, accused of causing a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants and sent shockwaves through the European Union’s border protection and asylum operations. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

A protester bleeds after clashes with police outside a court house in Kalamata, southwestern Greece, on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. Nine Egyptian men go on trial in southern Greece on Tuesday, accused of causing a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants and sent shockwaves through the European Union’s border protection and asylum operations. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Police clash with protesters outside a court house in Kalamata, southwestern Greece, on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. Nine Egyptian men go on trial in southern Greece on Tuesday, accused of causing a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants and sent shockwaves through the European Union’s border protection and asylum operations. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Police clash with protesters outside a court house in Kalamata, southwestern Greece, on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. Nine Egyptian men go on trial in southern Greece on Tuesday, accused of causing a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants and sent shockwaves through the European Union’s border protection and asylum operations. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Police clash with protesters outside a court house in Kalamata, southwestern Greece, on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. Nine Egyptian men go on trial in southern Greece on Tuesday, accused of causing a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants and sent shockwaves through the European Union’s border protection and asylum operations. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Police clash with protesters outside a court house in Kalamata, southwestern Greece, on Tuesday, May 21, 2024. Nine Egyptian men go on trial in southern Greece on Tuesday, accused of causing a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants and sent shockwaves through the European Union’s border protection and asylum operations. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Two of nine Egyptian men accused of causing a shipwreck last year that killed hundreds of migrants arrive at a courthouse for the start of their trial in Kalamata, southwestern Greece, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. The defendants face up to life in prison if convicted on multiple criminal charges. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Two of nine Egyptian men accused of causing a shipwreck last year that killed hundreds of migrants arrive at a courthouse for the start of their trial in Kalamata, southwestern Greece, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. The defendants face up to life in prison if convicted on multiple criminal charges. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Two of nine Egyptian men accused of causing a shipwreck last year that killed hundreds of migrants arrive at a courthouse for the start of their trial in Kalamata, southwestern Greece, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. The defendants face up to life in prison if convicted on multiple criminal charges. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Two of nine Egyptian men accused of causing a shipwreck last year that killed hundreds of migrants arrive at a courthouse for the start of their trial in Kalamata, southwestern Greece, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. The defendants face up to life in prison if convicted on multiple criminal charges. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Two of nine Egyptian men accused of causing a shipwreck last year that killed hundreds of migrants arrive at a courthouse for the start of their trial in Kalamata, southwestern Greece, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. The defendants face up to life in prison if convicted on multiple criminal charges. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Two of nine Egyptian men accused of causing a shipwreck last year that killed hundreds of migrants arrive at a courthouse for the start of their trial in Kalamata, southwestern Greece, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. The defendants face up to life in prison if convicted on multiple criminal charges. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

One of nine Egyptian men accused of causing a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants waves as he is led by police to a courthouse in Kalamata, southwestern Greece, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. The defendants face up to life in prison if convicted on multiple criminal charges. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

One of nine Egyptian men accused of causing a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants waves as he is led by police to a courthouse in Kalamata, southwestern Greece, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. The defendants face up to life in prison if convicted on multiple criminal charges. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

One of nine Egyptian men accused of causing a shipwreck last year that killed hundreds of migrants waves as he is led by police to a courthouse in Kalamata, southwestern Greece, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. The defendants face up to life in prison if convicted on multiple criminal charges. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

One of nine Egyptian men accused of causing a shipwreck last year that killed hundreds of migrants waves as he is led by police to a courthouse in Kalamata, southwestern Greece, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. The defendants face up to life in prison if convicted on multiple criminal charges. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

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