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Autocratic Hungarian Prime Minister Orban addresses US conservatives

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DALLAS (AP) — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is expected to receive a big welcome in the United States Thursday from conservative admirers just a week after the backlash at home and in Europe over anti-migrant remarks one of his closest associates compared to the Nazis. rhetoric.

Orban’s headline at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, one of the largest gatherings of conservative activists in the nation, has raised concerns that Republicans are embracing an autocrat who has been criticized for undermining the democratic institutions and consolidated power in his own country.

Other speakers include former President Donald Trump, Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Republican candidates fresh off Tuesday’s GOP primary election victories.

Orban’s invitation to CPAC reflects growing conservative support for the far-right Hungarian leader whose country has implemented sweeping policies against immigration and LGBTQ rights, and is governed by one-party rule . Orban is also considered Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest ally in the European Union.

His visit to Texas comes after fresh outrage erupted at home following a speech in which Orban railed against Europe becoming a “mixed-race” society. One of his closest aides compared the comments to Nazis and quit in protest.

Orban dismissed the criticism, saying his government had zero tolerance for racism. He was not criticized by conservatives in the United States, and for some early arrivals from the three-day conference in Texas, he was a model leader who resonated because of his politics and personality.

They praised Orban for his border security measures and for providing financial grants to Hungarian women, which Orban called an effort to counter Hungary’s declining population. Lilla Vessey, who moved to Dallas from Hungary with her husband, Ede, in the 1980s, said what she heard in Hungary was that Orban was not undemocratic.

“I don’t know how it happened that the Tories somehow found out about it,” said Ede Vessey, 73. “He supports traditional values. He supports family.

Scott Huber, who met Orban with other CPAC attendees at a private event hours before the speech, said the prime minister had expressed hope that the United States would “moderate the influences of extreme left” in the November midterm elections. The 67-year-old Pennsylvanian said he wouldn’t disagree with descriptions of Orban as autocratic and upending Democratic standards, but said he thinks that will change over time.

As to why Orban is winning over so many conservatives, Huber pointed to Orban’s attacks on George Soros, the Hungarian-American billionaire and philanthropist who is a vocal critic of the Hungarian government and supporter of liberal causes.

“That’s why I was so interested in seeing it,” Huber said.

Even before Orban took the stage in Texas – America’s second most populous state and politically controlled by Republicans – Trump had already welcomed him to the United States while hosting him earlier this week in Florida.

“Few people know as much about what is happening in the world today,” Trump said in a statement after the meeting.

President Joe Biden is not expected to meet with Orban during his trip to the United States, according to a White House official.

Orban’s time slot title is “How We Fight”. Through his communications office, Orban declined an interview request from The Associated Press.

The AP and other international news agencies were also banned from covering a CPAC conference held in Budapest in May, the group’s first conference in Europe. During the rally, Orban called Hungary “a bastion of conservative Christian values ​​in Europe” and urged American conservatives to overcome “the dominance of progressive liberals in public life.”

He presented himself as a champion of what he calls “illiberal democracy”.

Orban served as Hungary’s prime minister between 1998 and 2002, but it’s his record since taking office in 2010 that has sparked controversy and raised concerns about Hungary’s slide into authoritarian rule. Orban presented himself as a defender of European Christianity against Muslim migrants, progressives and the “LGBTQ lobby”.

Last year, his right-wing Fidesz party banned the depiction of homosexuality or gender reassignment in media targeting those under 18, a move critics have called an attack on LGBTQ people. Information on homosexuality is also prohibited in school sex education programs, or in films and advertisements accessible to minors.

Orban has consolidated his power over the country’s judiciary and media, and his party has drawn legislative constituencies in a way that makes it very difficult for opposition parties to win seats – much like partisan gerrymandering efforts for legislative and congressional seats in the United States. The process currently favors the Republicans because they have more control over the state legislatures that create these borders.

Such moves have led international political observers to label Orban the face of a new wave of authoritarianism. The European Union has launched numerous lawsuits against Hungary for breaking EU rules and is withholding billions in recovery and credit funds for breaching rule of law standards and insufficient anti-corruption safeguards .

Republican Governor Greg Abbott will precede Orban on stage in Texas. Michigan’s Tudor Dixon, who won the GOP gubernatorial nomination in his battleground state on Tuesday, is also scheduled to speak at the conference, which ends Saturday.

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Associated Press writer Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed to this report.

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