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Hungary ruling party holds up Swedish NATO bid vote
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Hungary ruling party holds up Swedish NATO bid vote
by AFP Staff Writers
Budapest (AFP) Feb 5, 2024

Hungary's ruling party on Monday boycotted a parliament session on Sweden's NATO membership, postponing a vote by the last alliance member to approve the expansion of the alliance despite US pressure.

Hungary has maintained close ties with Russia since its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and while it has said it supports the Swedish bid in principle, it has been dragging its feet for months.

The United States has ramped up pressure on Hungary to ratify Stockholm's bid.

On Friday, the US embassy reminded Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban in a statement that he promised to act "at the first opportunity" and "Monday's session provides him with one".

Co-chairs of the US Senate's NATO Observer Group warned that "both time and patience are wearing thin."

US Ambassador David Pressman was present in the viewing gallery during Monday's parliamentary session along with envoys from 14 other NATO countries, a US embassy spokesperson told AFP.

But the sitting was adjourned due to the lack of a quorum. Out of 199 MPs, only 51 voted on the agenda as almost all members of Orban's Fidesz-KDNP ruling coalition -- except for presiding deputy speaker Sandor Lezsak -- stayed away.

Politicians from almost all opposition parties have urged a speedy ratification and condemned the governing majority for not attending.

Orban is delaying the vote due to his "personal vanity", Agnes Vadai from the biggest opposition party told AFP.

She accused the Hungarian premier of seeking to "make headlines in the international press, while making a gesture to Russian President Vladimir Putin by undermining the unity of NATO and the EU."

The far-right Our Homeland party argued against accepting Sweden's NATO bid.

-- Waiting for a leaders' meeting --

Orban has invited his Swedish counterpart, Ulf Kristersson to Hungary, citing the need to "build strong mutual trust" through "more intense political dialogue".

The Swedish leader accepted the invitation but rejected the idea of "negotiations" and "demands" concerning the country's bid to join NATO.

The ruling coalition signalled that it was "waiting for the Swedish Prime Minister to visit Hungary" before they finish ratification.

"If this is an important issue for the Swedes, the Swedish Prime Minister will obviously come to Budapest," Fidesz wrote in a statement sent to AFP.

Parliament is due to reconvene on 26 February, and ratification could take place quickly once it has received Viktor Orban's approval.

Turkey's parliament last month ratified Sweden's NATO membership after more than a year of delays that upset Western efforts to show resolve in the face of Russia's war on Ukraine.

NATO membership applications require unanimous ratification by all alliance members.

ros/tw

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