European Parliament raps Hungary on rights, eyes sanctions process

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban. (REUTERS)
Updated 17 May 2017
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European Parliament raps Hungary on rights, eyes sanctions process

STRASBOURG: The European Parliament condemned on Wednesday what it called a “serious deterioration” in the rule of law and fundamental rights in Hungary, at the start of a process that could theoretically lead to Budapest losing its EU voting rights.
The European Union’s rule of unanimity means the nationalist-minded government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is unlikely to be stripped of its voting rights as its ally Poland could veto such a move.
However, the European Parliament’s resolution, backed by 393 deputies to 221 against, sends a strong signal to Budapest that its actions are being closely monitored.
“Recent developments in Hungary have led to a serious deterioration in the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights which is testing the EU’s ability to defend its founding values,” the resolution read.
Since coming to power in 2010, Orban has eliminated checks on his power by taking control of much of Hungary’s media, curbing the powers of the constitutional court and placing loyalists in top positions at public institutions.
The European Parliament also asked the European Commission to strictly monitor Hungary’s use of EU funds and called on Budapest to repeal laws tightening rules against asylum-seekers and non-governmental organizations.
The resolution also urged Hungary to reach an agreement with US authorities that would enable the Budapest-based Central European University (CEU), founded by US financier George Soros, to continue operating as a free institution.
Orban’s critics say new legislation endangers the continued existence of the CEU, long considered a bastion of independent scholarship in central Europe. The European Commission has started separate legal action against Hungary over the issue.
The European Parliament will now prepare a formal resolution to launch a process to determine whether there is a “clear risk of a serious breach” of EU values by Budapest.
The process would be based on article 7 of the EU Treaty, whereby EU governments can ask a member state to take specific action to end a serious breach of EU values.
If that country ignores the recommendations, the 27 other EU governments can then decide by unanimity to suspend its voting rights. The right-wing government in Poland, which is currently under the EU’s rule of law monitoring procedure over its own actions, would be expected to veto any action against Hungary.


Suicide attack on Kabul voter registration center kills 12, injures dozens

Updated 53 min 56 sec ago
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Suicide attack on Kabul voter registration center kills 12, injures dozens

KABUL: Afghan officials say the toll from a suicide bombing in Kabul has climbed to at least 12 killed and 57 wounded.
Public Health Ministry spokesman Wahid Majro said the toll from Sunday's attack, originally placed at four dead and 15 wounded, could climb further.
The suicide bomber targeted a crowd that had gathered to pick up national identification cards at a voter registration center in the capital.
"It happened at the entrance gate of the centre. It was a suicide attack. There are casualties," Dawood Amin, city police chief, told AFP.
Health ministry spokesman Waheed Majroh said at least four people had been killed and 15 wounded.
Interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish confirmed the death toll but put the number of wounded at 20.
The centre was also being used by people to register for national identification certificates.
The attack happened in a heavily Shiite-populated neighbourhood in the west of the city. Footage on Ariana TV showed pools of blood and shattered glass on the street.
Angry crowds shouted "Death to the government!" and "Death to the Taliban!" There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Photos posted on social media purportedly of the site showed several bodies on the ground and a badly damaged two-storey building.
Afghanistan began registering voters on April 14 for the long-delayed legislative elections, which are seen as a test-run for the presidential poll next year.
Election officials have acknowledged that security is a major concern as the Taliban and other militant groups control or contest large swathes of the country.
Afghan police and troops have been tasked with protecting polling centres, even as they struggle to get the upper hand against insurgents on the battlefield.
Militants on Friday launched rockets at a voter registration centre in the northwestern province of Badghis.
At least one police officer was killed and another person was wounded, officials said, blaming the Taliban.
On Tuesday gunmen attacked a voter registration centre in the central province of Ghor, kidnapping three election workers and two policemen.
Taliban militants released the five on Thursday.
Over the next two months, authorities hope to register up to 14 million adults at more than 7,000 polling centres for the parliamentary and district council elections.
Officials have been pushing people to register amid fears a low turnout will undermine the credibility of the polls.
President Ashraf Ghani last week urged religious leaders to use Friday prayers to encourage worshippers to sign up.
He also called on provincial governors to tell their employees to register themselves and family members.