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Hungarian Prime Minister pushes anti-migrant agenda in national election

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Hungarians vote on Sunday in an election which could deliver a third consecutive victory for a Prime Minister who has campaigned hard on an anti-immigrant agenda. Europe Correspondent Michelle Clifford reports…

“The opposition will turn us into a land of foreigners,” Victor Orban tells the crowd at his last rally in Szekesfehervar, 60 kilometres from the capital Budapest.

The choice of location was likely no coincidence – a town synonymous with the foundations of Christianity in this country is a potent place to talk about the clash of civilisations and the dangers of Muslim migrants entering Hungary.

And his message clearly resonated in the crowd. When we met Timea Varnai after the event she looked clearly delighted with what she had heard.

“I strongly agree with his migration politics,” she said, smiling broadly. “I think that he represents our country very well in the European Union and all over Europe. I think he is the best man to represent us.”

Victor Orban
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Many of Orban’s supporters regard him as a strongman

When I ask if she is bothered by the allegations of corruption in his government, abuse of power and curbs on press freedom she says there “are voices like that”.

“But I have to repeat that I think he is doing the right thing. I hear them say he restricts things but he defended the country and that is the most important thing for us. We don’t want this culture to be changed.”

She is one of the many in Hungary who regard Orban as a strong man, defending the rights of Hungarians. There are plenty of others who regard him as a bully, crushing the rights of those who oppose him.

His Fidesz party is on course to win another term in the first election since Orban introduced tough measures to counter the influx of hundreds of thousands of of mainly Muslim migrants into Hungary in 2015.

Some call him a xenophobe but his spokesman Zoltan Kovacs is unapologetic about a political response which involved building a fence on Hungary’s southern border.

:: Hungary migrant vote declared invalid

Border Wall
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Hungary’s borders, including this with Serbia, are heavily fortified

“I would say we talk about and deal in reality,” he tells me.

“We made some tough decisions in the past. It was not easy to build a fence and introduce other methods. But they are effective.

“They are basically the only effective way to stop what is happening in Europe, and what is happening in Europe is illegal immigration happening in waves.”

He adds, as a dig at the EU which has clashed with Hungary over the imposition of quotas for taking in asylum seekers: “In fact if all European countries had been using the same measures and effectiveness we have been using then the situation would have been very different.”

But the actions and language of Fidesz appals many in Hungary.

On a city street in Budapest on the final weekend of campaigning we meet first time voter Marton Erdei, who has joined a drive to oust Orban.

:: EU takes Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic to court over refugees

He’s handing out leaflets urging people to get out and vote and tells me he has come to loathe the man who has led the country since he was a child.

“All he talks about is immigration,” he tells me, “Our aim is to reduce the power of Fidesz. They are still going to win the election but this time they will have less power in parliament.”

The problem is that the opposition is fractured in Hungary with an array of parties from right to left but with no single one able to deliver a fatal blow to Orban.

A YouTube channel and movement called Country For All has tried to get the opposition parties to work together but that effort has been hampered by factional disagreements.

Added to that, opposition parties complain it is much harder to get their message out in a society where significant sections of the media prop up the government.

The election will take place on Friday
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The election will take place on Sunday

“The state media and the state funded media – we call it the government organised media – some of them are officially in private hands but in fact they are in the hands of the pro-Orban oligarchs,” political analyst Peter Kreko tells me.

“They are just pushing the message of the government and doing an ugly smear campaign against opposition forces.”

That, Mr Kreko says, means there is no level playing field in the election. It may be “free” but it’s not fair.

Orban has promised to take “moral, political and legal” revenge against those who oppose Fidesz.

With his victory predicted there is worry about what that means.

Curbs on hostile press? On non-government organisations that help refugees? On outspoken critics?

It is not just people in Hungary wondering, but many in the European Union the country is part of.

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St Vincent volcano: Around 16,000 people flee communities after eruption of La Soufriere | World News

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About 16,000 people have had to flee their ash-covered communities after a volcano erupted on the Caribbean island of St Vincent.

The eruption of La Soufriere on Friday has transformed the island’s usual lush towns and villages into a gloomy, grey landscape.

It was the 4,000-ft volcano’s first major eruption since 1979.

Thousands have had to flee their homes since the eruption
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Thousands have had to flee their homes since the eruption

Thousands of residents have had to evacuate their homes and seek shelter with as many belongings as they could stuffed into suitcases and backpacks.

It comes after a strong sulphur smell was unavoidable on Saturday as ash blanketed large parts of the island.

There have been no reports of anyone being killed or injured by the initial blast or those that followed.

The volcano erupted on Friday
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The volcano erupted on Friday
Roads on the island are covered in ash
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Roads on the island are covered in ash

The had government ordered people to evacuate the most high-risk area around the volcano before the eruption after scientists warned that magma was moving close to the surface.

Government authorities delivered water, food and supplies to the shelters where many had fled to.

The island’s international airport remained blanketed in ash and smoke on Saturday making the runway barely visible.

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Western Australian towns evacuated after tropical cyclone barrels down with 100mph winds | World News

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A tropical cyclone has hit the western coast of Australia with winds of more than 100mph (170km) and much of the area put on “red alert”.

A spokesman for the Bureau of Meteorology, Todd Smith, said cyclone Seroja was now at category two but had reached “category three cyclone intensity” with damaging winds which would continue into the night.

Emergency services opened shelters in preparation for the high winds and coastal flooding.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) said in a bulletin: “There is a possible threat to lives and homes.

A police officer stands amid the rubble of buildings during a search for victims at a flood-affected village in Ile Ape on Lembata Island, East Nusa Tenggara province, Indonesia, Thursday, April 8, 2021. Multiple disasters triggered by Tropical Cyclone Seroja in eastern Indonesia and neighboring East Timor have left a number of people dead or missing. (AP Photo/Ricko Wawo)
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Tropical Cyclone Seroja caused a severe downpour in Indonesia a week ago, killing at least 174 people and leaving 48 still missing

“You need to take action and get ready to shelter.”

The DFES has so far put five coastal towns on “red alert”.

Some towns north of Perth were evacuated while sandbags were being made available to residents further down the coast.

A category three classification can see wind speeds of up to 170mph (224km).

After touching down on the north western town of Geraldton (124 miles/200km north of Perth) and dumping more than 10cm of rain in just two hours, tropical cyclone Seroja headed inland, lessening slightly in intensity.

However, officials were still braced for a “high degree of damage” to buildings in the area.

A spokesman for the Western Australia emergency services department explained that buildings were not constructed to withstand such strong winds in a region as it typically too far south to fall into the path of cyclones.



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Russia: Inside the Kremlin’s military build-up along the Ukraine border | World News

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At the Maslovka railway station just south of the Russian city of Voronezh, there’s a small military camp, a few trucks and a tent.

The clearing in front is rutted thanks to the steady unloading of military equipment in recent weeks.

A soldier recognises us from the day before.

“Hello spies,” he said.

Rutted ground at the railway station at Maslovka, near Voronezh
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The unloading of equipment at the railway station has left the ground rutted

Russia’s military build-up in Crimea and along the border with Ukraine has hardly been subtle.

It has coincided with the breakdown of the latest ceasefire in the simmering conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

More and more videos have appeared on social media of Russian troop movements – artillery convoys along the bridge connecting Russia with Crimea; trains loaded with weaponry coming from as far east as Siberia.

These sightings from ordinary Russians alongside warnings from Ukrainian generals preceded the Russian military’s announcement of exercises in the region and sent alarm bells ringing across Western capitals.

The kit unloaded at Maslovka is headed to a nearby training ground, which has been turned into a huge military field camp.

Magnay submitted - field camp near Voronezh
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Russian forces have created a military field camp near the city of Voronezh

It stretches for around a mile and a half and backs right onto a neighbourhood of dachas, the weekend homes of mostly Voronezh city-folk who tell us the build-up began in late March.

We accidentally drive right in, though the soldiers make no effort to come after us.

There are a large number of military trucks, row after row of tents, troops milling about.

The sign at the entrance is one that most Russian conscripts remember from military service – “Difficult on exercise, easier in the fight”.

The site was first identified through open source methods by the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) in Moscow.

“It looks more like preparing for an offensive operation, not just to protect our land,” CIT’s Ruslan Leviev told us in Moscow.

But he does not believe it’s a prelude to war.

“It looks like a show of force to put pressure on the Ukrainian government, to show your posture on the international stage, to show your position to the new American administration.”

field camp near Voronezh
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The military build-up has hardly been subtle

Locals pottering around their dachas hardly spare a thought for the military build-up next door.

“If Zelensky (the Ukrainian president) isn’t a fool, then nothing will happen. If he is a fool, anything could happen,” said Nina, a pensioner who we meet watering her garden.

“‘Anyway, it’s not him who decides things, it’s the Americans.”

She does not want to give her surname.

“I hope I haven’t revealed any military secrets,” she added.

“There are always exercises here, every summer,” said Yuri, a local guard.

“Stop all this talk of war.”

But there are not exercises on this scale.

Neither here nor elsewhere along Russia’s border with Ukraine.

field camp near Voronezh
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Western calls to de-escalate the situation appear to have been ignored

Not since the annexation of Crimea has Russia beefed up its presence there to this extent, re-deploying an air brigade from near the Estonian border and sending 10 naval vessels from the Caspian to reinforce the Black Sea fleet.

In response, the US has announced it will send two warships into the Black Sea.

The German chancellor asked Vladimir Putin this week to wind down the military build-up.

This Sunday after consultations with his US counterpart, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted the same.

It does not appear to be happening.

The Russian position is clear. What happens on Russian soil is Russia’s business.

It is hard to argue with that.

But ostentatious muscle-flexing around Ukraine is not an option for the West to ignore – the stakes are too high, they are for all involved.

Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelensky may clamour for fast-track NATO membership but he will not get it.

For all their loud protestations over NATO’s possible eastward-creep, the Kremlin knows that.

US President Joe Biden may declare his unwavering support for Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and integrity but he will be wary of walking anywhere near potential conflict with Russia.

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Ukraine president visits Donbas region amid tensions

And surrounded as he is by Russian forces, president Zelensky knows re-taking the country’s eastern Donbas region, parts of which are held by separatists, is wishful thinking as is any large-scale fight with his powerful neighbour to the East.

It is of course hard to know what Russia is playing at but they seem to be eyeing the long game.

Coercive diplomacy to extract concessions in negotiations on Donbas, a powerful display of military muscle for the new US administration to take note of while the de facto annexation of the separatist regions of Ukraine chugs along apace.

field camp near Voronezh
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Russia seem to be eyeing the long game

According to Russian state news agency Ria Novosti, 420,000 people in the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics have already received Russian passports.

Russia is aiming for one million by parliamentary elections this September.

“It’s unifying their legislation with the Russian one, it’s providing them with the Russian vaccine, it’s providing them with passports. It doesn’t mean Russia wants to annex them,” said Maxim Samorukov from the Moscow Carnegie Institute.

“At least in the near future,” he added.

It also provides quite the justification for full-scale intervention should Russia’s calculus change.

field camp near Voronezh
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The Kremlin is sending a message to Ukraine and the wider international community

President Putin has said allowing Ukrainian troops along Russia’s border with the separatist regions could lead to a Srebrenica-type massacre – the 1995 genocide of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serb forces.

Dmitry Kozak, Russia’s representative in negotiations on Ukraine, has threatened that a Ukrainian assault on Donbas would be a ‘”self-inflicted gunshot wound in the foot and to the head”.

“If the Srebrenica massacre takes place there, we will have to stand up for their defence,” he said.

Sharp rhetoric to match an aggressive display of military might.

All in the interests of deterrence? Perhaps.

But also an indication that eight years of sanctions has hardly served to deter Russia from at the very least flexing its muscles, if not more.



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