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Hungary's Orban flirts with Salvini-led anti-migration EU bloc

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Budapest (AFP)

Hungary's anti-immigration Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Italy's hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini moved closer to formal cooperation Thursday for upcoming European Parliament elections, vowing to prevent an "Islamic caliphate" on the continent.

European voters are due to choose a new parliament in elections from May 23-26, and gains for the far right would be a new blow for the bloc's established leaders after the Brexit crisis.

"We are spectacularly, confidently, openly seeking cooperation with Salvini," Orban told journalists after talks with Salvini in Budapest.

"Although what actual form that takes we will see..I am convinced that Europe needs an alliance of anti-immigration parties," he said.

Salvini has called on nationalist parties scattered across the European Parliament to join forces and form a new alliance after the election.

The hardline leader of Italy's anti-immigrant League party said he "came to Hungary to build a new Europe.

"I don't want to leave our children an Islamic caliphate with sharia law in our cities," he said. "I'm going to do everything I can to stop this."

Most of Europe's right-wing nationalists are currently divided into three blocs and a tangled web of alliances in the European Parliament, which they would like to overhaul, if not destroy.

Salvini has said he expects a new populist bloc to be the largest in the 751-member parliament.

Parties like League, Alternative for Germany (AfD) or Denmark's People's Party foresee unprecedented gains as they campaign on anti-migrant, anti-Islam policies and use nationalist rhetoric.

Orban's ruling Fidesz party currently belongs to the European parliament's centre-right European People's party (EPP) group -- although it has been suspended after it ran a campaign accusing European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker of plotting to flood Europe with migrants.

Orban insists Fidesz want to stay in the EPP but in a interview with Italian paper La Stampa Sunday he urged the grouping to "work with the forces on the right" and called Salvini a "hero" for stopping migration by sea.

Staying in the EPP depends on what direction the grouping takes after the vote, said Orban, whose election campaign has focused exclusively on pledges to "stop immigration".

"If the EPP binds itself to the European left,... then it will be difficult for us to find our place in that cooperation," he said.

Earlier in the day Orban took Salvini by helicopter to show him the razorwire fence he built in 2015 to keep migrants out.

Austria's far-right leader and vice chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, head of another populist group the Freedom Party, is expected to visit Orban next week.

Budapest also announced Monday that Orban will visit US President Donald Trump in Washington for the first time May 13.

Salvini has convened a Milan meeting of anti-EU parties for May 18, with Marine Le Pen, head of France's National Rally party, and Czech far-right leader Tomio Okamura expected to attend.

Orban declined to confirm if he would also attend.

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