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Hungary's Orban drops support for EU lead candidate Weber

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Budapest (AFP)

Hungary's anti-immigration Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Monday said former ally Manfred Weber was "unsuitable" to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as the EU commission head after Europe-wide elections this month because the German politician had insulted his country.

"The candidates for commission president are all clearly unsuitable," Orban told journalists in Budapest at a joint press conference with Austria's far-right leader and vice chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache.

Orban said Weber, lead candidate of the mainstream conservative European People's Party (EPP), the EU's biggest and most influential political grouping, had offended Hungarians.

In March Weber told German broadcaster ZDF that he "would not accept the post" of commission president if he had to depend on votes from Fidesz, Orban's party.

"Weber would have been good for us...as Commission candidate, but he announced that for him not only was there no need for Hungarian votes, but that he didn't want to become president with those votes," Orban said.

"If someone insults a country, then the prime minister of that country cannot support his candidacy," he said.

"We will keep looking for a suitable candidate," he added.

Weber endorsed Orban before the Hungarian's third consecutive general election win last year but their relations have soured since January over an anti-EU billboard campaign launched by Budapest that attacked Juncker.

Fidesz was indefinitely suspended from the EPP in March over the billboards, although Orban insists that he wants his party to remain in the grouping.

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".

He has urged the EPP instead to "work with the anti-immigration forces on the right" instead of "drifting" toward cooperation with the left.

- Hardliners joining hands -

The firebrand Hungarian, who has become a leading figure among Europe's nationalists for his anti-immigration stance, last week hosted Matteo Salvini, the similarly hardline leader of Italy's anti-immigrant League party.

As with Salvini, Orban heaped praise on Strache Monday, and said the two "agreed on all issues".

"We want the same changes to happen in Europe as happened in Austria, that centre right parties cooperate with the patriotic right-wing parties," he said.

Strache's far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) has been in a coalition government with the centre-right People's Party (OeVP) of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz since late 2017.

Strache said he believes there is a chance that a "bloc of patriotic national parties" will gain a majority in the European Parliament after the vote.

"Europe needs a strong alliance, especially if we are looking at future migration or creeping Islamisation," he said.

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.

Strache said his party would also be represented although Orban said Fidesz would not be there.

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