April 30, 2015 / 3:58 PM / 2 years ago

Hungary's Orban climbs down on death penalty amid EU uproar

BUDAPEST/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Prime Minister Viktor Orban backed away from suggestions Hungary might re-introduce the death penalty on Thursday after angry criticism from European Union allies.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban addresses during the Hungary's National Day celebrations, which also commemorates the 1848 Hungarian Revolution against the Habsburg monarchy, in Budapest March 15, 2015. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

Orban’s Fidesz party, under pressure from a eurosceptic right, said on Wednesday it wanted to raise the possible reintroduction of the death penalty with its EU partners.

A day earlier, Orban said the death penalty should be “kept on the agenda” as other punishments were inadequate deterrents.

Hungary scrapped the death penalty, outlawed in the 28-nation EU, shortly after the 1990 fall of Communism. Orban raised the matter anew after the recent murder of a young tobacconist in southern Hungary that stirred anger.

The comments drew outrage from Brussels, with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker urging Orban on Thursday to make clear he had no intention of re-introducing the death penalty and promising a “fight” if he tried to do so.

Orban told leading European politicians on Thursday Hungary was not planning to reintroduce the death penalty, but only to talk about the issue, Chief of Staff Janos Lazar told a news conference in Budapest.

“There is a debate about the introduction of the death penalty. A debate, so it is not like there is a plan to introduce the death penalty,” Lazar said.

He said Orban had told European Parliament President Martin Schulz this, adding that “Hungary will respect the European Union’s law”.

Schulz said in a statement that Orban had assured him that the Hungarian government had no plans to introduce the death penalty and that Hungary would honor all European treaties.

Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard said he did “not care much” for the Hungarian statements.

“All member states must uphold the EU’s fundamental values such as democracy, human rights and the ruling of law. That also goes for Hungary,” Lidegaard said in written comments to Ritzau, a Danish news agency.

Orban has taken a hard line on a series of issues recently as his Fidesz loses ground to the far-right, euro-sceptic, anti-immigrant Jobbik party.

Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald in Brussels, Sabina Zawadzki in Copenhagen, Paul Taylor in Paris; @macdonaldrtr; editing by Philip Blenkinsop

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