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Orban's government expects emergency powers to end by early June

FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban gestures during a news conference with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic at the presidential building in Belgrade, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Serbia, May 15, 2020. REUTERS/Marko Djurica/File Photo

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - The government of Hungary’s nationalist prime minister Viktor Orban expects that much-criticised emergency powers it adopted in response to the coronavirus pandemic will end by early June, his chief of staff told broadcaster Hir TV late on Sunday.

Orban faced accusations of an autocratic power-grab after lawmakers gave his government permission in March to rule by decree in matters related to COVID-19. As of Monday, Hungary recorded 3,535 cases of the virus, and 462 deaths.

The premier’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyas said the government would submit a bill to parliament on May 26 proposing an end to the emergency powers. Last week he said this would likely be later in June.

“Our intent is to submit the bill to Parliament on May 26, which means it will be June by the time it passes, and the extraordinary status quo ends in Hungary,” Hir TV quoted him as saying on its website.

Parliament, where Orban’s ruling Fidesz party holds a two-thirds majority, is widely expected to approve the bill.

As Hungary’s infection rates declined, it began to ease a lockdown in the capital Budapest from Monday, allowing people back into shops and restaurant terraces, following the rural easing with a two-week delay.

Orban used a visit to neighbouring Serbia on Friday to say he would already relinquish the powers in May, lambasting his critics who had warned he might use the extra licence to further consolidate his influence in Hungary.

The 56 year-old premier, who has extended his influence over most walks of life in the central European country during his decade-long rule, faces the toughest challenge of that period as the coronavirus lockdown, as elsewhere, is expected to push the economy into recession this year.

Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky