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Hungary to add jobs, cut graft to fight far right

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary's prime minister in waiting on Monday linked the striking weekend electoral surge of a militia-backed far-right party to corruption and unemployment and pledged to address those problems.

And the European Union expressed concern about the rise of the far right across the continent.

The far-right Jobbik party won 16.6 percent of the vote over the weekend. The party is tied to the Hungarian Guard, a group whose black uniforms are reminiscent of Hungary's pro-Nazi groups of the 1940s, and which is seen as a source of intimidation of Gypsies and other minorities.

Viktor Orban's center-right Fidesz scored a landslide victory in Sunday's first round of parliamentary elections, capturing nearly 53 percent. But the real political shake-up was the strong showing of Jobbik, which finished third — hard on the heels of the governing Socialists. The Socialist Party tumbled to less 20 percent compared to 43 percent in the last elections four years ago.

The European Union and Jewish groups used Jobbik's showing to sound the alarm about the rise of extremist parties across the continent.

"We all have to work so that within the EU, populist, xenophobia, radical, nationalist, anti-European positions have as little support as possible," said Spain's state secretary for European affairs, Diego Lopez, speaking for the European Presidency.

The European Jewish Congress said Europe needed to work harder against the increase of "obsessive anti-Semitism."

"As a result of the economic crisis, certain extreme parties are able to deliver a scapegoat upon which to blame all their ills," said the congress's president, Moshe Kantor

Jobbik's rise from the political fringe over the past year has been based on an extreme nationalist message with strong anti-Gypsy and anti-Semitic overtones. The Jobbik theme exploits stubborn East European prejudices that the Gypsies — or Roma — are thieves who evade work while cashing in on state benefits, and that the nation is being sold out to a corrupt Jewish minority, many of them pulling the political and economic strings.

A sizable number of the party's new voters were from the poorest areas in northeast Hungary, where the jobless rate is far above the March national average of 11.4 percent. Orban, in his postelection comments, linked the rise of Jobbik with the disenchantment of its supporters.

"The better the government, the less corruption there is, the fewer the reasons to hate the political elite, the lower the unemployment rate ... the more democracy is strengthened and the power of the extremists is reduced," Orban told reporters. "The best recipe I can provide is good governance. I'm convinced that the better the performance of the government is, the weaker the far right will be in the future."

Orban estimated the real unemployment rate at "somewhere between 16-20 percent," an unsustainable level.

"This a political and economic land mine," said Orban, who was prime minister in 1998-2002. "If the unemployment rate remains this high, we cannot expect Hungary to remain a moderate, predictable democracy in the long run."

Orban also suggested that the next government would enforce a court decision to disband the Hungarian Guard.

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Associated Press writer George Jahn contributed to this report from Vienna.