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Hungarian Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany on 4 November congratulated George W. Bush on his reelection as U.S. president "by a convincing margin," AFP reported. One day earlier, Hungary announced it intends to withdraw its 300-strong noncombat contingent from Iraq by the end of March 2005 at the latest. Gyurcsany said the decision was made after consultations with the United States and other allies, Reuters reported.
The mandate approved by the Hungarian parliament for the stay of the contingent in Iraq runs out on 31 December 2004. Gyurcsany said he has asked parliament to extend the mandate by three months in order to fulfill their mission of helping in stabilizing democracy in Iraq. The Iraqi elections are slated for the end of January and, Gyurcsany said, "from then on, the existence of a stable, democratic, and safe Iraq has to be created by different, above all political means," AP quoted him as saying.
Gyurcsany added that he is not sure his request will be approved by parliament by the necessary two-thirds majority. "I am not confident at all that I can convince the opposition of supporting" the three-month extension, Reuters quoted him as saying. The main opposition FIDESZ party said it would be willing to consider an extension only if the multinational force in Iraq was given a UN mandate to stay there. "Already six months ago, FIDESZ wanted the Hungarian troops to return from Iraq at the end of the year, AP quoted FIDESZ parliamentary group leader Janos Ader as saying.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher played down the significance of the Hungarian announcement and interpretation by journalists that the withdrawal was a sign that the U.S.-led coalition is weakening. "Frankly...I take some exception to the way people are reporting the decision that Hungary made to extend its time in Iraq by three months," he said. "That is the decision that Hungary made [and] that is what the Iraqi government requested [from Budapest]," Boucher added, AFP reported.[For reaction from around the world to the U.S. presidential election, see RFE/RL's webpage "World Reacts To U.S. Election".]