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Senior Hungarian lawmaker accuses next U.S. envoy of 'ignorance'

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - A Hungarian ruling party lawmaker on Wednesday accused the next U.S. ambassador to his country of "ignorance" and bias after she expressed concern over a rise of extremism and an erosion of democratic values in Hungary.

Colleen Bell, Ambassador-Designate to Hungary, told the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 16 that, while Hungary was a strong ally, a perceived erosion of democratic checks and balances under Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his ruling centre-right Fidesz Party gave grounds for concern.

"(Such remarks) triggered serious and justified uproar in Hungary that you... not only proved your ignorance about Hungarian domestic politics at your Senate hearing, but also - knowingly or unknowingly - expressed a party political stance on serious issues," senior Hungarian lawmaker Gergely Gulyas wrote.

Gulyas, who is deputy head of the Fidesz parliamentary group, said in an open letter published in the Magyar Nemzet daily that Bell would have difficulty being a successful envoy in Hungary, where he said the public was increasingly resentful of "double standards" shown towards the Orban government.

"We are always ready for a dialogue about democracy with our American friends but a sufficient knowledge of the facts and ... objective assessment of those facts is a precondition for that," said Gulyas, who has also criticized previous U.S. envoys.

The United States, the European Union and human rights groups have often criticized Orban's government for curbing press freedoms and rewriting the constitution. Hungary is a member of the European Union and of NATO.

Orban, who will run for re-election in April, has said his government has the right to use its two-thirds majority in parliament to overhaul a constitution that it calls a hangover from the communist era and that the changes are democratic.

The U.S. embassy in Hungary was not immediately available for comment on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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