Hungary to hold referendum on child protection issues by early 2022 -PM aide

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FILE PHOTO: Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Brussels

BUDAPEST (Reuters) -Hungary expects to hold a government-initiated referendum on legislation that limits schools' teaching about homosexuality and transgender issues late this year or early next year, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff said on Thursday.

Orban announced the planned referendum on Wednesday, stepping up a culture war with the European Union.

The European Commission last week began legal action over the measures, which have been included in amendments to education and child protection laws. If successful, Brussels could hold up funding for Hungary while the restrictions are maintained.

"For Hungary, there are many more arguments in favour of European Union membership than against it. Joining the EU was the right decision, it was in our national interest and it remains to be the case," Gergely Gulyas, Orban's chief of staff, told a weekly news briefing.

But he said Hungary believed it had the right to comment on what he called "the rules of the club" and make decisions on its own in issues where it did not hand over authority to EU institutions.

Gulyas said Hungary was still in talks with the European Commission, the EU executive, on its national recovery plan and was seeking an agreement. But he added that the government would start pre-financing projects from the national budget.

The European Commission listed serious concerns about the rule of law in Poland and Hungary in a report on Tuesday that could help decide whether they receive billions of euros in EU funds to help recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Alison Williams and Timothy Heritage)

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