By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BUDAPEST/TRIPOLI (BosNewsLife)-- Hungary says it has taken over the United States' diplomatic and consular interests in Libya, after Washington closed down its embassy in the turbulent North African nation.
"The Hungarian Government has decided to answer positively the request of the Government of the United States to assume the protection of American diplomatic and consular interests in Libya," added the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign affairs in a statement Friday, June 3.
Hungary has already been representing Canada, Greece, Croatia and Italy in Tripoli, Libya's capital. The Hungarian Embassy also represents the European Union as Hungary is currently holding the rotating EU presidency.
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Hungary is among a few nations still maintaining diplomatic ties with the government of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi who is increasingly isolated amid ongoing airstrikes by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) against his forces.
In one of the country's recent diplomatic efforts, Hungarian officials in Tripoli played a key role in the release last month of four reporters, including two Americans James Foley and Clare Morgana Gillis as well as Spanish photographer Manu Brabo, and Nigel Chandler from Britain.
The journalists were attacked and captured by Lybian forces in April. Another South African born reporter traveling with the group, Anton Hammerl, died of injuries after being shot by the troops, said the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
Despite ongoing clashes, Hungary made clear it has no intention of closing its embassy. "Hungary takes her share in contributing to the efforts of our allies and partners in encouraging the extraordinary changes we have been witnessing in North Africa and the Middle East," said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Eszter Pataki.
"The aspirations of the people throughout the region, the 'Arab Spring', remind us of the very similar democratic movements which successfully transformed Central and Eastern Europe 20 years ago," Pataki explained, referring to the fall of Communism.
She told BosNewsLife in a statement that Hungary "welcomes the unfolding changes in North Africa and the Middle East, which advance the cause of democracy and create new opportunities for the people."
Yet, concerns remain over what role minorities, including Christians, will play in the predominantly Islamic nation's political future.
"It seems that a lot of people in that area want change. The issue is: what kind of change do they want, and what kind of change will come?", said Paul Estabrooks, a minister-at-large for the respected advocacy and aid group Open Doors, which has close contacts with Christians facing persecution, including in Libya.
Heavily Islamic Libya currently ranks number 25 on the annual Open Doors' World Watch List of 50 nations known for their reported persecution of Christians. North Korea tops the list at number 1. While there are no laws that explicitly provide for religious freedom, the country adheres to Islamic law and all citizens are Sunni Muslims 'by definition', according to rights activists.
It is prohibited to evangelize to Muslims or distribute Arabic scriptures, according to Open Doors investigators. Small Christian communities are reportedly mainly containing expatriates.
This year however, Foreign ministers of Hungary, Poland, Italy and France urged the EU to help prevent more attacks against Christians across the world.
In a January letter they asked the bloc's Foreign Policy Chief, Catherine Ashton, to take up the issue of anti-Christian violence as part of her policy priorities.
Pataki did not address the situation of Libyan and other Christians in the Arab world directly, but stressed that Hungary is "ready and willing to share our own experiences in political and economic reform to support the transition to democracy and the meeting of the legitimate aspirations of people in the region."
Hungary will hand-over the EU presidency to Poland on July 1.