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Hungary hopes for IMF deal by end-March

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(VIENNA) - Hungary hopes to complete faltering talks by the end of March on a credit line from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union, government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said on Thursday.

Talking to reporters in Vienna, Kovacs declined to "speculate" on progress on what he called "a phase of talks about talks", which the EU member said earlier would be for help worth 15-20 billion euros ($20-25 billion).

He said the "fundamentals of the Hungarian economy are solid" and that Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government was implementing "significant structural reforms ... to meet the expectations of the international community."

Hungary was forced to approach the IMF and European Union for a help in November after its currency, the forint, dropped to record lows against the euro and borrowing costs rose to record highs.

But in December, the IMF and the EU broke off preliminary talks over a revamp of the central bank which the fund reiterated on Wednesday raised "questions about the authorities' commitment to central bank independence".

Brussels has also taken a dim view of other new legislation that affects the retirement age of judges and the independence of the data protection authority. Orban held talks in Brussels to head off EU legal action on Tuesday.

Hungary's debt has been downgraded to "junk" status by all three main credit rating agencies, but Kovacs, state secretary for government communications, said that the country "is still a good place to invest."

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