UPDATE 1-Hungary extends energy and food price caps amid soaring inflation
BUDAPEST, Sept 17 (Reuters) - Hungary has extended price caps on fuels and basic foodstuff by three months until the end of the year in a bid to shield households from soaring costs, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff told a briefing on Saturday.
Budapest has sharply criticised the European Union for imposing sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, saying they have failed to weaken Moscow meaningfully while causing a surge in food and energy prices.
Combined with falls in the forint to record lows, the price rises have sent Hungary's inflation to two-decade highs, forcing the National Bank of Hungary to hike its base rate sharply to 11.75%.
Announcing the price cap extensions beyond their original Oct.1 expiry, Orban's chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, also said the government would extend a cap on mortgage rates that was originally due to expire at the end of this year, by "at least six months".
"We now assess that as long as the sanctions are in place, there is no realistic chance for an improvement," Gulyas told the media briefing.
Orban's government has also decided to launch a support scheme for energy-intensive small businesses, covering half of the increase in their energy bills compared with last year's levels, Economic Development Minister Marton Nagy said.
He said the government would also launch an investment support scheme for small businesses to help them improve their energy efficiency and cut costs. (Reporting by Gergely Szakacs and Krisztina Than; Editing by Clelia Oziel)
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