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Monday, October 4, 1999 Published at 14:50 GMT 15:50 UK

World: Europe

Austria leader shuns far right

Top Freedom Party candidate Thomas Prinzhorn, with Joerg Haider

The Austrian Chancellor, Viktor Klima, has promised to keep the far-right Freedom Party out of government, despite its dramatic gains in Sunday's general election.

The Freedom Party - whose leader, Joerg Haider, has been accused of Nazi sympathies - came second in the poll, only 6% behind Mr Klima's Social Democrats.

The BBC's Angus Roxburgh: "He's Europe's most succesful. far right politician"
But as Mr Klima prepared to start coalition negotiations, he said he wanted to retain the existing partnership with the conservative People's Party.

The governing coalition suffered heavy losses, with the Social Democrats losing 5% of their vote and the People's Party being pushed into third place.

[ image:  ]
The People's Party leader, Wolfgang Schuessel, said he would stand by his pre-election pledge to go into opposition if beaten into third place.

But he refused to concede defeat and predicted that uncounted votes would take his party past the Freedom Party - just 14,000 votes ahead.

Some 200,000 postal ballots are due to be counted over the next week.

(Click here for results)

The leaders of the country's four parliamentary parties are due to meet the Austrian President, Thomas Klestil, on Monday to discuss possible coalitions.

[ image: Chancellor Viktor Klima: Not resigning]
Chancellor Viktor Klima: Not resigning
Mr Klima said he would "hold talks with all democratic parties except the Freedom Party".

The Freedom Party campaigned on an anti-immigration ticket, despite Austria having the second-lowest immigration in the European Union.

Possible combinations of government include a conservative right-wing or conservative left-wing coalition, or a minority Socialist government.

Some observers are predicting such political instability that another election will be necessary within a year.

Whatever the final outcome, observers say the result heralds a dramatic change in Austrian politics.

The BBC's Katya Adler in Vienna says it has sounded the death-knell for the 'Grand Coalition', which has governed for the last 13 years.

Key issues

Mr Haider said his party had "risen with a sensational election result".

The 49-year-old once praised Hitler's "orderly" employment policy and described Waffen SS veterans as "decent men of character".

But he stirred up Austria's political landscape in the run-up to elections.

He promised an Austria for Austrians with more help for those who have been affected by the government's austerity budget.

[ image:  ]
The nationalist leader also said he would stop Austria being swamped by foreigners.

Austria is one of Europe's richest countries and has one of the EU's lowest unemployment levels.

But before the election the governing coalition was split over key issues like the degree of liberalisation of the economy and whether Austria, which has been neutral since 1955, should join Nato.

For the new administration, pensions will remain a key issue. By the year 2010, the number of pensioners in Austria will significantly outnumber the national workforce.

Austrian EU Commissioner Franz Fischler earlier launched a scathing attack on the Freedom Party, accusing it of an anti-foreigner, anti-EU philosophy which would damage the country's international image.

Another respected statesman, former Chancellor Franz Vranitzky joined the attack, warning that Austria risked isolation if the party were allowed to gain a foothold on power.

Preliminary results (excluding postal votes):
  • Social Democrats: down 4.7% to 33.4% (down six seats to 65)
  • Freedom Party: up 5.3% to 27.2% (up 12 seats to 53)
  • People's Party: down 1.4% to 26.9% (unchanged at 52 seats)
  • Greens: up 2.3% to 7.1% (up four seats to 13)
  • Liberal Forum: 3.4% (lost all 10 seats)

    (Click here to return)

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    04 Oct 99 | Europe
    World's press reacts to result

    04 Oct 99 | Europe
    Analysis: Austria's dramatic change

    03 Oct 99 | Europe
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