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Monday, 1 May, 2000, 14:02 GMT 15:02 UK
Austria's Haider bows out
Mr Haider is unlikely to leave national politics
Joerg Haider, the controversial leader of Austria's far-right Freedom Party, officially stepped down on Monday - but he remains the key figure behind the scenes.

He first announced his resignation in February following widespread international condemnation of his party's entry into the governing coalition.

His replacement, Susanne Riess-Passer, the Austrian vice-chancellor, pledged absolute loyalty to Mr Haider.

"The Freedom Party remains Joerg Haider's party," she said in her acceptance speech at a party congress in Klagenfurt.

Susanne Riess Passer
Susanne Riess Passer is the new leader of the far-right
Mr Haider said that he was stepping down to help the government function smoothly and show that Freedom Party ministers were not his puppets.

Ms Riess-Passer, Mr Haider's former spokeswoman, was nominated to the job by Mr Haider himself, who promised continuity of the policy.

She won 91.5% of the vote.

High ambitions

Analysts say that despite the handover, Mr Haider will remain the de facto party leader.

The Freedom Party remains Joerg Haider's party

Susanne Riess-Passer
His six ministers in government are inexperienced and rely on his advice.

Despite his insistence that he wants to concentrate on his role as regional governor, many predict he will be pulling the strings of his ministers.

He is also likely to further his own political ambitions, as he has made no secret of his desire to be Austria's Chancellor.

According to analysts, Mr Haider can now criticise the coalition's austerity measures, which are hitting Freedom Party voters, and, if local election results show a slump in support, he could be persuaded to return.

Austria's right versus EU

Mr Haider's anger at the European Union's diplomatic and political isolation of Austria following the inclusion of his party in the coalition remains unabated.

"We are not a protectorate of Berlin, Paris or Brussels. We are a free country

Susanne Riess-Passer
During the past week, he has accused the EU countries of hypocrisy for snubbing Austria but welcoming the presidents of Iran and Russia, criticised the EU for failing to tackle fraud, and even suggested Austria withdraw its membership.

Austria's Chancellor, Wolfgang Schuessel, has dismissed such a proposal, but has not excluded Haider's suggestion for a referendum on EU sanctions.

Mr Haider said he expected the EU soon to lift the political sanctions imposed on Austria when his Freedom Party joined the coalition government.

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17 Apr 00 | Europe
EU counters Austrian threat
10 Feb 00 | Europe
Diplomatic snub for Austria
04 Feb 00 | Europe
Haider's men and women
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