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Page last updated at 14:21 GMT, Wednesday, 30 April 2008 15:21 UK

Austria seeks to 'rescue image'

A protester stands outside the Amstetten house with signs expressing disbelief
Austria is in shock at the second high-profile kidnap case in two years

Austria's chancellor has vowed to protect the country's image after a high-profile alleged incest case.

The case of 73-year-old Josef Fritzl, who police say kept his daughter captive in a soundproof cellar for 24 years, has drawn world media attention.

Alfred Gusenbauer said he planned to launch an image campaign to restore the country's reputation abroad.

Speaking from Vienna, he underlined that the "abominable events" were

linked to one individual case.

"We won't allow the whole country to be held hostage by one man," he said, adding: "It's not Austria that is the perpetrator.

"This is an unfathomable criminal case, but also an isolated case."

Austrian police say they are investigating all aspects of the life of Josef Fritzl.

Psychiatric tests

The case in the eastern Austrian town of Amstetten has prompted inevitable comparisons with that of Natascha Kampusch, held captive in the cellar of a house near Vienna for eight years until her escape in 2006.

Residents of Amstetten, Austria, hold a vigil for the family of Josef Fritzl

Josef Fritzl has confessed to fathering seven children with his daughter, Elisabeth, six of whom survived.

He faces up to 15 years in prison if he is convicted of raping his daughter, among other offences.

Officials are also considering charges of "murder through failure to act" which carries a longer sentence, in connection with the death of one of the seven children he fathered.

Mr Fritzl has admitted to disposing of the body of the newborn in an incinerator shortly after the birth.

His lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, has told the BBC his client will undergo a series of psychiatric and psychological tests.

He says the tests will be crucial in determining the extent of Mr Fritzl's guilt and his penalty.

"This case certainly requires a thorough psychiatric and psychological examination. We need to establish if he can be considered responsible for his actions," Mr Mayer told BBC News.

New identities

"We'd need to see if there's evidence of any psychiatric disorder - which wouldn't necessarily mean mental incapacity but would still be very important when assessing the guilt of the suspect. And the extent of the guilt determines the extent of the penalty," he said.

The head of the city's social services, Hans-Heinz Lenze, said officials were also considering changing the names of the immediate family members to give them new identities.

"At the moment, all possibilities are being sounded out in closest consultation with the family," Mr Lenze told a news conference, AFP reports.

Overnight on Tuesday, hundreds of people gathered in the town of Amstetten, 75 miles (120km) west of Vienna, for an emotional tribute to Mr Fritzl's family.

During the gathering - organised by a local convent school - children, their parents, teachers and nuns lit candles and stood in the rain to express their solidarity and outrage.

Emotional reunion

Officials said Elisabeth, now 42, and two of the three children who had lived with her in the cellar - the 18- and five-year-old brothers - had an "astonishing" reunion with her other children on Tuesday.

The eldest of the cellar children, 19-year-old Kerstin, became seriously ill earlier this month and is in a coma in hospital.

The other children lived an apparently normal life with Mr Fritzl as his "grandchildren" in the upper sections of the same house.

KEY FACTS IN CASE
Austrian police forensic teams arrive at the house in Amstetten (29 April 2008)
Elisabeth reappeared at home after disappearing 24 years ago
Six children have been found and placed in care
One of the children, aged 19, is seriously ill in hospital
Elisabeth's father Josef Fritzl, 73, has been arrested on suspicion of incest and abduction
Police say Mr Fritzl confesses to imprisoning Elisabeth and fathering her seven children

Mr Fritzl's wife, Rosemarie, who was told by her husband that their daughter had run away from home to join a religious cult, also had an emotional meeting with her daughter, officials said.

The three children who lived upstairs were adopted or fostered by Mr Fritzl and his wife, after he forced Elisabeth to write letters saying she could not look after them.

Berthold Kepplinger, director of the psychiatric clinic, said the family members had interacted very naturally, although he said the two children who had spent their lives underground, without seeing daylight, had a way of communicating that was "anything but normal".

He said Elisabeth had spoken "quite a lot" about what she had gone through in captivity, but he declined to provide details.

Lower Austria police chief Franz Polzer said the 73-year-old, had completely deceived his wife, his family and authorities.

Police have said there is no evidence to suggest that Mrs Fritzl, nor any of the children she had with Mr Fritzl, were aware of any of the alleged crimes.



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