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Thursday, 14 February, 2002, 16:07 GMT
Chancellor blasts Haider's Iraq visit
Joerg Haider (left) and Saddam Hussein during the talks in Baghdad
Haider (left) says his visit was humanitarian in character
By the BBC's Bethany Bell in Vienna

The Austrian Chancellor, Wolfgang Schuessel, has criticised a visit to Iraq by the former leader of the far-right Freedom Party, Joerg Haider.


The position of Austria is unchanged. We see the government of Iraq, the leaders of Iraq, as a dangerous group

Wolfgang Schuessel
Mr Schuessel described Mr Haider's meeting with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on Tuesday as counter-productive.

He also said the Austrian Foreign Ministry had not been informed.

Mr Haider responded that his surprise visit to Baghdad was humanitarian in character.

Solidarity

But this explanation has not gone down well in the United States, or with Mr Schuessel's conservative People's Party, which is in coalition with the Freedom Party.

An anti right-wing Freedom Party demonstration in Austria
Opposition says Haider is damaging Austria's reputation

Speaking after a cabinet meeting in Vienna, Mr Schuessel was clearly at pains to stress Austria's solidarity with the United States.

"The position of Austria is unchanged. We see the government of Iraq, the leaders of Iraq, as a dangerous group.

"Saddam Hussein is a dictator and there is no need at all, if you really have humanitarian aspects in mind, to meet him and to give him the possibility to misuse such a visit in a propaganda war".

The Chancellor rarely directly criticizes Mr Haider, but these latest remarks are unlikely to satisfy opposition politicians in Austria, who are calling for Mr Haider to resign.

They see the Iraq visit as just one more example of the way the far-right politician is damaging Austria's reputation internationally.

See also:

07 Jan 02 | Europe
Austria judge wins Haider battle
02 Oct 00 | Europe
Haider defends Nazi army veterans
21 Sep 00 | Europe
Austrian minister survives vote
13 Sep 00 | Media reports
Austrian press hails end to sanctions
08 Sep 00 | Europe
EU told: 'End Austria sanctions'
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