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Friday, 15 February, 2002, 23:06 GMT
Haider quits national politics over Iraq
Joerg Haider (left) and Saddam Hussein during the talks in Baghdad
Haider (left) says his visit was humanitarian in character
The Austrian far-right politician, Joerg Haider, has said he is withdrawing from national politics after being criticised for visiting Iraq this week.

Mr Haider said that from now on his political activity would be restricted to the Austrian province of Carinthia, where he is the governor.

I do not want to give the impression that anything is being remote-controlled from Carinthia

Joerg Haider
Mr Haider's controversial meeting with the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, earlier this week was condemned by the Austrian Chancellor, Wolfgang Schuessel, who said he should not have associated with a dictator with blood on his hands, as he put it.

Mr Haider resigned as the head of the Freedom Party after it entered a government coalition two years ago - a pact which unleashed a storm of controversy throughout Europe.

But he remained a member of the coalition's policy-making committee.


Mr Haider has said that his surprise visit to Baghdad was humanitarian in character, with the aim of setting up a blood bank in Baghdad.

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

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.

The US, which says it is committed to deposing the Iraqi leader, described Mr Haider's visit to Baghdad as "inappropriate" and "counterproductive".

President George W Bush has said Iraq, along with Iran and North Korea, forms an "axis of evil".

Coalition trouble

In a statement which correspondents say could spell trouble for the coalition, Mr Haider said those Freedom Party ministers who were too closely connected to him could also be replaced.

The Freedom Party holds portfolios including justice, defence, finance and transport.

A spokesman for Chancellor Schuessel said that Mr Haider's decision had been noted.

She said a government meeting would take place following the return of the current head of the Freedom Party, Vice-Chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer, from the US.

The BBC's Bethany Bell
"He said Freedom Party ministers closely connected with him could also be replaced"
See also:

07 Jan 02 | Europe
Austria judge wins Haider battle
02 Oct 00 | Europe
Haider defends Nazi army veterans
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