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Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 18:19 GMT 19:19 UK
Austria waits for Haider comeback
Joerg Haider
Haider has the backing of senior party figures
The Austrian Freedom Party's Susanne Riess-Passer, driven from government by a row with Joerg Haider, is backing him to take over as party leader.

Ms Riess-Passer resigned on Sunday as Austrian vice-chancellor and leader of the far-right party, after a power struggle with a rival faction led by Mr Haider.

The row triggered the collapse of Austria's coalition government, with a fresh general election now expected before the end of the year.


We will see what discussions in the next weeks bring

Joerg Haider
A new Freedom Party leader is expected to be chosen on 21 September, and speculation has been mounting that Mr Haider will make a dramatic return to national politics by retaking the leadership.

Several senior party members have indicated that they will back him.

Ms Riess-Passer - who took over from Mr Haider as party leader in 2000 - has made clear she will not attempt to win the post back, and has now expressed her support for Mr Haider.

Support for Mr Haider has also come from Peter Westenthaler, the Freedom Party's parliamentary leader who resigned along with Ms Riess-Passer.

Susanne Riess-Passer
Riess-Passer is now backing Haider for leader
Mr Haider originally stood down as party leader in Ms Riess-Passer's favour in a move partly seen as giving the party a more acceptable public face.

Mr Haider himself has not publicly stated that he wants to take up the position again.

"We will see what discussions in the next weeks bring," he told reporters in the province of Carinthia, where he has remained as governor since bowing out of his formal role in national politics.

But correspondents say he may yet return to the fray, in order to set the party on a more radical course. He is thought to believe that under Ms Riess-Passer's leadership it had drifted too far from its core supporters.

The issue which prompted the row was tax cuts, which the government wanted to delay to help pay for August's terrible floods.

'Suspicion'

But Mr Haider also wishes to take a stronger line than Ms Riess-Passer against plans for European Union expansion.

The BBC's Bethany Bell in Vienna says is it not clear whether or not Mr Haider will take over as leader again.

She says he is still regarded with great suspicion internationally and some party members fear his recent behaviour may have alienated voters.

Most Austrians also believe he has continued to pull the party strings even during Ms Riess-Passer's leadership.

See also:

09 Sep 02 | Europe
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07 Jan 02 | Europe
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