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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 July, 2004, 13:02 GMT 14:02 UK
Profile: Thomas Klestil
Thomas Klestil and Joerg Haider
Klestil distanced himself from the far-right
Thomas Klestil was a well-known figure in the international arena by the time he came to office as president for the first time in 1992.

Born to a working class family in Vienna in 1932, Mr Klestil began his career as a diplomat.

At the age of 30, he was posted to Washington, and went on to enjoy a string of prestigious positions.

He was appointed Austrian ambassador to the United Nations in 1978 and to Washington in 1982, before taking up the post of secretary general at the foreign ministry in 1987.

Five years later, Mr Klestil successfully stood as the conservative People's Party (OVP) candidate for president.

Diplomatic isolation

He replaced Kurt Waldheim, who had been tainted by revelations he had served as an officer in a German army unit which had committed war crimes during World War II.

Mr Klestil repaired much of the damage done to Austria's image abroad by the scandal surrounding Waldheim, including expressing sympathy with the victims of the Holocaust in a speech to the Israeli parliament in 1994.

The issue of right-wing extremism, however, returned to haunt Austria with the formation of a coalition government including Joerg Haider's far-right Freedom Party (FPO) in 2000.

Mr Klestil criticised Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel's decision bring the FPO into the government.

As president, Mr Klestil effectively represented Austria's interests within the European Union, but his achievements were undermined by Austria's pariah status during eight months of diplomatic sanctions .

In 2003, when the FPO rejoined the government, Mr Klestil's criticism was more muted, saying only that the government should be formed with "a wider basis".

Personal rivalries between Mr Klestil and Chancellor Schuessel and political differences led to a rift between the president and the OVP.

Private life

Mr Klestil won the respect, if not the affections, of the Austrian public, but his popularity suffered as a result of an affair with party aide Margot Loeffler, which prompted his wife of 37 years to leave him in 1994.

Mr Klestil married Ms Loeffler in 1998, shortly after being re-elected to a second six-year term.

President Klestil was plagued for much of his time in office by recurring health problems.

In 1996, he was hospitalised with atypical pneumonia and he had a pulmonary embolism the same year.

He fell ill again with a lung infection in 2003 and had operations on both his Achilles tendons.

He was three days from stepping down from office in July 2004 when he suffered a severe heart attack, at the age of 71.


SEE ALSO:
Austria president deteriorating
06 Jul 04 |  Europe
Timeline: Austria
26 Apr 04 |  Country profiles


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