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Thursday, 27 January, 2000, 14:12 GMT
Conservatives defend Haider talks

haider Joerg Haider (left) says Wolfgang Schuessel can be chancellor

Austrian conservatives have attacked the international outcry over the possibility that they will form a coalition government that would allow the far-right into power.

Israel, France and Germany are among the nations that have expressed alarm at negotiations, which could see the Freedom Party, led by Joerg Haider, included in a government to end Austria's four-month power vacuum.

Mr Haider has long been a controversial figure because of his pledge to rid Austria of foreign influence and his admiration for some of Adolf Hitler's employment policies.

I believe for every Jew in the world this is a highly disturbing signal
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak

But senior members of the Freedom Party's potential coalition partners, the moderate-right People's Party have dismissed this response as an over reaction.

Benita Ferrero-Waldner, foreign secretary in the current caretaker administration, said much of the foreign criticism came from overseas allies of acting Chancellor Viktor Klima, leader of the Social Democrats.

"I think the reactions are partly exaggerated," she said.

"But, partly, I of course also see that it is Social Democratic colleagues who are supporting their colleague Klima."

klima Social Democrat leader Viktor Klima cannot form minority government

The secretary general of the People's Party, Maria Rauch-Kallat, said foreigners should also consider the coalition negotiations as nothing more than a "normal change from a centre-left to a centre-right" government.

However, their remarks are likely to do little to pacify the international concern about Mr Haider who has pledged to rid Austria of foreign influence.

Mr Haider had campaigned for a freeze on immigration and opposed enlargement of the European Union on the grounds that it could lead to Austria being swamped by cheap foreign labour.

Israel has threatened to withdraw its ambassador if the far-right leader is allowed into power.

Austrian Parliament
Social Democrats 65 seats
Freedom Party 52 seats
People's Party 52 seats
Green Party 14 seats
Total 183

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has described Mr's Haider rise as "highly disturbing" for every Jew in the world.

In Paris, French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anne Gazeau-Secret said that if the Freedom Party entered government, "Austria will put itself in a deplorable position."

The People's Party turned to Mr Haider after the breakdown of talks to renew its coalition with the Social Democrats - an alliance which has ruled the country for the past 13 years.

Mr Klima has now abandoned attempts to form a minority Social Democrat government

Austria has been without a proper government for four months since the inconclusive election in which the Freedom Party surged into second place behind the Social Democrats.

Mr Haider says that if a coalition is formed he would let People's Party leader Wolfgang Schuessel become chancellor.

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See also:
26 Jan 00 |  Europe
Haider's rise 'highly disturbing'
03 Oct 99 |  Europe
Profile: Joerg Haider
27 Jan 00 |  Europe
World alert for rise of far right
27 Jan 00 |  Europe
Berlin remembers Holocaust
27 Dec 99 |  World
Old memories and new fears in Europe
21 Jan 00 |  Europe
Austrian coalition talks collapse
07 Oct 99 |  Europe
Regrets of Austria's far-right leader
04 Oct 99 |  Europe
Austria swings to the right
04 Oct 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Austria's dramatic change

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