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Europe correspondent Angus Roxburgh
"The party programme calls for an Austria first approach"
 real 28k

Friday, 28 January, 2000, 18:23 GMT
Austrian far-right prompts EU fears

haider Joerg Haider: Apologised for offending remarks

European leaders have spoken out against the prospect that a far-right party could become part of a new Austrian government next week.

France, Belgium and Portugal - which currently holds the EU presidency - have all expressed their alarm over the possibility of the Freedom Party getting in to power.

The European Commission President Romano Prodi also expressed his concern.

Portuguese Prime Minister, Antonio Guterres, said the 15 EU members were not just part of a commercial union, but also shared set values, rules and a common civilisation.

He was speaking in response to a letter from Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, outlining his concerns.

However, the Freedom Party leader, Joerg Haider, said on Friday his party would shame international critics by showing it was constructive and responsible.

Deal 'next week'

Austria's conservative People's Party expects to reach a deal next week on forming a government with the Freedom Party.

People's Party leader Wolfgang Schuessel has tried to reassure Austria's international partners about the implications of his uniting with Mr Haider.

Mr Schuessel acknowledged that some concern was legitimate, but said much of it was ill-informed and was being orchestrated.

"We will not be talked out of it," he told Kurier newspaper in an interview for its Saturday edition.

"We will not let ourselves be swayed by the combined prejudices," he said.

Hitler comments

Mr Haider is known for once praising Adolf Hitler's "orderly employment policy," and for calling veterans of the Waffen SS "decent people of good character".

hitler Adolf Hitler's policies were praised by Joerg Haider

He will not join the government himself and has apologised for the offending remarks, describing Nazism as a "bloody and cruel dictatorship".

But that has failed to reverse growing concern.

The US State Department warned on Friday that the close relationship between the US and Austria was based on "Austria's commitment to pluralism, tolerance and democratic principles".

Spokesman James Rubin said: "If the Freedom Party were to enter the government, we would expect that party to live up to the commitment. This is something we will follow very, very closely."

Decent people of good character
Joerg Haider on Waffen SS veterans

He added: "In all our meetings with Haider, we have emphasised our strong opposition to any statements or any actions that might be interpreted or as expressing sympathy for the former Nazi regime or as explaining away in any way, shape or form the terrible tragedy of the Holocaust."

The absence or presence of Mr Haider in a coalition government would be less important than the government's principles, he said.

Israel worries

Earlier this week Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak called for a "European front" to stop the Freedom Party forming a coalition.

Mr Haider has pledged to end foreign influence in Austria and wants a freeze on immigration.

He has also opposed enlargement of the EU on the grounds that it could lead to Austria being swamped by cheap foreign labour.

But in an address to the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe on Thursday, Mr Schuessel said that the potential coalition should be judged on its programme rather than on election campaign speeches.

The coalition talks in Austria follow inconclusive parliamentary elections late last year, in which the Freedom Party emerged as the second-strongest party.

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See also:
03 Oct 99 |  Europe
Profile: Joerg Haider
27 Jan 00 |  Europe
Move to thwart far-right leader
27 Jan 00 |  Europe
Conservatives defend Haider talks
26 Jan 00 |  Europe
Haider's rise 'highly disturbing'
27 Jan 00 |  Europe
World alert for rise of far right
27 Jan 00 |  Europe
Berlin remembers Holocaust

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