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Angus Roxburgh reports for BBC News
"In the past he praised Hitler's employment policies"
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The BBC's Nigel Glass
"The European Commission said it could not interfere in the make-up of governments"
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Friday, 28 January, 2000, 23:54 GMT
Call for calm over Austrian far-right

President Klestil, right, and Franz Fischler Mr Klestil, right, talks politics with Austria's EU commissioner

Austria's President Thomas Klestil has sought to reassure the international community over the prospect of the far-right Freedom Party joining a new coalition government.

Speaking on Austrian radio, President Klestil said: "Our friends in Europe can be sure that the values of the common Europe, such as democracy and pluralism, will continue to apply."

The far-right Freedom Party expects to reach a deal next week on forming a government with the conservative People's Party.

The Freedom Party leader, Joerg 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".

'Shame critics'

Mr Haider said on Friday his party would shame international critics by showing it was constructive and responsible.

Haider Mr Haider said his party would be responsible
"It is unacceptable for other countries to determine what is happening in Austria. We are living in a democracy, and democracy provides for decisions to be made by the citizens."

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

People's Party leader Wolfgang 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.

The coalition talks started after the Social Democrats failed to renew their 13-year coalition with the People's Party.

International concern

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

schuessel Wolfgang Schuessel says his party will not be talked out of coalition
The European Commission President Romano Prodi also voiced 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.

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."

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

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.

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See also:
28 Jan 00 |  Europe
Austrian far-right prompts EU fears
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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