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Thursday, 10 February, 2000, 14:31 GMT
Diplomatic snub for Austria

Wolfgang Schuessel Mr Schuessel's new government is the target of European action


French and Belgian diplomats have refused to attend a speech by the new Austrian foreign minister in protest at the presence of Joerg Haider's far-right Freedom Party in the coalition government.

Mr Haider outraged the French and the Belgian governments by denouncing French President Jacques Chirac and calling the Belgian Government "corrupt".

"France decided not to attend ... in accordance with declarations by the highest French authorities," said one French diplomat.

"It is a way of expressing our disapproval and our distance" from the involvement of Mr Haider's party in the coalition government, he said.

Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner - a member of the other coalition partner, the Austrian People's Party - was speaking at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which Austria currently heads.

Portugal, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, was represented at the meeting.

Human rights

Later, Ms Ferrero-Waldner played down the snub, saying: "I cannot consider this as a vote of no-confidence".


Benita Ferrero-Waldner Benita Ferrero-Waldner: "I cannot consider this as a vote of no-confidence"
"Whoever weakens us will weaken the organisation as a whole," she said - adding that the delegation of Andorra also was absent when she addressed the OSCE council.

In her speech, the minister referred only briefly to a coalition declaration signed last week in which the two partners - the Freedom Party and Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel's Austrian People's Party - pledged their commitment to the fundamental values of democracy and human rights.

"It is clear to us that observation of these values in one's own country are essential for a credible [Austrian] chairmanship," Ms Ferrero-Waldner said.

Apology demanded

In the wake of European political sanctions on Austria, Mr Haider said European politicians had insulted his country and his party and owe them an apology.

In an interview with the Spanish daily Diario 16, he said: "Europe is adopting an attitude which could be dangerous for the continent.

"They have shamelessly used arguments that were ungrounded. I hope that all those politicians who have insulted Austria and my party will have the courage to make an apology," he said.

Asked if he was anti-Semitic, Mr Haider said: "I have never expressed any comment against Judaism. We have Jews in our party, and a deputy in the European Parliament who comes from one of the most important Jewish families in the country."

Compensation

The UK has welcomed a pledge by Austria's new Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel of swift compensation for victims of Nazi slave labour.

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said the announcement was a positive step but Britain wanted to be sure it would be followed by action.

In a speech to parliament on Wednesday, Mr Schuessel said Austria was ready to make amends for its Nazi past and affirmed his government's belief in European values.

Mr Schuessel's comments were aimed at easing criticism of Mr Haider, who gained notoriety about past praise of Nazi employment policy and Waffen SS soldiers who served Adolf Hitler.

Mr Haider also has opposed rapid EU expansion and immigration.

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See also:
09 Feb 00 |  Business
Boycott fears alarm Austrian business
09 Feb 00 |  UK
Charles' Austria boycott attacked
08 Feb 00 |  Europe
EU trims meeting amid Austria fears
06 Feb 00 |  Europe
Haider threatens treason inquiry
04 Feb 00 |  Europe
Haider: View from the streets
03 Oct 99 |  Europe
Profile: Joerg Haider
08 Feb 00 |  Europe
Austria to face up to Nazi past

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