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Page last updated at 15:12 GMT, Saturday, 11 October 2008 16:12 UK

Haider death stuns friends and foes

By Bethany Bell
BBC News, Vienna

Joerg Haider
Mr Haider broke away from the Freedom Party after bitter infighting
The last time I saw Joerg Haider, just under two weeks ago, he was being serenaded to Queen's hit 'We are the Champions'.

Surrounded by adoring young supporters chanting "Joergi, Joergi," Mr Haider basked in the limelight, barely able to suppress a mischievous smile.

It was election night, and he and his party, the Alliance for the Future of Austria, were celebrating.

At the last elections, the Alliance had only just scraped into parliament with 4%. This time they scored almost 11% - a victory that most analysts attributed to Mr Haider personally.

Joerg Haider was perhaps the most polarising figure in Austrian politics of recent years, loved and hated in equal measure.

After his sudden death in a road accident, his political enemies, as well as his friends, have paid tribute to his charisma and formidable campaigning talents.

"For us this is like the end of the world," said his spokesman, Stefan Petzner.

Choking back tears on Austrian television, Mr Petzner pledged to keep Mr Haider's legacy alive.

Influential personality

"We have to be grateful for what he gave us all and what he achieved," he said.

"I say thank you Joerg, wherever you are now."

The Alliance for the Future of Austria is a young party, formed in 2005, when Mr Haider broke away from the Freedom Party after bitter infighting.

His political rival, the leader of the far-right Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache said he was deeply shocked by the news.

"Even though we went our separate ways a couple of years ago, Joerg Haider was one of the most influential political personalities in the Second Republic," he said.

Trivutes to Joerg Haider in Lambichl, Austria
Friends and enemies have reacted with shock to Mr Haider's death

Mr Strache said Mr Haider had helped to bring almost unimaginable changes in Austria's political system, weakening the power of the traditional ruling coalition of the centre left and centre right.

The Social Democrat mayor of Vienna, Michael Haupl, who has always ruled out forming a coalition with the far right, said Mr Haider was a many-faceted individual.

"Joerg Haider and I stood at completely opposite sides of the political spectrum - but that never diminished my respect for his dynamism, his strength and his intelligence," he said.

The leader of the Green Party, Eva Glawschnig, also recognised Haider's formative influence, but said he had sharply polarised Austrian internal politics.

In his political stronghold of Carinthia, candles and flowers have been left in memory of the man who both charmed and horrified Austrians.

Reunion?

He was a controversial figure who gained notoriety for praising the employment policies of the Third Reich.

Under his leadership, the far right Freedom Party gained a place in the coalition government in 2000.

The move sparked outrage across Europe and for several months Austria was placed under EU sanctions.

But the power of the far right was split when Mr Haider broke away from the Freedom Party in 2005 to form the Alliance for the future of Austria.

In a general election last month both the Freedom Party and the Alliance did better than expected, gaining almost 30% and there has been speculation that they might enter the new governing coalition.

Some analysts now believe that with the death of Mr Haider, there may be attempts to reunite the two parties of the far right in Austria - a move that could considerable strengthen their political power.



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SEE ALSO
Obituary: Joerg Haider
11 Oct 08 |  Europe
Country profile: Austria
11 Oct 08 |  Country profiles
The politician who cries wolf
26 Nov 02 |  Europe
Haider's enduring appeal
08 Mar 04 |  Europe
Timeline: Austria
11 Oct 08 |  Country profiles


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