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Upheaval at Salzburg Festival

February 15, 2000

SALZBURG, Austria (AP) _ Gerard Mortier, the director of the Salzburg Festival, on Tuesday blamed the far-right Freedom Party’s rise to power for his early pullout, calling it ``a fascist party.″

Mortier earlier announced he would quit as the prestigious music and drama festival’s top manager at the end of this coming summer’s program, a year ahead of the scheduled end of his contract.

``The Freedom Party is a fascist party in the truest sense of the word,″ Mortier told reporters. ``It may have come to power by democratic means, which does not change anything in its contents.″ But he said he was not among those who call it ``a Nazi party.″

He blamed the Freedom Party’s cultural policy as a reason for his early retirement from the festival.

Mortier, a Belgian, also said his time as festival director has been ``a piece of resistance ... against the Freedom Party, that’s why I am persona non grata″ for its leaders.

Reactions to populist Freedom Party leader Joerg Haider’s comments on the Belgian government have been particularly severe from Belgium. Haider alleged at one point that the Belgian government was ``corrupt.″

Mortier will be succeeded next year by Austrian-born Peter Ruzicka, who has worked for many years as a cultural manager in Germany.

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