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Holocaust Center Turns Haider Away

February 17, 2000

TORONTO (AP) _ Austrian right-wing politician Joerg Haider was rebuffed when he tried to visit Montreal’s Holocaust Center during an unannounced visit to Canada this week, a Jewish leader said.

Moshe Ronen, president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said his group questioned Haider’s motive in asking for the tour and had recommended the center turn him away.

``Our advice to the museum was not to accommodate this bizarre request,″ Ronen said Wednesday. ``They did not accommodate the visit.″

Haider refused to comment to journalists at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, where he was staying.

Jewish groups and most European nations have been overtly skeptical of any attempt by Haider to rehabilitate his image since his party joined a coalition government in Austria. Haider gained notoriety for comments praising some Nazi policies _ though he has since apologized.

Haider told the Montreal Gazette that he had received an invitation in December to a wedding by the Tash Hasidic community, an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect that traces its history to the Austro-Hungarian empire.

``We are invited to come here and to meet people from the Jewish community,″ Haider told the Gazette. ``We have good links to them.″

But a statement issued by the Tash Hassidic Community said Haider ``never received an invitation to visit our community and we have no intention of meeting with him.″

Israel Lowen, director of the community, said today that someone outside the community sent a letter to Haider that used the community’s name.

``We didn’t even know who Mr. Haider was,″ Lowen said. ``We were fooled. ... I never signed that letter.″

It was unclear what Haider’s itinerary was, although he hinted he was going to Toronto.

Canada has downgraded relations with Austria over the inclusion of Haider’s Freedom Party in the government. Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy said Wednesday that Canada received no advance notice that Haider would be arriving Tuesday night. Austrians do not need a visa to enter Canada.

Since the Freedom Party became part of Austria’s coalition government on Feb. 4, several countries have protested. Israel withdrew its ambassador from Vienna, and Israeli Interior Minister Natan Sharansky has banned the populist leader from entering the country.

Haider has praised Adolf Hitler’s ``orderly″ economic policies and has described SS veterans as honorable. He has since apologized for remarks that specifically offended Jews, but many say that his anti-immigrant rhetoric deliberately echoes Austria’s fascist past.

On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said Haider would never persuade the world that his views were not racist.

``It was not the slips of the tongue that shocked us,″ Barak said in a speech welcoming German President Johannes Rau to Israel’s parliament. ``It was the opinions, the true, racist and antidemocratic opinions that Joerg Haider may try to refrain from expressing openly from now on.″

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