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Europe Still Isolating Austria

February 29, 2000

VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ A day after resigning as leader of the far-right Freedom Party, Joerg Haider lashed out at the European Union Tuesday for its drive to ostracize Austria over his party’s role in government.

Haider kept up the stream of invective against his opponents _ long the hallmark of a political style that many of Europeans find offensive.

In an interview with Austrian state television, Haider called the EU actions against Austria’s government ``childish.″

``Europe made a mistake,″ he said. ``You don’t treat a democratic and exemplary country this way.″

From his headquarters in Klagenfurt, where he serves as governor of Carinthia state, Haider on Tuesday dismissed European economic sanctions as ineffective and warned the French that they must learn to deal with the Austrians when Paris takes over the rotating EU presidency in July.

Haider said traditional European politicians fear his populist style, including his critic German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, whom he called ``a former RAF sympathizer,″ referring to the underground Red Army Faction that terrorized Germany in the 1970s.

Haider’s resignation was dismissed by critics as a ploy to boost his chances of leading a future Austrian government.

One after another, major European countries such as Britain, France and Germany affirmed that with or without Haider as party leader, Austria’s isolation would continue so long as his party remains in government.

``The problem is not Joerg Haider but what his party represents,″ Portugal’s prime minister, Antonio Guterres, said Tuesday in Lisbon. Portugal now holds the EU rotating presidency.

Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy said Haider’s resignation ``does not change anything for us″ because the Freedom Party remains in the government. Levy also said Israel would not return its ambassador, who was withdrawn Feb. 4 when the new ruling coalition took office.

Haider, who won notoriety for statements supporting of Waffen SS veterans and Adolf Hitler’s ``orderly″ employment policies, announced his resignation Monday in an apparent bid to ease international criticism of the coalition with the center-right Austrian People’s Party of Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel.

Schuessel said Tuesday that Haider, who held no national government post, was taking ``a personal part in easing the tensions in the European Union.″

The 14 other EU members downgraded relations with Austria because of the presence of Haider’s party in the government. At EU ministerial meetings on Monday, Austrian delegates were publicly shunned.

Referring to France’s term as EU president, Haider said Tuesday that ``if the French want to bring about results, they should treat Austria decently″ because they cannot pass any measures if Austria, which remains an EU member, exercises its veto.

Vice Chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer, who succeeded Haider as Freedom Party chief, said she would try to convince the world that ``the prejudices against the Freedom Party are not justified.″

Also Tuesday, Dieter Boehmdorfer, a longtime friend of Haider’s, was sworn in as new justice minister. He succeeds a Freedom Party member, Michael Krueger, who stepped down, citing stress as the reason for his resignation. Krueger was hospitalized over the weekend, the Austria Press Agency said, without going into specifics.

The president of the European Parliament, Nicole Fontaine, said that time would tell whether the resignation ``is a skillful political move″ or a response to ``moral pressure″ from Haider critics at home and abroad.

Such skepticism was also widespread within the Austrian political establishment, where Haider has played a controversial role since assuming leadership of the Freedom Party in 1986.

The Vienna newspaper Die Presse newspaper suggested that Haider was trying to distance himself from the coalition before it makes difficult and probably unpopular decisions such as raising taxes.

That could improve his chances of becoming chancellor in the next elections.

``Haider will leave his gang of amateurs in the government and pursue opposition policies from Carinthia,″ Social Democratic leader Alfred Gusenbauer told Austrian television.

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