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Austria Delegate Utters Nazi-Era Greeting

May 8, 2006

VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ A delegate on the outer fringes of Austria’s far-right party on Sunday took his leave from the party’s convention with ``heil″ _ the greeting associated with Adolf Hitler. The head of the party said he saw nothing wrong with the word.

``I’d like to end my short address with a greeting that really is our old greeting ... I greet all of you with a heartfelt ’heil,‴ Walter Sucher told a meeting of the Vienna chapter of the FPO party. He received strong applause and shouts of approval.

While ``heil″ still is sometimes used by clubs or sports gatherings _ as in ``hunter’s heil,″ or ``skier’s heil,″ it is usually avoided _ particularly used alone _ because it is most commonly associated with ``Heil Hitler,″ the greeting demanded by the Nazi leader.

But Heinz-Christian Strache, head of the FPO, did not take issue with the greeting.

``I travel a lot in the western (Austrian) provinces, and wherever I go I am met with this word,″ the Austria Press Agency quoted him as saying. He argued it had nothing to do with pro-Hitler sentiment.

Strache, who is also head of the Vienna chapter of his party, was re-elected to that post Sunday with 93.75 percent of ballots cast.

The FPO, which runs its election campaigns on a strong anti-foreigner platform, has the support of Austria’s far-right voter fringe, including some linked to anti-Semitic sentiments.

It has turned more radical since Joerg Haider, who led it into government after it finished second in 1999 federal elections, left the party last year and took with him its more moderate members to form a new party.

While the FPO met in the Austrian capital on Sunday, about 10,000 people _ including Austrian President Heinz Fischer and other government dignitaries _ gathered in Mauthausen in Upper Austria province to commemorate the 61st anniversary of the concentration camp’s liberation from the Nazis.

About half of the more than 200,000 people held at Mauthausen and its subsidiary camps died. It was the last big Nazi death camp still operating when the U.S. Third Army’s 11th Armored Division arrived in early May 1945.

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