Foreign Minister Resigns In Austria
VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ Foreign Minister Leopold Gratz announced his resignation today, continuing the political chain reaction set off by Kurt Waldheim’s presidential victory.
Waldheim, supported by the opposition conservatives, took 53.9 percent of the votes in Sunday’s election, defeating Kurt Steyrer, the Socialist candidate.
Chancellor Fred Sinowatz announced his resignation Monday after meeting with his Socialist Party colleagues.
″I step down as a consequence of the result of the presidential election,″ Gratz, another Socialist, said after a debate in Parliament. Party officials said more changes were expected before the new government is presented next Monday.
Foreign attention in the presidential election had focused on accusations by the World Jewish Congress that Waldheim was involved in war crimes and concealed his service with the German army during World War II. Waldheim has denied any wrongdoing.
Many Austrian voters saw the election as a chance to register discontent with their Socialist government. The Socialists held power alone or in coalition since 1970.
Franz Vranitzky, the Socialist finance minister, was named to succeed Sinowatz as the Socialists shuffled ranks to prepare for a parliamentary election next April. No successor was named immediately for Vranitzky or Gratz.
Commentators in the predominantly conservative press said the changes were too little and too late for the Socialists.
Although the president is mostly a ceremonial position in Austria, with little political power, the election demonstrated how Socialist support has waned as a result of political scandals, waste and unpopular economic policy.
Parliamentarians from the conservative People’s Party repeated a call today for early elections.
″The resignation of Chancellor Sinowatz is the public admission that the experiment of the socialist coalition has failed,″ a People’s Party statement said.
″Questions such as the cleanup of the state industries, the carrying out of a tax reform, the solution to energy questions and security for pensions and retirement benefits, a new farm policy, etc., have been shoved aside,″ it said.
″Even with Franz Vranitzky as chancellor, the (Socialists) are pretty certain to lose the parliamentary elections,″ the Kurier newspaper said in a front-page editorial. ″A majority of Austrians want a change.″
Neue Kronen Zeitung, the nation’s largest circulation newspaper, said the Waldheim election touched off a ″moderate to strong political earthquake in the government.″
Once elected, the president is required by law to be non-partisan, and Waldheim offered no public comment on the affair. He is to be sworn in July 8.
On Monday, Waldheim said he wanted reconciliation with Israel, where politicians have been especially bitter in their attacks on him. He also said he would be ″relaxed″ at the prospect of an international panel of experts investigating his past.
Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, an Austrian, suggested the panel after the election, and a group of prominent Austrian Jews supported the idea today.
Waldheim said such a body would absolve him of any wrongdoing.
″I have many friends in the world and I am sure that I shall be able to contribute to resolving some of the doubts which have been expressed recently,″ Waldheim said.