- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2000

VIENNA, Austria Austria's president agreed Thursday to swear in a coalition government that includes a far-right party whose leader Joerg Haider has applauded aspects of the Nazi regime and who campaigned on an anti-immigrant platform.
Reaction was swift. Israel recalled its ambassador and banned Mr. Haider from visiting, even though the right-wing leader has repeatedly apologized for pro-Nazi remarks made years ago.
European Union nations started making good on threats to politically isolate Austria, something the United States has backed. The European Union also warned it may suspend the Alpine nation's membership.
The prospect of Mr. Haider's Freedom Party in government prompted about 2,000 protesters to take to the streets of Vienna late Thursday for a second straight night.
A group of them pushed their way into the city's historic Burgtheater and stormed the stage in the middle of a performance, calling on the audience to join a protest rally today before fleeing the building.
Despite the outcry both at home and abroad, President Thomas Klestil said the results of the Oct. 3 parliamentary elections give him little choice but to go ahead with Friday's swearing-in ceremony.
Mr. Klestil did reject two Cabinet nominees from Mr. Haider's Freedom Party, including one who authorized distribution of campaign posters in Vienna warning of "over-foreignization," a term that harkened back to the Nazi era.
The president also demanded that Mr. Haider and his coalition partner, Wolfgang Schuessel of the centrist Austrian People's Party, sign a statement renouncing the nation's Nazi past and promising to respect European values.
Mr. Haider won international notoriety and later apologized for statements praising Adolf Hitler's "orderly employment" policies and lauding veterans of the Waffen SS as "decent people of good character." He has also opposed EU expansion and urged a near halt to immigration.
Mr. Schuessel will become chancellor and Freedom Party official Susanne Riess-Passer will be vice chancellor.
Although Mr. Haider will remain governor of Carinthia state and hold no Cabinet post, he has a strong grip on the Freedom Party. Critics doubt Mr. Schuessel, whose hold on his own party is less firm, can control the mercurial Mr. Haider.
The declaration that the two leaders signed did not specifically refer to Mr. Haider's previous comments. However, Mr. Haider and Mr. Schuessel pledged to work for a democratic Austria where "xenophobia, anti-Semitism and racism have no place."
"Austria accepts her responsibility arising out of the tragic history of the 20th century and the horrendous crimes of the National Socialist regime," the statement said. "The singularity of the crimes of the Holocaust, which are without precedent in history, are an exhortation to permanent alertness against all forms of dictatorship and totalitarianism."
At a press conference after the signing ceremony, Mr. Haider insisted his party was committed to defending the rights of "ethnic and religious minorities" in Austria and could even serve as an example for the rest of Europe.
However, Mr. Haider later criticized Mr. Klestil for making him sign the declaration, terming it "an affront to the Austrian public." During an interview with a German television network, Mr. Haider said his foreign and domestic critics should realize "that we are a very democratic party that stands upon the foundations of the constitution."
In Washington, a State Department spokesman said Thursday that the Clinton administration would keep a close watch on the new coalition government.
"While it's premature to talk about our actions at this stage, we will determine what steps are appropriate based on what happens," James Foley said.
German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping said during a visit to Israel that the declaration "sounds like lip service" and that Austria is making "a historic mistake."
The Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France called the Austrian developments a "political shame without precedent in Europe since the end of the Second World War."
France's defense minister postponed a meeting with Austria on European defense; Portugal's president planned to call off a state visit in March.
In Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Barak called Mr. Haider "dangerous" to democracy and recalled the Jewish state's ambassador.
Israel did not post an ambassador to Austria from 1986 to 1992, during the presidency of Kurt Waldheim, who was dogged by accusations of involvement in Nazi persecution in the Balkans during World War II.
Mr. Haider's party won 52 seats in the 183 member parliament, as did the center-right People's Party. The Social Democrats, the main party in the outgoing coalition, took 65 seats too few to govern alone.

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