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Austrian 'Silent' Majority Backs Him, Waldheim Says

February 14, 1988|Associated Press

VIENNA — President Kurt Waldheim was quoted today as saying he will not resign because a "great" and "silent" majority of Austrians supports him despite the furor over his World War II conduct.

"I feel the group who makes the demand that I should resign is relatively small compared to those who want me to stay in office," the president said in an interview published in the tabloid Kurier.

On Saturday, Chancellor Franz Vranitzky launched his harshest criticism yet of Waldheim when he said that mere non-involvement in war crimes did not qualify one to be president of Austria.

A top government official disclosed, meanwhile, that a majority in the Socialist Party wants Waldheim to resign. The Socialists are senior partners in the coalition government with the conservative People's Party, which had backed Waldheim in his 1986 campaign for the presidency.

Vranitzky, a Socialist, spoke in a radio interview about Waldheim, whose duties as head of state are mostly ceremonial. He criticized the president's conduct throughout the international debate about his wartime activities.

Without mentioning names, Vranitzky berated Waldheim and his conservative backers for accepting word from six military historians saying they found no evidence Waldheim was involved in war crimes.

The 202-page document, presented on Monday, established Waldheim's "close proximity" to wartime atrocities in the Balkans and seriously questioned his moral integrity as a German army officer during World War II.

Last year, the U.S. Justice Department barred Waldheim from the country as an undesirable alien.

Vranitzky told Austrian radio: "After all, nobody has ever conducted an election campaign by saying: 'Please vote for me because I am not a war criminal.' The federal president will certainly continue to be confronted with a series of questions and will have to face up to them."

In the Kurier interview, Waldheim said: "I do not at all share the opinion of the historians' commission" that he had kept silent about or belittled his wartime activities.

"I was also . . . of the opinion that it did not belong in the framework of this task (of the commission) to make such assumptions and interpretations.

"After all the surveys, I am rather convinced that the great majority, which is very often the silent one, wants me to stay on," he was quoted as saying.

Waldheim was in Innsbruck on Saturday with King Hussein of Jordan in his first public appearance since the commission's report was released.

The president was greeted by about 50 whistling protesters who called for his resignation and threw eggs at waiting limousines.

Waldheim is scheduled to address the nation Monday night.

In West Germany, meanwhile, Der Spiegel magazine said that a document linking Waldheim to the deportation of thousands of civilians during the war was a fake and apologized for publishing it.

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