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Chancellor Threatens to Quit Amid Waldheim Furor

February 15, 1988|From Reuters

VIENNA — Austrian Chancellor Franz Vranitzky threatened to resign on Sunday, saying the controversy raging around President Kurt Waldheim over his alleged involvement in World War II crimes is preventing his government from dealing with other problems.

Vranitzky said in a television interview that the Socialist-led coalition government with the conservative People's Party, which backed Waldheim in his race for the presidency, had made significant achievements since coming to power in January, 1987, but that he now spends 60% of his work-time on the Waldheim affair.

He Cites Other Duties

He said that if the Waldheim issue continues to dominate his schedule "within a foreseeable time . . . then I will not be able to take my other real duties seriously, and then the question will arise for me if I actually can go on in that way."

Asked if that meant he was prepared to resign, Vranitzky responded: "Yes, that is correct."

After Vranitzky made his threat, about 5,000 people gathered near St. Stephen's Cathedral in central Vienna, demanding that Waldheim resign in the biggest Austrian demonstration against him so far.

Several speakers, including the head of the small Liberal Initiative movement, urged Parliament to begin impeachment proceedings.

The demonstrators then marched to Waldheim's office in the Hofburg, former palace of the Hapsburg emperors, some carrying a large banner reading: "Go! Kurti, Go!"

In his most critical comments ever on Waldheim, Vranitzky said the former U.N. secretary general has not dealt seriously with the truth about his wartime past and questioned whether he could ever regain credibility.

He urged the president to realize he faced opposition at home as well as abroad. Waldheim and his backers must stop blaming his problems on an "international Jewish conspiracy," the chancellor said.

Waldheim has ignored growing pressure to quit after a historians' report concluded that while he "went along with unlawful acts" while serving in the German army in the Balkans in World War II, there was no evidence that he was guilty of Nazi war crimes.

Vranitzky, 50, said that so far Waldheim has not given an adequate response to the six military historians' findings.

"There is enough criticism at home and enough to be taken seriously. . . . The president has not been very accurate with the truth in the course of all these events."

Vranitzky continued to refuse to openly demand Waldheim's resignation, saying that given the president's current mood, it was more likely to lead to a breakup of the government rather than the president's removal.

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