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Public Support for Waldheim Dips, Poll Says

February 21, 1988|From Reuters

VIENNA — Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, defiantly resisting mounting pressure to resign over his wartime record, suffered a further setback Saturday after a public opinion poll showed he had lost support of the majority of Austrians.

The poll, commissioned by the conservative Salzburger Nachrichten, showed that 55% of the population would definitely or probably vote against him if elections were held today. The finding came amid signs that Waldheim's political backers are also moving away from him.

The latest survey was the fourth public opinion poll held since an international panel of historians submitted a report on Waldheim's career in the German army during World War II, which concluded that he had not been personally involved in war crimes, but had acquiesced in Nazi atrocities in the Balkans.

The latest poll was the first to show he no longer had the support of the "majority of Austrians" as he claimed earlier this week when he again rejected calls to step down.

Party Reviews Support

Helmut Kukacka, general secretary of the conservative People's Party, which had backed Waldheim's presidential candidacy two years ago and defended him against charges of concealing his wartime past, said Saturday his party was rethinking its support for the beleaguered president.

In an interview with the conservative Die Presse, Kukacka said his party, or some of its members at least, would not support Waldheim at the price of "self-sacrifice."

Kukacka said the party, junior partner in Austria's Socialist-conservative government coalition, would do all it could to strengthen the president's position but said Waldheim must do more himself to defend himself against charges he lied over his wartime past.

"The president must go on the offensive and make up for deficits in his credibility," Kukacka told Die Presse.

Saturday's poll showed 48% of those polled doubt Waldheim's credibility, opposed to 35% who believe him.

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