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Austria's Far Right Is Sworn Into Office

Europe: President asks international community to give new government a chance. U.S. recalls envoy, and other nations impose sanctions amid protests in Vienna.

February 05, 2000|PAUL WATSON and JOHN-THOR DAHLBURG | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

VIENNA — Only hours after six members of Joerg Haider's far-right Freedom Party joined Austria's federal government, the punishment began as the U.S. called home its ambassador, European governments imposed their own diplomatic sanctions, and private citizens protested and threatened boycotts.

Austrian President Thomas Klestil admitted in a televised address to his nation of 8 million people that he is worried about the political furor ignited by his decision to give the far right a share of national power.

But he also asked Austrians, the rest of Europe and the world "to give the new federal government a chance and to judge it on its work."

"I promise you that I shall see to it that there are no developments in our country which contradict the values of the European Union and of the international community," Klestil said in his brief speech.

"I shall also make use of all my international contacts in order to ensure that our country will not suffer any lasting damage," the president added. "I shall argue convincingly that Austria is a good country with good people and a future generation with an open mind for the world, a generation which should be encouraged, not ostracized."

Haider also offered words of reassurance in an interview published Friday in an Israeli newspaper. "We are not an ultra-right party but right-center," he told Yediot Aharonot, Israel's largest daily. ". . . . We are not racists."

Nonetheless, the U.S. temporarily recalled its ambassador to Austria, Kathryn Walt Hall, for consultations. And the response might not stop there, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in Washington on Friday.

"We have decided to limit our contacts with the new government, and we will see whether further actions are necessary to advance our support for democratic values," Albright said at a news conference with Spanish Foreign Minister Abel Matutes.

Austria's 14 partners in the European Union began making good on their threat to impose a partial political quarantine on the new government in Vienna, though the measures were largely symbolic. For example, it was made clear in Paris and London that the Austrian ambassador could no longer be received by government ministers. Danish officials already had pulled out of a dinner given by the Austrian Embassy in Copenhagen, and French Defense Minister Alain Richard canceled a visit to meet with his counterpart in Vienna.

Belgium's government urged other EU ministers to avoid even informal contacts with their Austrian counterparts.

For now, these sanctions do not affect Austria's standing as a member of the European Union. But there were signs Friday that the new leaders in Vienna could face a spiral of economic reprisals and grass-roots protests across Europe that would be far more damaging than diplomatic demarches.

In Belgium, which has a potent far-right party of Flemish nationalists, the Defense Ministry said Friday that it was canceling an order, worth nearly $1 million, for six armored ambulances from an Austrian supplier.

"It is to show [the] indignation at the entry of the extreme right into the Austrian government," a ministry spokeswoman explained.

A group of French artists and intellectuals, including filmmaker Constantin Costa-Gavras, called on fellow Europeans to boycott artistic events in Austria. "The alliance between the conservative party and the extreme right will drag Austria into an infernal spiral," the group predicted in an open letter.

And Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the Holocaust, announced that he was scrapping plans to visit Austria in May to deliver a speech at the site of the Mauthausen concentration camp. Wiesel, who had been invited by then-Chancellor Viktor Klima, said Friday, "I do not want to come to a country whose government is made up of people who preach hatred."

Haider, who has minimized Nazi atrocities during World War II and spoken out against immigrants and European Union expansion, led his party to second place in Austria's Oct. 3 elections, with just less than 27% of the vote.

No party won a majority in parliament, and when Klima's Social Democratic Party failed to form a coalition with the conservative People's Party last month, its leader, Wolfgang Schuessel, turned to Haider to form a government. Although Haider will remain governor of Carinthia province, critics believe that he will influence government policies.

Outside Vienna's Hofburg palace, a few thousand protesters threw stones and beer bottles and clashed with riot police as the new coalition government was sworn in. Some threw eggs and paint, forcing the new ministers to leave the swearing-in ceremony through an underground tunnel. Later Friday, protesters stormed a government building housing the Social Affairs Ministry.

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