VIENNA — Austrian far-right leader Joerg Haider was killed in a car accident early today, the national news agency APA reported.
It quoted police as saying that Haider died after suffering severe head and chest injuries when the car he was driving went out of control and rolled several times outside the southern city of Klagenfurt. APA said Haider was alone in the car.
Rightist groups surged to a combined 30% of the vote in parliamentary elections last month, with Haider's smaller Alliance for Austria's Future tripling its support to about 12%.
Haider, 58, governor of Carinthia province, had been active in politics since his teen years. He became a full-time politician in 1977 for the right-wing Freedom Party.
He caused an international backlash when the Freedom Party formed a coalition government with the conservative People's Party in 2000, triggering widespread condemnation and European Union sanctions. The deal fell apart, leading to an early election in 2002 in which the Freedom Party lost heavily, followed by a remake of the coalition.
After struggles within the Freedom Party, Haider formed the breakaway Alliance for Austria's Future in 2005. His new party only just scraped past the 4% threshold to enter parliament in a national election in 2006.
Haider made headlines with his anti-immigration policies and verbal gaffes.
He once reproached Austria's government by citing what he called the "proper labor policies" of the Third Reich. On another occasion he referred to concentration camps in a parliamentary debate as "penal camps."
Haider was also widely condemned for meeting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 2002. He said the meeting was a "purely humanitarian" matter.
This year, Haider set up a facility in the remote mountains of southern Austria to handle asylum seekers suspected of crimes, saying they need to be isolated to protect people in the area. Haider maintained that the number of criminal asylum seekers was on the rise.