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Austrian parties agree N-plant deal

Temelin nuclear power station has been plagued by problems
Temelin nuclear power station has been plagued by problems  

VIENNA, Austria -- The threat to the coalition government in Austria appears to have passed after the dispute over a nuclear power plant in the neighbouring Czech Republic was resolved.

The far-right Freedom Party called on Wednesday for early parliamentary elections if its senior coalition partners, Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel's right-of-centre People's Party, did not join its campaign to have the Temelin nuclear plant shut down.

But on Thursday, the centre-right coalition parties said they had patched up their differences.

"Our project of reform has not come to an end," Schuessel told a news conference.

"On the contrary we want to carry on with full commitment until the end of the legislative period (in autumn 2003)."

Austrians are overwhelmingly opposed to atomic power and have no nuclear plants of their own.

Schuessel, flanked by far-right Freedom Party leader and Vice-Chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer, conceded there had been "massive tensions" between his People's Party and the Freedom Party in recent days.

These were sparked by a Freedom Party petition, signed by 15.5 percent of Austrian voters, demanding that Austria should veto Czech accession to the EU unless the controversial Temelin was shut down.

'Energy partnership'

Prague insists the plant, 60 km (40 miles) from the border with Austria, is safe and said the petition was really aimed at preventing it from joining the EU.

Schuessel, a committed European, had categorically ruled out an Austrian veto.

But the Freedom Party's controversial former leader Joerg Haider raised doubts over the ruling coalition's future by saying elections not due until the end of 2003, could take place in the next few months.

Under the deal ending the most bitter public dispute between the parties since the government took office in February 2000, the Freedom Party re-affirmed its commitment to EU enlargement as long as Austria's interests were properly protected.

Schuessel agreed to seek further talks with the Czech Republic over Temelin once a new Czech government is in place after elections this year, while stressing this would not mean renegotiating an existing treaty with Prague.

The treaty, enshrining safety guarantees for the Temelin plant, had also created an "energy partnership" between the two countries which allowed them to discuss any relevant issues.

"This energy partnership includes the possibility of talking about everything to do with the energy policy of this country (the Czech Republic)," Schuessel said.

"Austria could contribute a lot to ensuring alternatives to nuclear energy."

Riess-Passer said: "We agreed to take up negotiations with the new Czech government after the election with the joint goal of doing everything to reach a solution in the Temelin question with a view to its closure."


• Austria poll threat over N-plant
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• Czechs, Austrians bid to heal rift
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• Austria calls on EU to end sanctions
September 8, 2000
• EU lifts sanctions against Austria
September 12, 2000
• Leak at Czech nuclear plant
May 31, 2001
• Czech nuclear plant sparks fury
October 10, 2000



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