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Austria's far-right in disarray

Haider's decision leaves the Freedom Party leaderless
Haider's decision leaves the Freedom Party leaderless  

VIENNA, Austria -- The executive committee of Austria's far-right Freedom Party is holding a crisis meeting after Joerg Haider's decided not to become its leader for a second time.

Austria's ruling coalition collapsed last week after Haider led a revolt with the Freedom Party, which entered government with the conservative People's Party in 2000.

The Freedom Party's executive committee was scheduled to meet at 1100 GMT on Monday to discuss the escalating crisis.

Haider ousted his more moderate successor Susanne Riess-Passer, Austria's Vice-Chancellor, and Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser, for supporting government plans to purchase 18 Eurofighter jets and to delay tax cuts.

The crisis prompted Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel to dissolve the coalition and call elections on November 24 -- almost a year earlier than scheduled.

It had been expected that with Riess-Passer gone, Haider would return to head the party.

But in a statement published by the Austria Press Agency, Haider said on Saturday he had considered reassuming the leadership but had withdrawn his candidacy because he encountered too much party opposition on a range of issues, including lowering taxes, restricting immigration and European Union expansion.

Chancellor Schuessel has dissolved the coalition and called an early election
Chancellor Schuessel has dissolved the coalition and called an early election  

Freedom Party leaders were surprised by Haider's decision and called for Riess-Passer to reconsider her refusal to lead the party into the election.

"I appeal to Vice Chancellor (Riess-Passer) to tell us whether she really intends not to return to chair the party," Justice Minister Dieter Boehmdorfer said on Sunday.

Stefan Salzl, head of the Freedom Party in the province of Burgenland, seconded the justice minister's appeal.

Analysts said the collapse of the coalition could help propel the Social Democrats back into power.


• Austria set for early elections
September 9, 2002
• Austria tax crisis over: Haider
September 5, 2002
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