(AFP) – Oct 11, 2008
VIENNA (AFP) — Austrian far-right leader Joerg Haider, who sparked outrage with comments praising Nazi policies, died in a car crash Saturday, prompting shocked tributes and speculation about the country's political future.
Haider, 58, leader of the Alliance for the Future of Austria party (BZOe), was at the wheel of his official car in the early hours of Saturday when it veered off the road south of Klagenfurt, the capital of the province of Carinthia where he was governor.
He suffered serious head and chest injuries when the car turned over several times, and died while on his way to hospital, police said.
Austrian President Heinz Fischer said Haider was a "politician of great talent" who "aroused enthusiasm but also strong criticism."
Werner Faymann, the Social Democratic leader who is expected to form a new government after elections last month which pushed the country rightwards, called Haider "an exceptional politician."
Greens leader Eva Glawischnig, whose party strongly opposed Haider, spoke of the "tragic death of one of the most outstanding and controversial Austrian political figures of recent decades."
Haider grabbed international attention after his anti-immigration, anti-EU party won more than a quarter of the vote in a 1999 general election and became part of the government.
For more than 20 years he was the face of Austria's far-right politics. While many supported his anti-immigrant, anti-EU rhetoric, to others he was a racist and opportunist.
In last month's general election, Haider had been part of a rebirth of the Austrian far-right against the country's mainstream social democrat and conservative parties.
His party scored 10.7 percent of the vote, making it the fourth biggest party behind the other far-right group, the Freedom Party (FPOe), which he had previously led, on 17.5 percent.
Abroad he will likely be best remembered for comments which appeared to pay tribute to Adolf Hitler's Nazis.
In 1991 he had to give up his post as governor of Carinthia after praising the Third Reich's employment policies.
He was elected again but in 1995 said the feared Waffen-SS should be "honoured." New criticism erupted when he told the Austrian parliament that Nazi concentration camps were just "disciplinary camps."
Newspapers to appear Sunday pondered the political consequences of Haider's death.
"Haider was, after his arrival in 1986 at the head of the (far-right) FPOe after a coup by its pan-German wing, someone who transformed political relationships," according to Christoph Kotanko, editor of the best-selling daily Kurier.
"Just as his 'brown' (neo-Nazi) ideas, his xenophobia and his aggressive populism needed to be rejected, so were his criticisms of political relationships in then 1980s and 1990s partly justified," according to the newspaper.
"The fact that everyone, even his bitterest enemies, say that Austrian political life has lost an extraordinary talent is undoubtedly not a display of hypocrisy," in the view of the right wing Die Presse.
Even so, according to Kurier, Haider was an individual "at the limit" who "too often provided bad answers to good questions" and finally "never reached the top" in spite of his efforts at the end to "enter the mainstream and be recognised by all sides."
Standard centre-left newspaper said that Haider's death clears the way for the two far-right parties, which between them collected 28 percent of the vote at last month's general election, to reunite.
Such a union "would mean a great deal in the relations between the political forces in Austria," Standard said.
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