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Austria Right Poised For Power

January 26, 2000 - The leaders of Israel and Sweden joined Wednesday in a growing chorus of foreign concern about the possibility that Austrian far-right leader Joerg Haider's party will participate in the country's next government.

Late Tuesday, Viktor Klima, Austria's caretaker chancellor, announced that his Social Democrats were abandoning efforts to form a minority government, increasing chances that Haider's party will be part of the next government coalition.

That has alarmed some foreigners and Austrians who don't like Haider's opposition to immigration and the European Union's eastward expansion, as well as some controversial statements about the Nazi regime's employment policies.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said any government role for Haider or his party would be a "highly disturbing signal" that would influence his country's position toward Austria.

Swedish Prime Minister Goeran Persson suggested Haider's Freedom Party had no place in the government of a European Union country.

"The EU is also a union consisting of values," Persson said Wednesday. "The program that is developing in Austria is not in line with those values."

He and Barak spoke outside an International Forum on the Holocaust that opened Wednesday in Stockholm.

Tuesday's announcement by Klima that he was giving up attempts to form a minority government came soon after Haider's Freedom Party held a first round of talks with the Austrian People's Party, the junior partner in the 13-year, Social Democrat-led government.

Months-long talks to revive that coalition after October elections failed last week. Those elections left Haider's party in second place, behind Klima's Social Democrats and just ahead of the People's Party.

Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schuessel, head of the People's Party, said after talks with Haider that any joint government must be one "that says a clear `yes,' to Europe," alluding to Haider's past skepticism about the European Union.

Austria must specifically endorse EU expansion, Schuessel said. Haider's party has opposed it in the past. The Freedom Party has argued that any early entry of former Soviet bloc countries Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic would result in a mass inflow of cheap labor to Austria.

On Friday, President Thomas Klestil asked Klima to try to win approval for a minority government after coalition talks between the Social Democrats and the People's Party collapsed.

Klima told Austrian television that he saw "no chance" for success and would tell Klestil so Thursday after he returns from a one-day trip to Stockholm for the Holocaust conference.

A decade ago, Haider won international notoriety after he praised Adolf Hitler's employment policies and described veterans of the Waffen SS as "men of character." Haider has apologized repeatedly for those comments.

Before the talks with the Peole's Party, Haider told reporters he would not seek the post of chancellor and preferred to remain governor of Carinthia province.

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