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Austrian Mayor Pleads With Arnold

The mayor of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Austrian hometown on Tuesday begged the California governor to reconsider his decision to end ties to the city after locals assailed him for his death penalty stance.

Siegfried Nagl, mayor of the southern city of Graz, said he dashed off a letter to Schwarzenegger pleading with him not to return a ring of honor bestowed on him by officials in his birthplace in 1999 and reassuring him that most residents still admire him.

"I hope that very soon we'll hear you say, 'I'll be back,'" Nagl told the actor-turned-politician, one of Austria's most famous sons.

On Monday, Schwarzenegger caused a stir by turning the tables on Austrians who criticized the governor's refusal to block the executions of convicted killers. He sent Graz officials a letter asking them to remove his name from a soccer stadium and stop using it to promote the city, and said he was giving back the ring because it "has lost its meaning and value to me."

His demands effectively pre-empted a drive launched by opponents in Austria who already were gathering signatures on a petition calling for the 15,300-seat arena to be renamed.

The petition drive began last week amid a furor triggered by the execution in California of Stanley Tookie Williams. Capital punishment is illegal in Europe, where many people consider it barbaric. They are now waiting to see how Schwarzenegger deals with the scheduled Jan. 17 execution of a 75-year-old inmate.

"Graz will not have problems in the future with my decisions as governor of California, because officially nothing connects us any more," Schwarzenegger told the daily Kronen Zeitung in an interview for Tuesday's editions.

"The death penalty is law here, and I have to uphold the law of the land and the will of the people," Schwarzenegger was quoted as saying, adding that he still considered himself "Austrian with all my heart."

Nagl, the mayor of Graz, about 120 miles south of Vienna, accused the Social Democrats, pacifist Greens and others who criticized Schwarzenegger of orchestrating an "embarrassing farce."


Most locals, he said, remain proud of Schwarzenegger.

"I will try to explain to him that the majority of Grazers stand behind him," Nagl told Austrian television, describing the letter he was writing to Schwarzenegger. At a minimum, he said, he hoped to persuade Schwarzenegger to keep the ring though he conceded he didn't think the governor would change his mind.

"Those who know him realize he sticks to his opinions," he said. "The chances are not good. I regret this deeply, but I understand."

Schwarzenegger was born in 1947 in the village of Thal just outside Graz, where he began his bodybuilding career. He emigrated to the United States in 1968 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1984, but has retained his Austrian citizenship.

Kurt Flecker, a local official with the opposition Social Democrats, said Schwarzenegger damaged his own image not Graz's by refusing to spare Williams' life. There is no point, he said, in "glorifying anyone who supports the death penalty."

Walter Ferk, the deputy mayor of Graz, said Schwarzenegger's decision to allow executions to go forward makes him "an unsuitable godfather for a public building."

But Hermann Schuetzenhoefer, a tourism adviser in the province of Styria where Graz is located, said Tuesday he also wrote a letter to Schwarzenegger expressing regret "that some politicians who proudly bore your name a few years ago are dragging it through the dirt now."

"We continue to stand behind you, and I hope to see you soon back in the homeland," he wrote.
By William J. Kole

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