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Haider Brands Churchill A 'Criminal'

Right-wing Austrian politician Joerg Haider created another uproar, calling Britain's greatest wartime hero a terrible criminal, says CBS News Reporter Pamela McCall.

In an interview with Britain's Sunday Telegraph, Haider branded Winston Churchill "one of the greatest criminals" of the 20th Century, saying he was responsible for destroying the German city of Dresden during the Second World War. He also mocked a cancelled visit by the Prince of Wales in protest of Haider's election.

"The Austrian people would have been disappointed if Diana had been coming, and then cancelled," he remarked. "But this is not the case."

He also paused before answering when asked whether he would have joined the Nazis, as his father had done.

"It's not easy to say, because with the privilege of hindsight, you know exactly what you have to do." Then he grinned. "I think I would have been in prison during the Nazi period, because I am a fighter for freedom and not for dictatorship."

He also expressed admiration for British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"Well, if you compare our program with the program of Blair, you will find a lot of similarities. He is protecting England against criminals, the same thing we want to do. He wants to have lifelong observation of criminals who hurt children, these are similar to our proposals, as well as the program to provide jobs for the young generation, to reduce youth unemployment."

Mr Haider's comments came as the Duke of Kent prepared to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the Dresden raid. The Duke will present a replica orb and cross to Dresden's cathedral, which was destroyed in the raid of February 13, 1945.

In a speech to be delivered in German, the Duke will praise efforts to rebuild the former East German city and the famous Frauenkirche Lutheran cathedral. He will describe the gilded orb and cross, to replace the one destroyed in the bombing, as a potent symbol of suffering, reconciliation and rebirth.

On Monday, Austria will explain its case and ask for understanding from the European Union, when it attends its first formal meeting of the bloc since Haider's far-right party entered the Vienna government. Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner is expected to put Vienna's case during a two-day meeting of the bloc's foreign ministers.

Austria's 14 EU partners have frozen bilateral ties with Vienna amid an international outcry over the government, but agreed to continue working relations within the EU.

However, tensions over the new government will never be far from the surface at the EU foreign ministers meeting.

At an informal EU meeting in Lisbon on Friday, the employment ministers of France and Belgium, which have taken the fiercest stand against the new Austrian government, got up and temporarily left when Austria's representative, a member of Haider's party, rose to speak.

Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel on Sunday reiteated Belgium's intention not to have any bilateral relations with Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel's government, rejecting calls to judge it and Haider on acts only.

Meanwhile, Haider said in a Hungarian newspaper interview on Saturday that the the EU should admit countries bordering on Austria only when they reach Austrian wage levels.

That remark could cast a shadow over the EU's opening of formal membership negotiations on Tuesday. Austria borders four of the 12 countries admitted to the membership talks.

©2000 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Reuters, Ltd. contributed to this report