Haider dies in accident

Austrian far-right nationalist Joerg Haider in this file photo.

Austrian far-right nationalist Joerg Haider in this file photo.   | Photo Credit: — Photo: AFP

Vaiju Naravane

Triumphant political return lasts just weeks

Paris: Austrian extreme right leader Joerg Haider’s triumphant return to national politics lasted just a few weeks. The 58-year-old leader whose xenophobic, some say even racist, BZO (Movement for Austria’s Future) party made a strong showing in the polls last month, died in a car crash in as yet unexplained circumstances in the early hours of Saturday near his hometown of Klagenfurt in Austria’s Carinthia province of which he was Governor.

Early reports say Mr. Haider who was alone in his car veered off the road with his vehicle somersaulting several times. He suffered massive head and chest injuries. Earlier, another driver whom he had overtaken in a rash and aggressive manner had called the police to complain of his erratic and dangerous driving.

The extreme right won 29 per cent of the vote in elections held on September 28 placing Austria in an almost identical position as in 1999, when Mr. Haider first came to power at the national level and entered the government in a coalition with the Conservatives, a move which led to an EU diplomatic boycott of Austria. But Europe has moved so far right since then that this time Mr. Hairder’s probable return to power barely raised an eyebrow.

“For us this spells the end of the world,” said Stefan Petzner, spokesman and vice-president of the BZO. Mr. Haider’s disappearance could ring the death knell for this extreme right party which was held together by its charismatic leader and strengthen the hand of his arch rival Heinz-Christian Strache, the current leader of the ultra right FPO (Mr. Haider’s former party) who could unite the two extremist parties.

Mr. Haider first came to prominence in 1970 when he was the leader of the youth wing of the FPO, or the People’s Party. He took over the party in 1986 by getting rid of the liberal wing with the help of German ultra nationalists. His virulent anti foreigner rhetoric and pro-neo-Nazi rhetoric appealed to disaffected Austrian youth disillusioned with the scandal-ridden Socialists and Conservatives.

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