Austria’s far-right Freedom Party tries to clean up pro-Nazi image

Chairman of the Freedom Party (FPOe) Heinz-Christian Strache, who flirted with neo-Nazism in his youth, has toned down the hard-line rhetoric and expelled party members for overstepping the mark since taking over from Joerg Haider in 2005. (AFP)
Updated 13 February 2018
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Austria’s far-right Freedom Party tries to clean up pro-Nazi image

Vienna: The far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) announced Tuesday a bid to clean up its pro-Nazi image by appointing a committee of historians to look into its history.
The move comes two months after the party, launched by former Nazis, joined the government and follows a series of scrapes involving its members.
In late January a regional official caught up in a scandal over a 1997 student fraternity songbook with lyrics glorifying Nazis was forced to resign.
“There’s been a lot of criticism of the FPOe, much of it unjustified, some, we have to say, justified,” parliamentary group leader Walter Rosenkranz told a press conference.
“We face the latent criticism that within the FPOe Nazi and neo-Nazi ideas are tolerated.
“No, they are not tolerated and those who think they can impose such ideas on us have nothing to do in the party,” Rosenkranz said.
Former FPOe MP and retired university professor Wilhelm Brauneder will chair the committee, which will invite contributions from researchers and representatives of independent bodies.
These will include the DOW resistance archive center, which specializes in Nazism and neo-Nazism and has been a powerful critic of the FPOe.
The party issued a statement Tuesday saying it “recognizes without reserve the Republic of Austria, democracy, parliamentarianism and the rule of law.”
The FPOe’s position on the Austrian state has long been perceived as ambiguous, with one faction still considering the country annexed by Adolf Hitler in 1938 as a German province.
“As members of the government, we have a special responsibility,” said FPOe general secretary Harald Vilimsky, adding that the party “clearly rejects Nazism, racism and anti-semitism.”
The new committee of historians, who are to produce a first report in the autumn, was promised last month by deputy chancellor and FPOe chief Heinz-Christian Strache.
Strache, who flirted with neo-Nazism in his youth, has toned down the hard-line rhetoric and expelled party members for overstepping the mark since taking over from Joerg Haider in 2005.
The FPOe, which has 51 MPs and ministers, is still viewed with suspicion by Austria’s main Jewish organization as well as Israel which boycotts official contact with the party.
Some have reacted with skepticism to the setting up of the commission.
The human rights group SOS Mitmensch pointed to the fact that Brauneder has had work published in a far-right Austrian magazine, along with another member of the commission, Andreas Moelzer.
Moelzer had to resign as an FPOe candidate for the European Parliament in 2014 after he reportedly told an event that the EU was in danger of becoming a “conglomerate of niggers, where everything is chaos.”
The DOW has said it will collaborate with the commission if it undertook “serious work,” in particular concerning the Burschenschaften student fraternities, some of which have ultra-nationalist leanings and which count many FPOe activists among their former members.
Rosenkranz said on Tuesday the fraternities were private organizations and couldn’t be forced to co-operate but DOW head Gerhard Baumgartner warned that the commission risked being reduced to an “attempt to whitewash the party’s image” if they weren’t included.


Death toll from anti-Vedanta protests in south India rises to 13

Updated 9 min 55 sec ago
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Death toll from anti-Vedanta protests in south India rises to 13

TUTICORIN, India: A protester shot during demonstrations against a copper plant in southern India died of his injuries Thursday, officials said, the 13th victim killed by police fire.
A curfew remained in pockets of Tuticorin city in Tamil Nadu state where police used live ammunition to disperse protesters this week, provoking international outrage and demands for an immediate investigation.
Calls for the copper smelting plant owned by British mining giant Vedanta Resources to be closed had been building in recent months, with residents complaining it was polluting their city.
The resistance came to a head Tuesday when police stopped a crowd of thousands from protesting outside the factory.
Cars and buildings were set ablaze and rocks hurled at police, who responded with live fire. Eleven demonstrators were shot dead and many people injured in the melee, including 20 police.
Another protester died Wednesday when he was struck by rubber bullets in a second day of protests.
The latest victim died in hospital Thursday, two days after being injured, doctors said.
“He was brought in a critical condition with bullet injuries and died today,” a doctor at the local hospital said.
The chief minister of Tamil Nadu has ordered an inquiry but defended the actions of police, which the state’s opposition leader called “mass murder.”
“The police have a duty during protests to maintain law and order, but lethal force can only be used if there is an imminent threat to life,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said.
“Tamil Nadu authorities need to carry out a prompt and credible investigation to determine if police used excessive force.”
Internet services have been blocked across the city for five days. Police justified the blackout to stop the spread of information that could incite further violence as they search for those behind Tuesday’s arson attacks.
Environmentalists and locals say the factory contaminates water and air, claims its owners deny.
The company has sought to renew the license of the temporarily non-operational plant and hopes to double its production capacity.
But a state court Wednesday ordered that it cease any further construction at the new site.
The ruling came just hours after Tamil Nadu’s pollution board ordered the existing plant be shut and its power supply cut until a verdict is made on its licensing application.