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Papal visit sparks Austrian row

Pope John Paul II, who has already established himself as a highly political figure, cannot seem to avoid politics even in coming to strictly neutral Austria.

The weeks before his arrival on Saturday have seen bitter recall of this strongly Roman Catholic country's civil conflict involving church and state between the two world wars and a hot row between the government's majority Socialist Party and the conservative, Catholic opposition.

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Tempers rose to the point where Austrian President Rudolf Kirchschlager had to intervene to cool them down, Monitor correspondent Eric Bourne writes. Bruno Kreisky, former Socialist chancellor, apologized for some of his followers' more abrasive comments.

The row over the visit was touched off by the Austrian Socialist Party's leftist youth wing, which said the visit was costing 60 million schillings (more than $3 million), money that it said would be better spent on the world's poor. It also criticized what it called the contradiction between the Pope's heavy involvement in Polish politics and his command that Catholic priests stay out of politics.

But the storm was made worse when the Socialist Party's principal newspaper, Arbeiterzeitung, raked over Austria's strife-torn history of the 1920s and '30s. Those years ended with a civil war and the suppression of the party by a ''clerical-fascist'' government supported by the Catholic Church leadership of that period.

The opposition People's Party then leaped into the fray. Dr. Kreisky prompted its newspaper to withdraw an ''old gangster'' taunt aimed at a prewar prelate. But it still needed soothing words from President Kirchschlager to cool passions on both sides.

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