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Austrian leader bows out - for now

Jrg Haider said he would resign as party leader Feb. 28. Few think he's really gone.

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Opponents at home have dubbed it a savvy bid aimed at an eventual run for Austria's top political post. Abroad, it was met with everything from open skepticism to a wait-and-see attitude.

Far-right politician Jrg Haider announced Feb. 28 that he intended to step down as head of the far-right Freedom Party. But so far, there are few signs that the move succeeded in reducing international criticism and diplomatic isolation of Austria since the party joined the coalition government on Feb. 4.

Justice Minister Michael Krger, with the Freedom Party, also resigned Feb. 29, but it was unclear whether the decisions were related.

Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, of the center-right People's Party, said Mr. Haider was "taking a personal part in easing the tensions in the European Union," by stepping down. But EU leaders appeared unimpressed.

"The problem is not Jrg Haider, but what his party represents," Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres told reporters in Lisbon. Portugal currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.

Haider has come under fire for praising some aspects of the Nazi regime, for which he later apologized. He and other party officials also have denounced foreign workers in Austria.

The US State department called Haider's resignation a "step in the right direction," but said it remained concerned that the Freedom Party remains in government. Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy said the resignation "does not change anything for us." Israel withdrew its ambassador from Vienna after the coalition government took office.


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