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Austria's Far Right Leader Dies in Car Crash


Officials say Austrian politician Joerg Haider, whose far right views generated Western outrage, has died in a car crash. Stefan Bos reports that the 58-year-old Haider died early Saturday, reportedly while on his way to a family gathering.

Austria's national television interrupted its regular programming to announce the sudden death of Joerg Haider, one of Europe's most controversial politicians, following a car crash.

Investigators said the leader of the nationalist Alliance for Austria's Future Party and governor of the country's southern province of Carinthia, was driving his car early Saturday to attend the 90th birthday of his mother, when it veered off the road.

Police said the vehicle hit a concrete post, and rolled over several times before coming to a stop in the middle of the road, near the provincial capital Klagenfurt.

The incident happened apparently shortly after he passed a car. The woman driving the vehicle immediately called for help, but rescue teams were unable to safe his life.

Police and medical investigators said he suffered serious injuries to his head and chest and died on his way to hospital. Authorities stressed there were no indications of foul play, but that investigations would continue.

Haider's spokesman and the alliance's secretary-general, Stefan Petzner, told journalists the politician's death was "like the end of the world" for the party.

"This is for all of us a very difficult situation," he said, his voice trembling. "I will personally miss him, he was my best friend. Thank you Joerg, wherever you are now," he added.

His death concluded two decades in which Haider became a politician well known far beyond the borders of this small alpine nation. He once praised German war-time leader Adolf Hitler's employment policies, and visited former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

In 1999, Haider received 27 percent of the vote in national elections as leader of the Freedom Party. The party's subsequent inclusion in the government led to months of European Union sanctions over Haider's statements which were seen as anti-Semitic.

Haider condemned these steps as overblown. "To imagine that the whole world is afraid of Mr. Haider," he said.

Haider and his supporters broke away from the Freedom Party in 2005 to form the new Alliance for the Future of Austria part, meant to reflect a turn toward relative moderation.

Over the summer, he staged a comeback in national politics and helped his Alliance improve their standing in September 28 national elections.

Despite the controversy over Haider, leaders of different parties praised him as a talented politician who had set the tone of politics in Austria. The country's president Heinz Fischer told Austrian television he is shocked about Haider's death.

"This is especially a human tragedy. It was difficult to believe for me that this is possible," he said.

He adds that although Haider was a controversial politician, he had many political talents, including his ability "to understand and impress" the many people who voted for him.

Haider is survived by his wife, two daughters, and his mother.

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