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Austrians Protest 'Native Son' Schwarzenegger's Death Sentence Policy - 2004-02-08

Protests are mounting in California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's native Austria against his refusal to commute a death sentence scheduled to be carried out Tuesday in a California state prison.

The actor's recent election as governor of California was cause for jubilation in Austria. But now, Austrians are demonstrating against the "Terminator's" refusal to commute the death sentence of Kevin Cooper, an African-American convicted of multiple murder. Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner says she is "disappointed" by Mr. Schwarzenegger. Speaker Heinz Fischer of the Austrian parliament says in his view the death penalty "has no legitimate place in a modern society."

Another Austrian, Peter Schieder, president of the Strasburg-based Council of Europe, has written an official letter to Mr. Schwarzenegger after appealing to the U.S. federal government to abolish the death penalty.

"The answer of the United States from the side of the administration and parliamentarians was that this is not a federal problem but a problem of the different states," he said. "So we react and ask governors in the state in which this punishment could happen or will happen, not to do it."

The mayor of Austria's second city, Graz, has also launched a last-minute appeal under the slogan "Arnie, don't do it."

The Austrian Green Party is organizing demonstrations in Mr. Schwarzenegger's home state of Styria. It is calling for the local Schwarzenegger football stadium to be renamed.

Mr. Schieder says the actor-turned-governor, who still holds an Austrian passport, should understand the feelings back home.

"I hope that he at least looks at the case and that he is aware that the picture he and his state are giving in Europe is a bad one if he sentences a person to death," said Mr. Schieder.

Last week the United States came under attack from Switzerland in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe for still imposing the death penalty. The United States is a member of the OSCE, and responded that capital punishment does not violate any international laws.