Austria to Postpone Decision on Controversial Conference Center

Chancellor Fred Sinowatz announced a postponement today of a Parliamentary decision on the controversial international conference center to be built in Vienna, financed largely by Arab states.

The project has been attacked by the opposition Peoples Party on grounds that the Arab backers would exert undue influence over the management of the center, possibly excluding Israel from invitations to international gatherings. They also faulted the favorable terms granted the Arabs, especially tax exemptions which critics said would make the center more expensive to build than if financed by Austrian banks or bond issues.

The ruling Socialist-Liberal coalition which controls the Lower House of Parliament approved the project. The Peoples Party which commands a majority in the Upper House vetoed it. A motion is pending in the lower chamber to override the veto but Sinowatz said today that a vote on this has been postponed.

He defended the contract nevertheless, saying he is convinced that the Arab shareholders favor Austrian sovereignty in the management of the convention center. The project was initiated by former Chancellor Bruno Kreisky several years ago, mainly to create jobs at a time of rising unemployment. Kreisky sought financing from Arab Gulf states because his government was running a deficit.

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