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Trouble Stalks Austrian Government over Defense Minister’s Personal Welcome to Nazi War Criminal

Chancellor Fred Sinowatz’s Socialist-led coalition government appears to be in serious trouble over the fate of Defense Minister Friedhelm Frischenschlager which will be decided in Parliament tomorrow.

Frischenschlager raised a political storm last week when he went to Graz to personally greet Walter Reder, a Nazi war criminal convicted of mass murder who returned to his native Austria after nearly 40 years in an Italian prison.

Demands for Frischenschlager’s resignation are mounting, especially among Socialist members of Parliament and some key Socialist ministers. But Sinowatz, who accepted Frischenschlager’s apology for his conduct earlier this week, is determined to retain the Defense Minister in his Cabinet.

To force his resignation would break the coalition between the Socialists and Frischenschlager’s Freiheitliche Partie Oesterreichs (Freedom Party) and bring down the government. But the Socialist faction in Parliament is split. Many Socialists have been unhappy from the outset over their partnership with the Freedom Party which has a strong right-wing nationalist faction. The Frischenschlager-Reder affair has become a catalyst for their discontent.

THREATS OF RESIGNATIONS

Sinowatz, for his part, has threatened to resign if Frischenschlager is ousted. So has Vice Chancellor Norbert Steger, leader of the Freedom Party. The outcome of tomorrow’s Parliamentary debate is in doubt.

The opposition People’s Party has submitted a motion for Frischenschlager’s ouster. It insists, more over, that the vote be by roll-call rather than by party bloc which is the usual practice. The Peoples Party has sufficient representation to force a roll-call, and many Socialist members support them.

Maria Berger, leader of the young Socialist faction has demanded that party discipline be lifted. In that case, Socialists who have denounced Frischenschlager’s action could hardly vote to keep him in the government.

POLL FAVORS MINISTER’S RETENTION

Public opinion in Austria favors Frischenschlager’s retention in the government by a 45-25 percent margin, according to a poll just taken. It is split along generational lines. A large majority of the respondents under 25 think he should resign.

Italy is involved in the matter inasmuch as it released Reder from jail six months before expiration of his sentence because of an appeal on humanitarian grounds from Austria. Giovanni Malagodi, honorary chairman of the Italian Liberal Party which is linked ideologically to Austria’s Freedom Party, has demanded clarification from the latter with respect to its positions on nationalism and even national socialism.

Malagodi said such clarification is necessary to prevent strong protests that could endanger the congress of the International Organization of Liberal Parties scheduled to be held in Vienna next year.

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