Austrians Reject an Initiative to Close Country to Foreigners

Liberal politicians in Austria say they are relieved at the poor showing of a popular initiative that aimed to declare the country closed to foreigners and institute racist regulations.

The initiative, organized by Jorg Haider, leader of the far-right Freedom Party, was signed by 417,278 of 5.6 million eligible voters, or slightly less than 7.5 percent of the electorate.

“The sun shines today, but not for Jorg Haider and his xenophobic poll,” said Franz Vranitzky, the Austrian chancellor.

Haider, who heads up the country’s third-largest party and received about 780,000 votes in the last election, had said he was expecting to collect between 780,000 and 1 million votes.

By law, any initiative that garners more than 100,000 votes must be debated in the federal Parliament. However, the poor result was seen as a major political defeat for Haider.

The 12-point initiative called upon Austria to stop all immigration until the issue of illegal immigration is resolved and unemployment, now at 6.8 percent, is reduced to 5 percent.

The initiative also demanded that schools allow only a maximum of 30 percent non-German speakers.

The final results of the initiative were published just a week after hundreds of thousands of Austrians demonstrated in Vienna against racism and anti-foreigner prejudice in a special evening rally.

Haider charged after the results of the initiative were made public that “a broad united front of the church, the trade unions and the big party machineries” had defeated him.

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