Austrian Haider killed in crash

Joerg Haider, whose far-right and anti-foreigner rhetoric once led to months of international isolation for Austria - dies in a car accident.

(FILES) Austria's far-right politician Joerg Haider waves 17 April 2005 as he arrives at the Salzburg airport to formally launch his new political party. Austrian far-right leader Joerg Haider died in a road accident on October 11, 2008, APA news agency reported quoting the police. Haider, 58, was at the wheel of his official car in the south of Klagenfurt when it veered off the road for unknown reasons after overtaking another vehicle. AFP PHOTO MARKUS LEODOLTER *** Local Caption ***  458764-01-08.jpg
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VIENNA // Austrian politician, Joerg Haider, whose far-right and anti-foreigner rhetoric once led to months of international isolation for Austria - died early today in a car accident. Authorities said an initial investigation into the 58-year-old's death showed no signs of foul play. A Carinthia province police official Friedrich Hrast, said Mr Haider's car veered off the road near the southern city of Klagenfurt and overturned while trying to overtake another car.

He suffered severe injuries to his head and chest and was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead, Mr Hrast said. Mr Haider was alone in the car at the time of the accident. The charismatic Haider was governor of the province of Carinthia and leader of the far-right Alliance for the Future of Austria. "For us, it's like the end of the world," Mr Haider's spokesman, Stefan Petzner, told the Austria Press Agency.

The Austrian president, Heinz Fischer, described Mr Haider's death as a "human tragedy." The Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer expressed his condolences to Mr Haider's family and described him as someone who had shaped Austria's domestic political landscape over decades. In 1999, Mr Haider received 27 per cent 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 as Mr Haider's statements were seen as anti-Semitic or sympathetic to Adolf Hitler's labour policies.

Mr Haider had since significantly toned down his rhetoric and in 2005 broke away from the Freedom Party to form the new alliance, meant to reflect a turn toward relative moderation. Over the summer, he staged a comeback in national politics and helped the alliance significantly improve its standing in Sept 28 national elections. Mr Haider sought to distance himself from his rightist past, which included a comment in 1991 that the Third Reich had an "orderly employment policy" and a 1995 reference to concentration camps as "the punishment camps of National Socialism."

Mr Haider enjoyed tremendous popularity in Carinthia and was known by opponents and supporters alike as intelligent and politically savvy. The impact of Mr Haider's death on Austrian domestic politics was not immediately clear. Just last week, Mr Haider and Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the Freedom Party, met for what appeared to be a successful attempt to put aside their personal differences in light of their combined success at the polls.

Taken together, the results of their two parties came to 28.2 per cent of the ballot - putting them on nearly equal footing with the winning Social Democrats. Mr Haider is survived by his wife, two daughters and his mother, whose 90th birthday he and his family had planned to celebrate over the weekend. * AP