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US NewsHumiliating exit for Austrian far-right's 'Mr Clean'

16:40  18 may  2019
16:40  18 may  2019 Source:   msn.com

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The Freedom Party of Austria (German: Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ) is a right -wing populist, national-conservative political party in Austria .

Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache and head of the People' s Party Sebastian Kurz form a coalition.

Humiliating exit for Austrian far-right's 'Mr Clean' © ALEX HALADA After years of efforts to clean up the image of Austria's far-right, Heinz-Christian Strache (L) quit Saturday over what he termed a "stupid, irresponsible mistake"

Heinz-Christian Strache, the man who successfully steered Austria's far-right back into government after years in opposition, has himself been brought down by an explosive corruption scandal.

The 49-year-old was forced to quit Saturday after German media published hidden-camera footage -- of unknown provenance -- showing him meeting the purported niece of a Russian oligarch over a boozy dinner in a luxury villa on the resort island of Ibiza.

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The Austrian result, which gave Mr Van der Bellen a wider lead than in May when the election was first held, suggests support for political disruption may After the Brexit shock and Mr Trump’ s triumph, there was anxiety in the EU capital that victory for Mr Hofer would spur far - right candidates in the

" Austria rejects far - right candidate Norbert Hofer in presidential election". The Guardian. ^ Austrian far - right Freedom Party' s Norbert Hofer triumphs in presidential election at abc.net.au dated 24 April 2016.

After years of efforts to clean up the image of his Freedom Party (FPOe), founded after World War II by former Nazis, Strache has now been disgraced by what he termed a "stupid, irresponsible mistake".

In the recordings, Strache is seen promising public contracts in return for campaign help and suggesting he could help bring about staff changes in Austria's largest-circulation tabloid, the Krone Zeitung, as well as the part-privatisation of public broadcaster ORF.

Humiliating exit for Austrian far-right's 'Mr Clean' © Thomson Reuters Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache looks on as he addresses the media in Vienna, Austria, May 18, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

For many observers, the scene seemed to confirm the stereotypes of the party that Strache had worked so hard to bury: too ready to engage in dubious practices, too close to Russia, and contemptuous of the free media.

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The Austrian coalition government was in tatters last night after the resignation of three key cabinet ministers and members of the populist Loyalists of Mr Haider have recently been holding discussions with far - right parties across Europe about the possibility of establishing a pan-European far - right bloc.

Freedom party’ s Norbert Hofer holds slim lead but postal ballots, expected to favour his opponent, are still to be tallied.

- 'Mature' figure -

It almost certainly marks the humiliating end of a political career which had come a long way in the three decades since Strache was detained by German police at a torch-lit protest by a group aping the Hitler Youth.

When the former dental technician, brought up single-handedly by his mother in a lower-middle-class area of Vienna, took over the FPOe in 2005 aged 35, the movement was a mess.

Joerg Haider, its controversial but magnetic leader from 1986-2000, had broken off to form his own party, the movement torn apart by its last spell in government in the early 2000s.

Humiliating exit for Austrian far-right's 'Mr Clean' © Thomson Reuters A European election poster of Austria's Vice Chancellor and head of Freedom Party (FPOe) Heinz-Christian Strache is seen in Vienna, Austria May 10, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

But "HC", his striking blue eyes matching the party colours, restored its fortunes and in elections in 2017, the FPOe won 26 percent -- double the score of the Alternative for Germany a month earlier.

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Austria ' s conservative People' s Party has agreed to form a governing coalition with the far - right Freedom Party, two months after a parliamentary election. The coalition deal means Austria will be the only European state to have a far - right party in government when the new Cabinet is sworn in on

Austrian far - right presidential candidate Norbert Hofer has said he does not want his country to leave the European Union, apparently softening his position on Mr Van der Bellen said on Thursday that his opponent and the FPOe were playing with fire if they "fantasised about an Austrian exit from the EU".

This gave Strache, cutting a mature figure in new glasses, a ticket to enter talks to form a coalition with Sebastian Kurz's conservative People's Party (OeVP).

When the FPOe last entered government in 2000 under Haider, there was uproar in Europe.

This time, the reaction was more muted, with Europe more inured to populists and the FPOe seen as having moderated.

- Stream of controversy -

Indeed, early in Strache's leadership, FPOe posters screamed "Daham statt Islam" ("Home not Islam") but over the years they became less shrill and more subtle.

Humiliating exit for Austrian far-right's 'Mr Clean' A demonstrator wears a mask depicting Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen holding a svastika in a bin, on May 18, 2019 in front the Federal Chancellery in Vienna, before a press conference on the future of the coalition. - Austria's opposition called on May 17, 2019 for the resignation of far-right leader and Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache after media reports alleging he had promised public contracts in return for campaign help. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / APA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALEX HALADA/AFP/Getty Images)

In the 2017 campaign, the main messages were "fairness" -- an elastic term encompassing everything from lower taxes to scrapping benefits for immigrants -- and opposition to "Islamisation".

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Strache also moved to clean up the party's image by suspending members for anti-Semitic behaviour.

However, since the party's entry into government, it has been dogged by a steady succession of controversies.

Humiliating exit for Austrian far-right's 'Mr Clean' People protest with placards reading "This government is corrupt", on May 18, 2019 in Vienna. - Austria's opposition called on May 17, 2019 for the resignation of far-right leader and Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache after media reports alleging he had promised public contracts in return for campaign help. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ALEX HALADA/AFP/Getty Images)

Strache himself was forced to apologise last year to one of ORF's most prominent newscasters, Armin Wolf, after sharing a Facebook post accusing the journalist of spreading "lies" and "fake news".

Other revelations pointed to extremist sympathies in the party's base, including links to the Identitarian Movement Austria.

The appointment of the FPOe's Herbert Kickl as interior minister also sparked fears among Austria's Western partners over whether information could be leaked to Moscow.

Humiliating exit for Austrian far-right's 'Mr Clean' © Thomson Reuters Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache leaves after addressing the media in Vienna, Austria, May 18, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

Observers say the manner in which Strache has been brought down will raise questions over the FPOe's future and to what extent his efforts to detoxify the party have been permanently damaged.

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