Tragic accident in a ski resort
|View today's updated headlines from Austria|
As many as 170 Austrian and German skiers are feared dead on Saturday 11 November after a fire started at 09:00 in a funicular train in the Kitzsteinhorn mountain near Salzburg.
The train, which goes to a popular ski resort up the mountain, stopped 600 metres inside a 3200-metre-long tunnel, and only eight persons managed to escape the blaze.
The governor of the Land of Salzburg, Franz Schausberger, described the catastroph as "one of the darkest days in the history of Salzburg," and a period of national mourning was promptly declared by Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel.
The Austrian rescuers received the help of the German Army, and Schüssel emphasised that the government will "do everything humanly possible to organise the rescue operation."
Coalition in crisis?
The allegations that Freedom Party leaders illegally paid for and acquired confidential data about political opponents are still being investigated.
According to the news magazine Format, former party Chairman Jörg Haider, who is one of the main suspects in the affair, has attempted to put the blame on the former leader of the party's parliamentary group, Erwin Stadler, and the former leader of the party in Upper Austria, Hans Jörg Schimarek, during police interrogations.
Vice-Chancellor and current chairwoman of the FPÖ Susanne Riess-Passer meanwhile criticised once more the director of internal security, Erik Buxbaum, for what she sees as his failure to examine the responsibility of the former ruling party, the Social Democratic Party.
Rumours that the affair might mean the end of the coalition between the FPÖ and the People's Party (ÖVP) were dimissed by both parties, and Haider, who last week had heavily criticised the ÖVP Interior Minister Ernst Strasser, declared that he had talked with Strasser and now praises the minister's willingness to reform Austria's security services.
In a related story, Social Democrat Doris Bures alleged that the Freedom Party had failed to declare financial contributions it had received from several big firms. She argued that the FPÖ claims to be the party of the little people but still accepts financing from big businesses.
New infrastructure and transport minister
The sudden resignation of Freedom Party Infrastructure Minister Michael Schmid on Saturday 4 November, following a conflict with the direction of the party, was followed by the appointment of his successor, Monika Forstinger, on Friday 10 November.
Forstinger, a 37-year-old member of the regional parliament of Upper Austria, is a specialist in environmental issues and will be sworn in on Tuesday. She has no previous experience in federal politics but was described by Schüssel and Vice Chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer as a "highly competent" and "intelligent" woman, during a press conference on Saturday 11 November.
Schmid is the third FPÖ minister to resign, since the start of the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition at the beginning of this year.
Justice Minister Michael Krüger resigned "for health reasons" after less than one month in office and Social Affairs Minister Elisabeth Sickl had to resign last month after a conflict with Riess-Passer, the chairwoman of the party.
Schüssel speaks his mind
In an interview published on 9 November by the Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post, Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel stated: "The sovereign state of Austria was literally the first victim of the Nazi regime... [The Nazis] took Austria by force."
Schüssel, however, acknowledges the "moral responsibility" of Austria for its past and argues that the "time is ripe" for the Israeli ambassador (who left the Austrian capital in protest at the participation of the Freedom Party to the governmental coalition) to return to Vienna.
The Chancellor was strongly criticised for failing to emphasise how Austria had been involved in Nazi crimes.
Schüssel, however, rejected this accusation and contended that his government had done "more than its predecessors" to condemn and shed light on Austria's Nazi past.
And in other news
- The government envoy for EU enlargement, Erhard Busek, argued on Friday evening in Salzburg that EU enlargement was a highly positive and necessary process, a manifestation of the "unity in the diversity of Europe." Referring to the writers Rainer Maria Rilke, Franz Kafka and Franz Werfel, he emphasised that "the mix of cultures is very European, which is, in fact, our Austrian culture."
- Czech Prime Minister Miloš Zeman agreed on Friday to resume talks with the Austrian government over the Temelín nuclear plant, after Austrian protesters on Thurday evening ended their blockade of the Austrian-Czech border.
- President Thomas Klestil will on Monday 13 November be in Switzerland for a one-day official visit, during which he will hold talks with his Swiss counterpart, Adolf Ogi.
- The US has officially lifted the bilateral political sanctions they imposed on Austria at the beginning of the year, after the formation of the People's Party-Freedom Party coalition.
- Defence Minister Herbert Scheibner has suggested that compulsory conscription could be reduced from eight to three months in the framework of the reform of Austria's military doctrine. Scheibner argued that the move could be made possible by EU enlargement, which would mean that Austria would no longer have the responsibility of protecting the EU's external borders. This would also imply the partial professionalisation of Austria's armed forces.
- The Freedom Party in Burgenland on Saturday 11 November received the support of Jörg Haider, in advance of the regional elections which will be held in the Land next month. Addressing a rally in Eisenstadt, Haider called for a "change" in Burgenland and supported the regional party's attempt to collect enough signatures to force a referendum on EU enlargement in the Land: "This eastward enlargement can only take place if the people say yes to it."
- The staff of the hospitals of Vienna and the authorities of the City of Vienna came to an agreement on Friday concerning wage increases. Doctors and nurses, who had complained about low wages, will see a raise of an average of 33 percent of their salary (in two steps, on 1 October 2001 and 1 January 2004).
- The synod of Austrian Catholic bishops expressed its concern about the impact of the government's financial austerity policies on the poorest sections of the population. The Catholic bishops noted that the maintenance of "social peace" was of primary importance.
Magali Perrault, 11 November
- Archive of Austrian news reviews
- Archive of Magali Perrault's articles in CER
- Browse through the CER eBookstore for electronic books
- Buy English-language books on Austria through CER
- Return to CER front page
ORF (Austrian TV)
APA (Austrian Press Agency)
Today's updated headlines from Austria