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Austria's Heinz Fischer ends 12 years as president

July 8, 2016

Austria's outgoing President Heinz Fischer has stepped down after 12 years in office. In his farewell address, he spoke out against the right-wing politics of his potential successor.

Österreich Verabschiedung Heinz Fischer
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Bruna

The 77-year-old Social Democratic president issued a plea Friday for Austrians to confront populism and xenophobia. "Our refugee policy must be marked by rationality as well as humanity," he said.

Austria's Constitutional Court annulled the result of the run-off election last week, which former Green party leader Alexander Van der Bellen, 72, won by a slim margin against parliamentarian Norbert Hofer of Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ).

A new vote is slated for October 2.

Blasts FPÖ's anti-EU rhetoric

Österreich Norbert Hofer
Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) is making another bid for Austria's presidency.Image: picture alliance/dpa/F. Singer

Fischer has warned that the fiery politics of the FPÖ could damage the country's moral standing. "We Europeans are obliged to form a broad coalition against hatred and violence," he said.

Hofer, 45, and the anti-immigration FPÖ have toughened their stance on Austria's EU membership in the wake of Britain's June 23 vote to leave the bloc.

"If the EU develops in the wrong way, instead of returning to its actual basic values, if it becomes more centralized, and if Turkey joins, then for me it would be time to say that Austrians must also be asked (about membership)," Hofer said after the "Brexit" vote.

A poll published Friday by Austrian daily Österreich found 52 percent of 600 people surveyed were against Austria leaving the EU; 30 percent were in favor and 8 percent undecided.

Hofer becoming the EU's first far-right president would have symbolic importance for the FPÖ two years before the next scheduled general election.

There are also fears of a potential power grab as Hofer has said that if elected president, he would take advantage of hitherto untapped constitutional powers afforded to the traditionally figurehead office.

jar/kms (AFP, dpa)

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