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Deal with far-right Austrian party set

Defying threats by the European Union to impose a political quarantine on Austria, the leader of the country's main conservative party announced Tuesday night that he had reached agreement on terms of a deal to form a new coalition government with the far-right Freedom Party.

Wolfgang Schuessel, the head of the Austrian People's Party, said he would present the outlines of a legislative program to President Thomas Klestil today that may clear the way for participation of the Freedom Party.

Schuessel said he resolved terms of a reform program Tuesday night with Freedom Party leader Joerg Haider, who has been branded as a pariah by other European states for his controversial support for Nazi labor policies, his opposition to bringing eastern European countries into the 15-nation EU and his anti-immigrant diatribes.

In an unprecedented intrusion into domestic politics of a member state, 14 EU countries vowed Monday to break off political contacts with Austria, downgrade the role of Vienna's ambassadors to their capitals and refuse to support Austrians who seek posts in international organizations if Haider's party is allowed to enter government.

(In Washington, State Department spokesman James Foley said that "if the Freedom Party were to enter the Austrian government, this would affect our relations and we would consider what steps to take in that event.")

Haider called the sanctions threat "a massive offense to all honorable democrats and decent citizens of Austria."

Schuessel said he was confident that Klestil would let him proceed rather than call fresh elections. "Austria is a stable country that is and will remain open to the world," Schuessel said. "But it now needs a functioning government fast."

Many Austrians professed shock at what they considered the unfair nature of the EU decision.

They noted that Italy was not isolated in 1994 when a new conservative government included the post-fascist National Alliance.

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