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Austria's far-right party accuses conservatives of stealing campaign ideas

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPO) on Tuesday accused Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz of stealing its platform on immigration and the economy ahead of a parliamentary election, which he is favorite to win.

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FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache’s comments come a day after Kurz presented plans for his conservative People’s Party (OVP) for a slimmer state, changes in corporate tax law and cuts to benefits for foreigners.

“The program Kurz presented is almost identical to the FPO economic program. We are still waiting for the presentation of the OVP’s own economic plan,” Strache told Reuters.

Kurz has led opinion polls ahead of the Oct. 15 election with just over 30 percent. The Freedom Party and the center-left Social Democrats (SPO) trail with around 25 percent each.

The conservatives and the far right have enough common ground on migration, taxes and education to launch coalition talks if the vote does not yield a clear winner, said political analyst Peter Filzmaier.

Austria’s system of proportional representation will likely lead to another coalition government. A coalition of the SPO and OVP has held power since 2006 but is unpopular because it failed to agree major reforms on job creation, investment and taxes.

“Given Sebastian Kurz’s popularity, a coalition between the OVP and the FPO seems to be the most likely outcome,” said Vienna-based analyst Peter Hajek.

Kurz told reporters on Tuesday he did not rule out working with any party and was “equidistant” from the FPO and the SPO.

A cartoon in daily newspaper Kurier showed a naked Strache in a police station telling an officer Kurz had stolen “everything” from him.

The FPO and OVP focus on the free market, a small state and low taxes. The SPO wants new taxes, including on wealth and inheritance and subsidies to promote job creation.

The Social Democrats under Chancellor Christian Kern have begun to consider cooperation with the Freedom Party but Kern this week said his party was “light years” from it.

The Freedom Party’s popularity rose to a high during Europe’s migration crisis in 2015 when it denounced the government’s decision to open Austria’s borders to hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants.

It led polls for more than a year with support above 30 percent and its candidate came close to winning last year’s presidential election.

Tens of thousands of people from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa have arrived in Austria in the past two years, raising public spending on social benefits and fuelling support for policy makers who advocate cutting migration.

Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg