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Austria's Freedom Party suspends member over Nazi allegations

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria’s far right Freedom Party, days before parliamentary elections which are expected to catapult it into government, has suspended a low-level party official over allegations he used a Nazi salute.

The party is poised to become part of a coalition after the Oct. 15 vote with the conservatives expected to gain around a third of the vote. Both parties campaign with tough rhetoric on fighting immigration and closed Islamic communities.

Austrian newspaper Der Standard reported, without citing names, that an independent local councillor in the province of Styria complained to her mayor about having seen her Freedom Party colleague raising his right arm in Nazi-fashion and saying the Nazi salute “Heil Hitler”.

Owning objects or making statements that glorify Nazism is illegal in Austria, where Hitler was born and which was annexed into his Third Reich.

Josef Riemer, the Freedom Party parliamentarian for the constituency, said in an emailed statement the party was taking the accusations very seriously and had suspended the official’s membership until the case was resolved. He added the official rejects the allegations and had already hired a lawyer.

The mayor’s lawyer Dieter Neger, who declined to identify the town or anyone involved, said he would officially hand the case, which he said included two witness statements, to prosecutors in the city of Graz later on Tuesday.

The Freedom Party, which was founded by former Nazis but says it has left its past behind, has repeatedly thrown out officials in recent years over Nazi allegations.

Party chief Heinz-Christian Strache, who says anti-Semitism is a crime, has said Christian Europe shares an enemy with Israel in political Islam.

Austria’s anti-fascist Mauthausen Komitee, named after a Nazi concentration camp, published a brochure this year detailing 60 cases of Nazi-related incidents involving Freedom Party members.

Reporting By Shadia Nasralla Editing by Jeremy Gaunt