February 1, 2018 / 2:03 PM / 7 months ago

Austrian Freedom Party politician resigns over neo-Nazi scandal

VIENNA (Reuters) - A high-ranking official from Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPO) resigned on Thursday, yielding to mounting pressure over his association with a group accused of being neo-Nazis.

FILE PHOTO: Head of Austrian far-right Freedom Party (FPO) Heinz-Christian Strache delivers his speech during an election campaign rally in Vienna, Austria, September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

The FPO, which says it abandoned Nazi ideology espoused by its founders in the 1950s, entered government last month as a junior partner of Sebastian Kurz’s conservatives after coming third, with 26 percent of votes, in elections in October.

Its top candidate in regional elections in Lower Austria held last Sunday had been fending off a scandal after a newspaper revealed that a fraternity that he used to help lead had distributed a songbook that joked about killing Jews.

Udo Landbauer, re-elected to the regional assembly, initially rejected President Alexander Van der Bellen’s call for him to step down, and his party, many of whose officials are also members of right-wing fraternities, stood by him.

FILE PHOTO: Supporters wait for Head of Austrian far-right Freedom Party (FPO) Heinz-Christian Strache during an election campaign rally in Vienna, Austria, September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

But on Thursday, a spokeswoman for the Freedom Party in Lower Austria confirmed a report by Austrian news agency APA that Landbauer had resigned from all political posts. She declined further comment.

Landbauer has said he did not know of the anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi content of the songbook, since it was published in 1997, well before he joined, and he had only seen copies with those passages redacted or pages torn out.

Prosecutors have opened an investigation into four people, under a law banning Holocaust denial and other Nazi-related offences, but Landbauer is not one of them.

Austria’s main Jewish body, the IKG, and Israel have upheld their boycot of FPO officials even after they entered government.

About 40 percent of FPO members of parliament, several FPO ministers and numerous FPO ministry staff are members of right-wing fraternities, according to IKG.

Reporting by Shadia Nasralla; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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