Jörg Haider's party to expand into Germany

Austria's far-right Freedom Party has announced plans to expand into neighbouring Germany, where it hopes to join forces with another militant anti-Islamic group and campaign against Turkey's accession to the European Union as part of a widening bid for political power.

The party, which swept to power in Austria under the leadership of the late Jörg Haider a decade ago, made huge gains in Vienna elections earlier this month when it won 26 per cent of the vote and overnight became the city's second most powerful party.

The dramatic resurgence followed an anti-Islamic election campaign in the Austrian capital's traditionally white working-class districts, which now have big immigrant communities. The party's vote-winning tactics included distributing a free computer game that allows players to shoot at mosques, minarets and muezzin.

The party's current leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, said at a right-wing political congress in Vienna at the weekend that his organisation's growing appeal meant it was now time to move into Germany. The party plans to open its "German office" with the little known Pro-Deutschland ultra right-wing movement, which recently gained seats on Cologne city council.

"We have a lot in common," said Hans-Jörg Jenewein, the Freedom Party's general secretary. "The Pro-movement should achieve in Germany what we have in Austria." Both parties will hold a press conference in the west German town of Leverkusen this week to announce what was described as a "patriotic movement at federal level".

The Pro movement won five Cologne parliament seats last year after campaigning fiercely against the construction of a new mosque in the city's suburbs. Mass protests prevented the party from holding a political rally and the organisation is under surveillance from Germany's Office for the Protection of the Constitution.

Mr Strache's plans for expansion were unveiled at a conference in Vienna attended by delegates from far-right parties across Europe. Declaring that he wanted to combat "bad developments" within the EU, he claimed that Turkey's proposed accession threatened to turn Europe into a "Euro-Asiatic-African Union," which "cannot be allowed to happen".

Other far-right parties at the meeting included the Sweden Democrats, who entered parliament for the first time in Stockholm last month, Italy's Lega Nord and the Danish People's Party. Bruno Valkeniers, the leader of Belgium's far right Vlaams Belang was also reported to have been present.

Although these parties are opposed to the EU reforms contained in last year's Lisbon Treaty, they have announced plans to make use of one of the treaty's clauses which opens the way for a Europe-wide referendum on issues such as Turkey's admission to the EU. Attempts to form a far-right bloc within the European parliament have so far failed as a result of inter-party disagreements.

In Germany concern about the far right had, until recently, been limited to the activities of the openly racist neo-Nazi National Democratic Party. However, worries that Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives have become too left-wing on key issues such as immigration, have prompted talk about the possible formation of a new right-wing conservative party.

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