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Austrian far-right head donates money to refugees

AFP , Friday 29 Apr 2016
Austria
File Photo: Head of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPOe) Heinz-Christian Strache addresses a news conference in Vienna, Austria, November 20, 2015 (Photo: Reuters)
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The head of Austria's anti-immigration far-right apologised Friday for claiming a newspaper faked a photo of an anti-refugee protest by his party, donating 9,000 euros ($10,300) to a migrants charity.

"A close inspection of the matter has now shown that this claim was not accurate. With an expression of my regret I hereby withdraw it," Heinz-Christian Strache of the Freedom Party (FPOe) said on Facebook.

Photographer Juerg Christandl, who had sued Strache after he claimed the picture was doctored, said that this meant that "for me, the matter is now closed". He said would not receive any money.

The photo, published in the Kurier daily, was of FPOe sympathisers holding up signs saying "No to asylum shelter" as a Syrian family with a young child arrived in Vienna in June 2015.

Strache's party, one several populist on the rise across Europe, is leading in opinion polls on the back of unease about the arrival of 90,000 asylum-seeker in Austria last year.

On Sunday, the FPOe's candidate Norbert Hofer came a clear first in the first round of elections for the largely -- but not entirely -- ceremonial post Austrian president with 35 percent of the vote.

Hofer will now face Alexander van der Bellen, former leader of the Greens, in a run-off on May 22. A Gallup poll released Friday, which surveyed 400 people, put both candidates neck-and-neck.

The first round was a debacle for the two centrist parties in Chancellor Werner Faymann's coalition, which have dominated Austrian politics since 1945, with their candidates knocked out of the race.

This is despite the government taking a harder line on migrants, with parliament this week passing one of Europe's toughest asylum laws and the country tightening border controls.

Hofer predicted on Friday as he presented new campaign posters -- "The RIGHT comes from the PEOPLE", says one -- that he would win "significantly" more than 50 percent on May 22.

The FPOe has toned down its anti-immigration rhetoric, with Hofer focusing more on issues like direct democracy and opposing a contentious mooted trade deal between Europe and the United States.

But despite coming across as likeable and moderate, Hofer, 45, is nonetheless an important figure in formulating FPOe party policy who has said Islam "has no place in Austria".

The Oesterreich tabloid described him this week as "a kind, nice protest politician who wraps the FPOe's brutal declarations against refugees in soft language".

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