- Far-right politician died after crash at 142km/h
- National surge of grief for xenophobic party founder
"The speedometer in the wreck had stopped at 142 kilometres (88 mph) - he was clearly speeding at the time of the accident," the prosecutor, Gottfried Kranz, told the Guardian yesterday, adding that the stretch of road in southern Austria had a limit of 70 km per hour.
Flowers piled up and flags flew at half-mast in Austria amid a public surge of grief for the man who created and led the rightist Alliance for the Future of Austria (AFA), a politician who used his smooth-talking charm to propound a set of aggressively xenophobic and anti-EU ideals.
"Jörg Haider died as he lived," wrote Wolfgang Fellner, the editor of Österreich newspaper. "Always full gas, always over the limit."
Haider's legacy included a string of inflammatory remarks, including praise for the notorious Waffen-SS and Nazi employment policies - remarks which even prompted the EU to slap diplomatic sanctions on his country.
His sudden death struck as he was at a political peak: two weeks ago rightist parties clocked up a historical gain in Austria's national elections - together collecting more than a quarter of the vote.
Police ruled out foul play or technical glitches a day after the crash which killed the governor of Austria's southernmost state, Carinthia. Haider was reportedly travelling to a family party when the car veered off the road after he overtook another vehicle. It then smashed into a concrete pillar and rolled over a number of times. Alone in the car, Haider died on the way to the hospital.
After the news broke, political friends and foes spoke of his contribution to the Austrian political landscape. President Heinz Fischer, a social democrat, called it a "human tragedy" and praised him as "a politician of great talent". Some commentators even drew parallels between the public reaction in Austria and the outpouring of grief in Britain after Princess Diana's death.
It has left a big gap in Haider's party, which last month cornered about 11% of the national vote. It remains to be seen what impact the death will have on talks to form a new coalition government, but observers predict new bonds could be forged between the AFA and the Freedom party, a rightist grouping formerly led by Haider. Heinz-Christian Strache, its current leader, and Haider had been rivals; now it could be possible for the two groupings to team up to try to enter government.
Hajo Funke, a specialist in Austrian politics at the Otto-Suhr-Institut in Berlin, said Austria would long bear the hallmarks of the zealous populist."He has successfully created an aggressive temperature towards all kinds of minorities - without reason - and that atmosphere will remain the rightists' support base," he said. "Right now he will be honoured by masses, so he will emerge a kind of hero."
In his own words
- "In the Third Reich they had an orderly employment policy."
- "The Waffen-SS was a part of the Wehrmacht [German military] and hence it deserves all the honour and respect of the army in public life."
- On meeting Saddam Hussein in the run-up to the Iraq war, Haider expressed the "best wishes of the Austrian people and the Freedom party as well as their solidarity with the people of Iraq and their wise leadership."