October 15, 2008 / 2:12 PM / 11 years ago

Austrian politician was drunk at time of death crash

VIENNA (Reuters) - Prominent Austrian far-right politician Joerg Haider was drunk when he died in a high-speed crash in his car at the weekend, a party official said on Wednesday.

A man holds a picture of Joerg Haider, governor and leader of Austria's Buendnis Zukunft Oesterreich (BZOe) party (Alliance for Austria's Future), in front of the provincial government in Klagenfurt October 14, 2008. REUTERS/Miro Kuzmanovic

Haider, 58, was killed in the early hours of Saturday when the car he was driving at 142 kmh (88 mph), around twice the speed limit, crashed off a road in the southern province of Carinthia, where he served as governor.

“It is correct that...Joerg Haider was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident. I can, and must, confirm that,” said Stefan Petzner, the new leader of Haider’s Alliance for Austria’s Future party.

He confirmed media reports that the amount of alcohol in Haider’s blood was nearly four times the legal limit.

However, Petzner said later that Haider did not appear drunk when he last saw him, leaving a night club outside the Carinthia capital Klagenfurt a little over an hour before the accident.

“Otherwise I would have done all I could to prevent him from driving,” Petzner said on ORF state television Wednesday night, adding he could not explain the autopsy’s finding of heavy intoxication.

Earlier, Petzner told the Austrian news agency APA that the famously convivial Haider always liked a good party.

Haider’s charismatic populism was instrumental in moving anti-immigrant politics from Europe’s fringes towards the mainstream and breaking the grip on government of established centrist parties which he said had lost touch with the people.

He was driving to his rural home near Klagenfurt for a family reunion when the accident occurred.

The government car he was driving skidded out of control after he overtook another vehicle and hit a concrete traffic barrier, flipping over several times. He was pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital soon afterwards.

The three-month-old luxury car was in full working order, according to a technical analysis.

A public funeral for Haider, who was both divisive and enduringly popular in Austria, is to be held Saturday in Klagenfurt, where he had been state governor since 1999.

Around 4,000 people took part in a memorial service for Haider at Vienna’s 12th-century Stephansdom cathedral on Wednesday. Outside the cathedral, pro- and anti-Haider Austrians got into verbal altercations, true to his polarizing legacy.

Editing by Angus MacSwan

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