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The general secretary of Europe's main ecumenical organization has described events in Austria—where the extreme right-wing Freedom Party has joined the government—as a "severe warning" to churches across the continent.

Dr Keith Clements, general secretary of the Conference of European Churches (CEC), told Ecumenical News International (ENI) that the political situation in Austria was a reminder that the "forces of exclusion" were "resurgent in many parts of Europe."

"The danger with the Austrian situation is that they [the forces of exclusion] appear to have been given political legitimacy because their representatives are in government," he said. "That must give cause for reflection."

Dr Clements' comments follow the February 4 formation of a new Austrian coalition government of the conservative People's Party and the extreme right wing Freedom Party, led by Jorg Haider, a controversial politician who in the past has praised Adolf Hitler's "orderly employment policies" and told a meeting of veterans of the Waffen SS—a military branch of the Nazi party during the Second World War—that they were "decent people of good character." He has since apologized for the remarks, but continues to provoke controversy.The formation of the new Austrian government prompted mass demonstrations within Austria and strong protests abroad. The other 14 members of the European Union (EU) have frozen bilateral links with Austria, and Israel and the United States have also protested at the inclusion of the extremist party in the new government.

The Haider affair has provoked bitter argument in government circles and the media across Europe. Many conservatives have defended Austria, pointing out that other countries should not interfere with a legitimate, ...

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