VIENNA, DEC. 24 -- Austria's Interior Minister Karl Blecha has urged that President Kurt Waldheim resign, signaling that the coalition government could be headed for rupture over controversy on Waldheim's alleged Nazi past.
In an interview published today, Blecha, the highest-ranking official to take the controversial position, said the president should quit early next year, after a historical commission ends its probe into the president's wartime activities. Blecha is also deputy Socialist Party chairman.
Blecha's remarks were swiftly denounced by the conservative People's Party as a "tasteless example of a successful disturbance of Christmas peace." The People's Party backed Waldheim's 1986 candidacy.
Blecha told the newspaper Die Presse that Austria's international isolation stemmed from aversion to Waldheim, who denies charges that he was involved in war crimes while serving in the World War II German Army.
"Wherever I go in Europe, the media are aggressive about the Waldheim affair and government members are guarded regarding Austria," Blecha said.
The minister said he expected the commission to conclude that no criminal activity on Waldheim's part could be established. Waldheim could then serve his country by resigning free from pressure and guilt, he said.
People's Party spokesman Ludwig Steiner said that if Blecha did not approve of Waldheim then he should himself resign as interior minister.
"It is the task of the government to fight against the witchhunt that is superficially directed against the president but mainly against Austria," Steiner said in a statement.