Serbia slams western 'hypocrisy' over Austria

BELGRADE, Feb 6, 2000 -- (Reuters) Serbia lashed out at the West on Saturday over its angry reaction to the inclusion of the far-right Freedom Party in Austria's new government, accusing the European Union and the United States of hypocrisy.

Serbian Information Minister Aleksandar Vucic said the formation of the coalition government reflected the will of the Austrian people as expressed in democratic elections.

Vucic, of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party, said his government neither supported nor opposed its new Austrian counterpart.

"We do not interfere in other countries' internal matters," he told a news conference. "It is the electoral will of the Austrian people. The Austrian people wanted it that way.

"...the hypocrisy of the EU and the U.S. is almost criminal," said Vucic, whose party is a member of a three-party coalition government led by the Socialist party of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

"The elections are good and the results are okay only if the people opt for the ones they (the EU and the U.S.) support. If those fail to get the support of the people, than the elections are no good," he said.

Other Serbian officials earlier this week also condemned Europe's response to events in Austria, describing it as the sort of outside interference they had endured for years.

Today's Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia has been under sanctions since 1992 over Milosevic's role in the breakup of the old socialist federation and in a series of Balkan wars.

Joerg Haider's Freedom Party was sworn into a coalition government with the conservatives on Friday by Austrian President Thomas Klestil, provoking international uproar.

The other members of the 15-nation EU are going ahead with sanctions including a freeze on bilateral political contacts.

Vucic said that countries which now condemned Austria had taken part in NATO's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.

NATO's March-to-June air strikes were launched to halt Belgrade's repression of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.

"I must say that having the representatives of the countries that brutally bombed and killed one country and its people speak about the extremism in Austria is the ultimate hypocrisy and proof of the criminal international policy," he said.

Vucic said the Serbian government respected the right of people in other countries to choose their governments freely.

The Serbian opposition believed that Western support would help bring them election victory, he said, adding that Britain and the United States could not vote in Serbia.

"The Serb people is the one to cast the ballot here, not the governments that support (the opposition)," Vucic said.

Yugoslavia is due to hold local and federal elections this year, although no dates have yet been set.