Austrian coalition faces crisis over Kampusch kidnap inquiry

Other News Materials 27 February 2008 00:30 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa ) - Austria's ruling coalition of Social Democrats (SP) and the conservative People's Party (VP) is under breaking-point strain over a bungled investigation into the high-profile kidnapping of Natascha Kampusch who escaped after eight years in captivity in 2006.

Despite warnings by leading VP members, the SP said Tuesday it would vote for a parliamentary inquiry into cases involving abuse of office in the interior ministry during the tenure of conservative ministers in the VP-led centre-right coalition from 2000 to 2006.

A former police chief has accused the Interior ministry officials of covering up mistakes in the search for kidnap victim Kampusch. In 1998, the then 10-year-old was abducted on her way from school and only managed to escape her captor eight years later. SP fraction head Josef Cap said his faction had decided in favour of an inquiry.

VP leaders, who consider the inquiry a provocation by its coalition partner, warned Monday that establishing such an inquiry, would amount to a "break of the coalition". The party did not comment on their coalition partner's decision on Tuesday.

After a meeting by a regular parliamentary committee on interior affairs, Cap said "no real answers" had been provided by ministry officials.

In a parliamentary vote scheduled for March 3, the motion for an inquiry will be adopted with the votes of SP, and the opposition Green and right wing parties, barring an about-face of the Social Democrats.

The coalition, never a love-match in the first place, struggled through its first year in office amid fierce in-fighting between the two parties. The latest bone of contention was the SP's demand to bring forward a large-scale tax reform from 2010 to 2009.

The VP currently leads the VP in the polls, but both parties are anxious about new elections or forming a minority government, fearing voter dismay.

Several points back up accusations that police did indeed ignore several clues that could have lead to the arrest of Kampusch's abductor Wolfgang Priklopil shortly after her disappearance.

Priklopil, a technician who committed suicide after Kampusch's escape, was interviewed by police a few weeks after the kidnapping but his house or car were never searched.

Kampusch's lawyer is negotiating compensation payments from the Austrian government. Her father is also demanding damages from the state.