VIENNA – The head of Austria's right-wing party on Monday called German Chancellor Angela Merkel "the most dangerous woman in Europe" for her initially liberal migrant policies and warned of possible civil war if the influx of people seeking a better life within the European Union is not stopped.
The comments by Freedom Party Chairman Heinz-Christian Strache stood in stark contrast to the more moderate views being expressed by Norbert Hofer, the party's candidate for Austria's presidency.
Hofer is seeking to appeal to Austrians who do not normally vote for the Freedom Party ahead of the country's Dec. 4 presidential election. The party's traditional supporters include voters disenchanted with the establishment parties, as well as those on the neo-Nazi fringe.
Strache on Monday depicted Hofer as a president "who will be there for all Austrians." But the harsh tone of his comments appeared aimed more at established Freedom Party backers as he warned that the "uncontrolled influx of migrants alien to our culture who seep into our social welfare system ... makes civil war in the medium-term not unlikely."
The presidential elections are being rerun after Hofer narrowly lost to left-leaning Alexander Van der Bellen in May balloting and a high court validated Freedom Party objections that election irregularities had irrevocably marred the results.
A repeat election, originally scheduled for this month, was postponed following the discovery that some envelopes for absentee ballots could not be sealed.
Hofer's newest election posters bear the phrase "so help me God," a message that has drawn criticism from representatives of Christian churches and Islamic officials who say that introducing God into the election campaign is inappropriate.
Freedom Party official Herbert Kickl said Monday the phrase was "in no way a misuse of the concept of God," but instead "comes from the heart" of Hofer.