Austrian Government Postpones Plan to Sell Mountain Peaks

An Austrian government agency abruptly pulled two sky-high pieces of real estate -- majestic peaks offering stupendous alpine views -- off the open market Tuesday after an outpouring of national outrage over the perceived sellout of the nation's heritage.

BIG, the agency which purchases state property and then resells it to the private sector, announced the decision after discussions between Economics Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner and top officials in charge of the agency.

"We have suspended the sale to evaluate alternative possibilities," agency spokesman Ernst Eichinger said on the telephone. He said the transaction would likely go ahead but buyers would be restricted to "Austrian institutions" instead of the highest free-market bidders.

The peaks are in the easternmost part of Tyrol province, home to some of Europe's highest mountain ranges.

The "Rosskopf" is over 8,500 feet high, the "Grosse Kinigat" 8,800 feet. They are on offer for 121,000 euros -- nearly $175,000.

Austria is fiercely proud of its alpine ranges. Its national hymn begins with the worlds "Land of Mountains," its history is replete with the heroic exploits of rugged mountain men -- and news over the weekend that the two summits were up for sale next month quickly went viral.

First local and the national politicians spoke out against the deal as the wave of indignation grew to heights matched only by the two summits. Eichinger said that over the past three days his office was bombarded with calls and e-mails with contents ranging from "indignation to abuse."

On Tuesday, the mountains were still on offer on the privatization agency's website, complete with photos and a text describing the "Grosse Kinigat" "one of the most beautiful observation points of the ... Alps." But Eichinger said the sale, originally set for July 8, was suspended pending discussions on modalities.

Any future buyer will be bound by a large rang+e of restrictions on use, meant to allow holidayers and alpinists free access to the peaks. As well, local authorities have wide jurisdiction prohibiting future owners from displaying offensive or shrill advertising or erecting buildings that do not fit the region's character.