A lawmaker sparked a wave of criticism and added to political turmoil here by arguing that Nazis were persecuted after World War II and describing those who deserted from Nazi ranks as "murderers."
Siegfried Kampl, a member of largely powerless upper house of parliament, told Austrian state radio ORF on Tuesday that he stood by the statements he initially made in a session of the 62-member house earlier this month.
"I didn't say that all deserters are murderers. Only those who killed comrades and then deserted," he was quoted as saying.
He also said there was a "brutal persecution of Nazis" after World War II. He first made the comments during a debate following a Green Party request that all convictions for desertion be overturned.
Kampl is a member of far-right politician Joerg Haider's newly created party, the Union for the Future of Austria, which is part of the governing coalition, along with the larger People's Party. The opposition Social Democrats argued that his statements demonstrated that the government no longer works.
The opposition has been calling for early elections since the formation of the new group, but a no-confidence vote held earlier this month failed.
Kampl is set to take over the upper house's rotating chairmanship in July, but Social Democrats and the opposition Green Party argued his comments disqualified him for the position.
"To reverse the roles of the Nazi-dictatorship's victims and perpetrators is one of the most disgraceful methods used by die-hards," Stefan Schennach, the head of the Green faction in the upper house, said in a statement.
Haider formed his new party earlier this month after quitting the Freedom Party. All former Freedom Party government ministers followed him into the new party.
Upper house members are elected by councils in the country's nine provinces. Their duty is to watch out for provincial interests, but the parliament's directly elected lower house can overrule most of their objections.
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