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Europes right-wing leaders seek new party to counter Islam, other perceived threats
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    VIENNA, Austria — Right-wing leaders from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria and France announced plans Friday to form a pan-European party with a mission to ‘‘rescue the Western world’’ from Islam and other perceived threats.
    Leftists called the plan ‘‘completely absurd.’’
    Organizers of the new ‘‘European Liberty Party’’ pledged to pull in right-wing parties from at least three other countries and surpass the 20-seat threshold needed to form a faction in the European Parliament.
    ‘‘Patriots of all countries: Unite!’’ declared Heinz-Christian Strache, whose Freedom Party in Austria in the past has been accused of anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic statements.
    Strache was joined for Friday’s announcement in Vienna by Jean-Marie Le Pen of France’s extreme-right National Front; Frank Vanhecke of Belgium’s Flemish Interest Party; and Volen Siderov, the head of Bulgaria’s ultranationalist Ataka party.
    They said they would approach like-minded parties in Cyprus, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, along with rightists in Croatia and Serbia, which are not EU members.
    Strache told reporters he hopes to pull together right-wing parties from 10 European nations by mid-November.
    ‘‘We are neither on the right nor on the left,’’ he said.
    But Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer’s Social Democrats lashed out at the proposal to found what it denounced as ‘‘a nationalistic, anti-European party’’ out of step with the 27-nation EU’s attempts to be tolerant and inclusive.
    ‘‘The project of European integration aims to be a peaceful cooperation of EU member states who unmistakably oppose nationalism,’’ said Elisabeth Grossmann, a leading Social Democrat official. The right-wing leaders’ plans, she said, were ‘‘completely absurd and contradictory.’’
    Johannes Voggenhuber, a senior member of Austria’s opposition Green Party, said the Freedom Party’s alliance with groups such as the National Front and the Flemish Interest Party proves that it remains ‘‘a right-wing, extremist, nationalist party on the fringes of Europe.’’
    The Freedom Party’s popularity has shrunk significantly since 1999, when it won 27 percent of the vote in national elections and joined Austria’s coalition government the following year, triggering months of EU diplomatic sanctions.
    Strache has sought to distance himself from former Freedom Party leader Joerg Haider, who gained notoriety for mocking Jews and praising some of Hitler’s labor policies.
    Friday’s announcement was seen as an attempt to revive the former right-wing European bloc known as ITS, or Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty. It disbanded in November after the Greater Romania Party pulled out, leaving it without the 20 seats it needed for a European Parliament faction.

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