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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Austria still keen to axe Eurofighter deal -report

VIENNA: Austria's new coalition government is sticking with a campaign pledge to scrap an order for Eurofighter combat jets, the defence minister-designate has said in a magazine interview to be published on Thursday.

Norbert Darabos told weekly magazine "news" that he had started talks with Airbus parent EADS, which is part of the Eurofighter consortium, a few months ago.

"We simply put forward our position, which is that we want to get out of that contract completely," Darabos said in a preview of the interview.

"Now we have to look at how such a cancellation could work."

One of Europe's biggest defence programmes, the Eurofighter consortium includes also Britain's BAE Systems and Italy's Finmeccanica.

Austria pledged to buy 18 of the fighter jets in 2002 in a key sales success for a programme launched with 620 orders from Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain.

The 2 billion euro ($2.60 billion) Austrian deal was agreed by outgoing Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel and is now the subject of a parliamentary inquiry.

The deal has been fiercely debated and was criticised by the Social Democrats, who have formed a coalition government with the conservative Peoples Party that is to be sworn in on Thursday.

The issue was a stumbling block in coalition talks and in the end was left out of the coalition pact struck on Monday.

Still, incoming Social Democratic Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer said the first task for Darabos would be to review the deal.
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