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Bruised Austria determined to shake off horrific image

Bruised by the negative publicity it has suffered over one of the world's most shocking incest cases, Austria announced plans yesterday for a global public relations campaign, aimed at revamping the country's tarnished image.

The case of Elisabeth Fritzl, who was imprisoned in a cellar for 24 years by her father, Josef, has shattered Austria's careful attempts to sell itself as a place of Sound of Music-style Alpine innocence. Yesterday Alfred Gusenbauer, the Austrian Chancellor, rallied to the defence of his country and announced his government was planning a campaign to demonstrate that Josef Fritzl was not representative of all Austrians.

"We won't allow a whole country to be held hostage by one man," Mr Gusenbauer said. "It is not Austria that is the perpetrator. This is an unfathomable criminal case, but also an isolated case."

Mr Gusenbauer said the government would hire advertising consultants to launch the campaign and would resort to "all technical and professional means" available to "rectify" Austria's image. Austria is particularly sensitive to outside criticism. The incest scandal has been accompanied by daily domestic media reports about what the foreign press is saying. Newspapers carry images of the front pages of foreign newspapers and detailed coverage of their comments.

Austrian commentators have also been upset by British media attempts to link the incest scandal to Nazi treatment of the Jewish population. The Belgian media's glee at finding a sexual abuse case to rival the infamous Marc Dutroux scandal has also hurt.

Similar criticism was levelled over the case of Natascha Kampusch, the Austrian girl who was kidnapped and held in a cellar for eight years before she finally managed to escape in 2006. Yet the Kampusch case was hardly the first blow to Austria's image. The country's reputation began to sink in the 1980s after the Nazi past of the former UN secretary general Kurt Waldheim was exposed. Waldheim served as Austrian president from 1986 to 1992, during which time he was shunned by the international community.

Last year, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre singled out Austria as having one of the worst records in the world on bringing Nazi war criminals to justice.

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