Austria deputies to debate fund for Nazi victims By Steve Pagani VIENNA, June 1 (Reuter) - Austria's parliament votes on Thursday night to set up a fund for thousands of victims of dictator Adolf Hitler's Nazi rule, ending decades of appeals for compensation which critics say will come 50 years too late. The Austrian government plans to compensate an estimated 22,000 to 25,000 people thrown into concentration camps because they were Jews, communists or homosexuals and those who fled into exile to avoid persecution. The fund was intended for Austrians hounded from the 1938 annexation of Austria by the Third Reich to the end of World War Two and who now live abroad. Austrians who returned after 1945 have received some compensation. Leftist opposition politicians have branded the delay a national disgrace and fiercely criticised recent government indecision on introducing a bill on the fund to parliament. The ruling coalition of Social Democrats (SPOe) and the conservative People's Party (OeVP) infuriated opposition deputies after failing to fulfill a pledge to establish the fund by April 27, the day Austria celebrated the 50th anniversary of the end of World War Two. The coalition parties have ruled Austria separately or together since 1945. ``It may sound hard but it seems the government has been waiting for the biological end of the people -- the victims are all getting old,'' Green party spokesman Stefan Schennach said. After weeks of politicial wrangling, the government has proposed endowing the fund with 500 million schillings ($50 million) for the thousands still living. The Greens said the amount was risible. ``The fund is already 50 years too late and now the amount of money being offered is unacceptable,'' Schennach said. ``It is not a very good end to history,'' he added. Parliament headed into a late afternoon debate, with a a vote expected some hours later. The bill states that people persecuted under the Nazi regime because of their race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation or physical handicap would be eligible for cash. After public outrage, the government bowed to demands to include people victimised because they were homosexuals or handicapped and people subjected to medical experiments. Far-right leader Joerg Haider has opposed the bill, arguing that the cash should only go to victims who were poor. He has also called for compensation for Austrian soldiers who were imprisoned by the Allies while fighting for Hitler's army. The president of Vienna's Jewish community, Paul Grosz, said he reserved judgment on the fund because the bill contained many imperfections. ``I cannot view this as a victory. You have to be very optimistic to believe that the expectations of the victims will be satisfied by this law,'' he told Reuters. Grosz said the bill did not specify how much money each person would receive, nor did it address the question of whether former victims could apply for extra cash in special circumstances. Only a few hundred of the 300,000 Jews living in Vienna before 1938 managed to survive by the time Soviet troops captured the city in April 1945.
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