Joerg Haider, whose far-right rhetoric led to international isolation for Austria during his time in government, died in a car accident today at age 58.
Police official Friedrich Hrast said the accident happened early on Saturday morning in the south of the country when Haider's car veered off the road near the city of Klagenfurt and overturned. He suffered severe injuries to his head and chest and was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead, Hrast said. Haider was alone in the car at the time of the accident.
The charismatic Haider was governor of the province of Carinthia and leader of the far-right Alliance for the Future of Austria.
"For us, it's like the end of the world," Haider's spokesman, Stefan Petzner, told the Austria Press Agency.
Austrian President Heinz Fischer described Haider's death as a "human tragedy."
In 1999, Haider received 27 per cent of the vote in national elections as leader of the Freedom Party. The party's subsequent inclusion in the government led to months of European Union sanctions as Haider's statements were seen as anti-Semitic or sympathetic to Adolf Hitler's labor policies.
Haider had since significantly toned down his rhetoric and in 2005 broke away from the Freedom Party to form the new alliance, meant to reflect a turn toward relative moderation.
Over the summer, he staged a comeback in national politics and helped the alliance significantly improve its standing in September 28 national elections.
Haider sought to distance himself from his rightist past, which included a comment in 1991 that the Third Reich had an "orderly employment policy" and a 1995 reference to concentration camps as "the punishment camps of National Socialism.