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Row over regional government grant for SS reunion

Austrian officials are under fire after it was revealed they were handing out grants to help pay for a reunion of veterans of the Wehrmacht and the Waffen SS held at the Ulrichsberg mountain in Carinthia.

Known as the Ulrichsberg gathering, it is an annual reunion for German army veterans that has taken place in the first Sunday in October every year since 1958.

Critics point out that it has become a magnet for extremists and far right activists. But organisers, who between 2008 and 2010 were given almost 50,000 pounds in local government sponsorship, say that it is simply to commemorate those who were killed in the Second World War, and their "decent fulfilment of their duties" as soldiers.

The grant handed out by officials in the southern province of Carinthia  was widely criticised at a national level. But despite that it was revealed that a further 8,700 pounds (11,000 euros) had been paid already for the upcoming event, which this year was expecting 900 visitors.

And in addition the Ulrichsberggemeinschaft, the group which organises it, has also put in an application for a further 6,300 GBP (8,000 Euros).

Organisation spokesman Hermann Kandussi said: "There will be more people this year – and that costs money." And he said they did not welcome visits by neo-Nazis, but his arguments failed to impress the Austrian army which withdrew its support for the gathering in 2009 because not enough was being done to distance the event from modern extremists.

At the entrance to the memorial ground the old SS slogan "Die Ehre Unserer Soldaten Heisst Treue" (the honour of our soldiers is their loyalty) is carved in large elaborate letters on the wall.

Late Austrian far right politician Joerg Haider was one of those that defended gathering which he attended in the year 2000. He was given a standing ovation when he said: "It can't be so that the history of our fathers and grandparents, due to dubious commentaries, is reduced to a single catalogue of crimes, and that the part they played in history is just thrown back in their faces.

"Most who come here are not old Nazis or neo-Nazis. They are old citizens who suffered during the war and lost their youth to the war and then began to rebuild."

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