Austria hires image consultants following national scandal

LONDON - In the wake of the shocking Fritzel incest case, the Austrian government is planning to launch an image campaign to restore its battered reputation abroad.

The case of 73-year-old Josef Fritzel, who sexually abused his daughter Elisabeth and kept her in a windowless basement for 24 years, has put the Austrian town of Amstetten in the media spotlight.

The story has featured on the front pages of many national newspapers around the world for a second day today as the story continues to run. This morning, The Sun and the Daily Mirror ran with the respective headlines: "Beast beside the seaside" and "Cellar Mum: I'm sorry".

Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer said that the government planned to hire consultants to get the image campaign started and that it would use "all technical and professional means available to rectify" Austria's image.

He said: "It's not Austria that is the perpetrator. This is an unfathomable case, but also an isolated case.

"We won't allow the whole country to be held hostage by one man."

The shocking revelations have drawn inevitable comparisons with the case of Natasha Kampush, who escaped two years ago from a basement in a house near Vienna where she had been held captive for eight years.

In the recent incident, DNA tests have confirmed that Josef Fritzel is the father of all six of his daughter's surviving children. Prosecutors are probing him for rape, incest, coercion and the death of the seventh child, whose remains he burnt in an incinerator.

Austria will be keen to improve its image before the Euro 2008 championship, which it is hosting with Switzerland from June 7-29 this summer.

The recent bad news stories build on an image of Austria as a secretive society, which was first drawn to world attention in modern times by Graham Greene and his spy novella 'The Third Man'.

The book later became a hit noir film starring Orson Welles as Harry Lime. It was directed by Carol Reed and shows Vienna as a divided and unhappy city, full of spies, beginning to come to terms with itself in the wake of WWII.

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