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Video by Tanja WERDAN , Maurin PICARD , Peter PAVLOUSEK , Pierre-Marie DUPRÉ

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-04-25

Incumbent President Heinz Fischer is widely expected to win Austria's presidential election on Sunday, with controversial far-candidate Barbara Rosenkranz (pictured) remaining a distant second in polls.

AFP - Austrians voted Sunday for their next president, with incumbent Heinz Fischer favoured to win a second term against far-right and anti-abortion rivals.

Polling stations opened at 7:00 am (0500 GMT) and were due to close at 5:00 pm (1500 GMT) with preliminary results expected two hours later.

Fischer, whom opinion polls have given up to 82 percent of votes, cast his ballot around noon.

His two opponents -- Barbara Rosenkranz of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) and Rudolf Gehring of the small Christian Party -- voted earlier in the morning.

Rosenkranz, 51, who was expected to win up to 16 percent of votes according to opinion polls, was perhaps the most visible figure of this election campaign, after she questioned Austria's strict law banning Nazi ideology and Holocaust denial.

France 24 Profile of Barbara Rosenkranz

She argued the law was "an unnecessary restriction" on freedom of opinion, although she was later forced to make a statement clearly saying she did not deny Nazi crimes.

A stern-looking mother of 10, whose husband was once member of the now-banned neo-Nazi NDP party, she campaigned for conservative family values and traditional gender roles.

She was also the only deputy in the Austrian parliament to vote against the European Union's Lisbon reform treaty in 2005.

Commentators warned of the damage to Austria's reputation if she was elected as president, a highly representative role, and if Horst Jakob Rosenkranz became "first husband".

Rudolf Gehring, 61, meanwhile campaigned against abortion and promoted Christian values, presenting himself as "a committed and staunch protector of life" and a "mouthpiece for unborn children."

He launched his campaign with a church service and began each meeting with a prayer.

But this strategy backfired when the Austrian Catholic Church distanced itself from him, with the Vienna archdiocese rejecting "any exploitation of worship and Church buildings for political purposes".

Opinion polls gave him only four or five percent of the vote.

With such divisive opponents, Fischer, 71, a former Social Democrat who took office in 2004 and has hardly caused a stir since, was widely expected to remain in the top job for another six years.

The Austrian president has a mostly ceremonial role and after a rather dull campaign, turnout was expected to be low.

"The president is more of a symbolic moral figure than a leader"

Shortly after noon on Sunday, most provinces were reporting lower turnout figures than at the same time in 2004.

In Vienna alone, turnout was 10.99 percent at 10:00 am, compared to 15.77 percent six years ago, according to the local election authority. National figures were not available.

The sunny spring weather was seen as a possible factor drawing voters away, although a survey by the polling institute Oekonsult, published a week ago, found that 41 percent of eligible voters did not intend to cast their ballots.

The conservative People's Party (OeVP), an uneasy partner of the Social Democrats in the ruling coalition, also sparked controversy by calling on voters to cast a blank ballot after it decided against fielding a candidate.

In 2004, Fischer defeated the OeVP's Benita Ferrero-Waldner, later an EU commissioner for external relations, by 52.39 percent to 47.61 percent.

Date created : 2010-04-25