Beliefnet
KLAGENFURT, Austria, Dec. 13 (AP) - Unfazed by criticism of his planned trip to the Vatican, far-rightwing politician Joerg Haider said Wednesday his delegation would visit Pope John Paul II as ``peace angels.''

``We come as angels of peace from Carinthia to Rome, and we want to please the pope with a Christmas tree in the Holy Year,'' Haider told reporters in Klagenfurt, capital of Carinthia province. ``In addition we want to convince a few hysterical communists'' that he is a normal person.

Leading international Jewish organizations have expressed disappointment over the pontiff's failure to call off the planned meeting with Haider on Saturday.

The Anti-Defamantion League said Tuesday the papal audience would grant ``undue legitimacy'' to Haider's ``message of hate and intolerance.''

The Israeli government also sharply criticized Haider's visit, urging the Vatican to cancel the pope's meeting with Haider.

Italian opponents of the visit have announced torchlight parades in protest, one through Rome's medieval Jewish Ghetto.

Haider has been criticized for past remarks sympathetic toward aspects of Hitler's Nazi regime.

Haider and his delegation will make the trip to officially hand over a Christmas tree. The plan for the handover was made before Haider became governor of Carinthia.

The 250-member Carinthian group includes a 65-member choir, a 52-member brass band as well as Bishop Egon Kapellari.

Haider was received by the pope for a private audience in 1993.

Haider's delegation will present a tree as a present from the community of Gurk, seat of one of the oldest abbeys in Austria. The tree is 81 years old, the same age as the pope.

It was transported to Rome on a flat-bed truck and put up on Tuesday on St. Peter's Square where it is guarded by two policemen.

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