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Austria's President Alexander Van der Bellen (L) receives head of the Freedom Party (FPOe) Heinz-Christian Strache at his office in Vienna, Austria, October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

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By Shadia Nasralla

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPO) on Wednesday named control of the interior ministry as its price for joining a future coalition government following its strong showing in a parliamentary election.

The anti-immigrant, anti-Islam FPO won around 26 percent of votes cast in Sunday's election. The conservative People's Party (OVP) won most votes by also taking a hard line on immigration, while the centre-left Social Democrats took second place.

Asked if the FPO would stick by its pre-election insistence that it would only join a future coalition if its candidate became interior minister, party leader Heinz-Christian Strache told reporters: "Yes."

"We won't go down on our knees for anyone. At 26 percent we naturally aim to implement our (FPO) policies in government," Strache added.

The interior ministry in Austria oversees asylum claims and the fight against terrorism, among other responsibilities.

Austria's president will on Friday formally ask Sebastian Kurz, leader of the OVP, the largest party at around 32 percent, to start negotiations on forming a new coalition government.

The OVP and the FPO overlap in their plans to curb immigration, cut social benefits for refugees, reduce the tax burden on companies and work towards repatriating powers to national governments from Brussels while strengthening external border security.

SPURNING SOCIAL DEMOCRATS

All parties have kept their coalition options open, but the Social Democrats (SPO) are technically still bound by a party conference decision from 2014 that bans it from entering into a coalition government with the Freedom Party.

Under Austria's outgoing Social Democrat chancellor, Christian Kern, the SPO has opened up significantly to the Freedom Party by introducing a so-called "value compass" for potential partners which does not specifically rule out working with the Freedom Party.

But Strache said on Wednesday that as long as there was no fresh vote among the Social Democrats' base to formally annul the 2014 decision, talk of his party teaming up with the SPO was "theoretical".

Influential FPO official Manfred Haimbuchner told newspaper Der Standard that he definitely preferred his party to form a government with the conservatives.

The FPO was founded by ex-Nazis in the 1950s and first became a major political force in the 1990s under the charismatic Joerg Haider, who praised Hitler's employment policies.

Today the party says it has put its Nazi past behind it and purged its ranks of anti-Semitism but still frequently has to expel members for anti-Semitic comments. It has, however, stopped calling for Austria to leave the European Union.

(Reporting By Shadia Nasralla and Alexandra Schwarz-Goerlich; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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