Austrian rightwinger riles former EU boss Barroso in testy debate

October 20, 2016 4:25 PM EDT

Students display placards as Norbert Hofer, Joint Acting President of Austria and Third President of the National Council, speaks during a panel discussion on "Can Europe’s politicians solve its migration crisis?" at Geneva's graduate institute, in Gene

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GENEVA (Reuters) - Austrian presidential hopeful Norbert Hofer brushed off student protests on Thursday as he publicly debated immigration with former European Commission president Juan-Manuel Barroso.

Barroso won applause from a packed auditorium at Geneva's Graduate Institute when he laid out the merits of migration and derided Hofer's call for "safe areas" in North Africa to process migrants, saying this reminded him of World War Two concentration camps.

"It's always the same," sighed Hofer, who is preparing to contest a Dec. 4 election as the candidate of the right-wing Freedom party of Austria. "What about you, do you have refugees at home? You're a rich man. Do you have refugees at home? Do you?"

Laughter drowned out Barroso's exasperated responses, before a student representative, the daugher of Bosnian refugees, read out a petition against Hofer's appearance and blamed his FPO party for spreading racism, Islamophobia, homophobia and sexism.

Dozens of students held up signs every time Hofer spoke, with slogans such as "No Borders" and "Say No to racism".

"We shouldn't hate each other," he said, to jeers from the audience. "Yes, I hear you, but it's not tolerant, you know?"

He taunted Barroso, a former Portuguese prime minister, for being friends with former U.S. President George W. Bush.

"Don't shout," Hofer told him. "You supported the war (in Iraq). It's true. It's true, that's why you are so nervous."

(Reporting by Tom Miles and Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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