VIENNA, Austria — Officials in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hometown quietly removed his name from a soccer stadium overnight, complying with the California governor’s demand in a bitter dispute over his death penalty stance.
By early Monday, the large metal letters spelling out the action star-turned-politician’s name were gone from the 15,300-seat stadium in the southern city of Graz.
Schwarzenegger had written to the mayor of Graz a week ago asking that his name be removed after local activists called for the stadium to be renamed because of Schwarzenegger’s refusal to block the Dec. 13 execution of Stanley Tookie Williams.
Capital punishment is illegal in Schwarzenegger’s native Austria, where many people consider it barbaric. Opposition had run especially high in Graz, whose official slogan is “City of Human Rights.”
The governor, turning the tables on his critics, ordered his name removed and returned a ring of honor that Graz officials gave him in 1999.
With the Hollywood star’s name gone, the sign atop the stadium in Graz, about 120 miles south of Vienna, read simply: “Stadium Graz Liebenau.” Officials had renamed the arena in Schwarzenegger’s honor in 1997.
Calls to the city hall in Graz went unanswered Monday, a national holiday in Austria.
Schwarzenegger still admired
Last week, Graz Mayor Siegfried Nagl wrote to Schwarzenegger urging him to reconsider his decision to cut ties to the city and to keep the ring. Nagl said he reassured Schwarzenegger that he remains admired by most local residents.
Nagl said he was worried that severing ties to Schwarzenegger, one of Austria’s most famous sons, potentially could cost the city millions in tourist revenue.
But a movement to scrap Schwarzenegger’s name from the stadium had gained momentum in recent weeks, and a majority of the city council in Graz was said to support the idea — even before Schwarzenegger’s demand.
The ring arrived at Graz’s city hall late last week, and officials were considering displaying it at a local museum, Nagl told the weekly newspaper Die Woche.
Many Europeans have scorned the United States’ use of capital punishment in general, and Schwarzenegger’s refusal to grant clemency in particular. They are now waiting to see how Schwarzenegger deals with the scheduled Jan. 17 execution of a 75-year-old inmate.
Schwarzenegger was born in 1947 in the village of Thal just outside Graz, where he began his bodybuilding career. He immigrated to the United States in 1968 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1984, but has retained his Austrian citizenship.
He remained popular in Austria, enjoying a surge of celebrity after his 2003 election as governor. In July 2004, when Austria’s post office issued a postage stamp in his honor to coincide with his 57th birthday, the 600,000 stamps bearing his likeness sold out within a few days.
But many Austrians began to sour on him last January after he allowed California’s first execution in three years to take place.
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