By Andreas Rinke
ZAGREB (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Saturday for Europe to push back against far-right parties, saying populist movements wanted to destroy core European values such as fighting corruption and protecting minorities.
Merkel made the remarks when asked about a scandal engulfing Austria's far-right Freedom Party, whose leader Heinz-Christian Strache quit on Saturday as government vice-chancellor after he was videoed offering state contracts in exchange for political support.
"We're having to deal with populist movements that in many areas are contemptuous of these values, who want to destroy the Europe of our values. We have to stand up to this decisively," said Merkel, who has kept a low-profile during campaigning for next week's EU parliamentary election.
"What falls under this is that minorities are not protected, that basic human rights are called into question and that corruption plays a role in politics," she added after meeting Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic in Zagreb.
Merkel has left the most vocal election campaigning to fellow countryman Manfred Weber, the top conservative candidate in the May 23-26 election.
Weber, also speaking in Zagreb, said the Austrian scandal vindicated his intention not to rely on votes from far-right parties in his bid for EU commission president.
"The far right and populists are ready to sell their patriotism and the values of their country for their gains", he said, referring to the affair.
(Writing by Ludwig Burger; Editing by Helen Popper)