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Archive for the ‘Bavaria Land of Austria’ Category

Putin dances at Austria wedding before meeting Merkel

August 18, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin made a flying visit to Austria to attend the wedding of the country’s foreign minister Saturday before heading to Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Austrian authorities imposed tight security measures around the site of the ceremony near the southern border with Slovenia, where Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl married her partner Wolfgang Meilinger, a businessman. Kneissl, an independent, was nominated by the pro-Russia Austrian Freedom Party, whose leaders also attended the wedding.

Photos showed Putin dancing with the bride, who was dressed in traditional Austrian costume. According to Austrian public broadcaster ORF, Putin also brought a small Cossack men’s choir along to entertain about 100 guests at the wedding.

Austrian lawmaker Joerg Leichtfried of the opposition Social Democratic Party criticized Kneissl’s decision to invite Putin to the wedding, saying it called into question Austria’s role as a neutral intermediary in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed rebels are battling government forces. Austria currently holds the European Union’s rotating presidency.

Putin’s meeting with Merkel late Saturday takes place at the German government’s guesthouse in Meseberg, north of Berlin. Topics during the bilateral talks include Ukraine, Syria and the planned Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany that the United States and some European countries object to.

The two leaders were scheduled to make statements before the talks, but there were no plans for a news conference afterward.

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Austria takes over EU presidency with pledge for security

June 30, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — Austria has taken over the rotating presidency of the European Union with a pledge to better secure the 28-nation bloc’s external borders. At a ceremony Saturday outside the Alpine town of Schladming, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the six-month presidency is “an honor for us, but also a great responsibility.”

Kurz says “we know that the international environment is difficult right now.” Kurz came to power last year as the head of a right-wing coalition government with a pledge to restrict migration to Austria.

He supports setting up landing points for migrants outside the EU and strengthening the bloc’s Frontex border agency. EU Council President Donald Tusk praised the Austrian motto for its presidency, “a Europe that protects.”

Italy, Austria signal new hard-line axis on migration

June 20, 2018

MILAN (AP) — A meeting of Italy’s anti-migrant interior minister with like-minded Austrian populist leaders on Wednesday in Rome heralded a new hard-line axis forming in Europe on migration issues with pledges to more firmly protect Europe’s southern border.

Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, leveraged on his recent refusal to allow landfall in Sicily to a ship carrying some 630 migrants rescued at sea off the Libyan coast. The new Socialist government in Spain agreed to take them in, acknowledging Europe had abandoned Italy, after the tiny island nation of Malta also balked.

“It is a historic moment because Europe has never had the possibility to change like in these days. We think it can change for the better on the topics of immigration, security and the fight against terrorism. Finally there is a decision to protect the exterior border,” Salvini said.

Salvini and his Austrian counterparts — vice chancellor Heinz Christian Strache and interior minister Herbert Kickl — signaled their common approach to reinforcing the exterior border while deferring specifics to Austria’s EU presidency, and other forums, including an upcoming EU summit. Salvini said he was briefing Premier Conte and vice premier Luigi Di Maio on his proposals later in the day.

But Salvini made clear that he would continue to press neighbors to do more. While welcoming Spain’s acceptance of the migrants, he noted that Spain has only taken 235 of an agreed-upon EU quota of 3,265. “They can take the next four boats that arrive,” he said. He also slammed France, which has only taken 640 of the 9,800 migrants it has pledged to receive.

Salvini said he had trust in the Austrian EU presidency to make a difference in discussions about changing the Dublin accords, noting “the mood has changed,” but also hinting that Italy would be willing to play hardball, and hold back payments to the EU, if significant changes were not made.

Salvini said he wanted to see EU funds better spent, and said he would travel to Libya, the main departure point for migrants heading to Italy, in the coming days to work on stemming the migrant tide as well as economic development issues.

While more than 640,000 migrants have arrived in Italy since 2014, the number of arrivals in Italy this year is down over 80 percent, to over 14,500. Austria’s interior minister, Kickl, said the message had to go out “that those who rely on traffickers have given up all chances of asylum in Europe.”

Kickl said they were examining the possibility of setting up centers in the Balkans for asylum-seekers whose applications have been rejected, saying “if they stay in the country, there is no difference between a negative and a positive response.”

Austria to close 7 mosques, expel imams in crackdown

June 08, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — Austria’s government said Friday that it is closing seven mosques and plans to expel imams in a crackdown on “political Islam” and foreign financing of religious groups. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the government is shutting a hardline Turkish nationalist mosque in Vienna and dissolving a group called the Arab Religious Community that runs six mosques.

The actions by the government are based on a 2015 law that, among other things, prevents religious communities from getting funding from abroad. Interior Minister Herbert Kickl said the residence permits of around 40 imams employed by ATIB, a group that oversees Turkish mosques in Austria, are being reviewed because of concerns about such financing.

Kickl said that, in two cases, permits have already been revoked. Five more imams were denied first-time permits. The conservative Kurz became chancellor in December in a coalition with the anti-migration Freedom Party.

In campaigning for last year’s election, both coalition parties called for tougher immigration controls, quick deportations of asylum-seekers whose requests are denied and a crackdown on radical Islam. The government recently announced plans to ban girls in elementary schools and kindergartens from wearing headscarves, adding to existing restrictions on veils.

“Parallel societies, political Islam and tendencies toward radicalization have no place in our country,” Kurz told reporters in Vienna. He added that the government’s powers to intervene “were not sufficiently used” in the past.

Friday’s measures are “a first significant and necessary step in the right direction,” said Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, the Freedom Party’s leader. “If these measures aren’t enough, we will if necessary evaluate the legal situation here or there.”

Croats gather in Austria for controversial commemoration

May 12, 2018

BLEIBURG, Austria (AP) — Thousands of Croatian far-right supporters gathered in a field in southern Austria on Saturday to commemorate the massacre of pro-Nazi Croats by victorious communists at the end of World War II.

The controversial annual event was held amid a surge of far-right sentiment in Croatia, the European Union’s newest member. For Croatian nationalists, the Bleiburg site symbolizes their suffering under communism in Yugoslavia before they fought a war for independence in the 1990s.

Tens of thousands of Croatians, mostly pro-fascist soldiers known as Ustashas, fled to Bleiburg in May 1945 amid a Yugoslav army offensive, only to be turned back from Austria by the British military and into the hands of revengeful anti-fascists. Thousands were killed and buried in mass graves in and around Bleiburg.

The Croatian Ustasha regime sent tens of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and Croatian anti-fascists to death camps during the war. Top Croatian officials attended Saturday’s gathering Saturday on a vast field surrounded by mountains. Croatian Catholic Church clergy held a Mass for the killed Croats.

“Awful crimes have been committed in the Bleiburg field,” Croatian parliament speaker Gordan Jandrokovic said. “Today we are paying our respect to the victims, civilians as well as soldiers.” Croatia’s center-right government has been accused of turning a blind eye to the rising extremism and downplaying the crimes of the Ustasha regime. The policies have triggered protests from Croatia’s minority Jewish and Serb communities.

Top Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff said he tried to persuade Austria’s conservative government to ban the rally, but without success. “It’s absolutely outrageous that Austrian authorities allow an event like this to happen,” Zuroff told The Associated Press by phone from Jerusalem. “In Austria, you are not allowed to brandish Nazi symbols, but they allow Ustasha symbols.”

For the first time since the first massive commemoration was held in the 1990s, Austrian authorities on Saturday banned the Ustasha insignia to be worn at the event. Despite the ban, some participants brandished T-shirts bearing the Ustasha wartime call: “For the Homeland, ready!”

“The main culprit of the tragedy of those people was the British Army because they tricked the Croatian soldiers to disarm before they were handed over to (Yugoslav Communist leader Josip Broz) Tito,” said Branko Mandic, one of the mourners.

A small anti-Fascist rally was held in the town of Bleiburg, with protesters displaying banners reading “Nazis Out!” Croatian officials repeatedly have denied backing policies that run counter to European Union standards, saying they are focused on major economic and social reforms and not the revival of the far-right sentiments.

Thousands protest Austria’s new right-wing government

January 13, 2018

VIENNA (AP) — Thousands of Austrians are protesting their country’s new right-wing government with a march in Vienna. Police in the capital said about 20,000 people were attending the march on Saturday.

Some protesters carried placards reading “Never Again.” Others chanted slogans such as “Refugees should stay, drive out the Nazis.” The new governing coalition made up of the conservative Austrian People’s Party and the nationalist Freedom Party has taken a hard line against migration.

New Austrian leader rejects talk of eastern EU alliance

January 05, 2018

SEGGAUBERG, Austria (AP) — Austria’s new chancellor on Friday rejected suggestions that his government will align broadly with eastern nations that have clashed with the European Union over migrants and other issues.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz leads a coalition with the traditionally euroskeptic Freedom Party that took office just before Christmas. Both Kurz’ conservative People’s Party and the Freedom Party have taken a hard line against migration.

The position has generated speculation that Austria could move closer to the Visegrad group of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia than its western EU allies. Kurz, who at 31 is Europe’s youngest leader, warned Friday against “over-interpreting things.”

“There are measures and initiatives where we have goodwill in western European countries,” he told reporters after a meeting of the new Cabinet. “There are others where we will perhaps get applause from the Visegrad countries, and still others where we agree with all other 27 EU member states.”

Kurz plans to visit Paris and Berlin in coming weeks. He said he expects a “good exchange” with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, stressing that “Germany is our biggest neighbor, our most important economic partner.”

Of French President Emmanuel Macron, who has championed efforts to reform the EU, Kurz said: “It is clearly positive for all of us in the European Union that there is a French president who aspires to change something in the European Union.”

Kurz called for an EU that is strong on “big questions” such as border security but leaves many policy decisions to countries and regions. Austria will hold the EU’s rotating presidency in the second half of this year, when the bloc should be finalizing terms of Britain’s departure.

“I very much hope that we succeed in organizing an orderly departure by the British,” Kurz said, arguing that a failure to do so would hurt both sides.

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