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Posts tagged ‘Bavaria Land of Austria’

Austria’s ‘Burqa Ban’ law comes into force

October 01, 2017

VIENNA (AP) — A law that forbids any kind of full-face covering, including Islamic veils such as the niqab or burqa, has come into force in Austria. Starting Sunday, wearing a ski mask off the slopes, a surgical mask outside hospitals and party masks in public is prohibited.

The law, popularly known as the “Burqa Ban,” is mostly seen as a directed at the dress worn by some ultra-conservative Muslim women. Violations carry a possible fine of 150 euros (nearly $180.) Police are authorized to use force if people resist showing their faces.

Only a small number of Muslim women in Austria wear full-face veils, but they have become a target for right-wing groups and political parties. France and Belgium have similar laws. The nationalist Alternative for Germany party is calling for one there, too.

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‘Burqa ban’ law signals rightward political turn in Austria

September 30, 2017

VIENNA (AP) — A law prohibiting any kind of full-face covering, known popularly as the “Burqa Ban,” takes effect Sunday in Austria, where the strong support for it portends potential political upheaval in the upcoming national election.

Parties campaigning on an anti-migrant message are poised to win on Oct. 15 and to form a coalition government. Such a rightward swing in a country that’s had centrist governments almost consistently since World War II could have repercussions across Europe, emboldening politicians who take a hard line on Islam and immigration.

Last week, the right-wing, anti-migrant Alternative for Germany party won seats in Germany’s national parliament for the first time after featuring posters with the slogan “Burqas? We prefer bikinis” in its campaign.

The Austrian law — called “Prohibition for the Covering of the Face” — forbids off-slope ski masks, surgical masks outside hospitals and party masks in public. Violations carry a possible fine of 150 euros (nearly $180) and police are authorized to use force with people who resist showing their faces.

But its popular name reflects the most prevalent association — the garments some Muslim women wear to conceal their whole faces and bodies. The garments are rare in Austria even after the recent surge of migrants into Europe. Support for the law is strong nonetheless, reflecting anti-Muslim attitudes in the predominantly Catholic country.

“It’s not right that those living here don’t show their faces,” said Emma Schwaiger, who expressed support for the ban in a straw poll on the streets of Vienna. Five in seven of those who said they backed the law also said they will vote for the two parties that critics link to anti-Muslim sentiment — the traditionally xenophobic Freedom Party and the People’s Party. The People’s Party avoids the Freedom Party’s inflammatory talk, but has swung radically from the center under new leader Sebastian Kurz to echo that party’s positions on migration.

The Social Democratic Party, currently the majority partner in the government coalition with the People’s Party, has been left struggling. Under Chancellor Christian Kern, the Social Democrats are focusing on social topics and claiming credit for Austria’s recent economic upturn. But Kern’s message is not coming across well.

A Unique Research poll of 1,500 respondents published Thursday showed the Social Democrats with 27 percent support, ahead of the Freedom Party at 25 percent but trailing the People’s Party with 34 percent. The poll had a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.

Previously associated with stagnation and lack of direction, the People’s Party was trailing in third place until Kurz, Austria’s telegenic 31-year old foreign minister, took leadership in May after securing party pledges of full authority.

He already was known Europe-wide for shutting down the West Balkans route into the prosperous EU heartland for migrants. With early elections set after the breakup of the coalition with the Social Democrats, he rapidly remade the party in his own image.

Although the People’s Party was part of the government coalition that opened its borders to more than 100,000 migrants in 2015, the party now says that “the political establishment failed in dealing with the refugee crisis.”

Calling for zero illegal immigration, he says migrants intercepted on the high seas should be shipped to refugee centers in North Africa instead of Europe. Migrants waiting for a decision on their asylum applications should be forced to work menial jobs in exchange for pocket money. And instead of the normal six-year waiting period for Austrian citizenship, those receiving asylum should wait for 10 years, he says.

Kurz has something else in his favor for an electorate disaffected with the status quo. “He was able — even though he was in government for more than six years — to present himself as the ‘change guy,'” said Thomas Hofer, a political analyst.

He now campaigns as the head of “Sebastian Kurz List.” Posters with his image mention the People’s Party as an afterthought. Turquoise has replaced the party’s official color of black. Kurz also attracts Austrians who support the Freedom Party and its leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, on migration, but dislike the radical way they frame the debate. Kurz, says Hofer, “uses a different kind of language, and it’s not extreme language — it’s plain talk.”

Kurz has pledged that the face-cover ban will be rigorously enforced. But Hofer dismisses the law as a “symbolic issue.” Muslim women leaders see as insincere the claim the law is intended to help oppressed women.

Carla Amina Bhagajati of the Islamic Religious Community in Austria said the “handful” of fully veiled women she knows of in Vienna “now are criminalized and … restricted to their homes.” “This open society is, in a hypocritical way, endangering its own values,” she said.

Austrian party picks new leader, early elections likely

May 14, 2017

VIENNA (AP) — Austria’s junior government coalition partner chose a new leader Sunday and gave him the unprecedented authority he demanded as a condition for leading his party into expected early elections this fall.

Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz told reporters that senior officials of his People’s Party agreed to let him choose all ministers of any government he would head, as well as to nominate candidates for parliament that would include party outsiders.

Speaking after a closed meeting, Kurz said that the gathering also agreed to contest at least the next elections under a name change. Instead of the People’s Party, Kurz and other candidates would now run under the “List Sebastian Kurz – the new People’s Party.”

“We have decided to start a movement,” Kurz told reporters. “We’re going to rely on proven forces from within the People’s Party, but at the same time we’re going to bring new people on board.” The power grab is significant in a party where provincial governors have historically had an outsize say in running federal affairs, including pushing through ministerial appointments and overriding major policy decisions by the federal leader.

With few exceptions, that has led party heads to resign in frustration in recent decades. The latest, Reinhold Mitterlehner, threw in the towel Wednesday after less than three years as party leader and vice chancellor.

The center-right People’s Party is now a distant third among voters. But Kurz, a telegenic 30-year old, regularly tops political popularity polls. That is due in part for his embrace of a harder line on immigrants and other positions of the right-wing Freedom Party, which leads in voter support. But he avoids that party’s xenophobic polemics, as he walks the line between keeping People’s Party supporters and attracting Freedom Party backers.

Acceptance of Kurz’s demands reflects recognition by the party’s power-brokers that refusal would mean an almost certain slide in voter support. The often cantankerous People’s Party-Social Democratic coalition has shown increased signs of fraying over the past months. Still, Social Democratic Chancellor Christian Kern had resisted People’s Party calls to move up elections from next year.

But as People’s Party officials gathered Sunday he told state broadcaster ORF: “I assume that there will certainly be an election this fall.”

Associated Press writer Geir Moulson in Berlin, and AP video journalist Philipp Jenne in Vienna, contributed to this report.

Lack of German means Turk must vacate Austrian kebab stand

April 03, 2017

WIENER NEUSTADT, Austria (AP) — Alihan Turgut has dished out falafel for more than a decade to the townsfolk of Wiener Neustadt, and many call him one of their own. But “Kebab Ali” now stands to lose his stand at the main marketplace — and with it his livelihood.

Turgut is paying the price for something that he says has not previously been a problem: his German remains rough at best, more than 25 years after he came to Austria from Turkey. Mayor Klaus Schneeberger says that makes him someone “we don’t need” in what will soon be the refurbished market area.

Local politicians have seized on Turgut’s lack of German in denying him a stand and banning him from setting up anywhere else in the downtown district of their city south of Vienna. Turgut belongs to an earlier group of “guest workers” and subsequent generations who arrived well before the unprecedented migrant waves that Europe now is wrestling with. They initially were expected to return home after doing the menial work that the citizens of economically growing Western Europe considered below them.

After arriving in Austria, Germany, or elsewhere, many “guest workers” decided to stay. But they, and those who trickled in over subsequent decades, were mostly on their own as far as integration is concerned, without the language lessons, courses on socially acceptable behavior and job training that EU nations are offering their new arrivals nowadays.

At a time of EU-Turkish tensions, town fathers are depicting Turgut as a poster boy of a “parallel society,” loyal to Ankara, that sometimes resorts to violence on Europe’s streets in support of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his drive for greater powers.

In part as a reaction, the government is tightening rules on demonstrations, while Austrian news and public affairs programs reflect growing concerns about where loyalties lie. A much-watched TV talk show last week was titled “Austro-Turks for Erdogan: Does the new homeland not count for anything?”

But Turgut appears more a political football than part of a fifth column. A white apron spanned over his expansive belly, he trades quips in mangled but understandable German with customers lined up for a schnitzelburger or a kebab.

He acknowledges that he remains a Turkish citizen but says it’s only because his German isn’t good enough to pass strict Austrian citizenship tests. He describes his priorities on arrival as bringing his family to Austria and establishing a livelihood, not learning German.

In any case, he says, the focus on language is a “political game,” adding in fractured German: “My customers want me to stay downtown.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel has acknowledged that people like Turgut and others before him didn’t have the integration opportunities of today’s migrants. She say officials back then “pushed a book in their hands titled ‘German for Foreigners’ and said: ‘OK, that should work.'”

In terms of adapting,” they were simply thrown in cold water,” she said two years ago, in comments marking the 60th anniversary of the arrival of the first “guest workers.” Along with Turks, workers from Yugoslavia made up the bulk of the earlier migrant arrivals that lasted into the 1980s. But while both groups had to struggle to escape the traps of poor education, menial jobs and lack of German, the Turks faced additional hurdles.

Migration and assimilation researcher Kenan Guengoer says that most “brought with them a special feeling of being foreign” in a Christian Europe because of their Muslim roots. “Even today, the children and grandchildren of that generation don’t have the feeling that they have arrived,” said Guengoer, adding that — for many — this explains their affinity to Turkey, even if born in Austria.

An Austrian government study from last year says 51.8 percent of first- and second- generation Turks feel at home more in Turkey than in Austria. Erdogan, Guengoer said, “gives them the feeling of being someone, of being able to look up to a charismatic leader, of being part of a country they can call their own.”

Schneeberger, the mayor, acknowledges past mistakes and points to present integration efforts as proof that Austria has learned from them. He praises Syrians as “progressive, ready to adapt,” and says the problem is “not the Turks, it’s some of the Turks.”

He invokes examples of Wiener Neustadt school classes where the majority of children speak Turkish with each other, adding: “If this is the case with children, what will our society look like tomorrow?”

“I am ready to praise those who integrate,” he says. “Others who don’t must be sent home.” He describes as “grotesque” the views of those who refuse to send their children to schools with a high percentage of migrants while saying “Herr Ali has to stay.”

But Turgut’s clients remain loyal. Frederike Steiner calls him “a traditional part of Wiener Neustadt.” Ella Raunig says he is “part of the city.” And Gabriella Jacob, who runs the vegetable stand next to Turgut, describes him as “part of us.”

“We will all miss him.”

Associated Press writer David Rising contributed from Berlin

Austria approves US extradition for Ukrainian oligarch

February 21, 2017

VIENNA (AP) — An Austrian court on Tuesday approved a U.S. extradition request for a Ukrainian oligarch suspected of paying millions of dollars in bribes to Indian officials. The court decision overturns a lower court ruling nearly two years ago against extraditing Dymitro Firtash. The judge then said that the U.S. move was at least partially politically motivated through links to political events in Ukraine, and not supported by sufficient evidence.

Extradition, however, is still not a certainty. Leo Levnaic-Iwanski, who headed the judges’ panel of the Upper State Court, said the final decision will be made by Justice Minister Wolfgang Brandstetter.

Firtash was indicted in Chicago by a U.S. grand jury in 2012 for allegedly paying off officials through U.S. banks in a failed attempt to secure titanium mining rights in India. Arrested a year later in Vienna, Firtash posted bail of 125 million euros (more than $130 million) shortly afterward, leaving him free but unable to leave Austria.

One of Ukraine’s most influential businessmen, Firtash, 51, is well connected both in Moscow and with Ukrainian politicians opposed to the Kremlin. He earned millions of dollars in the natural gas trading sector under deposed pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Austrian right-winger Hofer plans 2022 run for presidency

December 06, 2016

VIENNA (AP) — Austria’s defeated right-wing candidate for the presidency says he will run again in six years, when the term of the left-leaning winner ends and new elections are held. Norbert Hofer says results “can look differently” in the next race for the position, adding “I hope I will win then.”

Hofer spoke Tuesday as final results were tallied. They show Van der Bellen extending his lead with 53.79 percent of ballots cast in his favor, compared to 46.27 percent for Hofer. Sunday’s vote was viewed Europe-wide as a proxy test of populist strength in other EU countries fielding strong euroskeptic candidates in elections next year.

Mainstream relief as leftist candidate wins in Austria

December 04, 2016

VIENNA (AP) — Left-leaning Alexander Van der Bellen triumphed over his right-wing rival Sunday in the vote for Austria’s presidency, a victory welcomed by moderate politicians across Europe as a blow against the populist forces looking to weaken the European Union.

While the Austrian presidency is a mostly symbolic post, it had attracted attention from across Europe as the next possible victory for populists after political outsider Donald Trump’s presidential win in the United States and the Brexit vote in Britain.

“What happens here today has relevance for all of Europe,” Van der Bellen said he cast his ballot, later noting that his win showed most voters backed his message of “freedom, equality, solidarity.” With all votes except for absentee ballots counted, Van der Bellen had 51.68 percent of the vote to 48.32 percent for Norbert Hofer. But pollsters predicted a final result of 53.3 percent to 46.7 percent in favor of Van der Bellen once the approximately 500,000 absentee ballots were tallied. The final result of Sunday’s vote was expected by Tuesday at the latest.

Van der Bellen said the win sends a “message to the capitals of the European Union that one can win elections with high European positions.” He said he would work to unite a country deeply split between the moderate liberals who voted for him and supporters of Hofer’s anti-immigrant Freedom Party.

Powerful euroskeptic populist politicians facing elections next year in other EU nations shrugged off Hofer’s loss as a temporary setback, but the result was greeted with relief and congratulations by mainstream politicians.

French President Francois Hollande said Austrians “made the choice of Europe, and openness.” Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who heads Germany’s center-left Social Democrats, told the Bild newspaper that “a load has been taken off the mind of all of Europe.” He called the result “a clear victory for good sense against right-wing populism.”

Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern said Van der Bellen “will represent Austria domestically and abroad in an excellent manner” — alluding to fears by establishment politicians that a victory by Hofer, whose anti-immigrant Freedom Party is critical of the 28-nation EU, would hurt Austria’s image. Van der Bellen is liberal, left-of-center and pro-EU.

Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, called the victory a defeat for “anti-European, backward-looking populism.” With polls estimating that the two candidates were neck-and-neck ahead of the vote, Van der Bellen’s margin of victory was unexpected.

Political scientist Kathrin Stainer Haemmerle told the Austria Press Agency said that despite widespread disenchantment with establishment parties in Austria, the results show “the majority of the population is not looking for radical change.”

Still, Van der Bellen’s victory presages new possible divisions. The new Austrian president-elect has said he would refuse to swear in a government led by the Freedom Party. But with the Freedom Party given a good chance of winning the parliamentary election less than two years away, Van der Bellen might be forced to act on that pledge. If he is true to his word, he would plunge Austria into a political crisis with unforeseen consequences.

Hofer, meanwhile, conceded his loss in a Facebook posting. Acknowledging that he was “endlessly sad,” Hofer said “I would have been happy to take care of our Austria.” He urged voters of both camps to bury their differences and work together.

Appearing later with Van der Bellen, Hofer said his loss “is really very painful … but the voter is always right in a democracy.” Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen of France and anti-immigrant politician Geert Wilders in the Netherlands tweeted their support for Hofer as voting took place Sunday, then later made the best of his loss. The two, who both face their own national elections next year, congratulated Hofer on his strong showing.

Le Pen, who hopes to ride anti-immigrant, anti-EU sentiment to the French presidency, tweeted that Hofer and his Freedom Party “fought with courage.” “Victory will be theirs in the next legislative election!” she added.

Congratulating Van der Bellen, EU Council President Donald Tusk said “the continued constructive contribution of Austria to finding common European solutions and keeping our European unity will remain essential.”

In Germany, top opposition Green leader Simone Peter called Sunday’s result “a good day for Austria and Europe.” “The right-wing rabble-rousers have to be stopped!” Peter declared. The election Sunday was a rerun of a vote in May that Van der Bellen narrowly won. Austria’s Constitutional Court ordered the repeat following a court ruling after Hofer’s Freedom Party claimed widespread voting irregularities.

Philipp Jenne, Amer Cohadzic, Zenel Zhinipotoku, Florent Bajrami, Matteo Wick and Eldar Emric in Vienna and Geir Moulson in Berlin, Angela Charlton in Paris and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this report.

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