Police deployed in Vienna as anti-Islamization protesters face off against leftist opponents

250 "PEGIDA" Protesters chanted "we are the people", back up by far-right party leader who calls them "a serious civil rights movement."

By REUTERS
February 3, 2015 08:00
2 minute read.
Supporters of the movement of PEGIDA gather in Vienna

Supporters of the movement of Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA) gather during a demonstration in Vienna. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The anti-Islam movement born in Germany, drew hundreds of supporters and counter-demonstrators to the streets of Vienna when it held its first march in neighboring Austria on Monday.

With 1,200 police officers deployed in Austria's capital as a precaution, around 250 marchers carrying Austrian flags and chanting "we are the people" faced off against a like number of protesters shouting "down with PEGIDA" and "We are all anti fascists".

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Ranks of police in riot gear separated the two camps.

A police spokesman said there had been no incidents or arrests.

"The politicians should listen more to the Austrian citizens, and not to the large number of immigrants who do not want to live according to the central European culture, but who want to bring their culture into our country," PEGIDA supporter Christian Roessler said.

The rally followed demonstrations on Friday by left-wing activists protesting against an annual ball in Vienna that traditionally draws right-wing figures.

Religious sensibilities are on the rise in Austria. The government has proposed requiring standardized German-language translations of the Koran and prohibiting foreign funding of Muslim organizations on its soil in a draft law aimed in part at tackling militants.

"I have no problem with Muslims as long as they behave decently. I have been accommodating refugees from Syria for five months now and they still do not speak a single word of German," PEGIDA supporter who gave his name as Norman said.

The initiative follows alarm over official estimates that about 170 people from Austria have joined up with Islamist militant forces fighting in the Middle East.

The sudden rise of PEGIDA - "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West" - in Germany rattled that country's political establishment by staging rallies that brought up to 25,000 onto the streets of Dresden.

But it has fallen into disarray after five of its founding members dropped out to start a rival movement.

"I am trying to block the PEGIDA march, because there is no room for right wing ideologies in Vienna. There is no Islamization problem in Austria. And also, I want to stand up against right-wing violence,",one anti-PEGIDA protester said.

"Of course I am against terrorist attacks. I am a Muslim myself, and Islam is dissociating itself from such acts. Still, this is no reason for a rally like this in a civilized country like Austria. This reminds me of National Socialism, of the Holocaust. I do not want to compare those, but this is anti-Islam agitation," said Cemseddin, a Vienna resident of Tunisian origin who joined the anti-PEGIDA protest.

Nazi Germany in 1938 annexed Austria, whose 200,000-strong Jewish population was wiped out in the Holocaust.

Heinz Christian Strache, leader of Austria's far-right opposition Freedom Party that is neck and neck in opinion polls with the centrist coalition parties, has expressed support for PEGIDA, which he has called a "serious civil rights movement."


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