Six injured as protesters clash over Islam centre in Vienna

Anti-Strache protestPolice special forces clashed with protesters as marches through Vienna over the planned extension of an Islamic cultural centre turned violent yesterday (Thurs).

Police said 700 people held a counter demonstration after roughly the same number joined a protest organised by the “Moschee ade” (Goodbye Mosque) movement fighting plans to extend the centre.

Moschee ade leaders said further protests would be organised if the Social Democrats (SPÖ) of Vienna do not take back their approval of the plans to extend a Muslim centre in the Brigittenau district.

Protest organiser Hannelore Schuster, mother-in-law of People’s Party (ÖVP) Science Minister Johannes Hahn, said she and other protestors would “march once every month.” Schuster said the centre should be relocated, but denied that the proposal was because of any anti-Islamic feeling.

Heinz-Christian Strache, federal leader of the right-wing opposition Freedom Party (FPÖ) held a speech at the event during which he wielded a cross.

And there were furious protests from left-wing groups who had to be held back by special police forces after skinheads attended the event.

Police chiefs said six people were injured when counter-demonstrators clashed with officers, adding three of them were policemen. Three people were put in custody for grievous bodily harm.

A group of Green party members, including city councillor David Ellensohn, joined the counter-demonstration.

FPÖ leader Strache said someone “needs to protect our Austria from these left-radicals who do not take people’s problems seriously.”

FPÖ general secretary Harald Vilimsky claimed Strache and his entourage had been assaulted by violent counter-demonstrators. Vilimsky said Strache’s personal assistant had to be hospitalised for a head injury after being hit with a bottle.

Asked whether she had no problem with being backed by the far-right FPÖ, Schuster said: “I accept their backing with open arms because other parties are cowards.”

“We are not Nazis simply because we cooperate with the FPÖ,” she added.

The retired journalist said she did not support right-wing ideology but wanted to raise attention to the noise pollution the Turkish-Islamic ATIB centre – which is not a mosque – in Dammstraße would cause.

Schuster said hundreds of Muslims gather at the centre already and this number would be multiplied if the centre gets the go-ahead for an extension making it a four-floor building.

Schuster blasted city officials for “trying to create an event featuring a supermarket, a hairdresser and a kindergarten” in the cloak of religious reasons. She expressed fears of a widening gap between Catholic residents and Muslims.

The Vienna SPÖ government has given the go-ahead for construction to start next year.

Speaking to Austrian Times, Schuster accused members of the centre of trying to create a “parallel society,” stressing she had often tried to negotiate with the centre’s chiefs on a mutually acceptable resolution to problems.

Schuster said Muslims living in her block of flats opposite the centre were backing the initiative.

Austrian Times, 15 May 2009