3 Feb 2015

Austria sees first ‘anti-Islamisation’ Pegida march

Pegida holds its first march in Austria against the “Islamisation of the west”, echoing demonstrations in Germany, as protestors clash with police and anti-racism campaigners.

The gathering in Vienna drew about 250 people, far fewer than the tousands who have turned out to similar events in Germany.

The march was organised by Pegida – Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West – as part of a movement that originated in Desden, Germany.

While there were no reports of Nazi symbols or gestures at German Pegida protests, at least two demonstrators in Vienna were seen raising their arms to make the Hitler salute, in the first rally of its kind in Austria.

A recent Dresden protest drew as many as 25,000 people after attracting only a few hundred to their first marches last year.

Thousands more have gathered at other eastern German cities, along with thousands protesting against Pegida.

Organisers in Vienna had sought to temper expectations of a huge turnout before their rally, saying they only expected a few hundred participants, and insisted the march was not anti-Muslim.

The Pegida demonstrators in Vienna were vastly outnumbered by their opponents.

Carrying Austrian flags and chanting “We are the people”, Pegida protesters faced off against protesters shouting “Down with Pegida” and “We are all anti-fascists”.

About 5,000 demonstrators carrying anti-Pegida slogans marched through downtown Vienna, and several hundred of them blocked the Pegida demonstrators from marching.

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

About 1,200 police, many in riot gear, were on duty at the Tuesday protest, although a police spokesman said there had been no incidents or arrests.

In a draft law aimed in part at tackling militants, Austria’s government has proposed requiring standardised German-language translations of the Koran and prohibiting foreign funding of Muslim organisations on its soil.

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.