VIENNA: With a heavy police presence keeping thousands of protesters at bay, Austria’s far right was sworn in on Monday as part of the new government, rounding off a triumphant year for Europe’s nationalists. The coalition between the conservative People’s Party (OeVP) and the Freedom Party (FPOe) has pledged to stop illegal immigration, cut taxes and resist EU centralisation.
It is led by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who took over the OeVP in May and yanked it to the right, securing his party first place in October elections. At 31, Kurz is the world’s youngest leader.
At his side for the investiture by Austria’s president in the Hapsburg dynasty’s imperial palace in Vienna was FPOe chief Heinz-Christian Strache, 48, now vice-chancellor, and FPOe general secretary Herbert Kickl, the new interior minister.
Strache has said Islam “has no place in Austria” and last year called German Chancellor Angela Merkel “the most dangerous woman in Europe” for her open-door refugee policy.
On Sunday, Strache trumpeted to his 750,000 followers on Facebook that the new government would slash social benefits for asylum-seekers.
“It will no longer happen that migrants who have never worked here a single day or paid anything into the social system will get thousands of euros in welfare!” he said in a post that has gained 10,000 “likes”.
Kickl is a former speechwriter for Strache’s predecessor Joerg Haider, whose 2000 entry into government prompted an outcry and soul-searching in Europe that appear largely absent this time.
Some 5,500 people took part in demonstrations on Monday, police said, brandishing placards such as “refugees welcome” and “Nazis out”.
A heavy police presence of about 1,500 officers, with helicopters overhead and water-cannon trucks at the ready, blocked off the area around the Hofburg palace.
At one point police fired a smoke grenade when some protestors tried to break through a barricade, a photographer said, but otherwise police said there were only minor incidents. “I am very worried,” protestor Stefanie, 26, said. “We saw what happened 15 years ago. The rich are favoured at the expense of the weak, the poor, refugees.” — AFP