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Austrians demonstrate against far-Right coalition

Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen (R), Austrian Chancellor of the conservative People's Party (OeVP) Sebastian Kurz (C) formed a new coalition government
ROLAND SCHLAGER (APA/AFP)
Organizers said some 50,000 people protest at the inclusion in the government of the Freedom Party

Some 20,000 people rallied on Saturday in Vienna against Austria's new conservative-far right coalition, over its hardline stances on immigration and social policy, police said.

Marchers descended on a central district housing several ministries to make known the views of a protesters' "New Year welcome committee" for the administration of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who became the world's youngest leader at 31 last month

Organizers said as many as 50,000 people answered their call to protest at the inclusion in the government of the anti-immigrant Freedom Party (FPOe), which holds six cabinet portfolios, including that of the vice-chancellor, party leader Heinz-Christian Strache.

"What I fear the most is that this type of government becomes the norm," said one demonstrator, 55-year-old Christa, while Tobias Grettica, a 47-year-old German, said he was worried "to see nationalism making inroads everywhere, not just in Austria."

People of all ages, including families, answered the call of leftist and anti-racist groups to turn out.

On a visit to France on Friday Kurz, whose country has the only government in Western Europe to feature the far right, appealed for understanding and insisted his team was "pro-European".

But Saturday's marchers brandished slogans drawing parallels with the 1938 annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, one reading "those who tolerate Kurz and Strache would have applauded 1938."

The coalition is the second time Austria has seen the FPOe, formed by former Nazis in the 1950s, enter the government fold after a first spell in 2000-2005. That first occasion brought widespread international opprobrium and a swathe of demonstrations at home.

FPOe Interior Minister Herbert Kickl sparked an outcry Thursday by saying the government wants to "concentrate" asylum-seekers, employing a word widely associated with Nazi camps, prompting the opposition Green Party to warn against the "language of National Socialism creeping into our way of thinking and feeling."

Strache also caused unease earlier this month by appearing to suggest that asylum-seekers should be kept in empty military barracks and subject to an evening curfew.

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