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24. 08. 10. - 12:00

Minaret debate continues as Vienna vote approaches

Freedom Party (FP) leader Heinz-Christian Strache has spoken out against the construction of additional minarets in Austria.

The right-winger said on state-owned TV channel ORFs "Sommergesprche" (Summer Talks) series last night (Mon): "We say yes to houses of prayers, but no to minarets and muezzins."

Straches statement comes after Anas Schakfeh, president of the Austrian Islamic Denomination (IGGi), suggested the construction of "visible" mosques featuring minarets in all nine Austrian provincial capitals.

The FP chief branded Schakfehs appeal "disconcerting", while Social Democrats (SP) attacked FP general secretary Harald Vilimsky for calling mosques "hotbeds of radical Islam".

There are around 200 mosques in Austria, but only three of them (Vienna, Bad Vslau, Telfs) feature minarets.

Schakfeh, who said the around 500,000 Muslims living in Austria were "better than our reputation", also caused controversy by claiming many immigrants could not learn German before coming to Austria.

The coalition formed by the SP and the conservative Peoples Party (VP) introduced stricter immigration laws earlier this year that require people who want to settle in Austria to have basic German skills upon arrival.

The office of VP Interior Minister Maria Fekter dismissed Schakfehs claims yesterday. A spokesman for the right-wing minister said everyone who wanted to move to Austria was able to sit German lessons beforehand.

Schakfeh argued the new law forced poor countryside residents in foreign countries to immigrate twice first to big cities to take part in German classes and then to Austria.

The FP can brace for strong gains in the 10 October Vienna election, according to recent surveys. The party garnered 14.8 per cent in the 2005 vote, while right-wing archrivals the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZ) had the support of just 1.2 per cent. Former ORF business journalist Walter Sonnleitner is the BZ֒s front runner for the upcoming election, while federal FP chief Strache also acts as head of the partys Vienna branch.

Strache recently revealed his "vision" to become mayor of Vienna one day. SP Mayor Michael Hupl has meanwhile been criticised by fellow SP members for branding Strache a "loser" amid fears the controversial populist will only benefit from such attacks.

Hupl is expected to step down within the next few years regardless of the outcome of the election. He has been the federal capitals mayor since 1994. Vienna has had only SP mayors since the end of World War Two.

SP councillor Christian Oxonitsch or SP Vice Mayor Michael Ludwig may succeed Hupl, while SP councillor Sonja Wehsely is also seen as having chances to get the post.

The SP won a majority of seats in the city parliament in the 2005 election (49.1 per cent) in which the VP came in second (18.8 per cent) ahead of the FP and the Greens (14.6 per cent).

The Social Democrats said they would invite the Greens and the VP for talks if they lost their majority. Christine Mareks VP is tipped to be the SP֒s preferred coalition partner.

Prestigious political strategist Stanley Greenberg will again be a consultant for the SP֒s Vienna branch during its election campaign. Greenberg who worked for former US President Bill Clinton and ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been used by the Viennese SP department several times over the past few years.

Analysts said the SP should stress the citys high living quality as confirmed by various international studies such as the 2010 survey by Mercer in which the Austrian capital was in first place.

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  • Miklos Berndt wrote on 26. 08. 2010 from Hungary

    Please, do not let Europe fall to mosques and minarets. I really wish that Austrians are strong enough to say no to muslims. Our whole culture is at risk.


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