Austria: Demonstrations against Viennese right-wing ball turn violent

25th Jan 2014

Several protesters have been arrested during protests against a ball in Vienna that is a traditional venue for right-wing figures. Police reported a number of arrests and cases of vandalism.

Police in the Austrian capital, Vienna, say they arrested about a dozen people on Friday evening after initially peaceful protests, involving some 6,000 demonstrators, against the so-called Academics Ball (Akademikerball) in the city’s Hofburg palace turned violent.

“We have several arrests and also injured police officers,” a police spokeswoman said. Police also reported damage to storefronts and at least one police vehicle.

Police closed off large sections of the inner city ahead of the ball, which forms the focus for left-wing protests every year. Parts of the area were also closed to journalists, a move that drew criticism from Austrian news organizations as limiting media freedom.

Police however say the decision was taken only to protect reporters from injury.

The ball, part of the traditional Viennese ball season, was hosted by Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ). Protesters say the event is a meeting place for Europe’s far-right fringe.

Freedom Party officials deny this and say they are the target of left-wing extremists.

Far-right politicians want to form an anti-EU alliance in the European parliament. But similar populism is rife among more centrist conservative politicians, says EU parliamentarian Jan Philipp Albrecht.

This month, the organization “Jetzt Zeichen Setzen!” (Take a Stand Now) published an open letter against the ball, signed by six Holocaust survivors.

“As survivors of the Nazi era, we are stunned that the Hofburg, which belongs to the republic, is still opening its doors to representatives of extreme-right organizations from Austria and Europe,” it said.

The ball has in past years been attended by such far-right figures as French National Front leader Marine le Pen.

Last year, two ball-goers were slightly injured and nine protesters were arrested.

tj/rc (Reuters, AP)

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