Austrians demonstrate against far-right coalition

Protesters take part in a demonstration against the current Austrian government and for Human Asylum Policy at the Heldenplatz in Vienna. (AFP)
Updated 13 January 2018
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Austrians demonstrate against far-right coalition

Vienna: More than 20,000 people rallied on Saturday in Vienna against Austria’s new conservative-far right coalition, over its hard-line 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.
While police said 20,000 people marched, organizers claimed as many as 60,000 took to the streets to protest against 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.”
Anna, 23, said she was protesting against “a government that wants to divide society, demonize minorities, erode women’s rights devalue solidarity.”
People of all ages, including families, answered the call of leftist and anti-racist groups, marching in a long procession through the center of the Austrian capital.
The march came to an end at the former imperial Hofburg palace, where crowds gathered, illuminating the darkness with the light of thousands of smartphones.
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.”
Other placards read “Resistance” and “Do not let the Nazis govern.”
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.
The FPOe has since softened its image. It won 26 percent of the vote in elections on October 15,
Kurz took over the OeVP in May and yanked it to the right, securing his party first place in October elections.
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.


Afghan leaders ‘optimistic’ over Taliban peace talks

Updated 24 June 2018
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Afghan leaders ‘optimistic’ over Taliban peace talks

  • The Taliban last week rejected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s offer to extend the truce, but a government spokesman said on Saturday that the government was optimistic the militants were willing to engage in peace talks.
  • After ending the truce, the Taliban said its attacks against foreign troops and Afghans supporting them would continue.

KABUL: The Afghan government is confident of holding peace talks with Taliban militants despite a recent surge of attacks by insurgents, a palace spokesman said.

Shah Hussain Murtazawi said the announcement last week of a brief truce by the Taliban over Eid, the increasing movement of extremists and some field commanders to government-held areas, and a call for peace by the Imam of Makkah and the Saudi monarch were the basis of the government’s optimism.

The Taliban last week rejected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s offer to extend the truce, but Murtazawi said on Saturday that the government was optimistic the militants were willing to engage in peace talks.

“A new chapter has been opened and the broad support for a cease-fire and an end to the war are the causes for our optimism,” he told Arab News.

“The fact that Taliban announced a truce and their commanders came into towns and celebrated Eid with government officials are positive signs that the extremists will be ready for talks with the government.”

However, no contact has been established with leaders of the group since the militants called off their truce, Murtazawi said.

After ending the truce, the Taliban said its attacks against foreign troops and Afghans supporting them would continue. Scores of Afghan troops have been killed in a spate of attacks, including assaults on military bases where the insurgents joined government forces to celebrate Eid.

Some tribal chiefs and local officials are calling for “safe zones” where extremists can hold initial talks with the government, according to a local official who refused to be named.