Turkey flays Austria over imam expulsions, closure of mosques

Exterior view taken on June 8, 2018 shows the plaque of the "Nizam-i Alem" mosque in Vienna that is part of seven mosques that the Austrian government announced they would shut down. (AFP)
Updated 09 June 2018
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Turkey flays Austria over imam expulsions, closure of mosques

  • Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl said that 150 people including the imams and their families risked losing their right to residence
  • The Austrian government’s ideologically charged practices are in violation of universal legal principles

ANKARA: Turkey’s presidential spokesman on Friday lambasted Austria’s decision to expel up to 60 Turkish-funded imams and shut seven mosques as an “anti-Islam” and “racist” move.
“Austria’s decision to close down seven mosques and deport imams with a lame excuse is a reflection of the anti-Islam, racist and discriminatory populist wave in this country,” Ibrahim Kalin said after Vienna announced the move in a crackdown on “political Islam.”
“It is an attempt to target Muslim communities for the sake of scoring cheap political points,” Kalin said on Twitter.
Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl said that 150 people including the imams and their families risked losing their right to residence.
The clampdown comes after Austria’s religious affairs authority investigated images published in April of children in a Turkish-backed mosque playing dead and reenacting the World War I battle of Gallipoli.
“Parallel societies, political Islam and radicalization have no place in our country,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the ruling center-right People’s Party said.
Kalin, spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, suggested the decision was part of efforts to “normalize Islamophobia and racism,” which he said must be rejected.
“The Austrian government’s ideologically charged practices are in violation of universal legal principles, social integration policies, minority rights and the ethics of coexistence,” Kalin said.
During the Turkish referendum campaign last year on expanding the president’s powers, tensions were high between Vienna and Ankara after Austria said it would not allow campaign-related events.
Relations were also strained by Kurz’s staunch opposition to Turkey’s bid to join the European Union and the government’s program which pledged Vienna would not agree to Ankara joining the bloc.


Russia air strikes kill 10 civilians in northwest Syria: monitor

Updated 1 min 16 sec ago
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Russia air strikes kill 10 civilians in northwest Syria: monitor

  • Clashes between regime forces and militants raged Monday on the edge of the region held by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate
  • The Syrian regime and Russian bombardment has increased in Idlib region since late April
KAFRANBEL, Syria: Air strikes by Syrian regime ally Russia have killed 10 civilians including five children in a northwestern militant bastion, a monitor said Monday, hours after Moscow announced a cease-fire there.
Clashes between regime forces and militants raged Monday on the edge of the region held by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, following the deadly air raids overnight, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Idlib region controlled by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham is supposed to be protected from a government offensive by a September buffer zone deal, but regime and Russian bombardment has increased there since late April.
The Observatory said Russian air strikes overnight killed five children, four women, and one man in the town of Kafranbel in Idlib province.
The air strikes hit near a hospital in the town, knocking it out of service, the Britain-based monitor said.
An AFP correspondent saw five homes on the edges on the town that were destroyed or damaged after the strikes.
Survivors picked through the debris to save the belongings they could, the reporter said, while a young man covered in dust from head to toe leant against a wall, shell-shocked after his father was killed.
Umm Wasel narrowly missed the air strike on her home after relatives invited her over to break her daily fast of the Islamic month of Ramadan with them.
“I came back at night to find my home devastated,” said the 72-year-old, dressed in a long red robe and a black scarf covering her hair.
People “had thought I was under the rubble,” she said.
The Observatory said six other civilians also died in bombardment by regime forces in other parts of the Idlib region on Sunday.
The militant stronghold includes most of Idlib province as well as parts of neighboring Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces.
Fighting raged in the north of Hama province between loyalists and militants from early Monday, the Observatory said, after relative respite in bombardment over the past three days.
Russian airplanes pounded the south of Idlib province, while government aircraft targeted the north of Hama province with machine guns, missiles, and crude barrel bombs, the monitoring group added.
The deadly Russian air strikes come after Russia on Sunday said Syrian armed forces had “unilaterally ceased fire in the Idlib de-escalation zone” from May 18 at midnight, but that fire of loyalists had continued.
Russia and rebel ally Turkey inked a buffer zone deal to protect the Idlib region of some three million people in September, but regime fire has increased there since HTS took control in January.
Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions inside Syria and abroad since starting in March 2011 with a crackdown on anti-government protests.