Published: Fri, June 08, 2018
Global News | By Blake Casey

Austria to expel 60 Turkish-funded imams and shut seven mosques

Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the move was the result of an "Islamophobic, racist and discriminatory wave" in Austria and was an attempt to target Muslim communities for political gains.

The Austrian government says 60 of the 260 imams in the country are being investigated, 40 of whom belong to ATIB, a Muslim group close to the Turkish government.

Austria's government on Friday said it would potentially expel dozens of imams and close several mosques in a move to tackle political Islam and stem the foreign financing of mosques.

"Political Islam's parallel societies and radicalizing tendencies have no place in our country", Kurz told a news conference outlining the government's decisions, which were based on that law. The photos of children, published by the Falter weekly, showed the young boys in camouflage uniforms marching, saluting, waving Turkish flags and then playing dead.

His conservative People's Party (ÖVP) formed a coalition government with the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ).

The Austrian government's actions stem from a 2015 law, which banned foreign funding of religious groups and required Muslim societies to have "a positive fundamental view towards [Austria's] state and society". Their "corpses" were then lined up and draped in the flags.

Austria's interior minister, Herbert Kickl, said 150 people, including the imams and their families, risked losing their right to residence.

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The Freedom Party's leader said Friday's measures are 'a first significant and necessary step in the right direction'.

ATIB itself condemned the photos at the time, calling the event "highly regrettable" and saying it was "called off before it had even ended".

He went on to blame Vienna for "ideologically charged practices" that violate human rights, adding that the "efforts to normalize Islamophobia and racism must be rejected under all circumstances".

During the Turkish referendum campaign previous year on expanding the president's powers, tensions were high between Vienna and Ankara after Austria said it would not allow campaign-related events. "If these measures aren't enough, we will if necessary evaluate the legal situation here or there", he said.

Turkey's relations with Austria have always been strained, with Kurz calling on the European Union to break off negotiations on Ankara joining the bloc.

Mr Kurz wants the European Union to break off Turkey's European Union membership negotiations - a stance that has angered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Austria is home to an estimated 600,000 Muslims, mostly of Turkish origin.

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