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[WATCH] Vienna: thousands protest as far-right ministers enter government

The new chancellor, Sebastian Kurz of the Austrian People’s party (OVP) struck a deal with the Freedom party. The coalition deal makes Austria the only western European country with a far-right presence in government

18 December 2017, 12:35pm
Protesters try to break through police barricades near the presidential palace in Vienna (Photo: Getty Images)
Protesters try to break through police barricades near the presidential palace in Vienna (Photo: Getty Images)
 

Austria's president has sworn in a new government, amidst protests against the far right’s prominent role in the cabinet.

Over the weekend, the new chancellor, Sebastian Kurz of the Austrian People’s party (OVP) struck a deal with the Freedom party, a nationalist outfit which was found after World War II by former members of the Nazi party, now headed by Heinz-Christian Strache.

The coalition deal makes Austria the only western European country with a far-right presence in government. At 31 years of age, Kurz is the youngest head of government in Europe.

Kurz’s People’s party won 32% of the vote in October’s elections, securing 62 seats in the 183-seat national council. The Freedom party came in third with 26% of the vote and 51 seats.

Nine separate marches were organised in Vienna for Monday morning, with police estimating around 5,000 protestors will march in the city.

Heavy police presence, of around 1,500 officers, water cannon trucks and helicopters blocked off the area around Hofburg Palace in the run-up to the ceremony.

Heinz-Christian Strache (left) and Sebastian Kurz
Heinz-Christian Strache (left) and Sebastian Kurz
Separate marches by anti-fascist and left-wing groups collided at the Central Heldenplatz Square, holding placards with “Refugees welcome,” “Nazis out” and “No Nazi pigs.”

Police fired a smoke grenade and protestors attempted to break through a barricade, according to an Agence France-Presse photographer.

The coalition treaty that the two parties agreed to, vows to restrict illegal immigration and excel the deportation of refused asylum seekers, but also emphasizes the state’s commitment to the EU.

“This is a coalition of two parties who want to actively shape Europe,” said Kurz at a joint interview with Austrian TV this weekend.

A referendum on Austria leaving the EU, which was suggested by the Freedom party before, was explicitly ruled out.

Core competencies on European affairs were assigned to Kurz’s chancellory and the foreign ministry post was filled with an independent Middle East expert named Karin Kneissl.

Regardless, the Freedom party will control key posts in the new government, including both the defence and interior ministry.

Norbert Hofer, who was narrowly beaten by green-backed Alexander Van der Bellen in the Austrian presidential election back in December 2016, will be in charge of infrastructure.