VIENNA, Austria — More than 2,000 demonstrators took to the streets in Vienna on Monday as Austria’s new coalition government of the conservatives and the far right was inaugurated.
A heavy police presence of about 1,500 officers, with helicopters overhead and water-cannon trucks at the ready, blocked off the area around the Hofburg palace where the ceremony was held
Several separate marches by left-wing and anti-fascist groups converged at the central Heldenplatz square. Placards included “Refugees welcome” and “Nazis out” and “No Nazi pigs.”
Police fired a smoke grenade when some protesters tried to break through a barricade, an AFP photographer said.
The new coalition was formed on Friday by the conservative People’s Party (OeVP) of Sebastian Kurz and the Freedom Party (FPOe), pledging to stop illegal immigration, cut taxes and resist EU centralization.
FPOe chief Heinz-Christian Strache, 48, will be vice-chancellor. He has said that Islam “has no place in Europe” and last year called German Chancellor Angela Merkel “the most dangerous woman in Europe” for her open-door refugee policy.
The two parties have pledged to tighten the country’s asylum and immigration regulations while maintaining a firm commitment to the European Union.
Political opponents have expressed particular concern since the Freedom Party, which has links to far-right extremists, will take control of the important Interior, Defense and Foreign ministries.
The last time the Freedom Party entered government, in 2000 under controversial then-leader Joerg Haider, now dead, Austria was briefly ostracized within the European Union and by Israel.
This time, though, the reaction is likely to be much more muted, with the Freedom Party, which was created by ex-Nazis, seen as having mellowed and with Europe more inured to right-wing parties.
Strache flirted with neo-Nazism in his youth but now, aged 48, besuited and with severe new glasses, portrays himself as a mature statesman rejecting extremism.
He visited Israel in 2010, as a guest of the Likud party, Hadashot news reported, on a trip during which he toured the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and laid a wreath. He visited again in 2016.
When he took over the FPOe in 2005, the party was a mess. But gradually, with deft use of the internet, it has gained strength.
Nicknamed “HC,” he forged a partnership with Russia’s ruling party, wants EU sanctions on Moscow lifted, and seeks closer ties with the eastern European Visegrad group. After US President Donald Trump earlier this month recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Stratche said that, in principle, he backs moving the Austrian embassy to the city but would respect the EU consensus against such a move.
Karin Kneissl, 52, a respected and multi-talented career diplomat who speaks Arabic, Hebrew and Hungarian, was tapped to head the Foreign Ministry.
While not a member of the Freedom Party, Kneissl, who studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, shares many of its views, talking tough on immigration and the European Union.
Kurz will become the youngest head of government in Europe at age 31 when he is sworn in as chancellor by President Alexander Van der Bellen. His party will have the Finance, Economy, and Justice ministries.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment Saturday on the makeup of the government.