Shark-suited man reeled in over Austria ‘burqa ban’
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Shark-suited man reeled in over Austria ‘burqa ban’

After costumed man fined, authorities admit confusion on enforcing new face cover prohibition

Illustrative: In this file photo from June 28, 2014, veiled women attend a speech by preacher Pierre Vogel, in Offenbach, near Frankfurt, Germany. (Boris Roessler/dpa via AP,file)
Illustrative: In this file photo from June 28, 2014, veiled women attend a speech by preacher Pierre Vogel, in Offenbach, near Frankfurt, Germany. (Boris Roessler/dpa via AP,file)

Austrian police issued citations Monday to two people who contravened a law banning full face coverings. One was an Algerian millionaire activist who says such laws are directed against Muslim women, and the other was a man wearing a shark suit.

Activist Rachid Nekkaz was fined 50 euros (nearly $60) after he appeared in front of Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz’s ministry with a large photo of Kurz around his neck, fully masked and in a black suit festooned with 100-euro bills . Kurz heads the center-right People’s Party, is a key supporter of the law and has led his party into first place before the October 15 election on a campaign that exploits broad anti-Muslim sentiments.

Nekkaz has been in the news for paying fines imposed by police in European Union nations with such bans, which are generally directed against full-face veils worn by some Muslim women.

Police issued their second misdemeanor citation after a man — part of a street advertising campaign for the McShark computer chain stores — refused several requests to take off his shark head.

The law, popularly known as the “burqa ban,” prohibits most full face coverings in public, including off-slope ski masks, surgical masks outside hospitals and party masks on the street.

Violations carry a possible fine of 150 euros (nearly $180).

Since it went into effect on October 1, the law has led to confusion among authorities.

“This is a new law so naturally there are certain unclear situations and grey areas that need to be ironed out,” Manfred Reinthaler from Vienna police told public radio. “At the same time there is no legal precedence.”

Government guidelines set out a number of exceptions including masks and disguises at cultural events, work wear such as medical masks, and scarves in cold weather.

But the shark costume case and officers reportedly stopping a girl cycling in a scarf show that some police remain bewildered.

“Lawmakers did not set out the temperature (when a scarf could be worn),” said interior ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundboeck.

There is no central register so the total number of fines levied so far is unclear, Grundboeck added.

The ban on the full-face veil, which remains a rare sight in Austria, was seen as the latest effort by the two governing centrist parties to halt a rise in support for the anti-immigration Freedom Party.

Polls suggest that the far-right party will garner around 25 percent support in elections on Sunday and may become junior coalition partners to Sebastian Kurz’s conservatives.

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