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Austrian Muslims denounce mosque closures; Erdogan vows response

Vienna wants to 'discredit the religious community,' Austria's Muslim federation says
Community member on 8 June in front of Vienna mosque after it was closed (AFP)

Austria's main federation of Muslim residents (IGGiOe) on Sunday voiced its "indignation" after Vienna announced the closure of seven mosques and said it would expel Turkish-funded imams.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who faces elections in two weeks, on Saturday strongly criticised the move as anti-Islamic and promised a response, and the Austrian Muslim federation followed on Sunday with a broadside.

Vienna wants to "discredit the religious community," said the federation president, Ibrahim Olgun.

Olgun said the policy was not "appropriate to control political Islam" and "will lead ultimately to a weakening of structures within the Muslim community in Austria."

The Austrian government has not produced any "objective justification" for the closures, four of which apply to mosques in Vienna, he added. 

Olgun also criticised the government for not informing the federation of the measures in advance and for unveiling them on the final Friday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. 

"Solutions should be worked out together around a table rather than unilaterally on the backs of the Muslim minority," said the president of the IGGiOe, which plans to hold an audit of mosques and personnel affected by the policy before requesting a meeting with the ministry of culture.

Vienna announced on 8 June that it will close the seven mosques, saying they breached 2015 guidelines requiring "a positive attitude towards the state and society". Several imams were accused of preaching radical Islam.

Vienna has thus called into question their future, despite their being on the approved list of the Turkish Islamic Union of Austria (Atib), the most powerful Turkish religious association in the country, which is linked with Turkey's directorate of religious affairs, Diyanet.

As many as 60 Atib-approved imams and their families could be expelled, with Vienna saying they are financed by Ankara, contravening a ban on foreign finance of religious organisations.

Austria’s interior minister, Herbert Kickl, said earlier that authorities were reviewing the residence permits of about 40 imams employed by Atib and their family members over concerns they were being paid from abroad, the New York Times reported. He added that the permits of two others had already been revoked and that Austria had decided not to grant initial visas to five more.

Atib denies there are radical imams working in the mosques concerned, although the association recognised some Turkish finance, which it justified by saying this was a known fact and necessary to ensure adequate training.

Austria targets mosques and imams in move Turkey calls 'racist'
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Erdogan reacted furiously on Saturday, saying that "these measures taken by the Austrian prime minister are, I fear, leading the world towards a war between the cross and the crescent."

Some of Austria's opposition parties have been broadly supportive of the move, with the centre-left Social Democrats calling it "the first sensible thing this government's done".

Still, the Green Party pointed out that it could serve as a propaganda victory for the Turkish government.

About 360,000 people of Turkish origin live in Austria, including 117,000 Turkish nationals.

Erdogan faces stiff opposition in presidential and legislative elections on 24 June and the Austrian government has banned Turkish officials from holding meetings in the country ahead of the polls.

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