Migrant crisis ups attacks in Austria

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VIENNA: Europe’s migration crisis led to a sharp increase in extremist and racist attacks in Austria last year, the interior ministry said Tuesday.

Registered incidents rose by 54 percent to 1,156, compared to 750 in 2014, according to latest figures.

The number of offenders reported to police jumped from around 560 to more than 910 for the same period.

In total, some 1,690 charges were brought over far-right attacks last year, ranging from bodily harm and property damage to fanning hatred against foreigners.


“There is no doubt that the migrant issue has contributed to a polarization of Austrian society and prompted a rise in offences,” interior ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundboeck told Agence France-Presse.

The biggest number of offences were recorded in Upper Austria state, the country’s industrial heartland, through which hundreds of thousands of migrants trekked in 2015 on their way to neighboring Germany.

Extremist organizations have seen their ranks swell, Grundboeck said, with groups carrying out increasingly brazen attacks.

Last week, around 30 members of the far-right Identitaere movement stormed a Vienna stage during a play performed by refugees and sprayed fake blood on the audience.

EU member Austria took in 95,000 asylum-seekers in 2015, making it one of the bloc’s highest recipients on a per-capita basis.

The influx of migrants and refugees has prompted a surge in popularity for the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), which is hoping to reap the gains in this week’s presidential election.

The party – whose candidate Norbert Hofer is polling in second place ahead of the first round of voting on Sunday – has been staging protests outside refugee centers in Vienna, the latest drawing several hundred people on Monday evening.

Three FPOe supporters were arrested after a brawl with police officers.

In an effort to stop the FPOe’s advance, the ruling coalition of Social Democrats and conservatives has adopted a hardline stance on migrants by building border fences and introducing tough new asylum laws.

AFP

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