An annual dance in Vienna has drawn heavy protests, with left-wing demonstrators rallying at numerous sites across the Austrian capital. But for the most part, both the protests and the ball took place peacefully.
Thousands took to the streets of Vienna on Friday to protest the "Wiener Akademikerball" - an annual event organized by the right-wing party FPÖ. Escorted by a large police contingent of 2,800 officers, close to 5,000 demonstrators were reported to have attended the rally in central Vienna. Organizers spoke of up to 8,000 people participating in six separately organized protest events.
Demonstrators marched all over the Austrian capital but outside a designated safety zone, chanting slogans and carrying banners in support of refugees, as the influx of migrants across Europe has become a particular focus of right-wing politics across the continent.
The chosen venue for the event, which translates as "Viennese Academics' Ball" but has no official connection with Viennese academia other than trying to recruit students to the FPÖ through academic fraternities, provided a particular bone of contention among protestors. Vienna's Hofburg is known as a historical site in Austria, which often is used for important state occasions. Protestors said they did not want the Hofburg to be associated with the FPÖ and its politics.
Meanwhile, the "Wiener Akademikerball" went ahead without any interruption. The Austrian media suspected that a considerable volume of PEGIDA sympathizers from Germany might also have been in attendance of the dance.
The police reported that all protests in the capital took place in a largely peaceful manner, adding that a few protestors had started pelting police with small fireworks and eggs by the end of the evening. One person was taken into custody.
In 2014, the demonstrations had resulted in widespread vandalism across Vienna's city center, and 20 people were injured.
Austria's FPÖ party took over the planning of the annual event in 2013, after it had been run by a cooperative of various right-wing academic and political associations for 50 years. Since then, the event has drawn more criticism and protest than before.
ss/bw (dpa, ARD)