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Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has said his country will force several foreign-funded imams to leave the country in a crackdown on political Islam. Several mosques are also in line to be closed.
Austria's government on Friday said it would potentially expel dozens of imams and close several mosques in a move to tackle political Islam and stem the foreign financing of mosques.
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the government was shutting down a hardline Turkish nationalist mosque in the capital, Vienna, and dissolving a group called the Arab Religious Community, which runs an additional six mosques.
The chancellor said the initiative followed an investigation into images that emerged in April of young boys wearing Turkish uniforms marching, saluting, playing dead and waving Turkish flags. The pictures were found to have come from the Cologne-based Turkish-Islamic Cultural Associations (ATIB) organization, a branch of Turkey's Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet).
"There is no space in our country for parallel societies, political Islam and radical tendencies," said Kurz, whose conservative Austrian People's Party (VPÖ) rules in coalition with the right-wing nationalist Freedom Party of Austria (ÖFP).
Transgression of recent laws
Interior Minister Herbert Kickl said the residence permits of dozens of clerics were being investigated to see if they transgressed laws introduced in 2015 that prevent religious communities from receiving funding from abroad. Two had already had their permits revoked, while five more were denied first-time permits.
Of those imams being investigated, 40 were employed by ATIB, but Kickl said the probe went far further.
"The circle of people possibly affected by these measures — the pool that we're talking about — comprises around 60 imams," he said. The interior minister added that a total of 150 people risked losing their right to stay in Austria.
Kurz became chancellor in December last year. His party, like the ÖFP, had campaigned on a ticket of
tougher immigration controls, stricter asylum policy, and a crackdown on political Islam.
Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin blasted Austria's decision as an "anti-Islam" and "racist" move. "Austria's decision to close down seven mosques and deport imams with a lame excuse is a reflection of the anti-Islam, racist and discriminatory populist wave in this country," Kalin said.
The Austrian government recently announced plans to ban pupils in elementary schools and kindergartens from wearing headscarves, further adding to existing restrictions on religious headwear.
rc/sms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)