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The head of Austria's anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPO) has sharply criticized Germany over its migration policies. Austria's Protestant Church, meanwhile, has criticized the FPO for "abusing" religion.
The head of Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPO) on Monday said German Chancellor Angela Merkel's migration policies made her "the most dangerous woman in Europe" and warned that an influx of migrants threatened to unleash civil war.
FPO Chairman Heinz-Christian Strache (pictured) told supporters the "uncontrolled influx of migrants alien to our culture who seep into our social welfare system ... makes civil war in the medium-term not unlikely."
Strache's comments stand in contrast to the more moderate tone of Norbert Hofer, the party's presidential candidate for a December 4 re-run election. Hofer is looking to broaden the base of the anti-immigration and eurosceptic party beyond traditional supporters in a neck-and-neck race.
The presidential campaign is being run after the Alpine nation's top court invalidated the results of a May vote due to voting irregularities. Left-leaning Alexander Van der Bellen beat Hofer by just 31,000 votes. The rerun was to be held in October, but was postponed last month after postal vote envelopes were found to be defective.
'So help me God'
Hofer unveiled a new election poster last week with the phrase "so help me God," a reference that has drawn criticism from the church.
On Monday, Austria's Protestant church accused the FPO of exploiting references to God, and the religious body also claimed the FPO's anti-immigrant policies ran contrary to Christian values.
"God cannot be instrumentalised for one's own intentions or for political purposes," the three branches of the Protestant church in Austria said in a joint statement. "We consider that mentioning God ... to attack other religions and cultures indirectly amounts to an abuse of his name and religion in general."
The Protestant Church also said Christianity protected and defended the weak and poor, including "particularly today refugees and foreigners."
The FPO said Hofer, a Catholic turned Protestant, chose the phrase because it came "directly from the heart" and the party "is strongly anchored in Christian and Western values."
Two-thirds of Austrians are practicing Catholics, while only four percent are Protestant. The Catholic Church, meanwhile, has refrained from commenting on the election.
Some 115,000 migrants arrived in the Alpine nation of 8.7 millionpeople since the beginning of 2015, triggering a public backlash and harsher asylum policies in the country.
cw/gsw (AFP, AP, Reuters)