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1000s protest possible presence of far right in Austria govt.

At least 3,000 people have formed a “chain of light” around the government district in the Austrian capital to protest the possible participation of the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) in any coalition government. 

Legislative elections in Austria in mid-October saw the conservative Austrian People’s Party (OVP), led by Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, emerge victorious. It garnered 31.5 percent of the votes — or 62 of the 183 seats at the National Council — but failed to gain a majority. The party has thus been in talks with the far-right FPO to form a coalition government.

People holding flickering candles, torches, and bicycle lamps, convened around the government district in the capital, Vienna, on Wednesday night to protest that prospect.

“Our republic’s most powerful political offices should be exclusively reserved for trustworthy people who are not in the slightest connected to right-wing extremists,” said Alexander Pollak, a spokesman for SOS Mitmensch, one of several human rights groups that organized the rally.

While police said 3,000 participated, organizers estimated that 8,000 to 10,000 took part. By either account, the Wednesday protest was dwarfed by a similar rally held some 17 years ago, when the OVP built a coalition with the FPO and more than 100,000 took to the streets.

A demonstrator holds a candle with a picture of Freedom Party (FPOe)’s head, Heinz-Christian Strache, in protest against the participation of the far right in the government, in Vienna, Austria, November 15, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)

“We are here because they (FPO politicians) feed hatred and want to divide people,” said a protester, holding a candle.

In the October elections, the Social Democratic Party (SPO) came in second with 26.9 percent of the votes, or 52 seats. It came slightly ahead of the populist FPO, which obtained 26.0 percent of the votes and 51 seats.

Demonstrators hold candles in front of the chancellery during a protest in Vienna, Austria, November 15, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)

Five days after the elections, President Alexander Van der Bellen formally tasked the 31-year-old Kurz to form a coalition government.

The FPO, which is led by Heinz-Christian Strache, is highly critical of the European Union (EU)’s centralized policies.

The potential participation of the FPO in the next Austrian government, which has been consistently aligned with the EU, is likely to raise concerns in Brussels, too.

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