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Austria can't close Saudi-funded IGO

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Austria can't close Saudi-funded IGO
The KAICIID headquarters in Vienna. Photo: APA/Neubauer
12:06 CET+01:00
Austria will be unable to close a controversial Saudi-funded centre in Vienna without the consent of co-founders Saudi Arabia and Spain - although it could block any decision on its budget this year.

The King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) centre was set up by Saudi Arabia, Austria and Spain with the aim of fostering inter-religious dialogue - but questions have been raised as to whether it is really meeting its objectives in Austria.

Austria could decide to block the election of the centre's Secretary General and any decision on its budget - effectively preventing it from continuing its work. 

KAICIID is an Inter-Governmental Organization (IGO) and is exempt from paying taxes in Austria. Its goals are also to promote human rights, justice and peace. When it was set up in 2011 Saudi Arabia purchased the Palais Sturany in central Vienna for its Austrian headquarters and committed to a funding grant of €10 to €15 million until the end of 2015.

Its deputy director, former Austrian justice minister Claudia Bandion-Ortner, was criticised last year for comments she made in an interview with Profil magazine, in which she dismissed criticism of Saudi Arabia’s judicial executions as “nonsense”.

More recently she has come under fire for failing to release a statement regarding the terror attacks in Paris and for refusing to comment to press after reports that a Saudi Arabian blogger was publicly flogged after being convicted of cybercrime and insulting Islam last week in the city of Jeddah.

KAICIID spokesman Peter Kaiser said: "The centre is not qualified to comment on legal decisions made by sovereign states. We have no mandate."

Austria's Freedom Party (FPÖ), which polls show will challenge the ruling coalition in the next election, has called for the government to end the treaty with Saudi Arabia that grants the centre its tax-exempt status.

On Monday Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner (ÖVP) said he wanted to wait for the results of an evaluation of the centre’s work before making any decision, but added that its future was not guaranteed. The party chairman for the Social Democrats (SPÖ), Andreas Schieder, has said that he “sees no point in the centre” and believes there would be no resistance in parliament to closing it.  

The KAICIID headquarters in Vienna opened in November 2012, in a ceremony attended by representatives of the world’s major religions. The ceremony was overshadowed by a protest by the Green Party and various Austrian NGOs concerned about Saudi Arabia’s poor human-rights record.

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