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Police ban left-wing rallies ahead of ball

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Police ban left-wing rallies ahead of ball
Scenes from last year's demonstration. Photo: APA/OCZERET
10:18 CET+01:00
Police in Vienna are preparing for “higher levels of violence than expected” on Friday as left-wing protesters have promised to disrupt the right-wing Akademikerball which takes place for the third time at Vienna’s imperial Hofburg palace - despite two planned rallies having been banned.

Police have banned two rallies organised by the anti-fascist group NOWKR, as they said they had reason to believe the activists were planning to incite violence.

NOWKR organisers said they were going to set up a blockade to prevent guests arriving at the ball - but have promised to “take to the streets” despite the police ban, and warned people to expect chaos in the city.

Fourteen registered demonstrations have been given permission to go ahead. Police chief Gerhard Pürstl said that around 2,500 officers will be on the streets, and he estimated that the security operation would cost upwards of €1.5 million.

He also said that for the first time police will be using Twitter to send out updates about security and road closures, and will also try and communicate with demonstrators via social media.

Elisabeth Litwak, press spokeswoman for the NOWKR, said that the police decision was “extreme” and that the consultation period about the planned rallies had been too short. She said the rallies would have been peaceful but could now no longer promise that would be the case.

A map showing the security zone around the Hofburg. Image: Vienna Police

A security zone will be set up around the Hofburg palace  - smaller than the one last year. From 4pm unauthorized personnel will not be allowed access to the grounds of the Hofburg, or to the Burg, Opern or Kärntner Ring road, as far as Schwarzenbergplatz. Parts of the Herrengasse as well as sections of the Michaeler and Albertinaplatz will also be in the exclusion zone.

Transport disruptions

Authorized demonstrators are organizing two protest marches - one which will set off from the Wallensteinstraße in Brigittenau at 4pm, crossing the Friedensbrücke to Alsergrund, ending up at Schottentor in the first district.

A second march will leave Schottentor at 4.45pm, going along Universitätsring, across Freyung to Stephansplatz. There will be road closures and diversions along these routes and the city transport department has advised people to leave their cars at home if travelling into central Vienna, and use public transport instead.

The bus routes 1A, 2A and 3A will be subject to diversions from 4.30pm, and the tram lines 1, 2, 62, 71, and D as well as the tram to Baden will also be subject to delays and diversions from 5pm. The Minoritenplatz exit at the Herrengasse station on the U3 U-Bahn line is expected to be closed from 4.30pm. The Vienna Ring tram will stop at 4pm. Anyone wishing to travel around the ring is advised to use the U-Bahn.

Peter Pilz, security spokesman for the Greens party, appealed to demonstrators to distance themselves from violence, and criticised the NOWKR: “Don’t think we’re stupid - you wanted your demo banned. It’s not about anti-fascism, it’s about drawing attention to yourself,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

However the Greens and Alternative Students (GRAS) organisation said that the ban was “scandalous”.

Police chief Gerhard Pürstl said that despite a strong police presence he could not rule out violent clashes and said police could not guarantee that they would be able to prevent damage to property or isolated acts of violence.

Last year around 6,000 people took part in marches in Vienna against the annual ball. Several people were arrested and later received prison sentences after outbreaks of violence.

The ball is organised by Austria's opposition Freedom Party (FPÖ) and student fraternities. In the past it has attracted far-right figures such as French National Front leader Marine le Pen.

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