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Austria to post soldiers at Italian border

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Austria to post soldiers at Italian border
A refugee woman at the Greek and Macedonian border. Zoltan Balogh/EPA
10:45 CEST+02:00
Austria is to deploy soldiers at its border with Italy as part of a “massive” effort to step up border controls amid growing concerns among politicians about migrants and refugees.

The move was announced by Austria’s Defence Minister Hans Peter Doskozil (SPÖ) in an interview carried out with German newspaper Die Welt over the weekend.

“As the EU’s external borders are not yet effectively protected, Austria will soon ramp up strict border controls. That means massive border controls on at the Brenner (Pass), and with soldiers," he said.

The Austrian army is already being used at other border checks around the country but these latest comments will widen the division between Austria and Germany, who are divided over shutting down Europe's internal borders and keeping them open.

Doskozil's comments were supported by Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner (ÖVP), who said the government was decided in its policy on tightening border control.

Responding to comments about the impact on traffic and holidaymakers in the region, she said that “security and stability” come first, adding that she believes that the public will be understanding if traffic jams do happen.

The comments came amid protests at the Brenner border on Sunday involving between 500 and 1,000 pro-refugee Italian, Austrian and German demonstrators.

The rally calling for an end to border controls began peacefully but ended with around 50 of the protesters clashing violently with police.

The protesters, some of whom were wearing life jackets in a show of solidarity with refugees, had been marching towards the borders when they were blocked by around 100 Austrian police officers.

Some tried to break through the police line by throwing stones and flares, Italian media reported. Austrian police responded with pepper spray, shields and batons – forcing the crowd back.

Ten protesters and five police were injured in the clashes.

Austria preparing for "warmer weather"

Italian politicians in the area have reacted to the idea of border controls with scepticism, with regional councillor for Brenner Giovanni Pederzini telling telling local Italian paper Alto Adige that Austria's decision to close the border was based on unfounded fears.

“For the moment even our local refugee welcome centre is empty,” he said. “I'll be curious to see whether they really do put soldiers on the border.”

Austrian politicians say they are concerned, however, about the numbers of people who will make their way to Europe in the coming months, having fled poverty and war in the Middle Eastern region.

“We know that in a few days the weather will be better and warmer and that hundreds of thousands will again make their way [to Europe],” said Mikl-Leitner. “In Turkey 700,000 people are waiting on the border with Greece, in Istanbul 400,000 people are orientated towards Bulgaria. They will not simply turn around.”

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