Police APC protects right-wing vigil for murder victim

Police drove armoured vehicles into Vienna’s Yppenplatz on Sunday, after members of the far-right Identitarian group, who were holding a ‘vigil’ in memory of a woman who was allegedly murdered by an illegal immigrant last week, clashed with left-wing activists.

Police APC protects right-wing vigil for murder victim
A police APC in Ottakring. Photo: ORF

The Identitarian group had registered the vigil with the police, and said between 50 and 100 people would attend. In the end, only three people turned up, and organisers tweeted that the event had been cancelled.

However, a group of left-wing activists had heard about the planned vigil and around 120 people turned up at Yppenplatz to protest. “The counter-demonstrators surrounded the three Identitarians. There were reports that they had baseball bats and firecrackers,” police spokesman Paul Eidenberger said.

Police armoured vehicles, a helicopter, special forces officers, and dog-handler teams were dispatched to the square in Vienna’s 16th district. There were no reports of any injuries, although police said they were attacked by some of the protestors.

Eidenberger said that between 50 and 100 officers were deployed. “We knew that a large crowd had gathered and there were reports that some people were armed. We had to use a lot of manpower, even if now it looks like an exaggerated response. The aim was to prevent damage to property, personal injury, and to keep the streets quiet. Luckily the whole thing was peacefully resolved,” he added.

Many of the left-wing protestors quickly disappeared down side streets and into local bars. Two people were arrested.

Tom Müller, a spokesman for the left-wing group NoFascism, said that the spontaneous counter-demonstration was a success. “We succeeded in preventing a far-right vigil and public appearance by right-wing extremists in the district,” he said. He added that the planned vigil was a provocation and an attack on the district's alternative and migrant-dominated community. 

A Kenyan man has been remanded in custody for allegedly battering 54-year-old Maria Eschelmüller to death with an iron bar in the early hours of Wednesday morning, in what was apparently a random attack.

The 21-year-old suspect is homeless, and arrived in Austria aged 14 on a tourist visa that has long since expired.

Eschelmüller’s husband said he plans to sue the Austrian government, as the man was known to be violent and police say he had been charged with various offences in the past.

“Everyone on Brunnenmarkt knew this man and knew that he’s dangerous. The police knew him and knew his location. Why did they not take him somewhere where he couldn’t harm anyone?” he told the Krone newspaper.


Austrian people smuggler jailed over deaths of Syrians in minivan

An Austrian court on Monday sentenced a people smuggler to seven years in prison over the deaths of two Syrians who suffocated in the crammed minivan he was driving, Austria's news agency reported.

Austrian people smuggler jailed over deaths of Syrians in minivan

The bodies of the two men were discovered last October when Austrian authorities stopped and searched a van at the border with Hungary.

Thirty people in total were crammed in the vehicle, whose driver fled the scene but was later arrested in Latvia and extradited.

The 19-year-old Latvian was found guilty of people smuggling and causing fatal injuries, but was not found guilty of murder, APA reported.

READ MORE: Austrian police warn public about new ‘fake cops’ scam

He said he would accept the verdict, but the prosecution can still appeal it, APA said.

A court spokeswoman could not immediately be reached by AFP. 

Austria’s interior ministry announced in May that police had smashed a group believed to have smuggled tens of thousands of mostly Syrians, including the two found suffocated, from Hungary to Austria.

A total of 205 people suspected to be linked to the group have been arrested in central and eastern Europe, the ministry said.

Those smuggled, including children, were trying to reach western European countries, including Germany and France.

The October discovery of the dead men recalled a dire event in August 2015 when 71 people from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan suffocated in the back of an air-tight van where they had been hidden by people smugglers.

The bodies, including those of three children and a baby, were discovered in Austria but they had died while still on the other side of the border.

Almost four years later, the Hungarian courts sentenced their smugglers to life imprisonment.

The emotion aroused by that tragedy triggered a brief opening of the borders to hundreds of thousands of people wishing to reach Western Europe.

But Austria and other European countries have since fortified borders to stop people smuggling.