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Austrian far-right calls for vote to ban minarets, veils Add to ...

Austria's far-right Freedom Party, mindful of a forthcoming regional election in Vienna, has called for a special vote on whether to ban minarets and Islamic face veils.

Analysts say the debate will play a major role in the Oct. 10 regional election in the capital Vienna, a stronghold of the struggling Social Democrats in conservative Austria.

The non-binding referendum that Freedom wants can be called by Austria's parliament and could influence government policy. There has not been such a vote at a national level in post-war history though some provinces including Vienna have held such polls.

Around 1.2 million can vote in the province which comprises the capital city, Austria's financial and political hub.

Freedom, an anti-foreigner party which captured 17.5 per cent of votes at a national level two years ago, says the proposed poll would also ask whether Muslims should promise to recognise the Austrian legal system above sharia, or Islamic law.

"Vienna should be the first province to hold such a poll as this is where the most Muslims live and because there are a growing number of legitimate protests against Islamic building projects," said Freedom leader Heinz-Christian Strache.

The poll would ask voters whether there should be a ban on headscarves in public and a complete ban on full face veils.

Mr. Strache said he wanted to see protests in Vienna like those in New York, where hundreds have rallied against a proposed Muslim cultural centre and mosque near the World Trade Center site.

The far right has gained ground in Europe recently, with Geert Wilder's anti-Islam party doubling its seats in the Dutch parliament after elections last month.

Swiss voters backed a ban on building minarets in a referendum last November, a vote that drew widespread international criticism.

Around 120,000 of Austria's half million Muslims live in Vienna, making up around 8 per cent of the population there.

The debate started when the head of Austria's Islamic community said he would like to see a mosque with a visible minaret in each of the country's nine provinces. There are four such mosques in Austria, a predominantly Catholic country.

The Freedom Party, which says mosques can be "hotbeds for radical Islam", is running an energetic campaign with catchy slogans, a formula it has used in the past to attract many young voters.

The latest Vienna polls show the Social Democrats on 50 per cent and Freedom in second place with 19 per cent.

Its posters feature a headshot of Mr. Strache, 41, a grinning former dental technician, with the slogan "More guts for our Vienna blood: too much foreignness does no one any good."

Mr. Strache, rejecting parallels to "Nazi language," has said "Vienna blood" only refers to the title of a famous Johann Strauss operetta and is about being traditionally Viennese.

The idea of a special "blood" resonates in the country which produced Adolf Hitler. Mr. Strache says his campaign is against "too much foreignness not foreigners," according to news agency APA.

Other leaders have criticised Mr. Strache's campaign as incitement. "You don't get any lower than Strache," Austria's Social Democrat Chancellor Werner Faymann told the Oesterreich newspaper.

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