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Published: Saturday January 25, 2014 MYT 5:00:02 AM
Updated: Saturday January 25, 2014 MYT 5:01:09 AM

Protesters arrested at right-wing party's Vienna ball

VIENNA (Reuters) - Several protesters were arrested during violent demonstrations against an annual ball in Vienna's imperial Hofburg palace that traditionally draws right-wing figures, Austrian police said on Friday.

Police estimated that 6,000 demonstrators took to the streets of the Austrian capital to protest against the so-called Academics' Ball, part of the annual Viennese ball season, which was hosted by the far-right Freedom Party.

"We have several arrests and also injured police officers," a police spokeswoman said. She did not have more exact figures.

Police had closed off large sections of the inner city ahead of the ball, an annual flashpoint for clashes with leftist opponents of the event.

Controversially, police also banned anyone within the city's outer ring road from covering his face, arguing that this could prevent police from identifying potential troublemakers. Police also curtailed media access to the sealed-off area.

The head of the party in Vienna, Johann Gudenus, told a news conference on Tuesday he defended the right of protesters to demonstrate but said this did not include the use of violence.

"That is the fascism of the 21st century," he said.

His remarks recalled Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache's reported description of himself and other ball-goers as the "new Jews" after some visitors were intimidated by protesters at the 2012 Akademikerball, which was held that year on International Holocaust Remembrance day.

The organisation "Jetzt Zeichen Setzen!" (Take a Stand Now), which campaigns for remembrance of victims of Nazism, published an open letter this month against the ball signed by six Holocaust survivors.

"As survivors of the Nazi era, we are stunned that the Hofburg, which belongs to the republic, is still opening its doors to representatives of extreme-right organisations from Austria and Europe," it said.

Nazi Germany in 1938 annexed Austria, whose 200,000-strong Jewish population was wiped out in the Holocaust.

The ball has in past years attracted such far-right luminaries as French National Front leader Marine le Pen.

Last year, nine protesters were arrested for civil disorder and two ball-goers were slightly hurt.

(Reporting by Michael Shields and Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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