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Rival Austrian demos trouble-free

Left-wing demonstrators with a banner reading
Left-wing demonstrators with a banner reading "Nazis out"  

VIENNA, Austria -- Vienna is returning to normal after feared clashes between extremists on the 57th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis Germany failed to materialise.

Up to 2,000 police were deployed across the city on Wednesday to keep far-right supporters and anti-fascists apart.

With much of Europe facing a resurgence of far-right parties in mainstream politics, police closed-off sections of the city centre.

Barricades were erected at the entrance to Heldenplatz -- or Heroes' Square -- where Adolf Hitler addressed thousands of Viennese shortly after Austria was absorbed into Nazi Germany in 1938.

The marchers were marking the 57th anniversary of Germany's capitulation and the end of World War II in Europe.

Many businesses boarded up their windows in the central shopping district ahead of the rallies, but in the end little trouble was reported.

Some 30,000 demonstrators had been expected to take part in rival rallies, but official police estimates said the figure was between 3,000 and 5,000.

The majority of demonstrators were commemorating the nation's liberation from Nazism, but neo-Nazi groups and some far-right activists see May 8 as a date to lament the demise of the Third Reich in 1945.

The far-right held a torch-lit procession in Vienna to mark the anniversary of Nazi Germany's surrender to the Allies
The far-right held a torch-lit procession in Vienna to mark the anniversary of Nazi Germany's surrender to the Allies  

Several people carried flags with the hammer-and-sickle emblem, others held pictures of Lenin and Che Guevara. One banner said, "No room for Nazis."

Alex Burian, 29, who wore a T shirt with the words "Anti-Nazi League," told the Associated Press: "I came here to demonstrate against the fascists, to show that there is a democratic force opposing them and negating their ideology and to show the world that there are more antifascists than fascists in Austria."

Meanwhile, around 400 members of far-right German nationalist student fraternities held a torch-lit march to commemorate the war dead.

Earlier, their representatives laid a wreath on the grave of the unknown soldier on Heldenplatz.

Far-right leader Ewald Stadler told the crowd: "We will not tolerate that the leftist mob decides who commemorates whom and when in this country."

In a speech, Wolfgang Jung, of the far-right Freedom Party, said the commemoration of the fallen soldiers was a "moral duty."

The decision to allow right-wing demonstrations to go ahead had provoked weeks of political debate in Austria.

Both Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel and Vice-Chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer, head of the Freedom Party, had defended the wreath-laying ceremony as a traditional commemoration of soldiers killed.

"May 8 should never be forgotten," Riess-Passer said on Wednesday.

"The victims of war and suffering should never be used for political purposes and nobody has the right to monopolise the commemoration of death and destruction."


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