Thousands protest against Austrian government's shift to the right

Protesters hold a sign with portraits of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache during an anti-government demonstration in Vienna Austria, January 13, 2018. Sign reads "same chances and education for all". REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
Protestors attend an anti-government demonstration in Vienna, Austria January 13, 2018. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
Protestors hold signs during an anti-government demonstration in Vienna, Austria, January 13, 2018. Signs read "don't let Nazis into government". REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
Protestors attend an anti-government demonstration in Vienna, Austria January 13, 2018. Banner reads "hear Kickl do you want a Wickl". REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
Protestors attend an anti-government demonstration in Vienna, Austria January 13, 2018. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
A protestor blows a whistle during an anti-government demonstration in Vienna, Austria January 13, 2018. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
Protesters hold a sign with portraits of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache during an anti-government demonstration in Vienna, Austria, January 13, 2018. Sign left reads "same chances and education for all" and sign right reads "colourful thinking instead of blue making". REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
Protesters hold a sign with portraits of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache during an anti-government demonstration in Vienna, Austria January 13, 2018. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

VIENNA/ZURICH (Reuters) - Protesters took to the streets of Vienna on Saturday and called for members of the Austria's new right wing government to be boycotted by the rest of Europe.

Around 20,000 people according to police estimates gathered to protest against the new coalition government which includes the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), which was founded by former Nazis.

The demonstrators included students, leftist groups and pensioners who called themselves Grannies Against The Right and others, carrying placards saying "Don't Let Nazis Govern."

Austrian police said up to 1,000 officers were on duty at the event, which they described as peaceful.

The gathering called for a boycott of FPO ministers by other European governments and the shunning of Austria when it takes up the revolving European Union presidency in the second half of 2018.

Last month, the FPO entered government as the junior coalition partner to Chancellor Sebastian Kurz's OVP conservatives after a parliamentary election in which both pledged to stop illegal immigration and to fight radical Islam.

Despite the FPO saying it has left its founders' Nazi past behind and denounces anti-Semitism, its opponents still accuse the party of being racist, sexist and anti-Jewish.

"It is very important that Austrian civil society is mobilised. The FPO are not just populists - they are an enemy of democracy," said Benjamin Abtan, president of the European Grassroots Anti-Racist Movement, who spoke at the event.

"People don't understand that the FPO is not a regular party, they are extremely radical. They should not have a seat at the top tables in Europe."

Abtan cited comments from Interior Minister Herbert Kickl of the FPO, who last week said asylum seekers should be "concentrated" in special centers to help the authorities process their applications swiftly.

The wording evoked Nazi-era concentration camps and triggered a storm of protest in Austria.

Senior FPO figure Norbert Hofer on Saturday told Austrian radio that Kickl's comments were not maliciously or consciously meant, and that human rights would be respected in dealing with asylum seekers.

(Reporting by John Revill in Zurich and Francois Murphy in Vienna; editing by Clelia Oziel)

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