With eye on Turkey, Austria wants ban on foreigners campaigning on its soil

Austria's Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka addresses a news conference in Vienna, Austria March 2, 2017. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said on Tuesday he wanted to change legislation to permit a ban on foreign officials making speeches in Austria if human rights or public order were threatened, a move aimed at Turkish politicians.

Sobotka told ORF radio he would not allow foreign politicians to bring their domestic battles to Austrian soil and that he was sending draft legislation to legal experts before presenting it to the cabinet.

Austria's move comes at a time of Turkish fury over the cancellation of several political rallies in Germany aimed at drumming up support among for President Tayyip's plans to overhaul the constitution. Erdogan accused Germany of "fascist actions".

Sobotka said the new legislation would apply to Turkish campaigning on its constitutional referendum.

"With the agreement of the federal government, the Interior Minister can... forbid a foreign politician from taking part in an event... if this serves to protect the human and basic rights enshrined in the European human rights convention," Sobotka said.

The minister added this could mean travel bans, a ban on campaigning appearances or the cancellation of events.

When asked whether this could mean a travel restriction for Erdogan, Sobotka said cancelling an event should be sufficient and that Erdogan was welcome in Austria on state visits, but not to whip up tensions within Austria's Turkish community.

"If necessary (it could mean) a travel ban, the security forces have to decide this. There are several possibilities how you can reach the aim (of not having) foreign politicians making campaign appearances."

Constitutional lawyer Theo Oehlinger told ORF radio that banning campaigning by foreign politicians would be "very difficult" unless it was likely to stir up violence or threaten democratic order.

Around 116,000 Turkish nationals live in Austria, a country of around 8.7 million.

This compares with around 1.5 million Turkish citizens in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday there were deep differences with Ankara over issues such as freedom of the press.

Merkel said Berlin would continue to allow Turkish politicians to campaign in Germany for its constitutional referendum provided their visits were announced in a transparent and timely fashion and respected German laws.

(Reporting By Shadia Nasralla; editing by Richard Lough)

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