Tens of thousands turn out for Vienna Black Lives Matter protest

By: AFP      Published: 12:53 AM, 5 Jun, 2020
Tens of thousands turn out for Vienna Black Lives Matter protest
Protestors attend a Black Lives Matter march in Vienna, Austria in solidarity with protests raging across the United States over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died during an arrest on May 25.–AFP

Tens of thousands of people attended a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Vienna Thursday, one of a wave of global anti-racism protests sparked by the death of African American George Floyd during his arrest.

Speakers addressed the mostly young crowd of protesters before they took part in a short march ending in the central Karlsplatz park.

The Vienna police department said some 50,000 people attended the protest.

Several demonstrators said it was one of the largest protests Vienna had seen in years.

"Systematic racism is everywhere in the world, also in Austria. We have to stop it," 21-year-old student Katharina Kohl told AFP, while holding a sign reading: "Hate is not an opinion."

Large parts of the crowd gathered close together, not complying with current social distancing measures aimed at stemming the novel coronavirus, but many of the demonstrators wore face masks.

The United States has seen more than a week of nationwide protests over Floyd's death, captured in a shocking video showing white officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes as he pleaded for his life.

The wave of civil unrest has been unlike any seen in the US since the 1968 assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

Many across the world have seen parallels with systemic racism in their own societies and have organised protests in solidarity, including in numerous European capitals.

Controversy over police brutality is rare in Austria but last year an investigation was opened into the actions of several police officers for allegedly using excessive force while arresting protesters at a demonstration against climate change.

Racism in Austrian public life has come under the spotlight in recent years, particularly in connection with inflammatory comments from members of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), which was in a coalition government with the centre-right People's Party (OeVP) of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz until May 2019.

Among those voicing support for Thursday's demonstration were several politicians from the centre-left Social Democrats (SPOe) and the Green party -- which is now in a coalition government with Kurz's OeVP.