Austrian police 'brutal and racist'

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Austria's poor image abroad was dealt another blow when Amnesty International highlighted police "brutality and racism". In its latest report, the human rights organisation catalogued racist attacks by the police, and said the authorities turned a blind eye to such violence. Victims who complain have been charged with assault or defamation, it alleges.

Top of the list of rights violations in 1998-99 is the case of the Nigerian asylum-seeker, Marcus Omofuma, 25, who died while being deported by police from Vienna airport in May. He was allegedly gagged on the plane and "bound like a mummy" with adhesive tape.

Austrian citizens of foreign origin have also suffered abuse. The report cites the case of a black man who allegedly provoked the ire of the police by reversing into a one-way street. An officer allegedly asked him: "Why are you driving the wrong way, nigger?" Policeman then pushed the driver into a bush of thorns, beat the driver unconscious, handcuffed him and continued beating him when he regained consciousness. His wife said she heard one policeman shout to another: "Make him lame until he can no longer walk."

In another incident, police beat up the cook and waitress of a Chinese restaurant during a raid in July 1998. After complaining, three of the restaurant's staff were convicted for resisting arrest and received suspended jail terms.

Foreigners living in Austria say they are encountering growing hatred in their environment. They attribute this to the climate of intolerance nurtured by Jörg Haider's Freedom Party.

"The image of a brutal and racist police force is an ugly one," Amnesty says. "The Austrian government faces major embarrassment in Europe and abroad if it allows rogue police officers to beat people up and get away with it."