Postcard from... Vienna


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The Independent Online

When Saudi Arabia said it would bankroll a centre for religious understanding in Vienna, the news was greeted with some enthusiasm here  in Austria.

But, two years after its launch, the future of the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) is in doubt, beset by controversies over the desert kingdom’s human rights record. Claudia Bandion-Ortner, the centre’s vice-president, quit after dismissing as “nonsense” suggestions that beheadings were commonplace in  Saudi Arabia.

KAICIID’s silence over the flogging of a Saudi blogger Raif Badawi has drawn weekly street protests, and condemnation from Werner Faymann, the Chancellor. A government-commissioned report demanded the centre’s “withdrawal from Vienna” unless it starts criticising the Saudi government.

“I believe the centre needs to be done away with,” says demonstrator Norbert Brandl outside the palace housing KAICIID in central Vienna. But the centre also has backers, among religious leaders and those who say the Socialist government is playing politics over a project it once backed.