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Austria's Haider says to ban mosque-building

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austrian right-wing firebrand Joerg Haider said on Monday he plans to change building laws to prevent mosques and minarets being erected in his home province of Carinthia.

Governor of Carinthia Joerg Haider arrives for a parliamentary inquiry hearing (Untersuchungsausschuss) about the acquisition of 'Eurofighter' interceptors for the Austrian Army in Vienna, April 18, 2007. Haider said on Monday he plans to change building laws to prevent mosques and minarets being erected in his home province of Carinthia. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

Haider, Carinthia’s governor, said he would ask its parliament to amend the building code to would require towns and villages to consider “religious and cultural tradition” when dealing with construction requests.

“We don’t want a clash of cultures and we don’t want institutions which are alien to our culture being erected in Western Europe,” Haider said in a statement.

“Muslims have of course the right to practice their religion, but I oppose erecting mosques and minarets as centers to advertise the power of Islam,” he said.

His spokesman, Stefan Petzner, said that there were no plans to restrict Muslim prayer rooms, as this would violate Muslims’ human rights, and the planned change applied only to dedicated mosques and minarets.

Muslims in Europe are meeting increasing resistance to plans for mosques that befit Islam’s status as the continent’s second religion after Christianity, with petitions in London, protests in Cologne, a court case in Marseille and violence in Berlin.

However, while all those places have significant Muslim minorities, Haider’s Carinthia has the second lowest share of Muslim citizens of all Austrian provinces -- 11,000 out of a population of around 400,000, a Muslim spokesman said.

“It’s a ridiculous statement to say he fears a clash of civilizations (in Carinthia),” said Omar al-Rawi, a centre-left lawmaker who is spokesman for the Austrian Muslims’ Initiative.

“We don’t know of any mosque plans there. His move is meaningless, populist, racist and anti-Islamic,” he added.

Haider became known beyond Austria’s borders in the 1990s with remarks seen as xenophobic and as playing down Nazi war crimes as the rightist Freedom Party he then led rose to become the second biggest in Austria.

His new group, which broke away from Freedom after he lost an internal power struggle, has few followers outside his home province and almost failed to enter parliament last year.

Despite his rhetoric against Islam at home, Haider also praises himself for his close ties to Muslim leaders including Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, whom he calls a personal friend.