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'From the river to the sea' prompts Vienna to ban pro-Palestinian protest

VIENNA – Vienna police on Wednesday banned a pro-Palestinian protest due to coincide with a pro-Israel event after Saturday’s attack by Hamas, citing the fact the phrase “from the river to the sea” was mentioned in invitations and characterising it as a call to violence.

The head of the city’s police force, Gerhard Puerstl, held a news conference at short notice less than three hours before the protest was due to be held at 7 p.m. (1700 GMT) on the square next to the cathedral in the centre of the city.

The demonstration, which organisers told the police would involve roughly 200 to 250 people, was due to begin 30 minutes after a nearby memorial event for the victims and those missing after Saturday’s attack in which Israel says more than 1,200 people were killed.

“Fundamentally it is this ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’, a PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) slogan that has been adopted by Hamas,” Puerstl said when asked to explain what he meant by “codes” that had been included in online invitations to the protest.

The river is the Jordan and the sea is the Mediterranean, between which lie Israel and the Palestinian territories. The phrase is often chanted at pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

Puerstl said the police interpreted that in the current context as a “clear call to violence”, adding that it meant wiping Israel off the map

“The demonstration obviously aims to create a climate in which the violent conflict in this region (the Middle East) is brought onto the streets of Vienna,” Puerstl said, adding that when police contacted the woman who registered the demonstration she did not distance herself from the phrase.

He did not identify her.

The memorial event for the victims of the attack, arranged by the organisation that officially represents Vienna’s Jewish community, was due to be held in front of conservative Chancellor Karl Nehammer’s office.

Austria’s ruling conservatives have in recent years adopted one of the most pro-Israel stances in the European Union. REUTERS

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