Tourists in the central square of Austria’s capital fled in terror as Kurdish protesters and opposition Turks attacked each other with pepper spray.
A demonstration over the weekend left at least one police officer injured in the central square of Vienna known as Stephansplatz where the St. Stephan’s cathedral dominates the skyline. Authorities say that the clash came as the result of the Kurdish protest that was marching along the road past the Vienna State Opera House and down to the cathedral.
Turkish opposition protesters are said to have provoked the Kurds into fighting, both sides utilizing pepper spray with tourists caught in the middle reports Der Standard.
Police say that the march began peacefully at the opera house but escalated quickly after the Kurds reached St. Stephan’s square. Turkish counter-demonstrators are said to have initially hurled verbal abuse at the Kurds who replied with their own. Over a hundred Kurds are said to have responded to the Turkish insults with violence by spraying them with pepper spray.
In the confusion one protester yelled “Allahu Ackbar!” into the crowd which panicked nearby tourists who were unsure if it was the sign of an incoming terrorist attack. Many tourists are said to have fled the square into nearby restaurants and shops. The aftermath of the chaos led several business owners who operate outdoor cafes to complain that their customers had fled without paying their bills.
Vienna police said that the majority of the protest was peaceful despite the large scale fighting. The Kurds have applied for permission to hold another rally on Saturday and police are expecting to call up even more officers to make sure the situation does not escalate out of hand again.
Tensions between Turks and Kurds have increased dramatically in the aftermath of the failed coup in Turkey last month. While President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan has gone on a purge of critics and alleged coup plotters, many Turks in Europe have seized the opportunity to incite violence with Kurds and supporters of Imam Gulen, who Erdogan asserts was behind the coup attempt.
In Germany several pro-Gulen supports and Kurds have been threatened by Turkish nationalists like the “Grey Wolves” group and many fear that the tensions could escalate into full-on ethnic conflict. Kurds and Turks have clashed in protests in Frankfurt and Switzerland over the past year. In Frankfurt the tensions became so high that the army had to be called in to calm the situation.