Turkey furious at Austria over 'racist' expulsions of imams

Expulsion of up to 60 Turkish-funded imams comes after Austrian authorities investigated images of children in mosques reenacting battle of Gallipoli.

ANKARA - Turkey's presidential spokesman on Friday lambasted Austria's decision to expel up to 60 Turkish-funded imams and shut seven mosques as an "anti-Islam" and "racist" move.

"Austria's decision to close down seven mosques and deport imams with a lame excuse is a reflection of the anti-Islam, racist and discriminatory populist wave in this country," Ibrahim Kalin said after Vienna announced the move in a crackdown on "political Islam".

"It is an attempt to target Muslim communities for the sake of scoring cheap political points," Kalin said on Twitter.

Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl said that 150 people including the imams and their families risked losing their right to residence.

The clampdown comes after Austria's religious affairs authority investigated images published in April of children in a Turkish-backed mosque playing dead and reenacting the World War I battle of Gallipoli.

"Parallel societies, political Islam and radicalisation have no place in our country," Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the ruling centre-right People's Party said.

Kalin, spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, suggested the decision was part of efforts to "normalise Islamophobia and racism", which he said must be rejected.

"The Austrian government's ideologically charged practices are in violation of universal legal principles, social integration policies, minority rights and the ethics of co-existence," Kalin said.

During the Turkish referendum campaign last year on expanding the president's powers, tensions were high between Vienna and Ankara after Austria said it would not allow campaign-related events.

Relations were also strained by Kurz's staunch opposition to Turkey's bid to join the European Union and the government's programme which pledged Vienna would not agree to Ankara joining the bloc.