New Saudi-backed interfaith centre stirs controversy in Vienna
An interreligious centre initiated by Saudi Arabia was inaugurated Monday in Vienna amid protests from groups criticizing Riyadh's record on human rights and religious freedom, dpa reported.
The King Bin Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, named after the Saudi ruler, was set up to foster dialogue between the faiths, and its boards includes representatives from major world religions.
"We need look no further than today's headlines to understand why this mission is so vital," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said at the opening, referring to sectarian tensions in Syria and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
Liberal muslims and the Green party organized protests in front of Vienna's former imperial Hofburg palace, where the centre's lavish opening ceremony was also attended by the foreign ministers of the three co-founding countries Saudi Arabia, Spain and Austria, as well as the secretary general of the Organization of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Among the protesters was Turkish-born Austrian legislator Alev Korun, who criticized the Saudi leadership for not giving full rights to members of other religions and to women.
"They cannot just stay silent on human rights violations in their own country and then create a big, expensive centre in Europe where they pretend to hold a dialogue," she said.
Homosexuals and other liberal groups also criticized the new centre, which is housed in a palace bought by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah.
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said the centre should not only help to overcome religious conflicts. "We expect this centre to restore commitment to moral values," he said.