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Student groups said they were ‘shocked’ after police evicted protesters from Vienna University’s main auditorium this morning after months of occupation.

Student protesters 'shocked' after auditorium evictions

By Thomas Hochwarter

Student groups said they were "shocked" after police evicted protesters from Vienna University’s main auditorium this morning (Mon) after months of occupation.

Students have occupied the "Audimax" auditorium since 22 October over what they claim are "bad quality of facilities and equipment" and "over-subscribed courses" at Austrian universities.

But all remaining protesters – their number fell drastically recently, with homeless people reportedly making up the majority at the "Audimax" – were evicted by a special police unit today on the orders of Vienna University head Georg Winckler.

Students’ Union (ÖH) leaders Sigrid Maurer and Thomas Wallerberger said they were "shocked" by the move.

"Winckler has left the path of dialogue. He is now focusing on escalation," they said of Winckler who only recently met occupying students for talks.

The "Arbeitsgemeinschaft Presse" (AG) occupying group – which had not told the ÖH in advance of its occupation of the "Audimax" in October – slammed the eviction as a "replacement of a political solution".

People’s Party (ÖVP) Science Minister Johannes Hahn recently announced the universities’ budget would be increased by 34 million Euros with cash from an "emergency reserve" kept by the ministry.

Protesters however argued upping the subsidies would be not enough to improve the situation of students. They called for long-term solutions and a reform of the curriculum at the country’s universities, claiming the fact that Hahn was recently appointed as Austria’s next EU Commissioner would not help reach an agreement.

Occupations started on 20 October as a handful of students blocked Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts as Austria’s universities planned to press on with adapting the country’s higher education structure to the European "Bologna process" which aims to create comparable and compatible academic degree and quality assurance standards throughout Europe.

Dozens of universities across the continent were occupied in recent weeks as Austrian protesters convinced students in other countries to take action and fight for their beliefs.

Protesters recently suggested moving to the federal parliament over Christmas while MPs are on holiday. They argued the university could use the "Audimax" for courses during that time.

Vienna University bosses announced they now faced with millions of Euros of extra expenses caused by the occupation since they had had to book other venues for courses and spend extra money on additional cleaning and security staff assigned at the buildings to prevent riots.

The AG group claimed an agreement before Christmas was "within reach". The protesters said they had no intention of ending their activities as the second-largest auditorium at Vienna University – located at the Altes AKH complex –  as well as other rooms at institutions in the Vienna, Graz, Salzburg and Linz were still occupied.

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