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Austria's Easter holiday fudge draws criticism

Austria's Easter holiday fudge draws criticism
FILE PHOTO: Handmade Easter eggs and an Easter bunny are pictured on an Easter market in the western Austrian city of Innsbruck, March 24, 2016. REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler/File Photo -
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VIENNA (Reuters) - Having fallen foul of the European Union's top court for giving only some religious minorities Good Friday off, Austria sought redemption on Tuesday with plans for an afternoon's holiday for everyone.

Easter Monday is a public holiday in largely Roman Catholic Austria but Good Friday, when Christians mark Jesus' crucifixion, is not. Protestants and members of some other smaller denominations, however, are entitled to a day off and to compensation if they have to work.

The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled last month that the system was discriminatory since it did not treat all citizens equally.

In a compromise aimed at putting everyone on an equal footing, Austria's ruling coalition - comprising the conservative People's Party and far-right Freedom Party - said the second half of Good Friday would be made a public holiday.

But while the new plan might meet EU rules, it was not universally welcomed.

"This solution means that a half-day's holiday will be taken from us, one in which many Protestants attend church services in the morning," the head of the Austrian Protestant church, Bishop Michael Buenker, said in a statement, adding that the government was failing to honour a pledge that no one would be worse off.

The head of the Catholic Bishops' Conference in Austria also said it was "regrettable" that Protestants would lose half of their day off.

Austria currently has 13 national public holidays, which is generous even by EU standards. Business groups argue that the country cannot afford another one, while the opposition Social Democrats have called for Good Friday to be made a national holiday for all. A half-day satisfied neither side.

"It's amazing how detached from reality a government can be," the liberal Neos party said in a statement. "In such typically Austrian solutions there are only losers."

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Alison Williams)

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