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Abuse accusations stir up Vienna State Opera ballet academy

BERLIN (AP) — The director of the Vienna State Opera on Wednesday called for allegations of abuse at its renowned youth ballet academy to be cleared up in full, expressing shock at "unacceptable" events.

Austrian magazine Falter reported a day earlier, based on interviews with former students and staff, that students at the academy were subjected to abuse and humiliation by a teacher and some of them then developed eating disorders. There was also one allegation of sexual abuse.

Austria's APA news agency said one teacher has since been fired and a second one is currently not allowed to teach. "Things have happened that are unacceptable," opera director Dominique Meyer told reporters in Vienna. "We want everything to be cleared up completely."

In a podcast to accompany the report, Falter interviewed an unidentified girl who described how one teacher beat, scratched and pulled students by their hair. The girl said she herself was kicked so badly against her ankles while standing on her toes that she could not participate in further training for two months.

She said the abuse happened when she was 14, and that by the end of the school year, all students were physically injured and traumatized. It was not clear how long ago the incidents took place. "We have reacted too late, waited for too long," Simona Noja, the acting director of the academy, told reporters. Starting at Easter, the academy will offer the services of a psychologist to the students.

APA news agency quoted Vienna prosecutors as saying that they are investigating the abuse claims. Vienna youth prosecutor Ercan Nik Nafs told APA that he was aware of some of the accusations in the Falter report, but that others were new to him. He didn't want to give any details, citing the ongoing investigation. Prosecutors started looking into the matter in December after receiving anonymous accusations.

Some 110 students attend the ballet academy, which was founded in the 18th century by Empress Maria Theresia. They perform each year at the famous Vienna Opera Ball.

This story has been corrected to give the spelling of the empress' name as Maria Theresia.

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