Reuters International

Migrants wait to cross the border from Slovenia into Spielfeld in Austria, February 16, 2016. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

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VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria has taken its next step, albeit small, toward introducing tougher rules on immigration that will allow it to turn away asylum seekers at its borders within an hour and also to cap the number of asylum requests it accepts.

The government said on Tuesday it would start next week to collect expert opinions needed to pass an emergency decree necessary to trigger implementation of the new rules.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka wants the emergency decree to be introduced as soon as possible rather than when an agreed yearly cap of 37,500 is reached.

But Chancellory Minister Thomas Drozda said on Tuesday that debating the matter and procedural issues would take at least until late October.

He also said that turning away migrants at the border might be complicated by the fact Austria has not yet agreed on a deportation arrangement with its eastern neighbour Hungary and many other relevant countries.

"It's a question of whether one wants to or should prepare now for a situation that will possibly occur in November or December," Drozda told reporters.

Chancellor Christian Kern has not pushed for the implementation of the tougher rules on asylum claims yet and has said he saw little point in starting to do so if this year's limit would only be reached around late November.

Austria has mostly served as a conduit into Germany for refugees and migrants from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa but the country of 8.5 million people has also taken in about 110,000 asylum seekers since last summer.

After initially welcoming refugees, the government decided to cap the number of asylum claims it would accept this year and has made family reunification harder for migrants, steps widely criticized by EU states and human rights groups.

Drozda said the number of asylum requests had reached 24,260 at the end of July with requests coming in at a much slower pace than last year.

Austria led efforts that resulted in the closing of the so-called Balkan route from Turkey to northern Europe and is turning away an increasing number of migrants at its southern border with Italy.

Also on Tuesday, the Danish government proposed the adoption of a law that would enable police to reject asylum seekers at the borders in times of crisis such as that in 2015 when thousands of migrants sought to enter the country.

(Reporting by Shadia Nasralla; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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