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Headlines 17 November, 2017

Headlines 10 November, 2017

Headlines 3 November, 2017

Headlines 17 November, 2017

German court dismisses far-right police officer

17/11/2017- A German federal court on Friday dismissed a Berlin police officer accused of having far-right tattoos and repeatedly giving the Hitler salute, 10 years after he was first suspended. The Federal Administrative Court ruled that people who reject the German constitutional order are unfit for public service, even if their behavior doesn't constitute a criminal offense. Berlin prosecutors in 2007 opened several investigations of the officer. They were closed because, among other things, investigators couldn't prove he had given the stiff-armed Nazi salute inside Germany — where it's a crime — or shown his tattoos in public. The tattoos included runes and the notes of the Horst Wessel Song, a popular Nazi anthem, though the man denied being aware of its origin. Lower courts largely rejected disciplinary measures against the officer. The local government appealed.

The federal court said a tattoo constitutes a "bold proclamation" of support of an organization or ideology. It said that the man's "fundamental and lasting departure from the principles of constitutional order" was also proven by him giving the Hitler salute, posing in front of a swastika flag and by a collection of Nazi memorabilia at his apartment. German law makes it very difficult to dismiss civil servants. A spokesman for the Berlin branch of the GdP police union, Benjamin Jendro, said it's a good thing that officers enjoy protection from wrongful accusations — but "in this case, a Nazi benefited for years" from the system. He welcomed the federal court ruling. He called for authorities to look quickly into "whether this person still has connections to like-minded sympathizers in active service." Berlin's state interior minister, Andreas Geisel, also welcomed the ruling. "Anyone who talks or behaves in an extremist way, openly or covertly, has no place in our police," he said.
© The Associated Press

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EU Letter Highlights Failings in Bulgaria’s Asylum Policy

Alleged letter to Bulgarian authorities, leaked to BIRN, expresses European Commission’s concerns about the Balkan country’s treatment of refugees, Afghan nationals in particular.

16/11/2017- BIRN has obtained a letter that the European Commission allegedly sent to the director of Bulgaria’s State Refugee Agency, SAR, and to the Deputy Interior Minister, Krasimir Tsipov, voicing Brussels’ concerns about major shortcomings in the country’s asylum system. The letter, which the director of the Commission’s Migration and Protection Directorate Laurent Muschel, sent back on July 6, urges Bulgaria to improve its asylum procedures in several areas, including its protection of unaccompanied minors, and the reception, detention and integration of asylum seekers. It also criticizes lack of access to legal aid for asylum seekers and the treatment of Afghan nationals in particular, who received notably fewer awards of asylum status in Bulgaria compared to the other EU member states in 2017.

Asked to verify the authenticity of the letter, a Commission spokesperson told BIRN that the institution does not comment on leaked documents. "The Commission is in close contact with the Bulgarian authorities to help them ensure that progress is being made in improving their asylum system, including better reception conditions. With regards to EU support, the Commission has made available significant amounts of EU funding while operational support is being provided by the EU Asylum Agency (EASO) to help Bulgaria in addressing the current challenges", the spokesperson added. Bulgaria’s SAR and Interior Ministry also did not respond to BIRN’s queries about the authenticity and content of the document by the time of publication.

Many NGOs have regularly voiced concerns about the situation of child refugees caught in limbo in Bulgaria. The letter obtained by BIRN suggests that there are not enough representatives and social workers to work with unaccompanied minors, and that they not been trained adequately. Concerns are raised also about the lack of specialized safe accommodation for under-age asylum seekers and the state’s practice of allocating accompanied minors to adults who are not family members, which “seems to underestimate the issue at stake for the safety and the protection of unaccompanied minors”. “The current situation of the unaccompanied minors in the ‘separate areas’ in the existing centres is, in the Commission’s view, not appropriate due to a reported lack of adequate supervision, of adequate security and of staff,” the Commission adds, urging Bulgaria to take measures that “respond to the urgency of the situation”.

The absence of identification and care for vulnerable persons, as well as poor conditions in the closed centres, where migrants and asylum seekers are often detained, are also noted. The Commission expresses readiness to assist Bulgaria in the field of integration, “after several years of very limited actions” from the Bulgarian authorities. “This is essential not just for the wellbeing of the persons concerned and for Bulgarian society, but also to alter the current dynamic of onward movement of asylum-seekers and beneficiaries of international protection to other Member States,” Muschel allegedly noted. The letter notes that the percentage of Afghans obtaining asylum is “strikingly low” in Bulgaria compared to other EU member states; only 2.5 per cent in 2016, compared to an EU average of 56 per cent. “Afghan nationals are apparently often detained for lengthy periods and to a considerably greater extent than occurs for other nationalities,” the letter adds.

NGOs say that the concerns allegedly expressed by the Commission in its letter are well-founded. “Amnesty International found numerous problems in the way Bulgaria treats unaccompanied minors in the country. The challenges range from the gaps in initial identification of unaccompanied children as they are crossing the border and the inability of authorities to properly ascertain their specific vulnerability or their family situation”, Jelena Sesar, a researcher in Amnesty International, told BIRN. “What you have in Bulgaria is a systemic chaos. No single agency is responsible for unaccompanied children”, she asserted. Sesar said the low percentage of Afghan citizens obtaining asylum in Bulgaria was “indicative of how Afghans are treated throughout the process in Bulgaria – from the moment they enter the country to the last instance of their asylum claims.

“Afghans are not only disproportionally represented in the detention centres and tend to remain there longer than other groups, but the reception centres that accommodate Afghans are kept in the direst conditions,” she added. “The problem is that Bulgarian authorities are treating Afghan refugees and asylum-seekers as a group that is unlikely qualify for the refugee or asylum status,” the researcher added. She noted that the conditions in the camps in Bulgaria remain dire even though they operated in 2017 at far less than full capacity. “From the basics, such as hygiene and nutrition, to the medical, translation and social services that ought to be available to the persons staying in the camps, Bulgaria ranks low in comparison with most EU countries,” Sesar maintained. “Resources are not an obstacle and cannot be an excuse for inaction. Bulgaria has received 160 million euros from various EU funds to address immigration challenges”, she added.

Mathias Fiedler, from Border Monitoring Bulgaria, raised specific concerns about the widespread detention of asylum seekers and migrants by the Bulgarian authorities. “Detention practices happen very randomly. Some nationalities have to stay in detention after being caught by the border police for months without any reason,” he said. Statistics supplied by SAR show that the number of asylum seekers in Bulgaria has dropped significantly. By October 26, a total of 1,031 people were accommodated in state reception centres, filling them to just 20 per cent capacity. Nearly half of them, 413, were children, 61 of whom were unaccompanied by a relative.
© Balkan Insight

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Austria: 3000 form chain of light against far right in government

At least 3,000 people formed a chain of light in Vienna on Wednesday to protest against the formation of a government that includes the far-right Freedom Party.

15/11/2017- Demonstrators holding flickering candles, torches and bicycle lamps encircled the capital's government district. "Our republic's most powerful political offices should be exclusively reserved for trustworthy people who are not in the slightest connected to right-wing extremists," said Alexander Pollak, spokesman for SOS Mitmensch, one of several human rights groups which organized the demonstration. It was the biggest protest in Austria since coalition talks between the conservative People's Party (OVP) and the Freedom Party (FPO) started two weeks ago. Organizers estimated the number of people taking part at 8,000 to 10,000, the police at around 3,000. "We are here because they (the FPO) feed hatred and want to divide people," said Brigitte Griesser, holding a candle. But the protest was far smaller than unrest 17 years ago, when the FPO last formed a government with the OVP and more than 100,000 took to the streets. "(The shift to the right) has become a European trend... it's no longer just an Austrian issue and that's why it is not that controversial any longer," said protester Juergen Pucher.
© Reuters

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Spectre of immigration sparks rightward turn in Italy

Having made gains in Cascina, Italy’s Northern League is exploiting concerns over migrants ahead of a pivotal general election

15/11/2017- In September 1944 African-American soldiers from the US Army’s “Buffalo” division helped liberate Cascina from German forces retreating north into the Apennine mountains of Tuscany. For the next 70 years, the town of 45,000 people in the Arno River valley near Pisa was run by leftwing administrations. The region became a byword in Italy for racial tolerance and social democratic politics. Then in June 2016 something surprising happened: Cascina, whose postwar fortunes were built on the now-struggling furniture sector, elected Susanna Ceccardi, a 29-year-old rightwing firebrand from the Eurosceptic Northern League, to be mayor by just 101 votes. Roberto Luppichini, a 50-year-old stallholder at the Monday morning open-air market in Navacchio, which has become a hub of support for Ms Ceccardi, says there is little doubt what triggered this small but significant political earthquake.

“It started with immigration,” he says, referring to the more than 620,000 migrants who have been rescued in the Mediterranean Sea and brought to Italy over the past four years. “We are tired of having all these people around; we can’t keep them here; we can’t handle it any more. Immigration is one of the great scourges of Italy. “When the cake was bigger for everyone and the economy worked better there were fewer complaints,” he says. “Now, we feel sacrificed.” Cascina’s turn to the right is part of a broader political shift in the country ahead of a pivotal general election due early next year — the latest test for populist forces in Europe after this year’s mixed results in the Netherlands, France, Germany and Austria.

Rightwing parties, including the anti-immigrant Northern League, the more moderate Forza Italia led by former premier Silvio Berlusconi, and the far right Brothers of Italy, are heading into the poll with the winds at their backs, partly due to their anti-immigration stance. This month, a Berlusconi-led coalition snatched control of Sicily from the centre-left in a regional election that was widely seen as a barometer of the national mood. Next year they have a realistic chance of trumping a deflated ruling centre-left Democratic party, led by former prime minister Matteo Renzi, as well as the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, headed by comedian Beppe Grillo, to win control of the Italian government.

The Northern League has the support of about 15 per cent of Italians, according to opinion polls, compared with just 4 per cent at the 2013 general election and 6 per cent in the European polls of 2014. If it performs that well it could emerge as the senior partner in a possible centre-right governing coalition with Mr Berlusconi, dictating policy and possibly choosing the prime minister. In another potentially destabilising scenario for the EU, the Northern League could accept to be a minority partner in a government led by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which could threaten to pull Italy out of the euro. The reinvention of the Northern League has much to do with Matteo Salvini, its 44-year old leader who took over the party in 2013, shedding its previous emphasis on the secession of Italy’s prosperous north, and turning it into a more traditionally nationalist party, along the lines of France’s National Front. Not only has it strengthened its position in northern Italy, but, as Ms Ceccardi’s victory shows, it has also gained ground in the “red” regions of central Italy. Between 2010 and 2015, the Northern League’s support in Tuscany more than doubled from 6 per cent to 16 per cent in regional elections.

“The Northern League has been moving into central Italy and this goes hand in hand with its focus on immigration and law and order,” says Daniele Albertazzi, a senior lecturer in European politics at the University of Birmingham. “It has been consistent and coherent.” Critics fear that the Northern League’s ascent fits in with the broader growth of far-right sentiment in Italy, including neo-fascist groups. Last week, the far right CasaPound won 9 per cent of the vote in a by-election in Ostia, a crime-ridden municipality in Rome, and secured 8 per cent in municipal polls in Lucca, not far from Cascina, this year. “We are very alarmed. There’s neo-fascism, there’s racism and there’s xenophobia. There’s a whole cauldron that fuels these forces,” says Franco Tagliaboschi, president of the Cascina chapter of Anpi, a national association dedicated to preserving the memory of the partisans who fought fascism and Nazism during the second world war.

In her office on the first floor of Cascina’s porticoed town hall, Ms Ceccardi denies there is anything radical about her views or those of the Northern League. “I don’t think that our positions are discriminatory. On the contrary I think that regulating immigration is a moderate position,” she says. “We have to put a limit. We have to say what the point of equilibrium is so that people can live together in a civil manner.” There is no open door policy in Italy but in recent years it has co-ordinated a massive humanitarian effort to rescue migrants from South Asia, the Middle East and Africa travelling to Europe on ramshackle boats across the Mediterranean Sea. Migrant flows are down 30 per cent this year, after a controversial deal with Libya orchestrated by Marco Minniti, the interior minister, involving support for the local coastguard to intercept boats before they leave Libyan waters, and for coastal cities to crack down on traffickers.

But the perception of an uncontrolled “invasion”, as described by Mr Salvini, persists, even in a relatively affluent, middle-class town like Cascina. Once migrants arrive in Italy — and while they wait for their asylum applications to be processed, which can take months — they are distributed across the country in reception centres that sometimes become a source of tension with local populations. Ms Ceccardi is campaigning to close the main reception centre in Cascina, a former farmstay called La Tinaia that houses some 60 refugees and asylum seekers, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, on the grounds that it is overcrowded. She has vowed to resist any attempt by the Italian government to allocate new migrants to facilities in the town. “It’s not like everyone has to be collaborationist with a government if they disagree with their policies,” she says. “If other mayors put welcoming migrants in their manifestos, they should take them in. I won on a different platform.”

At times, Ms Ceccardi — whose victory was also propelled by a lack of enthusiasm for her centre-left predecessor — sounds more like a crusader for the preservation of western civilisation than a local conservative politician. “With immigration, there’s always a victim,” she says. “Someone always loses out: think of the American Indians, the pre-Colombian civilisations. We have to defend ourselves. We might lose, but at least we defended ourselves.” Shortly after taking office — in the wake of the brutal murder of a Catholic priest in France, claimed by Isis — the mayor posted a cartoon depicting a young woman with blond braids, dressed like a Viking, kicking a dark-skinned pig clad with a turban who ends up dropping a Koran. “Wake up Europe”, she wrote on the post. She later described the cartoon as a statement against “Islamic terrorism”.

The shift is not just rhetorical. Ms Ceccardi has sought to block access for immigrants to public housing by forcing them to provide documentation from their countries of origin certifying that they do not own property back home — an almost impossible request for many to comply with. Out of 71 applications from new arrivals for public housing since she came to power, 68 have been rejected, she says. The former town councillor says she was invited to Crimea for a conference with Russian entrepreneurs and members of Vladimir Putin’s Russia United party, but could not make it. She has also expressed sympathy for the Catalan independence movement, and attracted criticism for personally refusing to celebrate civil unions of same-sex couples in the town. Sara Pellegrini, a 35-year-old psychologist having a drink in the town’s main square, believes Ms Ceccardi has simply gone too far — especially on immigration. “There is a fringe of people, the populists, who are looking for simple solutions which won’t have any results.”

The idea that Cascina, Tuscany or even Italy are about to be overwhelmed by a violent, radical minority of foreigners is fanciful. Despite the recent growth, foreign residents add up to just 8 per cent of the 60m population, much less than in many other EU nations. In Cascina, there are 3,550 foreigners, up from 1,687 in 2006 but still close to the national average, with large Albanian and Senegalese contingents. Moreover, criminality has been dropping across Italy — and in the province of Pisa, where Cascina is situated, it was down by 2.5 per cent between 2015 and 2016, when Ms Ceccardi was elected. But at the Democratic party’s headquarters in the main square, Cristina Conti, the PD’s town secretary, acknowledges that what she calls Ms Ceccardi’s “false message” on migrants seems to be working politically.

“People are convinced that if we kick them all out we will suddenly return to wellbeing,” says Ms Conti. “They gave a simple answer but you don’t have to be [Albert] Einstein to realise that it’s not the right one. It’s much harder to say we have the Mafia, we have kickbacks, we have tax evasion. Those are invisible problems, while the immigrant is identifiable.” Ms Conti believes social relations in Cascina have already been damaged by the Ceccardi administration. “It would be better if they stopped scaring people,” she says. “People who have walked calmly in the streets of the town centre until now are moving a few metres to the side if they see a dark-skinned person.” The residents of La Tinaia, the migrant reception centre, are among the most anxious. “She cannot come here and evacuate everyone and throw them on the street. It’s not right,” says Chilly Stephen, a 23-year-old Nigerian immigrant and aspiring painter who arrived last year. Several of the people at the centre were too frightened to have their photographs taken.

The Catholic church — inspired by a consistently pro-migrant message from Pope Francis — has been one of the main forces defending the migrants in Cascina. “As a Church, and as Christians, the idea is not to lose sight of the fact that there are people behind this problem,” says Father Elvis Ragusa, a priest in Cascina’s San Lorenzo alle Corti parish. “It’s about looking them in the eyes and welcoming their story.” The efforts of Father Ragusa, known as Don Elvis, have faced a backlash from Ms Ceccardi, who describes herself as a “not really practising” Catholic. “The Church has the right and duty to send messages of brotherhood and equality,” she says. “But if a government has limited resources, it has to think of its own citizens, otherwise we create a social tension that is not good for anyone.”

Claudio Loconsole, the Five Star candidate who lost to Ms Ceccardi, takes comfort in the fact that she has not yet succeeded in rooting out migrants from the town, a sign that her strident rhetoric rings hollow, he says. “It’s as if I said from tomorrow I will get rid of gravity, we would all be lighter. But it’s impossible. She says: ‘let’s clear out La Tinaia’. But what about water? What about social issues? It’s not 90 people out of 45,000 who are crashing the town.” Yet the “Cascina model” — as Ms Ceccardi calls it — has inspired the Northern League to set its sights on new political targets. The Northern League last month opened an office in nearby Pisa, the provincial capital. It chose a street in a multi-ethnic neighbourhood near the central railway station as its headquarters for next year’s mayoral race.

At the inauguration, local officials and a few national lawmakers beat the immigration drum incessantly. “On social issues, we always put Italians first; the PD puts immigrants first and we will send them home,” Edoardo Ziello, the Northern League’s town secretary for Pisa, told the gathering. Ms Ceccardi added: “The few Pisans who are left are saying, ‘thanks, thanks for being here, because you are the only hope’.” At the event, Paolo Pietrini, a 52-year-old radiologist from Cascina, signed up to be a party member, saying he had followed a “political rainbow” that brought him to the Northern League from the extreme left in recent decades. “It’s about security and legality,” he says. “As a man, I am uneasy walking through the streets of Pisa. Imagine a woman or a little girl.”

Back in Cascina some are despondent at the prospect that the Northern League could penetrate further into Tuscany, and the rest of Italy, on the back of anti-immigrant tirades. Giancarlo Freggia, the president of Paim, a local co-operative that offers services for disadvantaged groups such as the disabled, the elderly and the mentally ill, says political change would be welcome but not if it is a distraction from bigger problems. Unemployment in the province of Pisa has risen from 4.4 per cent in 2008 to 7.3 per cent in 2016. Although relatively low by Italian standards it is still a big jump. “[Ceccardi] campaigned against refugees but the problems are about business, about development,” Mr Freggia says, adding: “It’s actually the Chinese who are taking our jobs. These are people who have a greater entrepreneurial predisposition. It’s not the Senegalese or the Eritreans.”

Down the main street, though, a group of elderly leftwing former carpenters sides with the mayor when it comes to the new arrivals. “Immigration from Romania, from the east: that’s OK because they do the work our kids won’t do. But not African immigration, no. They come shoeless, naked, they don’t know how to do anything, they will never work, they will never do a thing, they will always be a burden,” says Nevilio Puccini, 73. Thousands of miles away, in southern California, Ivan Houston, a 92-year-old second world war veteran and one of the African-American soldiers in Cascina during the liberation, was sorry to hear that intolerance had returned to the town, after so many decades. “The black soldiers were very kind and helpful, and treated the Italians so nicely,” Mr Houston says in a telephone interview. “A lot of our guys came from the Deep South, they worked in the fields, just like the Italians. They saw the state they were in was not so different from where they came from.”
© The Financial Times*

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Following Karl Lagerfeld’s Islamophobic rant, is it time we walk away from the designer?

The fashion icon compared Germany’s liberal immigration policies to the Holocaust

15/11/2017- After telling the audience that he was about to "say something horrific," Karl Lagerfeld, the esteemed creative director behind the fashion brands Chanel, Fendi and his own namesake label, did pretty much that during a taping of the French TV chat show "Salut les terriens!" Saturday. Addressing the current influx of immigrants into his native country of Germany, the 84-year-old Lagerfeld said, "One cannot — even if there are decades between them — kill millions of Jews so you can bring millions of their worst enemies in their place." Having called German Chancellor Angela Merkel's policy on accepting refugees from war-torn Muslim-majority nations such as Syria a "huge error," he added that she "had already millions and millions [of immigrants] who are well integrated and who work and all is well . . . she had no need to take another million to improve her image as the wicked stepmother after the Greek crisis."

The Conseil supérieur de l'audiovisuel (CSA), the French broadcasting regulatory commission, has already launched in inquiry into Lagerfeld's comments following a number of submitted public complaints about it. Given France's considerable laws and standards regarding the dissemination of hate speech, both Largerfeld and the network that hosts "Salut les terriens!," C8, could face prosecution and fines. The basic thrust of Lagerfeld's comments mirror the European far-right reaction the multi-governmental response to the ongoing refugee crisis sparked by the wars in Syria and Yemen. Many Western European nations have conditionally accepted elements of the Muslim-majority wave of immigrants fleeing those bloody conflicts often to searing criticism from internal nationalist elements. This weekend's troubling far-right demonstrations in Poland were only one such example of this broad and often violent backlash.

Of all the Western European nations opening their doors to these immigrants, Germany has hosted the most. Most figures suggest that the republic has taken in over 1,370,000 since 2015, though some of them have already left or been deported. Through her liberal policies towards and statements about the refugee crisis, Merkel became a moral leader in the global response to it early, something that made her the main target of critics who embrace the ever-more mainstream opinion that these new permanent or temporary citizens represent threats to national security or native European cultures and values. Perhaps in response, the chancellor has softened her position on refugees and, to some extent, curbed her formerly liberal policies. In his comments on "Salut les terriens!," Largerfeld appears to have joined the growing number of Europeans who now hold the once exclusively far-right opinion that such influxes of refugees represent an existential threat to Continental identities and safety.

Yes, terror attacks by individuals associated with radical Islamic movements have pockmarked Europe this decade as have other clashes between local authorities and Muslim-majority groups of newcomers. Yet, relative to the total number of immigrants, such incidents are few and far between. Troublingly, Lagerfeld's comments speak to more toxic notions of European identity and, quite clearly, pernicious ideas about Muslims. Lagerfeld called Muslims the "worst enemies" of the Jewish people — a notion belied by the history of Germany and central Europe. Yes, the generalized Jewish diaspora and the Jewish-led state of Israel could be said to be in constant conflict with what westerners call "The Muslim World." But it's reductive and simply not factual to suggest that every individual Muslim is enemy of every Jewish person. It's Islamophobic. So too is suggesting that Muslim immigrants are incapable of integrating into the societies of host nations.

It's just as galling that the designer would use the Holocaust to sell this far-right notion. The Holocaust is the definitive example of far-right, nationalist racial identity theory becoming brutal policy. It's beyond the pale that he would use the tragic consequences of one form of ethnic theory to support another. As disappointing as this is, it is not entirely surprising for those familiar with Lagerfeld. Afforded a particular bubble by his talent and position, he's forwarded a host of bizarre positions over the years without much blowback. In the 2008, biographical documentary about him, "Lagerfeld Confidential," he confessed that he had been molested as a child by men and claimed his mother told him that he had it in coming. Decades on, he seemed to agree with her.

As well, the queer man has made stands against same-sex marriage and gay or lesbian families. "For me it'€™s difficult to imagine €”one of the papas at work and the other at home with the baby. How would that be for the baby? I don'€™t know," he said in 2010. These and other statements that upset racial and cultural sensibilities come on top of more weirdness (he once evacuated himself and his core staff to Lyons from Paris believing that a falling satellite infected by the Y2K bug would slip out of orbit would destroy the city). All that, along with his baring and style have earned him a reputation as an eccentric in an industry full of eccentrics. The stakes in Europe are too high, however, to brush his latest comments off as simply eccentric. They're part and parcel of a movement that is more and more beginning to look like the nationalist frenzy that overtook Germany eight decades ago. As of yet, Lagerfeld has not retracted or apologized for them. He must.

Currently, no serious movement against Lagerfeld has begun. None of the celebrity spokespeople for any of his labels have repudiated him (Fendi model Gigi Hadid in particular is the daughter of a Palestinian Muslim immigrant to the U.S.). His Jewish boss, LVMH's Bernard Arnault, hasn't said a word, even though so many of his customers come from oil-rich, Muslim-majority nations. Eight years ago, LVMH swiftly, appropriately fired designer John Galliano from its Christian Dior label after a drunken, antisemitic public tirade. While, Lagerfeld was nowhere near as crude or blatant in his remarks, his source was the same font of hate. Should LVMH and others above Lagerfeld chose not to censor or punish him on some basis, it may indeed say something about where priorities and boundaries lie in the European dialogue right now.
© Tablet Magazine

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Greek nationalist anger turns to violence against refugees

Years into a refugee crisis, many Greeks continue to resist the integration of asylum seekers stranded in the country. New, far-right extremist groups are taking advantage of the frustration. Anthee Carassava reports.

14/11/2017- A supreme court prosecutor has ordered an urgent investigation into a violent racist attack against a migrant minor after a new group of far-right vigilantes emerged from obscurity, vowing to chase refugees out of Greece. The group, calling itself Crypteia, claims to be a modern-day remake of a sort of Hitler Youth of Sparta — a murderous clan of men who roamed the countryside of southern Greece, in ancient times, terrorizing and killing state slaves. The investigation comes days after members of the hit squad attacked the home of Amir, an 11-year-old Afghan boy and his family in central Athens. Vigilantes used rocks and beer bottles to smash the boy's bedroom window at 3 a.m., also tossing in a message in Greek that only Amir was able to read. It read: "Go back to your village. Leave." The hate crime — considered the first against a migrant minor — has sparked furious reactions from the United Nations and other humanitarian groups concerned that a rising rate of attacks on asylum seekers threatens to transform this once tranquil sun-kissed European nation into a hotbed of throbbing racist discontent.

Division over the treatment of refugees
But in Greece, the latest incident with Amir has triggered a nationwide debate — and division — over whether asylum seekers stuck in the country who wish to leave than stay, should be afforded the same rights as local citizens in the interim. "There is no question that they should be embraced by all of us, and the state, to help them overcome the violent uprooting that they faced from their homelands," said Panagiotis Armamentos, a local attorney. "They enjoy refugee status. And we as Greeks should honor that so much more because we too have been migrants and refugees, trying to seek a better life abroad." But not all agree. In fact, in a random DW survey of Greeks in a middle class suburb of Athens, Armanentos emerged as the only emphatic supporter of refugee rights.

All others appeared sympathetic but then biased and at times discriminatory on emotive, nationalist issues. "They can eat and sleep here," says Evangelos Dangalakis, a retired orthodontist. "But beyond that, refugees can not and should not enjoy the same rights as Greeks. They should not be allowed to appropriate Greek symbols and values." "A refugee, for example, can not lead a national parade and carry the Greek flag. It's a right that should be afforded only to Greeks." Just days before Amir's home was stoned, administrators at a state school demonstrated exactly that — stripping the young Afghan of the privileged prize he had won in a lottery organized by his teachers. Eventually, Amir was given a small, nondescript, school sign to carry during the march, instead.

National identity
"And rightly so" says George, leading his girlfriend, Nasia, into a luxury coffee shop in the Athens suburb of Drosia. "My grandfather fought for that flag; her's was killed trying to defend it. It's not an issue of racism or discrimination," said the 37-year-old businessman, refusing to divulge his surname, "but of one of national identity. How can a Muslim hold a flag bearing a cross? And how can any migrant even aspire to enjoy the same rights as the local population when he himself refuses to assimilate, seeing us as a mere stepping stone to another destination." Like thousands of refugees who have streamed to Greece from Turkey in the past year, Amir and his family have refused political asylum here, hoping to reach their preferred destination of Germany to reunite with relatives.

It's not the first time that Greeks have tried to assert their national identity in the wake of Europe's refugees crisis. Last year, scores of parents padlocked the gates of primary schools and kept their children from attending classes in one of the biggest and most violent protests to grip northern Greece. Backed by extreme-right vigilantes, the demonstrations quickly took on strong racist and nationalist tones. Most worryingly, though, they underscored the beleaguered government's daunting task of managing the integration of more than 62,000 asylum seekers stranded across the country.

Further attacks expected
With migration inflows rising anew, experts have warned of more far-right extremist attacks. Earlier this year, the Hellenic League of Human rights said in a report that after years of inaction, Greece's neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party was once again starting to recruit and train anti-migrant hit squads. Police investigating the attack on Amir and his family suspect that Crypteia is a violent offshoot of Golden Dawn. No arrests or prosecutions have followed. But to protect him against any future attacks, police have relocated the young Afghan and his family to an undisclosed safe house in Athens. "Unfortunately," said Armamentos, the attorney and human rights advocate, "this incident has put us all in a bad light. It marks a bad moment for Greece and the Greeks. Something must be done."
© The Deutsche Welle*

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UK: Society must fight anti-Muslim racism, says major study

A major new report with contributions from Birmingham University calls for action against Islamophobia

14/11/2017- Birmingham University has contributed to a major new report warning that anti-Muslim racism is a major challenge for the UK. The report on Islamophobia, produced by think tank the Runnymede Trust, finds that Muslims face huge disadvantages in the jobs market, despite more Muslims going to university than ever – including more Muslim women graduates than men. It recommends that all parts of society call out prejudice and discrimination experienced by Muslims. Dr Chris Allen, a Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of Birmingham and a contributor to the report, said: "Having worked with and supported numerous Muslim civic society organisations over the past decade and a half, it is they that have been at the forefront of the drive towards challenging Islamophobia. "Trying to do so in public and political spaces where the shadow of terror atrocities linger long and where growing anti-Muslim sentiment has been on the increase, has made the task even greater for them. My chapter in the report focuses on these challenges."

The report calls for an independent inquiry into the Government's Prevent counter-terrorism strategy; and demands that the media print corrections that are just as prominent as the original article when they get something wrong. In 1997, The Runnymede Trust published the first major report on the issue, called ‘Islamophobia: A Challenge For Us All’ , which has been credited with popularising the term. The report looks back on the last 20 years. It says British Muslims became the focus of policies framed around terrorism and a perceived threat to Western civilisation. Farah Elahi, Research Analyst, The Runnymede Trust, said: "The report sets out a clear definition of what Islamophobia is as a form of racism and sets out ten recommendations for what should be done about it. "The focus of tackling Islamophobia must be on the impact on Muslims or those perceived to be Muslim."

Key recommendations set out in the report include:
# Tackling Islamophobia requires more responsibility by everyone to call out and report anti-Muslim rhetoric and prejudice. This includes teachers, neighbours and fellow citizens. All civil society organisations challenging other forms of discrimination should work more closely with groups challenging Islamophobia to form a stronger movement for positive change.
# Government should adopt the reports definition of Islamophobia as being anti-Muslim racism, to bring greater focus on economic disadvantages facing Muslims.
# There should be an independent inquiry into Prevent to eliminate discrimination and stereotyping. There should be a clear dividing line between the government’s counter-terrorism Prevent strategy and integration policies. Conflating the two areas weakens both.
# Media regulators must intervene more proactively in challenging discriminatory reporting, and corrections / retractions in print and digital media should receive equal prominence to the original article. Regulators should investigate the prevalence of Islamophobia and racism in the media.
© The Birmingham Mail.

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UK: Former Tory minister accuses press of hate speech and Islamophobia

Sayeeda Warsi uses Leveson lecture to eviscerate the Sun and the Times for ‘extraordinarily irresponsible’ coverage

14/11/2017- Sayeeda Warsi, the former Conservative cabinet minister, has accused British newspapers of Islamophobia and hate speech and called for a parliamentary investigation into the issue. Lady Warsi, the first Muslim woman to hold a cabinet position, said hate speech in the press had become a “plague” with Muslims the “principal target”. She gave examples from the Daily Express, the Daily Mail, the Sun and the Times in her speech. The former lawyer was giving the fifth annual Leveson lecture at an event hosted by the Hacked Off campaign, which wants greater regulation of the press. She resigned from the government in 2014 over its “morally indefensible” policy on Gaza. Warsi said hate was a daily reality for Muslims in Britain in 2017, adding: “In sections of our press, it is relentless and deliberate. Steadily and methodically using paper inches and columns to create, feed and ratchet up suspicions and hostilities in our society, driving communities apart and creating untold – and unnecessary – fear and distress.

“Poisoning our public discourse, making it almost impossible to have sensible discussions about real challenges, crowding out tolerance, reason and understanding. “And this drip-drip approach has created a toxic environment where hate crime is the highest it has been since records began.” She continued: “Hate speech in the press has become a plague, an epidemic. Ways of expression that I thought we had left behind with Enoch Powell in the 1960s are now the new normal. “This is true not just of two or three notorious dailies, but also of papers some still regard as responsible and ethical. Anti-Muslim hate speech is becoming a regular feature even in the more ‘respectable’ parts of the press and that’s why it is becoming more dangerous. “Islamophobia is Britain latest bigotry blind spot. It’s where the respectable rationalise bigotry, couch it in intellectual argument and present it as public interest or honest opinion that allows the rot of xenophobia to set in.”

Warsi described a front page headline from the Sun in 2015 – “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis” – as “shocking” and “encouraging a false and derogatory idea”. She also criticised the Times for its coverage of a foster care row in east London involving a five-year-old girl. The Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper reported the story with the headline “Christian child forced into Muslim foster care.” Warsi said the newspaper was “wilfully sending a message to its readers that Muslims are frightening people with whom Christian children are not safe. “It pandered to bigoted stereotypes, was extraordinarily irresponsible and most shockingly was untrue.” Warsi, who served as chair of the Conservative party during David Cameron’s government, criticised his and Theresa May’s administrations for not implementing the recommendations of the Leveson inquiry.

Those include the commencement of section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, which would force a newspaper to cover the legal costs of the claimant in a libel case unless it joined the approved regulator and offered low-cost arbitration. Warsi has written to Labour MP Yvette Cooper, the chair of the parliamentary home affairs committee, to ask her to investigate hate speech. News UK, the publisher of the Sun and the Times, declined to comment.
© The Guardian..

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Soul-searching at France's FN: far-right party polls activists

Who are you and what do you want? Seeking to rebrand itself and bounce back from electoral defeat, France’s far-right National Front on Tuesday sent a questionnaire to party members asking them whether it should change its name and policies.

14/11/2017- Six months after party leader Marine Le Pen suffered a crushing defeat against centrist Emmanuel Macron in the presidential election run-off, the poll is part of the 45-year-old National Front’s (FN) efforts to relaunch itself. “We need to ask ourselves why we didn’t win the presidential election and how we can improve our political offer,” said FN lawmaker Sebastien Chenu. “We want to win elections, we owe it to our members.” The FN’s 81,000 cardholders - which includes those up to a year late on party dues - are asked to say what type of job they have and where they get their news from. More crucially, they are asked if they want to ditch the euro and hold a referendum on France’s membership of the European Union and if they think the party should focus less on immigration. Opposition to the euro and immigration have long been at the heart of the party’s policies, but in the six months since her defeat, Le Pen has progressively watered down her anti-EU stance, which is unpopular and widely considered to be one of the reasons why the FN does not win major elections.

Party officials will use the results of the questionnaire to help prepare a party congress to be held in mid-March. Members are also asked if they want to change the party’s name. While the FN is a well-known brand throughout France, it is largely associated with Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie, the party founder, who was several times convicted for incitement to racial hatred. While the FN got more votes than ever in the presidential election, the lower-than-expected second round score as well as the parliamentary election that followed were a huge disappointment for the party and its cardholders. Opinion polls over the past months have shown Le Pen’s popularity has taken a hit even among party members and it is the far-left France Insoumise (France Unbowed), not the FN, that voters see as Macron’s strongest opponent. Le Pen said the party needed to learn from its errors and rebrand itself. Her willingness to water down her opposition to the euro lead to the eviction of Florian Philippot, who had been her closest aide since she took over the party in 2011 and an architect of her policy plans.
© Reuters.

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Woman thrown out of Polish church for 'racism is a sin' banner

The protestor's banner quoted John Paul II

14/11/2017- A protestor was thrown out of a Polish church after unfurling a banner which quoted St John Paul II as saying “racism is a sin”. Gabriela Lazarek was protesting at a Mass in Warsaw attended by Catholics participating in a Polish Independence Day march. An estimated 60,000 demonstrators took part in the annual event, marking Poland regaining independence in 1918. According to the Polish newspaper Oœrodek Kontroli Obywatelskiej, the Mass was celebrated by Fr Roman Kneblewski, known for “nationalist” views, and many of those in attendance wore political insignia.

Lazarek said that she had not intended to unfurl the banner inside the church, but that during the homily Fr Kneblewski invoked the teaching of John Paul II, and she was so shocked that she stood up and displayed the banner. At this point, Lazarek claims, several attendees ejected her from the church, shouting, “Get out! Get out of here!” The message on Lazarek’s banner read in full (in English translation): “Racism is a sin that constitutes a serious offence against God” – a quotation from a 2001 Angelus address by John Paul II. Although the march was not specifically organised by the far right, politically extreme slogans were displayed on some banners, such as “Pure Poland, white Poland!”
© The Catholic Herald

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How Poland became a breeding ground for Europe’s far right

14/11/2017- Few countries suffered as much under the Nazis as Poland did during World War II. And yet, more than 70 years later, it has become a center on the continent for the far right — and liberal critics say the government isn’t doing anything about it. In fact, they say, the Polish far right feels increasingly emboldened by what it perceives as governmental recognition. On Saturday, an estimated 60,000 people marched alongside ultranationalists and Nazis to mark the 99th anniversary of Polish independence. As my colleague Avi Selk summarized, some of the protesters carried banners and held up signs that had a clear far-right extremist message, including “Clean Blood,” as seen by Politico and “White Europe,” described by AP. The march was distinct from other European far-right events

European Nazis and members of the far right have co-opted other commemorations and celebrations around Europe in the past, as well. In the eastern German city of Dresden, for example, Nazis march every February to mark the destruction of the city by Allied forces during World War II. Officials usually condemn such marches as a misguided and dangerous form of nationalism that crosses the line into white supremacy and Nazi ideology. In Germany, leading politicians frequently join rallies in protest of the marches, which have taken place for decades. That was not the case during this weekend’s rallies in Warsaw, which initially elicited little government condemnation. The origins of Poland’s “independence march” are fairly recent and date to 2009. The annual event has attracted an increasing number of supporters over the years and is now considered one of the world’s biggest far right marches. It not only draws visitors from other Eastern European countries — where ultranationalist tendencies have become particularly pronounced since the 2015 refugee crisis — but also from Western Europe and the United States.

Liberals allege government support for ultranationalists
Saturday’s march was not organized or officially promoted by the governing right-wing Law and Justice party. Yet, despite the extremist slogans and posters, officials refrained from condemning the march for days, and even publicly voiced support: In a statement on Monday, Poland’s Foreign Ministry defended the march as a largely patriotic event and “a great celebration of Poles,” although the ministry condemned racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic remarks. The interior minister had previously called the rally “a beautiful sight.”  Even if he may have been unaware at the time of some of the posters held up at the rally, he probably must have known who was behind this annual protest. The organizers include anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim radical groups such as the All-Polish Youth and the National-Radical Camp, according to the Associated Press.

Members of the All-Polish Youth movement have had strong ties to the Law and Justice party in the past. In 2006, the former chairman of the movement was named as Poland's vice prime minister. On social media, critics of the government accused the ruling party of trying to silence people opposed to ultranationalism, pointing to the arrests of counterprotesters on Saturday and the possible prosecution of a journalist who read out some of the extremist slogans on live TV. Of the 45 people arrested Saturday, none were far-right extremists. Only anti-fascist demonstrators were detained. “The apparent tolerance shown for these purveyors of hate — and, let’s be clear, that’s exactly what they are — by some Polish government officials is particularly troubling,” Agnieszka Markiewicz, director of the American Jewish Committee's Warsaw office, told the AP.

The European Jewish Congress worried about the “normalization” of such protests and what it deemed an insufficient government response. Polish President Andrzej Duda — who has opposed Law and Justice proposals in the past and is not a member of the party — joined the chorus of critics on Monday, saying that there was no place in Poland for “sick nationalism,” xenophobia, and antisemitism. On Monday evening, the leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, for the first time also acknowledged that some “unfortunate incidents” had taken place during the Saturday march, although he still described the issue as a “marginal problem.”

The rally is only the most public indication of Poland’s turn to the right
The government's stance fits into a broader pattern that has emerged in Poland over the past two years as it has abruptly shifted to the right. The country was still considered a post-communism success story and a “robust” democracy in 2015 when the Law and Justice party swept into power after taking a decidedly anti-immigration stance and glorifying the country’s history, while ignoring its darker aspects. To many observers, the far-right surge remains a mystery, given that Poland was doing well economically compared with other post-communist nations and was increasingly being considered a key member of the European Union and of NATO. Law and Justice may have won on a mandate to stop mass migration — but the refugee influx had affected Poland only marginally and put a much bigger burden on neighboring Germany and Sweden.

Once in office, the Law and Justice party moved swiftly to weaken the opposition and other democratic institutions, such as public television stations and the justice apparatus. Not all of those efforts have succeeded, and the biggest blow to the party came this summer when the Polish president, who is independent of the party, refused to sign a law that would have theoretically allowed the dismissal of all Supreme Court justices. The party has still managed to consolidate its power. More than 100 public TV employees resigned after the channel TVP Info was essentially turned into a government mouthpiece, and the country’s ranking in the Freedom of the Press Index subsequently dropped to “partly free” this year.”

A common enemy: The E.U.
The Law and Justice party has long expressed skepticism or outright hatred for the E.U. as an organization that acts hierarchically above nation states. Like other European right-wing parties, which view the E.U. as a liberal invention designed to weaken nation states and national pride, it has criticized the E.U. as seeking to rob national parliaments of sovereignty. Unlike most other right-wing parties in Europe, however, the more established and mainstream Law and Justice holds government powers. And it has found an E.U. scapegoat well known enough at home to be used as a target: former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, who is the president of the European Council. State media outlets are linking Tusk with the death seven years ago of the brother of Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski. There is no evidence to support the claims, and critics have accused the government of a smear campaign.

An earlier version of this story noted anti-Muslim language on a banner during a neo-Nazi march in Poland, citing a CNN report. CNN later retracted its reporting on the banner’s wording. This version reflects the change.
© The Washington Post..

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Polish Government Condemned Racism but Defended Nationalists

The Polish Foreign Ministry said it condemned the racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic ideas, but insisted that the nationalist march in Warsaw during the weekend was largely an expression of patriotic values, the Associated Press reported.

13/11/2017- The ministry said the march on Independence Day Saturday was a "great celebration of Poles differing in their views but united by the common ideals of freedom and loyalty to the independent state." The march was organized by groups that originated from radical anti-Semitic nationalist movements before the Second World War, AP said. Nearly 60,000 people, including entire families with their children and the elderly, took part in it. But there were also young people who posed posters with messages: "White Europe of Fraternal Nations". Some of them wore a Celtic cross, a symbol of supporters of the idea of ​​superiority to the white race. The Israeli Foreign Ministry described the campaign as "a dangerous manifestation of extremist and racist elements."

Office spokesman Emanuel Nahshon said Israel hopes the Polish authorities will take action against the organizers. "History teaches us that we must act swiftly and resolutely against racist hatred," he said. However, the Polish Foreign Ministry responded that it is not fair to label the campaign based on some "occasional" events. Emphasizing their disapproval of extremism, the ministry recalled that they opposed the visit to Poland to Richard Spencer, the leading American supremacist. Spencer was scheduled to attend a Warsaw conference a day before the march, but the foreign ministry said he was not wanted in the country, AP said.
© AP News

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Extremist-led March in Poland's Capital Draws 60,000 People

12/11/2017- On Nov. 11, 60,000 Poles chose to celebrate Poland’s Independence Day by marching with organizations whose names, symbols and ideology are directly copied from anti-Semitic Polish organizations of the 1930s. The National Radical Camp (ONR) and All-Polish Youth organizations want an ethnically and religiously homogeneous Poland. All white, all Catholic. No Jews, no immigrants. Among the red and white Polish national flags were the green flags of the falanga, ONR’s symbol. And among those green flags were signs that read, “White Europe” and “Clean blood,” according to The Wall Street Journal. One participant told the Polish state television that he was marching, “to remove Jewry from power,” according to reports.

"This is alarming. This extremist rally in Poland's capital has grown in the past few years from hundreds of people to literally thousands," said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League. "What we saw in Charlottesville cannot be viewed in a vacuum. Far-right extremists in Europe are also being emboldened. Like those in the U.S., they believe in 'ethnic purity' and are targeting immigrants, Muslims and Jews as scapegoats." The leaders of the Warsaw march aren't just racist, they're anti-democratic. Robert Bakiewicz, an ONR organizer of the march told BuzzFeed News, “We just think it’s not efficient when everybody’s vote has equal power.” Leaders of far-right extremist parties from Hungary, Italy, and elsewhere in Europe joined. American white supremacist Richard Spencer was expected to attend, since he had been invited to speak at an ideologically similar event the same weekend. The Polish government made clear that Spencer was not welcome in Poland, and he cancelled his visit.

Participation in the annual march has grown from hundreds at the first demonstration in 2009 to perhaps the largest far-right extremist event in Europe today. Rafal Pankowski of the Never Again Association, an ADL partner in Poland and leading expert on far-right extremism, said, "It has become so much easier for people to say things they would never have said openly over the last 25 years.” He also noted that support for the far right is higher among youth than middle-aged and older Poles. ADL's 2014 Global 100 survey revealed that about 45 percent of Poles hold anti-Semitic beliefs, with the figure slightly higher for those 18-34.
© ADL

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Dutch Pegida likened to KKK for smearing pig's blood at mosque site

13/11/2017- Some 14 members of anti-Islamic organization Pegida Nederland held an early Sunday morning protest action against the construction of a mosque, with at least one person accused of dousing the site with pig's blood. A video that the organization posted on Twitter and Facebook shows a man disguised as a priest planting a wooden cross at the mosque site, and then using a toilet brush to splatter the blood on the cross and around the location. Enschede mayor Onno van Veldhuizen wholeheartedly condemned the action of Pegida, which occurred in his town. "Disgusting. This is not our ethics," he said, and compared the group to the Ku Klux Klan. "If you go around so sure of yourself with a cross early in the morning, that link comes to my mind." Van Veldhuizen is now researching whether legal action may be taken against the extremist group.

The Muslim faith does not allow practitioners to come in contact with the flesh or blood of swine because of a perception that it is impure. This is not the first time Pegida causes trouble in Enschede, Overijssel. In September, Pegida held a demonstration in Enschede near the Blijdensteinpark, drawing a counterprotest from the Antifascistische Actie (AFA). Between the march and the protest, 32 people were arrested. In addition to this, last year five men where arrested and sentenced to four years in prison for throwing Molotov cocktails at a mosque in Enschede. The perpetrators wanted to threaten the municipality of Enschede and the Muslim community in order to avoid the development of an asylum seekers' centre.
© The NL Times.

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Czech Rep: Okamura's secretary sends Jews, gays, Roma to gas

11/11/2017- Jaroslav Stanik, a secretary of Tomio Okamura's Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD), said "Jews, homosexuals and gypsies should go to gas" in the Czech Chamber of Deputies, the server Aktualne.cz said on Friday, quoting Labour and Social Affairs Minister Michaela Marksova and other witnesses as saying. The server said Stanik had an argument with Marksova (Social Democrats, CSSD) at one of the restaurant clubs of the lower house two weeks ago. Marksova told the server that when she had come to the club, Stanik, strongly drunk, addressed her as Marxova-Engelsova. He said she supported homosexuals. "He was saying that they should to go to gas and be annihilated," Marksova said, adding that she had a row with Stanik. She said Stanik had been speaking in the same way about Jews and the Roma. The server also quoted other witnesses of the incident. Aktualne.cz informed that a number of deputies had said Stanik had made similar statements earlier, too.

Stanik has denied the allegation, claiming that all of this is "a blatant lie from a desperate political competition." SPD deputy Jaroslav Holik, for whom Stanik works as an assistant, said he did not know about the incident. Holik said if the information were confirmed, he would demand that Stanik apologise. "Saying ‘go to gas’ is very unfortunate. This should be followed by a strict punishment," Holik said. According to the server, Stanik worked with the Communist police in the 1980s. He was a Social Democrat for years, but was expelled from the party in 2012, when he already cooperated with Okamura. As an SPD secretary, he prevented journalists from entering the movement's election headquarters, calling in the police. SPD deputy Tereza Hythova recently said "she had understanding" for the authors of a hateful reaction to a school photo featuring the Roma, Vietnamese and Arab children at a school in Teplice, north Bohemia.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

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Czech Rep: Roma reps condemn Zeman's words, warn of his re-election

11/11/2017- The Roma members of the Czech government council for Roma affairs protest against President Milos Zeman saying that the country's unadaptable inhabitants include 90 percent of Roma people, and call on citizens not to back his re-election in an open letter released on server Romea.cz. "The head of state must not dare to make public statements like that, without any serious background data. In doing so, he denigrates the position of one of the legally-recognised ethnic minorities and feeds the negative views of citizens," they wrote. Zeman mentioned Roma people in his interview with the Barrandov TV on Thursday, while commenting on a U.N. report, which recommends ways for Czechia to improve the human rights situation in the country. The report also calls for a better integration of Roma people in Czech society.

Zeman said it would be of no use to apply a positive discrimination to Romanies, because even positive discrimination is discrimination. Zeman said unadaptable people are those who decline a job offer though they are healthy. "It is probably true that 90 percent of them are Roma. Nevertheless, there may also be 10 percent of white lazybones and we have to approach both [groups] equally. Only if we discriminated against either of the two groups, either positively or negatively, it would amount to human rights violation," Zeman said. The four Roma members of the government council write in their letter that Zeman has been constantly crossing the limits of decency and that his service to the state is poor and counter-productive.

Zeman's TV interview showed his incompetence in the human rights area, they write. They mention the whole government council's July statement on Zeman's words about the liquidation of a pig farm in south Bohemia, which stands on the site of a former wartime Roma concentration camp. Zeman called the planned purchase of the farm by the sate and its removal economically ineffective, since the site would remain unexploited. The council reacted saying that in similar cases, homage to victims stands above pragmatic values. In their latest letter, the Roma representatives say Zeman is campaigning for re-election in the direct presidential polls due in January, and his new statements challenge fundamental human values. "Not only as members of the government council but also as responsible citizens, we are openly calling on voters not to cast their ballots for the incumbent President Zeman. This country needs quite a different kind of personality at its helm," the signatories write.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

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Swedish police break up neo-Nazi demonstration

Members of the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (Nordiska motståndsrörelsen, NMR) gathered in Gothenburg on Saturday afternoon.

11/11/2017- A large number of NMR supporters gathered at the southern parking area of the Liseberg amusement park and began marching towards the centre of the city, Gothenburg Police duty officer Göran Carlbom told TT. The group, numbering around 65 individuals according to police, had not applied for permission to demonstrate. After trying to avoid police, the group was eventually prevented from continuing its march. A total of 16 people were initially detained. “None of them are currently suspected of any offences, with the exception of disturbing the peace, for which a report has been filed,” Carlbom said. In September this year, a large NMR march in Gothenburg – which had been allowed to go ahead by authorities – required heavy police presence and ended in a number of arrests. After that march, a spokesperson for the group suggested future marches would be carried out with out permission.
© The Local - Sweden

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Headlines 10 November, 2017

UN urges Switzerland to fight harder against discrimination and racism

A UN panel on Thursday quizzed a Swiss government delegation about the country’s efforts to improve human rights in the past four years, urging it to work further on combating violence against women, racism, xenophobia and the discrimination of migrants.

10/11/2017- Pascale Baeriswyl of the Swiss foreign affairs department stood before the panel in Geneva to defend Switzerland’s human rights record as part of the UN’s universal periodic review system, a four-yearly process in which every member state must outline what it has done and is still doing to improve human rights. The Swiss government’s plan to establish a national human rights institution – a draft bill for which was opened for consultation earlier this year – was hailed by several UN member states, reported news agencies. An independent body attached to one or more of Switzerland’s higher education institutions, it would serve to protect and promote human rights in the country. However several countries called on Switzerland to work harder to combat racism, xenophobia and intolerance, pointing to the rise of the “extreme right”.

A national plan or even a new law to protect against discrimination, particularly towards migrants, should be considered, said some, a suggestion Baeriswyl rejected, saying current legislation was sufficient. Switzerland was also criticized for not yet adopting the European convention on preventing and combating violence against women, though parliament is currently working towards its ratification. Speaking to the panel Baeriswyl said Switzerland considered itself to have a good level of human rights but that “no country should be complacent” and protecting these rights was a continual process. The review panel will compile a report, due next week, before Switzerland must say which of the panel’s recommendations it agrees to pursue.
© The Local - Switzerland

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Cyprus: Parliament passes anti-Nazi bill

10/11/2017- Parliament on Friday passed a resolution expressing concern over the rise of the far-right, neofascism, and racism, noting that Cyprus has painful experience from fascist activity in the country. The resolution was adopted with 37 votes in favour and two against – both MPs from the far-right party Elam. It highlights the rise of the far-right in the EU and urges Cypriot authorities to monitor a trial involving the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn in Greece to determine whether any criminal offences had been committed in on the island. Ιn September 2013, immediately after the murder of rapper Pavlos Fyssas, Greek authorities arrested the leadership of Golden Dawn, as well as dozens of officials and members, implicated in criminal activities listed in a huge case file. After a nine-month long inquest, the Court of Appeal decided that 69 individuals, including the party’s entire parliamentary group, would stand trial charged with participation in a criminal organisation.

Golden Dawn and Elam have links, with Elam’s chairman and MP, Christos Christou, who served as a bodyguard for the Greek party’s leader Nikolas Michaloliakos in the past.
The resolution, submitted by main opposition Akel, said the financial crisis and the widening of inequality paved the way for the forces of far-right populism and neo-fascism.
Parliament ‘strongly condemns the existence and activity of neo-fascist and neo-Nazi movements in Europe’ as ‘an insult to the history of the continent and the millions of victims of the Second World War’. “We do not wish to engage in a perpetual theoretical discussion about the political present, nor do we claim the monopoly on interpreting the past,” said ruling Disy MP Nicos Tornaritis. The Democratic Rally, he said, has fought battles from the first day of its existence to establish a modern and fundamental democracy in political life and its objective is to defend fundamental individual rights and freedoms.

Akel MP Giorgos Loukaides said the resolution was necessary at a time when Nazi and fascist parties were entered parliament and promulgating hate, racism, fear and bigotry.
“If Europe and the entire humankind continue to exist today is because in the historic confrontation of World War II, the peoples of the world crushed Nazism and Hitlero-fascism,” he said. “It is necessary to take a stance as a parliament because we live in a country that sees the results of fascism illuminated on Pentadaktylos (mountain) every day,” he added, referring to the painted Turkish flag, a result of the 1974 invasion that followed a coup to overthrow president Makarios. Diko said the party had never shared such ‘shameful convictions’ while Edek praised the party co-operation in drafting the resolution. “Unfortunately, the Greek junta destroyed our country in the name of Christian faith, family, and the nation, under the cover of the honoured Greek flag,” Edek MP Costis Efstathiou said.

The leader of Elam said there was a deliberate attempt to equate Nazism, fascism, and racism with patriotism and nationalism. “In the days when one revelation follows another, the days when one scandal follows another, Akel opts to occupy the plenum with the so-called rise of the far-right in Europe,” he said. Christou condemned Nazi and fascist crimes and stressed that despite what they were charged with, Elam was not nostalgic for Hitler. He said Europe was not at risk from the rise of the far-right but from austerity, adding that a lot of crimes had been committed in Cyprus but not by the Golden Dawn.
© The Cyprus Mail

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Polish far-right march goes global, drawing people from afar

10/11/2017- Fascists and other far-right extremists are set to assemble Saturday in Warsaw for a march that has become one of the largest gatherings in Europe and perhaps beyond for increasingly emboldened white supremacists. The march held on Poland’s Nov. 11 Independence Day holiday has drawn tens of thousands of participants in recent years. Extremists from Sweden, Hungary, Slovakia and elsewhere now join Polish nationalists in a public display of xenophobic and white supremacist views since the event began on a much smaller scale in 2009. The slogan for this year’s event is “We Want God,” words from an old religious Polish song that President Donald Trump quoted in July while visiting Warsaw. Trump praised Poland for what he described as the country’s defense of Western civilization.

Rafal Pankowski, head of the anti-extremist association Never Again, says that despite the reference to God, the march shouldn’t be viewed as inspired by religious beliefs. Far-right “neo-pagans” plan to take part along with Roman Catholic groups. “We know that Donald Trump is not the most religious man, and I think that most of the organizers are not very religious, either,” Pankowski, a sociologist, said. “But they use Christianity as a kind of identity marker, which is mostly about being anti-Islam now.” The Warsaw march has grown so large it might be the world’s biggest assembly of far-right extremists, he said. The organizers include the National-Radical Camp, the National Movement and the All Polish Youth, radical groups that trace their roots to anti-Semitic groups active before World War II. In a sign of the rally’s international reach.

American white supremacist Richard Spencer was scheduled to speak at a conference in Warsaw on Friday — until the Polish government said Spencer wasn’t welcome in the country. The far-right conference still is being held. The emergence of Central Europe as a crucible for neo-fascism carries a number of paradoxes. The region, once stuck behind the Iron Curtain, has seen impressive economic growth since Poland, Hungary and other countries threw off communism, embraced capitalism and joined the European Union and NATO.  Few of the Muslim refugees and migrants who have arrived in Europe since 2015 have sought to settle in that part of the continent, preferring Germany and other richer countries in the West. Nonetheless, anti-migrant views run high.

Political scientist Miroslav Mares, an expert on extremism at Masaryk University in the Czech Republic, said Central Europeans hear about attacks by Islamic extremists in France, Germany and England and fear that “beyond the borders is a state of chaos and war” that could envelop them. While extremist movements often thrive during hard times, the quality of life is better than ever now in a region that has known wars, occupation and oppression. “Central Europe is living the happiest time in its history,” said Grigorij Meseznikov, president of the Institute for Public Affairs, a think tank in Slovakia. “Never was life in this region as prosperous as it is today.” But like others in the era of globalization, many people feel frustrated that the improving economy hasn’t benefited them. There are complaints that wages remain much lower than in the West while inequality has grown since the end of communism.

“If you look at Slovakia, the situation 25 years ago was much worse. There was high inflation and unemployment higher than 20 percent, yet we didn’t have a fascist party in the parliament,” Meseznikov said. “Today, we really have a functioning economy, low inflation, declining unemployment; we are in the EU and NATO. ... And nevertheless there are fascists in the parliament.” Mares thinks a lot of the disappointment stems from a tendency by Czechs and their neighbors to compare their financial situations to those of Germans and others in the West, rather than looking east to much poorer Belarus and Ukraine and feeling encouraged by how far they have come. The frustrations, combined with a souring mood toward established elites, have helped far-right parties in recent elections in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. In Poland and Hungary, right-wing governments promote tough anti-migrant policies and historical whitewashing to glorify their nations.

Meseznikov also sees Russia’s encouragement of anti-European Union and anti-American views that spread on social networks as part of a “toxic mixture” behind the growth of the far-right. It could be years before the tide ebbs and reverses, according to Pankowski, the Polish expert. Sociological data show that the generation of Poles that only has known democracy is more prone to xenophobic and far-right nationalism than their parents’ generation, with younger Poles paradoxically “turning their backs on democratic values,” he said. “I think many of them will keep those far-right views inside them for decades to come,” Pankowski said. “It’s not an issue that will disappear.”
© AP News

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Anti-Racists Face the Courts in Poland

A member of the anti-racist ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association, Anna Tatar will have to defend herself in court because of critical statements she made about an extreme-right music festival.

7/11/2017- The organizers of the Eagle’s Nest festival allege a criminal offence of defamation. The proceedings were commenced in the Kielce District Court and in October 2017 they were transferred to the Regional Court for Warsaw. The maximum possible punishment for the offence is a one-year prison sentence. The case arose out of an interview which Ms Tatar gave in the mainstream internet news portal Onet.pl in 2016. She stated that ‘during The Eagle’s Nest festival fascist ideas are promoted and such events must not take place in Poland.’

The Eagle’s Nest festival has taken place in Poland annually since 2013. The participants include both Polish and foreign bands but the common thread between their repertoires is racial hatred. Some of the groups have been affiliated to the international neo-nazi network Blood and Honour. They have included All Bandits, Nordica, Stalag and Obled (previously known as Konkwista 88). The last band has a song about fighting ‘for blood and honour, for white pride and the Celtic cross.’ Similar sentiments appear in their song ‘The White Violets’ where the lyrics are: ‘We shall not allow the spoiling of our pure blood, we are the Slavic power.’ The documented responses to such songs from the festival audience include frequent Sieg Heil salutes. Dr Anna Tatar has been a long-term co-editor of the ‘NEVER AGAIN’ magazine. She authored a PhD thesis at Warsaw University in the field of Holocaust literature on the subject of ‘The Polish-Jewish relations in the works of Hanna Krall.’

The court action against Anna Tatar is not the only one. Leszek Scioch, an active member of ‘NEVER AGAIN’, also protested against the public expressions of neo-fascist ideology and has been accused of breaking the law recently. On 15 August 2017 in Warsaw he took part in a peaceful protest against the march organized by the extremist groups, All-Polish Youth (Mlodziez Wszechpolska, MW) and the National-Radical Camp (Oboz Narodowo-Radykalny, ONR). Mr Scioch was in a group of people who sat in the middle of Nowy Swiat Street in Warsaw along which the march was proceeding. The police forcibly removed them and a few weeks later he was called to the police station and charged with the offence of ‘preventing a lawful demonstration celebrating the victory of the Polish soldiers over the Red Army.’ In his opinion this description of the events is a gross misrepresentation of what happened. He pleaded ‘not-guilty’ and is now awaiting trial.

Another ‘NEVER AGAIN’ activist, Rafal Maszkowski, participated on 29 April 2017 in a protest against the demonstration commemorating the anniversary of the establishment of the fascist National-Radical Camp in 1934. The ONR members were marching on the streets of the Polish capital shouting slogans such as ‘Death to the enemies of the Fatherland’, ‘No Islam, terrorists, Muslims in our country’ and ‘The white warriors are coming.’ Mr Maszkowski joined a group of people sitting in the street and holding hands in front of the march. As he recalls: ‘the police forcibly removed us one by one and carried us to a fenced off area. However, the officers took no action against the marching fascists.’

- ‘The activities of the extreme right in Poland are getting more and more bold and ostentatious. The musical festivals and marches which they organize allegedly to celebrate various national holidays are but an umbrella for the rallies of neo-nazis from all over Europe. It is depressing to see that the anti-racist activists are facing consequences in the courts’ – said Anna Tatar. Despite the pressure, the activities of the ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association do not cease or diminish. In the autumn of 2017, ‘NEVER AGAIN’ protested against the planned visit of Richard Spencer, a US ‘alt-right’ leader who had been expecting to take part in the 11 November Independence Day celebrations in Warsaw.

The ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association is an independent organization established in Warsaw in 1996. The mission of the ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association is to promote multicultural understanding and to contribute to the development of a democratic civil society in Poland and in the broader region of Central and Eastern Europe. It received personal endorsements from figures such as Jan Karski, Simon Wiesenthal and US President Barack Obama, among others.
© NEVER AGAIN Association*

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Austria's far-right picks different flower for parliament's opening session

A different lapel flower worn by the far-right at the opening of Austria’s new parliament hasn't gone unnoticed. FPÖ members wore edelweiss while denying that their past displays of blue cornflowers had Nazi overtones.

9/11/2017- Flowers worn traditionally in jacket lapels at Austrian parliamentary openings got special attention Thursday when the Freedom Party of Austria's (FPÖ) 51 deputies — enlarged from 38 — sported edelweiss, the national flower featured in the 1965 hit movie "The Sound of Music." Outside, 200 protesters carried placards warning "Fascism wears many colors,” alluding to the FPÖ's displays of cornflowers at previous events, such as at parliament's opening in 2013. The edelweiss stood for "bravery and love" said FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache, who told parliament Thursday that it was time to "fill trenches and build bridges." The conciliatory gestures from the strident anti-immigration party came as Strache was tipped to become deputy premier alongside a future chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who leads 62 Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) conservatives in the new assembly.

Simply botantics?
Strache's botanical explanation had previously drawn a riposte from University of Vienna historian Oliver Rathkolb, an expert on Nazi crimes, who told Austria's Kurier newspaper in May last year that the FPÖ's benign claim was simply false. "The cornflower was quite clearly a symbol of the anti-Semitic Schönerer Movement and served in the 30s among outlawed Nazis as a sign of recognition," said Rathkolb, referring to a ban on Nazis applied in Austria until it was annexed by Hitler in 1938.

Hitler's 'intellectual father'
Georg von Schönerer was an Austrian squire who was described by German-born American theorist Hannah Arendt as Austrian-born Hitler's "intellectual father" in her 1951 publication "The Origins of Totalitarianism." Schönerer, an Austrian pan-German nationalist who died in 1921 and is buried near Hamburg, is still listed as a "radical anti-Semite" by Hamburg city-state which keeps watch on present-day adherents in Germany's ultraconservative fraternities or Burschenschaften. Rathkolb also dismissed past FPÖ explanations that the cornflower dated back to revolutionary European freedom movements of the mid-19th century, telling the Kurier that the wearing of Centaurea cyanus had for the far-right long been a provocative semantic code for "greater German, anti-Semitic, anti-clerical and anti-liberal" rhetoric.

Carnations and cacti
Red carnations were Thursday's buttonhole attire for the Social Democrats (SPÖ), whose lineup was reduced to 52 deputies in Austria's October 15 election. The ÖVP's Kurz wore a white rose. Liberals of the Neos party put cacti on their lecterns, signaling their intention to be a "thorn in the side" of bigger parties.

Newcomer becomes speaker
Elected as the lower parliamentary chamber's youngest-ever president or speaker was Elisabeth Köstinger, 38, the ÖVP's executive manager. She received only 117 of 175 valid votes. Her nomination was criticized by the SPÖ, other leftists and liberals on the grounds that she has never served in parliament and the ÖVP had not ruled out that she might soon switch to a ministerial cabinet post. Almost half of Austria's 183 parliamentarians are new to parliament. Kurz, who is currently Austria's foreign minister, and the far-right's Strache, plan to complete their coalition negotiations by December.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Swedish police given extra funds to tackle extremism ahead of 2018 election

Sweden's police and security service will intensify their efforts to crack down on violent extremist groups before the country holds its general election next year.

9/11/2017- The Swedish government on Wednesday decided on details for an operation by the police authority and security police (Säpo) aimed at tackling politically motivated crime. Justice Minister Morgan Johansson has previously called for such efforts to be strengthened in the run-up the 2018 election. Speaking to Sveriges Radio Ekot, Johansson said that during the election campaign, "as political intensity increases, there is also the risk that more violent individuals could try to use different opportunities to attack politicians or to go to large public gatherings". Extremist right-wing groups have become more visible in public over the past year, with neo-Nazi group Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) in attendance at this year's Almedalen week, the country's biggest political festival, for the first time.

Johansson noted that some members of the group, which held a demonstration in Gothenburg in September, own weapons and have previously committed crimes. And the government expects left-wing extremists to become more visible in the run-up to the election too. The risks posed by these groups include the spread of propaganda and disinformation as well as violence and harassment. As part of the new operation, police will intensify their surveillance of extremist groups and work on a clear plan for security during the election campaign, thanks to more money and resources provided by the government.
© The Local - Sweden

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Finland: Neo-Nazi leader sentenced to prison for football stadium assault

Jesse Torniainen, co-founder of a neo-Nazi group, has been sentenced to 50 days in prison for attacking security staff at a Tampere stadium. Torniainen was previously convicted for an attack that led to a man's death during a far-right event in Helsinki last year.

8/11/2017- A district court in Tampere has handed down prison sentences to four supporters of the HIFK football club for their roles in a brawl at a match in May 2015. Three of the men received suspended sentences while the fourth, a neo-Nazi with a violent criminal record, was sentenced to 50 days in prison. Pirkanmaa District Court handed down its ruling on the case on Wednesday. It stems from a match between Helsinki's HIFK and local side Ilves at Tampere's Tammela Stadium in mid-May 2015. The defendants were convicted of attacking three security guards at the stadium, including punching them, pushing them to the ground and kicking them. The guards were seriously injured.

Long string of assaults
Sentenced to 50 days in prison was Jesse Torniainen, co-founder of the neo-Nazi group SVL. The court took his criminal record into account in the sentencing. Torniainen, 27, has previously been convicted of involvement in the death of a man he attacked during a far-right event outside Helsinki Railway Station in September 2016, as well as leading a mid-2015 neo-Nazi riot in Jyväskylä. He has a long string of other assaults and weapons convictions, including one for stabbing an immigrant in 2008. Last December, Helsinki District Court sentenced Torniainen to two years in prison for the 2016 Helsinki assault, but that case is still wending its way through the legal process.

3 of 4 had criminal records
The others involved in the Tampere football melee received suspended sentences of 3-4 months. Two of the defendants denied all charges, while the other two admitted to some of them. The prosecutor had sought prison terms for three of them, as they had criminal records. The sentences will not be implemented immediately as the defendants still have the right to appeal the decisions. Two other men still face trial over the attacks at the Tammela stadium.
© YLE News.

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A Finnish CEO with alleged neo-Nazi ties is in an ocean of hot water

Juha Kärkkäinen is an unusual Finnish CEO in more ways than one.

7/11/2017- Having started his retail chain J. Kärkkäinen in 1988 by initially selling out of cars, he went on to achieve unprecedented success. Today, J. Kärkkäinen is the 4th largest discount retailer in Finland with multiple locations and annual revenues of €171 million euros. The Finnish entrepreneur’s life took on a new course in 2006-2007, during a sabbatical he spent travelling around the United States. As Kärkkäinen would later reveal during court proceedings, he got to know “a person who explained to him the ownership structure of the World Bank”. Kärkkäinen returned to Finland a markedly changed man, having developed extreme right-leaning political opinions, reported the national newspaper Helsingin Sanomat.

Entrepreneur turned right-wing activist
In the decade following the trip, his involvement with the extreme right Magneettimedia magazine earned him a reputation of being a neo-Nazi sympathizer; a reputation he has done little to shake off so far. As owner and editor-in-chief of Magneettimedia, in 2013 Kärkkäinen was convicted and fined in conjunction with publishing anti-Semitic articles (on a circle of “rapist rabbis”; an article which Magneettimedia claims is lawful to this day). During his appeal in 2014, Kärkkäinen asked Juuso Tahvanainen, a known neo-Nazi leadership figure to testify in his defense. After the court of appeals was unmoved by the petition and the upheld the conviction, Kärkkäinen gave up control of the publication to a neo-Nazi group called Nordic Resistance Movement. Today, Magneettimedia goes under the name of KauppaSuomi, and has a circulation of around 270 000. The Finnish neo-Nazi movement became a hot topic in late 2016 after the violent death of a passerby during a Finnish Resistance Movement demonstration in Helsinki. After Helsingin Sanomat published a report detailing the long-running ties of Juha Kärkkäinen to the Nordic Resistance Movement, public condemnations picked up steam. The National Police Board recently initiated court proceedings aimed at banning the organization entirely.

Major Finnish brands pulling out
For many years his right-wing ties had limited effect on his business. Until now. Throughout 2015, Kärkkäinen’s neo-Nazi ties faced pushback with several major Finnish brands ending their Kärkkäinen’s retail chain; among them Finlayson, a major textile manufacturer and Otava, one of the largest Finnish book publishers. As things stand, Finland’s biggest confectionary brand, Fazer, says it’s in discussions with J. Kärkkäinen and that it may terminate co-operation unless senior management reviews its principles regarding ethics and human dignity. Consumer goods heavyweight Fiskars and clothing company Joutsen have expressed similar requirements. The strongest response so far has come from Helkama, a Finnish company best known for their bicycles and home appliances: “At this point I can say we’re indeed considering it seriously and will very likely end the co-operation” said director of operations Tero Valtonen. “Helkama as a traditional family-owned business naturally does not tolerate discrimination, intimidation or any kind of extremist thinking and wants absolutely nothing to with such activities.” Juha Kärkkäinen himself claims to be the target of a smear campaign. He is refusing interview requests from mass media outlets, saying he gist of the issue is “differences of opinion” between him and the editors-in-chiefs of Helsingin Sanomat.
© The Nordic Business Insider

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Spain: Muslim women kicked out of swimming pool for wearing burkinis

Incident is being presented to Granada town council as "possible Islamophobic hate crime".

7/11/2017- Two Muslim women were kicked out of a public swimming pool in Granada because they were wearing burkinis, according to Spanish media. The women were swimming with their children when they were told by a pool attendant to leave "because of the type of swimwear they were wearing", Spanish newspaper El Pais reported. The incident took place at the Centro Deportivo Municipal Periodista Antonio Prieto in Granada on Sunday (5 November). Jemí Sánchez, Councilor for Social Rights of the City of Granada, told El Pais that the attitude of the attendant was "totally contrary to municipal norms". The burkini is banned in some parts of Spain, but not in Granada. Sánchez said that as soon she learned of the incident she contacted Inacua, the company responsible for the management of the sports centre.

A spokesperson for the company confirmed an incident had taken place and that the "two women were actually dressed in street clothes and that's how they were bathing". But Francisco Fernández Caparrós of the Association for Human Rights of Granada (APDH) said that the "girls were in swimsuits and not in street clothes". She called on Inacua to apologise and promise that "no other discriminatory episode would take place at a municipal swimming pool in future". "We could be facing an Islamophobic hate crime and a possible sanction for the company," said Sánchez, who is presenting the matter to the town council. A witness said the women announced that they would file a complaint following their expulsion from the pool.

Last year, several places in France banned women from wearing burkinis at the beach. The ban was suspended after France's highest administrative court ruled that it was illegal and violated women's fundamental liberties. In August, two British women were ordered to remove their burkinis while swimming in a private pool in Albufeira, Portugal.
© The International Business Times - UK

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The Netherlands still struggles with Zwarte Piet stereotype

With 11 days to go before the official ‘arrival’ of Sinterklaas in the Netherlands, his controversial helper Zwarte Piet is once again centre stage.

7/11/2017- According to research by the AD, most local councils are planning to stick to the traditional black or brown-faced pieten and just 17 will include pieten with sooty faces in their parades. Zwarte Piet is traditionally played by a white person in blackface makeup but over the years protests against the racist stereotype have been growing, culminating in demonstrations and scores of arrests. Dutch celebrities, including actors who have played Zwarte Piet, have also called for change. Now in some towns and cities, the blackface pieten are being replaced by other versions, including pieten with different coloured makeup and sooty smudges to show they have been down chimneys to deliver gifts. Amsterdam has said it will move further away from the stereotyped blackface make-up and page attire at its official Sinterklaas parade on November 19. In the capital, Sint Nicholas will be accompanied by almost 400 pieten with long, wavy brown hair and costumes based on the clothes of 16th century Spanish noblemen. Their outfits will also sport the three Andreas crosses to denote Amsterdam. The result is ‘a way to celebrate what is the best children’s event in the world in a manner that is acceptable to all,’ the organisers said.

Traditional
Many of the parade organisers told the AD that Zwart Piet is not an issue in their communities and that some sponsors have asked specifically for ‘traditional’ pieten. The organisers of this year’s official welcome of Sinterklaas, which will take place in Dokkum on December 18, have kept mum about what the pieten will look like this year, as has Dokkum council. Public broadcaster NTR which broadcasts the traditional children’s show Sinterklaas journaal, has already said that last year’s multi-coloured ‘rainbow pieten’ will not be making a comeback but has not revealed any more details.

Multi-coloured
Sooty pieten will be part of the parade in The Hague but Rotterdam has not yet said what its plans are. Amstelveen‘s local Sinterklaas committee has resigned en masse after the city council said it wanted multi-coloured pieten to join the event. Utrecht will have a mixture of traditional and new-style pieten, but next year the blackface piet will disappear entirely, the AD reported. A confidential survey by the social affairs ministry last year found that 21% of the Dutch back changing the appearance of Sinterklaas’s controversial helper. Of the native Dutch, 18% now support change, compared with 43% of people with an Antillean or Surinamese background, the report said. Sinterklaas was first given a black page in a book called Sinterklaas and his Servant published in 1850 by school teacher Jan Schenkman. Schenkman also established that Sinterklaas lived in Spain and came to the Netherlands by steam ship.
© The Dutch News

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EU needs to fund resilience against far-right surge (opinion)

By Israel Butler

7/11/2017- The German, Austrian and Czech elections have shattered the illusions of commentators who confidently announced the end of Europe’s right-wing populist surge following the performance of Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders. The EU appears powerless to halt the rise of the far right. It has failed miserably to deter the governments of Poland and Hungary from trashing the laws and institutions protecting the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights. But there is still hope. The EU can borrow from its foreign policy and fund NGOs to build support for its fundamental values among the general population. Since 2013, the European Commission, Council and Parliament have struggled to create new procedures designed to protect the EU’s fundamental values. Efforts to create strong mechanisms have met with political resistance. Governments do not want to submit to closer monitoring that could lead to political or financial sanctions for breaching standards of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights.

Despite their reluctance to submit to closer political supervision, a majority of EU governments still seem to support the Union’s fundamental values. What they don’t seem to grasp is that there are other options available to defend their values. If they don’t explore other possibilities soon, progressive governments will end up in a powerless minority, outmanoeuvred by the zombie of right-wing populism chomping its way through the EU. Of course, monitoring and sanctions are important tools for persuading governments that they should stick to the rules. But they can only be part of the answer. Ruling parties and coalition partners with far-right agendas are coming to and staying in power because they have sufficient public support. For a politician in a (nominally) democratic system, votes at home are more important than political pressure abroad. When unravelling democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights can make you popular with voters, why should you care about condemnation abroad? Especially if that condemnation is as hollow as what the EU has managed to mobilise towards the Hungarian and Polish governments.

The problem is not that autocracies are overthrowing democracies. The problem is that democracies are self destructing and electing autocrats. A significant proportion of the voting public has been duped into believing that pluralist democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law are jeopardising their safety, prosperity and cultural identity. This is partly aided by Europe’s media. The financial model supporting independent media is broken. Oligarchs with political agendas have bought up media outlets to push their own (often far-right, xenophobic and nationalistic) political agendas. And to survive economically, much of the media is obliged to resort to sensationalist fear-mongering to make money.

But part of the problem is that when faced with far-right messages, much of the public has no conception of what democracy, the rule of law or fundamental rights even are, never mind why they are important. There is little resilience to anti-rights rhetoric among a large part of the population. Governments don’t teach these values in schools, perhaps because empowered citizens are troublesome. NGOs in Europe haven’t engaged in much public education either. Partly because of scant resources, and partly because only recently have they been faced with mainstream media and politicians trying to pit the population against their own rights.

The EU needs to help ‘sell’ fundamental values to Europe’s population so that attacking rights and democracy is no longer a vote-winner. The Union has ample experience of this in its foreign relations. Any country preparing to join the EU sees Union funding pumped into supporting NGOs that promote rights, democracy and the rule of law, and funding to support independent media. All the EU needs to do is copy these models inside its member states.

At the moment, NGOs working on rights, democracy and the rule of law inside the EU are treated rather like sub-contractors helping the Commission implement EU law. There are three major problems. First, funding for national NGOs tends to be for (short term) projects. There is no money for larger grants to fund the general running of NGOs, which would give them the stability they need to attract and retain staff and do their job instead of scrambling around for the next cheque. Second, disproportionate administrative burdens, the requirement for NGOs applying for funding to partner up with NGOs from other countries, and to find other sources of funding to match EU money make EU funding as attractive a prospect as a hot date with a cactus. Third, the kinds of projects funded by the Commission don’t include money for litigation or public education about rights and democracy. It’s mostly training, research or exchanges of good practice for the benefit of civil servants, lawyers or judges. Awareness-raising projects tend to be confined to informing the public about how to use specific pieces of EU law.

As politicians start work on the EU’s next seven-year budget, they have the chance to create a fund to support democracy in the EU. This fund could give long-term support to NGOs with the purpose of increasing public understanding of and support for the values that Europe carved into law in the 1950s to avoid a repetition of World War II. Until rights, democracy and the rule of law gain popular support, the far-right surge will continue.
Israel Butler is the head of advocacy at the Civil Liberties Union for Europe.
© EuroActiv

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Germans reminded to never forget at Kristallnacht events

Germans are commemorating the 79th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Nazi-inspired nationwide pogrom against Jews. Politicians in Berlin are hoping to rebuild a synagogue on the spot where Germans destroyed it in 1938.

9/11/2017- On Thursday, November 9, Germans reflected on Kristallnacht, the 1938 pogrom against Jews that preceded the Holocaust, leaving more than 90 people dead, and reducing residences, synagogues and businesses to piles of ash and broken glass. Politicians across the spectrum and across the country reminded their fellow Germans that Kristallnacht and the events that followed it must never be repeated. From engraved stones nationwide marking homes where Jews lived before they were deported and often killed to the 19,000-square-meter (4.7-acre) Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, Germany makes a clear effort to never forget. However, as a far-right party whose members have been critical of such displays prepares to cast its first votes in the Bundestag, academics and activists are calling on Germans to remain vigilant.

"Commemoration alone is not enough," said Meron Mendel, who directs a Frankfurt center dedicated to Anne Frank, the Jewish teenager murdered by the Nazis. Despite efforts to honor the Holocaust's victims, he said, "anti-Semitism is a consistent problem in Germany." Elsewhere, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke with Holocaust survivors about anti-Semitism and the far-right resurgence. In Munich, where a European Holocaust research center will soon open, Mayor Dieter Reiter was on hand at an event as names of the city's victims of Nazi violence were read aloud.

Remember — and rebuild
Raed Saleh, who leads the Social Democrats on Berlin's city-state council, said the capital should reconstruct a synagogue that was established in 1916, nearly destroyed during Kristallnacht and never restored. Most of the original building was finally demolished in the 1950s, but congregants continue to meet for religious services in a wing that remained standing. According to the Jewish Community of Berlin, the space would include a secular preschool and facilities for interfaith events. Saleh is seeking federal, municipal, foundational, and private support for the project, which could take several years and would cost at least €28 million ($32.5 million), according to early estimates. He said restoring the synagogue would be a "sign of the revival of Jewish life in Berlin," but added that he and members of the community would be open to another space within the city. Berlin Mayor Michael Müller, a fellow Social Democrat and frequent rival of Saleh's, found common cause with the council president on Thursday. "Anti-Semitism and racism have no place in our land," he said.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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We are the people! How the German far-right repackaged unification (opinion)

By Morgan Meaker

9/11/2017- ‘Wir sind das Volk’ – ‘We are the people’ – has become the slogan of Germany’s disaffected. The phrase is the rallying cry of Pegida, the country’s anti-Islam protest movement. At one of the group’s first rallies in Dresden, back in 2014, it was taken up as a popular protest chant. In the disenfranchised east, it is a phrase which has gained currency since then, with Pegida and Alternative for Germany (AFD) keen to use it to exploit the widespread feeling of dislocation from central government and ‘Wessis’ (west Germans), who continue to be richer than their eastern neighbours. A recent government report found that, in the east, GDP proportionally was 66 per cent that in the west; and eastern unemployment remained over four per cent higher. Germany is a nation divided, and September’s election reflected this division at the ballot box.

While the AFD scored 12.6 per cent nationally, in Saxony that number rocketed to 27 per cent. In an area of the country that has traditionally been home to few foreigners, both the AFD and Pegida succeeded in pinning the blame for the feeling of dislocation on newly-arrived refugees. Yet this political upheaval rests on a borrowed catchphrase. ‘We are the people’ was popularised by Saxony’s re-unification movement of the 1980s – when East Germans would gather in their thousands to demand the freedom to travel, free elections and an end to the communist regime. Beginning in Leipzig, these were the protests that eventually sparked the momentum to pull down the Berlin wall in November 1989.

Today – exactly 28 years after the fall of the Berlin wall – many in Germany feel as if old barriers are being resurrected. Last month, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned of new ‘walls that stand in the way of a unified ‘we’. Although Germany’s economy – Europe’s largest – has its lowest unemployment rate since re-unification, the far-right repeatedly warn that jobs are under threat from outsiders. By pairing these threats with soundbites from the eighties, they have recreated the narrative of a state against its people. Paul Betts, a professor of modern German history at Oxford University, says Pegida is resurrecting this old slogan for cynical reasons. The party ‘is clearly using ‘Wir sind das Volk’, as a cloak of legitimacy,’ he says. ‘That particular phrase has a lot of resonance for people in former east Germany…. In the hands of Pegida, the term ‘Volk’ [people] has become dangerously ‘Völkish’ [ethnic].”

For Pegida, the repackaging of reunification goes beyond language; the group also holds demonstrations in Dresden every Monday – echoing the Monday meetings in Leipzig that happened each week in the autumn of 1989. While some phrases from the eighties are re-used word for word, others are re-moulded to fit their new purpose. At a recent election rally in Brandenburg an der Havel, also part of former East Germany, supporters of the Neo-Nazi NPD party waved a banner in the direction of Chancellor Angela Merkel. In the eighties, they chanted, ‘The wall has to go’; this time, the Chancellor – who launched Germany’s 2015 open door refugee policy – was the new target: ‘Merkel muss Weg’ – ‘Merkel has to go’ – the banner read.

The aims of the two movements might be fundamentally different – the reunification movement of the eighties preached integration, while today’s German populism calls for greater isolation – but their roots are the same. Both spring from a dissatisfaction with the status quo and respond with a bid to liberate their supporters from the current system. East Germans in the 80s tried to claim their freedom by pulling down the Berlin wall. Nearly 30 years later, the country’s populists are attempting to replace it with new divisions with the help of old catchphrases.
© The Spectator - Coffee House blog

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Germany: Holocaust memorials stolen from Berlin sidewalks

6/11/2017- Police in Berlin were investigating the theft of several small memorials embedded in sidewalks that pay tribute to victims of the Holocaust. Residents of the central Berlin district of Neukoelln alerted police to the crime on Monday, with several streets affected. No clues have yet been identified to help nail the alleged thieves. The gold-coloured, cobblestone-sized monuments called "stolpersteine" (or stumbling stones) are laid into the pavement in front of the last known residence of a Nazi victim. The name, birth date and fate of the person (where such information is available) is inscribed on the block, which sits just above the regular street level. More than 60 000 of the memorials can be found across Germany and Europe. Many descendants of Holocaust victims visit the stones to honour their relatives. Nazi Germany murdered 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, along with homosexuals, Roma gypsies, disabled people, political opponents and other "dissidents".
© DPA

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UN report for Czech Rep. to improve Roma integration

6/11/2017- United Nations (UN) member states recommended in Monday's periodic report assessing the human rights situation in the Czech Republic that the country improve Roma integration, tackle racism, xenophobia and islamophobia, and continue seeking gender equality. A number of UN countries commended the Czech Republic for its progress in integrating handicapped children into the educational system and for achieving agreement on the purchase of a pig farm in Lety, south Bohemia, built on a former Roma concentration camp site. At the same time, the countries recommended that the Czech Republic provide more funds and staff in support of the inclusion in education policy.

Belgium said the Czech Republic still segregates Roma children, and China even said discrimination against the Roma minority is "systematic" in the Czech Republic. Several countries recommended that the Czech Republic increase its efforts to prevent hate crime and the allegedly growing racism and xenophobia. Some of them said particularly prejudice against asylum seekers and minorities' members, especially the Roma, had to be fought. A number of Muslim countries including Turkey, Indonesia and Iran, said the country should fight islamophobia, which they believed was increasing, using public education among other means. Israel recommended the continuation of the recently ended Czech governmental campaign against hatred through another project.

The country also received recommendations on dealing with gender equality, domestic violence and jammed prisons. Some countries called on the Czech Republic to compensate Roma women for involuntary sterilisations performed on them during the Communist period. The assessment report is issued every four and a half years for all 193 UN member states. The situation is assessed by the other states and NGOs. Martina Stepankova, head of the Czech UN delegation, said the country received 136 recommendations in 2013, of which it has met 129. The new recommendations are to be officially published on November 10.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

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Romani Man Wins European Judgement Against Hungary in Police Brutality Case

6/11/2017- The European Court of Human Rights has ruled in favour of a Romani man who was the victim of police brutality in 2010 in Hungary. The ERRC intervened in his case brought by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) to the international court for violations relating to his ill-treatment, discrimination, and the authorities failure to consider racist motivation in their investigation of the incident. The Romani man was arrested on suspicion of carrying stolen goods while driving his car, and taken to a local police station for questioning. According to his testimony, for the next four hours six police officers and two security guards attempted to coerce a confession from him by beating him and whipping the soles of his feet with a thin piece of wood.The man was told by one of the officers that it would not matter if he died as that would mean “one less Gypsy”.

He was forced to sign a document stating that he had been questioned for about 40 minutes and was admitting to three counts of theft, before being released. That evening he was treated in two hospitals which issued reports detailing his numerous injuries, including bruising, abrasions, contusions and swollen hands, arms and feet. After his criminal complaint was dismissed by authorities, and his legal case in domestic courts was dropped, the HCLU took his case to the European Court of Human Rights. The ERRC intervened in his case and submitted written comments to help the European Court in administering justice for the victim. We argued that this case must be seen through the lens of antigypsyism in Hungary, evidenced by an increase in anti-Roma rhetoric, racism and physical violence against Roma in recent years. We maintain that vulnerable victims of racially-motivated violence are unlikely to be able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that they have been subjected to discrimination, particularly when they are also victims of a failure on the part of domestic authorities to carry out an effective, impartial investigation.

The European Court agreed that the Romani man’s human rights were violated through his ill-treatment, and through the authorities’ discriminatory practice of failing to take racist motivation into account during the investigation. However, the court did not find his beating and torture by police officers to be discriminatory in nature. The Romani man was awarded 10,000 EUR in damages as well as well as 4,724 EUR in costs and expenses. “I am glad that he has finally been granted some justice by the court, but disappointed that they didn’t see this man’s four hour ordeal at the hands of racist police officers - who explicitly referenced his ethnicity - to be racially motivated. Racist violence is a direct expression of antigypsyism, Strasbourg [ECHR] must consider the substantive part of Article 3 [prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment] in conjunction with Article 14 [prohibition of discrimination] to recognise this.” said ERRC President, Ðorðe Jovanoviæ.
© European Roma Rights Center

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Thousands Made Homeless in France

Over the last summer, 4,538 Romani women, men and children were forced from their homes by French authorities. The report released today by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) and the Ligue de droits de l’homme describes another period of repeat forced evictions, in what is rapidly becoming the norm for how France deals with the most vulnerable of its Romani population.

9/11/2017- The ERRC urges the French government to place a moratorium on forced evictions affecting people in makeshift housing as soon as possible. This is imperative for protecting families from being forced onto the streets, and into the cold this winter. In three months, of the 34 evictions which took place, only 22 were accompanied by a legal decision ordering the eviction. Over a thousand people who left their homes (1074) did so under threat of eviction, before the arrival of the police. This is more than double the number in the previous quarter (454) and is a concerning trend, not least because six of these evictions were accompanied by a legal order for eviction and two of them were affected by administrative notices issued by mayors ordering an eviction within 48 hours due to health hazard. In total nine such evictions were carried out in the last quarter based on administrative notices.

The ERRC is concerned this measure is being used to expedite evictions of Roma to a 48 hour window. Orders issued by mayors/prefects are based only on an administrative decision without the intervention of a judge who is able to assess their legality, utility, methods and deadlines. “These forced evictions, these ‘rafles’ of Roma, is nothing short of targeted racism which has been made into policy by French authorities” said the President of the ERRC, Dorde Jovanovic. “It is a Roma-only eviction policy in practice that is being carried out, and it only makes these families more vulnerable to discrimination, hatred and hardships on the streets.” The report also shows an increase in incidents which further demonstrate the widespread level of antigypsyism in France: anti-Roma protests, hate symbols graffitied on a holocaust memorial, denied enrolment in schools, unequal access to public transport, hate speech from politicians, and on the 30th March 17, the shooting and killing of French Traveller Angelo Garand by police.

In May, and in August, we called on President Macron to live up to his campaign promises and begin a new chapter in France by ending routine forced evictions of Roma. It seems from the latest figures however, that it is a ‘more of the same’ policy which is being favoured, and a continuation of the practices put in place by his predecessors François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy. We once again ask Mr. Macron to consider his own party’s statement on the issue, stating that “destroying [slums] without any alternative solutions is a hypocritical, expensive and inefficient method. Public authorities together with inhabitants, neighbours and NGOs have to find solutions before destroying [slums] or evicting [people], as it leads to the creation of a new camp.”

The cycle of repeat forced evictions only destroys what little these people have managed to build for themselves, exacerbates the wider problem and costs money that could otherwise be use to address the housing and social inclusion crises in France. We ask French authorities to consider the annual report of the Collectif National des droits de l’homme Romeurope, containing twenty proposals of inclusion policies for people living in slums and squats. These long-term solutions which are aimed at the root causes of inequality and discrimination are more sustainable, more humane, and less costly than forced evictions.

The full report can be accessed here in English and French. The information in this press release is also available in French.
© European Roma Rights Center

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French parliament strips Le Pen of immunity over gruesome IS pictures

France's National Assembly on Wednesday lifted the immunity from prosecution of far-right leader Marine Le Pen for tweeting pictures of Islamic State group atrocities, according to reports.

8/11/2017- The decision was taken by a cross-party committee in charge of the internal functioning of the assembly, after a request from the authorities to lift Le Pen's parliamentary immunity over a crime that carries up to three years in prison. The leader of the National Front, who ran a failed campaign for president this year, in 2015 tweeted three pictures of IS atrocities, including one of James Foley, an American journalist beheaded by the extremists. "Daesh is THIS!" she wrote in a post accompanying the photos, using an Arabic acronym for IS. Faced with outrage on social media and from Foley's family, Le Pen later deleted the picture of the American, saying she had been unaware he was the man in the picture. French authorities launched an investigation into the incident but could not press charges while Le Pen had protection from prosecution. At the time Le Pen was a member of the European Parliament.

That assembly voted in March to lift her immunity over the pictures but three months later she won it back after being elected to the French parliament. Wednesday's decision of the 22-member Assembly committee is the latest blow to the 49-year-old politician, who has appeared adrift since suffering a sound defeat at the hands of Emmanuel Macron in May's presidential runoff. After proving a formidable opponent, Le Pen lost to Macron with 33.9 percent to his 66.1 percent of the vote after floundering badly in a final TV debate between the pair. The party also fared badly in June parliamentary elections, taking just eight seats out of 577 -- too few to have much of an impact on lawmaking. In September, tensions between rival party factions -- one led by anti-immigration hardliners, the other by anti-EU nationalists -- burst into the open with the resignation of Le Pen's right-hand man Florian Philippot. Philippot devised Le Pen's strategy of detoxifying the FN brand and her unpopular promise to pull France out of the eurozone if elected president.
© The Local - France

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France: Dog saves Paris-area Jewish family from suspected arson in their home

The members of a Jewish family have their dog to thank for their escape from a fire that police believe was set intentionally in their Paris-area home, an anti-racism group said.

5/11/2017- The family was awakened after midnight Friday night by the dog’s insistent barking to discover that their front door was on fire, with smoke rapidly filling up the interior of their apartment in the southeastern suburb of Creteil, the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA, reported Sunday. Someone had doused the door in a highly flammable liquid at set it alight, police concluded, according to the case report of the BNVCA. The family told police they suspected an Arab neighbor, who BNVCA said has expressed extremist and anti-Semitic views online. Police detained the neighbor in connection with the incident, which BNVCA is calling anti-Semitic. Last week, an unidentified person set the family’s car on fire. Witnesses saw a man wearing a hoodie set it alight, according to the BNVCA report. “The incident confirms BNVCA’s observation that anti-Semitic acts that began as targeting property belonging to Jews (synagogues, schools, community centers) or as assaults on people on the street have evolved into attacks on Jews inside their own homes,” the group wrote.

In 2014, Creteil saw an anti-Semitic incident that horrified many French Jews, in which three men broke into a Jewish family’s home because they assumed they would have money due to their ethnicity. Encountering a young couple inside the home, one armed suspect guarded the woman’s boyfriend and another took his credit card to a cash machine while a third raped the woman. The victims said the assailants insulted them with anti-Semitic slurs. Coming amid a major increase in anti-Semitic violence in France accompanying Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza that year, the incident echoed for many the traumatic murder and torture in 2006 of Ilan Halimi, a Jewish phone salesman who was abducted by a gang led by a career criminal with a history of targeting mostly Jewish victims. Earlier this year, Sarah Halimi, a physician and kindergarten teacher, was murdered inside her home by an Islamist neighbor whom prosecutors say was motivated by anti-Semitic hatred. She was not a relative of Ilan Halimi.

Some French Jews regard the murder of Ilan Halimi as the turning point in the emergence of an unprecedented wave of violence against Jews in France and Belgium, where more than 12 people have died since 2012 in at least three jihadist attacks on Jewish targets.
© JTA News*

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UK: Backlash Against Supermarket Ad Shows Islamophobia Is Alive

9/11/2017- Anti-Muslim Britons are slamming a Christmas ad from a popular supermarket chain because it features a Muslim family celebrating the holiday, the latest sign that xenophobia is increasing in the United Kingdom. The ad, the annual Christmas promo created by Britain’s largest supermarket Tesco, shows several families, including one Muslim family with a woman wearing a hijab, cooking turkeys and getting ready for Christmas. The image of the Muslim clan enraged some viewers. “Why put Muslims in advert when they don't celebrate Xmas ….yes appeasement & divercity [sic] pathetic Tesco pathetic #idiots,” Twitter user @fredgs05 wrote. “@Tesco why are you showing Muslims celebrating Christmas in your advert. That’s just wrong, we all know they don’t!!!” added Paula Mazur, also on Twitter. “Just seen TESCO Christmas ad showing Muslims wearing hijab celebrating Christmas. Talk about spreading lies and propaganda...TESCO is boycotted by me from now on,” wrote a third twitterer, @RosinaFrance.

The messages come as Britain experiences a wave of Islamophobia and xenophobia that corresponds with the country’s decision to leave the European Union and cut back on immigration. A report by the watchdog organization the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance found that hate speech and racist violence has increased along with “anti-foreigner” sentiment in the wake of the Brexit referendum. "It is no coincidence that racist violence is on the rise in the UK at the same time as we see worrying examples of intolerance and hate speech in the newspapers, online and even among politicians,” Commission Chairman Christian Ahlund said at the time. Matthew Feldman, who studies the contemporary far-right in Europe, has said that attacks on mosques or Muslim centers increased fivefold in the wake of the terror attacks in the UK this year. Another recent study found that only one in five Muslims can find full-time employment in Britain, a fact that was attributed to widespread Islamophobia, racism, and discrimination.

Unsurprisingly, Tesco defended its decision to showcase diversity. “Everyone is welcome at Tesco this Christmas and we're proud to celebrate the many ways our customers come together over the festive season," a Tesco spokesperson said. This is not the first time Tesco has received backlash for its ads. Last year the company was criticized on social media when an ad portrayed a maid getting slapped in the face by her employer. At the time, Tesco opted to remove the offending scene. It doesn’t appear that the company will take the same approach this year, but Tesco hasn’t always been so egalitarian or politically correct. In March this year, people threatened to boycott Tesco after the company’s chairman said white men are becoming an "endangered species" on British corporate boards. Annual Christmas ads are highly anticipated in the UK as a harbinger that the holiday season has officially begun.
© Newsweek.

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UK far-right activists attend military-style camps with anti-Islam group

ITV documentary reveals link between anti-immigration group Generation Identity and failed Ukip leadership candidate

8/11/2017- Young British far-right activists are travelling overseas for military-style training hosted by an anti-Islam group, according to a TV documentary. Three women went undercover for the ITV film Undercover – Inside Britain’s New Far Right, with far-right groups and figures including failed Ukip leadership candidate Anne Marie Waters, who was recorded calling Muslims “fuckers”, and anti-immigration group Generation Identity. Generation Identity wants to bring together a pan-European youth movement to protect what it sees as the identity and culture of white Europeans from what it calls the “great replacement” by immigration and Islamisation. The group has said the ITV documentary was a “fake news hit piece”. Its leader, Martin Sellner, was behind the Defend Europe group that chartered a boat to hamper the rescue of refugees in the Mediterranean. The mission was hit by calamitous setbacks including having to plead for help to a German refugee rescue ship when its own vessel suffered mechanical failure.

One of the undercover reporters, known as Hazel, infiltrated Generation Identity for the documentary and met with members at a pub, where they boast about attending Generation Identity camps in France for military-style training. One activist, Liam, is recorded saying: “There was a good ratio of boys and girls as well, it was really, really good. We’d be training for two hours in the morning. “At the end of the week it was really good, we had like a mock demonstration. It was like really realistic because they had like pepper spray everything. It was really organised.” The same activist is recorded referring to “degenerates”. He later told ITV he had received self-defence training in France. Generation Identity told ITV the covert filming reveals conference speeches, public tweets and a few remarks taken out of context. The documentary establishes a link between Generation Identity and Waters, who after losing the Ukip leadership contest formed a new political party called For Britain.

A Ukip member, Jordan Diamond, who regularly attended Waters’ events, is also a member of Generation Identity, the documentary says. During a car journey to the Ukip party conference, Waters is recorded expressing her extreme views on Islam, saying: “The idea that these fuckers can just come along and take it all. Stop all Muslim immigration now.” Waters is also recorded advocating reducing the birthrates of Muslims. “My thinking is we need to reduce their birthrates now,” she says. “You cannot dismiss the idea, that there are, that most kids are called Mohammed, most kids born in ... boys born in Britain now are named called Mohammed, and you cannot discuss that as meaningless without being as thick as shit. I’m sorry, it’s stupid, it’s dangerous.”

Waters told ITV she opposed racism, antisemitism, misogyny and the oppression usually associated with the far right. She said what others said at her events was not her responsibility, and she did not agree with every view expressed at events at which she spoke. She said Diamond was not a close associate but a supporter and would not be welcome at future events. Diamond told ITV he was not a racist, adding that no indigenous population should become a minority in its own land and he did not condone violence.
© The Guardian.

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Britain First and anti-fascist protesters descend on London police station for rival demos

Britain First and anti-fascist demonstrators staged rival protests outside a south-east London police station.

5/11/2017- The far-right group descended on Bromley Police station to protest after two of its leading members face charges for causing religiously aggravated harassment. Images from the scene on Saturday show dozens of campaigners carrying Union Jack flags as officers stand guard between the rival groups. Anti-fascist demonstrators carrying banners that read: “no to fascist Britain First” were also pictured holding a counter-protest amid a large police presence in the area. The protests come after it was revealed Paul Goulding and Jayda Fransen, Britain First's leaders, must sign in at Bromley Police Station as part of their bail conditions following the harassment charges. They come also after police issued strict regulations on far-right protests to prevent “violence, disorder and disruption” for a demo in March. Speaking at the demo - named 'Persecuted Patriots' - shortly after 1pm on Saturday, Goulding claimed on a live stream of the event on Facebook that the police attempted to “sabotage” their protest.

He said: “The police have done absolutely everything in their power to try and sabotage this event. First they told us we could not under any circumstances march down the high street. “So we said ‘do you know what, whatever, we’ll hold a static rally outside the police station.’” One man was arrested following the demos on suspicion of possession of an offensive weapon, Scotland Yard said. No further details on the arrest were issued. Both Golding, 35, and Fransen, 31, deny the religiously aggravated harassment charges and will face trial next year. “The investigation related to the distribution of leaflets in the Thanet and Canterbury areas, and the posting of online videos during a trial held at Canterbury crown court the same month,” officers said in September. The trial involved three Muslim men and a teenager who were eventually convicted of rape and jailed.
© The Evening Standard.

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UK: Manchester Mosque on lockdown after white powder scare

Counter terror police are investigating the incident as a hate crime

4/11/2017- Frightened children were locked inside a ​south Manchester ​mosque for hours after a letter containing a white powder was hand delivered. The letter, which contained an unknown substance, also included an image of a skull and crossbones. Counter terror police are investigating the incident as a hate crime. They believe the incident could be connected to other ‘malicious communications and suspicious packages’ sent to locations in London, South Yorkshire and America. Mosque leaders made the discovery while dozens of young children were attending morning classes at the Islamic school. They were locked inside the classroom when the imam immediately placed the building on lockdown and called the police. Officers wearing protective clothing and breathing apparatus sealed off part of the mosque while they examined the substance. A cordon was placed around the building, which sits on the corner of Burton Road and Barlow Moor Road in the heart of West Didsbury.

A spokesman for Didsbury Mosque told the M.E.N​.​ that the white substance was later identified as baking powder. ​Dr ​Faizan Awan said the ​letter​ ​wa​s the latest in a string of ​attacks aimed at the mosque. He said: “There was a Qu​​ran class for boys and girls between eight ​and​ 15 year​s​ old. “At 11.30am a letter was hand delivered to the postbox and was being opened upstairs with the other post when we found it contained a skull and crossbones and a loose white powder. “Because the mosque has had similar attacks before we called the police. “The children were kept inside the classrooms and were not allowed to leave to go into the public areas. “Members of the community were offering food and drink but the police said nothing was allowed in. “Parents were waiting outside to pick their children up and saw the police presence and the fire brigade and were quite frightened. “The imam went out to reassure people and at 2pm the substance was found to be baking powder. At 2.30pm the children were allowed out.”

Dr Awan, a local GMP and member of the mosque’s youth committee, said the incident ​wa​s the latest in a ​series​ of similar communications sent to the mosque. He said in the last two weeks a box containing pork meat was sent to the mosque. Leaders also received a malicious letter immediately after the September 11 terror attack in 2001. Burton Road was partially closed between Nell Lane and Barlow Moor Road until around 2pm. Greater Manchester Police confirmed that officers were called to the mosque at 11.40am on Saturday following to reports that ‘a letter containing threats and a substance had been delivered there’. “Specialist officers attended the address and the contents of the package were examine,” a force spokesperson said. “The substance was found not to be noxious or harmful.

“There is an ongoing investigation led by Counter Terrorism Policing North East Unit into other malicious communications and suspicious packages sent to locations in London, South Yorkshire and America. “We are treating this incident as potentially linked to this series and Counter Terrorism Policing North East are coordinating the police response working alongside detectives from Counter Terrorism Policing North West. “This incident is being treated as a Hate Crime.”
© The Manchester Evening News.

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UK: Islamophobes are more likely to abuse Muslim women than men

The majority of Muslims who are targeted in racist attacks on the streets are women, a new report has found.

4/11/2017- An annual study into Islamophobia by Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) showed that there was a 4% rise in reports of abusive behaviour against Muslims in Britain. Women who wear traditional Islamic clothing, such as a hijab or niqab, were the most likely group to face abuse, Tell MAMA said. The organisation said: ‘Given the impact of anti-Muslim hatred on the mobility of Muslim women and on the personal life choices that they make, the impacts are also felt within the family and have implications for integration and social cohesion.’ Its study found that 56% of Muslims who suffered incidents of abuse in person are women – making it the second year in a row its annual report found that women are more likely to be targeted than men. White men are most likely to launch an attack, Tell MAMA said, with the group responsible for 69% of incidents where the attacker is identifiable. According to female victims of Islamophobia, the language of many attackers had misogynistic overtones, meaning they were assaulted for their gender as well as their religion. In total, the number of street-based incidents reported in Britain in 2016 rose from 437 in 2015 to 642. Hundreds of other attacks happened online, the organisation added. Tell MAMA also urged anyone witnessing anti-Muslim abuse to step in and intervene. It said: ‘A lack of intervention from members of the public during incidents, especially on public transport, can compound the deeper psychological impact that a hate crime can have on a person, compared to equivalent non-aggravated offences.’
© Metro UK

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N Ireland: Families living in terror after racist attack on their Belfast home

Two terrified Bengali-Muslim families who fled their home after a brick was thrown through a living room window are living in fear after returning to the north Belfast property.

4/11/2017- Mr and Mrs Rahman (aged 38 and 39) live in the property on York Road with their best friends Jali Ali (22) and Mohammad Uddin (27) and the couple's one-year-son Ahyan, who was left shaking uncontrollably following the attack. The incident, which happened at around 10pm on Thursday, is being treated as a hate crime. "They started throwing stones and they were shouting 'black paki b******s'," Mr Rahman told the Belfast Telegraph. "It was a big stone and there was a big noise - it was terrifying. "Ahyan woke up and he was just shaking and shaking, he didn't sleep all night - none of us did." Mrs Rahman said youths were among the attackers. "There were four males, two of them were around 30 and two of them were only teenagers, they must have been 13," she said. Both families fled the property yesterday morning and presented themselves to the Housing Executive as homeless but were unable to secure suitable accommodation without being separated. "They offered us separate accommodation, but it was too far apart," Mr Rahman said. "Jali suffers from back pain and a number of health conditions. I don't know what will happen, but we are definitely scared."

Mr Rahman has lived here for nine years but only moved to his current address last December - he was later joined by his wife and friends. "We won't be leaving the country, we like it here," he said. "We are good people and we have friends here, we don't cause trouble to anyone." A spokesperson for the Hosuing Executive said temporary housing options were discussed in an effort to source satisfactory accommodation. "Despite several offers of immediate temporary accommodation, the families have decided to make their own arrangements," they added. The incident, which is the latest in a spate of attacks, prompted a warning from Amnesty International that Northern Ireland is "in the midst of a hate crime epidemic". There have been 595 racially motivated attacks - an average of two a day - over the last year, with more than 80% of the incidents going unpunished.
© The Belfast Telegraph

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Greek PM meets Afghan pupil attacked over flag row

4/11/2017- Greece's prime minister received on Saturday an Afghan boy whose home in Athens was attacked days after a dispute over his right to carry the Greek flag during a national parade. The 11-year-old boy, Amir, was accompanied by his mother and Greek migration minister Yiannis Mouzalas when he met with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who gave him a Greek flag as a gift. Amir came to the spotlight last week because while he had been drawn in a lottery to carry the Greek flag in a parade commemorating Greece's World War II struggle, he was ultimately prevented from doing so by his school. Instead of being given the flag, Amir carried a sign bearing the school's name for the march in Athens. The ministry of education has launched an investigation into why the school prevented him from carrying the flag.

The annual parades by schools take place around the country on October 28. "As they haven't given you the Greek flag, I will give you one as a present", Tsipras told Amir, according to the state news agency ANA. "Some people deprived Amir of the honour to carry our flag. Today I gave it to him so he will remember and honour our principles and values", Tsipras tweeted after the meeting. Tsipras's symbolic gesture comes after the family's residence in Greece was attacked on Friday. The assailants broke a window in the room where the family's three children sleep, throwing inside a note warning them to "get out" of Greece. "It was around three in the morning," Amir's mother told state news agency ANA. "The room was full of glass. The children were scared and were crying. Stones kept coming and a beer bottle was found on the bed."

The family, who have been in Greece for about 18 months, was staying in a flat provided by the city of Athens under a UN-sponsored programme. Athens mayor Yiorgos Kaminis condemned the incident, insisting that "fascist-style tactics" would not dampen the capital's determination to house and integrate refugees. Greece is running a programme to house and educate thousands of refugees trapped in the country after a succession of European countries shut their borders last year. Far-right groups including neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn strongly oppose having the Greek flag carried by non-Greeks in parades. Golden Dawn supporters disrupted another of the October 28 parades, on the island of Santorini, because the flag was being carried by an Albanian girl.
© AFP.

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Gang With Suspected Neo-Nazi Links Vows to Force Migrants From Greece

8/11/2017- A suspected breakaway faction from Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party says it is recruiting anti-migrant hit squads and has vowed to drive all migrants and refugees out of Greece. The group, naming itself Crypteia, after a vigilante band of ancient Spartans who terrorized slaves, told a Greek news outlet Tuesday, “We will fight until the last immigrant leaves. And to that end, we will use force and violence, mercilessly.” Crypteia claimed responsibility for an attack Friday on the Athens home of an 11-year-old Afghan boy and his family, whose apartment was pelted by rocks and beer bottles. A note was left that read, “Go back to your village. Leave.” The boy, Amir, had drawn local attention days before the attack after having been picked to carry the Greek national flag for his school in a national day parade, only to have the privilege revoked and given a school sign to hold instead. “I was shouting and calling for help,” Amir’s mother told local reporters. “The children had woken up, crying; they were very afraid. The children's room was full of glass. A beer bottle was on the bed. The stones kept coming, one after the other. I panicked. I didn't know what to do,” she added.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras condemned the attack, saying, “Amir, and every child in our country, deserves the right to security and Greek education, without discrimination.” State prosecutors have opened an investigation. Europe has seen the emergence of other violent anti-migrant groups and a European Union agency reported in May 33 percent of Sub-Saharan Africans in Europe have been victims of at least one racially-motivated crime in the previous 12 months. A network of civil rights activists, the European Network against Racism, warned recently that crimes against immigrants were under-reported and said minorities“are not targeted randomly by perpetrators.” Recent opinion polls suggest anti-migrant sentiment is rising in Greece. The country has witnessed a surge in the past few months in the number of refugees and migrants entering the country, exacerbating already terrible living conditions in camps on the Greek islands and shelters on the mainland.

Last month, officials said the number of people arriving, across land and sea borders, had more than doubled since June, with authorities estimating that arrivals are now at their highest level since March 2016, with more than 200 men, women and children being registered every day. Refugee flows had dropped dramatically after a landmark accord was reached between the European Union and Turkey in March 2016. In return for aid Ankara agreed to strengthen border patrols along its Aegean coast and turn back smuggler boats. How serious a threat Crypteia poses is the subject of debate within Greek political and police circles with some saying that invoking the ancient Spartan band is nothing more than cover for a bunch of crude thugs. Others are not so sure. Stavros Theodorakis, leader of the centrist Potami party, complains that Greece is seeing a rise of serious political gang violence across the ideological spectrum, warning, “every day there is a new target. Gangs intimidate with impunity.”

Analysts say there has been talk within Golden Dawn circles of forming secretive anti-migrant hit squads since several party leaders and lawmakers were arrested following the 2013 murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas by an alleged supporter of the party. Their trial is ongoing. Greece has seen a wave of hostility towards the more than 60,000 migrants estimated to be in the country with shelters and refugee squats being targeted. Civil rights activists say far-right groups have been stoking local grievances and anti-refugee sentiments. Many attacks and assaults, they say, go unreported Greece isn’t alone in being buffeted by anti-migrant violence. German authorities say there were more than 3,500 attacks against refugees and asylum shelters in 2016, amounting to nearly a dozen acts a day of anti-migrant violence, neo-Nazis have been blamed for many of the attacks.
© VoA News.

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Italian neo-nazis rally over new citizenship law

Thousands marched in Rome to protest against the government's proposal to reform citizenship procedures for descendants of immigrants living in Italy

4/11/2017- In Italy, thousands of people have attended a far-right rally in Rome over a new law that could grant citizenship to children of immigrants. Under the bill called “right of the soil” (lus soli), children under 12 who’ve spent five years in formal education would qualify to be naturalised. The rule would also apply to children born to non-Italians. The demonstration was organised by Italy’s far-right New Force party. One of its supporters, Vera Provenzale said: “We believe that one has to be born Italian. Being Italian means one has to have Italian blood. Therefore we cannot give away Italian citizenship, our roots, our culture.” According to New Party leader Roberto Fiore it’s a question of defending Italy’s patrimony and heritage: “Forza Nuova is here to show that the fatherland, the Italian fatherland, is still alive. And to show that the people of Italy are going to rebel to the people who are trying to destroy our fatherland. Currently, foreigners born in Italy can only apply for citizenship when they turn 18 and if they have lived in the country since birth.
© Euronews

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Slovakia's far-right party, ruling leftists lose regional elections

4/11/2017- The far-right People’s Party-Our Slovakia lost Saturday’s regional elections, turning the Central European country against the trend of far-right gains in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic in recent months. Right-wing and anti-immigrant parties have been on the rise across Europe after years of slow economic growth and the arrival of more than a million migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa. Slovakia’s economy has boomed and the country has seen little immigration, but rising public anger over graft scandals linked to conventional parties has generated support for fringe parties and protest groups. Regional election four years ago saw a surprising first-time victory of People’s Party chairman Marian Kotleba as governor in Banska Bystrica, central Slovakia, and his party won 8 percent of the vote and its first-ever seats in national parliament last year.

Support for the party, which has launched a petition to hold a referendum to exit the EU and NATO, has since risen to about 10 percent, making it the third strongest group after leftist Smer and euroskeptic liberals, according to opinion polls. On Saturday, Kotleba lost the reelection bid to an entrepreneur Jan Lunter, a non-partisan endorsed by all parties except the far-right, near-complete results from the Statistics Office showed on Sunday. Kotleba’s right hand, the party’s deputy chairman Milan Uhrik also lost the governor’s race in the southwestern Nitra region. Kotleba and two other lawmakers are facing extremism charges and prosecutors took steps in May to ban the entire party, saying it posed a threat to Slovakia’s democratic system.

The party, whose members have organized torch-lit marches wearing black uniforms modeled on a World War Two Nazi puppet state, denies any links to fascism. Last year they started patrolling trains, some carrying legally-held weapons, in regions with a strong Roma population. In another upset, Prime Minister Robert Fico’s leftist Smer party only won two reelection bids, losing four regions to center-right opposition candidates, a sign of its weakening grip on power in the euro zone country. General elections last year saw Smer’s support shrink to 28.3 percent from 44.4 percent in 2012, but it is still the strongest party with double the support of the euroskeptic liberal Freedom and Solidarity party, whose candidate was elected governor of the capital Bratislava region.
© Reuters

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Cyprus: Far-right leader announces candidacy

The leader of far-right party Elam, Christos Christou, has announced his candidacy for the January 2018 presidential elections.

4/11/2017- In an event in Nicosia on Friday evening, Christou said Elam represents values and the perpetuity and freshness of its ideas will lead the party forward. “We believe that every Greek in Cyprus has been betrayed a number of times. We will not make empty pledges and false promises. What I can promise is that we will not sell away our principles and values, nor negotiate them. The future belongs to us because we have nothing to lose and we shall fight for our homeland, our people, our religion and country,” Christou added. He said the Cyprus problem is dormant and this should under no circumstances make us complacent.

After the elections, a new procedure on Cyprus will be launched, on the same basis, that of a bizonal, bicommunal federation, Christou said. “Elam is clearly the anti-federal choice. It is a movement that from the moment it was founded in 2008, insists that the Cyprus problem is a problem of invasion and continued occupation,” he noted. He also said that purging is necessary after the financial crimes committed in Cyprus, adding “we do not see those who are responsible for the economic disaster of Cyprus being brought to justice”. Christou further said that the party has proven to all that it does not depend on a strong financial status but on the strength of its members.
© The Cyprus Mail

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Headlines 3 November, 2017

Serbian Monarchists, British Right-Wingers Plot Kosovo 'Resistance'

Russian-linked Serbian monarchists and a British far-right organisation have been seeking to equip mystery groups in north Kosovo in order to resist what they believe will be an attack on Serbs by Kosovo Albanians.

3/11/2017- High above the flashpoint town of Mitrovica, to the north of the Ibar river that divides Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo, stands the modern Sveti Dimitrije church. On a September night this year, the leader of an obscure Serb pro-monarchy group, the Order of the Dragon, posed for a photograph on the hilltop with an aid package for the area’s Serb population: tactical vests, drone and military fatigues. Dejan Damnjanovic, the Order’s leader, posted the photo on his Facebook page with a warning that “action instead of demagogy” was needed in preparation for the outcome of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic’s proposed ‘national discussion’ on the future of Kosovo. While Damnjanovic suggested that he posted the photograph publicly in order to deliver a message, the Order’s representative in Kosovo told BIRN that the equipment was intended to be used in a game called ‘airsoft’, which involves replica military equipment.

The photograph was removed from his profile as BIRN went to press. But the picture nonetheless raises questions about the activities of nationalist and far-right groups in this volatile region, particularly as a probe by BIRN has revealed a constellation of loosely linked groups which claims that they are attempting to equip and prepare Kosovo Serbs with drones, communication equipment and links to powerful Russians in order to resist an attack. Weapons have, however, not been referenced. These groups believe that an offensive by Kosovo Albanians on the area’s ethnic Serb enclaves is looming, although no evidence exists that any such operation is planned. This wide network of far-right groups and activists gravitates around the Belgrade-based Order of the Dragon, named after 15th Century Christian knights who fought the Ottoman Empire, and which in the past has made regular deliveries to Kosovo Serb families of warm clothes, food and other household goods.

Those linked to it include Jim Dowson, a prominent British right-winger who describes himself as a Christian activist and who was banned from Hungary earlier this year. Through a new group called the Knights Templar International that describes Dowson as its spokesman, he also calls for the delivery of equipment such as tactical vests and drones to Serb groups in northern Kosovo. The Order of the Dragon also hopes that the relations it claims to have built with right-wing Russian intellectual Alexander Dugin, who reportedly brokered peace between Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier this year, and with Dugin’s close associate Leonid Savin, will provide a hotline to the Kremlin in case of an attack on Kosovo Serbs.

While these disparate organisations have not always worked together, they share many of the same concerns about the future of Serbia’s former province, which declared independence in 2008, and have the common ambition of defending the Kosovo Serbs against what they claim could be an attack. The likely success of these campaigns is not clear, but the issue was raised in the Serbian parliament by MP Marinika Tepic from the opposition Nova Stranka (New Party) on Thursday. No evidence exists that there is any future attack planned on Kosovo Serbs by the ethnic Albanian majority that makes up more than 90 per cent of Kosovo’s population. No major ethnically motivated crimes have been recorded in the past years in Kosovo.

‘This will kick off at any moment’
In the past year, Damnjanovic has made at least one trip to northern Kosovo with Dowson, an internet guru for various right-wing groups, and with Nick Griffin, the former leader of the far-right British National Party, according to Damnjanovic and to analysis of Dowson and Damnjanovic’s Facebook accounts and websites reporting their activities. UK-based anti-fascist campaign group Hope not Hate named Dowson “Britain’s most influential far right activist” in a report published in February 2017. Dowson, who has been profiled in the London Times, The New York Times and a host of other international media, claims to have helped the far-right British National Party raise large sums while working with Griffin. He then set up the Britain First nationalist group in 2010 before leaving in 2014. Hope not Hate claims Dowson helped Britain First secure more than a million Facebook followers by mixing “emotive memes” with “hard-hitting right-wing and socially conservative material”.

“His social media skills have raised his profile in the European far right and opened doors to new political and professional relationships,” Hope not Hate claimed in its 2017 report. Griffin was an MEP with the BNP until he lost his seat in 2014, but remains a byword for far-right politics in the UK. Dowson and Griffin were banned from Hungary in April 2017. Dowson said he was told this was because he posed a “danger to national security” – something he denies strenuously – while the justification for Griffin’s ban is not known. Both men have said publicly they will appeal. The reasons for the ban have not been made public, but both Dowson and Griffin had made Hungary their political home and were extremely active on the country’s far-right scene, invigorated by the migrant crisis which hit Central and Eastern Europe in 2015 and 2016, according to Hope not Hate.

The duo had been cooperating with a range of far-right groups, including the nationalist Jobbik party, the third largest force in the Hungarian parliament. Dowson also used Budapest as a base to run his network of “patriotic” websites and set up a hub for his latest venture, a new, anti-immigration and anti-Islamic group called the Knights Templar International, KTI, according to the Hope not Hate. KTI, named after the famous Christian crusaders, insists it is not racist and Dowson has sought to distance himself from attacks on Muslims. But the KTI’s website includes numerous examples of inflammatory language, including using the phrase “land-grabbing Muslim terrorists” in reference to Kosovo.

Dowson’s official role with the KTI is unclear. He has previously admitted to assisting with “one or two projects” with the group, but also said he did not hold a “position, title or authority”. He is described on the KTI’s website as a KTI “brother” and a “spokesman” and acts as the public face of the organisation, presenting the majority of its videos and attending many of its events. Griffin’s role in the KTI is even less clear, although he has appeared at KTI events, including visits to Kosovo and Bulgaria with Dowson. BIRN has no evidence to link him to the campaign to funnel equipment to Kosovo. In a video posted online, Dowson recounts how following his expulsion from Hungary, he flew straight to Belgrade. Early this year, KTI published an address in the Serbian capital where Dowson appears to have spent a great deal of time, going to shooting ranges with Damnjanovic and helping the Order of the Dragon set up a news website, according to his and the Order’s Facebook profile.

Dowson even listed on Facebook that his current city is Pancevo, a town on the outskirts of the Serbian capital, although he has changed this in recent days to Glasgow, Scotland. In June, following a visit to what the KTI described as “the bandit country of Islamist-occupied Kosovo”, Dowson posted a video on the KTI website explaining the urgent need to deliver drones and tactical vests to groups in northern Kosovo in preparation for an attack by “Muslims”. “Some of these brave volunteers, they need practical things like night vision goggles, they need tactical vests, they need food supplies, ration packs, drones […] because this will kick off at any moment,” he said in the video, which was removed this week after BIRN cont acted him, but has been stored offline by BIRN’s reporters. Elsewhere on the website, KTI explicitly asks for donations for “drones and vests” to be provided to northern Kosovo as part of an emergency appeal.

This appeal was not without precedent: Dowson made a delivery of tactical vests and drones in 2016 to paramilitary volunteers working along the Turkish-Bulgarian border to prevent migrants from crossing, according to videos and photos posted on social media and the KTI website. A news piece published in June on the KTI website reports on a “three-day fact-finding and aid mission to Kosovo”. It includes a photograph of three men in front of a nationalist mural in Mitrovica with their faces obscured by superimposed knight helmets. They are described as “our men in the Christian enclave of North Mitrovica”. An identical, and unobscured photo, showing Damnjanovic, Griffin and Dowson, was published on Damnjanovic’s Facebook page. In July, another news piece was published under the headline “Behind Enemy Lines – KTI Aid & Fact-Finding Mission Deep into Occupied Kosovo”.

It provides a detailed account of a KTI trip to north Kosovo “at the start of summer”, although BIRN was unable to confirm it was the same one that was attended by Dowson, Damnjanovic and Griffin. It includes a photo of two people, dressed in the traditional medieval costumes of the Knights Templar with their faces obscured, holding up a cheque for around 1,000 euros (120,000 Serbian Dinar) - for “the brave Christian monks who co-ordinate the relief efforts for the oppressed and constantly abused Christian families clinging on in the Muslim-occupied heart of their own country”. The KTI reported that during the trip to Kosovo, the unnamed representatives had also met “the volunteer militiamen who provide basic protection for the Serbs of Kosovo”.


“We all know it’s coming, we just don’t know when,” an unnamed militia man is quoted as saying in the KTI report. “But when it does, being able to sound the alarm and warn all our people will make a huge difference to how many survive and to the final outcome of the assault on Christian Serbia. “We only have to hold out for 24 hours before public pressure forces the Serbian government to send in the army and before Russia can put a motion before the UN Security Council. So 24 hours is all we need, and your help can help us secure that time.” The article says that the KTI wants to provide CCTV and “high grade two-way radio kit to the Christian enclaves” to aid the defence, adding that “we are already close to our $5,000 target”. “This is desperately needed but, as always, we can do nothing without YOUR continued generosity and support,” it adds.

Damnjanovic told BIRN in an interview that he had accompanied the British duo to Kosovo in order for them to provide “a modest amount” to a monastery as part of their “political marketing”. He added that the “KTI is something that [Dowson] is behind”. Dowson, who has recently described himself in a video as running “one of the world’s largest media groups” and being a "powerful and serious lobby", said in a written statement: “I cannot confirm anything. I am a small business guy and a Christian worker.” “I have no formal relationships with anyone in Serbia or Kosovo,” he added. “I am a simple man who tries to live a good life, harming nobody and helping many but my first obligation is always to help my fellow Christians wherever the need. I do not break the law, I do not involve myself in internal political issues, but as a fellow Christian I will never refuse assistance to my brothers and sisters anywhere on the planet,” he said. Griffin did not respond for requests for a comment.

‘Volunteers in both wars’
Members of the Order of the Dragon are involved in patrolling the Bulgarian-Turkish border, Damnjanovic told BIRN, and it was there that he encountered Dowson. But Damnjanovic insisted that the September delivery of equipment outside the Mitrovica church had nothing to do with the KTI. He also said that he and Dowson have now parted ways over ideological differences. In an interview with BIRN, Damnjanovic, who is a keen fencer and campaigns for the reinstatement of the Serbian royal family, did not deny he was linked to the delivery and at times provided details of how the equipment had reached Kosovo, but also suggested that he and his group was not directly responsible. “What you saw is that I took a photo with equipment,” he said. “I do not know where you got information that it was from us. I can explain to you that this [photo] is a kind of personal dialogue with some people to whom it was important that [the equipment] did not arrive there [in north Kosovo],” he added cryptically.

He then explained that the equipment seen in northern Kosovo had not been imported through Serbia but through a “third country”, and was not aimed at harassing anyone but “the likely prevention of harassment of people who do not harass anyone in northern Kosovo”. “The exclusive use of these resources is reactive, not proactive,” he added. He was less clear about who had funded and delivered the equipment and who was to receive it, claiming ignorance. He did, however, insist that the Order of the Dragon was ready to protect Serbs in north Kosovo. “A large section of us were volunteers in both wars [Bosnian and Kosovo] that have happened, and we just pray to God that we don’t feel too old if shots are fired.” The Order’s representative in Kosovo is Momcilo Arlov, a former Serbian soldier turned civil society activist in Mitrovica, who was arrested in 2011 in Serbia with weapons in his car as northern Kosovo suffered its worst bout of violence for almost a decade.

Arlov told BIRN that he spent 14 months in detention until the Court of Appeal finally made a decision to prosecute him under the Serbia’s criminal code. He says he was then charged for not returning an “official weapon” and the case was closed without going to trial. BIRN could not independently verify his claims, nor whether Arlov was prosecuted and for what. Since his release he has worked alongside the Order to deliver aid to Kosovo Serbs, Damnjanovic explained. Arlov again attracted controversy in February when a range of Albanian-language media in Kosovo reported that he was head of Vukovi, a local group that plays ‘airsoft’, a game which simulates military manoeuvres using replica firearms. Following the news, Arlov stepped down as leader but insisted that there was no wrongdoing. Director of the Kosovo Police Shpend Maxhuni told parliament that the group was registered as a sports NGO and presented no threat.


But its NGO licence was withdrawn the same month by the Ministry of Public Administration on the advice of the security services and an unnamed NGO, according to the official decision. Arlov told BIRN the he himself asked for the licence to be frozen in order to stop “the political and security manipulations that were aimed at further inflaming inter-ethnic hatred and potentially causing violent actions in north Kosovo”. He further said that the equipment shown on Damnjanovic’s photographs - tactical vests, a drone and military fatigues - was actually equipment for use in airsoft and a drone for promotional videos. Arlov told BIRN that he does not see a threat from institutions in Pristina and was unaware of paramilitary units in northern Kosovo. "If this unfortunate and unwanted scenario comes, Serbs from the north will protect their families,” he added.

‘Channel of communication’ to Russia
Arlov is also head of the local Society of Serbian-Russian Friendship NGO, one of many links between the Order of the Dragon and Russia, Serbia’s long-standing ally on the issue of Kosovo’s independence, although he denies any contact with Russians through the group. Russia has long wielded its veto on the Security Council to prevent any attempts at securing UN recognition for Kosovo. Damnjanovic’s Facebook account and the Order’s website shows regular meetings and joint events between his group and Leonid Savin, editor of the Katehonnews website, whose President is Konstantin Malofeev, a Russian businessman placed under US sanctions for links to pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine. According to the Order’s website, the group’s patron, Prince Vladimir Karadjordjevic, has also held at least two meetings with Savin’s close associate, Alexander Dugin, a Russian philosopher who has been referred to as “Putin’s Rasputin” and “Putin’s favourite philosopher” by Western media.

Prince Vladimir Karadjordjevic is the grandson of the former Yugoslav king, Alexander I Karadjorjdevic. Bloomberg reported in February that Dugin and Malofeev played a key role in reconciling Putin and Erdogan after Turkey had downed a Russian jet over Syria. Savin and Dugin are due to open a new school in Belgrade next year. Damnjanovic emphasised that while Dugin and Savin were involved in projects with the Order of the Dragon, these were not directly connected to Kosovo. “For example, the Order of the Dragon has organised several lectures in [Serbian cities] Belgrade, Nis, Novi Sad and so on for Savin,” he explained. But he did admit that he hoped the Russian links would play a crucial role in alerting the Kremlin to what he said was a potential attack on Kosovo Serbs by the authorities in Pristina. “What is the only link that can be located between our friends from Russia and us is one channel of communication that will be used if it comes to the Albanian aggression on the Serb population in the north of Kosovo,” he said.

Asked how this channel will be used, he said by “dialing the phone number and saying the action of slaughtering Serbs in Kosovo began”. After this, he said he expects “the people who received this information will forward it to the Russian government”. Savin told BIRN that he has had no “official cooperation” with any organisation in Serbia. “So I can’t say about work with the mentioned [the Order of the Dragon] organisation,” Savin said in a written statement. Regarding Damnjanovic’s suggestion that he and Dugin could provide a link to the Russian government, he said: “We not provided any assistance to Kosovo [sic], I never been there and we have not any plans. Our policy is non-interference.” Dugin did not reply to emailed questions, but at a public event in June, a video of which is available online, he said he knew of plans by a Kosovo “structure” to “ethnically cleanse Kosovo”. “We want to have realistic info on the plans. We need to make communication between Kosovo Serbs and Russia," Dugin said. "Every action against Serbs, if we are ready, will lead to a certain reaction from Russia […] but we [Russia] have to be informed and to hope that someone will inform us. We can help in this critical situation.”
This investigation is produced by BIRN as a part of Paper Trail to Better Governance project.

© Balkan Insight

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Austrian Holocaust survivor trolled after warning about FPÖ

Trolls have posted hate comments to a video in which Holocaust survivor Rudolf Gelbard warns of the dangers posed by Austria's Freedom Party. The far-right FPÖ is in coalition talks with Sebastian Kurz's conservatives.

3/11/2017- As coalition talks continue between the center-right Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) and the nationalist Freedom Party (FPÖ), the human rights pressure group SOS Mitmensch has posted a video on Facebook in which an 86-year-old Holocaust survivor reminds viewers of the lessons of history. Rudolph Gelbard was imprisoned at the Theresienstadt concentration camp from 1942 to 1945. Nineteen members of his family were murdered by the Nazis. Though many Facebook users left comments thanking Gelbard for his "courageous" and "important" words of warning against far-right parties in government, others reacted with hate; some even insinuated that the interview was scripted and the Holocaust survivor was not speaking his own words. "How many people have been killed by other groups in the last 80 years?"

one person wrote. "Why do we always have to talk about the Holocaust?" Another user attempted to cast doubt on the Holocaust altogether: "There are also people who have a different version." "There were personal insults, slurs, historical revisionism," SOS spokesman Alexander Pollack told DW. "It was quite surprising," Pollack said. "We had to delete many comments. Anything that verged on anti-Semitism, racism, any threats of violence or comments which downplayed National Socialism — it all had to go." Though Pollack acknowledged the website's role in helping SOS spread its anti-extremist message, he noted that "Facebook encourages discussion, but at the same time it opens the door to hate." SOS Mitmensch was formed in 1992 to protest a referendum organized by the FPÖ that asked voters to effectively halt immigration, reduce access to public services for noncitizens and increase policing of "foreign" communities. Only about 7 percent of registered voters turned out for the FPÖ's "Austria First" initiative.

Nazi fraternities
In the video, Gelbard particularly criticizes the continuing central role of Nazi-linked academic fraternities in the FPÖ. "This why a party which is infiltrated by such people — namely these fraternities — does not belong in the Austrian government," Gelbard says. The FPÖ, Gelbard adds, was the only party in the state parliament of Carinthia to oppose building a memorial at the former Gestapo headquarters in the capital, Klagenfurt. "Die Aula has [also] called us former concentration camp prisoners criminals," he says, referring to a quasi-academic journal closely linked to the FPÖ.

Coalition talks underway
The FPÖ is in coalition negotiations with Sebastian Kurz's ÖVP, which won the most votes in October's elections. With just 32 percent of the vote, however, he came up short of a majority. The center-left Social Democrats (SPÖ) came in second, with about 26.9 percent, closely followed by the FPÖ, at 26 percent. Kurz has said his party holds common ground with the FPÖ on several issues — particularly immigration. Both parties have also promised billions in tax cuts.

Taming the wolf
Founded in 1955 and first led by a former SS officer and several fellow Nazis, the FPÖ has worked to rehabilitate its image with more moderate voters by toning down its rhetoric against foreigners in general and focusing on an anti-Islam campaign. The head of the Vienna Israelite Community, which represents the capital's Orthodox Jews, has warned that the FPÖ is still highly xenophobic. "If ÖVP and SPÖ believe they can tame the wolf, they are deceiving themselves," Oskar Deutsch said in an open post on Facebook, adding that any government involving the FPÖ would be "irresponsible."
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Berlusconi forms centre-right alliance ahead of Italy's general election

Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party is set to team up with the far-right Northern League and conservative Brothers of Italy party to contest next year’s election.

3/11/2017- Leaders of the three parties met in Sicily on Thursday night to agree on a right-wing alliance, dubbed “the arancino pact” after Sicily’s famous delicacy. Berlusconi had dinner with the League’s secretary Matteo Salvini and Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni at a restaurant in Catania, where the three took selfies and posed with a cake decorated with pictures of themselves. “We’ve laid the foundations for the path to election victory,” Berlusconi told reporters after the meeting, which went on until after 1 AM. The party leaders were in Sicily to campaign jointly for Nello Musumeci, the conservative candidate for governor in the region’s election this Sunday. The vote is seen as a bellwether for Italy’s general election next spring. The latest polls have Musumeci leading with 35 percent of votes, just ahead of the populist Five Star Movement with 33 percent. The incumbents Democratic Party is almost certain to lose the region, polling at 15 percent.

Earlier this month Italy passed a new electoral law that allows parties to form coalitions before an election, which was backed by established parties but fiercely contested by the Five Star populists, who have vowed never to join an alliance. Polls indicate that no one party would win enough votes nationally to take a majority in the upcoming general election, which is expected some time between March and May. Teaming up with Berlusconi’s party is a central part of the Northern League’s strategy to reach beyond its northern heartland and go national. In Sicily the party is experimenting with dropping “Northern” from its name and campaigning simply as “the League”. Details of the “arancino pact” are scarce so far. Meloni stressed that it was too early to talk about candidates or who would run for prime minister, but said the meeting had focused on objectives. “What we want is to build a serious, concrete programme and you don’t finish that at one dinner at 11 o’clock at night,” she said.
© The Local - Italy

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Roma policies must tackle anti-Gypsyism (opinion)

Two days ago, the European Parliament voted an important resolution aiming to fight anti-Gypsyism, the specific type of racism directed towards Roma, write Ismael Cortes and Anna Striethorst.

3/11/2017- The resolution recalls the long historical roots of anti-Gypsyism, drawing parallels to Europe´s infamous history of anti-Semitism. Roma have been living in Europe since the 13th century and, labelled as ‘gypsies’, have again and again been treated as an alien people working to hinder the progress of European civilisation. Such stigma has negative lasting effects until today: surveys on intolerance regularly report the highest levels of hostility towards Roma, among all groups in Europe. The European Parliament’s resolution proposes a set of 29 ambitious measures that, taken together, could lead to a comprehensive policy framework for the EU member states to combat racism against Roma.

For instance, the Parliament calls on the European Commission to be more assertive against “racially motivated forced evictions” and to enforce EU law against the segregation of Roma children in separate schools. It also promotes the inclusion of Roma history into national school curricula and calls for a full access of Roma women to sexual and reproductive rights. This resolution is a good first step, but from now on decisive institutional commitments must follow to address anti-Gypsyism at the national level. Over the past years, Roma individuals and entire communities have been victims of pogroms and racist assaults in different EU countries such as Ireland, France and the Czech Republic. In some cases, like in Slovakia, Italy and Bulgaria, police forces have starred brutality against members of this ethnic group. This must stop: member states have to enforce the law to protect Roma victims of hate crime in its different forms.

Likewise, they have to sanction hate speech in any format, be it in political discourses, media statements or online comments. In modern democracies, public institutions do not only mirror society’s values, but they also lead to societal transformations. They have the responsibility to educate the public and to stand up for protection of diversity. Anti-Gypsyism for a long time remained the elephant in the room of Roma policies. In the EU Roma Framework, the unique policy tool to address Roma inequality in member states and enlargement countries, anti-Gypsyism is not mentioned even once. In such framework, the “Roma issue” is approached as a matter of a vulnerable population in need to be integrated into the mainstream. In this way, national governments committed themselves for supporting “Roma inclusion”, while remaining silent and inactive against anti-Roma racism deeply rooted in European societies.

In our view, the path to Roma inclusion is a two-way street. All social policies for Roma will remain without impact if they are not backed up by the commitment to stop racist discrimination. We had a sign of hope last August when the European Commission urged member states to take measures against anti-Gypsyism in the midterm review of the EU Roma Framework. Precisely now, at a moment when the EU Roma Framework is under a process of assessment – the results of which will be announced next spring – the parliamentarian resolution on anti-Gypsyism needs to be taken into account to reform European Roma policies. We believe that the continuation of the EU Roma Framework after 2020 needs to be combined with a thorough reform of such policies, including the adoption of a set of concrete measures against anti-Gypsyism.

On the one hand, to expand the objectives of the current framework will require a major increase of EU funds allocated to Roma. On the other hand, the existing funding requires a more effective spent: policies of inclusion will remain inefficient until they do not address the racist barriers that Roma face in the key areas of education, labor market and urban planning. The current preparation of the next EU Multiannual Financial Framework offers an extraordinary opportunity to tighten the spending rules for EU funds and to prioritize anti-racism in the EU´s programs.

The European Union is grappling with its own identity crisis and dilemmas on integration. In this context, the combat against anti-Gypsyism must be seen as part of a wider battle against the threat of nationalist populism. Ensuring the non-discriminatory treatment of 6 million of its Roma citizens would be a good way for the EU to assert its core values. In this regard, the upcoming reform of the EU Roma Framework offers a concrete occasion to start getting on it. We do hope that the EU will not miss the momentum.
Ismael Cortes is a policy analyst at the Open Society European Policy Institute. Anna Striethorst is a senior policy officer at the Open Society Roma Initiatives Office.
© EuroActiv

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Czech Towns Mull Drastic Move Against ‘Maladjusted’ Poor

A new law gives municipalities the power to exclude recipients of housing subsidies

1/11/2017- Around a dozen Czech towns and cities are considering whether to set up so-called “subsidy free zones” – off-limits to people who are eligible for government-housing subsidies. A law adopted in June on aid to people in material need permits municipalities to take such a step, the Prague daily Mlada fronta Dnes reports. The aim, the paper writes, is to stem the growth of “ghettoes,” or streets and neighborhoods with large numbers of jobless people who are recipients of social benefits. The city of Bohumin in northern Moravia is proposing to stop paying housing subsidies to new residents of three areas that exhibit “an increased incidence of socially undesirable phenomena, especially provable violations of public order, frequent misdemeanors and crimes, with adverse effects on children.”

A spokeswoman for the Union of Towns and Municipalities told the paper that establishing such zones would demonstrate that the state will not support “inappropriate housing” and stop the growth of socially excluded areas. Another target of the new law are slumlords who charge rents far above market rates to benefits recipients, Denik.cz reported in July, when the town of Jirkov in northwestern Bohemia became one of the first to establish a subsidy-free zone. Jirkov’s deputy mayor, Dana Jurstakova, said the law was a new instrument that could help “stop the migration of maladjusted people.” The state’s annual outlay for housing subsidies amounts to almost 10 billion crowns ($455 million), Denik.cz says.

# “Socially excluded localities,” or what the Czech media often call ghettoes, are home to large numbers of Roma, who often face discrimination in the normal housing market.
# A law on social housing put forward by the outgoing Social Democratic government has made little headway in parliament, as both coalition members and the opposition argue over how many people should be eligible, Czech Television reported last month.
# The leader of the party expected to form the next government after October’s elections, Andrej Babis, has said cities and towns should be able to form their own social housing policies without interference from the central government.
# A rehousing project for low-income families in Brno has won an award from the European Federation of National Organizations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA). Almost all the 16 families chosen for the project were rehoused in permanent, inexpensive dwellings, Brno Daily reported.
# The government has set a target date of 2020 to move more than 6,000 families from asylums and hostels to better housing, and pledged that from 2020, no child will have to stay more than a month in temporary hostel accommodation.
© Transitions Online.

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Finnish police record 14% drop in number of hate crime reports

Finnish law enforcement officers investigated a total of 1,079 offences classifiable as hate crimes in 2016, almost 200 fewer than in the previous year, according to the Police University College.

1/11/2017- The number of suspected hate crimes levelled out in Finland in 2016. The Police University College reported late last month that a total of 1,079 offences with at least some characteristics of hate crimes were filed with law enforcement authorities last year, representing a decrease of 14 per cent from the previous year. The number of such offences reported to the authorities stood at 1,250 in 2015 and at 822 in 2014. The majority of the offences investigated last year were somehow related to ethnic or national background. The most common form of hate crime, meanwhile, was assault, according to a press release from the Police University College. Although the overall number of suspected hate crimes decreased from the previous year, the number of offences motivated seemingly by the religious or other beliefs of the victim increased by 12 per cent from the previous year to 149 in 2016. Almost half of such offences were committed against Islam.

The incidence of offences motivated seemingly by the ethnic or national background of the victim, in turn, decreased by roughly seven per cent to 831 in 2016. The number of offences motivated seemingly by sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression decreased similarly, but only by four from the previous year. Finnish law enforcement authorities also looked into 42 offences – 23 fewer than in the previous year – where the suspected motive was related to a mental or physical disability. The Police University College also highlighted that the amount of hate speech on the internet and, especially, on social media has increased inrecent years to the extent that law enforcement officers no longer have the resources to respond to all cases.

The Police of Finland has, however, already taken action to weed out online hate speech, having established a new team to investigate online hate speech under the Helsinki Police Department, and having begun training 40 police officers around the country to detect hate speech and advise their colleagues in regards to cases related to hate speech. “We aim to comprehensively ensure that the hate motive is taken into consideration at all stages of the pre-trial investigation so that the prosecutor will be able to demand the statutory grounds for increasing the severity of the punishment,” states Måns Enqvist, a superintendent at the National Police Board.
© The Helsinki Times.

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Greece: Witness and former member says GD a ‘military style organization’

3/11/2017- One of five key witnesses at the trial into the suspected criminal activities of neo-Nazi Golden Dawn told judges on Friday that the party was run like a military style organization with a strict hierarchy that organized attacks against migrants and other perceived enemies. The witness, a former Golden Dawn member, is under protective custody and addressed the special court at Piraeus's Korydallos Prison anonymously from police headquarters in downtown Athens, in the presence of a prosecutor and a misdemeanors judge. His voice was digitally altered to protect his identity. A member of GD from 2012 to 2013, the witness said that during his time with the party he had received military style training at a facility in Malakasa, north of Athens, and participated in drills for attacks on migrants and other targets.

He added that the Malakasa training sessions were also attended by Giorgos Roupakias, the Golden Dawner who has allegedly confessed to killing rapper Pavlos Fyssas in September 2013 – the incident that sparked the investigation into the far-right party. He also said that former paratrooper Ilias Kasidiaris, an MP and the party's spokesman, monitored the training sessions and took part in them. “I went to Malakasa for training three times. It was tough; very painful. There were around 30 or 35 of us and different trainers, one of whom was a military man. Roupakias was also there; he was a group captain, he had a rank and was allowed everywhere, unlike us. He spoke to the big guys,” said the witness, backing prosecution claims that Roupakias was not acting alone when he stabbed Fyssas to death but on orders from above. “Kasidiaris also came to observe, but he trained us once in martial arts,” the former Golden Dawn member said.

He went on to describe the structure and methods of the so-called “storm detachments,” attack squads named after the Nazi Sturmabteilung who target mainly migrant workers, as well as individuals or groups openly opposed to the party. “Each detachment had 20 or 30 people. They wore black pants and a GD t-shirt in the Nikaia chapter, and camouflage pants and the GD t-shirt in Piraeus, and we carried big sticks that were supposed to look like flags. The detachments were for foreigners and those who didn't like Golden Dawn. We had a commander who have the signal for an attack and we carried it out,” he said. The witness added that all decisions involved party leader Nikos Michaloliakos. “No one could take the decision for such an action without him knowing about it.” The witness described a specific attack against a migrant, without specifying the location or date: “We hit a Pakistani; he got hurt really bad. We were on 20 motorcycles with two people on each. The attack lasted about 20 minutes.”

Golden Dawn has been accused of carrying out dozens of similar assaults, at least two fatal. Asked why he left the party, the witness said: “I didn't want to become a killer.” He also apologized to the family of the 34-year-old singer – a vocal opponent of Golden Dawn – adding that he was not at the scene of the stabbing. The witness said that after testifying to a deputy prosecutor of the Supreme Court in the wake of Fyssas's killing, he and members of his family had been threatened. The testimony was not without incident, however, as the defense claimed to hear a voice in the video prompting the witness on what to say, despite assurances from the judicial officials in the witness room at Athens police headquarters. The complaint prompted the testimony to be postponed until next Wednesday.
© The Kathimerini.

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Greece: Prosecution lawyer attacked by Golden Dawn supporters

1/11/2017- A prosecution lawyer in the ongoing trial against Golden Dawn, as well as another woman, were attacked by supporters of the neo-Nazi party on Alexandras Avenue in Athens on Wednesday. The lawyer, identified as Evgenia Kouniaki, was reportedly getting off a trolley bus when the attack happened, and was headed to Athens police headquarters (GADA), where five protected witnesses are due to testify by video link at the special court in Korydallos Prison near Piraeus where the trial against Golden Dawn is being held. She was set upon by a group of Golden Dawn supporters who had been passing out flyers near GADA for a planned rally. Judges on Wednesday ordered that the witnesses should testify on Friday, in the presence of a judicial official. Their voices will be distorted in order to protect their identity.
© The Kathimerini.

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Greece: Judges to rule on protected witnesses in Golden Dawn trial

31/10/2017- Judges presiding over the ongoing trial into the criminal activities of Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn are due to rule on Wednesday on how five witnesses in protective custody will be testifying. The issue arose after the defense in September demanded that the five material witnesses be questioned in open court, revealing their identities and possibly putting themselves at risk of undue pressure or even reprisals. The demand was rejected, but judges now have to decide on whether to approve a more moderate request for a judicial official to be present while the witnesses testify via video link behind closed doors at police headquarters in central Athens. Judges and the public at the specially designed court in Korydallos Prison where the trial is being held will only be able to hear the witnesses’ voices, which will be distorted in order to further protect their identity.
© The Kathimerini.

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Germany: Religious freedom for Muslims: the AfD have picked their first fight in the Bundestag

The new German parliament only met for the first time at the end of October and already the first impasse has been reached. The other parties are refusing to accept the Alternative for Germany (AfD) nominee for Bundestag vice-president. Is this petulance or principle?

Who is the Bundestag President?
1/11/2017- On October 24th Germany’s long-time Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble was elected Bundestag President (BP) at the first sitting of the new parliament. Bundestag President is the second highest office in the country, after that of the President, higher even than the Chancellor. While it is a position of considerable prestige, the incumbent holds little power. He or she runs the proceedings of the Bundestag, holding the power to stop someone from speaking if they go off topic too much or if they “damage the integrity of the parliament”. In extreme cases, they can even fine disruptive lawmakers. According to a law passed in 1994, each party represented in the parliament gets to have a deputy Bundestag President. The vice-BPs meet with the BP every week to discuss issues which affect the running of the parliament.

What is the controversy?
The AfD entered the Bundestag for the first time after winning over 12 percent of the vote in national elections at the end of September. They fought a strongly anti-refugee, anti-Islam campaign, with leading party members repeating the mantra that “Islam doesn’t belong to Germany.” As their candidate for vice-BP, they nominated Albrecht Glaser, a 75-year-old veteran local politician from Frankfurt. As well as denying the science behind global warming, Glaser has made several controversial statements regarding religious freedom. “We are for religious freedom," he said in April. "Islam is a construction that doesn’t recognize religious freedom and doesn’t respect it. Wherever Islam has power it suppresses religious freedom. Whoever treats basic rights like that should have this basic right taken away from them.”

Politicians from the other parties point out that the German constitution enshrines the right to religious freedom. “Whoever puts religious freedom in doubt has disqualified himself. I can’t vote for such a person,” Green party leader Cem Özdemir told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) last month. This is a view shared by lawmakers across the political spectrum. So when Glaser’s nomination came up for vote, he only won 115 of the over 709 MPs' votes. When the AfD re-nominated him, he won 123 votes. At the third attempt, he mustered only 114 votes. But the AfD are standing by their man, with party leader Alexander Gauland saying that Glaser’s views represent those of the whole party.

Are the other parties right to block Glaser?
The German constitution is clear on the right of every citizen to practise their religion as they wish. Article 4 of the Basic Law states that "the freedom of religion, conscience and the freedom of confessing one's religious or philosophical beliefs are inviolable." The principled argument for blocking a candidate who wishes to take a basic constitutional right from a Muslim population of 4.7 million is clear. Nonetheless, not everyone agrees with it. “I have complete respect for the MPs who voted against the AfD candidate and I understand why they did it,” Aiman Mazyek, head of the Central Council of Muslims, said on Friday. But he added that it would be better to accept Glaser “so that the AfD can’t portray themselves as victims.” “Then we need to get by with the fact that we have an Islam hater and racist as German vice-BP - that is Germany in 2017, it’s sad but true.”

Mazyek said that Glaser’s views had "nothing to do with how most Muslims in Germany think", accusing the 75-year-old of holding a view of Islam similar to that of radical Salafis. The AfD’s attitude to religious freedom was also met with stern criticism from the new Israeli ambassador in Germany on Wednesday. “When it comes to the rights of Muslims in Germany I can only refer to the example of Israel,” Jeremy Issacharoff told Die Welt. “We have been at war with Arab countries and have internal problems. But we have always had a very established Muslim community.” “We have never limited the religious freedom of Muslims. I can’t remember a single time when someone has suggested doing this,” he said.
© The Local - Germany

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Anti-Semitic Anne Frank football stickers appear in Germany

Stickers displaying Anne Frank wearing football jerseys have appeared in Germany as an anti-Semitic provocation by neo-Nazi fans. Dortmund and Leipzig hooligan groups appear to be copying their Italian counterparts.

31/10/2017- An anti-Semitic campaign by far-right Italian football supporters appears to have spread to Germany, after stickers featuring murdered Jewish child diarist Anne Frank wearing a Schalke 04 football jersey have appeared in social media posts and stuck up around Düsseldorf, near the cities of Dortmund and Gelsenkirchen, where the club Schalke is based. The fake Panini-style stickers were first reported by local blog Ruhrbarone, which published a photo of them it said had been found on the Facebook profile of a neo-Nazi active in the local far-right scene. No one has taken responsibility for creating the image, but the fact that Anne Frank is pictured wearing the jersey of Schalke 04, biggest rival of football club Borussia Dortmund (BVB), seems to corroborate Ruhrbarone's speculation that the neo-Nazis are BVB supporters. In recent seasons, new Dortmund hooligan group "RIOT 0231," named after the city’s dialing code, has threatened left-leaning BVB ultras and sung anti-Semitic songs on a train to the 2016 German Cup final. The group also issued death threats against a supporter liaison officer and club CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke before announcing their official dissolution in July 2017.

Copycat Nazis
The city of Dortmund is also known to have a particularly active far-right scene, and neo-Nazi political parties the National Democratic Party (NPD) and "Die Rechte" both have seats on the local city council. But Schalke has other rivals in the industrial Ruhr region of Germany, and BVB told the Rheinische Post newspaper that they had no information on the origin of the Facebook post. But the club also added, "These stickers can barely be surpassed in their tastelessness. We distance ourselves from this action in the extreme." BVB also pointed out that it works with supporters' groups to combat anti-Semitism and racism in the city and organizes trips to former Nazi concentration camps.

But the new trend appears to be spreading in Germany. A supporter of Lokomotive Leipzig posted the same Anne Frank image on Instagram, with the Holocaust victim wearing the jersey of Chemie Leipizig, city rivals who Lok are due to play in the regional league in November. The post, re-posted on Twitter by anti-fascist journalist Sören Kuhlhuber, included the caption "Looking forward to it" as well as the abbreviation "JDN CHM," for "Juden Chemie" (Chemie Jews). Lok Leipzig swiftly issued a statement condemning the image, saying that it had filed criminal charges. "Before someone actually gets the completely absurd idea that 1. FC Lok has anything to do with such vileness, we would like to make it clear once again: 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig distances itself with all severity from all forms of anti-Semitism and fascism … Anyone who doesn't want to accept that can have nothing to do with our club. Period."

Italian connection
The German stickers appear to be a direct reference to an image distributed by fascist fans of the Rome football club Lazio, who stuck them around the stadium of their city rivals Roma. In response, Lazio promised to take 200 of their fans to visit Auschwitz concentration camp, while club president Claudio Lotito laid a wreath in a Rome synagogue as a symbolic apology. The Italian club also had excerpts from Anne Frank's diary read in the stadium before last weekend's game, while players came out wearing t-shirts condemning anti-Semitism.

Police in Germany are investigating another anti-Semitic incident - on Sunday, two representations of Jewish athletes were vandalized outside the National Football Museum in Dortmund, which is currently hosting an exhibition on Jewish sports stars persecuted by the Nazis. Museum director Manuel Neukirchner told Bild newspaper he was "shocked," but said "this will not prevent us from engaging intensively with this chapter in German history." The German Jewish Anne Frank was murdered in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March 1945 at the age of 15. Her diary, published after World War II by her father Otto Frank, documented her family's attempt to hide from German soldiers in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam during World War II.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Wilders calls for ‘mass demonstrations’ after Molenbeek ban

Dutch Anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders said on Friday he is to appeal against a decision by the mayor of a Belgian city banning him from visiting the locality.

3/11/2017- The PVV leader had hoped to join his Belgian counterpart Filip Dewinter, of the Vlaams Belang party, for a so-called ‘Islam safari’ through areas of Molenbeek with a high Muslim population. Some of the terrorists who carried out attacks in Madrid in 2004 and Paris two years ago came from Molenbeek. Wilders and Dewinter had originally planned a walkabout, but later said they would tour the district by car to avoid the visit being seen as a provocation. But on Thursday the mayor of Sint-Jans-Molenbeek issued a municipal order banning Wilders and Dewinter from the area on Friday. According to Belgian media reports, De Winter plans to press ahead with the visit but Wilders has cancelled his appearance, citing safety concerns. The two politicians now plan to take their case to Belgium’s Council of State in an effort to have the ban overturned. ‘Jihadis can travel around Europe more easily than elected representatives who are threatened with arrest if they enter areas in their own country or a neighbouring land,’ Wilders told a news conference. ‘We must resist, democratically and without violence,’ he said. ‘But enough is enough. The time has come for demonstrations – as far as I am concerned mass demonstrations. The Netherlands belongs to the Dutch and Belgium to the Belgians.’
© The Dutch News

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Belgium: Wilders banned from ‘Islam safari’ in Brussels suburbs

2/11/2017- Anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders has been warned he faces arrest if he goes ahead with a planned visit to the Brussels district of Molenbeek on Friday. The PVV leader is due to join his Belgian counterpart Filip Dewinter, of the Vlaams Belang party, for a so-called ‘Islam safari’ through areas of the city with a high Muslim population. Some of the terrorists who carried out attacks in Madrid in 2004 and Paris two years ago came from Molenbeek. Wilders and Dewinter had originally planned a walkabout, but later said they would tour the district by car to avoid the visit being seen as a provocation. On Thursday the mayor of Sint-Jans-Molenbeek issued a municipal order banning Wilders and Dewinter from the area on Friday. ‘Any gathering of people in connection with this event, whether by participants, organisers or opponents, is forbidden on the territory of the municipality of Sint-Jans-Molenbeek,’ the statement read. Mayor Françoise Schepmans said police would be on hand and take action if necessary to enforce the order. Wilders reacted with a Tweet condemning the decision as ‘cowardly’. ‘Molenbeek has been officially declared Islamic territory,’ he declared.
© The Dutch News

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Belgium: Far-right leaders organise ‘Islam safari’ through notorious Muslim suburb

Two far-right parties have come under fire for organising an ‘Islam safari’ through a neighbourhood that became notorious after the Paris and Brussels attacks.

31/10/2017- Leaders from the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV) and Flemish Interest Party in Belgium are planning on visiting Molenbeek in Brussels on Friday. The neighbourhood was branded the ‘jihadist centre of Europe’ by international media after the attacks in 2015 and 2016. Salah Abdeslam, the main suspect in the deadly Paris attacks that killed 130 people in a series of coordinated attacks, hid out in the suburb until his arrest. The area is predominantly inhabited by Muslims from northern Africa. Mayor of Molenbeek Francoise Schepmans took offence to the term ‘safari’ and said she would take the necessary measures to prevent the visit led by Dutch MP Geert Wilders and Belgian colleague Filip Dewinter. Dewinter said he had not heard of any ban and added: ‘We will go anyway.’ The Belgian politician said he did not choose the term ‘Islam safari’ to provoke an outrage among the citizens of Molenbeek.

Dewinter said: ‘Geert and I will make a journey through Molenbeek and Brussels, through neighbourhoods which are occupied by Islam. ‘What is the reality in Molenbeek? That Arabic is the spoken language, that the mosque has replaced the city hall and that the imam is the mayor. That is the provocation. ‘But the outside world cannot know all that. And thus we are not allowed in. It is the world upside down.’ Wilders said in an interview with Belgian media that the intended visit is not a provocation. Wilders said: ‘How can it be a provocation? Molenbeek belongs to the Belgians, not to them. ‘I have compared Molenbeek once with Gaza, but perhaps Raqqa is a better comparison. Only Molenbeek has not yet been freed.’ In the interview Wilders said that Hitler’s book Mein Kampf is ‘less anti-Semitic’ than the Quran. Wilders said: ‘The freedom of religion does not count for totalitarian ideologies.’ Wilders has previously campaigned to ban the Quran.
© Metro UK

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Catalonia: Fascists caught making Nazi salutes during anti-Catalan independence protest

Far-right protesters also chanted 'Viva Franco' in reference to Spain's former dictator 

30/10/2017- Fascists have been seen making Nazi salutes and clashing with police officers during a protest against the Catalonian independence vote in Barcelona. Hundreds of thousands of people descended on the streets of the Catalan capital on Sunday to take part in a pro-unity rally in favour of the region remaining in Spain. The protest, which took place just two days after the Catalan regional parliament made a unilateral declaration of independence, was tainted by small outbreaks of violence from neo-Nazis. Footage from the predominantly peaceful demonstration showed neo-Nazi protesters draped in Spanish flags raising their right hands in Sieg Hiel salutes reminiscent of pro-Hitler rallies in Nazi Germany. Another clip showed far-right protesters chanting “Viva Franco” – a reference to Spain's former dictator General Francisco Franco.

Tensions boiled over into street clashes between fascists and baton-wielding police officers. A neo-Nazi protester with a swastika tattoo emblazoned on his hand could be seen clashing with Catalonian security forces. While the organising association, the Societat Civil Catalana [SCC], calculated the total turnout of Catalan and Spanish flag-waving protesters to be well over a million, local authorities provided a much lower estimate of 300,000. This is not the first time fascist salutes have broken out at a pro-unity rally. Earlier in October, a small group of protesters in Madrid rallying under the slogan “for the unity of Spain” appeared to flash fascist salutes in a procession led by a group aligning themselves with far-right party Falange Española‏ de las Jons, which held power during the Francoist dictatorship period of the country.

Use of the salute is illegal in some countries. In Germany, Slovakia, and Austria, the gesture is deemed a criminal offence but in countries like Canada and France, it is viewed as hate speech if used for disseminating Nazi ideology. The most recent protests come after Catalonia’s dismissed deputy president announced he rejects what he branded a “coup d’etat” by the Spanish government. Oriol Junqueras said "the president of the country is and will remain Carles Puigdemont."  He made the comments in an article for Catalan newspaper El Punt Avui which he signed off "Vice President of the government of Catalonia." Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy took direct control of the region after it voted in favour of an independent republic. This is to be carried out under Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution which allows Madrid to impose direct rule. The national government in Madrid dismissed Mr Puigdemont and Mr Junqueras.

Mr Rajoy said the declaration of independence "not only goes against the law but is a criminal act" and announced the looming dissolution of the Catalan parliament, the closure of Catalan embassies abroad and issued a call for regional elections. In a scathing attack, Mr Puigdemont accused Mr Rajoy of the “worst attack on Catalan institutions since the dictator General Franco ordered the end of our autonomy”. “What we decide through voting is to be wiped out by the government in their offices,” Mr Puigdemont claimed on Saturday. Spain has been engulfed in its biggest political crisis in decades which exploded after the Civil Guard, Spain’s semi-militarised central police force, were ordered in to stop people voting in the referendum for independence on 1 October. The police were widely condemned for their heavy-handed tactics which culminated in them beating people as they arrived at polling stations and fire rubber bullets into the crowd.
© The Independent

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UK: Alleged neo-Nazi 'who bought machete to murder Labour MP Rosie Cooper' appears in court

Six alleged members of banned far-right terrorist group due to go on trial next year

3/11/2017- An alleged neo-Nazi accused of buying a machete with the intention of murdering a Labour MP has appeared in court. The 22-year-old will go on trial next year, alongside five other men accused of being members of a banned far-right terrorist group, The man from Lancashire, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is charged with intending to commit acts of terrorism, making threats to kill a female police officer and being a member of National Action. He allegedly purchased a “Gladius Machete” – a type of weapon used by Celtic tribes and Roman legions – for the purpose of murdering Labour MP Rosie Cooper earlier this year. Christopher Lythgoe, the alleged regional leader of National Action’s regional faction, is accused of “the encouragement of murder” by approving the alleged plot at a meeting. Lythgoe, 31 from Warrington, and the 22-year-old have also been charged with membership of a terrorist organisation, alongside Garron Helm, 24, of Seaforth, Matthew Hankinson, 23, of Newton-Le-Willows, Andrew Clarke, 33, of Prescot and Michael Trubini, 25, of Warrington.

The men appeared at the Old Bailey via video link before Mr Justice Haddon-Cave, and were remanded in custody. They had been among 11 suspects arrested across England and Wales during a crackdown on National Action in September. The group and two of its aliases – Scottish Dawn and NS131 – have been banned by the Government, which cited its “virulently racist, antisemitic and homophobic” ideology. The six defendants are accused of continuing to be members of National Action after the group was banned in December - an offence punishable by up to 10 years' imprisonment. The judge set their trial for Woolwich Crown Court in London on a date to be fixed after April next year.
© The Independent

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UK: Jews and Gypsies unite in effort to beat ‘obscene’ levels of hate

The Board of Deputies said it would be “stand in solidarity” with the groups on shared interests and to combat “obscene” levels of hostility.

30/10/2017- The Jewish community will work more closely with Gypsy and Traveller groups on issues including hate crime and Holocaust remembrance. Following a series of meetings in Leeds, the Board of Deputies said it would be “stand in solidarity” with the groups on shared interests and to combat “obscene” levels of hostility. Among the topics which will be tackled together are human rights issues and welfare concerns. Marie van der Zyl, Board vice-president, said Gypsy and traveller groups were “working hard for the empowerment of their communities”. She added: “Because of our history – like that of the Gypsy, Roma and traveller communities - the Jewish community is acutely aware of where racial prejudice can lead us. “In 2017, racism remains a stain on our society, and we’re here today to say we stand in solidarity with other minority groups, who are facing obscene levels of hostility.”

Ms van der Zyl led a Board delegation alongside members of the René Cassin charity and Leeds Jewish Representative Council at the sessions in Leeds last week. They visited the Leeds Gypsy and Traveller Exchange (Gate) to discuss housing issues, healthcare, education and employment among Roma people. Helen Jones, Gate chief executive, said her charity was “really excited” to be developing links with British Jews. “Whilst some of our common ground is inevitably our experiences of being demonised, excluded and subject to hate, what is really exciting to explore is our shared experiences of promoting human rights, peace building and resilience,” she said.

Mia Hasenson-Gross, René Cassin director, said: “It’s been an extremely positive few days. We have tragic historic ties as well as shared current and pressing issues such as rising hate crime. “These are best tackled through building strong relationships and an understanding of the experiences of our respective communities. We look forward to building on these meetings.” Simon Phillips, from the Rep Council, said the communities had “so much in common – the importance of family, a pride in culture, heritage and history and a commitment to challenging and tackling hate crime, racism and prejudice. “The Jewish community have always had a strong belief in supporting the rights of minorities and we thank Rene Cassin for reminding us of our responsibilities for tikkun olam, the ‘healing of the world’.”
© The Jewish Chronicle

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UK: Muslim father ordered not to discuss Islam with his own children

The man was ordered to only discuss his faith with his three children in a "non-pressurising way".

30/10/2017- A Muslim father whose three children are being cared for by a Christian foster family has been told by a judge that he must not "pressure" them about following Islam during visits. The 53-year-old man, who has chosen to remain anonymous, told the Manchester Evening News (MEN) that he was made to sign a court document in 2015 in which he agreed not to talk about Islam with his offspring. Since then the ban has been softened and the court has allowed the man to discuss Islam with his two sons and daughter, all under 16, but only on the condition that he does so in a "non-pressurising way". The man's children were taken into care in 2011 after the death of their mother. The children's parents were estranged and had a "volatile relationship", according to court documents. Since the mother's death, the man has been trying to get custody of the three children. He has been accused of domestic violence and assaulting a social worker, claims he vehemently denies.

The man has seen his children twice in the past six years, under strict conditions. A document from Salford Children's Services, seen by MEN, stipulates that the man agreed to "not to discuss the Muslim religion" with his children during any supervised contact. The man told MEN that he felt forced to sign the agreement because he was desperate to see his children. He claims that he is the victim of Islamophobia. "What's happening is xenophobia and bigotry", he told the newspaper. "It's Stockholm syndrome. It's parental estrangement. They are obviously feeding all kinds of ridiculous propaganda to my children and this is the end result." The man has been to Manchester's family court 13 times to try and get his children back. At the last hearing, the conditions of his interaction with his children were relaxed, but he was warned not to "pressure" the children into discussing Islam as Salford Children's Services said they did not consider themselves Muslim.

District Judge Relph told the man: "In the light of the court's finding as to the children's previous upbringing, the local authority has made it clear that it does not propose to treat the children as belonging to the Muslim faith, although the father may supply relevant information to them about his faith or discuss his beliefs with them in a non-pressurising way during future contact." Councillor Lisa Stone, lead member of children's and young people's services in Salford, said the children's wellbeing was the primary concern. "We understand the distress of the father but he has had access to the courts on numerous occasions which have upheld the plans of the local authority. This case has been before the Local Government Ombudsman who found no fault with the council's actions," she said.
© The International Business Times - UK

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Revealed: Ukip whistleblowers raised fears about Breitbart influence on Brexit

Sources tell Guardian that senior ‘volunteers’ in Ukip before EU referendum were paid by the rightwing US website

30/10/2017- Two internal Ukip whistleblowers filed complaints to the UK’s Electoral Commission over fears the party was making “unusual arrangements” with a pro-Trump website in the months before the 2016 EU referendum, the Guardian has learned. The concerns included allegations that individuals who were being paid by Breitbart, a rightwing American news organisation, were working as senior unpaid Ukip volunteers, raising questions in their minds about whether their work could be construed as an indirect political donation by a foreign donor, according to sources who spoke to the Guardian on the condition of anonymity. One whistleblower told the Guardian that concerns that the party was turning to “off-balance-sheet financing”, possibly in violation of UK rules, prompted the decision to turn to the electoral commission. The complaints were brought to the attention of the Metropolitan police by the Electoral Commission, but the police decided to take no further action.

Separately, a Labour MP, Ben Bradshaw, called this month on the government to investigate the possible role “dark money” played in the EU referendum, including concerns of foreign interference in the 23 June vote. Steve Bannon, who has a close relationship with the former Ukip leader Nigel Farage, served as executive chair of Breitbart at the time. Bannon later became Donald Trump’s campaign adviser and served as White House strategist until August, when he left the White House and returned to Breitbart. The news website is a platform that is popular among the “alt-right” in the US, an increasingly vocal movement of extreme rightwing white nationalists. Bannon launched Breitbart London in 2014. Within a short period, the website was seen as being aligned with Ukip, a party that Bannon saw as a British version of the rightwing US Tea Party movement. Farage has often praised Breitbart for its support of Brexit, saying the 23 June referendum would not have gone in favour of the leave campaign without the news website’s “supportive voice”.

But now revelations about internal concerns at the time raise questions about the extent of the influence of the American site. Multiple sources who spoke to the Guardian on the condition of anonymity said that they were alarmed by what they viewed as a “deliberate strategy” by Breitbart to wield influence over Ukip in ways that emphasised views against migrants and other far-right positions. One former insider said: “I had concerns about Nigel and some people around them with Bannon and Breitbart.” The person added: “It wasn’t clear whether certain people were being paid for on the balance sheet of the party. It is important that people should be employed by the party and that funding for Ukip is officially and properly declared and registered at the Electoral Commission.” Sources pointed to Farage’s close relationship with Bannon and Breitbart, and work that was performed by a lawyer, Matthew Richardson, who served as party secretary for Ukip and was close to Bannon.

In one case, according to people familiar with the matter, Richardson suggested in late 2014 that ahead of the general election Ukip could make use of the services of a US-based electoral data company, Voter Gravity, that would not have to be paid for by Ukip and would be provided as a donation-in-kind. The offer was declined, according to sources. Voter Gravity is a company that promises to “turn data into votes”, according to its website. It was founded by conservative US political operative Ned Ryun, who is also a regular contributor to Breitbart. Ryun, who has been described in media reports as being close to Bannon, told the Guardian that he worked with UKIP in late 2014 and early 2015 to “assist them in the general election” but that it did not work out due to “regulatory problems”. “We were prepared to work for nothing,” Ryun said, because the company allegedly was trying to gain a foothold into the UK. “I wanted to work on the referendum [too] but nothing materialised there either,” he said.

In another case, Farage sought out an internal legal opinion about whether he could accept funds from a US donor to pay for a driver and security guard, according to two sources familiar with the matter. The legal opinion determined that such a donation was not permissible. “It means someone was willing to pay up,” one former Ukip insider told the Guardian. A spokesman for Farage did not respond to requests for comment. Richardson did not respond to requests for comment by email and phone. Raheem Kassam was also seen as a link between Ukip and Breitbart. Kassam, who now heads Breitbart London, also worked as a key adviser to Farage. According to a 2015 report in the Spectator, it was Bannon who saw Kassam as a rising star of the British right, and approached Kassam, who was active online, as an “ideal apprentice”. Asked about his financial ties to Breitbart and Ukip, Kassam told the Guardian: “You realise your line of questioning is actually much more applicable to the BBC than us, right?”

There is no evidence that Ukip or Breitbart broke the law. Bannon did not respond to emails and calls from the Guardian. It is illegal for British campaigns to accept foreign donations or donations from anyone who is not UK registered. But one expert said that volunteering presented an “interesting grey area” in the law that could be difficult to define since most electoral campaigns are managed by volunteers. Damian Tambini, director of the media policy project at the LSE, added: “A donation in kind, giving goods and services, are subject to the same rules as a donation and also subject to spending limits.”

Sources with close knowledge of the matter said the Electoral Commission made inquiries about the allegations but determined that it did not have enough information to launch a full investigation. The commission thought the complaint was serious enough, however, to warrant a review by the Metropolitan police. The police contacted at least one of the whistleblowers but decided not to take further action. The Met told the Guardian that it received allegations related to five cases of election expense returns for the 2015 general election and that two of the allegations did not meet the threshold for a criminal investigation. It said it was conducting two investigations into referrals from the Electoral Commission that were received in late 2016 and March 2017, but declined to comment further.
© The Guardian.

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Far-right group Britain First to march through Bromley in support of leaders

A rally has been planned to "show solidarity" with leaders Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen who have been charged charged with causing religiously aggravated harassment

29/10/2017- Supporters of the far-right political group Britain First are planning to march through Bromley to "show solidarity" with leaders who have been charged with causing religiously aggravated harassment. Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen were charged with three and four counts, respectively, of causing religiously aggravated harassment in May. Their supporters have now organised a 'Persecuted Patriots Rally' to march with Golding and Fransen to Bromley Police Station next Saturday (November 4) between 1pm and 4pm. Currently 137 people are going to attend the rally and a further 568 are "interested" in taking part according to the Facebook event which has been set up. According to the event page, Britain First claims: "The police have forced Golding and Fransen to sign on Bromley Police Station every Saturday at 2pm. "Don't let others stand alone on the front line! All patriots are welcome to attend. Good standards of behaviour apply."

Golding and Fransen both pleaded not guilty to the charges the face at Medway Magistrates' Court on October 17. The case has been adjourned until next year. The charges are in relation to allegations of leaflets being distributed in the Thanet and Canterbury areas of Kent and also videos being posted online. There could be difficulty for traffic and pedestrians making their way through Bromley on the day because a counter-protest has been organised against the rally by groups including Unite Against Facism. The counter-protest is inviting people to demonstrate at the same time at Bromley North railway station. Britain First says it is "patriotic political party and street movement that opposes and fights the many injustices that are routinely inflicted on the British people".
© The Croydon Advertiser

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UK: Man arrested for assaulting police officer at far right rally

Staffordshire Police said some protesters had become ‘violent and aggressive’ and confirmed fireworks and bottles had also been thrown.

29/10/2017- A man has been arrested for assaulting a police officer following a far right rally in Burslem yesterday. A 20-year-old spat and punched an officer shortly after the protest began in Swan Square at 4pm. Disorder arose between demonstrators from the Stoke-on-Trent Infidels – who had organised what they called an 'anti-grooming' rally – and counter-protesters NorSCARF. After interference from officers, by 6pm the group had been disbanded.Inspector Jonathan Staite, said: "This was planned to be a peaceful protest but unfortunately tensions between the two sides escalated into disorder and objects were thrown. "Our officers were able to intervene and calm the situation and prevent any further clashes from taking place. Luckily, no-one was seriously injured. "Our main priority is keeping the public safe and while everyone has a right to protest, using violence and intimidation will not be tolerated and it will be stopped."
© The Stoke Sentinel

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