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Headlines 26 May, 2017

Headlines 19 May, 2017

News from UK, Italy & Germany

Headlines 12 May, 2017

News from France, UK, Italy, Germany & Russia - Week 19

Headlines 5 May, 2017

News from Italy, Germany, UK & France - Week 18

Headlines 26 May, 2017

UK: Scottish Nationalist group ‘inspired’ by banned Neo-Nazi group

22/5/2017- A neo-Nazi group banned after celebrating the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox has inspired a new Scottish nationalist front, according to anti-fascist researchers. National Action became the first UK far-right group proscribed as a terrorist organisation after it adopted the “death to traitors” slogan of the Labour MP’s extremist killer and declared “she had it coming”. But now campaign and research group Hope Not Hate believes that white supremacists, with supporters in Glasgow, have branded themselves north of the Border as Scottish Dawn. Scottish Dawn’s black and yellow banners – the colours of the SNP – first appeared at an anti- refugee rally organised by the staunchly pro-Unionist Scottish Defence League (SDL) in Alloa, Clackmannanshire, earlier this spring.

The new group claims to support independence for Scotland in a “hopeful future”, but describes Nicola Sturgeon as a “Communist traitor”. Scottish Dawn also describes itself as part of a racial struggle and claims to have drawn its members from UKIP and SDL. However, Hope Not Hate researchers found the yellow-and-black flag waved in Alloa – a Norse Yggdrasil “Tree of life” – among a cache of images developed by National Action figure Ben Raymond. The charity believes that Scottish Dawn is one of a new network of far-right groups Mr Raymond is creating after National Action was banned. Their analysis is echoed by American white supremacists. Far-right website Daily Stormer said the new group was “inspired by both National Action and the Identitarian movement”.

It added that “corrupt UK elites… would have to play whack a mole with all the new groups” rising up after the National Action ban and accused the SNP of wanting to let “Third World primitives” move to Scotland. The group, on its website, says it is ready to work with other Scottish nationalists and attempts to mimic mainstream pro-independence sentiment. However, it adds that it is for “true Scots and not new Scots” and opposes the SNP’s independence plans as a disaster. It has not responded to requests for a comment. Scottish Dawn asking for a comment but has not received a reply. An unnamed spokesman, said on YouTube: “First and foremost we are Scottish nationalists but we are pan-Europeanists. “This is an racial struggle which involves everyone.” He added: “In a hopeful future Scotland would be an independent nation....part of a Europe of sovereign nations. “There is no malice towards our English brothers. We want to go it alone and be sovereign.”

Veteran Scottish anti-far-right campaigner Aamer Anwar said: “They appear to be yet another far-right organisation trying to tap into the independence movement. “I suspect that some now think that they can masquerade under a new title, but it’s the same old Nazi message.” An SNP spokesman said: “This kind of far-right, racist organisation has absolutely no place in modern Scotland.” National Action was proscribed by Home Secretary Amber Rudd in December. She acted before the conviction of Scottish-born Thomas Mair for the murder of Ms Cox during the EU referendum.
© The Herald Scotland

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Cyprus: Kisa financial appeal for talented migrant athlete

22/5/2017- Kisa migrant and refugee centre is asking the public to support a 17-year-old refugee whose dream it is to train as a middle-distance runner. The young man who lives at the Kofinou reception centre would need to move to Nicosia in order to train with the Pancyprian Gymnastic Association at their stadium in Nicosia, who taking into consideration his great performances in races, invited him to join their team. However, Kisa said, the Kofinou centre is in a remote rural location in the Larnaca district and there is no possibility for him to attend training regularly. The only solution for him is to move to a flat in Nicosia. In order to do so and start training, the refugee needs to have €400 for the rent, €200 for the first month and €200 for a deposit. Additionally, he has to pay €350 guarantee to the electricity authority in order to get his power connected.

“Despite the fact that he is entitled to financial assistance and was encouraged by the authorities to leave the camp and move to Nicosia, they only provided him with an insufficient amount of €100,” Kisa said. “According to the national law, asylum seekers are entitled to a subsidy of only €100 per month for their accommodation.” As he needs €650 more Kisa calls on the public to support the young athlete by raising money for electricity, furniture and appliances. “He needs our help, and we are sure that collectively we can make a huge difference in the life of a young refugee,” the Kisa statement concluded. Those who want to contribute can support the refugee by clicking https://www.youcaring.com/achildrefugee-827089?fb_action_ids=1357814187644341&fb_action_types=youcaringcom%3Ashare
© The Cyprus Mail

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Romanians march in gay pride event amid moves to limit rights

Around 1,000 people have marched through Bucharest amid proposals to amend the constitution and ban gay marriage. Orthodox Church groups claim to have 3 million signatures in support of the plan.

20/5/2017- Saturday's gay pride march took place amid a carnival atmosphere in the Romanian capital, despite anger at moves to curtail gay marriage. Recently, lawmakers supported a plan that could see part of the country's constitution rewritten to explicitly state that marriage is a union between a man and woman. The text, which currently allows for marriage between "spouses," will now be put to a public referendum.

Democracy 'undermined'
Denouncing the proposals, gay rights' activist Florin Buhuceanu told the Agence France-Presse news agency that authorities "want to use democratic means to undermine democracy and deprive certain social groups of the protection due to them." Another demonstrator, Radu, told AFP that "it's important to support all citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation." Vlad Viski, chairman of the gay rights' group MosaiQ, insisted that "gay couples are a reality," telling The Associated Press that Romania must legalize civil partnerships. Several groups close to the powerful Orthodox Church have launched the "citizens' initiative" that will effectively see gay marriage banned if the referendum is approved. The groups claim to have collected 3 million signatures from among the Romanian population of nearly 20 million. In response, Saturday's protesters, waving rainbow flags and carrying umbrellas amid a heavy downpour, called for a "separation between the church and the state."

Criticism from diplomats, MEPs
Thirty-three members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have also called on parliament not to "support the referendum," which they said was likely to "permit the continuation of discrimination already present in Romanian society." US Ambassador Hans G. Klemm also took part in Saturday's march, which received support from some 30 international diplomats despite being frowned upon by many Romanians. At one point, a minute's silence was held in solidarity with gay people being detained and tortured in Chechnya because of their sexuality. Patrick Braila, a Romanian movie director and gay rights' activist, called for marchers to remember gays in Chechnya and Romanians who had moved abroad due to discrimination. Romania decriminalized homosexuality in 2001. Earlier in the day, a small counter-march was held by far-right parties, who said they were opposed to adoptions by same-sex couples.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Ireland: Dublin gay bar vandalized with swastika & slurs

20/5/2017- A famous gay bar in Dublin, the George, was vandalized late last night with anti-gay and Nazi graffiti. Brian Finnegan, editor of Ireland‘s Gay Community News, told the Independent, “The George is Dublin’s most identifiable gay spot and this shows that there are still people who think it’s perfectly acceptable to be viciously homophobic and anti-gay.” This morning the bar was found with the words “faggots” and other homophobic slurs written on it. A swastika was also drawn on the bar. Fortunately, the vandals used chalk, and the damage has already been removed. The bar is located in a neighborhood known for its nightlife, but no witnesses have come forward. The incident occurred during a weekend with events celebrating the two-year anniversary of the Marriage Equality Referendum passing in Ireland. Dublin police say they are investigating the incident.
© LGBTQ Nation

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Headlines 19 May, 2017

Bulgaria: Nazi Storms Shake New Govt

Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov has refused to bow to multiple calls for his resignation over Nazi rows involving both him and other members of his nationalist United Patriots.

19/5/2017- Valery Simeonov, a deputy to Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, overseeing the economy and demography, on Friday said he will not accept demands for his resignation from three opposition parties – the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the ethnic-Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms, and Volya, led by the businessman Vesselin Mareshki. “There is no way that I will resign, I do not see any reason for that,” Simenov told NOVA TV. Demands for his head follow a row over photos of two Patriotic Front colleagues giving Nazi salutes and over another expressing hate rhetoric, as well as his own alleged confession to a newspaper that he had taken joke photos at the Nazi-run Buchenwald concentration camp back in the 1970s.

Simeonov has asince denied making the statements about Buchenwald to Sega newspaper, which he has promised to take to court. On Friday he dismissed making the controversial comment while admitting he spoke to a Sega reporter, having on Wednesday told BIRN that no such conversation with the paper had taken place. On Wednesday, Pavel Tenev, a deputy minister for regional development from the “Patriots” quota in government, resigned after the media released a picture taken from his Facebook profile, showing him giving a Nazi salute in a museum in Paris nine years ago. On Thursday, Borissov then demanded the resignation of Ivo Antonov, a defence ministry official, over another photo - this one of him giving a Nazi salute in front of a German tank. This photo had first circulated in the media three years ago - and prevented him from becoming the defence minister in 2014.

Antonov has not been sacked yet, however, because, Simeonov explained on Friday, the official - also a member of the Patriots - had since been taken to hospital with a heart condition. Meanwhile, on Thursday, the media revealed screenshots of Facebook posts of Deputy Interior Minister Stefan Balabanov, later removed, in which he called Roma and refugees “scum” and “apes” and supported the beatings of Roma and other political opponents. On Thursday, Bulgaria’s largest Jewish organization “Shalom” called Simeonov’s reported words an “ugly demonstration of disrespect to the millions victims of the concentration camps”.

The Belgian leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group in the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, has meanwhile urged Bulgaria not to allow extremists into its government. “The future of Bulgaria must not be left in the hands of extreme nationalists. I am very concerned that the participation of the United Patriots in this government undermines European values,” he said in statement. Verhofstadt said Borisov “should reassess his coalition relations and demonstrate that he will have zero tolerance towards extremist and nationalist attitudes by members of his government”, adding that Borissov bears responsibility for Bulgaria’s future and for its forthcoming Presidency of the EU in 2018.

On Wednesday, leader of the Party of the European Socialists in Strasbourg, Sergey Stanishev, also slammed the cabinet over the row. The centre-right European People's Party, EPP, in Strasbourg has so far remained silent about the controversy involving Borissov’s GERB party, which is a member of the EPP. But in an attempt to calm the storms which have errupted just two weeks after the cabinet took office, GERB’s Vice-President Tsvetan Tsvetanov apologized on behalf of the coalition and condemned the controversial acts of members of the United Patriots. “We will not tolerate such photos, such statements. Prime Minister Boyko Borissov will not allow such people as members of the team of the current government. We apologize for the inconvenience. GERB guarantees the European values,” he said on Thurday.
© Balkan Insight

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Bulgaria Official Quits in Storm Over Nazi Salute

A new deputy minister has resigned after a photo of him giving a Nazi Salute appalled Jews and embarrassed the Bulgarian government.

17/5/2017- Just two days after he was appointed, Bulgaria’s new deputy regional development minister, Pavel Tenev, has resigned after media got hold of a picture from his Facebook profile, showing him giving a Nazi salute to figures of Nazi soldiers in the Grevin museum in Paris nine years ago. On Wednesday, the government press service announced that Boyko Borissov, Prime Minister and head of the coalition government uniting his centre-right GERB party and the nationalist United Patriots union, had accepted Tenev’s resignation. Tenev was not the only minister to cause a furor. Asked about Tenev - who comes from the nationalists’ quota in cabinet - Valeri Simeonov, vice-president of the United Patriots and Bulgaria’s Deputy Prime Minister, reportedly told Sega newspaper on Tuesday that the stunt was not to be taken seriously.

The newspaper reported him recalling how he himself had fooled around in the 1970s when he was taken as a student to the Nazi concentration camp in Buchenwald. “Who knows what gag photos we made there,” Simeonov reportedly told the journalist. Simeonov has since denied talking to the newspaper and has threatened to sue it, however. When BIRN on Wednesday asked him to comment on his statement, which had outraged among many Bulgarians, Simeonov in a telephone conversation denied having spoken to “Sega” at all on Tuesday. “This is lie, this has to be disproven,” Simeonov said, pledging to take the newspaper to court for defamation. Sega’s editorial team told BIRN that it stood behind the journalist, who “did his job completely professionally” and spoke to Simeonov twice on the phone – on the record.

Both Tenev’s picture and the statement that Simeonov later denied drew shocked reactions from the opposition, from Bulgaria’s small Jewish community and from people on social media. On Wednesday, Sergey Stanishev, a former Prime Minister and President of the Party of European Socialists, PES, called Simeonov’s alleged words “contradictory to European and human values. “People who treat this dark part of the history of humanity like that have no place in the governance of modern European Bulgaria,” he said. The Bulgarian delegation in the PES called for an apology from Simeonov and for the dismissal of Tenev. Emi Baruh, a Bulgarian journalist of Jewish origin, said she was “shocked” by the comment but insisted that the ultimate responsibility for it lay with Borissov. “When you let nationalists into government, this is what you get,” she said. “This is an extraordinary situation, one that shows that the country has permanently detached itself from any notion of public morality,” Baruh added.

BIRN approached Prime Minister Borissov’s office over the controversy but received no answer by time of publication. Borissov’s new cabinet has set a precedent - both because it is the first time that a prime minister has held a third mandate since Bulgaria’s first democratic elections in 1991, and because it officially includes nationalist parties - which was unthinkable only a few years ago. Simeonov, a businessman and owner of the nationalistic TV channel SKAT has a history of provocative statements – and actions. In the days before the vote in parliamentary election, his United Patriots blocked Bulgarian border checkpoints with Turkey, to stop busloads of Bulgarian ethnic Turks arriving from Turkey to vote in the election. During the blockades, which went on for days, Simeonov caused a stir by violently pushing an elderly lady of Turkish origin, forcing her back to Turkey, an incident that was broadcast on Bulgaria’s television stations.

In 2014, during a speech in parliament, Simeonov called the Bulgarian Roma “ferocious apes” and said that Roma women had “the instincts of stray bitches”, sparking outrage among human rights defenders. Many Jews outside Bulgaria may be surprised as well as taken aback by the Nazi salute stunt, as Bulgaria was historically considered friendly to Jews, in contrast to neighbouring Romania. Notably, the country refused to deport its Jewish community to Nazi Germany during the Second World War – although it did deport Jews from occupied Macedonia. After the war and the communist takeover, most emigrated to Israel.
© Balkan Insight

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Czech anti-migration movement falls apart in 2016

18/5/2017- The Czech anti-migrant forces totally disintegrated in 2016 due to a decline in the public interest in migration affairs and to disputes between various groups rejecting Islam and immigrants, according to the annual report on extremism that the cabinet is to discuss next week. Far-right groups stopped staging mostly anti-migrant events and they organised sharper protests against Czech politics in general and the country's membership of the European Union and NATO, the Interior Ministry writes in its report. The extreme right became even more splintered because of personal conflicts between the leading personalities that thwarted any long-term cooperation between smaller groups. The anti-immigrant groups were given space in alternative media that tried to spread or support the atmosphere of fear, using selective reporting about refugees and Muslims and connecting them with terrorism.

The camps of the followers of the Workers' Party of Social Justice (DSSS) and National Democracy (ND) apparently shrank, which was reflected in the poor results of both parties in the regional elections held last autumn, the ministry writes. Though the DSSS has more followers, it was less active than the ND, whose camp was joined by neo-Nazi supporters. On the contrary, the DSSS lost its broad support from the neo-Nazi movement last year. In its comment on the extreme left, the ministry writes that the anarchist scene stagnated, including its militant groups. The authoritarian groups remained fragmented, there was no prominent figure or team that would unite them and a low number of people supported these groups. Compared to 2015 when several police cars were put on fire, only one such incident was registered last year.

Extremist groups held 308 events in 2016, or a similar number as in the previous year. The number of extremist crimes dropped by 32 to 143, in comparison to 2015. The main threats the Czech Republic may face is the extremist effort at weakening society, a possible increase in the social tension and the polarisation of society, the activities of lone militant radicals or small extremist groups, the ministry writes. It says it would also be risky if mainstream parties began to adopt extremist elements or if a charismatic leader formed a populist political grouping.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

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Croatia Quizzes Slovenia Over Thompson Concert Ban

Croatia's Prime Minister and Foreign Ministry are demanding an explanation from Slovenia about why a concert by the Croat nationalist singer Marko Perkovic ‘Thompson’ has been banned.

18/5/2017- Croatian authorities have sought an explanation from Slovenia about why authorities in the city of Maribor banned a planned concert by the Croatian nationalist singer Marko Perkovic "Thompson". Maribor authorities acted on the proposal of the Slovenian police who on Monday claimed information “which indicates an increased security risk due to the danger that the concert will be used to carry out criminal offences”. Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on Wednesday that the ban on Saturday’s concert looked “in no way good” to him. “This morning ... we urged our ambassador Vesna Terzic in Ljubljana to inquire what this is about, and to inform us of the reasons for the ban on the concert. I don’t know what the reasons might be,” he said.

Croatia's Foreign Ministry on Wednesday said that, along with the embassy in Ljubljana, it was in contact with the Slovenian authorities “to ensure equal treatment of Croatian citizens in their business activities in the Republic of Slovenia, and, therefore, in this particular case. “Bearing in mind that the decision to hold a concert is within the responsibility of the competent authorities of the Republic of Slovenia, the [Foreign] Ministry ... will continue to communicate with the Slovenian side in order to avoid similar situations in future,” the ministry concluded. Luka Djuric, spokesperson of Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, said on Wednesday that the President had spoken to her Slovenian counterpart, Borut Pahor, on the same issue. She had “conveyed her opinion that music is there to bring people together and that bans are counterproductive,” he added.

In a TV interview on Wednesday, Thompson said the organisers had obtained all the necessary permits months ago and that the sudden ban was “unfair at least, not to say hypocritical”. He felt disappointed to be accused of promoting fascism, he added. “It also isn’t fair to Slovenians who would have come to the concert,” he said, adding that “a great deal of damage” had now been inflicted on him and on the band. “This is too much. You know as well that I have had a lot of problems when it comes to my performances. The pressures were different then, this went beyond measure,” Thompson said. “I would like Croatian politicians to explain whether they accept the thesis that we are Nazis, fascists and spread hatred. Let them address the Croatian public and explain whether this is true,” he concluded.

In previous years, concerts by Thompson have been banned in Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sarajevo and the Croatian town of Pula. Concerns that the singer was promoting fascist ideas have circulated in Slovenia for over a month. Maribor Mayor Andrej Fistravec cited Thompson’s use of the Croatian WWII Fascist chant “Za dom spremni” [“Ready for the Homeland”] in his 1991 wartime song “Cavoglave”, as well as other songs explicitly praising the Fascist Ustasa movement. In 2009, his performance of a song called “Jasenovac and Gradiska Stara” – the names of Ustasa-run concentration camps – caused outrage in Croatia and the region. Some 80,000 people watched Thompson celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Croatian military operation in 1995 that terminated a Serb revolt in the country, many chanting, “Kill a Serb” and “Za dom spremni”.
© Balkan Insight

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Slovenia bars concert of Croatian nationalist singer

17/5/2017- Slovenia's second-largest city Maribor has banned a planned concert by Croatian nationalist singer Marko Perkovic Thompson, whose shows have been canceled in several European countries because of his unruly fans. Municipal official Ksenija Klampfer told Reuters on Wednesday the concert was canceled because police considered it a security risk. The police had earlier said they expected problems from unruly ultra-nationalist fans coming in from nearby Croatia. Thompson, who has had concerts banned in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Bosnia and even in his home country in recent years, rejects accusations that his folk-rock songs glorify the Nazi-backed fascist state in Croatia during World War Two.

The Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center has protested to Croatian authorities against his concerts and condemned their use of songs popular with the fascist Ustashe movement accused of wartime mass murder of Serbs, Jews, Roma and other groups. Denying such criticism, he told TV Slovenia earlier this week his songs simply represent a love of God, family, homeland and people. The singer's nickname Thompson recalls the U.S.-made submachine gun better known as the "Tommy gun". He used one to fight for Croatia's 1991 independence from former Yugoslavia. He now uses the nickname professionally, attached to his given name, and for his band. Miran Trol, who was organising what was to have been Thompson's first concert in Slovenia, told local media that he would appeal against the ban.
© Reuters

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Iceland Falls Behind In Queer Rights... Again

18/5/2017- To many people around the world, Iceland is a bastion of queer rights, with oft-cited examples such as having elected an openly lesbian Prime Minister and legalised same-sex marriage, among other accolades. While all this is true, there are now signs that Iceland is falling behind when it comes to queer rights. GayIceland reported that, according to a 2017 review by ILGA-Europe, Iceland now ranks 16th in the world—tied with Greece—when it comes to queer rights, down two points from the year previous.

Kitty Anderson, the International Secretariat for the queer organisation of Iceland, Samtökin ’78, and chairperson of Intersex Iceland, is not surprised. “We do have full marriage equality here in Iceland, but we still do not have automatic co-parent recognition,” she explained. “We do have legal provisions so same-sex couples can adopt, but Iceland does not have an adoption agreement with any country that will adopt to a same-sex couple, and adoptions are very rare within in Iceland domestically. So, de facto, gay men can not adopt. Lesbians do have access to fertility treatments, but must go through degrading bureaucratic processes to be both recognised as parents.”

Iceland was weakest on the points of prosecuting for hate crime and hate speech. While Iceland does have laws against these things, they are broadly open to interpretation, and recent court rulings on hate speech have invariably found in favour of the defendants. While most Icelanders are fairly tolerant of the queer community, Kitty says, this does not mean that everyone is, and this leaves a lot of people vulnerable. “Especially equality and non-discrimination and hate crime and hate speech, we at Samtökin get various informal complaints brought to us where we get information about things taking place,” Kitty said. “So we know that there are things going on which are basically unmeasurable because there is no legislation in place that gives access to mechanisms where you can actually complain properly.”

The matter doesn’t just affect Icelandic citizens, either: queer asylum seekers are especially vulnerable. “We used to have two solid points there and lost them purely due to the fact that we have no knowledge of any positive measure that was taken in 2016,” Kitty explained. “Every queer asylum seeker who has come to Iceland that has contacted us is either still here waiting or has been deported. There isn’t any positive story this year when it comes to queer asylum seekers.” Kitty is not especially optimistic that Iceland will turn things around, citing UN obligations that Iceland has accepted and yet hasn’t implemented. The ball is now in the court of the Icelandic government to not only honour its obligations, but to update its legislation to be more in keeping with a changing world.
© The Reykjavik Grapevine

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Switzerland drops down European gay rights ranking

Switzerland has fallen three places in the latest Rainbow Europe annual review of gay rights.

18/5/2017- The alpine country placed 26 out of 49 countries in the ranking by LGBTI advocacy group ILGA-Europe, three places down on last year and confirmation that it continues to lag far behind other European countries including Norway (2nd), the UK (3rd), France (5th), Portugal (6th) and Spain (9th).  The report ranked the 49 countries based on their laws pertaining to same-sex marriage, adoption, rights for transgender people and more. Switzerland met just under 31 percent of the report's criteria for equal rights, far behind Malta on 88 percent, which retained its status as the most gay friendly nation in Europe for the second year running after introducing a gender identity law and ban on harmful conversion practices.

In its review of Switzerland in 2016, ILGA-Europe praised the rejection of a popular initiative on taxation which would have narrowed the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman, potentially blocking the path to a legalization of same-sex marriage in the future. Unlike in many other European countries gay people in Switzerland cannot marry or adopt children, but they have had the right to enter into a registered civil partnership since 2007. The Rainbow Europe report welcomed the country’s decision last year to allow registered civil partners to adopt each other’s children from previous relationships. Parliament approved the new law in March and it will not face a public vote after a campaign to launch a referendum against it failed to get the required number of signatures.


 


ILGA-Europe also picked out Switzerland’s decision to lift the ban on gay men giving blood, and several court decisions in favour of non-binary people wishing to change their names. However it said it was “disappointing” that the Swiss government rejected calls to introduce a new anti-discrimination action plan, and criticized the lack of references to LGBTI people in hate crime and hate speech laws. Homophobic crimes are not currently registered as such by police, something gay rights organizations feel is a mistake, since it means no data is available to indicate the scale of the problem. As a result gay rights umbrella organization Pink Cross helped instigate a new helpline last year for victims of homophobic crime to report it as such. The helpline recorded over 100 cases in the first three months


 


To improve LBGTI rights in Switzerland the report recommended the country update its anti-discrimination laws to explicitly include references to gender identity and sexual orientation, and include these references in an equality action plan. The rights of trans people should also be protected through a specific national action plan, it said. Speaking to The Local last year, Bastian Baumann of Pink Cross said he was "cautiously optimistic" about the prospects for political reform on the subject of gay rights in Switzerland. "I think our society is way ahead of our politics in some topics like changing marriage rights or adoption rights. The world will not stand still and the politics need to hurry so they don't lose sight." According to a 2015 survey a majority of Swiss back same-sex marriage.

© The Local - Switzerland
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Liberals denounce EU parliament's 'anti-gay' bill

17/5/2017- Liberal MEPs want to re-open an already adopted European Parliament position on audiovisual services reform, saying that it justifies discrimination of lesbian, gay, bi- and transsexual (LGBT) people. The overhaul is an update of EU-wide rules on media services and TV advertising. The problem, according to the liberals, is that the reform sets out to protect the "moral development of a child" by giving government authorities the right to block harmful content on social media "This should not be part of audiovisual services regulation," said Yana Toom, an Estonian liberal and shadow rapporteur on the file. "I think it's very dangerous if we - MEPs - start to talk about morals.

What does it mean? There is no legal definition of what is moral. If we start taking in those terms, we will have no arguments for people like Viktor Orban, who can excuse any reform with moral concerns," she said, referring to Hungary's right-wing leader. Liberals say the parliament adopted its position without due scrutiny. Last month, the parliament's culture and education committee narrowly passed a report by the two German co-rapporteurs, Sabine Verheyen from the centre-right EPP group, and Social Democrat Petra Kammerevert. Earlier this week, it was announced that the committee file would constitute the parliament's negotiating position in so-called trilogue talks with the European Commission and Council of the EU.

Moral concerns
The provision on moral concerns could still be removed in those talks. EUobserver was not able to speak to the two co-rapporteurs. Another German MEP, Helga Truepel, who followed the file on behalf of the Greens, said she backed the culture committee report, even if she would have liked to delete references to moral harm on minors. "But it is already in the current directive without creating problems there. Furthermore, there is a clear reference in the same article on the fundamental charter of human rights and and an additional catalogue that there shall not be discrimination for reasons of sex or sexual orientation," she told EUobserver. "I think we have a clear formulation in the text to avoid misuse of the article," she added. But Sophie in't Veld, a Dutch liberal MEP and vice-chair of the Alde group, said the parliament was already justifying a Russian-style anti-gay propaganda law in Lithuania. In 2013, the Baltic state, said to be one of the least tolerant towards homosexuals in Europe, adopted a so-called law on the protection of minors against detrimental effects of public information.

Misused law
The law was quickly misused against information on sexual minorities. A fairytale featuring a same-sex couple was banned for promoting "harmful, primitive and purposeful propaganda of homosexuality", while an EU-financed promotional video, which confronted stereotypes about love and family models, was only allowed to be shown after 11 PM, together with alcohol and cigarette ads. Lithuanian gay rights activists tried to challenge the law at EU level, but their attempts were in vain. Last December, the commission said it would not launch an infringement procedure against Lithuania, because the country had not broken EU rules on audiovisual services.

In't Veld said she had hoped the media reform would force Lithuania to change its legislation. Instead, the contrary has happened - MEPs endorsed the provision and extended it to cover social media. "It's all very unfortunate," the Dutch politician told EUobserver. "The rapporteurs may be very strong advocates of equal rights, but they don't seem to realise that they have created a legal tool for discrimination." Liberals, with the backing of MEPs from radical-left Gue, the eurosceptic EFDD, and the conservative ECR groups have asked that the parliament's position is made subject to a plenary vote instead. That would give MEPs a month to draft amendments and adopt their positions in plenary. A vote on whether to re-open the file will take place on Thursday by secret ballot.
© The EUobserver

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Most EU states drifted backward on gay rights

17/5/2017- Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland still show the least respect of all EU countries toward sexual minorities, with activists calling for political “courage” and “backbone” by EU institutions. The three member states all scored below 20 percent on a map of human rights compliance in Europe published by Ilga-Europe, a pressure group in Brussels. The NGO ranks countries on the basis of laws and policies that impact LGBTI people’s rights in six areas, including equality and non-discrimination, family, and hate speech and violence. At the other end of the scale, Malta (88%), the UK (76%), and Belgium (72%) led the way, with France (71%) not far behind. The map, as in previous years, showed more red (non-compliant) or shades of red and orange in the east, compared to green (compliant) in the west.

The rating did not always correlate with religious mores - Italy, a Roman Catholic country, scored just 27 percent, but Ireland, Portugal, Spain, which are also Catholic, scored between 52 percent and 69 percent. Even though Italy scored low, it improved by 7 percent from 2016. Denmark, Finland, France, and Slovenia also improved slightly, but the group-of- five were the only ones to do so, while most counties eroded slightly and a few others stayed the same. Meanwhile, the worst places in Europe to be gay were Azerbaijan (5%) and Russia (6%), where gay people have been rounded up, jailed, abused, and, on some occasions murdered in Russia’s Chechnya province despite EU outcries.

Ilga-Europe said legal gender recognition in France, civil unions in Italy, and a ban on conversion therapy in Malta “made global headlines” last year, but it said LGBTI people in other parts of Europe were “literally living in fear of their lives”. It said marriage equality was “not the only marker of improvement” and the new frontier in Europe is the rights of trans and intersex people. Joyce Hamilton, the NGO’s co-chair, said: “Those countries that are viewed as traditional equality champions aren’t breaking boundaries like they used to. The European Union isn’t pushing for advances at the same rate that it used to”.

Brian Sheehan, another co-chair, called for “political courage” at both “national and European level” in order to “drive public acceptance”. Ilga-Europe’s annual report came out on the UN’ s special day against homophobia and trans-phobia, which was marked in Brussels by rainbow-coloured flags and tapestries. EU institutions are often demonised in the Catholic and Orthodox Christian capitals in eastern Europe as enemies of traditional values. The NGO on Wednesday said last year was “a mixture of achievement and unmet expectations” by EU officials. One hand, an EU agency in Vienna began monitoring hate crimes against asylum seekers, but on the other hand the EU designated Russia, Turkey, and some north African states as safe places to deport people to even though they persecuted LGBTI people.

The Commission forced big social media firms like Facebook and Twitter to take down hate speech. They also proposed that EU states should censor anti-gay hate speech in audiovisual media, but the project is yet to bear fruit. The EU also forced candidate countries in the Western Balkans to take gay rights more seriously. It adopted the first ever LGBTI-specific conclusions in the Council and debated intersex rights for the first time in the European Parliament. But Hungary (45%) opted out of the Council’s pro-LGBTI text and forced the insertion of a clause saying that “national identities and constitutional tradition” must be protected. The EU also failed to follow-up on Lithuania’s bid to ban the circulation of a video on family equality in Lithuania or on Poland’s disregard of foreign same-sex civil unions.
© The EUobserver

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Austrian parliament passes burqa ban as part of new migrant law

Austrian lawmakers have approved a bill that outlaws wearing a full-face veil in public. The new legislation also establishes mandatory integration courses, and prompts asylum seekers to do unpaid public work.

17/5/2017- The measure was backed by both of the ruling parties, the SPÖ and ÖVP, on Tuesday, in spite of political turbulence that has divided the governing coalition in recent days. Starting in October, police will be charging fines from people who wear clothes that obstruct their facial features. The 150-euro ($166) fine would also apply to women wearing burqas and niqabs at universities, courts, or in public transport. It was not immediately clear how many people would be affected by the ban. Austrian mainstream parties have come under pressure from a rise in popularity for the far-right FPÖ faction, which criticized the law adopted on Tuesday by saying it did not go far enough.

School of life skills and ethics
Other measures in the legislation included setting up a 12-month integration school for migrants who are deemed to have good chances of staying in Austria. The schools would offer German courses, but also teach the asylum seekers about ethics and values considered customary in the country. Other skills, like applying for a job, would also be included. The programs would aim to provide migrants with better prospects in society, said State Secretary Muna Duzdar. "However, it is also clear that people need to take us up on the offers we create," she was cited by the daily Wiener Zeitung as saying. Migrants who refuse to take part in the courses would see their social welfare benefits cut. Additionally, the law also sees asylum seekers expected to perform unpaid public work, as part of efforts to prepare them for the Austrian job market.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Denmark: EU wants Danes to axe contentious ‘Jewellery Law’

European Commission against Racism and Intolerance lists 24 areas needing improvement

16/5/2017- Denmark’s efforts to toughen up its immigration legislation in recent years have not gone unnoticed abroad, at least not by the EU. In a new report, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) deplored Denmark’s recent decision to implement more stringent family reunification laws and called for the government to scrap the controversial ‘Jewellery Law’, which targets asylum seekers and was passed last year. “Tightening rules for family reunification increases the danger of minors being separated from their families for indefinite periods of time and makes them more vulnerable to trafficking and sexual abuse,” said Thorbjørn Jagland, the secretary general of the Council of Europe. 

24 recommendations
In the report (here in English) the ECRI had a long list of recommendations for Denmark, including adjusting its integration program, having better dialogue with minority groups and producing a Roma-centric strategy. (see all 24 recommendations below). Two in particular were deemed to be of the highest priority by ECRI and ought to be implemented within the next two years. Those are for a comprehensive data collection system for racist and homo-/transphobic hate speech incidents to be set up, and putting an end to the ethnic segregation at Langkær school in Aarhus and preventing any such practices in Danish schools in the future.

The report also indicated that racist hate speech, particularly against Muslims, should be curbed, while data collection for hate crime incidents should be improved.
ECRI's list of recommendations:

The position of the recommendations in the text of the report is shown in parentheses.

1. (§ 2) ECRI reiterates its previous recommendation to sign and ratify Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights.

2. (§ 8) ECRI recommends that the authorities bring the Danish criminal law, in general, into line with its General Policy Recommendation No. 7 as indicated in the preceding paragraphs; in particular they should (i) add language and citizenship to the list of enumerated grounds in Article 266(b), and “race”, colour, language and citizenship to the list of enumerated grounds in Article 81(6) of the Criminal Code; (ii) criminalise the public denial, trivialisation, justification or condoning, with a racist aim, of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes, (iii) criminalise the creation or the leadership of a group which promotes racism, support for such a group, and participation in its activities.

3. (§ 12) ECRI recommends that the authorities bring their civil and administrative law, into line with its General Policy Recommendation No. 7 as indicated in the preceding paragraphs; in particular they should amend the Act on Ethnic Equal Treatment to include (i) colour, language, religion and citizenship as enumerated grounds; and (ii) a prohibition of acts of segregation, discrimination by association, announced intention to discriminate and inciting or aiding another to discriminate. The authorities should also amend the civil and administrative law to include (iii) an obligation to suppress public financing of organisations, including political parties, which promote racism, and (iv) the possibility of dissolving organisations which promote racism.

4. (§ 17) ECRI recommends that the authorities amend their civil and administrative law, in line with its General Policy Recommendation No. 7 as indicated in the preceding paragraphs, in particular they should extend the mandate of the Board of Equal Treatment (i) to include expressly the ground of language in the list of enumerated grounds applicable to the employment field, and the grounds of colour, religion, citizenship and language in the list of enumerated grounds applicable outside the employment field; (ii) to grant the Ombudsman the right to initiate court cases even when a specific victim is not referred to; and (iii) to amend the Ombudsman Act and the Act on the Board of Equal Treatment to provide for protection against retaliatory measures.

5. (§ 21) ECRI recommends that the Danish authorities set up a comprehensive data collection system for racist and homo-/transphobic hate speech incidents, with fully disaggregated data by category of offence, type of hate motivation, target group, as well as judicial follow-up and outcome. Furthermore, the authorities should take active measures to tackle under-reporting of hate speech, including by taking inspiration from ECRI’s General Policy Recommendation No. 15 on combating hate speech.

6. (§ 29) ECRI reiterates its recommendation that the authorities impart to the media the need to ensure that their information does not contribute to hostility towards members of groups subjected to hate speech. The authorities should also encourage and support initiatives by the media industry to (i) provide antiracism training to journalists, and (ii) debate the image they convey to the public of Islam and Muslim communities.

7. (§ 34) ECRI recommends that the authorities provide training on how to handle hate crime cases to police and prosecutorial staff on an ongoing basis across the country. Cooperating partners in this training should also include the DIHR, 34 the Jewish, Muslim and Black communities, ethnic minority associations, refugee support groups and the LGBT community.

8. (§ 36) ECRI recommends that the authorities integrate, into the national strategy on the prevention of radicalisation and extremism, and the follow-up national action plan, specific measures to combat islamophobic hate speech, inter alia, by making use of ECRI’s General Policy Recommendations No. 5 on combating intolerance and discrimination against Muslims and No. 15 on combating hate speech.

9. (§ 40) ECRI recommends that the authorities encourage the country’s political leadership and representatives always to condemn all forms of racist and homo-/transphobic hate speech and apply appropriate sanctions when necessary.

10. (§ 44) ECRI recommends that the authorities facilitate closer cooperation between Muslim communities and the police to prevent and combat islamophobic violence.

11. (§ 48) ECRI recommends that the authorities promote increased dialogue between members of the LGBT community and the police in order to facilitate the reporting of homo-/transphobic violence.

12. (§ 50) ECRI recommends that the authorities ensure that the hate crime data collection system can trace the judicial follow-up of incidents involving racist and homo-/transphobic violence, including acts of vandalism.

13. (§ 53) ECRI recommends that, in cases of vandalism of religious sites, the police take hate motivations into consideration from the beginning of their investigation.

14. (§ 66) ECRI recommends that the authorities carry out a comprehensive evaluation of the integration programme, with a view to assessing its outcomes in terms of effectiveness as regards language and skills acquisition, and adjusting it where necessary.

15. (§ 70) ECRI recommends that the authorities review the appropriateness of the integration benefit, including the amounts, with a view to ensuring that it can promote the integration of newly arrived immigrants into Danish society. The authorities should also modify any elements that could amount to discrimination, such as providing additional payments upon passing of an intermediate-level Danish language test.

16. (§ 72) ECRI strongly recommends that the authorities ensure that the need to apply for social welfare payments does not lead to loss of residency rights for non-EU spouses of Danish citizens.

17. (§ 75) ECRI reiterates its recommendation that the authorities carry out a wideranging reform of the spousal reunification rules in order to remove any elements which amount to direct or indirect discrimination and/or which are disproportionate to their stated aims. The Danish authorities should execute the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the Biao case in a way that does not render family unifications even more difficult.

18. (§ 77) ECRI recommends that the authorities revise the criteria contained in the rules for assessing the integration potential in the context of family reunifications with a view to establishing adequate safeguards against discrimination on the grounds of “race”, religion, colour, language, citizenship and ethnic or national origin during the assessment process.

19. (§ 79) ECRI recommends that the authorities amend the Aliens’ Act with a view to granting beneficiaries of temporary subsidiary protection access to family reunification during their first year of residence in Denmark. 35

20. (§ 82) ECRI recommends that the authorities take urgent measures to end ethnic segregation in the Langkaer school in Aarhus and to prevent any such practices in Danish schools in the future. Furthermore, ECRI reiterates its recommendation made in 2012 to combat school segregation by devising, in consultation with all the parties concerned and taking into account the socioeconomic dimension (employment and housing) policies to avoid, in the best interests of the child, pupils from minority groups being overrepresented in certain schools as proposed in its General Policy Recommendation No.10 on combating racism and racial discrimination in and through school education.

21. (§ 86) ECRI recommends that the Danish authorities discontinue the confiscation of cash and jewellery from asylum seekers.

22. (§ 89) ECRI recommends that the authorities carry out an independent study into the situation of the Black community in Denmark with regard to their experiences of discrimination and obstacles to better integration.

23. (§ 91) ECRI recommends that the Danish authorities carry out a comprehensive evaluation of their support programmes for members of the Greenlandic (Inuit) community residing in Denmark, in order to assess how to further enhance the support for their social integration.

24. (§ 93) ECRI recommends that the authorities evaluate the situation of the Roma community with a view to developing a Roma-specific strategy.
© The Copenhagen Post.

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EU plan to relocate 160,000 refugees from Italy and Greece by September failing

European Commission considering legal action as only 40,000 set to be transferred by deadline

16/5/2017- The EU’s plan to resettle up to 160,000 refugees from Italy and Greece throughout member states is failing amid waning political will to help those risking their lives to reach Europe. Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European Commissioner for migration, said some countries have failed to relocate a single person “in breach of their obligations” as legal action is considered. “Relocation is vital to the success of our migration and asylum policies based on solidarity and responsibility,” he told the European Parliament on Tuesday. “This is why it is so essential that relocation works in all its aspects, and is implemented by everyone. “For this, one element remains critical for the success of the scheme: the political will and the mutual cooperation and trust between member states.”

Mr Avramopoulos argued that the scheme benefits the entire EU and “integrity” of the Schengen area, calling for fresh efforts to move all eligible asylum seekers. “This cannot be the responsibility of just a few member states – this must be shared be all,” he added. “It cannot be that while the majority of member states are making real efforts in a real European spirit, others continue to show no solidarity.” While more than 18,400 migrants have so far been taken from overwhelmed camps, 12,500 people in Greece and 4,000 in Italy remain stranded despite being found eligible for transfer under UN guidelines.

In September 2015, EU states committed to relocating up to 160,000 refugees from the two countries within two years, later revising the figure down to 98,000 after finding that fewer people than expected were eligible. The total is on track to hit less than 40,000 by its deadline in September. Asylum seekers trapped in squalid camps have killed themselves amid increasing desperation, as charities warn of attempted suicide, rape, sexual abuse and prostitution in Greece. Hungary and Poland voted against the resettlement quotas, while they and Austria remain the only EU countries not to have relocated a single refugee, “in breach of their legal obligations” and commitments. The UK chose not to take part in the EU’s quotas while carrying out its own resettlement schemes mainly targeting camps surrounding Syria.

The EU called on Italy to ensure all refugees eligible for relocation are properly registered, amid record arrivals over the Mediterranean Sea from Libya a journey that has killed a record 1,300 people so far this year. As well as Poland and Hungary, officials have singled out the Czech Republic, saying it has not been active for a year, while Austria has now pledged to take in people from Italy. The European Commission will decide next month on any “infringement” cases against countries failing to resettle asylum seekers under the agreed scheme. The ongoing crisis has increasingly pitted rising populists and right-wing governments against the EU, with Denmark vowing on Tuesday to defy a directive to lift temporary border restrictions within six months unless the EU “miraculously” stops irregular migration. More than 1.6 million asylum seekers have arrived in Europe since the start of the refugee crisis in 2014.

While crossings to Greece have plummeted since the controversial EU-Turkey deal, the number of migrants arriving in Italy has continued to rise, seeing almost 13,000 people disembark last month alone. The Italian government delivered four patrol boats to the Libyan government on Monday to bolster its capacity to combat people smuggling, despite allegations of widespread torture and human rights abuses. EU states have backed an agreement drawn up by Italy to spend millions of euros helping the fragile Libyan Government of National Accord upgrade its capability with equipment and training. Italian interior minister Marco Minniti said the boats would be followed by another six vessels in the coming weeks “to contribute to the security of the central Mediterranean, with a capacity to intervene against human traffickers and with preventative action against terrorism”.

Even centres nominally controlled by the government hold migrants captive in inhumane conditions, while gangs profiting from widespread lawlessness extort asylum seekers who are frequently abused, murdered and even sold in “slave markets”. UN figures show 55,215 asylum seekers have made it across the Mediterranean Sea so far this year, mostly from Guinea, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Syria, while more than 1,300 have died in the attempt.
© The Independent

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Greece: Holding Golden Dawn at bay (opinion)

By Pantelis Boukalas

16/5/2017- SYRIZA MP Makis Balaouras, who was chairing the House when far-right deputy Ilias Kasidiaris verbally and then physically attacked New Democracy’s Nikos Dendias, had to call security several times. All Golden Dawn deputies were ejected from the House after they had behaved in a nasty manner that reflected their uncensored hatred of democracy. To be sure, there is very little there in terms of culture or upbringing to filter their actions. That said, safeguarding the fundamental institution that is the Parliament and democracy at large should not be the job of the police. Rather, it is the duty of all democratic citizens – including those who voted Golden Dawn into Parliament and have long seen the nature of the forces they unleashed.

It is also the duty of all mainstream parties who must leave expedient politicking aside and forge a united front against the fascist party, which is obviously addicted to provocations and vulgarity. The political class cannot afford to indulge in political speculation because such behavior will only feed Golden Dawn’s provocations and, in part, vindicate them. Similarly, Golden Dawn is strengthened when democratic parties exchange unsubstantiated barbs and accusations. The propensity for bullying and the love of all types of violence is neither random nor sporadic for a neo-Nazi. Quite the opposite, in fact: It is the way in which they advance and seek to impose their ideas. This is what they know, this their way of exposing their emotional and rhetorical wealth. This is what they do.

What they do outside Parliament (swearing, beating, imposing silence through fear and bullying) is what they will bring into the House. Meanwhile, they will leave the knives and guns with their most fanatical supporters so that they can purge society of anything they see as un-Greek or abnormal. There is no serious or sober version of Golden Dawn, and it cannot exist, for the simple reason that it would go against their beliefs. This should have discouraged from the very beginning any thoughts or efforts to build bridges with officials of Golden Dawn (supposedly aimed at training them in the ways of democracy). Such gestures smack of amorality and opportunism.
© The Kathimerini.

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Greek far-right MP ejected from parliament after fracas

Don’t walk in front of me. Can’t you see I’m talking?’ Golden Dawn’s Ilias Kasidiaris told political rival.

15/5/2017- A member of the extreme-right Golden Dawn party was thrown out of the Greek parliament Monday for assaulting an opposition lawmaker. Television cameras captured the moment that Golden Dawn’s Ilias Kasidiaris took offense to Nikos Dendias walking in front of him while he was addressing an economic affairs committee. “Don’t walk in front of me,” Kasidiaris said, “Can’t you see I’m talking?” The cameras did not capture what happened next but Dendias, of the center-right New Democracy, claimed Kasidiaris assaulted him and threw water at him. “He said ‘hey, where are you going?’ I didn’t move and he pushed me with both hands,” Dendias told Greek daily Kathimerini. “I continued to stand still and he made a move to attack me but others held him back… He then grabbed some bottles and started throwing water at me.”

Committee chairman Makis Balaouras called for Kasidiaris to be thrown out and shouted “You are contaminating parliament. Get out!” “I thought it right to stand my ground, because moving would have meant something. I stayed put and the result was that almost the entire parliamentary group of Golden Dawn started cursing, not just me, but also the former prime minister [Antonis Samaras] and [former transport minister] Makis Voridis, throwing bottles, water and all sorts of objects,” said Dendias. Another video showed an enraged Kasidiaris storming out of the plenary chamber declaring, “I f—ed a girl inside there and that’s why I’m leaving.” Dendias claimed the assault was linked to his involvement in building a criminal case against the ultra-nationalist party following the murder of a rapper called Pavlos Fyssas in September 2013.

As minister of public order and citizen protection, Dendias oversaw the arrest of Golden Dawn’s entire parliamentary group and the start of an ongoing trial on charges of being a criminal organization.Some defendants are accused of murder, assault and weapons charges, while MPs are accused of directing a criminal organization. The trial, which has been going for two years, is one of the biggest in Greece’s history and involves 69 Golden Dawn members and all of the party’s MPs. Some defendants are accused of murder, assault and weapons charges, while MPs are accused of directing a criminal organization. Kasidiaris, well-known in Greece for his aggressive rhetoric and swastika tattoo, has been here before. In 2012, during a live TV debate, he threw a glass of water at Syriza deputy Rena Dourou and slapped Communist Party MP Liana Kanelli three times.

He was acquitted in 2015 because he had not inflicted “serious injury” and because no complaint had been filed within the required time limit. The assault came the same day that Greek MPs began debating the latest package of spending cuts agreed between Athens, EU institutions and the International Monetary Fund. The debate will culminate with a vote on Thursday. Greek trade unions have called a general strike Wednesday against the new measures.
© Politico EU

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Netherlands: Amsterdam police force considers allowing Muslim headscarves

18/5/2017- Police chiefs in Amsterdam are considering allowing female Muslim officers to wear headscarves, the AD said on Thursday. Currently police officers are not allowed to wear any religious symbols but officials are considering lifting the ban in an effort to improve diversity. ‘We are talking about it,’ the city’s most senior officer Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg told the paper. ‘If we cannot recruit sufficient officers with a migrant background, this is a measure which could have an impact.’ Aalbersberg says half of the city’s police force should have an ethnic minority background to better reflect the city’s population. Currently some 52% of the city’s residents have ‘non-Dutch’ roots, compared with 18% of police officers. ‘The make-up of Amsterdam is changing,’ he said. ‘I think this is a subject for debate, and that should involve the man in the street as well.’ The current national rules date from 2011 when the VVD and Christian Democrats formed a minority government which was propped up by the anti-Islam VVD. Police union ANPV said the city’s police chiefs should not be so quick to emphasise differences. ‘The minority police officers I speak to are not happy about it,’ chairman Geert Priem said. ‘They do not want to benefit from their background.’
© The Dutch News

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Netherlands: Talks on forming new government collapse over immigration

15/5/2017- Talks on forming a new Dutch government collapsed on Monday after chief negotiator Edith Schippers said the negotiations had reached stalemate over the issue of migration The ruling VVD, fellow Liberal party D66, the Christian Democrats and left-wing greens GroenLinks have been in talks on forming a four-party coalition since the general election on March 15. Schippers told reporters on Monday evening that the differences in some policy areas had turned out to be too wide to breach. ‘Migration proved to be a bridge too far,’ she said. ‘We have not been able to reach a joint basic decision.’ Other policy areas such as climate change and income policy are also difficult subjects to reach agreement on, she said. ‘You have seen the election manifestos. In some areas the gap [between the parties] is just too wide,’ Schippers said. Migration has been discussed several times in the 18 days of negotiations, the former health minister said, adding that ‘we’ve tried to do all we can to make this work.’

Reactions
Prime minister Mark Rutte said in a reaction that the decision to end the talks had been reached jointly. ‘I am very sorry,’ he told reporters. ‘We were serious in our efforts and we wanted to reach a deal but we did not manage it.’ ‘I am very disappointed,’ said CDA leader Sybrand Buma. ‘The differences between us were too wide, particularly in terms of immigration.’ GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver thanked the other party leaders for their efforts over the past few weeks. ‘I am very sorry that we have not managed to reach a deal,’ he said. ‘All of us really tried to do so.’

Next steps
Schippers will now bring out a report about the failed negotiations and will recommend what should happen next. Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-immigration PVV said on Twitter that is pleased the talks had collapsed. ‘The PVV, as the second biggest party in parliament, is ready and willing to talk,’ he said. Insiders, however, expect the small religious party ChristenUnie to be brought in to replace GroenLinks at the negotiating table. However, ChristenUnie is also left-leaning on immigration and this is likely to pose a stumbling block as well, commentators said.
© The Dutch News

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Sweden stagnates in European gay rights rankings

Sweden has failed to make any progress in the newest edition of a review of European LGBTI human rights, continuing in 12th place as the worst performer in Scandinavia as other countries introduce more comprehensive policies.

17/5/2017- Every year, campaign group ILGA-Europe releases its Rainbow Index and Rainbow Europe Map detailing the legal and policy human rights situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people across Europe. And while Sweden was once considered to be the top country in Scandinavia and the fourth best in Europe, it fell to 12th position in 2016, and has failed to improve this year. "Sweden has remained in the upper 'green' section of our Rainbow Europe Map for several years. Of course that's a positive thing, but other countries have bypassed them on the ranking by introducing more comprehensive, inclusive laws and policies," Emma Cassidy from ILGA-Europe told The Local. The index highlights a "gap within Sweden's legal framework, as it currently does not mention gender identity or sex characteristics within its hate crime or speech laws".

In order to improve the legal and policy situation of LGBTI people, ILGA-Europe recommends that Sweden should update its existing framework for legal gender recognition to ensure the process is based "on self-determination and is free from abusive requirements". At present, Swedish law states that transgender people must go through a medical procedure before they can have their gender change legally recognized. In March, the Swedish government announced that it wants to do away with that law and have the legal and medical aspects of changing gender separated, but the changes are not expected to be brought to the Riksdag until the spring of 2018.

The 2017 Rainbow Index also suggests Sweden should prohibit medical intervention on intersex minors when "the intervention has no medical necessity and can be avoided", and that it "introduce and implement laws and policies on asylum that guarantee effective protection on all SOGISC (sexual orientation, gender identity, sex characteristics) grounds". "There are a lot of points in the equality/family sections, but very little indeed in terms of protection for trans and intersex people against hate crime and hate speech, or asylum laws, and policies," Cassidy observed. "There are still problematic barriers for trans people in the legal gender recognition section of the map, at a time when other European countries have opted for a self-determination model. So there really is still room for Sweden to be even more proactive and advance its legal protection despite its position in the top half of the Rainbow Europe ranking. Lots done but lots more to do."

For the second year in a row Malta topped the Rainbow Europe ranking, followed by Norway in second place, with the Nordic nation leaping up by nine places due to the introduction of self-determination in its gender recognition law. The UK is third. ILGA-Europe thinks that while progress on LGBTI equality still exists in Europe overall, it is slowing down and at risk, and is not taking place at the speed or spread needed to achieve real equality. The campaign group also asks for more "political backbone" from leaders in order to combat a roll back in rights and further progress, with countries traditionally viewed as equality champions generally not breaking boundaries in the way they used to.
© The Local - Sweden

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Sweden sparks fury by introducing 'Bible tests' for Christian migrants

Sweden's Migration Agency has been criticized for the way in which it tests religious asylum seekers on their knowledge of Christianity.

14/5/2017- The questions were posed to asylum seekers who had converted to Christianity and were seeking asylum on the grounds of religious persecution. Asylum seekers were quizzed on technical aspects of the Christian faith, such as the number of parts to the New Testament and the difference between the Orthodox and Protestant Churches Both lawyers and church representatives have criticized the practice, which they argue tests technical knowledge rather than a person's faith. The responses given to the questions could affect whether applicants are granted asylum or not. "I think it's terrible. I have repeatedly had to interrupt administrators who ask these questions because they are not relevant and are far too complicated," lawyer Serpil Güngör told SVT.

Güngör said that he advises his clients to study the Bible carefully before their interview - while some Swedish parishes have begun preparing handbooks of facts aimed at asylum seekers in order to assist them. However, the Migration Agency defended the nature of the interviews, and pointed out that they only form part of the overall assessment. The agency also takes into account factors such as the applicant's explanation for why they converted to Christianity and how they exercise their faith. "It is a reasonable demand that the asylum applicant should show some knowledge of the Bible - this should come naturally, and isn't something you need to study," Carl Bexelius, Deputy Legal Director at the Swedish Migration Agency, told SVT.
© The Local - Sweden

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France’s Le Pen to run for parliament with party in disarray

19/5/2017- Emerging from her crushing defeat in France’s presidential contest, far-right leader Marine Le Pen said Thursday she will run for a parliamentary seat in June elections and that her National Front party has “an essential role” in a new political landscape. Le Pen will run for a seat in a district in her northern stronghold of Henin-Beaumont, a hardscrabble former mining region where she lost a similar bid in 2012. A new failure could jinx her bid to unite the National Front and to make it France’s leading opposition party. “I cannot imagine not being at the head of my troops in a battle I consider fundamental,” Le Pen said in an interview on the TF1 television station, her first public appearance since her May 7 loss to centrist Emmanuel Macron. Le Pen announced her candidacy while facing forces of division that could frustrate her new goals. Her popular niece is leaving politics, her disruptive father is back in the ring and her party is in disarray.

At the same time, Macron has upset the political equation, drawing from the left and right to win the presidency and to create his government. The new president now is looking across the political spectrum to obtain a parliamentary majority to support his agenda. “We are in reality the only opposition movement,” Le Pen said. “We will have an essential role to play (and) a role in the recomposing of political life,” she said, reiterating her contention that the left-right divide has been replaced by “globalists, Europeanists and nationalists” like herself. Le Pen is counting on the 10.6 million votes she received as a presidential candidate to propel her anti-immigration party into parliament in the June 11 and June 18 elections. The party also hopes to pick up votes from “electoral orphans” unsatisfied with Macron and feeling betrayed by the mainstream right, National Front Secretary-General Nicolas Bay said this week.

The National Front plans to field candidates for each of France’s 577 electoral districts, hoping to block Macron’s movement from obtaining a majority of seats and to secure a strong bloc of its own to counter his new government. Le Pen dismissed the notion that there were links between her loss and a series of events widely seen as potentially weakening the National Front. The party recently lost a rising star who served as a unifier on its conservative southern flank. One of the National Front’s two current lawmakers — Le Pen’s niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen — announced last week that she was leaving politics, at least temporarily. Enter Jean-Marie Le Pen, who likened his granddaughter’s exit from politics to a “desertion.”

The elder Le Pen, who was expelled from the party he co-founded because of his penchant for making anti-Semitic comments, is backing up to 200 parliamentary candidates through an ultra-conservative alliance, the Union of Patriots. Some of the five parties represented in the alliance are headed by former National Front militants who, like Jean-Marie Le Pen, were expelled by his daughter in her bid to scrub up the party’s image for the presidential contest. His own Jeanne Committees will present some 35 of the 200 candidates. The decision smacks of revenge, but the elder Le Pen’s aide denied that was the case. “This is not meant to cause trouble for the National Front. It is to defend the values that the National Front no longer defends,” the aide, Lorrain de Saint Affrique, said.

The risk that other far-right parties would challenge the National Front “has existed since the National Front decided to exclude Jean-Marie Le Pen,” De Saint Affrique said. “They should have thought of that then.” The competition from all but obscure parties is not a substantial threat to Le Pen, but mirrors frustrations roiling the National Front, some of which became public following Le Pen’s defeat. More menacing, her top lieutenant, Florian Philippot suggested after Le Pen’s loss to Macron that he would leave the party if it decided to do away with the goal of leaving the euro currency — a divisive proposal but at the top of Le Pen’s presidential platform. “I’m not there to keep a post at any price and defend the reverse of my deep convictions,” he said last week on RMC radio.

Le Pen conceded Thursday that the subject of the euro “considerably worried the French” and would be discussed after the parliamentary elections. “We will have to take this into account, reflect,” she said. She welcomed Philippot’s launching this week of an association, called The Patriots, which could be seen as the budding of a potential rival, like the movement Macron started 13 months ago, En Marche (On the Move). “The more ideas the better,” she said.
© The Associated Press

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France: Le Pen says FN to debate euro after parliamentary elections

19/5/2017- France's National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen said on Friday the far-right party would start debating its trademark anti-euro stance after next month's parliamentary elections, fuelling disagreement among her closest aides and allies. In a rare acknowledgment that its plans to ditch the euro may be a problem for the FN's prospects, with a majority of French voters in favour of keeping the currency, Le Pen said on Thursday the party would have to discuss its stance. On Friday, launching her bid to be elected to parliament representing the northern France constituency of Henin-Beaumont, where she narrowly lost in the 2012 legislative elections, Le Pen said the debate would be opened up after the two-round ballot on June 11 and 18.

"The euro is a debate we'll have at our congress," she told reporters, referring to a major FN meeting scheduled for end-2017/early 2018. "This whole work of analysing our presidential campaign and discussing our political stances is one for after the parliamentary elections," she said.  Her closest aides and allies immediately disagreed openly among each other about what that debate should achieve. "We can evolve on that issue, we need to listen to the message of the French people," FN secretary general Nicolas Bay told franceinfo radio. Yet Le Pen's deputy Florian Philippot, a fervent opponent of the euro, disagreed, re-affirming that he would leave the FN if it ditched its anti-euro policy.

Gilbert Collard, one of only two FN deputies in the lower house of parliament, responded by mocking Philippot in an interview with LCP television, saying the party would easily get over his exit. "He's not going to impose a dictatorial point of view," Collard added. Leaving the euro and the European Union were at the heart of Le Pen's manifestos for her failed presidential bids this year and in 2012. Other measures such as giving preference to French nationals and businesses, taxing imports and getting the central bank to buy government bonds are impossible within the EU framework.
© Reuters UK.

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France: Paris 'love locks' sale raises thousands for refugees

A charity auction selling off "love locks" from Paris bridges to raise money for refugees on Saturday brought in over $270,000, though the event was briefly interrupted by protests from far-right nationalists.

14/5/2017- For years tourists inscribed their initials on padlocks and hooked them to the railings of bridges, most famously the Pont des Arts near the Louvre, throwing the key into the River Seine to express their undying devotion. But officials cracked down on the practice and started removing the locks in 2015 after one section of the Pont des Arts collapsed under the weight of thousands of locks. Hundreds of people took part in the auction at Credit Municipal de Paris in which 150 bunches of the locks -- mounted on displays of wood or recycled paving stones, or hanging from acrylic stands -- went under the hammer. Fifteen sections of the original Pont des Arts railings mounted on wood were also auctioned.

Most of the lots had been expected to go for 150 to 200 euros each ($165-$220) but one set of locks fastened to a replica of the Eiffel Tower mounted on a display of recycled paving stone -- called the "French Lover" -- sold for 2,400 euros. Another display with 22 locks went for 1,200 euros, one with 17 for 1,000. But the most expensive piece -- a section of the Pont des Arts railing that weighed 470 kilogrammes (1,000 pounds) -- sold for 17,000 euros. Other sections of the bridge went for between 3,500 and 12,000 euros.

- 'A piece of Paris' -
The auction raised a total of 249,610 euros ($273,000), which will go to three associations helping to accommodate the influx of migrants into the city: Solipam, the Salvation Army and Emmaus Solidarite. American tourist Francy Blackwood, on holiday in Paris with her husband, said she wanted to return with a "piece of Paris". "We put our own lock on the bridge six years ago. It's not here, but it's such a great tradition we'd like to take some of it home with us," she said. Parisian Gaelle Salaun shelled out 520 euros for one bunch of locks "because it had a Spanish name on it". She added: "I liked that. But I also participated in the auction for the refugees." A dozen young members of the French far-right youth group Generation Identitaire briefly interrupted the event in protest, chanting "Generation Identitaire" and "Money to Parisians, not to illegals". They unveiled a banner with the same slogans before being forced from the hall.

The protest didn't deter Jerome Mellerio and his wife from buying four lots. "That the proceeds would go to civil society touched us," he said. James Velaise spent 11,000 euros on a piece of the bridge, which he said would end up "in a garden on a farm in (the southern region of) Aveyron". The tradition of lovers attaching locks to the city's bridges was initially seen as relatively harmless but became a menace later after the Pont des Arts incident in 2014. It also turned into an eyesore for many residents. The city began removing the locks in 2015 and replaced the metal railings on the Pont des Arts with acrylic glass panels to ward off the public displays of affection. "It's wonderful," Emmaus Solidarite director general Bruno Morel said, reacting to the funds raised. "There's a lot of humanity." Morel said his organisation would use the money to build children's play areas for its community centre in the southern Paris suburb of Ivry-sur-Seine.
© AFP.

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Kosovo: Former Journalist Brutally Assaulted

Arbana Xharra, who recently resigned as editor-in-chief of the Kosovo-based newspaper Zeri, was the victim of a savage beating on Friday night in the Kosovo capital Pristina.

13/5/2017- As yet unknown perpetrators attacked Xharra late at night at the parking lot in front of her home. She is now in a stable condition. Police say they are investigating the attack. Kosovo’s President and Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci and Isa Mustafa, as well as media and civil society groups, have all condemned the assault and called on police to arrest those responsible. Xharra, a journalist since 2001, joined Kosovo’s biggest ruling party, the Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK, on May 9. She has often been the target of attacks and of threats for more than a decade because of her penetrating investigative stories and articles on the dangers of religious extremism. The most recent act of harassment in April involved unknown vandals painting a cross in blood-red paint next to the apartment where she lives with her husband and child. “The public lynching of journalists is becoming a normality in Kosovo,” she then told BIRN. “Threatening families and terrorising kids crosses every red line” – but still occurs, she added.
© Balkan Insight

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News from UK, Italy & Germany

Germany: AfD call foul over vote count in North Rhine-Westphalia

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is re-examining vote tallies in last weekend's North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) state election, according to a media report - and not without reason.

19/5/2017- Winning a total of 7.4 percent of the vote, the AfD gained its first seats in the NRW state parliament after the vote last Sunday. But now the party is reportedly systematically investigating vote tallies because they have doubts that the counting was done correctly in certain areas, Stern magazine reported on Friday. According to the magazine, they’re suspicion is not without reason. In German elections, each voter gets two votes. The first is to choose a candidate directly from their constituency. Each candidate who wins in their district will get a seat. The second vote is to choose a party, which then determines how many of the remaining seats the party receives.

In one district of Mönchengladbach, the party logged 7.6 percent of the first votes. But its tally for second votes was reported as 0.0 percent. The party therefore questions how it is possible for all voters who chose an AfD candidate to then not choose the party in their second vote. Officials in this district have already assessed the matter and found that in fact, 37 second votes for the AfD had not been counted. In a Gütersloh district, 10.5 percent of voters chose AfD candidates in their first votes. But again the party registered no second votes. Stern notes that this is particularly questionable given that the small ADD party - formed in 2016 and aimed at voters of Turkish heritage - received 13.9 percent of second votes in the district.

The AfD has complained previously that the name ADD could be confused for the AfD. Stern further found that the AfD state leaders in Düsseldorf receive about 30 to 40 emails a day from members reporting similar results in districts of Dortmund, Bonn, Cologne, and elsewhere. The goal of the party now is to get an overview of how many local voting areas may not have counted all their votes, and if necessary would call for a re-count. This would determine if they in fact deserve further seats. But since the discrepancies found so far constitute a very small portion of the overall vote count in Germany’s most populous state, it would take a sizeable number of errors to lead to the party actually gaining another seat.

“For this we would need to find a lot of abnormalities,” one newly elected AfD politician told Stern. “At the moment we have around 15 voting areas that show significant evidence that our votes were not taken down or represented correctly.” If in fact the AfD does merit another seat, this could lead to consequences for other parties. If, for example, the AfD gaining another seat would mean the FDP party should lose a seat, a coalition government between the liberal party and the conservative CDU would become harder, as together they would not have a majority. But it is ultimately up to local election officials as to whether there should be a re-count. Authorities in Gütersloh are set to give a statement on Friday.
© The Local - Germany

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Germany: Young Muslim Organizers Battle Far-Right Extremism

There is no longer a single operating mosque in central Munich as of Friday; the final closure occurred earlier this week when the center was unable to accommodate the massive numbers of Muslims seeking a refuge for prayer.

19/5/2017- A dramatic rise in Islamophobia across the U.K. and unending threats of violence and terror have forced mosques and public prayers to shut down without notice. And yet, Islamic organizers in Germany continue to persist, telling Newsweek they can raise awareness for their plight with the help of other religious leaders and churches throughout the region. Some of that interfaith assistance has already arrived, with a local church opening its doors in the midst of fear and hatred, inviting Muslims in for prayer and safety. A coalition of young Muslim students and community activists organized a prayer in Munich’s Marienplatz, a public square in the heart of the city, to bring attention to their lack of local spaces to practice their faith.

The event was cancelled in its original form, however, after a bevy of violent threats from the German far right stated their intention to spur the same Islamophobic terror that’s been seen across the U.K. more so than ever since 2015, when anti-Muslim abuse surged 326 percent in a single year, according to the monitoring group Tell MAMA. Massi Popal, who spearheaded organizing the public prayer before ultimately deciding to cancel it, said he's found a new space where Muslims can pray in unity for the time being: a church in central Munich that invited the Islamic community to host a prayer session on its property Friday, May 26. "We don't want to cause trouble or protest," Popal tells Newsweek. "We just want to inform our mayor and City Council in a very peaceful manner that there is no more place for us in central Munich."

"After right extremist groups said they want to attack us and protest our prayer, we decided that we won't give them the attention they want," Popal says. "That's when the church stepped in and gave us a safe and dignified space." The church will host the Islamic community on the eve of Ramadan, a month-long fasting and holy tradition for Muslims globally. Islamic advocacy groups around the world are calling on religious activists to host interfaith community sessions throughout the month to allow for an exchange of dialogue and to create a deeper understanding on the Muslim religion.

"Along with the recent rise of Islamophobia and other forms of bigotry nationwide, we have seen a similar increase in support for the American Muslim community and for other targeted communities," Ibrahim Hooper, the communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, tells Newsweek in a statement encouraging interfaith "iftars" in which Muslims can make a fasting exception to break bread with members of other religions. "Muslim communities have the opportunity to help unify our nation and move it forward on a path that respects long-standing American values, not the distortions of those values we see so often today."

In Germany, where even Chancellor Angela Merkel has catered to the right-wing political movement by calling for a ban on full veil burqas last year while announcing her re-election campaign, interfaith activists are taking the mission to unify religions a step further, sharing their prayer spaces with Muslims fighting back against such discrimination. "This is a very great message to our society," Popal said of the decision to invite the local Islamic community to host its prayer on church grounds. "Now, the politicians will receive the beautiful message that Christians, Muslims and Jews stand together and will help each other in this difficult time for Islam."
© Newsweek.

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Germany: Identitarian Movement group attempts to storm Justice Ministry

A large group of self-proclaimed anti-jihadis rushed the ministry after the introduction of an anti-hate speech law. Police quashed the assault as protesters unfurled banners against "thought police."

19/5/2017- A group of 50 members of the Identitarian Movement attempted to storm the Justice Ministry in Berlin on Friday, German media reported. The group drove a rental truck toward the building, narrowly missing an official. People then took a 10-meter (32-foot) ladder and tried to climb onto the roof of the ministry, while throwing pyrotechnics, a police spokesperson told national daily "Die Welt". "They were driving a truck, with a big ladder on it and wanted to enter the ministry," an eyewitness told the paper. Earlier, an unannounced demonstration called for Justice Minister Heiko Maas to step down and for the borders of the European Union to be strengthened, with some participants wearing uniforms in the style of the former East Germany's People's Police. Witnesses posted images of the protest on social media.

Police managed to stop the rush, and the leader of the group was arrested. A few hours later, a group of 20 protesters remained outside the barricaded ministry, erecting a banner criticizing the prohibition of opinion. On Friday morning Maas introduced a draft law to the Bundestag to crack down on hate speech on the internet. The act would require social media networks to remove hate speech more consistently. Maas has been a frequent target of right-wing groups for his stance against right-wing extremism. A spontaneous counter-Nazi protest group assembled on the other side of the road. In March the head of Germany's domestic intelligence service warned that the Identitarian Movement was becoming increasingly radicalized. "There are several indications of contacts and intertwining of the Identitarians with far-right people or groups, so that we are working on the assumption that there is a far-right influence," Hans-Georg Maassen told Funke Media Group newspapers.

This "increasing radicalization," he added, was likely to take the form of spontaneous, provocative actions aimed at political parties, mosques, and Islamic cultural centers or homes for asylum applicants. Germany's intelligence agencies closely monitor the movement and noticed increased activity among its 300 members. (The group claims to have 500 members.) Identitarian activists have mounted high-profile publicity stunts in recent months - most famously, a handful scaled the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on August 27 as the government was holding an open day, and hung a banner on the monument that read: "Secure borders, secure future."
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Germany: Study links far-right extremism and eastern German mentality

Government-commissioned researchers have found that cultural holdovers from communism, and not just economic factors, encourage right-wing radicalism. But they also identified a pernicious western German influence.

18/5/2017- All the participants at the press conference in Berlin on Thursday, where the latest study on eastern Germany was unveiled, were at pains to stress that right-wing extremism and xenophobia were problems throughout the country. But no one was denying that people from the formerly communist East are far more prone to hold far-right views - and act violently upon them. "The number of xenophobic and radical right-wing attacks in eastern Germany is distressing," Iris Gleicke, the government's commissioner for eastern Germany, stated right off the bat. "Without question there are also such attacks on foreigners in the west. But they are particularly frequent in the east."

The more than 200-page study was commissioned after the number of right-wing acts of violence in Germany jumped from 990 to 1,408 in 2015. It was carried out by the renowned Göttingen Institute for Democracy Studies at the behest of the Economy Ministry. But anyone expecting that the researchers would identify economic factors as the primary causes of right-wing radicalism was mistaken. The study focuses on three locations in eastern Germany - two towns near Dresden and a district of Erfurt - with a particularly bad history of right-wing violence. And it directs attention squarely to cultural sources of far-right extremism. In a nutshell, researchers found that attitudes carried over from communist East Germany make today's eastern Germans far more likely to be virulently xenophobic.

The legacy of communism
The report concludes that eastern Germans are socialized to have an "exaggerated need for harmony, 'purity' and order" as well as a "collective, overwhelmingly positive and ethnically pure identity." It also highlights a "selective culture of memory," in which eastern Germans repress negative memories of the communist past, fail to come to terms with the legacy of Nazi anti-Semitism and tend to blame foreigners for social and economic problems. In the Dresden suburb of Freital, for instance, very few of the people the researchers interviewed remembered the "pogrom-esque" 1991 attacks on foreign workers' homes. Communist East Germany, the study points out, was a relatively "closed" and "ethnically homogeneous" society.

Those qualities still apply to reunified Germany in the east, which has far fewer migrants and ethnic-cultural diversity than the rest of the country. In areas that have struggled economically or have weak local government structures, closed culture not only encourages violence but makes people particular susceptible to the lure of populist movements. The study blames the prevailing mentality in the state of Saxony for furthering provincial xenophobia - much to the ire of a couple of journalists from the region who accused the authors of "Saxony bashing." And co-author Michael Luhmann described the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party - which attracts up to three times the support in the east as in the west and which refused to cooperate in the study - as "part of the problem."

Western imports on fertile eastern soil
Gleicke and the authors agreed that the hard-line wing of the AfD appealed to right-wing extremists and is functioning as a political mouthpiece for reactionaries from the east. "We can only say that they are very present and very strong and that on the central square in Erfurt, they attracted exactly the sort of people that we've tried to describe in this study and who represent the problem area," Luhmann told journalists. Luhmann singled out as an example the controversial leader of the AfD in Thuringia, Björn Höcke, who has been accused of neo-Nazism. Höcke is from the west and moved to Thuringia, Saxony's neighbor, and the report did not fail to highlight the culpability of western German extremists in helping to "professionalize" their counterparts in the east.

"We shouldn't forget the transfer of ideas, elites and money from western German neo-Nazi circles into the east after [reunification in] 1990," said Luhmann, who hails from the eastern city of Leipzig. "That shouldn't be underestimated. Western Germans should be honest enough to admit that they played their part too. [AfD party leader] Alexander Gauland and Björn Höcke are western German imports who found fertile soil in certain parts of eastern Germany."

A threat to the east's future
The problem of right-wing extremism is nothing new. The phenomenon manifested itself almost immediately after Germany was reunified, and efforts to reduce radicalism in the east have rarely worked. The new study, too, is longer on analysis of the causes of xenophobic violence than on suggestions for how to get rid of it. Gleicke said that the federal German government needed to offer more support to local institutions - everything from youth clubs to volunteer fire departments - as poles of resistance to extremism. The authors of the study stressed the need for education and the open discussion of radicalism and violence as social problems together with the promotion of positive examples of eastern German communities less susceptible to xenophobia.

Gleicke, who is also from the east, became emotional when describing the hate mail she receives accusing her of portraying her home area in a bad light. "Who's showing whose home in a bad light?" she said. "Those who chase foreigners across the central square or those who say we have to do something to prevent that? Our own young people are running away from us because they're fed up." It is unclear whether the study's recommendations can and will be translated into concrete action. But as Gleicke argued, attracting experts, who usually prefer open, tolerant societies, is crucial to success in the modern economy. Eastern Germany thus urgently needs to solve its right-wing extremism problem if it ever hopes to achieve a level of competitiveness and prosperity comparable to the West.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Germany: TV comedian allowed to call AfD leader 'Nazi slut', court rules

When a TV comedian called Alternative for Germany (AfD) leader Alice Weidel a 'Nazi slut' on air, she decided to take legal action. But a Hamburg court ruled on Wednesday that it was all in the name of satire.

17/5/2017- In his Extra 3 programme from April 27th, comedian Christian Ehring was discussing the AfD party conference and a remark from Weidel in which she said that political correctness belonged in the dustbin of history. “Alright then, political correctness is over - let’s all be incorrect to each other. The Nazi slut is right there,” Ehring said. Weidel, Spitzenkandidatin (lead candidate) for the AfD in the upcoming national elections, took legal action, saying that the remarks were defamatory and that they put her in danger. The court ruling published on Wednesday pointed out that satirical exaggeration is protected by German laws on freedom of speech. It added that, as a public figure, she had to accept being the target of exaggerated satire. The court concluded that the phrase was clearly to be understood as a joke about Weidel's reference to political correctness.

The word Nazi pertained to the fact that “within large sections of the public, the AfD is viewed as right-wing or even far right-wing,” the court explained. Meanwhile the court said the word slut has a sexual connotation, but it is clear to the viewer “that the description was used because the complainant is a woman, and that the comment in no way is truthful.” Weidel has already announced the she will appeal the decision. “This ruling shows how far you can go under the cover of satire in Germany. That such aggressive defamation also poses a threat to Ms Weidel’s safety doesn’t seem to bother the court,” said AfD spokesman Christian Lüth.

In March 2016, Extra 3 ignited a months-long dispute between Germany and Turkey when it aired a song making fun of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkish President appealed to Germany to ban the song, leading another comic, Jan Böhmermann, to air a poem on his show which accused Erdogan of bestiality. Erdogan took legal action against Böhmermann, but failed in his attempt to have him prosecuted under an archaic German law that bans insulting a foreign head of state. In that case also, the court said that satire was covered by freedom of speech.
© The Local - Germany

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Germany: Errors found in 10 percent of re-reviewed asylum cases

German media on Wednesday reported that immigration officials have found errors in at least 100 asylum decisions so far amid an ongoing review sparked by a German soldier creating a fake Syrian identity.

17/5/2017- According to the reports by Bild and BZ, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) is currently re-examining asylum decisions after a German soldier who allegedly plotted a far-right terror attack managed to obtain asylum through a fake Syrian identity. Immigration officials have so far reviewed about 1,000 out of 2,000 chosen cases of registered Syrian and Afghan men who travelled alone to Germany without passports. Of the 1,000 cases checked so far, 10 to 15 percent of them had errors, the newspapers report. BAMF President Jutta Cordt is set to speak to a parliamentary interior affairs committee on Wednesday about the asylum process and how the soldier, Franco Albrecht, managed to gain protected status. The immigration authority would not confirm the figures to BZ, but said that they have launched a taskforce to address such issues, and they are bulking up on staff. “To conclude the investigations on time, experienced decision-makers must be taken away from their current duties,” a spokeswoman for BAMF told BZ.

The case of the German soldier gaining asylum has sparked outcry and fed scepticism about the country’s ability to process the record number of asylum seekers arriving in recent years. Albrecht’s case started to unravel in February when he tried to fetch a loaded, unregistered handgun he had hidden in a toilet at Vienna airport, but was stopped by police. Investigators ultimately found that he had created a fake identity as a Syrian fruit seller and gained asylum, despite the fact that he spoke no Arabic. Another soldier and a civilian were also arrested over a far-right plot with Albrecht to kill politicians and then blame it on Albrecht’s fake, refugee identity, according to prosecutors. The case has rocked the German military and raised questions about far-right tendencies among soldiers, especially after Nazi-era equipment, weapons and pictures were discovered on display in some barracks. Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen announced major reforms to overhaul the Bundeswehr in response.
© DPA

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Germany: far-right plot renews debate about army’s Nazi links

The scandal surrounding an attack plot hatched by two far-right soldiers has again forced Germany to confront its dark past - specifically, the role of the Wehrmacht in the Third Reich.

17/5/2017- Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen has ordered the Bundeswehr to cleanse itself of all links to the Nazi-era army that set the world aflame under Adolf Hitler over 70 years ago. What seems like an obvious and belated step to many, given documented Wehrmacht atrocities in World War II especially on the eastern front, has also sparked criticism of a "witch hunt" and an unjust blanket condemnation of the conscript army. Parliament was set Wednesday to debate the sensitive historical question, brought to the fore by the arrests since last month of lieutenant Franco Albrecht, 28, and two alleged co-conspirators including another soldier. In the bizarre case, far-right extremist Albrecht allegedly created the fake identity of a Syrian refugee who was granted asylum status, a bed in a shelter and welfare payments.

Prosecutors say Albrecht then planned to shoot a pro-refugee politician, possibly former president Joachim Gauck, and blame the murder on his fictitious Syrian alter ego to stoke public fears about jihadist terror. Spiegel Online reported on Wednesday that disciplinary procedures have been launched against two of Albrecht's superior officers, because they reportedly had concrete evidence of the pair’s extremist tendencies since 2014 and did not report them. After Albrecht's arrest, von der Leyen was incensed to learn that steel helmets and other memorabilia of the World War II army were openly on display at the Franco-German barracks where the army suspects were stationed.

Angry that earlier evidence of Albrecht's far-right worldview had been ignored by superiors out of "a misunderstood esprit de corps", she has ordered the Bundeswehr to sweep all barracks for Wehrmacht items and images. "The Wehrmacht is not part of the tradition of the Bundeswehr," said the minister who is often seen as a possible successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel. She ordered a review of the army's 1982 "decree on traditions" which allows displaying Wehrmacht items within their "historical context". She also said new names would have to be found for barracks still named after World War II figures, including field marshall Erwin Rommel, dubbed the "Desert Fox" for his North Africa campaign.

On Wednesday sources from the parliamentary defence committee told DPA that von der Leyen’s search had turned up 41 more mementos from the Wehrmacht at other army barracks, including coins with Wehrmacht motifs, and murals. But none of the items were as serious as the ones found at the barracks of the arrested soldiers, which included an assault weapon with a swastika carved into it.

'Reign of terror'
While there is mainstream condemnation for the Nazis, Gestapo and SS troops, the role of the millions-strong conscript army is more ambiguous in the minds of many Germans. Hans-Peter Uhl of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) criticised von der Leyen's "blanket condemnation" of all German soldiers of the era, urging some "respect for our fathers and grandfathers". The party's parliamentary vice president, Johannes Singhammer, said they were "drafted under the reign of terror of the Nazis". Criticism also came from former defence minister Rudolf Scharping of the Social Democrats (SPD), who deplored the "witch hunt". He was angered by a decision of the Bundeswehr University in Hamburg to take a down a picture that showed former SPD chancellor Helmut Schmidt as a young Wehrmacht officer. "That is cheap, it is outrageous," Scharping wrote in a newspaper commentary, charging that "iconoclastic action does not make up a failure to deal with right-wing extremists in the ranks of the Bundeswehr".

Theo Sommer, a former senior defence bureaucrat, labelled the sweep "an overreaction, which casts suspicion of Wehrmacht nostalgia over the entire armed forces". He added: "I won't hide the photo of my father as a Wehrmacht soldier in a drawer. "He served in Rommel's Africa Corps and came back from the war with a belly shot -- a brave, upright man who was abused by an ominous, criminal system. I see no reason to be ashamed of him."

War crimes
Von der Leyen has been undeterred, a position welcomed by many lawmakers and voters. In the mid-1990s, travelling exhibitions extensively documented Wehrmacht war crimes against Jews, civilians and prisoners of war in eastern Europe and Russia. More than one million people saw the exhibitions, which were frequently targeted by right-wing protests. The minister has argued that the Bundeswehr should look at its own 60-year tradition in defence of a liberal democracy as a source of pride and meaning. The Bundeswehr was founded as a purely defence military, but this has since the 1990s been interpreted to cover peacekeeping and conflict prevention abroad. The now 180,000-strong armed forces have joined multinational missions from Kosovo to Afghanistan and Mali which must be mandated by parliament. German troops - all volunteers since male conscription ended in 2011 - make their pledge at the Berlin Bendlerblock site that was the headquarters of the unsuccessful military resistance against Hitler.
© AFP.

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German intelligence recruited head of neo-Nazi group as informant

Lawmakers are asking whether German intelligence went too far in hiring the head of the Blood and Honour group as an informant. Authorities are alleged to have offered him protection and showed leniency to his crimes.

17/5/2017- German media reported on Tuesday that the head of the German wing of the international neo-Nazi group "Blood and Honour" was scouted in the 1990s by the Germany's federal intelligence agency, the The reports suggest that, in exchange, he may have been partly protected by the authorities and shown greater leniency for his crimes. The investigation, reported by Germany's national television network ARD, prompted Germany's two main opposition parties to call for an explanation over the affair. Left Party lawmaker Andre Hahn said he would address the matter directly with German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere. Meanwhile, Green party security policy spokeswoman Irene Mihali told ARD: "If the German head of Blood and Honour worked as an informant, then clearly a line was crossed. The BfV must provide a full explanation to the Bundestag."

The investigation centers on a secret note issued by Berlin state police (LKA) revealing that the head of the German wing of the Blood and Honour group had been suspected of liaising with authorities by other members of the neo-Nazi group. The suspicions stemmed from a criminal trial for a politically motivated attack perpetrated by the alleged informant, where he was only handed a relatively meager 3,000 Mark fine (1,500 euros, $1,660) rather than sentenced to prison. Hahn said that if the revelation proved to be accurate, it would mean that the BfV hadn't been monitoring the group, but "steering it itself." De Maiziere is expected to discuss the revelations at a meeting on Wednesday with the parliamentary supervisory board for Germany's intelligence services.

Links to NSU
In 2000, the Blood and Honour group was banned in Germany, along with its armed wing known asCombat 18. However, earlier this year German media reported that Combat 18 was once again active in Germany after an investigation found that authorities had received hundred of reports of the militant group's activity over the past four years. Combat 18 was one of the most influential supporters of the extreme far-right National Socialist Underground (NSU), having provided its members with arms and accommodation. Germany's Tagesspiegel newspaper reported that the suspected informant testified in the long-running NSU trial in Munich, although his responses allegedly offered little of substance to the case.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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German neo-Nazi Horst Mahler arrested after seeking asylum in Hungary

One of Germany's most prominent far-right figures applied for asylum in Hungary and was then subsequently arrested, according to reports on Monday. Horst Mahler claimed he was being persecuted in Germany.

15/5/2017- A prominent former German left-wing militant turned neo-Nazi applied for political asylum in Hungary, where he was arrested, German daily TAZ reported on Monday, citing a spokesperson from the Munich prosecutor's office. A German court in 2009 sentenced Horst Mahler to 10 years in prison for inciting hatred and Holocaust denial, which is a criminal offense in Germany. The 81-year-old former lawyer was released early two years ago due to poor health, but was then ordered back for other offenses committed while in prison. Instead of returning, he went on the run in April. Further investigations are also pending, including the publication of what authorities say is an anti-Semitic book. Regional daily Mitteldeutsche Zeitung cited an open letter Mahler published on May 12 requesting asylum from Hungary and its president, Viktor Orban.

Arrested in Hungary
Mahler wrote that he was being "persecuted" for publishing a book. "The work is a religious-ideological declaration. It has no relation to Holocaust denial," Mahler wrote. The Hungarian embassy in Berlin denied the asylum request. On Facebook, the embassy said: "Hungary is a state of law and a member of the EU. Germany is also a state of law and member of the EU." The asylum request "therefore lacks any basis," it said.

From left to right
Mahler has a checkered history. His political career began on the political far-left in 1960s West Germany. As a lawyer, he represented many prominent leftist figures during the political unrest in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin, who later became terrorists in the group that Mahler helped to found: the Red Army Faction (RAF). Mahler took part in some of the RAF's criminal actions, including kidnappings and bank robberies, for which he served most of the 1970s in prison. It was in prison that he developed a right-wing worldview. By the late 1990s, Mahler had become prominent in the far-right scene, and joined the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) in 2000. He represented the NPD in court when the government attempted to have it banned for being anti-constitutional in the early 2000s. But his opposition to the German state also led him to drop out of the NPD in 2003, on the grounds that its aim was to enter parliament, which meant that "like the parliamentary system itself," as he said, "it was doomed to destruction." Mahler is one of Germany's most prominent Reichsbürgers, a loose movement that refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the modern Federal Republic.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Italian in European Parliament Convicted of Defamation for Racial Insult

19/5/2017- An Italian member of the European Parliament has been found guilty of defamation and ordered to pay 50,000 euros, or $55,670, in damages to a fellow member of the European Union body, four years after he was accused of racially insulting her during a radio interview.  Mario Borghezio, of the anti-immigration Northern League, was convicted by a court in Milan on Thursday of comments founded on racial hatred against Cécile Kyenge, Italy’s former minister of integration. Mr. Borghezio was also fined 1,000 euros, in addition to the damages. The Parliament voted in October to lift Mr. Borghezio’s immunity. Ms. Kyenge, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, became Italy’s first black national minister in 2013 before being elected to the European Parliament. She said in response to the sentencing: “I’m satisfied, even though I don’t see this as a personal victory but as a strong response against racial hatred which poisons society. The sentence marks a line that can’t be crossed.”





During a radio interview in April 2013, Mr. Borghezio said that Ms. Kyenge wanted to “impose her tribal traditions from the Congo” on Italians. He described Ms. Kyenge, who was a member of Enrico Letta’s short-lived government, as “a good housewife, but not a government minister.” He also said that as a doctor working for the national health service, Ms. Kyenge had taken the job of an Italian doctor. Ms. Kyenge became the target of racial slurs and death threats on social media, weeks into her tenure as minister. She said in an interview on Friday that though she had won other defamation cases, Mr. Borghezio’s conviction had been the most important. “The fact that the European Parliament stripped him of immunity is a strong signal on the part of member states that the words that people use carry weight,” she said. “This is a fundamental battle.” She added that “if you are a public figure representing a nation,” you have to be held accountable for what you say.

Ms. Kyenge said she was still waiting to receive the damages she had won in other defamation cases. “That’s going to take years,” she said. Mr. Borghezio said on Friday that though he respected the court’s ruling, he felt as though he had been “politically persecuted” by Ms. Kyenge’s party, the Democrats, in the European Parliament. He added that his comments had fallen within his right as an opposition lawmaker to criticize a government minister. “My fight was for the right to political criticism” and free speech, he said. “What I said didn’t warrant this treatment; this is persecution,” he added, promising to continue speaking his mind. “If I think a minister is doing something wrong, I will criticize; that is the duty of an opposition politician.” Mr. Borghezio also said he thought the damages were “exceedingly high.” He told the news agency ANSA that the costs would force him to sell his home.

Ms. Kyenge said that the many messages of support she had received after the sentence was made public Thursday confirmed her belief that Italy was “not a racist country.” She expressed hope that the court ruling would have a broader impact, one that showed that “some ideas, like racial hatred, have no place in our institutions.” “This sentence is a lesson to all member states,” she said. Mr. Borghezio was found guilty on the same day that a Dutch court convicted 20 people of sexist and racist online hate speech against a black politician and media personality who was born in Suriname and raised in the Netherlands. The case was seen as an indictment of the ostensible culture of tolerance in that country.






© The New York Times
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Italy’s populist movement isn’t like the others in Europe

The Five Star Movement is Euro-skeptic, anti-immigrant, pro-environment, and the country’s most popular party.
By Justin Salhani


18/5/2017- The far-right populist wave that has swept Europe and the United States since 2016 has a major foothold in Italy, where the 5 Star Movement (Movimento 5 Stelle) has quickly emerged as the country’s most popular party. The M5S isn’t a typical far-right party. In fact, on issues like environmental protection, public water, and sustainable transport, it can often sound downright left-wing. But while it may seem like a breath of fresh air to have an anti-corruption, environmentally-conscious party leading in polls in a major European nation, don’t inhale too sharply just yet. Because while the party’s attitude toward the environment and public welfare recalls Bernie Sanders, its views on immigration, refugees, the euro, and improved relations with Russia more closely resemble those of far-right French leader Marine Le Pen.
Origins

The M5S was formed in 2009 by Beppe Grillo, a popular comedian and blogger, and Gianroberto Casaleggio, a web strategist. Grillo, 68, became famous in the 1980s for his stinging political satire of Italy’s leading politicians. In 1987, he was banned from television for offending then-Prime Minister and Socialist Party leader Bettino Craxi. He then remained out of the public eye for almost 20 years. He reemerged in 2005, when he crowdfunded a full page ad in Italian newspaper Repubblica calling for the resignation of then-PM Antonio Fazio. Thanks to that audacious move, Time Magazine named him one of its European Heroes. That same year, Grillo purchased a full page ad in the International Herald Tribune that demanded a ban on parliamentarians with a criminal record — no matter how small.

Italy’s convoluted political process makes progress hard to come by. Tax evasion and corruption are common practices in government, and the M5S’s opposition to such practices — paired with its adept use of social media — has spurred a furious rise to the head of Italian political polls. Grillo and Casaleggio initially organized meetings on the site Meetup.com. They coalesced activist groups on campaigns and local issues and then used the popularity to field candidates for elections. They focused heavily on corruption and gained support by advocating cuts to parliamentarian salaries. The M5S grew quickly by exploiting people’s legitimate grievances with traditional political parties and through their successful manipulation of the internet. They drew support from people from both traditional left and right constituencies, and across social and class lines.

“The reason why the M5S became so big is because in 2011 Italy had a technocrat government lead by Mario Monti supported by the center-left and center-right parties,” Lorenzo De Sio, an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science at LUISS University Rome, told ThinkProgress. “Monti took unpopular measures, and with no strong opposition party, the M5S was the only opposition voice.” Running as a party opposed to the establishment in 2012, the M5S won mayoral races in three small cities and Parma, a provincial capital. In 2013, the M5S was the most voted for party in Italy, not including votes from abroad. But the Italian electoral system, which heavily favors traditional parties, saw that only 109 of 630 deputy positions were granted to the M5S. Rome, long dominated by establishment parties, fell to the M5S in 2016 when Virginia Raggi became its mayor. The party has maintained around 30 percent of the country’s support ever since.

“The M5S feeds on real problems and disenchantment with political parties,” Dr. Matteo Garavoglia, a Non-Resident Fellow with the Center on the United States and Europe at The Brookings Institution, told ThinkProgress. “They are the best by far at exploiting the internet and are years ahead of other parties.” Today, Grillo’s blog, which publishes in three languages, is one of the 10 most visited websites in the world. He’s used it to drum up support for M5S while also spreading fake news and pro-Kremlin propaganda.

Neither right nor left
The name M5S comes from five key issues it claims to focus most on: public water, sustainable transport, sustainable development, the right to internet access, and environmentalism. The movement has also regularly promoted nonviolence, and opposes European austerity measures and foreign interventions. (It was against Western intervention in Libya and continues to speak out in opposition to American intervention in Syria.) The M5S also has said it wants to distance itself from the United States and improve relations with Russia. But most of its policies aren’t carved in stone. “They have ambiguous positions,” De Sio said. “It’s a strength for them to avoid very clear policy commitments.” The movement claims to be neither right nor left, though they borrow from both sides. “Their slogan is ‘we’re not with Trump, nor with Putin’,” Garavoglia said. “They are not with Europe. They have a new approach.”

They claim they are populist, anti-establishment, and Euro-skeptic but place a heavy emphasis on environmental issues and take what could be defined as a leftist position on austerity. They’ve also called for a referendum on whether to abandon the euro. Direct democracy is central to M5S rhetoric. But since Casaleggio’s death in 2016, Grillo has consolidated power in the movement and taken a more authoritarian approach to party rule. Many members have left in recent times after being told to either fall in line with Grillo’s positions or be expelled. These days it seems the movement’s positions are Grillo’s positions and vice versa. “All M5S MPs have to sign a contract that demands they strictly follow the leadership’s line,” Buzzfeed reported last year. Given who Grillo counts among his friends, that potentially means joining an alliance with some seriously unsavory characters.

Strange bedfellows
Grillo has spoken glowingly of Nigel Farage, former head of the British right-wing populist party UKIP. Farage — who also advised President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and is a current Fox News contributor — was one of the main advocates behind the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. Shortly after the Brexit vote, he made his own Brexit and moved to the United States — just in time to attend Trump’s inauguration. Grillo also supported Trump in the U.S. elections. He refused to pick a side in the French elections, though his view of immigrants is more aligned with that of the loser, Marine Le Pen. “He is not openly against immigration,” De Sio said. “He’s subtly anti-immigrant and clever about using dogwhistles against immigration.”

Grillo compared migrants to rats in a tweet in 2015, suggesting that Rome could be “swamped by rats, rubbish and illegal immigrants.” Recently, members of the M5S have started spreading a conspiracy theory about aid workers colluding with human traffickers to make money and destabilize Europe. Shortly after Sadiq Khan became London’s first Muslim mayor in 2016, Grillo drew criticism for asking when he would blow up Westminster. Like many other populist movements, the M5S entered European parliament in recent years. Once ensconced in Brussels, they tried to join a bloc of left-leaning parties, but were rejected. Instead, they carried on in their current bloc, which includes UKIP.

Future
The M5S seem poised to do well in Italy’s next general election, which is set to be held in 2018. But as Brexit supporters and the Trump administration are now learning, it’s harder to placate anger and disenchantment than it is to rile it up. Fulfilling their promises to voters would be especially hard for the M5S, which has vowed in the past not to join in coalitions with other parties. In Italy’s divided political landscape, it would be impossible to form any sort of government without other parties. “They, like anyone else, may struggle to govern,” Garavoglia said. But votes for the M5S may be less about the expected outcome and more about trying what many Italians feel is their last option. “It’s less love of the M5S and more ‘we tried everyone else’,” Garavoglia said.
Justin Salhani, a former ThinkProgress reporter, is a freelance writer and journalist based in Milan, Italy. He covers Europe’s far right, refugees, and the nexus of football (soccer) and culture.
© Think Progress

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Italy: Mafia controlled migrant centre, say police

One of Italy's largest migrant centres has been in the hands of the mafia for more than a decade, police have said.

15/5/2017- Police say the Arena clan made money by providing services at Isola di Capo Rizzuto in Italy's far south and siphoning off state funds. The clan is alleged to have hidden behind a local Catholic charity which officially runs the centre. The claims came to light on Monday, when officers arrested 68 people, including a local priest. Another of those arrested was Leonardo Sacco, head of the Catholic Misericordia association that is supposed to control the Sant'Anna Cara immigrant centre. The centre holds 1,500 people at a time. It is alleged the Arena clan, part of the powerful 'Ndrangheta crime syndicate, may have taken more than a third of the €100m ($109m/£85m) destined for the centre in the past 10 years. The priest, named as Edoardo Scordio, had received €132,000 already this year for "spiritual services", an assistant prosecutor alleged. Police in Catanzaro, a city in the southern Calabria region, said more than 500 agents were involved in the arrests of suspects "accused of mafia association, extortion, carrying illegal weapons, fraud, embezzlement to the detriment of the state, (and) theft".

The arrests come two years after L'Espresso magazine published an investigation, alleging funds were being stolen and managers were making money by starving the migrants who lived there. A year earlier, it was alleged the number of migrants said to be living at the centre had been greatly over exaggerated, while in 2013 a health inspection found asylum seekers were being fed small portions of out-of-date food. Police believe the clan, through Mr Sacco, was awarding contracts, including for food supplies, to other members of the 'Ndrangheta syndicate, as well as setting up its own associations. According to Rosy Bindi, the head of parliament's anti-mafia commission, the centre had effectively been transformed into "a money printing operation for organised crime". "This operation shows the ability of the mafia to take advantage of the weaknesses and fragility of our times with its predatory and parasitic approach," she added.
© BBC News.

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UK: Pig’s trotter hung on door of proposed Muslim community centre

15/5/2017- Sussex Police are investigating an anti-Muslim hate crime after a pig’s trotter was tied to the door of a proposed community centre. One disgusted local attached flowers and a “welcome to your new home” card to the door in response. The proposal is not for a mosque but for a community centre. Locals created a crowdfunding page earlier this year. Part of the campaign pitch read: “Men, Women, Children, the young and the old… can all join together in creating a united community and nurturing harmony between Muslims and the wider community”. Shahadat Ali, who sent in the application, said that locals had to rent a clubhouse for 15 years for Friday prayers, and they needed something more permanent. Nor will they let this crime affect their positive relations with the wider community.

Anti-Muslim Twitter accounts welcomed the news. One individual shared the Argus story, adding a ‘ban Islam’ hashtag. On Facebook, some accounts reacted with broad anti-Muslim statements, comparing their faith to a violent satanic cult. A spokesperson for Sussex Police told the Argus newspaper: “the unpleasant and offensive incident is being treated as a hate crime and local enquiries are being carried out”. The targeting of Muslims with pork products is nothing new. Members of the public are urged to contact 101 with any information.
© Tell Mama News

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UK: Warwick councillor suspended over 'racist' Eurovision tweet

Nick Harrington has now been suspended from the Conservative group on Warwick District Council for six months

15/5/2017- A councillor has been suspended after an offensive tweet about Irish people and gypsies appeared on his account during the Eurovision Song Contest. Nick Harrington has been suspended from the Conservatives on Warwick District Council for six months, the leader of the group told the Telegraph today. An internal investigation is now planned. The tweet said: “#Eurovision2017. Thanks Ireland. You can keep your f’king gypsies!” The tweet also said a “hard border” was coming, a reference to stricter border controls behind the UK and Ireland post-Brexit. Mr Harrington’s account, along with the tweet, has since been deleted but not before it was screengrabbed and retweeted by others. The tweet seems to have been prompted by the fact that none of the Irish judges voted for the British song to win and because of the way the votes are counted it’s unclear whether the Irish public voted for the song.

Cllr Andrew Mobbs (Con, Park Hill), leader of Warwick District Council, and who heads the council’s Conservative group, told us: “I find these comments completely unacceptable. “I have had a number of people contact me by telephone and e mail this morning with concerns and I have suspended councillor Harrington from the Conservative group on Warwick District Council for six months. There will be in investigation.” And Warwick District Council issued a statement on Twitter "apologising unreservedly for the offence and upset" the comments caused. Mr Harrington represents the Stoneleigh and Cubbington ward on Warwick District Council. He also volunteers as a magistrate and is director at Leamington based company Ambay Software.

The controversial tweet gained 11 retweets and 13 likes, along with scores of condemnations. People condemning the tweet pointed out how many people or Irish origins live in the UK and how many people born in the UK live in Ireland. Bob Geldof was named an example. Among those outraged by the tweet was former Pride of Coventry & Warwickshire winner Daniel Browne, who tweeted: “He should be removed from his position immediately.” One tweeter claimed to have reported the tweet to their local police. Another highlighted internet safety sessions run in schools reminding children whatever they post on the internet is likely to stay there forever. The Telegraph has tried to contact Mr Harrington for a comment.
© The Coventry Telegraph

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UK: School racism ‘keeps black teachers out’

13/5/2017- Racist head teachers and pupils in Scottish schools are keeping black teachers out of the profession, according to a new report. The Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights claims that black and minority ethnic (BME) teachers regularly experience “casual racist remarks” and behaviour. Only 1 per cent of primary school teachers and 2 per cent of secondary teachers are BME even though the group makes up 4 per cent of the Scottish population. A CRER submission to the Scottish parliament said the situation was so bad that almost 60 per cent of BME teachers wanted to leave the workforce. The findings have been corroborated by leading academics, who said there was an “unwillingness” among senior managers to tackle racism in schools. They said some BME teachers had reported “micro-aggressions” and casual racist remarks from other members of staff.

The submission said BME teachers experienced “structural and systematic racist barriers to progression, such as assumptions about capabilities based on racial/ethnic stereotypes”. Speaking about the findings, Jatin Haria, CRER’s director, said that “something happens at that interview stage” which prevents BME teachers getting jobs, which could be down to outright racism or “benign racism”. Expanding on CRER’s findings, Khadija Mohammed, an education lecturer at the University of the West of Scotland, said: “There appears to be an unwillingness of senior management teams, perhaps due to complacency, nervousness, or the school culture, to act in instances where BME teachers are subjected to racist treatment by pupils and staff.” CRER points out that in Glasgow, where 12 per cent of the population are BME, only 2.4 per cent of teachers and 1.7 per cent of principals are from minority groups.

In Aberdeen, where 8 per cent of the population are BME, only 0.7 per cent of the education workforce have a BME background. A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “We want BME groups to be better represented in teaching and recently met the Scottish Association of Minority Ethnic Educators, Bemis and other groups to get their views on how to make that happen. “We are also setting up a working group, which will make recommendations around the factors that impact on under-representation in teaching.” The shocking state of racism in Scottish primary schools was reported last week. It was found that children as young as eight were using racist slurs. Hundreds of such incidents have been recorded at Scottish primary schools since 2013.
© The Times

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Headlines 12 May, 2017

Rising anti-Islam rhetoric ignored as it spreads through Europe

Islamophobia is escalating throughout Europe as the media, academics and politicians continue to use anti-Islamist rhetoric that results in frequant attacks on Muslims, which should be considered not just simple religious intolerance but systematic racism

11/5/2017- An increased presence of far-right populist rhetoric in European politics has recently exposed the rise of anti-migrant and anti-Muslim tendencies in the public sphere. It drew attention to the threat that has come to dominate Europe and diminish the role of democratic values across the continent. "We can say that the current situation is the tip of the iceberg," said Enes Bayraklý, a foreign affairs specialist at the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), who is the co-author of the annual European Islamophobia Report (EIR) published by SETA. Bayraklý indicated that despite the increase in the visibility of Islamophobia as a problem thanks to social media and a rising awareness among Muslim communities, there are also many incidents not being reported or examined.

The rise in violence against migrants in general, and Muslims and Turks in particular, has become more visible in recent years, especially due to the flow of refugees fleeing conflict zones in the Middle East and North Africa. Speaking to Daily Sabah, Bayraklý stated that, currently, Islamophobia has replaced anti-Semitism. "Today we see that Islamophobia has started to play the role that anti-Semitism did in past. In the past, the 'others' in Europe were the Jews and there was a collective hatred against them. Yet, today in Europe, being an anti-Semitic has a price. It is a negative condition. Being Islamophobic, on the other hand, is not a negative condition. In contrast, you gain profit from it politically. Thus, today, there is an argument whether or not Islamophobia is the new anti-Semitism in Europe. Yes, we can easily say that this is true."

Despite the fact that Islamophobia is considered a hate crime in Europe, it does not have its own separate category that anti-Semitism has. That is to say, there are no disincentive laws against the commitment of Islamophobia as a crime, a fact which results in the increase of anti-Islamic rhetoric as well as attacks within European society. "When we talk about Islamophobia, we don't talk about religion-based intolerance. It is a form of racism that is based on anti-Islamist beliefs. It is anti-Muslim racism," Bayraklý said, emphasizing the fact that it is not only characterized by the discrimination of Muslims in the Europe but also by the "otherization" of them globally. "Since the Muslims that live in Europe are the ones who are encountered most in these societies, they are also the ones who are discriminated against the most," he added.

Far Right Attacks Have Reached a Record High in 2016
According to a recent report by Germany's Ministry of Interior, for example, crimes motivated by far-right tendencies have reached a record high of 23,555 cases in 2016, including 1,698 of which were classified as violent attacks. Although Islamophobia is not a recent phenomenon and anti-Islamist views have always had a place in European minds throughout history, after 9/11, Islamophobic tendencies began to rise dramatically with the contributions of the media, academics and journalists. "Especially after the 1990's, with the collapse of communism, an anti-Islamic attitude emerged in the West, increasing step by step and reaching its peak after 9/11. We all witnessed the constitution of this hatred little by little. Thus, we can say that today's atmosphere is the result of a post 90's hatred that is constituted against Muslims," he said.

A report prepared by EUROPOL called, 'European Union Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2016,' which classifies far-right violence under the heading of "terrorism," states, "In 2015, Islamophobic crimes against mosques and the Muslim community increased. Poland, for example, reported that in comparison to 2013-2014, the number of cases concerning Muslims and Muslim institutions has doubled, and in France, numerous incidents of Islamophobic hate crimes occurred, including firebombs, vandalism and threats." "We know that in France or England where Muslims are densely populated, there is Islamophobia. However, the surprising thing is that the phenomenon also exists in countries such as Hungary, Poland or Latvia where there are almost no Muslims," Bayraklý stated, emphasizing the usage of Islamophobic rhetoric in these countries' media and academic circles.

"Media is one of the most influential tools that contribute to the expansion of Islamophobia. Yet, we should not blame just the media. It is only a part of the problem. There are academics, intellectuals and politicians that are also to blame. Besides, there is the perception of Islamophobia that it is an attitude of those with low levels of education only. But this is not true. Unfortunately, both the middle class and the elites also commonly share Islamophobic beliefs. In particular, the elites' Islamophobic attitude is crucial since this rhetoric then spreads to the whole of society under the direction of these people," he said. Austrian authorities have pressed charges in about 1,690 cases related to right-wing extremism in 2015, the highest number to date in a single year and up from 1,200 in 2014, a report by Austria's domestic intelligence service BVT showed. In addition, Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPO) has called for a law banning Muslim symbols, saying Islam could wipe out European society.

The Netherlands's anti-Islamic Dutch deputy Geert Wilders and his far-right Freedom Party have called for similar actions against the country's Muslim minorities. "In 1912, one of the slogans of the anti-Semitic party in its election campaign stated that, 'Vienna cannot be Jerusalem.' In the 1980's, on the other hand, it was stated by the far right political parties that were against multiculturalism that 'Vienna cannot be Chicago.' After 9/11, however, a far right party's election banner stated that 'Vienna cannot be Istanbul.' So, you can see the transformation here. Just like the famous saying of Sartre: Even if there were no Jews, the anti-Semitics would somehow create themselves a Jew." The blaming of Muslims for being behind the emergence of Islamophobia with their terrorist attitudes is frequently used as an attempt to legitimize Islamophobic attitudes. After the Paris terror attack, for instance, and the declaration of the state of emergency, Muslims were targeted and Islamophobia spread to all segments of society.

Last August, a French restaurateur refused to serve a woman who was wearing a hijab saying, "I don't want people like you here. Get out. All terrorists are Muslims and all Muslims are terrorists." "Some claim that Islamophobia is fear of Muslims and the reason behind it is the attitudes of the Muslim people themselves, 'Some radical Muslims, for instance Daesh, carry out a terrorist attack, thus Islamophobia increases. Or Muslims did not manage to integrate into European society; they act asocial or commit crimes despite all the efforts of state authorities to integrate them. And so Islamophobia arises,' they claim. When we say this, we look at the subject from the wrong perspective," Bayraklý said. "The main cause of this problem is not the Muslims' attitudes. The main reason is the racism of the European societies, how they look at non-Europeans and how they interact with them," he added, while emphasizing that it is a political project to demonize Muslims and shine the spotlight on them alone, overlooking the bigger picture.

The Human Rights Watch released a report in 2016 that stated, "France has carried out abusive and discriminatory raids and house arrests against Muslims and alienated them under the state of emergency law. The measures have created economic hardship, stigmatized those targeted, and have traumatized children."

Islamophobia is a Threat to European Values
Despite these demonization attempts to portray Muslims as terrorists, studies actually reveal that after 9/11, for instance, more people were killed in far-right terrorist attacks than the attacks claimed to be done by Muslims. "Far-right terrorism is actually increasing in Europe right now and in the near future we will see that this terror will produce serious violence in Europe. Yet, unfortunately, this fact is not reflected in media reports, not even slightly," Bayraklý said. Stating that Islamophobia is actually a threat to Europe's main values, Bayraklý added that the doors of hatred have opened via Islamophobic attitudes.

"When you act in such a hateful way to the other, you cannot know where it will stop. Thus, those who will be affected by this first will be the others in Europe, the ones who think differently to the rest of society. The doors of hatred have opened. After World War II, far-right parties were suppressed and were not able to act freely. But today, they are on the rise again. They have become the mainstream again and have started to lead European politics. The other parties, unfortunately, think that they can stop the far-right only with far-right rhetoric. This leads to a further escalation of the situation. It means that you acknowledge the agenda of the far-right," he said.

Germany's Bundestag, which is the lower house of parliament, agreed to a draft a law last month that will prevent civil servants, judges, and soldiers in Germany from wearing full-face veils at work as part of security measures they call a "precaution" to prevent extremist attacks, which is a great example of the acceptance of the far-right agenda by a leader like Merkel according to Bayraklý. Meanwhile, Norway's anti-immigrant and libertarian Progress Party (FrP) also voted on Tuesday to ban circumcision for boys under the age of 16 and bar hijabs in public schools.

According to the annual EIR report of SETA, which covers 27 European countries and monitors the developments of Islamophobia in these countries and analyzed by 31 prominent scholars who specialize in racism, gender and Islamophobia studies, Muslim women are 70 percent more like to be the victim of Islamophobia than Muslim men. "Women who wear the hijab are particularly visible in public. It is clear that they are Muslims. So they are the ones who are attacked the most. Even in Turkey, those who were attacked most were women wearing the hijab. This is based on the perception that Islam does not value Muslim women. There is the idea of Muslim women being prisoners who should be liberated. Thus discriminatory attitude towards Muslim women is being legitimized by this perception. "We are liberating you by banning the hijab," they say. This kind of attitude objectifies women and takes women's freedom of will out of their hands. "It is a pure orientalist attitude," Bayraklý said.

When there is an incident of discrimination, hate crimes and hate speech, a number of different response mechanisms are actually available, but none of these are familiar to the vast majority of Muslim citizens in European countries. According to Bayraklý, Islamophobia should be recognized as a crime in itself and statistics in regard to it should be recorded regularly, which would provide data that can be compared and contrasted. "As a matter of fact, Islamophobia is not something that depends on Muslims. It is Europe's dominating powers' problem to be solved. They should solve it. I am not the source of this problem as a Muslim. The source of the problem is them," he said.

"Still, there are some things that Muslims can do to overcome this situation. The first thing is to place Islamophobia on the agenda of the international community, by constantly monitoring and reporting incidents, through lobbying channels in different countries, making them acknowledge Islamophobia as a crime. Another thing to do is to raise the awareness of Muslim communities in Europe and to direct them to report any incident to the authorities. It should turn into a civil rights movement. It must be recognized that this is a human rights issue," Bayraklý concluded.
© The Daily Sabah

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Hungary: Far-right activists film anti-Soros ‘raid’ on Budapest Jewish center

Clip shows young men spraying hateful graffiti, putting up defaced posters of Jewish billionaire

12/5/2017- Far-right activists in Budapest targeted a Jewish community center that serves as the headquarters of several ethnic and refugee activist groups, filming themselves as they put up defaced posters of the Jewish billionaire George Soros. The video was filmed last week outside the Aurora community center by members of the far-right Sixty-Four Counties Youth Movement and posted online by ultranationalist media including Szent Korona Rádió. Seven men, dressed in black and sporting the very short haircuts in the skinhead neo-Nazi style, are seen walking through Budapest’s 8th district, a poor area with many immigrants and Roma, or gypsy, residents.

The men place posters reading “Stop operation Soros” on the message board of Aurora, established in 2014 by Marom, a Jewish identity group affiliated with the Conservative/Masorti Movement. Aurora functions as the headquarters of several additional groups, including the Roma Press Center, Budapest Pride (a gay rights organization), the Migszol refugee advocacy group and the Zold Pok agency for social activism. Aurora is not funded by Soros, an American Jewish businessman and philanthropist who was born in Hungary and who has clashed with the government over his funding for several organizations in Hungary with a liberal, pro-democracy agenda.

In a text on its website about the “raid on Aurora,” the far-right youth movement said the Jewish center promoted ”deviant circles, hosting Budapest Pride” and are “of course always open to the offices of the Roma Press Center.” Extremist groups in Hungary regularly target the Roma minority. The activists spray-painted anti-Soros slogans on the sidewalk outside Aurora’s entrance. The youth movement’s account of the incident ended with a menacing message, informing the groups at Aurora that they are “far from untouchable.” Time permitting, “we will say hello again,” the authors wrote, adding an emoticon of a smile and a wink. Adam Schonberger, the president of Marom, said the action by the far-right youth movement was the first case of such intimidation targeting Aurora. The organization alerted authorities as to the incident, he said.

In March, the former leader of Britain’s far-right British National Party, Nick Griffin, delivered a lecture at an anti-Soros conference in Budapest in which he devoted long minutes to discussing Aurora. He demonstrated “astonishingly detailed knowledge” of the place, according to the news site 444. Griffin quoted heavily from an article published in JTA in February about Aurora. In recent weeks, the government of Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a center-right politician, has escalated its rhetoric against Soros, who for years has been financing opposition to Orban and pro-democracy causes that are not popular among supporters of Orban’s ruling party, Fidesz. In March, Orban vowed to shutter a university established by Soros, the Central European University, and has introduced legislation to that effect. Last month, Orban told Kossuth Radio that Soros is behind an attempt to limit Hungary’s sovereignty as part of “a well-established international campaign, which has been ongoing for more than a decade and can be linked to the name of George Soros.” He added this campaign is “extremely dangerous.”

Last week, European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans, a center-left Dutch politician, appeared to agree during a press conference with a journalist who suggested that Orban’s comments sounded anti-Semitic. “I understood that exactly the same way and was appalled,” Timmermans said. Hungarian ministers demanded an apology for the statement. Slomo Koves, leader of the EMIH group, which is affiliated with Chabad, also said that the clash between Orban and Soros was not anti-Semitic.
© JTA News.

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Slovakia and Hungary in EU court over migrant quotas

Representatives of these two ocuntries were asked to explain why their governments decided to sue the Council of the European Union for its decision.

11/5/2017- The judges of the European Union Court of Justice invited representatives from the Slovak Republic and Hungary for a hearing on May 10, the TASR newswire wrote. Back in September 2015, the Council of the EU decided to reallocate 120,000 migrants from Greece and Italy based on national quotas. The Slovak government was the first to file a lawsuit against the migrant quotas on December 2, 2015 and the Hungarian government followed suit a day later. Hungary and Slovakia voted against the quotas in September 2015, similar to the Czech Republic and Romania. Finland refrained from the voting. The hearing for the court case started at 9:00 am but the court did not issue its ruling on the same day. Sources close to the court informed TASR that the Advocate General at the ECJ, Yves Bot, will elaborate his position on both lawsuits in the upcoming months. The verdict itself is expected to be issued by the end of this year.

Visegrad is against quotas
A representative from Slovakia presented the country's arguments first, followed by a representative from Hungary. A Polish representative was given time to present arguments in favour of Slovakia and Hungary, too, although Poland had voted for migrant quotas in September, 2015. However, Warsaw later took the side of its partners from the Visegrad Group (Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland) in this lawsuit.

The Slovak and Hungarian officials representing their countries at the EU court stressed that they find the Council of the EU’s decision rather political, as it was not achieved unanimously, but only by a qualified majority. The Slovak delegation labelled this decision “inadequate and inefficient”. Both the Slovak and Hungarian delegations pointed to the fact that the target that the EU followed by asserting national quotas failed to address the core of the refugee crisis and could have been achieved in a different way, for example by better protecting the EU’s external border or with a more efficient return policy in case of migrants who fail to meet the criteria for being granted asylum. The two countries also used the argument that only 18,900 from the originally intended 120,000 asylum seekers have been reallocated by May 5 of this year.

The Council’s position is that the decision on quotas for 120,000 refugees was adequate to the then situation with Greece and Italy facing an unprecedented flow of illegal migrants.
© The Slovak Spectator.

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Austrians Seek to Ban Croatian WWII Commemoration

The Austrian state of Carinthia is being urged to ban a Croatian event at Bleiburg commemorating defeated Nazi collaboration forces and civilians killed by the Yugoslav Partisans in 1945.

11/5/2017- A total of 21 political organisations, rights NGOs and anti-fascist groups have called on the local authorities in the Austrian state of Carinthia to ban Saturday’s annual commemoration of the Croatian collaboration forces and civilians who were captured and killed in 1945, Austrian national broadcaster ORF reported on Wednesday. “The gathering in memory of the [Croatian WWII Nazi-aligned movement] Ustasa state has become the largest neo-Nazi congregation in Europe,” the petitioners wrote in their letter to Carinthia’s Prime Minister Peter Kaiser on Wednesday. Karl Oellinger, an MP from Austria’s Greens party, said that the Bleiburg commemoration represents “the largest meeting of revisionists, neo-Nazis and followers of a fascist state”.

But the Carinthia office for protection of the constitutional order defines the event, which has been held for 30 years, as “a church gathering”. “This gathering can’t be banned under Austrian law,” Gert-Andre Kloesch, president of the Voelkermarkt district, told the Austrian Press Agency, APA on Wednesday. Kloesch said that in recent years, only one person has been arrested and convicted of doing a Nazi salute at the event, while no swastikas have been displayed. “We can’t intervene against uniforms and symbols that are banned in Croatia, but not in Austria,” he said. Austrian NGOs tried last year to have the event banned, but the police and the office for protection of the constitutional order said that the law prohibiting the use of Nazi symbols or Nazi surrogate symbols cannot be applied in this case.

Bleiburg’s mayor Stefan Visotsching said meanwhile that he was unhappy about the commemoration being held in the town. “As a social democrat, I don’t approve of it, and I think that here [other] real reasons lie behind the scene of a church gathering,” he said. He said that he cannot ban the event himself since it takes place on private property. At the commemoration on Saturday, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic will send State Property Minister Goran Maric as her personal envoy, while the new chair of parliament, Gordan Jandrokovic, from the governing centre-right Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, will make a speech.

Fleeing troops from the Ustasa-led Independent State of Croatia, NDH, along with other collaboration forces from Serbia and Slovenia, accompanied by thousands of civilians, surrendered to the British Army and Yugoslav Partisans in Bleiburg on May 15, 1945. The captives were then taken back to Yugoslavia by the Partisans. There is no precise death toll, but thousands were killed on the way, most of them in Tezno and Macelj in Slovenia. The commemoration was held in Yugoslav times by Croat émigrés and the Catholic Church, which is still one of the organisers, holding a mass for victims and their families. The Croatian state reintroduced the support for the event in 2016. In recent years there have been cases of individuals wearing Ustasa insignia and symbols, as well as chanting their slogan ‘Za dom spremni’ (‘Ready for the Home(land)’) or singing inappropriate songs.
© Balkan Insight

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Malta: Far-right Moviment Patrijotti Maltin contesting nationwide

The far-right Moviment Patrijotti Maltin will field candidates in all districts, with up to three candidates in one single district, party leader Henry Battisttino said

11/5/2017- The far-right Moviment Patrijotti Maltin will field candidates in all districts, with up to three candidates in one single district, party leader Henry Battistino said. It will be the first showing for the anti-immigration MPM, which will field 13 candidates, each with double constituencies. So far, the far-right party has not figured in MaltaToday polls, never registering far beyond the 1% mark of voting intentions. Immigration is also among the least of national concerns. Battistino, whose ‘movement’ started out collecting signatures for a petition “against integration” and then led protests against integration policies for foreigners, told this newspaper he was very annoyed at the media blackout against his party. “I cannot understand why,” he said, while answering that he was not worried about his party’s lacklustre show in the polls. “We know we have support, just wait until we announce our candidates’ list,” Battistino said, who fashions his party as a defender of an underclass that is at the fringe of the two parties’ demographics. At one point he said Marlene Farrugia, the former Labour MP, had renounced on her independence by taking her PD on the PN ballot. “We don’t have much funds, but enough of a budget to be noisy,” he said.
© Malta Today

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Swiss to Limit Romanian, Bulgarian Workers to Stem Migrant Flow

10/5/2017- Switzerland will curb Bulgarian and Romanian citizens' access to its labor market for the next 12 months, the government said on Wednesday, amid increased migration from those countries after limits were lifted last June. The Swiss cabinet, whose struggle with immigration from the European Union intensified after a 2014 referendum in which the public demanded that quotas be imposed, will cap the number of five-year residence permits for Romanians and Bulgarians at 996. While free movement of workers between Switzerland and the European Union is largely guaranteed through bilateral agreements, a so-called "safeguard clause" lets the Swiss impose unilateral limits if migrant numbers exceed certain thresholds.

Workers from Romania and Bulgaria, who have enjoyed freedom of movement since June 2016, topped the threshold last year, with their numbers in Switzerland rising by a net 3,300, about double the increase from 2015. "Since introduction of full freedom of movement, Romanians and Bulgarian workers have been increasingly coming for seasonal jobs in sectors with higher-than-average unemployment rates," the Swiss cabinet said. "The government is employing one of the tools at its disposal to control migration." Around 14,330 Romanians and 8,112 Bulgarians live in Switzerland, government data show. Switzerland's population of 8.4 million is about a quarter foreign.

EU Regrets
This is not the first time Switzerland has enacted such limits. In 2013, for instance, it applied similar restrictions on eight central and eastern European countries including Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. On Wednesday, the European Commission said it regretted the latest Swiss move, in particular because the number of EU citizens seeking residency in Switzerland as a whole is actually falling. Net immigration to Switzerland slowed for a third consecutive year in 2016. Around 143,100 immigrants arrived, down nearly 5 percent from the previous year, while some 78,000 foreigners left, an increase of 5.6 percent. Romanian State Secretary George Ciamba also said Switzerland's new limits were unfortunate. "This is taking place in the context of a relatively small number of Romanians who have applied for "B" permits in the last year and runs contrary to the contribution of the Romanian community in Switzerland," according to the Romanian foreign ministry's website, referring to the five-year residence permits.

Swiss-EU ties are being scrutinized for hints of what Britain might expect as it negotiates the terms of its divorce from the EU. In the wake of Switzerland's 2014 vote in favor of quotas that would have violated bilateral accords with the EU, the Swiss parliament last year dodged a conflict with Brussels by instead adopting a less strict system under which unemployed locals would be given preference when hiring. The broader issue remains, however, with anti-immigration members of the Swiss People's Party (SVP) pursuing a new referendum to put a halt to free movement of EU workers.
© Reuters

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Belarus: A Potent Mix

Recent incidents in Belarus show that pan-Slavism and Neo-Nazism do go together.
by Veranika Laputska

9/5/2017- At first glance, this might look like progress in the fight against anti-Semitism: at the end of February, three people from Mahiliou, a city in eastern Belarus, were sentenced to up to two and a half years in prison for the desecration of the city’s monument to Holocaust victims. The young Belarusians, aged 16 to 19, were found guilty of pouring black paint on the monument last November. Yet the possible ringleader, according to the families of those convicted, was let free as the authorities decided to close the case quickly. And even more telling, the police classified the attack as mere “hooliganism.” That has been a common practice in Belarus for years,  reserving more serious charges such as “promoting racial hatred” to, for example, pro-Russian activists.

Despite regular reports from the U.S. State Department and others that list numerous anti-Semitic acts committed each year in various places around Belarus, the authorities have typically initiated no criminal cases, holding no one accountable. In 2012, for example, vandals poured yellow paint on the same monument in Mahiliou, but at that time Belarusian authorities said a homeless person had caused an accident, and didn’t investigate the case more thoroughly. The recent convictions, some say, finally couldn’t be avoided this time because the Belarusian media paid much more attention to anti-Semitic incidents in 2016. The evident reluctance to investigate such cases more aggressively may stem from a lack of compassion at the top of the country’s power structure.

One prominent example took place at a press conference in October 2007, when Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka infamously said: “Babrujsk is a dirty city.” That comment implied, many thought, that the eastern Belarusian city was sullied after being predominantly populated by Jews before World War II. The Israeli embassy released a protest note, and the Israeli media widely condemned the president’s remarks, which came amid a rash of vandalism in many Belarusian cities, towns, and villages. Old Jewish cemeteries and Holocaust monuments were destroyed and desecrated. While authorities initiated approximately 30 cases to investigate such instances of “hooliganism,” no one followed up on most of them.

White Power
Similar accusations of neo-Nazi sympathies have also been raised during the trial of Stanislau Hancarou, a Belarusian who fought against Russian-backed separatists in eastern
Ukraine. The trial started in the city of Viciebsk last December, but the accusations had little to do with Hancarou’s activities in Donbas. Instead they stemmed from his activities before 2014, when he and his football fan friends allegedly decided to ridicule a group of 13-year-old boys. The group are accused of asking the boys to deny their involvement in an anti-fascist movement, while simultaneously asking them to use the Nazi salute. This was filmed and shared on the internet. Indications are that those arrested for the Mahiliou incident were not simply a bunch of misbehaving teenagers. The authorities say they are connected to the local branch of a neo-Nazi organization promoting the “values” of a racially clean “White Russia.”

The Belarusian Ministry of Internal Affairs disseminated pictures of the alleged leader of the group wearing clothes decorated with the image of an Orthodox Church and an inscription imitating the old Eastern Slavic alphabet. Other pictures included posters about racial purity and the Russian Liberation Army, which fought under Nazi command during World War II. The Mahiliou incident also does not appear to be an exception, but part of a growing neo-Nazi trend, whose spread in a country that suffered enormously during World War II might seem odd. Yet a closer look at the biographies of some of the main characters on the scene offer indications of an uncanny mix of Orthodoxism, neo-Nazism, and, in some cases, competitive weightlifting.

Take, for example, Kanstancin Burykin, the subject of a lengthy investigation by the Belarusian oppositional newspaper Nasa Niva in November 2016. Burykin, a priest, had worked at a Russian Orthodox Church in Hatava, in the Minsk region, and simultaneously as deputy head of the Belarusian powerlifting federation. Several shocking photos were published together with the article, showing Burykin’s swastika tattoo, and his friendship with the former leaders of a Belarusian nationalist organization called Russian National Unity (RNU). Just as controversial was his fascination with other Nazi symbols, which he even used to decorate the interior of his apartment. He was arrested for illegal ammunition possession in November 2016.

After detaining Hancarou in April 2016, the Belarusian police shared photos of his tattoos, which included various Nazi symbols such as 88 (a symbol for “Heil Hitler,” the Nazi salute); the coat of arms for Nazi SS battalions; and some others. Before moving to Ukraine to fight in the Azov battalion, which many consider far-right and even neo-Nazi, Hancarou had allegedly been a leader of a local football fan group, and had encouraged his friends to humiliate and beat people with non-Slavic appearances.

Links to Russia
The RNU is an organization launched in 1990 that claims the Russian state and the Russian people have a unique mission to unify the territories “lost during the 20th century”; the group also promotes Russian Orthodox nationalism. Though never officially registered in Russia, the RNU appears to still operate, albeit on a lower scale, through a regional organization both there and in Belarus. Burykin’s story revealed that some former RNU leaders in Belarus remain quite active, and these individuals participate in public activities.
One of the most powerful neo-Nazi initiatives in Russia is Sorok sorokov – translated as “forty times forty,” an old Slavic expression with an unclear origin, sometimes seen as referring to the total number of churches in Moscow. Supported by the Russian Orthodox Church, the organization emerged with the support of Patriarch Kirill in July 2013 as a sort of fight club. Sorok Sorokov unites not only numerous sportsmen but also former neo-Nazi and skinhead leaders. Members of the movement often post photos with swastika symbols on social media, while somehow managing to combine these views with pan-Slavic ideology, and adherence to the Russian Orthodox Church. At the moment they are also actively offering humanitarian aid to the members of the “Novorossiya army” (separatist forces) in Ukraine’s Donbas region.

Nasa Niva found out last May that similar fight clubs, supported by the Russian Orthodox Church, involved Belarusian children from the Viciebsk region. In this case, a number of Russian Orthodox priests enlisted Belarusian children for participation in so-called “military-patriotic youth gatherings” headed by people who had fought in Donbas. These people were, at the same time, supporting neo-Nazism, and promoting the idea that Belarusians, Ukrainians, and Russians are one people, and, as such, they should unite. Such theories, accompanied by distorted views on Jews and the Holocaust, find fertile ground among many Belarusians, what with the unclear official position – including the president’s occasional anti-Semitic statements – the prominence of Russian media in Belarus, and the clout of the Russian Orthodox Church among Belarusian Orthodox believers.

Additionally, the Holocaust remains a predominantly taboo topic among most Belarusians, including among officials. This is partly because of the country’s history of being occupied by both Nazi Germany and then the Soviet Union for more than half a century, which made it nearly impossible to have an objective view of the country’s history throughout the 20th century. That has further been complicated by the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which has provoked a revival of neo-Nazi ideology in some quarters, both in Ukraine and neighboring countries.

Throughout the growth of such sentiments the Belarusian authorities have preferred to play a passive role, ignoring the possibility that in the long run, such an approach could backfire and lead to trouble at home. This January, the police in Brest, next to the Polish border, discovered that two Belarusians had been collecting weapons old and new, with the alleged intention to sell it to anti-separatist forces in Donbas. Once apprehended, these young men expressed a “grab bag of various radical ideologies,” according to Belarus Digest. That included “Slavic paganism, hatred towards Russia and Donbass, and support for far-right organizations."
Veranika Laputska is a Research Fellow at the EAST Center. Her research interests include disinformation and propaganda, media, and Jewish studies.
© Transitions Online.

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Poland faces criticism at UN human rights forum

9/5/2017- The United States and other countries criticized Poland at the U.N.'s Human Rights Council on Tuesday for new laws that are seen as limiting the independence of the judiciary and public media. Several Western nations also criticized Poland for its restrictive abortion laws, calling on the mostly Roman Catholic nation to give women the right to safe and legal abortions. And they highlighted a rising xenophobic atmosphere that has resulted in more crimes against foreigners. The European Union has voiced concern about the Polish government since the conservative Law and Justice party assumed power in 2015 and moved quickly to consolidate power by limiting the independence of the Constitutional Tribunal and public media. The debate Tuesday in Geneva marked the first time that the country's recent record was reviewed by the world human rights forum. All U.N. members face such periodic reviews.

The U.S. representative at the session, Sheila Leonard, said her country was concerned about the developments in Poland. "We remain deeply concerned about judicial independence," Leonard said. "We are also concerned about the continued discrimination and incidents targeting minorities in Poland, including homophobic, xenophobic and anti-Semitic speech and acts." Polish officials defended their record, saying the changes Law and Justice introduced were in line with European norms. The leading Polish representative, Renata Szczech, an undersecretary of state at Poland's Foreign Ministry, reported that the government has reduced childhood poverty levels dramatically with new cash bonuses for families. Several delegates said they recognized the reduction in childhood poverty and urged Warsaw to show improvements in the other areas. Turkey's delegate expressed concerns over an anti-Muslim mood in Poland, while Russia's delegate criticized a recent spate of vandal attacks on memorials to Soviet soldier who died in World War II.
© The Associated Press

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Poland’s government let far-right extremism explode into mainstream

9/5/2017- Staszek Czerczak’s face wrinkled in disgust as he flicked through the racks of “patriotic” streetwear on display at a market in his Polish hometown. The T-shirts and hoodies emblazoned with nationalist and far-right symbols (Polish eagles, Iron Crosses) and slogans (“Stop the Islamization of Europe”) have become a uniform of sorts for a growing segment of Polish youth. “When I was young, this used to be something underground,” he said, eyeing the clothes. “Now it’s become mainstream.” Czerczak has a better understanding than most of the decadeslong grip the far right has had on young people in Gorzów Wielkopolski, this down-at-the-heels industrial city in western Poland. In the 1990s, seeking to rebel against his parents and fit in with the hooligans in his neighborhood, Czerczak joined a local gang of skinheads.

They held racist, neo-Nazi views, blaming their problems on “the Jews or the Communists,” and they had a reputation for violence. Considering themselves stalwart Polish patriots, they would travel hundreds of miles every November to the capital, Warsaw, to join a rabble of a few hundred other skinheads on a march to observe Poland’s Independence Day. “Being a part of this group of strong guys, I felt strong myself,” he said. Czerczak realized that the hatred at the gang’s core was ultimately self-destructive, and he has long since turned his back on the gang and its neo-fascist politics. Now a clean-cut father of two, he speaks in schools as an activist for Never Again, a Polish anti-racism association. But to his dismay, the far-right ideology he rejected has insinuated itself even more deeply into the politics and society of Europe’s most homogenous country, leaping from the fringes into the mainstream to an extent that would have been unthinkable two decades ago.

Today, ultranationalist politics has a pronounced influence on Polish youth culture, from football stadiums to music to streetwear. Openly xenophobic far-right politicians have seats in Parliament, and the populist government of the conservative Law and Justice party has adopted a nationalist, anti-immigrant platform that shares much ground with the far right. The annual Independence Day demonstration in Warsaw, organized by far-right nationalist groups, now draws estimated crowds of up to 70,000 people, marching under the slogan “Poland for the Poles.” Poland’s young ultranationalists have largely abandoned the skinhead subculture of the 1990s for more mainstream, “patriotic” apparel. One popular streetwear brand, “Red Is Bad,” describes itself as clothing for people who “are proud of Polish history.” One of its T-shirt designs depicts Karl Marx’s head being blown up like a space invader.

They’ve also left behind the white-power punk music of Czerczak’s youth in favor of nationalist hip-hop, whose lyrics can read like a far-right manifesto. Czerczak says the new nationalists may look different, but their xenophobia is only growing more dangerous. “They only changed their clothes; they didn’t change their thinking,” he said. After the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, the prevailing wisdom was that the generations that grew up in a democratic, post-Communist Poland would eventually share the liberal values of their peers in Western Europe. Instead, young Poles have been the driving force behind the rise of a radical far-right nationalism that in recent years has manifested in street-level political movements and across youth culture.

Public rallies by youth-heavy far-right organizations such as the National Radical Camp (ONR) and the National Movement are now common in Polish cities. Critics say the country’s government has harnessed, legitimized, and emboldened this ultranationalist politics, allowing it to spread from the margins into mainstream political discourse, shattering civic norms along the way.  The ruling right-wing Law and Justice party has adopted a nationalist agenda as central to its populist platform, and emboldened extremists by turning a blind eye to their abuses. The result has been an explosion of xenophobia that in the past two years has led to a surge of racially motivated attacks, public and online hate speech, and harassment, much of it targeted at the country’s tiny Muslim minority.

Rafal Pankowski, a sociologist at Warsaw’s Collegium Civitas university and an expert on the Polish far right, said it’s become difficult to distinguish between the mainstream conservative right and what he calls the “anti-democratic, radically xenophobic” far right. Both project themselves as patriots, vigorously defending a narrowly defined Catholic Polish nation that is threatened on two fronts – by the corrupting influence of Western liberal elites, and by a wave of Islamic migrants and terrorists from the East. “Many of the extreme-right groups feel very much empowered by the current climate,” said Pankowski, who is also a member of Never Again. “They feel there is a new space available to them in political discourse. The social norm has shifted, and it’s much more acceptable to express racist views.”

Even though Poland has experienced steady economic growth since joining the EU in 2004, the benefits of EU membership have not flowed to everyone. In overlooked cities like Gorzów Wielkopolski, which never recovered from the shuttering of the city’s factories in the post-Communist era, the sources of disenchantment are obvious. Many of those who can leave, do leave — either to larger Polish cities or to join the estimated 1.3 million to 2 million Poles seeking economic opportunities in other EU countries. “After Communism, things weren’t divided fairly. People see on TV everything that is available, but it is not available to them,” Czerczak said. “The borders are open, but if you’re on 300 euros ($326) a month, what use is that? Maybe you just leave.”

Those left behind “need an enemy to blame,” he said, and the far right gives them one. In Poland, a country that is nearly 98 percent ethnically Polish, that “enemy” has traditionally been Jews or Communists; occasionally it has been gay people. Now, overwhelmingly, it’s Muslims. That’s despite Muslims numbering only an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 people out of Poland’s population of 38 million, a share unlikely to grow given the government’s adamant refusal to accept an EU plan to resettle refugees among member states. “They used to say Poland had anti-Semitism without Jews; now we have Islamophobia without Muslims,” said Pankowski, whose organization monitors reports of racist attacks and hate crimes. A recent Chatham House survey of attitudes to Muslim immigration in 10 European countries found that opposition was highest in Poland, where 71 percent said immigration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped, compared with the 55 percent average across all countries surveyed. Only 9 percent disagreed.

The current nationalist zeitgeist took hold in 2015, when the parliamentary election campaign coincided with the height of the migration crisis convulsing Europe. Law and Justice, then in opposition, campaigned on a strident anti-immigration platform, competing with minor parties on the far right to position itself as the staunchest defender of Poland from a wave of Muslim immigration, a wave it argued was partly due to the misguided policies of liberal leaders to the West. Although Poland wasn’t on the migration route, the rhetoric was intemperate; at one rally, Law and Justice’s leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, warned that refugees from the Middle East could bring “parasites” and diseases. Law and Justice stormed to victory with an outright majority, the first time since the fall of Communism that a party had done so, and significantly boosted its support among young voters.

Law and Justice has proven itself unlike any previous Polish government, rapidly remaking the country in line with its nationalist conservative vision and in a way that critics — including former prime minister and European Council President Donald Tusk and three former Polish presidents — say imperils the country’s democratic order. As in Hungary, where the government is engaged in building an “illiberal” democracy, Law and Justice’s populist agenda includes toppling the perceived dominance of a Western-leaning liberal elite, rolling back socially liberal values to align with the country’s conservative roots, and wresting power from Brussels to restore national control over the country’s affairs. According to a recent report by the pro-democracy think tank Freedom House, the biggest difference between the Hungarian and Polish contexts is that Law and Justice has transformed the Polish landscape “at breakneck speed, and in violation of the country’s own laws.”




This erosion of democratic checks and balances has included moves to neuter the Constitutional Tribunal, the country’s highest court, earning the government a rebuke from the European Commission. The government has tightened its grip on the media, turning it into what critics say is a propaganda arm, and moved to restrict demonstrations and pass a raft of measures rolling back liberal advances on social issues. But the nationalist agenda isn’t the government’s only selling point to Polish voters. Its populist platform combines right-wing positions on immigration and social issues with leftist economic policies, most notably the “Family 500+” initiative. Under this popular program – designed to boost the country’s birth rate, one of the lowest in the European Union, and encourage Poles thinking of emigrating to stay – all Polish families are paid a monthly subsidy of 500 zlotys ($126) for each second and subsequent child. About 3.7 million children benefit from the program, according to government estimates.

Initiatives like these have helped Law and Justice maintain strong public support. Nearly halfway into its four-year term, it remains the most popular party. Perhaps the country’s most high-profile far-right politician is Robert Winnicki, the leader of the National Movement, a party that hopes to translate the power of Poland’s street-based far-right movements into even more parliamentary seats. He unabashedly describes his party as xenophobic and far right, although he claims that, from a Western point of view, “half the Polish political scene is far right.” “To us, even the National Front in France seems quite liberal when it comes to traditional values,” he said.

I met Winnicki in the National Movement’s sparsely furnished Warsaw offices, where the walls are decorated with vintage photos of the marching, uniformed nationalist militias of the 1930s the party sees as its ideological forebears. The ONR and All-Polish Youth, fellow far-right organizations opposed to liberalism, tolerance, multiculturalism, and gay rights, also meet here on a weekly basis. The three closely linked groups are key players in organizing the annual Independence March, now such a key fixture in Europe’s far-right scene that it draws ultranationalist groups and hooligan firms from across the continent to Warsaw.

Winnicki made headlines in 2014 for his role in a rally in the town of Andrychow against the Roma — an ethnic minority who have long been a target of the Polish far-right. With the support of a mob of football fans, Winnicki called for the town’s 100 or so Roma to be expelled. These days, the party’s prime target is Muslims, whom it wants banned from immigrating to the country. But while he acknowledges that the new environment under a Law and Justice government has helped the far-right’s cause, Winnicki rejects any suggestion that anti-immigration rhetoric has contributed to recent attacks on foreigners, and he downplays the reports of violence.
“We don’t want to [encourage attacks]. And even if we wanted to, we don’t need to, because when people are watching the news from Western Europe, this anger — when it comes to Muslims, for example — rises from itself, just watching TV,” he said. “If you want to search for who is responsible for the rising of fear and anger toward Muslims, you have to look to Western European politicians like Angela Merkel.”

The National Movement entered Parliament with five MPs for the first time in 2015 as part of a deal with Kukiz ’15, a new, big-tent populist party led by the popular rock singer Pawel Kukiz. After defecting from Kukiz ’15, Winnicki is now the National Movement’s sole MP. He told me that his party’s goal for the next election is to enter Parliament under its own steam. “And by the next election after that, we want to rule the country.” Dressed conservatively in a suit and tie, the 32-year-old and his party represent the far-right’s attempt to present an acceptable face to the public as it seeks to capitalize on the growing right-wing climate and cement its presence in the political mainstream.


Winnicki says about three-quarters of the National Movement’s membership is under 30. Increasingly, they are middle-class students, not the skinhead and hooligan types who were once the dominant face of the Polish far right. “The skinhead element is something that passes from the ’90s and is decreasing,” said Winnicki. “Now, if I go to liberal high schools, even in Warsaw, the most cosmopolitan city in Poland, I would find people sympathizing and active in nationalist values.” The new breed are people like Mateusz Marzoch, a 23-year-old political science student from the University of Warsaw. “Polish people see what’s happening in the West, in Sweden, for example,” Marzoch said, referring to the recent terror attack in Stockholm carried out by an ISIS-sympathizing failed asylum seeker from Uzbekistan. “Most Polish people are turning to the right.”

By Winnicki’s reckoning, there’s nothing surprising about young Poles foregoing liberal values to hold more right-wing views than their Western European counterparts. He argues Poles have a different political makeup: Polish society remains strongly influenced by the Catholic Church and is inherently more conservative, never having undergone the postwar sexual and social revolutions experienced in the West. “From our point of view, it looks that Western Europe since the ’60s and ’70s has gone far from traditional Western culture, become decadent and betrayed what Europe really is,” he said. “We think of ourselves as defenders of Western culture. We think that this is Europe – not Paris, not London, not Madrid anymore.” There is no shortage of examples of the Law and Justice government’s accommodation of far-right groups and xenophobia since coming to power.

Last May, as Adam Bodnar, Poland’s human rights commissioner, said his office was receiving increasing reports of attacks on minorities, the government abolished a state council tasked with fighting racism. In April, the Polish Border Guard posted on social media that it did “not agree to the influx of Muslim immigrants,” before swiftly deleting the post. Government-organized patriotic events have become rallying points for the far right, where activists from the ONR, Poland’s strongest ultranationalist movement, proudly wave their banners. Critics describe the ONR as a fascist organization; the centrist opposition Civic Platform has called for the group to be banned. But rather than condemning the ONR, the government has effectively helped clear space for it to operate. Last year it scrapped a police training manual on hate-crime symbols at the request of a nationalist MP because it featured the ONR’s symbol,

Justice-affiliated regional governor welcomed the initiative, saying it was “the kind of capital on which we can build.” Official photos of Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, show him at patriotic events with ONR flags in the background. When ultranationalists do overstep the line, the response from authorities is now silence, and sometimes accommodation. In one infamous 2015 episode, a man who burned an effigy of an Orthodox Jew at an ONR-organized anti-refugee rally in Wroclaw was sentenced to 10 months in jail; in a rare move, prosecutors said the sentence was too harsh, and the man eventually received a lighter sentence. When the ONR announced plans to patrol the streets of Lodz to “protect” locals from migrants, the Law and “You can feel in the air the sense of indifference,” said Bodnar, who said the new government does not support his office’s work. “Whenever I have a situation where somebody is beaten because of their race, I make a statement.

But you cannot expect any minister from the government to make a statement in solidarity. The only thing they would do is say, ‘Let’s not exaggerate; it was just an individual attack or an act of hooliganism’.” Poland’s National Police Headquarters would only provide figures for hate crimes committed over the past three years. The numbers have remained relatively steady: 727 in 2014, 791 in 2015, and 765 last year. But Bodnar and Pankowski say these do not reflect the growing frequency and severity of incidents they deal with. “Every week now we have a situation where somebody is beaten up,” said Bodnar. “Two years ago it would not happen that often.” In the current climate, he said, “many attacks are not reported, especially verbal attacks, because people don’t expect any kind of response.”

They also question the way attacks are being categorized, citing the example of a professor who was beaten up on a tram in Warsaw for speaking German, an incident that was not classified a hate crime. Polish police did not respond to further questions about crime figures, and Law and Justice did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Bodnar believes that the government’s apparent tolerance of such attacks is a calculated decision so as not to alienate the far-right portion of its base. “I think they feel that if they started chasing the authors of those racist crimes, then a serious competitor could appear on the right of the political scene. It seems to me that Law and Justice wants to have control over the whole spectrum of right-wing ideas — their strategy is to have everyone from the center to the right.” Critics fear that Law and Justice’s decision to instrumentalize the far right will prove a dangerous miscalculation for the country, with lasting consequences that will not simply be corrected in the pendulum swing of parliamentary politics. “I’m afraid something fundamental has changed in terms of Poland’s democratic culture,” Pankowski said.
By Tim Hume, senior reporter for VICE News.





© Vice News
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Europe's far-right down but not out

After Austria and the Netherlands, the defeat of France's Marine Le Pen in a presidential run-off is a new blow for the European far-right, but its march to power is far from over, analysts say.

9/5/2017- Victory appeared tantalisingly close for the 48-year-old, who had hoped to finish on Sunday what her father had failed to achieve in 2002: win the election's second round and save "the French civilisation" from the clutches of globalisation. Her campaign tapped into fears over high unemployment, immigration and the rising threat of jihadist terror attacks. But Le Pen's intention to leave the eurozone proved a red flag to many and the presidential crown went to the pro-EU Emmanuel Macron, who bagged 66 percent of the vote against his rival's 34 percent. The French outcome is the third setback for Europe's far-right in six months. In December, Austrian Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party (FPOe) failed narrowly to win a presidential re-run vote. This was followed by the defeat in March of anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders in Dutch elections.

But some analysts say these are just stumbling blocks for the far-right, which has been buoyed by Britain's decision to quit the European Union and Donald Trump's upset victory in the US election. Far-right movements "exert their influence not by governing, but by constraining the room for manoeuvre for centrist parties," said Carsten Nickel of the Teneo think-tank in Brussels. "We can't talk of a bad year for the far-right. In Austria, Hofer got close to 50 percent. In the Dutch case, the traditional centre-left has been completely wiped out and Geert Wilders is a serious player in parliament," he added. Wilders' Freedom Party gained five seats in March, making it the second-largest party in the Dutch parliament with 20 MPs. And while Macron's win against Le Pen was "a good result", it's "much weaker" than the crushing defeat suffered by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen at the hands of Jacques Chirac in 2002, Nickel said. In fact, Sunday's result was the highest-ever score in a presidential election in the FN's 44-year history.

In her concession speech, Marine Le Pen hailed the FN as France's main opposition player and proclaimed a new faultline has been drawn "between patriots and globalists". "Let's not fool ourselves: the score shows that... there is a real desire for far-right extremism in the population," French historian Nicolas Lebourg told French newspaper Liberation on Monday.

- 'You will win' -
Le Pen's European allies also struck a decidedly optimistic tone. "Well done anyway, millions of patriots voted for you! You will win - and so will I," Wilders messaged Le Pen on Twitter. "Thanks Marine Le Pen, those who fight never lose," Matteo Salvini of Italy's far-right Northern League wrote in a Facebook post. In Austria, FPOe leader Heinz-Christan Strache said the result paved the way for another "historic" success in France's parliamentary elections in June. The FPOe itself is riding high in opinion polls and hopes to win Austria's parliamentary elections due in late 2018. Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern, a Social Democrat, cautioned that Macron's win was merely a "stage victory".

Le Pen "still took more than a third of the votes cast, and the consensus is that she will be a far more significant force come 2022 if France follows its current economic trajectory," London-based economic analyst Peter Ashton said. European media outlets also warned against minimising the anti-EU threat. "Far-right populists in Austria, the Netherlands, Germany and France... are probably stronger than ever and nothing indicates that they will disappear," said Sweden's Svenska Dagbladet. "Mr Macron needs to show the French people that he is indeed the alternative they were waiting for. If he cannot, Ms Le Pen or perhaps another Le Pen will be waiting," said Britain's Times newspaper.

- Slow progress -
Nonetheless observers say fears of the far-right destroying the European Union have proven unfounded. "The recent elections have shown that the far-right doesn't suddenly sweep away traditional parties but takes root progressively," Berlin-based analyst Josef Janning told AFP. "Even if people feel uneasy about globalisation, the economy and immigration, they understand that the far-right offers more wishful thinking than credible strategies to solve these problems," he said. According to Janning, this explains why Le Pen announced on Sunday that the FN would be transformed into a "new political force". "She senses that she cannot afford another major loss so I see her trying to capture the conservative spectrum." For some, the political overhaul could mean a new FN leader. The "defeat will be politically fatal for Le Pen. Her oppenents inside the party and even in her own family will make her pay the price," wrote Italian journalist Bernardo Valli in the Repubblica newspaper.
© AFP.

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The growing Nazi axis

By Gerry Gable

8/5/2017- At the end of February 2017 an international Nazi conference took place in Stockholm organised by the National Socialist publishing group Arktos Media. Some of the key groups present are those that Searchlight has been monitoring for several years, some of which have appeared more publicly since the election of Donald Trump. These groups have made common cause with President Putin’s Russia, Trump’s America and a range of British and other European far-right organisations. Over the past three years we have halted an earlier conference in Hungary and had the top US Nazi Richard Spencer banned from Europe for three years and from the UK for life as a result of a report we were invited to write for the Home Office, which named the groups about which we were most concerned. These were Generation Identity, the Traditional Britain Group, the London Forum and its regional offshoots in Yorkshire, Wessex, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, and Mixed Martial Arts, a paramilitary training set-up.

The most coherent body that bonds together these groups and has strong Russian and US links is Arktos Media. Since the February meeting in Sweden, the US alt-right and Breitbart News have added to their people working in the UK and RT, Putin’s international TV propaganda service, has been beefed up all over the world. On 20 May another international gathering is due to take place in Sweden using the title Scandza Forum. This will be another step in the Nazis’ forward progress. It will be followed by a Scandza Forum conference in Oslo on 1 July titled Globalism vs the Ethnostate. According to Scandza Forum the speakers so far include:
Greg Johnson, PhD, former editor of The Occidental Quarterly and current editor of Counter-Currents/North American New Right, and author of numerous articles and books pertaining to the destiny of the West. His latest book is In Defence of Prejudice (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2017). Dr. Johnson is one of the leading ideologists of White Nationalism and the Alternative Right.

Jonas De Geer, prolific writer and longstanding intellectual in the conservative and nationalist movements in Sweden. In the early years of the new millennium, Mr. De Geer edited the successful conservative journal SALT and is now the co-host of the popular radio show Motgift (‘Antidote’). Brittany Pettibone, award-winning author of Hatred Day and co-host of the successful video podcast “Virtue of the West”. Ms. Pettibone has a huge following in social media and is a leading spokeswoman for the growing number of young women who are concerned about the destiny of the West. Lauritz von Guildhausen, host of and contributor to the prominent Alt Right podcasts “The Third Rail” and “Honoring our History”. Lauritz is a rising star in the Alternative Right and was a regular contributor to the hugely popular, shortly re-launched, radio show “Fash the Nation”.

It appears that 119 people have been invited to this conference on Facebook. They include the far-right barrister Adrian Davies; Matt Tait, the British Nazi activist involved in paramilitary training with Russian and Polish experts; John Black Morgan, founder of Arktos Media; Michael Brooks, a British national socialist activist and counter-intelligence officer for parts of the British Nazi scene; and Charles Krafft, the US Nazi artist who raised money in Britain last year for Horst Mahler, a convicted Nazi terrorist who failed to return to prison after hospital treatment and has fled Germany.

Searchlight would like to thank the International Business Times for co-operating with us in exposing the enemies of democracy. We ask our readers to link to this post on your websites and social media.

Introduction to the Searchlight dossier
The election of Donald Trump to the White House and his choice of Steve Bannon as his chief strategic adviser has raised the sound of alarm bells from a tinkle to a deafening crescendo. Bannon’s role until recently as head of the alt-right news service Breitbart had placed him in a world of international national socialists such as Richard Spencer, who heads the US National Policy Institute (NPI). Spencer is currently banned from the UK and European countries that are signatories to the Schengen Agreement because of his links with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s sphere of subversive influence. His ban from the UK was the result of Searchlight’s lobbying of the Home Office and his previous failed attempt to hold an international Nazi gathering in Budapest.

TV audiences around the world saw Spencer addressing his followers after Trump’s election victory. His audience responded with Nazi salutes to his own Nazi-style “Hail Trump” greeting and coded language proclaiming to his followers that they will win “because they are the children of the sun”. This evidence of how the extreme right had arrived close to the President of the world’s most powerful nation prompted us to research and produce a 200-page dossier, which gives an up-to-date insight into how close they have come to impinging on the freedom of the citizens of countries with democratic governments around the world.

Searchlight has existed since May 1964 and in recent years we have charted the progress of Putin’s subversion and the 140-plus far-right political groups in this country that are part of this threat. We have been monitoring from inside those from whom the threat is most evident. These are the Traditional Britain Group (TBG), Generation Identity, the Nazi Forum groups that have expanded their closed meetings playing host to far-right extremists from around the world, and the publishing operation that is the glue that holds the others together: Arktos Media. Our dossier has been circulated to the media in the UK, USA and Sweden and is now posted below.

Arktos Media started to gain an international profile around five years ago for reprinting old Nazi and hate material as well as new books for a new generation of more sophisticated rightwing extremists, especially European New Right and Identitarian books. It was born out of the violent Swedish Nazi movement and is named after the Greek word for “bear”. It was based in India from 2010 to 2014, then moved to Sweden, and since 2015 has been based in Budapest. It is now responsible for organising an annual international Identitarian Ideas conference, the latest of which – the ninth – took place in Stockholm on 25 February. Arktos Media and the individuals associated with it have extensive international connections, including with the Traditional Britain Group, and most intriguingly with a Swedish mining company, Wiking Mineral AB. One of the directors of this company, Daniel Friberg, is also chief executive of Arktos.

Wiking Mineral
Wiking Mineral AB is an independent mineral exploration and mine development company, engaging in the exploration and development of gold, and base and precious metal deposits in Sweden. It operates in the Bergslagen and Västervik areas and the Skellefte District. The company was founded in 2005 and is based in Danderyd, Sweden. Friberg was one of the founders of Arktos Media and was appointed as a director in May 2010. Between 2010 and 2016, he held a number of senior positions in Wiking Mineral but resigned as managing director in February 2016 in order to concentrate on Arktos. At the same time he moved from Sweden to Budapest. At the age of 21, Friberg was prosecuted for hate speech in Gothenburg over comments posted on the white supremacist website Options Media. He was also reportedly connected with the violent Swedish Resistance Movement and Klas Lund.

A former member of the Swedish Nazi group White Aryan Resistance, Lund has several convictions, including one for bank robbery and another in 1986 for manslaughter for killing an anti-racist campaigner, Ronny Landin, who intervened to stop an assault on three immigrants. In 2001, Friberg appears to have severed links with neo-Nazi groupings and shifted his attention to publishing, think-tanks and online forums including, Motpol.nu, the Nordic Association, Identitär Idea and most recently, Arktos. Friberg is not the only Wiking Board member with far-right connections. The main shareholder of the company is Patrik Brinkmann, a millionaire and leading figure in the international far-right scene, who like Friberg, recently moved to Budapest. His Continent Europe Foundation includes several key far-right activists among its members. He has close contacts with neo-fascists in Spain and Italy, as well as with Germany’s far-right National Democratic Party (NPD).

Until 2008, Brinkmann operated discreetly from rural Sweden. In 2008, he relocated his political activities to Berlin after paying €3.3 million for a villa in the Zehlendorf district in 2007 together with his wife Svetlana. Brinkmann signed the purchase contract for the villa at a Berlin lawyer’s office on 26 April 2007 as a trustee of his wife who is the official owner of the property, and who also owns other real estate from which her husband profits. Before buying the property Brinkmann had resolved a lengthy dispute with the Swedish tax authorities in 2006. Since 2004, Brinkmann has gathered ultra-right intellectuals from all over Europe in his foundation, which until 2008 operated from a post box address (Box 167) in the Swedish town of Jönköping. Among them are far-right professor Pierre Vial from France and the former advisor to Mikhail Gorbachev, professor Wjatcheslav Daschitschev.

Two NPD activists belong to Brinkmann’s foundation: Lutz Dessau, who writes for the NPD newspaper Deutsche Stimme, is a member of the foundation’s directorate. Former teacher Andreas Molau, a member of the NPD’s national executive, is on the foundation’s Board. Brinkmann is also believed to be behind a further real estate purchase in Germany. In May 2007, Molau’s wife bought a sizeable manor in the Brandenburg town of Rauen for €200,000. The property appeared to have been bought to house an NPD training centre. Frau Molau was acting on behalf of an obscure Swedish firm that shared the same post box address as Brinkmann’s foundation. In 2011, Brinkmann re-focussed his attention on Wiking Mineral following negative publicity. Former Swedish government Minister Sven-Otto Littorin joined the company’s Board in 2012 which caused further negative press coverage, eventually ending with Littorin reporting Expressen to the Swedish Press Ombudsman.

Brinkmann moved to Budapest in 2014 but remained on the Board of Wiking Mineral until 2016. In an open letter to the Hungarian Daily News, Brinkmann stated that he considered the Hungarian economic climate promising in the long term and appreciated the culturally conservative social climate, as well as the national conservative government. He also praised the right-wing populist party Fidesz. Brinkmann was replaced on the Wiking Board by his 22-year old son Philip Brinkmann in 2016. Philip Brinkmann founded the investment company Turul Capital Zrt in Budapest in 2014 with a focus on private equity. Like his father and Friberg, Philip Brinkmann also lives in Budapest as does John Morgan, Arktos’s editor-in-chief, who is also a director.

In July 2014 Patrik Brinkmann and his family controlled just over 50% of Wiking Mineral, a listed company with about 1,400 shareholders. In March 2017 Morgan resigned as editor-in-chief and was appointed senior editor of Greg Johnson’s Counter-Currents Publishing, a USA-based organisation. Johnson is a regular visitor to the UK and is yet another key figure in the Russian sphere of influence.

Arktos and the TBG
Friberg and Morgan have both spoken at TBG conferences. Other non-executive writers published by Arktos have also been a regular feature at these conferences, including Marcus Willinger and Sir Roger Scruton. TBG vice-president Gregory Lauder-Frost has been instrumental in leading this initiative and in 2016 was appointed UK Head of Arktos. Following this appointment the registered office address for all Arktos activities was relocated to an accountants’ address in Berwick-upon-Tweed, a 15-minute car journey from Lauder-Frost’s home. Intelligence acquired through direct conversations with TBG executive members in 2014 provided strong indications that visits had been arranged to Budapest for Richard Spencer’s NPI Conference by Louis Welcomme, TBG’s chairman, and Lauder-Frost.

It was at this time that Olivia Pistun relinquished her position as the TBG’s website administrator and was believed to have moved to Budapest with Morgan. Morgan continued to visit the UK and was observed at a TBG Christmas social. Spencer was invited to speak at the TBG conferences in 2012 and 2013. Monitoring of social media and live conversations at subsequent TBG events indicate an ongoing relationship between Lauder-Frost and Spencer. Prominent individuals associated with the TBG also continued to develop their relationships with the NPI, in particular Matt Tait who attended the NPI’s Budapest conference in October 2014 and the 2016 New York conference at which he was a speaker.

Tait, a former British National Party organiser and election candidate, is a prominent activist in Generation Identity UK and co-founder of Western Spring, a white racial nationalist think-tank. Monitoring undertaken at a number of TBG events between 2015 and 2016 point to a close relationship between Tait and Lauder-Frost with the two regularly engaging in conversation in a friendly and informal manner, sometimes at great length. The connections between the TBG and the American alt-right continued after 2014, with Michael Cushman of the Southern Nationalist Network being invited as guest speaker at the 2015 annual dinner. Intelligence gathered before the dinner revealed that Cushman was to be banned from entering the UK which prevented him from appearing. Another link between the TBG and the US scene is Jason Reza Jorjani, an Iranian-American academic living in New York, who was spotted at a TBG meeting in 2016. Jorjani was subsequently appointed as editor-in-chief at Arktos at the same time that Lauder-Frost became its UK head.

In January 2017, Searchlight established that a direct link existed between Arktos and Spencer in two further ways: the establishment of a new Washington DC area headquarters for a joint European and American movement to be known as the AltRight; and the launch by the NPI and Arktos Media of a joint AltRight website. The link extends to Jeremy Bedford-Turner’s London Forum, as the AltRight website posted videos of the Iranian speakers at the Forum event on Saturday 4 February 2017.

Bannon and the TBG
A Breitbart Radio Show, News Daily, on 27 May 2016 revealed a link between Bannon and the TBG. Bannon opened the broadcast and Oliver Lane presented the third item. Lane, a TBG regular and close friend of Lauder-Frost, is a Breitbart journalist specialising in terrorism and radicalisation. His previous occupations have included assistant lecturer at King’s College, University of London teaching applied classical and modern military strategy, researcher for Get Britain Out, and maritime and naval forces researcher for the Institute for Strategic Studies. He has also been a Conservative Party county council candidate, chairman of the British Monarchist league, a Royal Navy midshipman, consulting analyst for Onsight Intelligence, and a researcher for The Military Balance published by Routledge. He follows Generation Identity on Twitter as well as many UKIP members.
Katehon

Searchlight has also unearthed a link between Lauder-Frost and a Russian think-tank called Katehon. One of the members of Katehon’s supervisory board (listed here) is Leonid Reshetnikov, lieutenant-general (retired) in the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service. Another is Alexandr Dugin, the fascist behind the “Eurasia” movement, who has close ties to the Kremlin. Dugin was due to attend the Stockholm conference on 25 February to promote some of his new publications. Contributions by Lauder-Frost to Katehon can be found here.

Stockholm conference
The Stockholm conference in February was billed as “the most important AltRight event in Europe – and possibly the World – in 2017”. Its long list of speakers included Friberg, Morgan and Jorjani, and one of its purposes was to launch an English language edition of the book Rising from the Ruins by Joakim “Oskorei” Andersen. We reproduce here the publicity material for the conference and book. Another of the speakers in Stockholm was Dan Eriksson, chairman of the EU-funded foundation Europa Terra Nostra and a longstanding Swedish Nazi leader. A former propaganda chief for the National Democrats, when that party went into decline he joined the Nazi Party of the Swedes, previously known as the National Socialist Front. We reproduce here Terra Nostra’s description of itself.

Connections
Generation Identity has, so far at least, kept a low profile in the UK, but behind the scenes it is trying to build an upper-middle class core of future leaders and is recruiting at universities. Trump’s election has given the whole of the alt-right a boost. The extensive international connections of the alt-right and extreme right, reaching right up to the seat of power in both the USA and Russia, mean that the threat from the extreme right is now at its highest since 1945. The links between the various prominent individuals mentioned in this article are represented in this graphic. Organisations such as Generation Identity and TBG flourish through their secretive invitation-only meetings featuring influential international speakers. Home Secretary Amber Rudd has excluded some of these individuals, but others are still getting into the country. For the sake of our freedom and democracy, the Home Office must remain vigilant, identify those who pose a threat, and keep them out.

Dossier contents





  1. Arktos company overview





  2. Arktos company files





  3. Arktos Identitarian conference February 2017





  4. Richard Spencer and Arktos





  5. Wiking Mineral





  6. Research articles from Searchlight magazine





  7. Journal of Strategic Studies report on Russian subversion in Sweden




International Business Times articles on the alt-right



http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/tory-think-tank-invites-anti-black-traditional-britain-group-anniversary-dinner-1610411

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/savitri-devi-strange-story-how-hindu-hitler-worshipper-became-alt-right-icon-1608413

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/meet-swedish-mining-tycoon-bankrolling-alt-rights-global-media-empire-1608221

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/kate-do-not-publish-inside-alt-right-us-european-white-nationalists-join-forces-stockholm-1608944

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/putins-rasputin-has-message-donald-trumps-white-house-call-me-1607981

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/generation-identity-how-european-alt-right-planning-british-invasion-1607986
© Searchlight Magazine
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Czech Girl threatened after confronting neo-Nazi protesters in striking photo

Lucie says she is worried by the threats of violence after the picture went viral

8/5/2017- A Girl Scout has been placed under police protection after a photo showing her confronting a group of neo-Nazis during a rally in the Czech Republic went viral. The Interior Ministry's centre against terrorism and hybrid threats said the move was prompted by threats against 16-year-old student Lucie Myslikova that appeared on Facebook. The teenager was among about 300 protesters who confronted a rally of the far-right Workers Party of Social Justice on May Day, in the second-largest city of Brno. At one point, she was captured in a photo facing up to one of about 150 supporters of the fringe party. Lucie said she was worried by the threats of violence and appreciated the move taken by police.

The image became a viral hit and drew parallels with the photo of a young woman smiling at a member of the English Defence League at a rally in Birmingham. In an interview with the Associated Press, Lucie said it is important for young people to comment on public issues. "I think it makes sense to be seen and to be heard," she said. "I think it's important. I think young people should comment on public issues, to express their views," the arts school student said. "They will live in the future and they should create it as they wish." Lucie said she and other protesters were holding banners and chanted some slogans, which their opponents didn't like and the man on the photo was keen to explain that to them. "We talked about the nation, about borders, about migration," she said. "I don't want to judge him. I don't fight against those people, I fight against their views."

She said she was not afraid, though riot police had to separate the groups and detained 11 people from both camps. "I participated in a non-violent way," she added. The World Organization of the Scout Movement posted the image on its Facebook page, saying the girl was joining others to express support for "diversity, peace and understanding."
© The Independent

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Netherlands: Council was right to cut niqab-wearer’s welfare benefits

9/5/2017- A Muslim woman who refused to remove her niqab while undergoing training to find a job rightfully had her benefits cut by 30%, the highest Dutch administrative court said on Tuesday. The woman, who has since moved to England, refused to remove the garment which only left her eyes exposed. Utrecht city council, charged with helping the jobless find work, then reduced her welfare benefits, claiming that the niqab substantially reduced her chances of finding work. ‘An uncovered face plays and important role in the contact between people and is essential in finding work,’ the court said in its ruling. While the woman is entitled to wear a niqab under freedom of religion legislation, the council’s interest in helping her to find a job as quickly as possible is more important, the court said. In addition, her refusal to remove the niqab was putting unnecessary pressure on council resources. This means that the city council has the right to impede upon her religious rights, the court concluded.
© The Dutch News

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Netherlands: Fundamentalist Protestant party withdraws Islam debate bomb poster

8/5/2017- A poster by the fundamentalist Christian SGP advertising a debate on Islam has been withdrawn following protests about the illustration – a bomb with the fuse lit. The poster includes the text ‘is Islam a threat to the Netherlands?’ with a cartoon drawing of a speech bubble and a bomb. The poster was designed by the central office of the SGP’s youth wing, which says now says there was ‘a slight error in communication’. ‘Our aim was not to provoke and we did not mean to ally the bomb with Islam,’ spokesman Dirk van Horssen told Omroep Gelderland. ‘That would mean discriminating against a population group and that is something we do not support.’ A new poster is currently being produced. The meeting on June 23 will be addressed by party leader Kees van der Staaij, who has called Islam a threat to the Netherlands in the past. The SGP, which has only recently allowed women to stand for public office and does not believe they should have the right to vote, has three MPs in parliament. The party believes the Netherlands should be governed according to orthodox Protestant principles.
© The Dutch News

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Swedish refugee centre evacuated before neo-Nazi march

50 refugee children were evacuated from a shelter in Falun prior to a neo-Nazi march on May Day due to safety concerns, the municipality has explained.

8/5/2017- On May 1st around 500 people took part in a march by neo-Nazi group the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) in the central Swedish town, and the municipality judged that the risk was high enough to justify moving 50 residents as well as staff from a shelter for lone refugee children in the area to another location for a two day period. "It was a collective assessment that was made. We didn't want to take any risks," Falun municipality's coordinator for child refugees Kjell Nordqvist told broadcaster SVT. While no specific threat against the shelter was made, the municipality considered links between the NRM and home-made bomb attacks on centres for asylum seekers in Gothenburg from earlier this year to be enough to justify taking the precaution. "Because we know there are links between the NRM and the bombings that occurred in Gothenburg against refugee centres not long ago, we were obliged to act," Nordqvist said.

In January a Swedish Migration Agency (Migrationsverket) staff member was left seriously injured after a home-made bomb exploded in a container outside a centre for asylum seekers in Gothenburg. Three men with links to the NRM were remanded in relation to the explosion, while they are also suspected of being involved in the planting of a different device outside temporary housing for refugees in the city, as well as a further bomb that exploded in Gothenburg last November. There appears to be a political motive behind the attacks, according to Swedish intelligence service Säpo. Last week, Swedish anti-racism foundation Expo's annual report on white supremacist groups in the country documented 3,064 instances of activity by them in 2016, the highest number since the yearly studies started in 2008.

"They're at the most extreme end of this white supremacist area. There's a lot of crime associated with them, they have a relationship with violence. We carried out a study last year that showed around half of them have been convicted of some kind of crime, and about a quarter convicted or indicted for violent or weapons crimes in 2015 alone," Expo researcher Jonathan Leman told The Local.
© The Local - Sweden

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Cyprus: Condemnation of right-wing attack on Tepak event

6/5/2017- Panayiotis Kleovoulou, a Limassol-based lawyer, and Antonis Pieridis, also from Limassol, both associated with far-right political movements, were arrested on Saturday in connection with an attack by some 20 black-clad and hooded men against a gathering of left-wing organisations at Limassol’s technical university the previous night. Early on Saturday, warrants for the arrest of Kleovoulou, 57, and Pieridis, 52, who were identified by eye-witnesses as they had no hoods on, were secured by police. Both men openly subscribe to far-right politics and have run for office on nationalist platforms – Kleovoulou for MEP with Elam in 2014 and Pieridis for MP in 2011 with Edik, a far-right movement that has since disbanded.

Speaking to MegaOne TV channel’s online news portal TVOneNews on Saturday, Klevoulou said that he had been at the event but had nothing to do with any violence. He said he didn’t know who the hooded men were, and claimed that a group of anarchists attacked first. The 20-strong group carried wooden clubs and threw stones at the event’s attendees, slightly injuring four. Eye-witness reports suggest that after the thugs dispersed following the arrival of the police, Kleovoulou stayed behind and continued to harass the attendees. Around 100 people were attending the event, organised by the group We Want a Federation, which focused on the Left’s role in reunification and partition. In a statement, left-wing activist group Granazi, one of the Tepak event’s organisers, said police had been informed of the event but took no precautionary measures.

Earlier, police had denied being informed of the planned event ahead of time. “We called the Limassol police ourselves on Thursday morning and informed them of the event, and they assured us police would be present as early as 6:30pm,” a spokesperson for Granazi told the Sunday Mail. “But the attack started at 6:50 and police did not show up until after it was over.” In the statement, Granazi also attacked Justice minister Ionas Nicolaou, who has variously been accused of taking no or little action to curb incidents involving far-right organisations or people. Granazi also released a short mobile-phone video taken during the attack. In it, black-clad, hooded, and club-wielding men try to enter the venue while shouting expletives at attendees.

Also at the receiving end of criticism for not doing enough to address such incidents was President Nicos Anastasiades, who condemned the violence and called for investigation into the Tepak incident. “Peace in our country requires dialogue,” he tweeted on Saturday. “I condemn violence and attacks by hooded men. I ask for the speedy investigation of the Tepak affair.” Political parties also condemned the incident, with Akel organising an anti-fascist protest on Saturday night “as a first step”. “This is yet another incident involving an attack by fascists over the Cyprus problem, which should alarm every reasonable citizen in this country,” the party said. “We call on the government to react and stop looking the other way. Experience has proven that hesitation and ambivalence in addressing fascism, nationalism, and the far-right, lead to big problems and tragedies, from which our people are still suffering.”

In a statement, Diko also condemned the attack, saying such incidents “hurt democracy and the freedom of expression”. “We call on society to isolate these elements, and the state to act appropriately to bring those responsible to justice,” the party said. Socialist Edek said such incidents “create unnecessary tension and division”. “These actions may provide those who want no change in our strategy with arguments,” the party said. The Green party also condemned the incident, saying they had been victims to similar attacks in the past.
© The Cyprus Mail

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Week of racist abuse shames Fifa and abandonment of their anti-racism task force

Fifa dissolved its anti-racism task force in September, claiming it has "completely fulfilled" its mission. Ed Malyon looks back on a week that showed how far we still have to go.

9/5/2017- I've been very tired recently, which probably explains some hallucinations I've been having. Last weekend I could have sworn I watched footage of an irate Sulley Muntari walking over to the officials and complaining about racist chanting aimed at him by opposition fans while playing for Pescara. The game in this mirage should have been stopped by the officials, but instead Muntari was booked and, to use his own words, "treated like a criminal." As Cagliari fans abused Muntari with 'monkey' chants - the sort of terrace fodder so lacking in wit and decency that it only serves to make the perpetrators look primitive - I must have rolled over and gone back to sleep. The next vision was oddly similar though. As Boca Juniors played out a goalless draw at Estudiantes de La Plata on Sunday, Colombian defender Frank Fabra looked most upset. More racist chanting it would seem

But how curious that so many of these instances of hate and discrimination could play out when, less than a year ago, Fifa solved racism. I remember it like it was yesterday, Gianni Infantino and chums packing up their anti-racism task force, "job done" they would say, slapping each other politely on the backs and walking off into the Swiss sunset. Members of that task force might have expected a somewhat increased workload heading towards the 2018 World Cup in Russia, given the past issues there. But no, in September 2016 those involved received notification that the task force had “completely fulfilled its temporary mission” and was “hereby dissolved and no longer in operation.” Bravo, everyone. Next stop: famine and world peace!

One of those members who wasn't a pleased-with-themself-white-man-in-a-suit, Osasu Obayiuwana, immediately criticised the decision, however. “The problem of racism in football remains a burning, very serious and topical one, which need continuous attention," he would say. Silly Osasu. So stuck in the past. Perhaps what Osasu needs to realise is that there is no issue too big to be swept under the carpet in sport. Or that racism and discrimination just doesn't matter as much to some white people (unrelated note: every elected Fifa president ever has been white) as it does to the people who suffer the sharp end of it. For victims of racist chanting somehow still occurring in 2017, this is all too real. Rather than sleepy mirages, these people are just tired of the inaction on racism. We all are, but Fifa continue to doze while footballers weep at the hands of discrimination.
© The Independent

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Greece: Author Triantafyllou to go on trial over racism claims

6/5/2017- Author Soti Triantafyllou is to stand trial this summer after she was accused of using racist language in an article. Triantafyllou included a quote in her piece, which she attributed to Marco Polo, that described a moderate Muslim as “someone who holds your head while they cut it off.” This triggered a lawsuit under Greece’s anti-racism laws from human rights activist Panayote Dimitras, who heads the Greek Helsinki Monitor and is in charge of the Racist Crimes Watch blog. In his suit, Dimitras claims that Triantafyllou could have confirmed just by searching on the internet that the quote is fake and was never uttered by Marco Polo. Triantafyllou blamed her accuser for taking her words out of context and said that her case highlighted the failings of the anti-racism legislation passed in 2015. “My positions on the violence that stems from Islam are different from my positions on migrants,” she wrote in brief comment on the Liberal.gr news website. “I am against anything extreme, whether it comes from extreme Islam or elsewhere. “This gentleman took one excerpt that nobody knew about and ignored everything else.”
The trial is due to take place in Athens on July 21.
© The Kathimerini.

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News from France, UK, Italy, Germany & Russia - Week 19

France: US neo-Nazis linked to Macron hack

The spread of stolen emails designed to harm Emmanuel Macron was linked to US-based neo-Nazis, according to a French investigation.

11/5/2017- France’s Le Monde newspaper reported on Thursday (11 May) that a website called nouveaumartel.com, which was named as a go-to place for the purloined emails, shared the same digital infrastructure as dailystormer.com, a website created by the US neo-Nazi activist Andrew Auernheimer. The emails were dumped online on 5 May, shortly before Macron won the French presidential election by a landslide. The dump came two days after an anonymous user of an online message board called 4chan.org published fake documents purporting to show that Macron had an offshore fund. “The French scene will be at nouveaumartel.com later”, the anonymous 4chan.org user said. The dailystormer.com’s Auernheimer is a white supremacist convicted of cyber crimes in the US. His website often popularises the work of Nathan Damigo, another US far-right activist who gained notoriety after physically assaulting an anti-fascist protester.

Auernheimer, in a posting on his site on 4 May, suggested that Damigo was about to publish anti-Macron material. “The prophet of the white sharia Nathan Damigo is about to release the frogs from pederasty”, he wrote. Frogs could be a derogatory reference to French people or to a cartoon frog, Pepe, adopted as a symbol by US neo-Nazis. Pederasty could be a homophobic allusion to unsubstantiated claims, first spread by Russian media, that Macron was gay, or to the fact that he fell in love with an older woman in his adolescence. The stolen Macron emails were eventually dumped on the website Pastebin and were popularised online by other US-based far-right conspiracy theorists such as William Craddick and Jack Posobiec. The National Security Agency in the US said earlier this week that the Russian regime stole the Macron emails.

Trend Micro, a Japanese-based cyber security firm, said in April that the Russian regime had previously tried to hack Macron’s team. But one of the firm’s experts, Loic Guezo, told EUobserver this week that the 5-May dump of stolen Macron emails was more amateurish than the Russian state’s modus operandi. “It could even have been some alt-right activist in the US hacking Macron’s team. It’s fully open”, he said. The links between US far-right activists, the Russian state, and the campaign team of US president Donald Trump are the subject of an FBI investigation in the US.

Trump this week caused a furore by firing the FBI chief. He did it one day before he met the Russian foreign minister in the White House and gave a Russian photographer exclusive access to the event. Meanwhile, Jack Posobiec, who has previously said that Macron is controlled by telepathy and by drugs, has obtained a White House press badge. He attended a press briefing on 11 May on the FBI affair and later broadcast a video from the White House grounds praising the FBI chief’s sacking.
© The EUobserver

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France: Rising political star deals fresh blow to far-right

11/5/2017- The party of failed French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen suffered a new jolt on Wednesday as her niece, the country's youngest lawmaker and an icon of the far right, announced she plans to leave politics. The decision by Marion Marechal-Le Pen, who represents the National Front's conservative flank and core values, kicks another block out from under the party, which is looking to remake itself and even change its name. That job won't be done in time for next month's elections for parliament - where the National Front desperately needs a good showing. Emmanuel Macron, an upstart centrist and the youngest man elected to the presidency, was the victor in Sunday's presidential election. France's Constitutional Council on Wednesday announced the official results from the presidential runoff - 20,743,128 votes were cast for Macron and 10,638475 for Le Pen. The abstention rate was 25.4 percent.

Marine Le Pen took comfort with the number of votes she won, which were a historic high for her party but about half of Macron's total. She declared the National Front would be the main opposition to Macron's Republic On the Move. With a handshake and a "Mr. President" to his successor, Francois Hollande - chief of state until Sunday - signaled the start of a new era in French politics where the new power brokers have all but wiped away politics as usual in favor of movements still in the making - Macron's and Le Pen's. Both say they are "neither left nor right." On the far left, the Communist Party and the party of defeated presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon are messily divorcing. They campaigned together for Melenchon's presidential run that saw him surge late in the campaign and get nearly 20 percent of the first-round vote, narrowly missing a place in the runoff. But they appear increasingly likely to field candidates separately in the legislative voting.

Hollande's Socialist Party, with a majority in the outgoing parliament, is tumbling into disarray. And the mainstream right is torn between wanting to work with Macron or clip the new president's wings. Le Pen's National Front, meanwhile, is still dealing with its electoral defeat, searching for a road to change, and now this. National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen was outraged by his granddaughter's decision to bow out. "Without the gravest of reasons for this decision, I consider it a desertion," he told the daily Le Figaro. The elder Le Pen, kicked out of the party by daughter Marine for repeatedly compromising her efforts to scrub away traces of racism and anti-Semitism from the National Front, has been an influential force on his granddaughter.

Marechal-Le Pen, 27, one of two lawmakers representing the far right, said she won't be looking to renew her seat representing the southern Vaucluse district, or her role as president of the National Front group in the vast regional council. In a personal message to her constituents, Marechal-Le Pen cited "personal and political reasons," her 3-year-old daughter and her wish to gain "legitimacy" for a political future by exiting the orbit they live in. Politicians are "disconnected from the real" with a lifetime of political mandates and no reality checks with life, she said. That disconnect with the political class has been at the heart of the success of Macron, who formed his movement, Republic On the Move, just over a year ago. An exit removes her from potential conflict with Marine Le Pen, a scenario that has been building, or any showdown with the National Front's No. 2, Florian Philippot, who represents left-leaning tendencies. "As a political leader I profoundly regret Marion's decision but alas, as a mother, I understand," Marine Le Pen tweeted.

Marechal-Le Pen avoided shooting poison arrows at Philippot, and she avoided any reference to her aunt. Tensions with Philippot have percolated, and Marine Le Pen had notified her niece before the presidential election that she was too inexperienced to play a major role in government in the event of a win. It was not immediately clear who might speak for those in the National Front who relied on Marechal-Le Pen to push the party's core values like national identity. The youngest in the Le Pen political clan represented a "hope for the future" of party militants, Jean-Marie Le Pen said, fearing "terrible consequences" for June legislative voting. One person who may be as crisis-prone as Le Pen is Manuel Valls who served as prime minister under the unpopular Hollande. His bid to join Macron's party to run for parliament has so far failed, and he could face a disciplinary hearing by his Socialist Party, and eventual exclusion.
© The Associated Press

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French Election Results Unlikely to Be Knockout Blow for Europe’s Far Right

8/5/2017- Back in January, Marine Le Pen spoke with defiant confidence at an unprecedented meeting of Europe’s right-wing populist parties. In 2017, she said, “all the dominoes of Europe” would fall in a year “when the people of continental Europe wake up.” Sunday’s French election results, however, were yet another case of those dominoes stubbornly refusing to topple since the Brexit vote to leave the European Union sparked fears of a continental-wide retreat from cooperation and a sharp turn toward nationalism. Le Pen, of the far-right National Front, was crushed by independent centrist Emmanuel Macron by a margin of more than 30 points. Also at the meeting, happily snapping selfies with Le Pen, was Geert Wilders, whose Party for Freedom was at that time leading the polls ahead of the Netherlands’s general election. Yet, like Le Pen, he would find himself shut out of power two months later, as the party of incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte wound up on top by 13 points.

Just weeks before the January meeting, held in the German city of Koblenz, Austria also turned its back on a previously surging populist. In the vote for president, Norbert Hofer was defeated by Green party candidate Alexander Van der Bellen by an even bigger margin than an annulled vote last May. The prospects for similar parties look little better for the remainder of 2017. Ahead of the United Kingdom’s snap election next month, the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) is polling at 6 percent, less than half of what it achieved in the general election two years ago. In Germany, meanwhile, the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, whose leader Frauke Petry joined Le Pen and Wilders at the January meeting, has dropped into the single digits in opinion polls ahead of September’s federal election, having reached a high of 15 percent at the start of 2017.

While many voters are showing displeasure with the current system, when it comes to the crunch, many are reluctant to completely rip it up, said Cloé Ragot, a researcher with the political risk consultancy Eurasia Group. “At first, people want to show that they’re angry at the system, at the traditional parties and elites that are not solving the country’s issues, and therefore would show that they support those anti-establishment parties,” she told Newsweek Monday. “However, when it comes to the election, obviously there’s a campaign, and many people do realize that it can be very harmful for the economy, the future of democracy and the political system.” Still, Ragot cautioned against thinking that Europe has fully turned back the tide on the far right. “There is still a lot of populism in other countries and until we see better economic results, it’s unlikely that those parties would decrease much in the polls,” she said.

Even if those parties are not ultimately winning power, they are still wielding significant influence. That was certainly the cautionary message of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “I really do believe that these populists are changing the character of the politics just by being there, so even mainstream candidates are having to respond to their agenda,” she told USA Today on Sunday. “The rise of nativism is having an impact on the politics, even if the candidates aren’t winning.” There are plenty of examples to support that hypothesis. While the UKIP may not be governing Britain any time soon, its bedrock policy—to remove Britain from the European Union—has, with the party’s help, already been put into action. And in Germany, amid the rise of the AfD and criticism of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policies, she has said the arrival of almost 1 million refugees in 2015 “should not and must not be repeated.” She has also called for a ban on full-face veils in the country.

France too is unlikely to have retreated from the far right for good. Macron still faces a major immediate hurdle when his 12-month old party tries to achieve a majority in June’s legislative elections. And there is no sign that Le Pen will be going quietly into the night. While defeated, she gained almost twice as many votes as her father did when losing the second round against Jacques Chirac 15 years ago. In a move to further detoxify the party’s reputation and gain mainstream acceptability, the name of the National Front itself is set to be changed. Even before the election, many of her supporters were claiming that her chances would be even stronger in the next election, in 2022. If Macron struggles, it will be seen as another failure for establishment politics, with Le Pen ready to offer the most radical alternative. “It is important to see that it is a big rise and success for them, even though it’s not as high as they would have expected originally,” Ragot said. “They definitely have a big part of the debate, and the National Front after this election definitely wants to have a big say in being a strong opposition.”
© Newsweek.

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France's Le Pen pledges to overhaul party after election defeat

8/5/2017- Marine Le Pen on Sunday put a brave face on her crushing defeat to Emmanuel Macron in Sunday's presidential election, pledging to overhaul her far-right party and turn it into the main opposition to France's new centrist leader. Analysts said she looked set to maintain her grip on the National Front (FN), despite criticism from some party members, including her own relatives, over her campaign. Despite losing to Macron by around 35 percent to 65, Le Pen did nearly twice as well as her father did when he reached the second round of the election in 2002, but fell short of the 40 percent party officials had said would be a success. The anti-EU, anti-immigration party will now focus on the mid-June parliamentary elections, although Le Pen recognised that the party needs far-reaching change.

In a brief address to supporters who booed Macron's victory and then sadly chanted France's La Marseillaise anthem when the news of Le Pen's defeat emerged, the 48-year-old far-right leader said the National Front (FN) "must deeply renew itself." "I will propose starting this deep transformation of our movement in order to make a new political force," she added. It was unclear at this stage what impact the overhaul would have on policy. FN deputy head Florian Philippot said the new party would not be called the National Front, the party's name for more than four decades. The brand is well known in France and abroad but is very much associated in voters' minds with her maverick father Jean-Marie, who has been convicted several times for incitement to racial hatred. While Le Pen did not address the question of the party's name, she said she aimed to reach out beyond the current FN and reconstruct the French political landscape around a "patriots" versus "globalists" divide.

But achieving that goal will be no easy task. Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, the leader of a small nationalist party who backed Le Pen after he attracted just under 5 percent of votes in the first round, and whom Le Pen had promised to appoint as her prime minister if she won, said on Sunday he would not join her new party and would instead present his own candidates in the parliamentary ballot, independently of the FN. "If even the man who should have been her prime minister says he won't be part of it, the question is, whatever the name of the party, who will be there and what its policies will be?" said Jean-Yves Camus, a researcher who specialises in the far-right. The conservative The Republicans party hopes to rebound in the parliamentary elections. Its officials, and most of its supporters, are seen sticking to their party rather than joining the FN, analysts said.

Although the National Front can count on a loyal base, it only has two seats in the current lower house of parliament and a poll last week predicted the party would win only around 15-25 seats in the June elections. The OpinionWay-SLPV Analytics poll of 535 of the 577 constituencies found Macron's En Marche! (Onwards!) party would emerge as the largest group, followed by the conservatives.

"Lessons To Be Learned"
In a party where the Le Pen family has always called the shots, Le Pen's father Jean-Marie and her niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen, a rising star and FN lawmaker, said Marine Le Pen's campaign had not been convincing enough and had been undermined by its position on the euro. A majority of voters oppose ditching the euro, which is at the heart of the FN's economic programme. While Le Pen in the last days of the campaign appeared to soften her position on its timetable, Marechal-Le Pen said that came too late. "There are clearly lessons to be learned," she said on France 2 television. "We clearly didn't manage to get this election to be understood as a referendum for or against France, a referendum for or against immigration ... for or against the European Union as we know it."

Last Wednesday's televised candidates' debate, in which Le Pen constantly attacked Macron and seemed at times uneasy on economic issues, was also cited by analysts and supporters alike as a reason for the defeat. "The debate was a failure," FN supporter Jean-Francois Perier, a 76-year old pensioner, said at Sunday's FN election gathering. "I just hope now we will rebound for the parliamentary elections." Despite the criticism, analysts said Le Pen's leadership was unlikely to be challenged. "There is a lot of disappointment but no one contests her leadership," said researcher Sylvain Crepon, of the university of Tours. He said that would remain true even if the legislative elections were also a disappointment. "Her grip on the party is simply too strong," he said. Researcher Camus said the only possible opponent at this stage, Marechal-Le Pen, who has had a series of public disagreements with her aunt over the years, did not seem to want to lead any challenge.

Top party officials agreed. "It's thanks to Marine Le Pen that we got this historic score for our party, it is out of the question that she wouldn't be with us to wage that new battle," said the head of the FN Youths, Gaetan Dussausaye, while adding that the party overhaul would mean fresh faces and party structures. "There is today a new opposition leader and it's Marine Le Pen," top party official Jean-Lin Lacapelle told reporters. But he added: "We need to organise things differently, the National Front has its limits."
© Reuters UK.

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France: Macron campaign office vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti

7/5/2017- A campaign office of the front-runner in the French presidential election, Emmanuel Macron, was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti. The Normandy campaign office was vandalized on Friday night, the L’eveil Normand newspaper reported. Macron is not Jewish. He is, however, considered a supporter of Israel. The attack came less than two days before the opening of the polls Sunday morning in the runoff election between Macron and Marine Le Pen, the candidate of the far-right National Front party. Among the epithets written in red marker on the entrance to the campaign office were Israel=Mossad de Rothschild, referring to the wealthy Jewish family as well as Macron’s work as an investment banker at the French Banque Rotschild; ”Sioniste,” French for Zionist; and “the 20 most shocking extracts of the Talmud.” It is not the first anti-Semitic attack on Macron during the campaign.
© JTA News.

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France: Macron's victory could be short-lived

Both Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen would have difficulties in implementing their programmes if they were elected French president on Sunday (7 May).  For France, "the first months will be decisive," Charles de Marcilly, the head of the Brussels office of the Robert Schuman Foundation, a French think tank, told EUobserver in an interview.

7/5/2017- He said that structural reforms to improve the country's economic and social situation, as well as issues like security, identity, the place of religion in society, or migration would be the main challenges for the new leader of the EU’s second biggest country. Macron, a centrist pro-EU candidate, is the favourite, with around 60 percent of voting intentions, according to the last polls published ahead of the vote. But his ambitions could be quickly crippled by lack of a clear majority in parliament after another round of elections in June, De Marcilly said. If the far-right candidate Le Pen was elected against the odds, she would be confronted by other EU countries' opposition to her plans to create a double currency system in the EU and transform the bloc into a looser alliance of nation states.

Noting that 10 out of the 11 candidates in the first round of the election's first round had opposed the Maastricht treaty in 1992 or the EU constitution in 2005, De Marcilly said that "Brussels was relieved to see that with Macron, there was still a candidate with a real European inspiration". He added however that Macron would have to "not just talk, but convince" France's EU partners that he could use Europe's improving economic situation to push through the structural reforms they were waiting for.

Macron's challenge
France already had three extensions of the deadline to comply with EU deficit targets and it would be "complicated to arrive and ask for a fourth extension”, he said. "Macron can have a political momentum but it will be short," De Marcilly warned, adding that this could come as a surprise for France's partners. "Few in Brussels understand the difficulty to govern with a very fragmented parliament, and that [French political] culture is not a culture of coalitions but of show of force“ he said. Macron, who entered politics only a year ago, leads En Marche! (Marching Forward), a political movement that is not yet organised as a real party. Even if the two main traditional parties, the centre-right Republicans and the Socialist Party were eliminated in the first round of the presidential vote, they could still win many seats in the National Assembly.

This makes a pro-Macron majority "very hypothetical", De Marcilly said. "Macron's challenge will be to propose something that sufficiently unites and mobilises voters to accompany the momentum until the legislative vote”, he said. While the results of the first round showed that parties and their voters had sometimes "radically different world views", it will be “difficult for Macron to reconcile them in less than a month," the political scientist said. The campaign showed that French people had "fears over France's place in the EU and in the world," he said. Sunday's run-off has also become a kind of EU referendum because the two last standing candidates are those who hold the most opposite views.

European approach
A year after Brexit, Macron has defended the case for EU membership and global influence, pointed out De Marcilly. For Macron, "the EU allows us to be more powerful. It is about sharing sovereignty to gain more sovereignty at a higher level, which is logical if you put things into perspective." In accordance with that view, De Marcilly added, Macron is more didactic about the sharing of powers in the EU. He takes the time to explain that powers can be at a local, national, but also European level. He has made clear that the EU "is not about abandoning sovereignty but that it is something you have to share, and that it justifies a European approach" to policies. By contrast, Le Pen's EU view is to "do without Europe as a vehicle for power or protection, and that France is strong enough to assert its interests", De Marcilly said. Le Pen has said that she wanted to renegotiate EU treaties to create a "European alliance of free and sovereign nations" and organise a referendum on France's EU membership.

Her flagship proposal had been to lead France out of the euro, but a week before the second round she said this was no longer a "prerequisite" for her economic policies. Le Pen "hit the wall of reality" as she came closer to "potentially being elected," De Marcilly observed. "Not everything is doable". If she was elected, Le Pen's EU policies would be "confrontational," he said, while the EU has been established to foster dialogue. "She wants to end Brussels' diktat, which is a funny thing to hear from an MEP," he noted, adding that this approach "is worrisome in Brussels and raises questions" about Le Pen's real objectives. De Marcilly pointed out that Le Pen would probably find no allies in her attempt to redesign the EU, even among the most critical countries. "There are other countries that want to go back on power sharing [between the EU and member states], especially with an illiberal model of economy and society," he said.

'France cannot fall'
"But they do not want to leave the EU, and all that comes with it, while Le Pen says that if she is not listened to, she will take France out of the EU. One cannot see who could join her on that position," he insisted. If France were to leave the EU, "the other 26 members could stay together, but it would not be the same thing," De Marcilly said. "The shock of Brexit was absorbed" because the UK was not in the eurozone, he said, while a so-called Frexit would "hit one of the fundamentals" of today's EU - the sharing of monetary powers - and "impact the EU's abilities as a global player". With Macron or with Le Pen, the outcome of Sunday's vote and how the next French president will govern in the coming months will be crucial for the EU as much as for France, De Marcilly observed. "France cannot fall from the ship, otherwise the ship will sink," he said.
© The EUobserver

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UK: Police drop investigation racist stabbing of refugee child, tell him 'don't go out alone

Search for men who beat Eritrean boy abandoned, in same week Britain First are accused of targeting asylum seekers in the area

12/5/2017- Police have dropped an investigation into a hate crime attack on a teenage refugee who says he was stabbed in the face by a racist gang – instead advising him “not to be out alone” at night. The 17-year-old was knocked unconscious and lost several teeth when he was beaten up in Ashford, Kent, by at least five men or boys who allegedly told him they “f****** hate black people”. The attack left him with serious scarring. Kent police said they could not identify the attackers due to “a lack of descriptions and witnesses”, despite the victim telling them that he has seen the men on the town’s high street since the attack in April. The boy, from Eritrea, said he called police when the men taunted and threatened him in the centre of town just days after the attack, but officers did not respond in time. Kent Police said officers arrived within 10 minutes, but that after carrying out a search they were not able to identify or locate the attackers.

In an email seen by The Independent, Kent Police said: “It looks like due to a lack of descriptions and witnesses it will not be possible to investigate it further. Sad to say it is probably unwise to be out alone at that time of night.” The force told The Independent “all lines of enquiry had been exhausted” and that “the case was filed pending any further information coming to light”. "There was no report of a weapon being seen or used," they said, adding: “No independent witnesses to the incident were identified and no clear description of the suspect was provided. "Furthermore, no forensic evidence or CCTV opportunities were identified from enquiries made by officers." The stabbing occurred less than a fortnight after a brutal attack on a Kurdish Iranian asylum seeker by a mob in Croydon, south London, made headline news.

Thirteen people have since appeared in court in relation to the attack on Reker Ahmed, also 17, which left the boy with a fractured spine, fractured eye socket and bleed to the brain. Members of the public have so far donated nearly £60,000 to support his recovery. Croydon and Kent have among the highest numbers of young refugees and asylum seekers in the country. Kent is believed to have more unaccompanied asylum seeking children in social services care than any other local authority. Many arrived in the port of Dover from Calais in France. Earlier this year, Kent Police released figures showing a 66 per cent increase in hate crime between July and September 2016. Razia Shariff, chief executive of Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN), which works with young unaccompanied asylum seekers and refugees in the area, said the charity had seen a spike in incidents recently.

“We have been made aware of a number of hate crime incidents recently against the young people we work with, which is upsetting,” she told The Independent. “At KRAN we want to ensure that young people feel safe in their community, so would welcome working with local communities and statutory sector providers to raise awareness and a more positive understanding of the challenges young refugees and asylum seekers face.” Sources say Kent social services were last week forced to move at least three young asylum seekers and refugees from a property in Canterbury, after the address was identified online and actively targeted by members of Britain First, who falsely claimed a rapist was living in the house. Two leaders of the far-right group, Paul Golding, 35, and Jayda Fransen, 31, were arrested earlier this week on suspicion of inciting religious hatred after posting videos on social media, local media reports. The pair have been bailed until next month.
© The Independent

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UK: Police officer who reported racist toy incident 'threatened with sack'

Met officer who reported that monkey toy had been placed on desk of black colleague was accused of making it up, BBC says

12/5/2017- A police officer was allegedly threatened with the sack after complaining about the racist treatment of a black colleague, according to reports. BBC Radio 4’s Today programme said the Metropolitan police officer, who has not been named, spoke out after seeing a monkey soft toy in a police uniform placed on the colleague’s desk in their central London office. An ID badge on the toy said “ERO” (evidential review officer), which was the same job title as the black officer. The Asian officer raised his concerns with senior officers in 2013 but was accused of concocting the story. The BBC said the officer was subject to an investigation and told he could be sacked. It took two years for the officer to be vindicated, after a Scotland Yard misconduct hearing found the whistleblower had not breached the standards of professional behaviour.

He took the case to an employment tribunal, alleging he had been racially discriminated against and victimised. The BBC reported that the officer received a settlement of £35,000 before the case was heard in full. Richard Martin, the deputy assistant commissioner in charge of professionalism at the Met, said: “Over the last two years the Met has made significant investment in improving how we handle complaints made by our own staff linked to discrimination, bullying or harassment. We are committed to a system which everyone can be confident in and a genuine belief that it has fairness. “We have long recognised that people do have concern that they fear being victimised if they raise a complaint, regardless of whether that fear is justified. That has never been acceptable and we continue to make it very clear to our staff that victimisation will never be tolerated, that it will be investigated, and will have serious repercussions if it occurs.

“For the last 18 months the officer in charge of the Met’s anti-corruption command personally oversaw the implementation of and now manages the new whistleblowing policy. This helps to give staff, who are graded as reporters of wrongdoing, confidence they can raise the most serious of issues and will receive support and protection. “At the start of this year a new unit was formed within the Directorate of Professional Standards, which has oversight of all complaints – be those internal or external – that include an allegation of discrimination. This is to ensure that there is independent scrutiny of how these allegations are investigated and to embed fairness within the process.”
© The Guardian.

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UK: Teenager attacked in Park Street for being gay

"It's hard to understand how and why someone would do this"

12/5/2017- A teenager was attacked in Park Street in an early hours attack - because he is gay. The victim was walking near to Tesco on College Green shortly before 4am in the early hours of Sunday, May 7. He was verbally abused by two men before one of them punched him in the face. The teenager was treated at Bristol Royal Infirmary for facial injuries. Police are now investigating the incident which they are describing as a 'homophobic hate crime'. A photo was tweeted after the attack that shows the victim's injuries. A spokesperson for Avon and Somerset Police said: "We're treating this as a hate crime because of the words used by the offenders before the attack was carried out. Investigating officer PC Leanne Weeks added that police are reviewing CCTV footage in a bid to identify the attackers. She said: "This was an extremely unpleasant and unprovoked assault on a man who was targeted because of his sexuality.

"It's hard to understand how and why someone would do this and we'd urge people to come forward and help us if they can. "We're reviewing CCTV from around the area and will be making further enquiries with venues in the area to try and identify these two men. "If you were out last Saturday night, or early hours of Sunday morning and recognise the description of these men, or if you saw this incident in the College Green area of Park Street just before 4am on Sunday, please come forward." Police say the man who carried out the assault is white, of slim build, around 20 to 23 years old with light, brown hair in a quiff style which was short at the side. He was wearing a baby blue long-sleeved shirt and black skinny jeans. The man who was with him, who used homophobic language is white, aged 23 to 25 years old, around 6ft, of muscular build, with dark brown hair also in a quiff style and short at the sides, with a short-cut well-groomed beard. He was wearing a dark long-sleeved shirt and black jeans. PC Weeks added: "If you can help, please call 101 and give the call handler the reference number 5217101079."
© The Bristol Post

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UK: Police appeal for witnesses in homophobic abuse on Glasgow train

Police are appealing for information in an incident which included homophobic abuse and violent threats on board a train in Glasgow.

12/5/2017- According to police, the incident took place aboard a ScotRail train in Glasgow. Between 8.35am and 8.45am, the man hurled abuse at another passenger and threatened to attack him. The train was travelling from Mount Florida to Glasgow Central. Police say the man is described as slim build, 5ft 8in and has short dark hair. He was wearing a grey jacket. As well as appealing for witnesses, police are also asking for the victim to come forward. Constable Caroline Irving told STV: “We will not tolerate any kind of hate crime on the rail network and we take every report of this kind of behaviour seriously. “I am keen to speak to anyone who may have been travelling on the service at the stated time who may be able to provide some information about the incident. “I would like to speak to the victim of this incident and reassure him that we will do everything we can to investigate.” Those with information are urged to contact the British Transport Police on 0800 40 50 40 or text 61016 citing reference 371 of May 12.

Earlier this year a man was fined for hurling homophobic abuse at a group of people in a central Glasow train station. The 66-year-old man was fined for the incident which took place at around 10pm on Saturday 4 March in Glasgow Queen Street station. And back in 2016, a bus driver in Glasgow was accused of shouting anti-gay slurs at gay passengers, and was arrested. The man, a bus driver for McGill, was alleged to have verbally abused two 20-year-old passengers on Friday 10 June.
© The Pink News

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UK: Black actor in play about racism stopped by police mistaking him for drug dealer

11/5/2017- A black actor who was about to appear in a play about racism was stopped and questioned by police looking for a drug dealer. Oraine Johnson was standing outside the Bridport Arts Centre in Dorset before a production of "Sorry! No Coloureds, No Irish, No Dogs" when a police car drove by and stopped. Mr Johnson, 31, was on the phone to his brother at the time and was told by one of the police officers to hang up immediately. The actor said the officers then explained there was a drug problem in the rural market town and that they were on the lookout for a black man thought to be a dealer. Mr Johnson explained he was a professional actor performing in a show that is aimed at stimulating discussion about racism and then pointed to the poster with his face on behind him. After the 'stop and account' enquiry, the officers returned to their car and drove off, with Mr Johnson having advised them to watch the play.

Mr Johnson, who was born and raised in Birmingham, said he was shocked and saddened to be "racially profiled" and claimed the officers had acted aggressively towards him, something police denied. He said: "I was catching up with my brother, minding my own business, when the police car pulled up right in front of me. "They said there had been drugs in the area and that they were looking for a black male who was selling, I was shocked." He added: "I explained to them that I'm a professional actor performing in a show called 'Sorry! No Coloureds, No Irish, No Dogs'. I told them they should come and watch it. "They were clearly put in their place because they went back to the car, but there was no apology or anything. And they kept on eyeballing me while I finished my phone call.

"I'm quite affected by what happened because it's a reminder that even though I've done everything right, like gone to school and become an actor, some people only see you for your skin colour. "With that being said it definitely got me fired up for the show. These are things that happened to my father and grandfather, it's so sad that they're still happening now. We need to change perceptions." Sorry! No Coloureds, No Irish, No Dogs, from Wolverhampton-based production company Gazebo Theatre, brings together stories from historical black icons including Mary Seacole and Walter Tull. Pamela Cole-Hudson, chief executive and artistic director of the company, said: "Incidents such as this are exactly what we aim to highlight. "For our actor to be racially profiled whilst preparing for a performance of a show exploring racism and discrimination is both sadly ironic and telling."

Bridport Neighbourhood Inspector Neil Wood said officers spoke to Mr Johnson in a "routine stop and account enquiry" and denied that officers acted aggressively. He said: "Our local neighbourhood policing team was carrying out intelligence-led patrols in relation to specific issues of drug-related crime and anti-social behaviour in that area. "Our officers conducted two other stop and account enquiries and one stop and search - these were with three white men. "We have not received a direct complaint about this incident from the individual concerned, however, I will be making every effort to contact him in order to look into this matter further."
© The Telegraph

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UK: Misogyny Recognised As A Hate Crime In North Yorkshire

10/5/2017- From today, misogyny will officially be recognised as a hate crime by North Yorkshire Police. It will target incidents carried out by men and boys towards women and girls simply because of their gender. Examples of this may include:
unwanted or uninvited sexual advances
physical or verbal assault
unwanted or uninvited physical or verbal contact or engagement
sexually graphic and explicit obscene language
use of mobile devices to send unwanted or uninvited messages or take photographs without consent of permission

To help outline what misogyny hate crime is, North Yorkshire Police has worked alongside women from York St John University and have made a short film which captures women talking about their personal experiences of misogynistic behaviour, how it made them feel and their reaction to the fact that is behaviour is to be recognised and recorded by police. The film can be viewed here.

Deputy Chief Constable Lisa Winward said:
“I’m both pleased and proud that North Yorkshire Police has taken the steps to be the second force in the UK to recognise misogyny as a hate crime. The women who appear in the film are representative of all the women we have spoken to throughout this process. Their experiences are proof that this behaviour is something that every woman has experienced and been affected by at some point in their lives. The misogynistic behaviour of some has made these women feel vulnerable and intimidated when going about their daily lives, just walking to work or going shopping.

All of these incidents were completely unwanted and uninvited and resulted in the women changing their daily behaviour; re-planning their routes to work, questioning themselves about what they wear and taking steps to not to be victimised again, when it was never their fault in the first place. Hate in all its forms is wrong and North Yorkshire Police will take all the necessary steps to protect our communities and ensure the women and girls of our region feel safe to go about their daily business, without fear of being targeted simply because they are a woman. I encourage all victims of all types of hate crime to come forward and report it, either to the police on 101 or to Stop Hate UK on 0800 138 1625. You will be listened to and supported.”

North Yorkshire's Police and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan added:
"This is a welcome move by North Yorkshire Police as misogyny is unfortunately something many women and girls experience. Having said this, I do understand that some people may think this is an example of 'political correctness gone mad'. However, I'd ask them to pause and think about the impact on the people bearing the brunt of such behaviour. It can't be right that women and girls feel they have to change the way they dress, the routes that they walk and other day-to-day tasks that should be carried out without fear, worry or intimidation.
© Yorkshire Coast Radio News

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UK: Nazi salutes and greetings for Hitler - police must get tough on fascist brothers grim

Campaigners have renewed calls for police to crack down on extremists displaying right-wing memorabilia and worshipping the Nazis.

7/5/2017- Politicians and anti-facist campaigners have called for police to get tougher with extremists who make Nazi salutes and display far right emblems. They want officers to make greater use of existing powers and crack down on symbols of hate in public and online. The demand comes as the Sunday Mail exposes two Hitler-loving brothers as key figures in anti-refugee group the Scottish Defence League (SDL). Marc and Daniel Sturrock live in the Army town of Penicuik, Midlothian. They are also linked to notorious neo-Nazi groups such as Combat 18 and Blood and Honour. The siblings are regularly photographed giving Nazi salutes and displaying right-wing memorabilia. One shot of Marc Sturrock, 30, shows him with a poster saying: “No more mosques.”

His 25-year-old brother frequently shows off his sinister tattoos, which include a swastika, an SS death’s head and a white power cross. He also boasts online about a conviction for racially aggravated breach of the peace and has been photographed wearing a Ku Klux Klan motif. Both brothers took an active part in an SDL march which brought Wishaw , Lanarkshire, to a standstill on Easter Saturday. SNP MP for Edinburgh North Tommy Sheppard said: “You have to distinguish between children who might give a Nazi salute for a joke and those who have a more sinister purpose. “These people certainly come into that category. “There may have been a tendency among some not to take them seriously in the past. I think you now ignore them at your peril. They won’t go away and there needs to be great vigilance and action by the police.”

Unite Against Fascism (UAF) say the Sturrock brothers show the true nature of the SDL. UAF founder Margaret Woods said: “It proves what we’ve said all along – that these organisations are populated by fascists and Nazis. “They go on to the streets to frighten and intimidate. It’s important for local communities and police to show they’re not welcome in our towns and cities.” It is not illegal to give a Nazi salute or have Nazi paraphernalia in the United Kingdom. But police can arrest extremists if their behaviour threatens or intimidates the public. In Germany and Austria, giving a Nazi salute can result in six months in jail. Labour Scottish justice spokeswoman Claire Baker MSP said: “We should celebrate the fact that the SDL are a tiny sect who are largely shunned by most of the country.

Neighbours said they both worked casually as window cleaners. Daniel Sturrock has been previously been banned from Facebook but shares a lot of his extreme views on the Russian social media site VK. His VK profile picture is a snap of Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess. He has boasted about a court appearance last year where he was fined for a racially
aggravated breach of the peace for singing a song by the neo-Nazi rock group Skrewdriver. Another VK post on his profile read: “Happy Friday to all whites. 3.5 hours left at work then going to fire into some beers and spread some hate. If you’re not white, you’re not right, have a great weekend.” “The way to defeat their hateful ideology is to continue to fight for tolerance and equality.” Both brothers live with their 58-year-old father in a neat semi-detached home. A third said: “This year will be the year of national socialism, Heil Hitler” Last April, he posted on Hitler’s birthday: “Happy birthday to the greatest man who ever lived.”

Daniel Sturrock also took part in a march to the Scottish Parliament in June 2013 to mark the killing of drummer Lee Rigby and laid flowers, despite objections from Lee’s family. He also appears on YouTube video from an English Defence League march in Manchester last year where he calls for immigrants to be booted out of Britain. The Sturrock brothers appeared at April’s Wishaw rally with Ryan McCue, who has been described one of the SDL’s inner circle and most enthusiastic activists. McCue, 37, from Edinburgh, was accused at Glasgow Sheriff Court three years ago of making racist remarks at a Glasgow city centre demo. Former British National Party leader Nick Griffin turned up to give his support. But the charges were later dropped by the Crown. McCue is the partner of another notable SDL supporter, 26-year-old Samantha Lambie, from Paisley. Her sister Chelsea, 21, has been jailed for crimes against Muslims.

Nine years ago, Daniel Sturrock, then 15 and an Army Cadet, was honoured for his bravery after running to the aid of an ice-cream man who had been blasted with a shotgun. He and two others gave Jim Allison first aid just after the 2006 attack. All three received a police merit award and a Royal Humane Society certificate from Edinburgh’s Lord Provost. When we called at the Sturrocks’ home last week, they refused to comment on their far-right links. Police Scotland said: “Tackling hate crime in all its forms remains a priority for Police Scotland and anyone found to be involved in committing crimes of this nature during a demonstration, or at any other time, will be robustly dealt with.”
© The Daily Record

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Italy: Arson suspected in camper blaze that killed sleeping sisters

10/5/2017- Three sisters died Wednesday after their camper burst into flames as they slept, in what news reports said might have been an intentional attack aimed at Roma, also known as Gypsies. Italian news agency ANSA said prosecutors had opened an arson investigation after surviving family members reported having received threats from local residents in recent days and another camper was torched last week nearby. Rome police said only that they aren't excluding any lines of inquiry. ANSA said the sisters aged 4, 8 and 20, were Roma and that other family members who were in the camper at the time managed to escape. The Centocelle neighborhood is near Roma squatter camps, and the camper -- completely destroyed by the blaze -- was parked in an otherwise empty parking lot. Rome police Cmdr. Mario De Sclavis said the victims weren't well-known by area residents, who reported hearing a huge explosion followed by screams. Mayor Virginia Raggi visited the site of the blaze Wednesday and asked for a moment of silence.
© The Associated Press

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Italian Coast Guard let dozens of refugees drown

Previously unheard audio shows Italian authorities telling the sinking migrants to 'call Malta' - despite there being an Italian naval vessel just a few miles away

8/5/2017- Horrific phone calls which reveal how the Italian Coast Guard let dozens of refugees drown in the Mediterranean Sea in 2013, have been obtained by an Italian newspaper. In previously unheard audio, Italian authorities tell a caller from the sinking refugee ship to "call Malta," despite an Italian Navy patrol boat being miles away. As the fishing boat began to take on water, it was around 61 miles away from the Italian island of Lampedusa and within the territorial waters of Malta, which was 118 miles away. During the distress call, released by the Italian magazine L'Espresso, a man who identifies himself as a Syrian doctor named Mohamed Jammo can be heard asking for help as he tells authorities the boat is taking on water and sinking. "Please hurry," Mr Jammo repeats. "The boat is going down." "Because you are near Malta," the man explained. "Call Malta directly very quickly, they are close, OK?"

Mr Jammo then called the Italian Coast Guard again to tell them he had called Malta and been told the boat was closer to Lampadusa than Malta. "We are dying, please," he added. But the operator repeated the instruction, telling him: "You have to call Malta, sir." During the ordeal, the Italian Navy's patrol boat Libra was awaiting orders between 10 to 19 miles away. When he later calls the Coast Guard to ask if they had sent anyone, an operator tells Mr Jammo to call Malta. In a call to the operations room of the Armed Forces of Malta, an Italian coast guard operator voiced his concern that if the patrol boat was dispatched it would have to transfer the refugees to the nearest coast, which would have been Lampedusa. "I think it is not the best way to operate," he explains, going on to say it would mean the loss of an "asset in the area" to spot other "targets," presumably refugee boats.

The Maltese authorities clearly told the Italian Coast Guard their navy's boat was the closest to the refugees. Five hours after Mr Jammo's initial call to the Italian Coast Guard, the fishing boat capsized, sending over 260 people, including 60 children, into the Mediterranean Sea. There is yet to be an official investigation into the 11 October sinking, with reports stating at least 34 refugees were confirmed dead. Around 147 survivors were taken to Malta and a further 56 taken to Italy.  Some of the Syrian refugees reported the boat had been fired upon by Libyan militiamen during a trafficking gang dispute. The Independent has contacted the Italian Coast Guard for comment. After the tragedy, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscarat complained about a lack of action from other European countries. "As things stand we are building a cemetery within our Mediterranean Sea," he warned.
© The Independent

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Italy: Racism is still rife - and unpunished - in football

These should be the best of times for Italian football. Juventus are on the verge of their second Champions League final in three years, new investors are promising a revival of AC Milan and Inter Milan and Serie A is slowly casting off its reputation for sterile defensive fare.

9/5/2017- But it all risks being clouded by reminders of football's dark ages: racism has returned to haunt the national sport. Ten days after Ghana midfielder Sulley Muntari walked off in disgust after being racially abused during a match at Cagliari, the fans responsible have not been identified. No action has been taken against the Sardinian club. Muntari however was penalized, after failing to persuade the referee to suspend the match. Remonstrating with the fans earned him a first yellow card; walking off, a second and an automatic one-match ban.

An outcry spearheaded by the international players' union and the UN human rights agency saw the ban overturned on appeal. Muntari has subsequently sought to highlight his treatment in interviews. He says he was made to "feel like a criminal" and accused the game's governing bodies of failing to take the race issue seriously. Scrutiny of Italian football has increased after Juventus' Moroccan defender Medhi Benatia cut short a TV interview on Saturday after reportedly hearing someone involved in the production describing him in racially derogatory terms.

'Racism never punished'
That incident would appear to reflect racism in Italian society rather than being particular to football. But according to sociologist and writer Mauro Valeri, Italian football's racism problem is only partly about sport reflecting the outside world. "What happened with Muntari is a very important episode. But only because he reacted. Sadly, this kind of thing is all too common," Valeri told AFP. "And it is not just Serie A and B. In junior football there have been 80 registered cases of black players being abused in the last two years. Usually by parents of their opponents and almost invariably nothing is done about it." The Muntari abuse was one of a string of recent cases of black players being verbally attacked from the stands.

Serie A has sanctions procedures but the criteria for applying them are so specific (such as the whole stadium must be able to hear the abuse), they are hardly ever used. And when they are, the penalty is suspended so fines only apply in the event of a second offence. "It is just ridiculous," says Valeri. "The result is racism is never punished." Another problem is that although Italy has strong legislation covering racial abuse, the law requires positive identification of the individuals involved, and clubs cannot be held responsible for failing to identify perpetrators. Valeri says this is partly about clubs' fear of alienating their most fervent fans, but broader cultural and political questions also shape attitudes in a specifically Italian way.

Stadium to streets
"Within Italian football there is no anti-racism movement and other anti-racism associations don't take any interest in football," says Valeri. This leaves anyone who takes a stand isolated, as happened to the country's most prominent black player, Mario Balotelli. "He had to endure endless abuse but he never had any kind of support in trying to stop it," said Valeri, noting how reluctant white Italian footballers are to join anti-racism campaigns. "In Italy anti-racism is not everyone's battle. If you say you are against racism, you risk people saying maybe you're a communist." Mainstream Italian politicians are reluctant to take a stand for fear of being seen as not appreciating voters' worries about the arrival of more than half a million mainly African migrants in Italy in the last three years. "Today, talking about racism means losing votes," said Valeri.

Within football, suggesting Italy could learn from neighbouring countries seems to raise hackles. "I don't believe it is just an Italian problem, it's global," Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini said ahead of Tuesday's Champions League semi-final tie with Monaco. "I just hope that as soon as possible we can stop talking about racism and race and only talk about Chiellini, Benatia, Muntari, what they do on the pitch, were they good or not so good." Hoping the problem will go away is not enough, says Valeri, who fears the current climate in Italy could see football's problem spill over. "Many sociologists talk of the phenomenon of the weekend racist - someone who goes to the stadium and shouts abuse but does not apply the same approach to people he meets during the week." "Personally I think that is wrong and what is happening in the stadiums now risks being reproduced outside. "If it is okay to insult black players inside a stadium, it quickly becomes normal to insult a young guy from Gambia or elsewhere that you meet in the street."
© AFP.

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Italian football hit with second racism row within a week

Juventus defender Mehdi Benatia was insulted live on air during a live, post-match television interview.

7/5/2017- Italian football has been hit by a second racist storm inside a week after Juventus defender Mehdi Benatia was insulted live on air during a live, post-match television interview with Italian state broadcaster Rai. Benatia, a Morocco international, was being interviewed following a 1-1 Serie A draw at home with city rivals Torino when it was cut embarrassingly short by what seemed like a studio technician’s gaffe. As he was speaking to studio presenters about Juventus, Benatia heard a voice over his radio earpiece say: “What are you saying, shitty Moroccan?” Benatia, who had been answering a question about Juventus winning their sixth consecutive Serie A title, stopped mid-sentence and said: “Who said that? What stupid person is speaking?” Presenters also heard the remark, but tried to brush it off, telling Benatia: “It seems there are some technical problems. No one hear has been heard making any insults.”

A visibly angry Benatia wiped his brow as presenters thanked him for his time before bringing the interview to an abrupt end. It is thought the remark came from a careless studio technician who had left a microphone on, but it put racism firmly back in the spotlight a week after the controversy surrounding Ghana’s Sulley Muntari. Pescara midfielder Sulley Muntari says Saturday he felt “treated like a criminal” after being sanctioned for walking off the pitch during a 1-0 loss at Cagliari last week where he fell victim to racial abuse. Muntari was booked by the referee for complaining about the abuse and then shown a red card for walking off the pitch in the final minutes. After he personally appealed to league bosses, his ban was rescinded on Saturday when he said: “I was being treated like a criminal. How could I be punished when I was the victim of racism?”
© AFP

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Italy: 'Angry, isolated' Muntari overturns ban for racism protest

Italian soccer federation rescinds Sulley Muntari's 1-match ban for walking off field in response to racist abuse

6/5/2017- Angered that he was treated like a "criminal," Sulley Muntari won his fight with Italian soccer authorities on Friday to overturn a one-match ban for walking off the field in response to racist abuse. The Pescara player received a yellow card during Sunday's Serie A game at Cagliari for protesting to the referee about the monkey chants from the stands. The 32-year-old midfielder was booked again for leaving the pitch because his concerns weren't being acted on by the match officials, who are required to halt games and issue warnings throughout the stadium to try to stop racist behavior. The red card led to Muntari receiving a one-match ban by the league's disciplinary commission, which didn't appear to take into account his suffering. Receiving no support from Pescara, Muntari was forced to lodge the appeal himself with assistance from the players' union in Italy.

"I feel that someone has finally listened and heard me," the Ghanaian player said in comments published by FIFPro, the international players' union. "The last few days have been very hard for me. I have felt angry and isolated. I was being treated like a criminal. How could I be punished when I was the victim of racism?" Cagliari escaped punishment because Serie A's disciplinary body said only 10 fans bellowed abuse at Muntari, raising further doubts about Italy's commitment to tackling racism in soccer. "I hope my case can help so that other footballers do not suffer like me," Muntari said. "I hope it can be a turning point in Italy and show the world what it means to stand up for your rights." The global anger reached the United Nations, with a top human rights official calling Muntari an "inspiration."

FIGC President Carlo Tavecchio told national news agency ANSA that he was "satisfied" with the appeal ruling "because roles and procedures which are guaranteed by our system were respected." Tavecchio was banned by UEFA for six months at the start of his Italian federation presidency in 2014 over a reference to bananas when discussing the presence of foreign players in Italy. Muntari, who has played in the English Premier League with Portsmouth and in Serie A with Inter and AC Milan, is now available for Pescara's home match against Crotone on Sunday. "This is an important victory to send a message that there's no place for racism in football, or society in general," he said. Muntari told referee Daniele Minelli and his assistants several times about the chants from home fans in the final minute of Pescara's 1-0 loss. The official then showed a yellow card to Muntari, who was so angry with the booking that he walked off the pitch. It left his side with 10 men for stoppage time.

FIFPro said "common sense has prevailed" with the ban being rescinded. "The right result has happened and justice has been served," Bobby Barnes, FIFPro's leader in Europe, told The Associated Press. "All of us felt the decision was wrong because there is a clear protocol in place and the player had followed that protocol. "To be penalized for leaving the field because the protocol hadn't been carried out was an insult to injury. When you've got the victim of a situation being the one that ends penalized, I think it is only right you look at that again. We've got to the right place, albeit belatedly."
© The Daily Astorian

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German army suspends soldier for making far-right comments

12/5/2017- Germany's armed forces have suspended a officer for making far-right comments, the defense ministry said on Friday, amid a widening scandal over fears of hardline racist views among soldiers. German magazine Der Spiegel said the officer stationed in the western German town of Augustdorf had been heard making allegations about the existence of a far-right group inside the military - details that were not confirmed by the ministry. The suspension comes days after the head of Germany's armed forces called for an inspection of all army barracks after investigators discovered Nazi-era military memorabilia in a garrison. Two other soldiers - named only as Franco A. and Maximilian T. - have been arrested on suspicion of planning a racially-motivated attack.

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen has vowed to crack down on hard-right views among the troops. She has blamed "weak leadership" across the military for failing to tackle the racist attitudes, bullying and sexual abuse. Der Spiegel cited one of the suspended soldier's comrades saying he had made comments about a "group of officers who are prepared to commit violence who are collecting weapons and munitions" based in the French town of Illkirch, home of a German-French brigade. Franco A. and soldier Maximilian T. had both been stationed in Illkirch. Defence Ministry spokesman Jens Flosdorff said a soldier in Augustdorf had been banned from wearing his uniform - an effective suspension. He confirmed it was in connection with reports about a soldier talking about a group in Illkirch, but did not comment on the other details of the Spiegel story.
© Reuters

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German minister's pledge to reform military fails to stem criticism

10/5/2017- Germany's defense minister on Wednesday promised to reform the military after the arrest of soldiers accused of plotting to carry out an attack motivated by right-wing extremism, but her pledge failed to quell growing criticism of her leadership. German police on Tuesday detained a second soldier suspected of involvement in what prosecutors believe was a plan by a military officer and a student, both in custody, to carry out an attack and blame it on migrants. Ursula von der Leyen, an ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, said it could take months to address what she initially called "weak leadership" across the military that allowed incidents of extremism, sexual assault and bullying to fester.

But members of the Social Democrats (SPD), junior partners in Merkel's ruling coalition, the Greens and other parties criticized von der Leyen for not taking personal responsibility, despite over three years on the job as commander of the troops. "Extreme mistakes were made at a high level," Rainer Arnold, defense spokesman for the SPD, told reporters. He said her comments had created "an environment of uncertainty and mistrust" that were hobbling the military's response. He said von der Leyen had failed to tackle problems with the internal leadership structures despite warning signs when a sexual harassment scandal first surfaced last autumn. Christine Buchholz, a member of the Left party, said the case clearly involved "a far-right extremist terror cell", and urged von der Leyen not to treat it as an isolated incident. Merkel has underscored her support for von der Leyen, calling her approach the right one.

Von der Leyen has apologized for her initial anger about the arrest of a 28-year-old officer, who was not dismissed despite writing what she called a "clearly racist" master's thesis, but said she remained convinced reforms were needed. "It's important to me that we don't lump everything together," she told reporters after a two-hour session of the parliamentary defense panel. "But we must proceed with all firmness on these specific cases, not just right-wing extremism ... but also the cases of sexualized violence." "The overall responsibility lies with me, that is not a question," von der Leyen said. Von der Leyen said she planned to improve leadership training and accountability, starting with detailed discussions at the lowest level of the military.

Officials would also revamp the "Traditionserlass", a policy last updated in 1982, which provides guidance for how troops should treat the legacy of the German military, which also coordinated a failed attempt to assassinate Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in 1944. It now says some German troops were responsible for Nazi atrocities, while others were "innocently abused". The military also needed a faster and more efficient reporting scheme for potential threats, and would need to increase the political education of troops, the minister said. "I am completely clear ... that we need a broad process in the military itself, that we must travel together - from recruits to generals, from instructors to the minister," she said.
© Reuters

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Germany army: New arrest over alleged anti-migrant plot

German authorities have made another arrest linked to an alleged plot to murder a senior public figure.

9/5/2017- The man, a soldier, is accused of conspiring with another army officer who had falsely registered as a Syrian refugee, and a student. The suspected right-wing extremists wanted to frame refugees for the attack, say prosecutors. Their alleged targets included former German president Joachim Gauck and Justice Minister Heiko Maas. The affair has sparked a national debate about right-wing extremism in Germany's armed forces. On Sunday, inspections were ordered at every army barracks after Nazi-era memorabilia were found at two of them. But last week German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen provoked anger after using the alleged plot to accuse the army of an attitude problem. On Tuesday, German police detained 27-year-old "Maximilian T" in Kehl, across the Rhine river from the French city of Strasbourg. "The accused is strongly suspected of planning a severe act of violence against the state out of a right-wing extremist conviction," the prosecutor's office said in a statement.

'Failed policy'
The man was stationed at a barracks in France, alongside another man who was arrested in April, 28-year-old "Franco A". He was arrested in April, after police discovered he had registered as a Syrian refugee at a shelter in central Germany in December 2015 and later officially requested political asylum in Bavaria. A student, 24, named as "Mathias F" has also been arrested. The three "planned an attack against a high-ranking politician or public figure who was supportive of what the accused saw as the failed immigration and refugee affairs policies", prosecutors said. They had drawn up a hit list and acquired a pistol for Franco A to carry out the attack, they said. Maximilian covered up his accomplice's absences from barracks in pursuit of the plot, prosecutors suspect. The country has experienced a backlash against Chancellor Angela Merkel's "open-door" policy which saw Germany take in more than one million asylum seekers in 2015.
© BBC News.

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Germany: Attacks on refugee centers decreasing, report says

Attacks on refugee centers in Germany have fallen and are now on par with levels prior to 2015, according to a newspaper report. The Left Party has warned, however, that the number is still too high.

9/5/2017- Following an influx of refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in 2015, the number of xenophobic attacks in Germany rose drastically. Although asylum-seeker arrivals have significantly fallen since then, the rate of attacks remained high. The latest government data reported on Tuesday, however, shows that the frequency of attacks is now starting to drop. Police logged 93 attacks on refugee centers in the first three months of this year, the German newspaper "Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung" reported on Tuesday, citing an Interior Ministry response to a query from the Left party.

The figure is now on par with the first quarter of 2015, before the arrival of asylum-seekers spiked in late summer. From January to March of that year, 106 attacks on shelters were recorded. In 2015 alone, more than 1,000 attacks took place, while just under a thousand attacks on refugees occurred in 2016, the newspaper reported. Attacks on the refugee centers include arson, explosives attacks and bodily harm. So far this year, police recorded 318 assaults on refugees. A total of 47 people were injured in the assaults, including two children, according to the report.

Left cautions against complacency
The attacks are still overwhelmingly inspired by right-wing extremism. Out of the 93 attacks on refugee shelters that occurred in the first quarter of this year, 86 of them had an extremist right-wing background, the ministry said. Although the number of attacks is on the decline, Left MP Ulla Jelpke said there was no reason to become complacent. "Violence and everyday terror against refugees appears as though it is becoming normalized in Germany," she told the newspaper. "We should not allow ourselves to get accustomed to the fact that refugees in the country are victims of neo-Nazi or racist attacks day in and day out."
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Germany: Nazi memorabilia at army base escalate far-right scandal

6/5/2017- German investigators have found Nazi-era military memorabilia in a barracks, similar to that found in the garrison of an army officer arrested on suspicion of planning a racially motivated attack, the Defence Ministry said. The discovery broadens a scandal about right-wing extremism in the German army that has hurt Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, less than five months from a national election. Spiegel Online reported that a display cabinet containing Nazi-era Wehrmacht helmets stood outside the canteen at the Fuerstenberg barracks in Donaueschingen, in southwest Germany. In addition, pictures of soldiers from the Wehrmacht -- the Nazi regime's army -- hung on the wall of a room in the barracks, where Wehrmacht pistols, more helmets and military decorations were on display.

Investigators found a similar room at a barracks in the French town of Illkirch, where the officer arrested last week on suspicion of planning a racially motivated attack was serving in the German-French Brigade. A Defence Ministry spokesman told Reuters the objects found at the barracks in Donaueschingen did not include Nazi items punishable under German law such as swastikas. Possession of regular Wehrmacht items is not an offence. However, on a visit to Illkirch on Wednesday, von der Leyen said she would not tolerate the veneration of the Wehrmacht in today's army, the Bundeswehr. Von der Leyen provoked criticism from a soldiers' group this week after she criticised what she called "weak leadership" in the military after the officer's arrest on suspicion of planning a racist attack. On Thursday, she apologised for the tone of her criticism of the military over its handling of the racism case, as she sought to contain a divisive furore in the build-up to national elections.
© Reuters UK.

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Russia: Hundreds of gay couples kissing at Kremlin to protest gay purge Chechnya

A kissing campaign for LGBT rights in Chechnya has attracted support from all over the world.

11/5/2017- Hundreds of gay couples have uploaded photos of themselves kissing and geo-tag themselves as being at the Kremlin in Moscow. Brazilian social justice project [SSEX BBOX] – an abbreviation of ‘Sexuality Outside The Box’ – started the movement on Instagram under the hashtag #kiss4lgbtqrights. The group, which “seeks to offer multiple perspectives on sexuality and gender,” was provoked into action by the gay purge in Chechnya, which has seen more than 100 men detained, tortured and killed. At least four people have died during the horrifying crackdown on gay men, who the region’s government has repeatedly said do not count as real Chechens. [SSEX BBOX] started the campaign because it wanted to create “the biggest kiss in the world” to speak out “against the silencing of the LGBTQIA population in Russia.” The statement continued: “In Brazil, despite the enormous violence against the LGBTQIA population, we can fight for our rights. “But our community in Russia can not and therefore needs our help.”

Eight people were arrested earlier this year in Brazil after a video of men savagely beating a trans woman to death after she begged for her life went viral. Although Brazil legalised same-sex marriage in 2013 and hosts the world’s largest Pride celebration, LGBT attacks are upsettingly common. A survey earlier this year found that one LGBT person was killed every 25 hours in Brazil throughout 2016. [SSEX BBOX] observed that “in Russia, LGBTQIAs are being shut up by the Putin government. “The LGBTQIA Parade has been banned by law for 100 years! And freedom of expression is increasingly restricted. “Therefore, we will make the biggest digital kiss in the world at the place where public protests of LGBTQIA get people throw in jail: the Moscow Kremlin.” Earlier today, police detained five activists before they could deliver three hugely popular petitions against the purge to the Russian Prosecutor General in Moscow.

The Russian government gave permission for the country’s human rights ombudsman to investigate the purge last week. But just yesterday, the Russian Embassy in Israel said an investigation had taken place and found nothing, and that reports of a purge were being used as “a propaganda campaign against Russia”. The letter to Israeli publication Haaretz claimed: “We would like to note that the Russian system of government is of a democratic nature”. This was just hours before these activists were detained for trying to deliver petitions. Victims of the gay purge are reportedly being beaten and tortured with electricity, as well as being forced to live with no water or food. The Russian LGBT Network has also helped to evacuate 40 gay men from the region, with those involved describing the “deadly dangerous” situation they found there. And the reports have been separately confirmed by Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group, both of which cite on-the-ground sources that appear to confirm gay men have been targeted for detention.

In its report, HRW said: “The information published by Novaya Gazeta is consistent with the reports Human Rights Watch recently received from numerous trusted sources, including sources on the ground. “The number of sources and the consistency of the stories leaves us with no doubt that these devastating developments have indeed occurred.” Journalists at Novaya Gazeta who exposed the purge have been forced into hiding as they have received numerous threats from the largest mosque in the region, which has declared jihad against the newspaper. Earlier this week, Chechnya leader Ramzan Kadyrov denied that there have ever been any gay men to persecute in the region, and called them “fake” Chechens. The region’s leader said he would cooperate with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s investigation into reports of gay men being abducted, tortured and killed in the republic, though he denied any gay Chechens actually existed.

Following the initial reports, it was revealed that Chechnya authorities are forcing gay men into concentration camps, sparking an outcry from LGBT and human rights activists across the world. A number of heart-breaking stories from the region have been shared, including stories of parents of gay people who were issued a warning to kill their children before police killed them in torture camps. Tanya Lokshina, from the Human Rights Watch, said that Chechen authorities had been conducting “extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, torture and cruel and degrading treatment” over the span of the last two decades. Kadyrov has also pledged to “eliminate” the gay community in Chechnya by the start of Ramadan. Britain’s deputy foreign secretary revealed the terrifying threat from the Chechen leader while taking an urgent question on the situation in parliament last month. Ramadan starts on May 26 this year and is widely celebrated in Chechnya, which is a predominantly Muslim area.

Petition: Stop the persecution of gay men in Chechnya
© The Pink News

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Chechnya gay rights: Activists with petition held in Moscow

Five gay rights activists have been detained in Moscow as they tried to deliver a petition to the office of Russia's prosecutor general.

11/5/2017- Police said they were held because their action was unauthorised. The activists said more than two million people had signed the petition to investigate alleged torture and detentions of gay people in the Russian region of Chechnya. Chechen officials have denied that gay people even exist in the republic. Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin backed an inquiry into the reported crackdown on gay people in Chechnya, in the North Caucasus. Earlier this month German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the Russian authorities to help protect gay rights. On Thursday, four Russians and an Italian national were held as they tried to deliver a printout of the petition to the prosecutor general's office. They also carried huge empty boxes, symbolising online signatures they had collected in protest against the alleged crackdown, a BBC Russian reporter says.

The petition was signed "by more than two million people around the world, more than the entire population of the Chechen republic," the Russian LGBT Network said. It said they were demanding "an unbiased investigation of illegal detentions of hundreds of people in Chechnya because of their homosexuality". Chechnya's strongman leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, said last week he was ready to co-operate with Russia's federal authorities on the issue. But Mr Kadyrov repeated recent assertions that there were no "people of non-traditional orientation" (a term sometimes used to describe LGBT people in Russia) in the predominantly Muslim republic. Chechen officials also say the local police have not received any official complaints from alleged victims.

It's the extermination of gay men'
Just a few weeks ago, "Ruslan" was with his wife and children in Chechnya. Now he's in a safe house for men fleeing detention and torture for being gay.  Reports of a campaign against gay men by Chechen security forces have been trickling through since early April when they first appeared in a Russian newspaper. Now some of the alleged victims are starting to speak out. "When they brought me in, I denied everything," says Ruslan - not his real name. Even now, he is frightened of being identified. Read more of his story 

Homophobia is widespread in Chechnya.
Last month, Natalia Poplevskaya of the Russian LGBT Network said there was "an organised campaign to detain gay men" in Chechnya. Victims of the crackdown - who were either
gay or just perceived to be gay - were being held at a detention centre near Argun, 20km (13 miles) from the city of Grozny, she said. "Torture is going on with electric shocks, beatings with cables," she told the BBC, adding that three deaths had been reported. "All the people arrested are homosexual men or perceived as being gay." A Chechen government spokesman, Alvi Karimov, denied the allegations. "You can't detain and repress people who simply don't exist in the republic," he said. Homosexuality was decriminalised in the Russian Federation in 1993 but concern about homophobia remains high. In 2013, parliament passed a law imposing heavy fines for providing information about homosexuality to people under 18, sparking international controversy.
© BBC News.

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Russian helpline calls gay man 'faggot', then outs him on social media

Charity director then defended calling the young man in crisis a homophobic slur

8/5/2017- A gay man called a Russian counseling hotline for help, but instead received the worst possible treatment. The young man, who called the FROG center in St Petersburg, explained he was gay and in need of some counseling. But instead of helping him, he was told: ‘This line isn’t for faggots’. Tracking down FROG’s director Alexander Bronshtein on social media, he complained about the employee’s behavior. But, again, he was described as a homophobic slur. ‘You were told [we] don’t work with faggotry and then you were wished all the best. What was rude about this?’ he said. The young man went to Lena Klimova, the founder of Children-4o4, for help. She a LGBTI rights activist which launched a support group for young queer Russians. Taking to Facebook, she pointed out FROG’s ‘statement of trust’. It reads: ‘If you’re sad, lonely, and in pain, call us! We will help everyone!’

Klimova said: ‘This statement is not accurate. “We help everyone except gay men”, at the very least, would be true. ‘Confidence is so needed on phone helplines, it is for people who are in a crisis situation. What this counselor did was not just grossly unethical, but he could endanger the life of a man who came for help. ‘I appeal to all my readers to never contact FROG.’ Klimova shared screenshots of the young man’s conversation with Bronshtein, blurring out the caller’s name but leaving his intact. The FROG director responded on VK, defending the center’s anti-LGBTI stance with decades-old research that claims homosexuality is a ‘curable disease’. Sharing a link to the young man’s VK account, he outed him publicly. ‘We really don’t treat people for f*ggotry and this caller was informed of that, and wished all the best. Except you [Lena Klimova] erased his information for some reason, and left mine,’ Bronshtein said. ‘If you’re taking screenshots, then do a full screenshot. You don’t need to hide your friend’s name.’ Hours after the backlash, Bronshtein shared a video on the center’s website of Vladimir Putin defending Russia’s ban on gay propaganda.
© Gay Star News

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Putin backs probe into gay torture in Chechnya

Putin said he backs a probe into 'rumors' gays have been tortured in Chechnya. Media reports allege gays have been arrested and tortured in the North Caucasus republic, stirring an international outcry.

6/5/2017- Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday said he supports an investigation into the reported torture and murder of gay men in Chechnya, days after German Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed him on the issue. Putin said he would personally ask the chief prosecutor and the interior minister to cooperate with human rights ombudswoman Tatyana Moskalkova in an investigation into the reported brutal treatment of gays in the North Caucasus republic. In televised comments, Putin agreed that Moskalkova should investigate "rumors, you could say, about what is happening in our North Caucasus with people of non-traditional orientation," he said referring to gays. On Tuesday, Merkel in a joint press conference with Putin urged him to "use his influence" to protect gays amid "very negative reports" coming out of Chechnya. 

Merkel's comments came as the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden wrote Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to urge the end of gay persecution in Chechnya. The independent "Novaya Gazeta" newspaper reported in April that Chechen authorities have been rounding up and torturing gay men, triggering an international outcry over human rights in the conservative Muslim region. The newspaper said authorities had detained more than 100 gay men and urged their families to carry out so-called honor killings. At least two gay men have been killed by relatives and a third died of torture, according to the report. Later international media reports indicated many gays had fled the region to other parts of Russia.

Moskalkova, who is close to the Kremlin, has towed the official line, saying last month there had been no complaints from victims. But on Friday she suggested there should be a way for victims to report abuse when they are outside of Chechnya. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, an insurgent turned Kremlin loyalist, has denied any mistreatment of gays and even dismissed they exist in the conservative region. "Chechen society does not have the phenomenon called non-traditional sexual orientation: its people have lived for thousands of years according to different rules laid down by Allah," Kadyrov said Friday, adding he was "ready to closely cooperate" with Moskalkova. Kadyrov has been accused of major human rights abuses and running Chechnya as a mafia-like fiefdom.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Headlines 5 May, 2017

Balkan: Far-Right Groups Flourish on the Net

Excluded from the mainstream media, whose content is more heavily policed, the purveyors of extreme ideologies are spreading their messages of fear and hatred on social networks.

5/5/2017- Largely underrepresented in the traditional media, far-right groups in the Balkans have increasingly turned to the Internet to get their extreme message across. More than 60 websites in the region can be found promoting the idea of ethnically pure nation states, neo-Nazism, violent homophobia and other radical right-wing policies. In Croatia, Frano Cirko, 27-year-old leader of the far-right Generation of Renovation party, told BIRN that movements like his have realised they need to up their game on social media if they want to attract followers. “We focus on the younger voters and the bulk of our marketing and public relations is put through the Internet,” he said. Cirko says it is it hard to attract voters through traditional techniques such as door-to-door lobbying or public rallies. The net is cheaper, simpler, safer yet also more effective.

Cirko is also trying to multiply his impact by using different channels. Besides running a party, he runs a news website. The idea is for the website to spawn an NGO that advocates a mishmash of cultural issues as well as far-right political views. Born at the very beginning of the conflict that resulted in Croatia’s war for independence from Yugoslavia, like many others from his generation, he leans towards ideas that are even more radical than those who split up the former Yugoslavia. He has become known abroad after appearing in a French-German documentary, Rechts, Zwei, Drei where he was described as espousing fascist ideas, though dismisses the label. “We pay no attention to the stigmas and labels we receive … we are not a group of fools that gather and behave like football supporters,” Cirko told BIRN, adding that the “fascist” label is applied too easily.

In terms of policy, he supports traditional marriage, outlawing abortion and the independence of Croats in neighbouring Bosnia. More controversially, he and his supporters often wave the flag of Croatia’s wartime fascist Ustasa movement. While only few years ago such groups would have been widely reviled, in today’s more populist atmosphere, such views are now more mainstream across the Balkans and correspondent to the similar populist movements across the world, such as alt-right from the United States or far-rights in Europe.

Old and new far-right groups share ideas
Generation of Renovation was not the first political party Cirko has joined. Since 2008 he has also been involved in Croatian Pure Party of Rights, HCSP, the only far-right party that has managed to join the mainstream in Croatian politics and whose members are councillors in local municipalities. Every year, the party unashamedly celebrates April 10th, the day in 1941 the Ustasa-led fascist state was established in Croatia under Aix power auspices. HCSP members are often prominent in protests against gay pride rallies and in attacking the memory of the Ustasa-run concentration camp at Jasenovac. Besides the old HCSP and the new Generation of Renovation, other far-right groups operate in Croatia, mostly united by admiration for the old Ustasa movement as well as opposing abortion, homosexuality and the Serbian minority. “Kill the Serbs” is a common chant. Ironically, far-right groups feel they and their values are the ones under attack.

Drazen Keleminec, leader of the marginal far-right Autochthonous Croatian Party of Right, A-HSP, which uses the Ustasa slogan “Za dom spremni” (“Ready for the Homeland”) told BIRN that Croatia was the victim of “internal aggression”, designed to portray all Croats as “fascists, Nazis, Ustasa-led and genocidal”. Keleminec insists that “Za dom spremni” is not a Fascist chant but a traditional Croatian greeting. He also defends the Ustasa movement of the 1940s in whose camp at Jasenovac more than 83,000 Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascists were killed, as a natural reaction to the oppression Croats suffered in the Serb-run Kingdom of Yugoslavia. “Are we causing unrest in Croatia? Are we attacking anyone, are we attacking minorities?” he asked. “This is a democracy, not a totalitarian system anymore,” Keleminec added.

The most prominent voice of the far right on TV in Croatia is that of TV host Velimir Bujanec whose show, Bujica, airs on several local TV stations. Despite his extreme views, he has hosted everyone on his show from rigid far-rightists to President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic in 2014, during her successful campaign for the presidential election. But far-right views in Croatia are most openly shared online, where the state barely regulates the conversations and calls are openly made for violence. According to some surveys, at least 10 000 users in Croatia at least once posted Ustasa related content on Facebook.

Far-right websites flourish in Serbia
The situation is similar in Serbia, where more than 30 websites in Serbian promote extreme right-wing nationalist views. Typically, these deny or denounce the independence of Kosovo, demand the union of all Serbian people in one state, denounce the EU and champion Christian Orthodox Russia. Most of them strongly support Russia’s war in Ukraine and its seizure of Crimea. Srpska.tv in February, for example, uploaded a video about a mural being painted in memory of Mihail Tolstij Givi, the killed commander of Russian fighters in eastern Ukraine, by activists from so-called “patriotic” groups such as the Serbian League, and Serbian People’s Movement 1389. The leader of the Serbian League, Aleksandar Djurdjev, and a private company Feedback Consulting & New Media Production, which is connected to him registered Srpska.tv portal on January 25 this year. In July 2016, he also registered another outlet, poredak.rs.

Most far-right parties in Serbia acting under the umbrella of the so-called Patriotic bloc. Djurdjev said the traditional print media focus too much on issues like the EU, claiming that Serbia has “no alternative” to membership and giving no space to other views. “The internet as a multimedia media, with all its possibilities, has become our dominant channel of communication,” he said. Djurdjev said the Serbian League makes good use of social networks, portals and e-newspapers. The Internet is also a platform for people wanted by Serbian authorities, like the leader of the neo-Nazi National Machine Goran Davidovic, who along with another member of his group is being tried in absentia in Serbia for initiating national, racial and religious hate and intolerance. While Davidovic lives in Italy, thanks to the Internet, he is still very much present in Serbia, thanks to his own website and social media profiles.

All agree on wanting a piece of Bosnia
Despite the conflicting nationalist agendas of the far-right groups in Croatia and Serbia, they share a desire for parts of Bosnia and promote the self-determination or independence of the Croats and Serbs in Bosnia, to create a Greater Croatia or Greater Serbia. Serbian rightists call for the unification of today’s Serbia with Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska, and with parts of Croatia that were once dominated by Serbs. In Bosnia, far-right “Chetnik” groups rely mainly on the Ravna Gora movement, which last year opened an office in the northwestern town of Prijedor. They are also active online and their webpage has 4,000 daily visits while their overall number of visits is some 3 million. They have several groups on Facebook but they are mostly closed.

The webpage of Bosnia’s main Ustasha movement is registered in Kassel, Germany, and offers its own history of the wartime Nazi puppet state, the Independent State of Croatia, a section on “proven Serbian lies” and a list of patriotic songs. Neo-Ustasha groups in Bosnia are especially active in areas close to the border in Croatia, where ethnic incidents flare between the majority Croat population and Bosniak Muslims. Bosniaks have their own far-right groups, however. Most are linked with radical Islam. But in recent years new movements have also emerged, such as the Bosnian Movement of National Pride, BPNP, which promotes the identity of Bosniaks but without religious prefix. They advocate a secular Bosniak state while declaring a broad list of groups, including Jews, Roma, Communists gays and non-whites as enemies of Bosnia.

The moderator of this group’s webpage is a Sarajevan who now lives in Sweden and works under the pseudonym of a former Balkan SS officer. This page also has a forum, but one can become a part of it only after answering questions. One of its leaders told BIRN under the condition of anonymity that their goal was to end the international community’s “dictatorship” over Bosnia, prevent Serbs and Croats from seceding and block the interference of Moscow and Istanbul in Bosnia’s affairs. “I joined the movement when I was 21. I started reading about the history of Bosnia and Bosniaks and saw how much Bosniaks had suffered and how many powers tried to wipe out our people,” he said. “I wanted to protect our people and the BPNP was the only option as they don’t fear to tell the truth,” he told BIRN.

Links forged with far-rightists in Europe
Almost all of the organisations promoting far-right or nationalist ideas in the Balkans have links with similar organizations in Europe. According to the BPNP member that BIRN spoke to, this organization has the strongest ties with organisations in Scandinavia and Ukraine, but he was mysterious about exactly what kind of relations and cooperation they have. In neighbouring Serbia, far-right parties and movements also have partners in Ukraine, on the other side of the conflict, with the Russians. In the name of the Orthodox fraternity, some Serbian citizens have even fought on the Russian side in the conflict. Some of these organisations also have portals registered in Russia. Other far-right Serbian organizations, like Serbian National Movement 1389, use their websites to promote Facebook groups for groups such as “Poles for Serbian Kosovo”, Slovenské Hnutie Obrody, and Oboz Wielkiej Polski.

1389 says it cooperates with the Union of Poles organization in South America and with far-right organizations from Russia. Right-wing Croatian parties are believed to have the strongest links with European partners. In March, the Generation of Renovation took part in a meeting in Hungary that gathered representatives of several rightist parties from Central and Eastern Europe including Hungary’s Jobbik, the Latvian National Alliance, the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia and the Bulgarian National Movement, VMRO. Croatian anti-abortion movements like “In the Name of the Family” and Vigilare are also connected with similar organizations in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, although they deny holding extreme views.

Populist climate boosts far right’s profile
Bojan Perkov, from the Share Foundation, an NGO dealing with online freedom and monitoring, says the ideology of far-rightists is reaching young people, who usually learn about the world around them through the Internet. “Bearing in mind that the organizations of the extreme right have almost no access to traditional media, informing interested people through social networks seems like a simple choice,” Perkov said. He pointed out how groups like the National Serbian Front make plentiful use of social networks such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Perkov added that the Internet community is characterized by the fact that its members are often gathered around an idea, rather than a place of residence, profession or any other personal characteristic. He also pointed out how Stormfront forum, one of the most often mentioned Internet forums linking extreme rightists and neo-Nazis, has a special Serbian section.

Elvis Fejzic, from the Sarajevo political science faculty, said the activities of these movements should be carefully monitored. “The ideas of extreme right-wing movements are dangerous, as they are not institutional actors so it is very hard to control their activities,” he told BIRN. Fejzic added that these movements had become more popular partly due to the growing economic and social hardship. He said the situation was not dramatic but should be kept under control. In most Western Balkan countries, extremism on the net ought to be regulated through laws on hate speech and calls for violence. But few cases ever come to court. Isidora Stakic, from the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, told BIRN that the Internet had enabled far-right organizations to connect up more easily, and states lacked the will power to combat these threats. “States are not implementing laws on hate speech and hate acts,” she said, adding that too often they only react once incidents of violence have occurred.

Macedonian Links with Croatian Far Right
Last week social media were swamped by photos of the masked men who stormed the Macedonian parliament in a bid to stop MPs voting in an ethnic Albanian as the new speaker. Among them was a man wearing a T-shirt promoting the far right war veterans’ association of the Croatian Defence Council, HOS. The man, who on Facebook calls himself Vlado Georgiev Chernozemski, is advocating that Croatian extremists should forge an alliance with those from Macedonia. In the recent months a clutch of new ‘patriotic’ NGOs, whose proclaimed goals are the protection of Macedonia’s integrity and unitary character, is changing the shape of civil society - in line with the ruling party’s wishes. In the space of only a few days, three new patriotic civic associations have been added to Macedonia’s national registry of organizations, “Lavovi”, [Lions], from Bitola, “Metodija Patce” from Ohrid and the “Nepokor” [“Unbowed”] association from Struga.

“Metodija Patce”, for example, besides standing for the preservation and affirmation of the legacy of Ottoman-era Macedonian revolutionary Metodija Patce, writes in its statute that it stands for “the complete continuity of Macedonia’s history” from the time of Alexander the Great to the medieval king Samoil and so forth. The association also stands for affirming and honoring persons tried in communist times for their VMRO ideals, referring to the Ottoman-era clandestine organization, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, or VMRO. The emblem of the association, which has already been promoted on social networks, contains the historic VMRO slogan, “Freedom or Death”, alongside an intercrossed rifle and a spear, a hand grenade and a human skull. Social networks on which this emblem was published are abundant with comments like “Death or freedom for the damned enemies and freaks [among the] Macedonian people”.

The emergence of a clutch of new “patriotic” NGOs comes directly after the former Prime Minister and leader of today’s VMRO DPMNE party, Nikola Gruevski, in December called for a fight to “de-Soros-ize” Macedonia, referring to liberal, centrist organizations actually or allegedly funded by US billionaire financier George Soros. The party, which has been in power since 2016, now also bitterly opposes the announced formation of an opposition-led coalition government under the Social Democrats, SDSM. It says that if the SDSM comes to power, it would spell disaster for Macedonia, owing to the opposition’s alleged acceptance of a package of ethnic Albanian demands known as the “Albanian Platform”.

The Struga-based “Nepokor” was formed by Ivica Tomovski, Rade Sajnoski, Antonio Meckaroski, Nikola Pentidis and Bojan Blazeski. Most of this group, as far as information on social networks suggests, are members of the “Union of Young Forces” of the VMRO DPMNE party from the same town. Even before their association was added to the central registry, all five founders had posted the emblem on their Facebook profiles. It, too, is reminiscent of the historic VMRO emblem, containing its trademark crossed revolver and dagger, with a slogan, “Always for Struga, Always for Macedonia”. Like their lookalikes from Ohrid, this association states that it stands for the affirmation of persons who were neglected or abused by the old Yugoslav communist regime as well as those who were tried by the communist regime for their fidelity to the ideals of VMRO.

The statute of the third association, “Lavovi” from Bitola, which was added to the central registry on Monday, says it stands for “the preservation of the territorial integrity, unity and unitary character of Macedonia, the preservation of Macedonia’s national integrity, of Macedonian genes from antiquity to modern days, of the national linguistic, cultural, religious and traditional Macedonian hallmarks and characteristics”. This association states also that it will stand for the protection of the rights of the “defenders” - meaning the police and army veterans from the 2001 conflict with ethnic Albanian rebels - the preservation of the gains made from the NOB [the National Liberation Fight during WW2], as well as for the creation of strong Macedonian lobby aimed at protecting Macedonian interests. One of the founders and its president is Petar Hristovski, a former police employee from Bitola and now an employee in a private security agency. “We are a purely civic association, a patriotic association. We have no connection with any political party. I was long time ago a member of a party but I am now outside politics,” Hristovski told BIRN.

This is the second story produced as a part of Resonant Voices Initiative.
To read our first story "Balkan Jihadi Warriors Remain Safe on Net" click here.
To learn more about our project follow Resonant Voices Initiative on Facebook and on Twitter.
© Balkan Insight

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Racism scars European soccer with sanctions still often weak

4/5/2017- As monkey chants boomed around the Italian soccer stadium, Sulley Muntari became more incensed. The Ghanaian player sought out the referee and asked for intervention to silence the fans hurling racist abuse. Referees have the power to stop games and have warning messages amplified at stadiums. Nothing like that happened, though, on Sunday during the Serie A game on the island of Sardinia. Instead Muntari, exacerbated by the referee’s indifference, repeatedly pointed at his skin color. The veteran Pescara midfielder’s protests were apparently ignored. It took further complaints from Muntari in the second half for the referee finally to act at Cagliari. But what happened next has enraged players and anti-discrimination campaigners. Far from being protected by the referee, Muntari was booked for dissent. Aghast, Muntari walked off and was booked again for leaving the field without following procedures — his two yellow cards amounting to a red, and ejection from the game.

Even when the incident was reviewed in the following days, Italian soccer authorities sided with Cagliari against Muntari. He was handed a one-match ban for receiving two yellow cards. Cagliari escaped punishment because Serie A’s disciplinary body said only 10 fans were to blame. “Only a callous commission disciplinary would ignore the full picture of what went on here,” Piara Powar, executive director of the anti-discrimination Fare Network, told The Associated Press. “It’s set a very dangerous precedent. There are recurring incidents and the Italian football authorities are not dealing with them in the right way.” FIFA offered “full solidarity with Muntari” but offered no comment on his treatment by Italian authorities. “Any form of racism on or outside the field is totally unacceptable and has no place in football,” the Zurich-based governing body said.

Muntari’s case hasn’t been the only one in recent days. Inter Milan and Lazio were found guilty by Serie A’s disciplinary division after fans bellowed racist abuse during games. The punishment for both teams was having parts of their stadiums closed — but only if there is a repeat of the conduct. For Powar, who advises UEFA on discrimination, these cases demonstrate a complete “failure of the regulatory processes.”  It’s not a problem confined to one or two countries. “It’s endemic across Europe at the moment,” Powar said.

Sanctions
Derisory fines were typical in racism cases until a high-profile incident in 2013 spurred the authorities into action. Just like last weekend, it saw a Ghanaian walking off an Italian soccer field that sparked change. On that occasion, the whole AC Milan team joined in the protest by Kevin-Prince Boateng. Within months, it resulted in sanctions being strengthened across global soccer. FIFA insisted on a minimum five-game ban for racism by players, and UEFA doubled the entry-level punishment in a tougher approach. For abuse by fans, a sliding scale of punishments was adopted. Parts of stadiums could be closed for the first offense and further racist abuse should ultimately result in fans being locked out completely. League officials also have the power to dock points or relegate teams for serious repeated incidents. Administrators also face more rigorous scrutiny for discriminatory conduct. One of the earliest offenders after the new rules were adopted was the man campaigning to lead Italian soccer. Carlo Tavecchio was banned by UEFA for six months at the start of his Italian federation presidency in 2014 over a reference to bananas when discussing the presence of foreign players in Italy.

France
Corsica has also been the scene of racist crimes at soccer this season. On a visit by Nice to the French Mediterranean island in January, striker Mario Balotelli — the son of Ghanaian immigrants to Italy — endured monkey chants being bellowed at him by Bastia supporters. Bastia was given a suspended one-point deduction and forced to close part of its stadium for three games.

Britain
Scotland’s Glasgow derby last weekend saw a Rangers supporter make a monkey gesture at Scott Sinclair after the Celtic player scored. The fan was quickly identified and appeared in court. England has also been the scene of high-profile cases this decade. Luis Suarez was banned for eight games in 2011 while playing for Liverpool, and Chelsea captain John Terry was suspended for four games the following year. Two lower-league players this season received the minimum five-game ban.

UEFA
The disciplinary department at European soccer’s governing body has also been clamping down on racist chanting in continental fixtures. Serbia was warned in March by UEFA that its teams could be kicked out of European competitions for further infractions by fans. Croatia has also been targeted in the UEFA crackdown, along with teams from Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Ukraine. The pressing concern is Russia, host of the 2018 World Cup where there have been persistent reports of discriminatory displays and chants. Former Chelsea midfielder Alexei Smertin was put in charge of investigating soccer racism in Russia in February despite previously declaring: “There’s no racism in Russia.”
© The Associated Press

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Finnish minister says new 'grand mosque' plans could pose 'security risk'

Proposed religious complex has divided politicians and the public of Helsinki.

4/5/2017- Helsinki city council is deciding whether to green light plans for a large mosque complex in the Finnish capital which have led to fierce political debate. Muslim community leaders first submitted the proposals for a ‘grand mosque’ - double the size of the city’s Lutheran cathedral - on an old industrial site two years ago, but the plans proved to be a hot-button topic in the Helsinki mayoral elections last month. While the city is already home to several mosques, all but one are poky buildings with previous uses which have been converted. The 1800 square metre ‘Oasis’ complex, to be built in a Moorish fashion, is billed as a community centre open to both the entire city’s diverse Muslim population as well as non-Muslims. The building - which would open in 2024 - would accommodate 1,200 worshippers at a time, and the grounds and gardens include a cultural dialogue centre.

The proposals were met with particular hostility when it emerged the $151 million (£117 million) construction would be funded by the monarchy of the Gulf state of Bahrain. While Tarja Mankkinen, the interior minister responsible for Finland's anti-radicalisation policy, said the ministry found many "positive aspects" in the mosque project, "the challenge is that the mosque is planned to be funded by Bahrain and possibly by other Gulf countries". "The role of the actors who fund the mosque and its activities might consist a [security] risk if it decreases the feeling of belonging to the Finnish society among the Muslim population," she told Middle East Eye. Any anti-Muslim backlash could also "increase the breeding ground for the violent extremism motivated by religion," she said. “The funding is being debated, even though we are not even building anything yet,” Pia Jardi, the mosque’s project manager, wrote on her blog.

The Finnish foundation handling the proposed construction means that all plans are subject to strict co-ordination and supervision, she added. “The rules include no radical teachings or ways of operation… The plan is clear that the activities of the mosque will be managed by Finnish Muslims and that activities will also be organised in Finnish. The Friday sermons, for example, must be organised in both Arabic and Finnish.” Several candidates in April’s municipal elections - as well as other politicians and several other members of public life - weighed in on the proposals, which led to demonstrations in 2015. Incoming centre-right mayor Jan Vapaavuori said during his campaign that he would actively try to stop the mosque being built.

While at the top levels of government the mosque has received support, Finland, like much of Europe, has seen a rise in popularity of right-wing populist parties in recent years which attract votes by capitalising on anti-immigration fears. The Nordic country is currently home to 80 small mosques. Around 60,000 of its 5.5 million strong population is Muslim.
© The Independent

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Greece: Golden Dawn trial to be moved to a third venue

5/5/2017- The trial of Golden Dawn, which entered its third year last month, is to be transferred soon for a third time, to a Health Ministry building, Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis said on Friday. The trial of the neo-Nazi party’s leadership, as well as dozens of supporters, began in April 2015 but has been dogged by delays and venue changes. Originally hosted at a specially designed courtroom at the capital’s high-security Korydallos Prison, it was subsequently moved to the premises of the Athens Appeals Court following protests by local authorities and residents of Korydallos. The move to the court, however, was intended as a temporary move, until a permanent venue was found for the trial, which is expected to drag on for another two years. “The procedures are being completed so that a fitting venue, which belongs to the Health Ministry, can be made available and the trial can be conducted smoothly and without delays,” Kontonis said in a statement.
© The Kathimerini.

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Greece: Islands struggling despite smaller migrant influx

2/5/2017- As Greece continues to struggle to accommodate migrants arriving from Turkey despite a reduction in arrivals, the European Commission on Tuesday called for border controls imposed within the passport-free Schengen area because of the migrant crisis to be lifted by November. “The time has come to take the last concrete steps to gradually return to a normal functioning of the Schengen area,” European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told reporters. “This will be the last prolongation.” Austria, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and non-European Union member Norway introduced the controls in 2015 and have been permitted to extend them repeatedly.

Although a deal signed in March last year between Ankara and Brussels has curbed human trafficking across the Aegean, many of Greece’s islands are still struggling to shelter thousands of migrants. The situation on Chios is said to be particularly tense, with reports of frequent brawls between migrants of different ethnic groups at the overcrowded main reception center. Another 116 migrants arrived on Chios between Monday morning and Tuesday morning. In a related development, UNICEF and the Children’s Ombudsman gave a joint press conference on Tuesday, noting that 700 out of around 2,000 unaccompanied minors currently in Greece live outside migrant reception centers.
© Kathimerini

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Greece: Homophobia in healthcare system

A unique study examining the experience of Greece’s LGBTQ community when accessing healthcare details their quality of care. Discrimination remains a serious problem, as Omaira Gill reports from Athens.

2/5/2017- In January this year, New Democracy MP Gerasimos Giakoumatos caused outrage when he he made comments in a radio interview describing homosexuality as a contagious disease. Despite protests from the public and the political community, no penalties were imposed on Giakoumatos. One of the people who was not surprised by this is Dr. Dimitra Giannou, who has documented institutionalized homophobia and transphobia in Greece as part of her thesis for Durham University. Her study, which drew on interviews with LGBTQ groups and individuals as well as doctors is the first of its kind in Greece.

While LGBTQ rights have improved in recent years in the country, discrimination remains a serious problem. The neo-Nazi group Golden Dawn's rise to power in 2012 heralded a sharp increase in homophobic attacks and a civil union bill passed by parliament in 2015 was heavily opposed by right wing groups and the church. "Health service providers start with the premise that everyone is heterosexual and that whether you are LGBTQ doesn't affect your healthcare. With this assumption, LGBTQ patients get the message that they cannot speak freely about their sexuality," Giannou told DW.

Fear of discrimination
This has numerous consequences. When faced with the assumption that they are straight, LGBTQ patients do not feel able to ask the medical questions they want to without fear of discrimination, delay treatment or avoid it altogether. One male gay interviewee faced homophobic attitudes when seeking treatment for the human papilloma virus (HPV), and said that the reluctance of doctors to openly discuss treatment options in relation to his sexuality was a problem other gay HPV patients had mentioned. "An older lesbian might avoid a smear test because she feels embarrassed about being assumed to be a virgin if she doesn't have penetrative sex," Giannou said. "If she contracts a sexually transmitted infection (STI) through non-penetrative sex, which can happen, she might not seek the treatment she needs because she doesn't have a doctor she can comfortably explain her circumstances to."

In another one incident she documented, a dentist began expressing extremely transphobic views to a transsexual patient during a check-up. "This is traumatic, because at that moment you are vulnerable as a patient," said Giannou. Giannou said that the majority of the doctors she interviewed for the study were helpful and cooperative, but in one incident, a doctor threw her survey request back at her in front of a full waiting room. "He said 'I'm not doing anything for faggots!' What if one of those patients in the waiting room was gay? How would he feel?"

Uncomfortable
Andreas, who is a 26-year-old NGO professional and gay said, "I definitely feel uncomfortable to freely ask questions because I don't want to handle their potential homophobic behavior against me. It's easier for me that way. However, I always correct the healthcare worker if they assume I'm straight." He told DW that he has at times felt uncomfortable with doctors who know he is gay and stereotype him, but that his dentist is aware of his sexuality and it was never an issue. He also said that his experience with specially trained professionals to deal with his HIV positive status had been problem-free.

Leo Kalovyrnas, a counselor-psychotherapist, said several of his clients came to him after experiencing homophobic attitudes with other therapists. "Assuming that one's client is straight can be extremely damaging. It's bad enough that most gay men and women are erased from society in their daily lives, but to go to a therapist for help and be made invisible again can be catastrophic."

Overcoming stigmatization
He said as a volunteer for an LGBT organisation, he is regularly asked for referrals to gay-friendly doctors or facilities either because of existing bad experiences or because the patients are too terrified to talk candidly. "The result is that they under-report symptoms or conceal information," Kalovyrnas told DW. Despite repeated requests, the Athens medical association was unavailable for comment. But as Kalovyrnas also pointed out, assumptions about sexual behavior can affect all groups. "Lots of women I know have traumatic stories to tell about their gynecologists, who overstep all professional boundaries and judge women about their sexuality, telling them what to do with their bodies and fertility in very condescending ways."

Giannou said that steps were necessary for healthcare professionals in Greece to approach LGBTQ patients in an appropriate way. "We must overcome the invisibility of LGBTQ people, and understand what it means to be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Until we efficiently address these two critical goals, sexual orientation and gender identity as bases of discrimination will remain abstract terms in official documents of health rights."
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Netherlands: Wilders Is Not The Only Dutch Far-Right Politician To Watch

Tensions about the European Union and Muslim mass immigration are simmering all over Europe, but they seem to boil over more frequently in the Netherlands than in other countries.
By Emma Elliott Freire


1/5/2017- Last month, global attention fixated on the elections in the Netherlands. Would Dutch voters go the way of Brexit and Trump and make far-right populist Geert Wilders their new prime minister? Tensions about the European Union and Muslim mass immigration are simmering all over Europe, but they seem to boil over more frequently in the Netherlands than in other countries. It’s fair to say the election result was mixed. Wilders and his Party for Freedom gained five seats. Incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Liberal Party lost eight seats, but they are still the largest party in parliament and he is likely to keep his job.

CNN led with the headline, “Europe’s far-right populists fail first test.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel, herself threatened by far-right opponents, called the result “a good day for democracy.” In the past, Rutte would probably have handed in his resignation. But in the wake of Brexit and Trump, keeping far-right politicians out of office is a victory even if you lose eight seats along the way. Dutch parliamentary elections use a proportional representation system to divvy up 150 seats. No party ever wins an absolute majority. This gives Dutch politics a very different character from American ones. The largest party has to form a coalition with one or two other parties to get a majority of seats.

Liberals and Labour Lose Big
Amidst the jubilation over Wilders’ “defeat,” little attention was paid to the fact that Rutte’s partner in the previous coalition, the Labour Party, lost 29 seats—a shattering and unprecedented fall. Rutte’s coalition delivered fantastic growth for the Dutch economy. The government budget has a 3 billion euro surplus for the first time in 10 years. Yet Dutch voters empathically rejected this coalition. Various factors contributed to the decline of the Labour Party, including that the party lost touch with its traditional base of blue-collar voters. These voters see globalization and mass immigration as a threat to their jobs, and the Labour Party did nothing to reassure them.

Rutte helped his Liberal Party by shifting his rhetoric to the Right. He published an open letter in which he said those who don’t respect Dutch values should leave. “The letter could have been written by Geert Wilders 10 years ago,” says Jan van Benthem, a commentator with various Dutch media outlets. Another development that drew little attention outside the Netherlands is the arrival of Forum for Democracy, a new political party led by Dutch public intellectual Thierry Baudet. Describing his party, Baudet speaks in high-minded terms: “We are a new generation of Europeans who want to stand up for our western values.”

Not All Right Politicians Are Extremists
Inevitably, though, Baudet and the Forum for Democracy will be evaluated via comparisons to Wilders and the Party for Freedom. Like Wilders, Baudet is sharply critical of mass immigration from Muslim countries and wants to see the Netherlands exit the EU and the euro. But there are also important differences. “Thierry Baudet has far more nuance. He’s less black and white. He’s not as anti-Islam and not as anti-immigration,” says van Benthem. Baudet likes to refer to Dutch mainstream political parties as a “cartel.” He focuses on direct democracy as the means of breaking that cartel. Last year, he helped organize a referendum on an association agreement between the European Union and Ukraine. The Dutch parliament had ratified it, yet voters rejected it by a large margin. Then Dutch elected leaders ignored the referendum results. At that point, Baudet concluded he should run for office himself. “All other options were exhausted,” he says.

Dutch law currently allows referendums on legislation parliament has recently enacted. “We are happy to have that law but we want to expand it to make it possible to have a referendum on any subject,” says Baudet. He hopes this will result in referendums on the euro and mass immigration. He believes a Dutch exit from the European Union is inevitable, “I hope within 10 years. I fear within 20 years. Within the next 10 years the EU will unravel –with more bailouts for southern countries, more mass immigration, more terrorist attacks, more regulations to stifle our entrepreneurs,” he says. He does not believe Prime Minister Rutte’s tough talk about how immigrants who don’t like Dutch values should leave. “That’s empty rhetoric from politicians who want to be reelected,” he says.

Nuances on Foreign Immigration
Baudet begins to sound like Wilders when talking about immigration. “We are letting our culture be diluted through waves of mass immigration,” he says. “We are admitting too many people from a completely different background.” In keeping with progressive Dutch social values, though, Baudet doesn’t think extremely low birth rates are contributing to this social problem. “It’s not necessarily such a bad thing for our population to shrink a bit,” he says. “Apart from telling people to enjoy life a bit more, there’s not much politicians can do about it.”

Like Wilders, Baudet has drawn accusations of racism. During one campaign event, he spoke of the “homeopathic dilution” of the Dutch population via Muslim mass immigration. Baudet claims the phrase was meant jokingly and taken out of context. “I said that after a question from a member of the audience on homeopathic medicine. Then some journalist tweets it like it’s the most serious thing he’s heard in his life.”

Despite having been part of the Dutch political and media elite for years, Baudet feigns surprise that his off-the-cuff remarks are sometimes misrepresented to stoke controversy. “It’s all new to me how this political game is played,” he claims. He has no plans to start playing that game. “There’s something to be said for politicians who speak freely. I’m not sure if I’m willing to go under the yoke of adapting my speech to avoid these malign interpretations,” he says.

‘The Intelligent People’s Alternative to Geert Wilders’
This “speaking freely” is also a critical part of his success. Baudet, who is just 34 years old, was already a public figure in the Netherlands before he ran for office. His flamboyant personality made him a popular columnist and TV guest. All the Dutch voters interviewed for this article, even those who didn’t cast their ballot for him, were familiar with him and his platform. Wilders’ base consists largely of blue-collar voters, while Baudet holds a doctorate in political philosophy and has published nine books, including one on classical music appreciation. One Dutch voter said, “Thierry’s party can be considered as the intelligent people’s alternative for Geert Wilders.”

“As opposed to the Party for Freedom, Forum for Democracy is a party that emerged from the elite,” says Bart-Jan Heine, a lecturer in political science at Thorbecke Academie in the Netherlands. “Forum for Democracy was founded as a think tank that organized lectures and published reports. Their list of parliamentary candidates consisted of lawyers, professors, successful entrepreneurs, a violinist, and a national chess champion.” A Dutch voter who regards Baudet’s views as “scary” said, “At least it’s nice to finally see some intellectual foundation to Party for Freedom ideas.”

Baudet denies that Forum for Democracy is a party for white-collar Dutch people, but he does say, “We’re much more serious [than the Party for Freedom.] They’re a successful protest party. We have the potential to become a governing party,” he says. “It’s a very negative message they’re constantly sending out.” It’s hard to argue with the latter statement when Wilders’ current Twitter banner read “STOP ISLAM” and he landed in legal hot water for chants of “fewer, fewer Moroccans” at one of his campaign rallies in 2014. Baudet believes Forum for Democracy has more potential for mainstream appeal. “We focus on the positive shared values that we have in the Netherlands,” he says.

Winning Any Seats Is a Victory
In this last election he won two seats out of 150 in the Dutch parliament. That may not seem like much to an American audience, but Dutch political analysts agree that it represents a solid start. “It’s the best outcome they could have hoped for,” says van Benthem. Forum for Democracy is now the smallest party in parliament, but at least they are there. In March’s election, 28 parties appeared on the ballot and only 13 won any seats at all. “[Baudet’s] seat in parliament will allow him to continue his disruption of the political dialogue on certain issues. Every party gets speaking time based on their number of seats. It’s not always one on one. Smaller parties have plenty of possibilities to express their views,” says van Benthem. Baudet is eager to leverage his new platform. “We can put issues on the agenda. We can force politicians to speak out on issues. We can be a pain in the a– for the government,” says Baudet. “We can build our party with all the government subsidies we will get.”

His plans include fielding candidates in the next local and European Parliament elections. The Dutch voting system makes it easier for new parties to attain national elected office than the American system. However, these upstart parties have an ignoble tradition of infighting and self-sabotage. The man who holds Forum for Democracy’s second seat, Theo Hiddema, is also a strong personality. “Forum for Democracy has two members of parliament. They both have strong egos,” says van Benthem. “A lot of analysts think the egos will clash and in a year we’ll have two parties.” If Forum for Democracy grows, it will be incrementally. There are many potential pitfalls along the way. But March’s elections showed there is room in the Dutch political spectrum for Baudet’s idea. Now it’s up to him to build from there.
Emily Friere is a freelance writer based in Great Britain. She writes about both English and American culture and politics.
© The Federalist

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Czech Rep: Girl Scout confronts far-right protester neo-Nazi rally

Picture is a viral hit with many applauding the girl's composure

4/5/2017- A photo of a Girl Scout calmly confronting a far-right protester during a rally in the Czech Republic has been shared thousands of times as a powerful symbol of peaceful defiance in the face of hate. The image, of teenager Lucie talking to a demonstrator during a May Day rally, was shared by the World Organisation of the Scout Movement. The picture became a viral hit with many applauding the youngster’s courage and composure. In a Facebook post the group said: “People from all walks of life, and #Scouts among them, came to the streets during an extreme right march yesterday, to express their support for values of diversity, peace and understanding. Creating a better world!” The march is understood to have been organised by the DSSS Workers’ Party – a far-right party in the Czech Republic.

Anièka Èámská, a member of the Czech scouting group, who was at the rally, said: “There was some kind of far-right march, so a bunch of people wen there as well to protest in a peaceful way – they were dancing and painting. “Later more people came to protest against neo-Nazis with drums and so on. The message was ‘we are tired of your hate and pessimism’.” The powerful image echoes the photo of a young woman smiling at a member of the English Defence League at a rally in Birmingham. Photographer Vladimír Èièmanec, who captured the image during Monday’s protests, said the “neo-Nazi was clearly angry with her, but she stood her ground”. "I was thinking about the Saffiyah Khan photo when I started shooting, the situation looked similar, and the bubbles were just a sweet coincidence,” he told IBTimes. “I thought 'this will be a nice photo', but in the sense 'when my friends see it on Facebook, they'll probably like it'. "I initially shared it with limited privacy not thinking much about it. And then people wanted me to make it public and it exploded."
© The Independent

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Czech Rep: Anti-Islamists march to Government Office

1/5/2017- Several dozen supporters of the Bloc against Islamisation took part in a protest march to the government seat in Prague on Monday. They carried Czech flags and flags with the Czech lion, the country's emblem, and the caption "For our Culture and Safety" and banners. Cars with anti-Islamist slogans attached on them accompanied the march. Up to 70 people met at the Letna plain to attend the anti-Islamist march, the police said. Within the event, people could sign a petition in support of the candidacy of current President Milos Zeman who announced that he would seek re-election next year. His supporters are collecting signatures on his candidacy, while at least 50,000 are needed. However, the participants in the anti-Islamist march were not in agreement about support for Zeman. Some considered him the best president, while others said they would support him only if he removed the EU flag from Prague Castle, the presidential seat. The march continued to the Government Office and ended in a nearby park in Klarov where the participants sang the national anthem and supported candidate for French president Marine Le Pen. No incidents accompanied the march.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

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Northern Ireland: Pregnant woman targeted in east Belfast hate crime

A pregnant Sudanese woman and her two young children, aged seven and one, have had to leave their home in east Belfast following a racially-motivated hate crime.

2/5/2017- In the latest attack on their home, a number of rocks were thrown through the windows. The woman has said she "can't stop her tears from pouring" and is worried about her children's safety. The police have appealed for anyone with information to come forward. The woman, who we are calling Amina, is due to give birth next month. She said she has been unable to sleep or eat since the attack and is worried about the impact that it might have on her unborn baby. Amina, her husband and children, moved into a hostel following the attack. "We were out and when we came back, we found the police waiting for us and they told us that someone had broken the windows of the house," she said. "There was glass everywhere. downstairs and upstairs. "I just sat on the couch, I couldn't say anything."

In April, the couple had the windows of their car broken and have also previously had eggs thrown at their house and rubbish thrown into their yard. "I had nightmares thinking that someone was after us and they wanted to hurt my family," she said. "It's my responsibility to look after my kids and to keep them in a safe place, it's my responsibility to protect them." Amina and her family are refugees and have been living in Northern Ireland for about two years. She said the incident had had a huge impact on her children. While Amina's daughter is too young to understand what has happened, she said her son had been upset by seeing the glass and seeing his mother crying. "I tried to explain to my son as simply as I can. I told him there are some bad people in the world and they do bad things," she said. "I want him to understand what is going on, it's important for him to know."

Amina said she had to try and explain to her son what a race hate crime was. "I'm sure this will not be the last time he's going to experience this," she said. "We have to be honest and rational. We are not from here and there are people who don't like foreign people living around them. "I want him to understand this as soon as possible, so he can be ready for what might happen in the future." The police have appealed for information.
© BBC News.

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Sweden: 2016 saw a surge in neo-Nazi activity: here's why

2016 was a record year for neo-Nazi groups in Sweden, with over 3,000 activities carried out by them according to Swedish anti-racism foundation Expo.

5/5/2017- Expo's annual report on the activity of white supremacist groups documented 3,064 instances of activity by them last year, the highest number since the foundation started to carry out the yearly studies in 2008. The explanation for the increase can be found in people being absorbed into the particularly active Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM), according to Expo researcher Jonathan Leman. "There has been a consolidation. Before there were always far more different actors within this white supremacist area, several competing organizations. But when the Party of the Swedes (Svenskarnas Parti) dissolved in 2015 they weren't replaced, which meant things fell into the NRM's lap," he told The Local. "That meant that during 2015 and continuing into 2016, the NRM has absorbed more of the ground. It's the most fanatical of these neo-Nazi organizations: they have a requirement for their members to be active, with propaganda-spreading an important part of that. So when the organization absorbed more people, it also meant an increase of overall activity as a result."

Propaganda-spreading is the most common form of activity, according to Expo, with flyer distribution, handing out stickers and other visual forms of propaganda accounting for 80 percent of overall activity. With 2,759 instances of activity in 2016 the NRM dominated, and according to Expo they are at the extreme end of the spectrum. "They're at the most extreme end of this white supremacist area. There's a lot of crime associated with them, they have a relationship with violence. We carried out a study last year that showed around half of them have been convicted of some kind of crime, and about a quarter convicted or indicted for violent or weapons crimes in 2015 alone," Leman noted. "What has happened is the most radical organization has become the most dominant one. On social media meanwhile people come into contact with people who are openly racist, and it can be a meeting with that world, meaning there's a certain normalizing of Nazi ideas and an overlap between the xenophobic and Islamophobic world around the Sweden Democrats, and the openly racist, white supremacist organizations. We can see people being radicalized as a result."

In its study Expo only included "groups that had a race-nationalist starting point. Which is different from the more cultaral-nationalist starting point SD for example have," Leman noted. On Thursday, Sweden's parliamentary parties released a joint statement asking the hosts of the annual Almedalen politics week not to allow NRM to rent a space at the event. The parties decide who is allowed to take part in the official programme of events, and decided NRM would not be allowed to participate in it, but it is up to hosts Gotland municipality to decide whether they will be allowed to rent a space.
© The Local - Sweden

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How Sweden Became “The Most Alt-Right” Country In Europe

Alt-right activist Richard Spencer is building a global media company with partners from Sweden, a country with an alt-right of its own that’s helped transform national politics.

3/5/2017- The white nationalist Richard Spencer is partnering with two Swedish outfits to create a company they hope will become a media giant and keep race at the center of the new right wing. It is envisioned, one co-creator said, as a “more ideological Breitbart.” Called the AltRight Corporation, it links Spencer with Arktos Media, a publishing house begun in Sweden to print English-language editions of esoteric nationalist books from many countries. The other Swedish partner is Red Ice, a video and podcast platform featuring white nationalists from around the globe. It was natural for Spencer to turn to Swedes as partners in the new enterprise, given the country’s history as an exporter of white nationalist ideas. But forging formal bonds between nationalists across the Atlantic makes even more sense today, when the politics of Northern Europe is heavily driving the politics of immigration and Islam in the United States.

Sweden has been a key center of white nationalism for decades. In the 1990s, it was a world capital of “white power” heavy metal bands; today, it teems with websites and podcasts promoting a new language of white identity. Nationalists have built this network in a country that immigration opponents worldwide have been closely watching with the belief that it will be the first Western nation to collapse beneath the weight of Muslim immigration. With a population of just under 10 million, Sweden accepted around 240,000 asylum-seekers in 2014 and 2015, the largest number per capita of any nation in Europe. Sweden also has one of the fastest-growing nationalist parties, the Sweden Democrats, which grew out of skinhead and neo-Nazi circles in the 1990s and is now polling as Sweden’s second-largest party.

Spencer would not discuss details about the AltRight Corporation’s funding, but told BuzzFeed News he was devoting all of the resources that once fed his National Policy Institute to the project, totaling “six figures.” The National Policy Institute’s longtime backer William Regnery II — a member of the family behind conservative company Regnery Publishing — said in an email to BuzzFeed News that he had made the largest contribution to its startup capital. For Spencer, this is partly a play to reclaim his place in the nationalist vanguard that helped elect Donald Trump but has since kicked him to the curb. Spencer coined the term “alt-right,” but he has always been small-time compared to outlets like Breitbart and Infowars. He lost what little cachet he had among more mainstream fellow travelers when The Atlantic captured video of him leading a Nazi-esque “Hail Trump” salute in November. By the time an AltRight Corporation board member formally unveiled its creation at a February conference in Stockholm, many Americans thought of Spencer as the racist who got punched on camera during Trump’s inauguration.

Spencer, who now wears what he calls “Clark Kent glasses” to avoid being recognized on the street and punched again, told BuzzFeed News that the immediate goal of the new company was to “displace the conservative movement” in favor of his brand of nationalism — which aims to create a white “ethno state.” Though it would look like a news site, he said, the new Altright.com would “create a consciousness that something like an ethno state would be possible when the contingencies of history allow.” And why Sweden? In all of Europe, Spencer said, “It's almost like Sweden is the most alt-right.” Sweden’s leaders and major news outlets were caught completely off guard when Trump said at a February rally, “You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. … They took in large numbers [of immigrants]. They’re having problems like they never thought possible.”

There had been no terrorist attack the night before, Trump clarified on Twitter the next day. He was instead referring to a segment on Fox News with an American discussing his film claiming Swedish police were covering up a wave of immigrant crime. Swedish politicians and newspapers scrambled to disprove Trump’s assertion, but nationalist outlets were more than ready for a moment like this. Sweden had become a well-established punching bag for the American right, who view it as the pinnacle of progressive smugness and who delight in mocking trends like transgender-friendly restrooms and gender-neutral pronouns. When Sweden’s leaders welcomed refugees in 2014 and 2015, it offered the perfect laboratory for the American right to prove that progressive idealism would inevitably cause disaster at the hands of Muslim immigrants.

“There is a sort of sick interest there, but there is also, I believe, an unconscious desire among many in the Alt-Right for them to be made an example of,” said Andrew Anglin, of the unapologetically racist website the Daily Stormer, who had been describing this refugee policy as genocide against Swedes as far back as 2013. “Sweden is set to be the first white country to commit suicide through immigration. ... The Islamic revolutions in Europe are going to be very painful, and they are going to be bloody, and I think that after one has taken place, the populations in the rest of Europe and in the diaspora will be ready for reevaluating what we are doing to our countries and why we are doing it.” Most anti-immigrant conservatives would repudiate Anglin’s brand of trolling racism, but even they often single out Sweden as a warning to the West.

Breitbart has produced hundreds of stories about Sweden in the past several years, with headlines like “Sweden ‘Facing Collapse’ Thanks to Migrant Influx, Foreign Minister Warns” and “Europe’s Rape Epidemic: Western Women Will Be Sacrificed at the Altar of Mass Migration.” Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton and then-representative Mike Pompeo (who is now CIA director) published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal after a visit to Scandinavia in 2016, writing that Sweden’s “radical policy occurred with little debate because political correctness pervades Sweden” and that “Sweden’s failures have been repeated in Germany, France, Austria and elsewhere.” Some in Sweden shared their views and felt their opinions were deliberately censored by the major news outlets.

So, like the American alt-right, they started building communities online. The Reddit-like platform Flashback had forums on immigration as early as 2007 with threads to highlight immigrant crimes and to denounce mainstream journalists as “racists who hate Swedes.” A recent study found that half of Swedes get their news from what are known as "alternative" sites, and 1 in 5 say they don’t trust the traditional media at all. (That’s about the same level of distrust as the Pew Research Center found in the US last July.) The problem for those who had been certain Sweden would implode is that neither law enforcement nor news outlets ever reported a crisis. Swedish officials and mainstream newspapers say that’s because there isn’t data showing that immigration had caused a major spike in crime.

Immigration opponents say there is a cover-up — they claim trends in the same statistics actually show a spike in crime. And they see the fact that the police don’t report the national origin of criminal suspects as evidence that officials are intentionally hiding the problem. This turned the debate into a fight of anecdotal reporting. Mainstream newspapers didn’t pay a lot of attention to isolated crimes — whether car burnings or sexual assaults — because they don’t see them as part of a bigger news story. New outlets also don’t routinely report a suspect’s ethnicity or national origin, in keeping with ethics guidelines that say not to include such information when it is "irrelevant." So alternative sites started writing about them one by one, feeding the idea that the mainstream media has been covering up the truth.

One of the biggest of these alternative outlets is called Avpixlat — which means “unpixelated” — a name that takes a dig at what immigration opponents say is a key tactic in covering up immigrant crimes: News outlets generally pixelate the images of alleged criminals, a practice intended to avoid libeling someone who might turn out to be innocent. Critics say they’re trying to hide skin color, which might reveal a suspect's ethnic background. “The media establishment in Sweden is totally liberal-left,” said Avpixlat publisher Mats Dagerlind during a March interview in his apartment overlooking downtown Stockholm. His shoulder-length blonde hair and earrings give him the look of an aging rocker — he plays bass and has a home recording studio — and he wears a Hammer of Thor around his neck, a symbol used by revivalists of ancient Nordic religion and an emblem sometimes used by white supremacists. “We accuse establishment media for spreading fake news and they throw the accusation back at us,” Dagerlind said.

Avpixlat has published some unquestionably fake news, most recently when it ran a photograph of someone it claimed was the Uzbek man who crashed a truck into a crowd in central Stockholm in an April 7 terrorist attack that killed five people; the photo was of someone else entirely. It also recently published a column outlining a widespread anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jews conspired to promote multiculturalism in the 1960s so that Sweden would no longer be Swedish. Dagerlind said he felt Trump’s comments about Sweden and the international scrutiny that followed had helped them get the upper hand in the fight over whose news is fake. He felt they’d been painted as peddlers of a “big conspiracy theory in Sweden that the media isn’t reporting fairly,” but now that the debate has spilled over to the English-language media — whether it’s major TV outlets or Breitbart — it's impossible for them to be dismissed.

But Sweden’s leaders — and major media outlets — think this assertion is ridiculous. “They're painting a picture of, 'No one is listening to us, our agenda is not being referred to,' and so on — it's their way of treating themselves as victims in the debate,” Sweden’s immigration minister, Morgan Johansson, told BuzzFeed News. “Well, that's their narrative ... [but] no other issue has been more covered in the past years.” The leaders of the new right-wing media in the US and UK have been sending help to bolster like-minded Swedes. In the hours after Trump’s rally in February, Paul Joseph Watson, a popular British anti-Muslim YouTube personality and editor with the US site Infowars, offered to pay for any “journalist claiming Sweden is safe” to visit the country’s “crime ridden migrant suburbs.” Former Vice reporter Tim Pool took Watson’s money and used it to jump-start a crowdfunding campaign he’d launched for a project called “Investigating Swedish Crime Wave.”

Right-wing sites from Spencer’s brand-new Altright.com to Breitbart closely watched Pool’s daily dispatches, which at first showed Sweden’s immigrant suburbs to be pretty calm. Pool finally gave them a video to cheer about when the police stopped him from recording and escorted him from a Stockholm suburb — off camera, Pool said, men were beginning to put on masks and the police warned the situation could turn violent. Pool was being guided that day by Chang Frick of an alternative site called Nyheter Idag. Pool did not disclose that Frick had once been elected to a local office as a member of the nationalist Sweden Democrat party, or that Frick was asked to start Nyheter Idag by a senior Sweden Democrat member of Parliament named Kent Ekeroth. (Pool told BuzzFeed News these were facts he didn't know.)

The alternative media infrastructure in Sweden today is as big and fractious as the new right-wing media is in the US. It ranges from Nyheter Idag, which is less reflexively anti-immigrant and does real reporting on things like car burnings in Stockholm’s immigrant suburbs, to the more ideological and sensational Avpixlat. (The two sites often feud even though the MP Kent Ekeroth is directly involved in managing Avpixlat’s finances.) The largest of these sites today is called Fria Tider (Free Times) — which was created by a faction that broke from the Sweden Democrats after the party dropped its call for non-European immigrants to be removed from Sweden. The diverse alternative-media landscape has created an ecosystem where the most extreme ideas can flourish and break into the mainstream.

Take the case of Ingrid Carlqvist, whom Fox Business presented as a “Swedish columnist” in a segment on Feb. 21 after Trump’s Sweden remark. She once worked for mainstream papers, then moved on to “counter-jihadist” projects and collaborated with an editor of a Sweden Democrat–funded magazine. Carlqvist told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview from her home in southern Sweden that she is also compiling evidence that “Jewish leaders” were on the front lines of “changing Sweden from homogenous to multicultural society.” She also recently questioned the Holocaust on Twitter and was a guest on a podcast produced by a self-proclaimed Nazi organization. “We have to get as many Muslims as possible to want to move from Sweden,” she said in that broadcast. “After that, all politicians, journalists, organizations, and groups who contributed to making this possible will be put on trial ... for treason.”

She also is also producing a “Norse News” video series with Red Ice creator Henrik Palmgren, who serves as the AltRight Corporation’s media director. It’s not hard for Swedish alternative media figures to get their message into the international conversation, Palmgren told BuzzFeed News. “There are simply so many people on the international stage, America included, that are interested in what is happening in Sweden and why…you realize that even talking about the subject is going to give you an amount of listener and viewership that maybe another country wouldn’t do,” Palmgren said via Skype from his studio near Gothenburg, sporting a side-shave haircut like Spencer’s and a Hammer of Thor necklace like Dagerlind’s. The alternative media is fighting an “information war” against their government in the international press, he said.

“It’s part of the strategic battle, if you will — the war of ideas,” Palmgren said. “We’re a media outlet that provides a service, which is to give people an idea of what many of these, you know, ‘horrible evil people’ actually think and what they say.” One of the original “horrible evil people” of the Swedish internet, Daniel Friberg, is co-editing the new AltRight Corporation site with Richard Spencer. In a career spanning two decades, Friberg helped reshape the landscape of Swedish nationalism from a fringe world of skinheads to a multimedia movement that has transformed national politics. “Media organizations are the new structure of the [nationalist] scene — it’s not political parties, and it’s not record labels, and it’s not music magazines,” said University of Colorado professor Benjamin Teitelbaum, who charts the modern history of Swedish nationalism in his book Lions of the North. “You can trace the history of the radical right of the North just by looking at what [Friberg’s] done.”

Today, Friberg runs Arktos Media. He began his publishing career when he was just 18 years old, putting out a magazine under a pseudonym borrowed from a former leader of Sweden’s fascist party. But in the mid-2000s he embraced a new vision of white nationalism and discovered the power of the internet to get around established media. “I’m kind of the Bill Gates of the Swedish alt-right,” he quipped during a phone interview from Budapest, where he now lives. Swedish nationalist circles of the 1990s were mostly a fringe world of street gangs that openly displayed their Nazi and fascist sympathies. Friberg founded his first company, the Nordic Press, in 2001 to publish books, but its lifeblood was selling the “white power” records popular among skinheads, who saw themselves as the “foot soldiers” for the Sweden Democrats, a former leader told BuzzFeed News.

But Friberg came to believe that skinhead fashion was, in his words, “retarded” and that neo-Nazis’ “obsession with the second world war and the Third Reich” was “totally counterproductive.” He wanted a more intellectual kind of nationalism, one framed in a way that could gain traction in modern Sweden. Before nationalists could take political power, he believed, they first had to win the battle of ideas. And he arrived at this view just as the world was realizing the power social media had to upend public debate. Friberg’s political transformation came in 2004, when he discovered the same school of thought that shaped Spencer’s worldview in the US. Called “identitarianism,” its founders said they rejected racism and recast nationalism using the logic of multiculturalism turned inside out. They argued that Europeans — like everyone else — have a “right to difference” that is threatened by waves of immigrants.

“I don’t believe in white supremacy — I believe in ethnopluralism,” Friberg said. “It means that every people and every ethnic group in the world has a right to self-determination and autonomy without anyone being superior or trying to force their will upon them.”  Identitarians also put winning at what they called “metapolitics” — changing the debate — ahead of politics. Friberg made that his mission in the mid-2000s by launching several websites in quick succession. There was a social network called Nordisk, dedicated to “Nordic Culture,” that grew to 25,000 members before being supplanted by Facebook groups. There was a Wikipedia-style platform called Metapedia — with entries like one on the German Nazi party that omits mention of the Holocaust — that’s now published in 18 languages. He also started an “online think tank” called Motpol — a name translating to “antithesis” — which was read by at least some Sweden Democrat leaders, who started talking about “metapolitics” themselves.

Mattias Karlsson, who now heads the Sweden Democrats in Parliament, has said that he liked early Motpol slogans, like “100% identity — 0% hate,” and shared the site's articles with the party’s top official. Karlsson is one of the leaders who helped the Sweden Democrats win its first seats in Parliament in 2010 after the party rebranded itself as a “social conservative party with a nationalist foundation.” This vision leaves open the possibility that people of immigrant backgrounds can fully assimilate if their numbers are kept down. This is far more flexible than Friberg’s “ethnopluralism,” and Karlsson called Friberg a “fascist” during a spat in 2015. But Friberg helped teach the movement how to hijack the language of diversity to rebrand nationalism.

The Sweden Democrats are now number two in the polls. Their meteoric rise owes much to real-world events; even the most left-wing parties agreed the borders needed to be closed and new immigration restrictions adopted in 2016. A poll released after the Stockholm truck attack in April showed the party would get 19% of the vote if the election were held today, giving them a shot at being part of the next government. But the party learned important lessons from Friberg. It saw that its rise was helped by the alternative media’s assault on the mainstream press, and even got into the game itself by funding a number of outlets of their own. Friberg’s impact has been such that even the Nazis, who saw Friberg as a traitor for adopting the watered-down nationalism of identitarianism, have learned to speak his language.

Magnus Söderman — who led Sweden’s largest Nazi organization, the Nordic Resistance Movement, in the mid-2000s — told BuzzFeed News that he had “a real concern: [The identitarians were] going to take all these young people and put themselves in front of their computers — how will they be able to stand up for themselves?” But now Söderman, who left the Nordic Resistance Movement in 2012, has become a creature of the internet with a website and podcast of his own. The Nordic Resistance Movement itself has not entirely abandoned old-school street tactics — several of its members were arrested in connection with bombing a refugee center in January — but it is now often known best by the name of its website, Nordfront.

In December, Palmgren invited two of Nordfront's leaders onto a Red Ice podcast to promote their first podcast in English, which they say is intended to “normalize National Socialism.” “The globalists have done everything they can over the decades now to keep people away from ... this ideology,” Palmgren said during that broadcast. But Palmgren and his guests were hopeful that new media outlets worldwide were finally giving them the chance to be heard. “You can’t just politically change things in one country and then turn around. … They need to be shown the truth.”

Just before Spencer was punched on Inauguration Day, he’d been asked, “Are you like the hipster version of the neo-Nazi movement?” Spencer wants the alt-right to be seen as something entirely new; he said, “Neo-Nazis don’t love me; they kind of hate me, actually.” Friberg has the same concerns and said he was uncomfortable with Palmgren’s broadcasts with the Nordic Resistance Movement. But, Friberg said, “The alternative right is kind of a big-tent movement.” His plan with Spencer and Palmgren for the AltRight Corporation is to provide a hub that can bring white nationalists together worldwide. “We wanted to create something global,” Friberg said. “Who better to do that than us?”
© Buzzfeed

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Sweden: Anger over neo-Nazis’ May Day march

A May Day demonstration by the militant neo-Nazi group the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) in Falun elicited strong reactions from Swedes celebrating the traditional workers’ holiday on Monday.

1/5/2017- The NRM march was one of six demonstrations in the central Swedish town of Falun on Monday, with a couple hundred supporters of the neo-Nazi group marching through the heart of the city. The group was part of as many as 5,000 participants who had turned out for a traditional May 1st celebration and was greeted by counter-demonstrators along the route. Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist blasted the group’s presence in Falun, saying that NRM represents “crimes against humanity”. “This is an important day for our society and resistance against the Nazis,” Hultqvist said. “One can question whether it is fair that May Day has to take place with a police presence in order for people to feel safe.” NRM has participated in May Day demonstrations before, including last year in Borlänge when an image of one woman’s defiant resistance to the group went viral. NRM also made news last month when it was announced that the militant neo-Nazi group will attend Sweden’s iconic political event Almedalen Week.

Officials in Falun took measures to keep Monday’s demonstration safe, including removing all loose items from outside of stores along the route. “We feel safe. The police have a routine for handling these situations,” city leader Patricia Granhagen said. Around 200 police officers were on hand on Monday, roughly the same number that monitored NRM’s May Day demonstration in Borlänge last year. Karl-Erik Pettersson, a high-profile Social Democrat in Falun, expressed anger on Monday morning that the neo-Nazis were overshadowing a day meant to recognize workers’ rights. “It is horrendous and a threat to our democracy that a party that does not stand for the equal rights of all people is given an opportunity to be seen on this day meant for the labour movement. But our parade will be bigger than ever,” he said.

Dalarna county governor Ylva Thörn said she had “mixed feelings” about NRM being allowed to participate in the May Day celebrations but that the group’s presence may spur others to reflect about Sweden’s open democratic society and not let it succumb to “dark forces”. Mikael Mogren, a bishop at a church passed by the neo-Nazi march through Falun, said NRM’s presence would not affect the church’s message of openness and diversity. “There is a seriousness in the air. Not only in Falun but throughout the world. Out here on the square it is like a militarized zone with a lot of police. But the church is a sacred space for fellowship and we will have a fine service,” he said.

Swedish anti-racism foundation Expo warned last year that NRM was mobilizing and recruiting new members. Expo studied the background of 159 of the organization's most active members and found that 26 percent had been charged with violence or weapon offences in 2015. According to Expo, more than half of the activists (56 percent) had at some point been convicted of some form of criminal offence. In almost a fourth of the cases the sentence included time in jail.
© The Local - Sweden

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Sweden mosque damaged in suspected arson attack

1/5/2017- Swedish police said Monday they suspected arson in connection with an overnight fire that damaged a Shiite mosque near the capital, Stockholm. The Imam Ali Islamic Centre in Jarfalla, a municipality north-west of Stockholm, said in a post on Facebook that about one-fourth of the building was destroyed. No one was injured in the blaze that appeared to have started on one of the outer walls, according to police who have opened an investigation into arson. Fire fighters were quickly at the scene after the alert was sounded late Sunday. Earlier in the evening, several hundred people had attended a gathering in the building. "We are very disappointed. This is the largest Shiite Muslim mosque in Sweden with thousands of members," spokesman Akil Zahiri told Swedish broadcaster SVT.

He expressed shock and sorrow over the incident, and said many members of the congregation were worried. "If the police conclude it was arson, it is key that we step up security measures but we will wait for their findings," Zahiri said. The mosque had previously installed security cameras. Zahiri declined to comment if the mosque had been subjected to recent threats. The centre also houses a library as well as youth and culture associations. The centre said it had cancelled all planned activities until Thursday. The association that runs the mosque was formed in 1997.
© DPA

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Bosnia: Ethnic Quota for Maths Olympiad Sparks Anger

An advertisement announcing a mathematics competition for schoolchildren which sets an ethnic quota for participants has angered critics of Bosnia’s post-war divisions.

1/5/2017- An advertisement announcing Bosnia’s Mathematical Olympiad, which is to take place on May 13-14, has caused uproar because it sets ethnic conditions for applications. According to the advertisement, 20 Bosniak and 10 Croat high school students from the Bosniak-Croat Federation, as well as 15 students from the Serb-dominated territory of Repulika Srpska, may compete. The six best participants will qualify to compete at the International Mathematical Olympiad in July this year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the ad promises. Aleksandra Letic, secretary-general to the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Republika Srpska, said the requirements are “not only nonsense, but something that should alarm everyone” in the country. “This is simply unacceptable. It is unacceptable in terms of civilisation, as well as in terms of basic intellect,” she told BIRN.

Bosnian students have the right to be educated according to their ‘national’ (ethnic) curriculum – which means they study their own language (Bosnian, Serbian or Croatian), and several subjects are taught differently according to their ethnicity, such as religion and history. A quota of national representation is also a very familiar requirement for Bosnians – as the country’s whole political system relies on it. It is commonly known as the ‘national key’. “How can you have a mathx competition in which you have to be classified under any national key? One may understand it if this was about religion or language, because we have a group of subjects under national curriculums, but mathematics?” Letic said in disbelief. Those who had put the advertisement together say the quota has nothing to do with ethnic identity but just reflected the way the competition is organised in the Bosniak-Croat Federation.

In order to participate in the state-level competition, students must prove their knowledge at lower-level competitions. The entities each have their own. But according to the president of the Union of Mathematicians in Republika Srpska, Vidan Govedarica, there were two separate competitions held in the Bosniak-Croat Federation. “This is due to the division of this country, the way it is set up,” he told media. “The competitions are separate, one of them is conducted in the Bosniak part, and the other in the Croat part [of the Federation entity],” he told local news organization N1. The Sarajevo Association of Mathematicians issued a statement confirming the complicated system of competition is due to the divided education system in Bosnia. It said that each year, all schools from all cantons in the Federation are invited to participate in one competition and the 20 best qualify for the state-level competition.

But most schools that teach according to the Croat national education plan never apply for it. They organise their own, and the 10 best qualify for the state competition. The Association of Mathematicians said it believed that its Serb counterparts, who created the advertisement, simply made an unconscious mistake in formulating it in this way. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, has been advocating the elimination of ethnic segregation in schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina for decades. “We believe the students should be assessed based on their knowledge in mathematics, and not based on a national key,” Zeljka Sulc, a spokesperson for the OSCE, told BIRN. In the latest country report put together by the Council of Europe, educational segregation was named as one of the factors preventing Bosnia and Herzegovina from advancing toward EU membership. “All forms of segregation in schools should end… A common core curriculum should be fully applied and further developed,” the February 2017 report recommended.

Letic also criticised the system and urged an end to educational segregation. “This just shows how crazy we are as a society, that we would simply accept this,” she said.
© Balkan Insight

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Austria: Every woman should wear a hijab to protest Islamophobia, says President

'It is every woman’s right to always dress how she wants, that is my opinion on the matter'

29/4/2017- The President of Austria has called for all women to wear headscarves in solidarity with Muslims to fight “rampant Islamophobia”. Alexander Van der Bellen, the left-wing former Green Party leader who narrowly beat a far-right candidate to take office in January, said freedom of expression was a fundamental right. “It is every woman’s right to always dress how she wants, that is my opinion on the matter,” he told an audience of school pupils. “And it is not only Muslim women, all women can wear a headscarf, and if this real and rampant Islamophobia continues, there will come a day where we must ask all women to wear a headscarf – all – out of solidarity to those who do it for religious reasons.” Mr Van der Bellen was responding to a question from a schoolgirl who argued a ban on Islamic headscarves or veils would reduce women to their appearance, rather than accomplishments, and shut some out of the labour market.

His comments were made in March but emerged after being broadcast on Austrian television, amid debate in the country and neighbouring Germany about “burqa bans”. A spokesperson said that following Isis-linked terror attacks across Europe, Mr Van der Bellen would like to see Muslim representatives in Austria make “clearer statements” emphasising that the atrocities could not be justified within Islam. “He also warned against ‘racism from the other side’, giving the example of a Muslim taxi driver refusing to take Orthodox Jews,” a statement said, adding: “This is absolutely unacceptable.” The President’s office said he believed prohibitions were only justified in select circumstances, such as for female judges, where religious dress could raise questions over their professional neutrality. Mr Van der Bellen would apply any restrictions to all religious symbols equally, including Christian crosses and Jewish kippas.

Despite the President’s left-wing background, the Austrian government is a coalition between the centrist Social Democratic Party and conservative Austrian People's Party. The populist Freedom Party of Austria has pushed for policies including a partial ban on full-face Islamic veils in courts, schools and other public places, which was announced in January. The partial prohibition, which has not yet come into effect, would apply to the niqab and burqa but not headscarves (hijabs), which cover the hair and neck only. But the government also agreed to prevent police officers, judges, magistrates and public prosecutors from wearing headscarves in the interest of appearing “ideologically and religiously neutral”. Thousands of people took Vienna’s streets to protest the proposed legislation, which was dismissed as a knee-jerk reaction to appease the far-right as the coalition floundered.

Debates over restrictions on Islamic veils have reignited in Europe following a wave of terror attacks and the refugee crisis, which sparked concern over integration. The German parliament voted in support of a draft law banning women working in the civil service, judiciary and military from wearing the burqa and niqab on Thursday. Thomas de Maiziere, the German interior minister, argued that the ban was compatible with integration, which “means that we should make clear and impart our values and where the boundaries of our tolerance towards other cultures lie”. Angela Merkel announced her support for the move in December, saying full-face veils were “not acceptable in Germany” and calling them to be banned “wherever it is legally possible”.

Dutch MPs voted for a similar prohibition in the Netherlands last year, covering public transport, education, healthcare and government buildings and punishing any infractions with fines. Support for bans on full-face veils has been growing across Europe since France became the first country to implement such a law in 2011, followed by countries including Belgium and Bulgaria, with partial bans being imposed in Austria and parts of Spain, Italy and Switzerland.
© The Independent

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Slovakia: far-right party faces prosecution for '1488' donation

The far-right People's Party of Slovakia (¼SNS) distributed three cheques worth €1,488 each to mark the anniversary of the wartime Slovak State.

4/5/2017- Police have confirmed on May 3, that the National Criminal Agency (NAKA) has opened a criminal prosecution concerning the three cheques that ¼SNS distributed to socially disadvantaged families on March 14, to mark the anniversary of the establishment of the wartime Slovak State. Spokesman for the Police Corps Presidium, Martin Wäldl, confirmed the information, first published by the news website aktuality.sk. The party is suspected of allegiance to the well-known neo-Nazi symbol 1488. The number 14 represents the sentence "We must secure the existence of our people and the future of white children”, attributed to the American racist, David Lane. The sentence has 14 words and this figure is often used as a neo-Nazi symbol, together with 88, which refers to the Nazi greeting Heil Hitler – with H being the eighth letter of the alphabet, the SITA newswire wrote. The prosecution have cited the misdemeanor of demonstrating sympathy for a movement aimed at suppressing fundamental rights and freedoms and the case was launched on March 21, Wäldl confirmed. On the anniversary of the establishment of the wartime Slovak State, March 14, the ¼SNS celebrated with a gala-programme, the wartime anthem Hej, Slováci, and a charitable donation: chairman Marian Kotleba gave three cheques worth €1,488 each, to three families in need.
© The Slovak Spectator.

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Slovakia: Police Charge Two Lawmakers From Far-Right Party With Extremism

29/4/2017- Slovakia's police said on Saturday they have charged two members of parliament from a far-right People's Party-Our Slovakia with extremism for hate speech against the Roma, the Jews and Islam. If found guilty, they are facing up to six years in prison, according to the penal code. 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. In an electoral shock, the far-right People's Party-Our Slovakia entered the Slovak parliament for the first time last year after winning 8 percent of the vote in March's election. Even though Slovakia has seen little immigration analysts have explained the success of anti-system parties by rising public anger over graft scandals linked to traditional parties.

The party openly admires Jozef Tiso, leader of the 1939-1945 Nazi puppet state who allowed tens of thousands of Slovak Jews to be deported to Nazi death camps and was tried for treason after the war. It is also hostile to Slovakia's Roma minority. Its lawmaker Stanislav Mizik is facing charges for publishing on a social network a list of "people of Jewish origin and admirers of Roma" among people who were given state honors by President Andrej Kiska earlier this year. The police have also searched his office in the parliament earlier this week. Mizik received a 1,000 euro fine for breaching parliamentary standards by calling Islam "satanic" in February. Another of the party's lawmakers, Milan Mazurek, has said on social media that the history of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust had been "distorted".

Slovakia formed a special police unit to fight extremism in February in charge of crimes related to support and the funding of terrorism and extremism, hate crimes and hate speech, both online and offline. Leftist Prime Minister Robert Fico has been also criticized by human rights groups and socialist colleagues in the European Parliament for refusing to accept the EU quotas on accepting refugees and for saying in a May 2016 interview "there is no space for Islam in Slovakia".
© Reuters

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Hungary charges 11 over 71 migrant deaths in Austrian lorry

4/5/2017- The driver of a truck in which 71 migrants were found dead beside an Austrian motorway heard their cries for help as their oxygen ran out but followed an order to keep them locked up, Hungarian prosecutors said on Thursday. Prosecutors said in a statement they had charged 11 people in connection with the August 2015 deaths, four with murder and all 11 with human trafficking. The four men participated in the transport of the 71 migrants directly, and the rest were involved in sustaining a network that made hundreds of thousands of euros from human smuggling, said the prosecutors' office of Bacs-Kiskun county, where the truck began its journey. Finding clients among the hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants that crossed the Balkans in 2015, the gang made at least 31 trips across the Hungary-Austria border between February and August. They often carried people "in closed, dark and airless vans unsuitable for passenger transport, in crowded, inhuman, excruciating conditions," the prosecution statement said.

In all, the gang moved more than 1,200 refugees to Western Europe and its Afghan boss earned at least 300,000 euros ($330,000). Recounting details of what they called the "death lorry", prosecutors said that, around half an hour after departure, the migrants indicated with bangs and cries that they were running out of oxygen. They were heard by the driver of the truck and its reconnaissance vehicle. "They reported the problem to the Afghan head of the criminal organization who ordered them several times not to open the door of the container hold... (They) complied with the instructions," the prosecution statement said. After a three-hour journey, the driver left the truck on the hard shoulder of the A4 highway in Austria and returned to Hungary in the reconnaissance car. The following day, the gang smuggled another 67 migrants across the border, again using an unventilated, closed refrigerator lorry. "This time the migrants were able to kick down the door of the container hold, so no one died," prosecutors said.

They identified the gang leader as a 30-year-old Afghan man, who paid for the operation and organized the transports. A 31-year-old Bulgarian was the head of the human smuggling ring and its two Bulgarian drivers. Prosecutors are seeking life sentences for the four men, who they charged with murder. Under Hungary' judicial system, a judge will now decide whether to proceed to trial on the basis of the prosecution evidence. Nine of the 11 charged are in custody and the other two are being sought by police.
© Reuters

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Hungary completes second anti-migrant fence

Hungary said Friday it has completed a second anti-migrant fence on the Serbian border, a "smart" barrier with night cameras, heat and movement sensors and speakers blaring warnings in five languages.

29/4/2017- "Hungary is defending its border, and the Schengen zone at the same time," Karoly Kontrat, an interior ministry state secretary, told a press conference in Roszke beside the fence on Hungary's southern frontier. More than 400,000 migrants passed through Hungary in 2015 before a first fence was built and a deal between the European Union and Turkey and other measures dramatically slowed down the influx. But Budapest says that the new two-metre (6.5-foot) high fence, an external border of Europe's Schengen zone, is to prepare for an expected increase in numbers later this year and a possible breakdown of the EU-Turkey accord. Kontrat also said the bloc had failed to set up hotspots for asylum-seekers in Libya or turn back boats carrying migrants headed for Europe from Africa. The fence, made of NATO-standard welded wire, was erected by 700 prisoners.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in a radio interview Friday that the strengthened border fence system would "ensure Hungary's security for a long time". Orban, who has called immigration "poison" and a "Trojan horse of terrorism", has been criticised by Brussels and rights groups in Hungary and abroad for his tough anti-migrant line. A law enabling the automatic detention of all asylum-seekers entering the country in "transit-zone" camps -- people can leave only if they return to Serbia -- comprising shipping containers came into force last month.

Separately this week the EU launched legal action against Hungary over legislation that critics say targets the Central European University in Budapest, a highly respected postgraduate university founded by billionaire George Soros. Orban on Friday called the Hungarian-born Soros, 86, who funds myriad non-governmental organisations throughout the region, a "public enemy" seeking to undermine Europe by promoting immigration.
© AFP

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News from Italy, Germany, UK & France - Week 18

France: 'Fake news' makes headlines in pres. campaign days before election

Forged documents claiming that frontrunner Emmanuel Macron owned an offshore account in the Caribbean have been debunked, but concerns are high that such false allegations could influence the vote.

4/5/2017- Days ahead of Sunday's runoff vote between centrist Emmanuel Macron and his far-right rival Marine Le Pen, "fake news" briefly took center stage in the French presidential election. Speaking during their only one-on-one debate Wednesday, Ms. Le Pen told her rival: "I hope we won't find out you have an offshore account in the Bahamas."She appeared to be referencing two sets of apparent forgeries, published a couple of hours before Wednesday's heated showdown, that purported to show that Mr. Macron was somehow involved with a Caribbean bank and a firm based on the island of Nevis. Le Pen quickly backed away from the suggestion as the rumors were debunked the next day.

The documents are obvious fakes: the "M'' in Macron's purported signature didn't match his genuine sign-off, and whoever wrote the documents appeared confused as to whether the firm in question was a limited company or a limited liability corporation. Metadata embedded in the document suggest it was created just before being posted online – undermining the anonymous poster's claim to have circulated the documents to "hundreds of French journalists" who had "all sat on this." Asked Thursday on BFM TV whether she was formally accusing Macron of having a secret offshore account, Le Pen said: "Not at all. If I wanted to do so I would have done it yesterday. I've just asked him the question. If I had proof, I would have claimed it yesterday. "Macron's camp said the former investment banker was victim of a "cyber misinformation campaign."

Speaking on France Inter radio, Macron blamed Le Pen for spreading "fake news" and said he never held a bank account "in any tax haven whatsoever." "All this is factually inaccurate," Macron said. Le Pen and Macron face off in the presidential runoff Sunday. The latest opinion polls show the pro-EU Macron holding a strong lead over his far-right rival ahead of Sunday's vote. The election has been shot through with fears by some that outside forces would somehow interfere. Despite slim evidence supporting such claims, French commentators have become highly sensitive to rumors and conspiracies and the networks that disseminate them. The provenance of the latest conspiracy theory isn't clear, but there are hints tying the faked documents to far-right circles in California.

One of the documents, for example, purports to have been drawn up under the laws of Nevis but actually draws some of its language from a guide to forming limited liability companies in California. The documents first appeared on Mixtape, a relatively new northern California-based file sharing service. And the Macron campaign identified the first tweet referring to the documents as coming from the Twitter account of Nathan Damigo, a far-right activist and convicted felon also based out of northern California. Mr. Damigo recently won a measure of social media notoriety for punching a female anti-fascist militant in the face at a protest in Berkeley and had recently promoted French far-right content online. Messages left with Damigo weren't immediately returned.

French media unanimously criticized the poor quality of the only face-to-face televised debate between the two contenders. Le Pen got most of the blame for dragging the conversation down and opting for aggression from the start. She defended her aggressive stance on Thursday, saying a "severe" tone was required because "what is at stake is essential."
© The Associated Press

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France election: Le Pen attacks Macron as 'candidate of continuity'

Far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has accused her pro-EU centrist rival Emmanuel Macron of being the "candidate of continuity".

1/5/2017- She linked Mr Macron to the unpopular current President, Francois Hollande, in whose cabinet he once served. Mr Macron, who holds a rally later, earlier told the BBC the EU must reform or face the prospect of "Frexit". He is currently 20 percentage points ahead of Ms Le Pen in the polls ahead of Sunday's second round of voting. France is on high alert as traditional May Day protests, on the left and the right, get under way. Although five big unions have urged their members not to vote for National Front (FN) leader Ms Le Pen, only two have expressed their support for Mr Macron. Earlier, Ms Le Pen's estranged 88-year-old father and the founder of the FN attended the party's traditional May Day event beside the statue of Joan of Arc, a long-time FN icon.

Marine Le Pen has sought to modernise the FN in recent years and at her rally in Paris, she called herself the candidate of change, belief and action. She launched a full-throttled attack on Mr Macron, calling him the candidate of "a morbid continuity, littered with the corpses of jobs transferred off-shore, the ruins of bust businesses, and the gaping holes of deficit and debt". Ms Le Pen, 48, has capitalised on anti-EU feeling, and has promised a referendum on France's membership. She has won support in rural and former industrial areas by promising to retake control of France's borders from the EU and slash immigration.

Mr Macron, the 39-year-old leader of the recently created En Marche! movement, earlier told the BBC that though he believed the European Union was still "extremely important for French people" it needed to change. "We have to face the situation, to listen to our people, and to listen to the fact that they are extremely angry today, impatient and the dysfunction of the EU is no more sustainable. "So I do consider that my mandate, the day after, will be at the same time to reform in depth the European Union and our European project." Mr Macron added that if he were to allow the EU to continue to function as it was it would be a "betrayal". "And I don't want to do so," he said. "Because the day after, we will have a Frexit or we will have [Ms Le Pen's] National Front (FN) again."
© BBC News.

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France: Marine Le Pen lays wreath at Holocaust memorial

30/4/2017- Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate in France’s presidential election, visited a Holocaust memorial in Marseille days after news that her choice for interim party head had denied aspects of the Holocaust. On Sunday, Le Pen laid a wreath at a memorial in Marseille to French victims of the Holocaust. The memorial was erected in memory of 30 Jewish women and children who were rounded up by the Gestapo in 1943. In 1954, the French government dedicated the last Sunday in April as the National Day of Remembrance of the Victims and Heroes of Deportation. There was no media present at Le Pen’s wreath laying. A campaign worker later tweeted a picture of the ceremony. Earlier this month, Le Pen came under fire for saying that her country is not responsible for the deportation of thousands of Jews to death camps in 1942. “I think generally, and in very general terms indeed, if anyone is responsible, then it is those in power at the time, not France as such. It wasn’t France,” she said.

Jean-François Jalkh was replaced two days after temporarily taking Le Pen’s place at the helm of the National Front Party last week ahead of the May 7 runoff in the presidential election. A day earlier, an interview from 2000 with the Le Monde daily newspaper surfaced in which Jalkh was quoted as questioning the use of the Zyklon B poison by Nazis during the Holocaust to kill Jews. “Personally, I think that it is impossible from a technical point of view to use for mass extermination,” he said of the use of Zyklon B in gas chambers. “Why? Because it takes several days for a place where Zyklon B was used to be decontaminated.” Jalkh told Le Monde that he did not recall the interview and had no memory of making such statements.
© JTA News.

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France: Macron and Le Pen Head into Final Week of Campaigning

About to enter the final week of campaigning, French Presidential candidates, Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron each find themselves facing last-minute challenges.

29/4/2017- For Le Pen, it’s the looming spectre of xenophobia while Macron continues to struggle with his elitist image. Despite stepping down as leader of the National Front (FN) party, ostensibly to focus on her campaign, their choice of a replacement didn’t help her shake claims of xenophobia. Jean-Francois Jalkh, named as the party’s interim leader, has already stepped down before even starting the job amid renewed controversy fueled by past comments he made questioning the Holocaust. He is vigorously denying any association with Holocaust deniers. Critics had seen Le Pen’s move as a bid to court a broader range of voters ahead of the May 7th vote, by distancing herself from the National Front’s image of anti-semitic and racist associations.

For Macron’s campaign director, Richard Ferrand, it’s time for French voters to take a good, hard look at Le Pen and her party. “There comes a time when the women and men of France must open their eyes to where the National Front comes from,” he said. At a press conference Saturday, Le Pen announced Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who finished fourth in the election’s first round of voting, as her choice for Prime Minister should she be elected President. “We will form a government of national unity that brings together people chosen for their competence and their love of France,” the presidential hopeful said. Though the alliance might prove successful in courting additional right-wing support for Le Pen, analysts are also predicting it could push leftist voters further into centrist Macron’s camp.

Campaigning in Poitiers on Saturday, Emmanuel Macron listened to farmers who complained about what they called unfair EU competition forcing low prices on their products. Once marginalized in France, the alt-right has seen a resurgence in France’s rural areas where farmers feel forgotten by the traditional politicians Macron represents. In a radio interview, the En Marche! candidate also addressed ongoing complaints regarding poor internet and phone service in rural areas, promising to give providers 18 months to upgrade their fibre optics throughout the French countryside. “I will give them 18 months to finish these deployment, be it fibre optic or 3G/4G. If at the end of these 18 months, they have not fulfilled their responsibility, the state will substitute itself in their place to do this, within the framework of the investment plan I’ve decided.” Asked during the same interview who his choice for prime minister would be, Macron was noncommittal, saying only that he has “profiles, people in mind.”

As for endorsements, Macron isn’t exactly feeling the political love. While far-left candidate, Jean-Luc Melenchon, openly declared he will not be supporting Le Pen, he stopped short of openly endorsing Macron. Polls are still showing Macron in the lead heading into the final week of campaigning but also acknowledge that Le Pen has gained some modest ground, making Macron’s lead far from a comfortable one.
© Morocco World News

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Le Pen, Putin, Trump: a disturbing axis, or just a mutual admiration society?

The French presidential hopeful has made no secret of her admiration for Russia’s strongman leader, but her relationship with Trump is less clearcut

29/4/2017- The week after Donald Trump won the US presidential election last November, Marine Le Pen was inaugurating the headquarters of her own election campaign in Paris, less than a mile from the Elysée Palace she hopes to move into soon. The far-right, anti-immigration Front National leader had been the only French political leader to back Trump in his bid for the White House. She has also made no secret of her admiration for Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin. Unveiling her campaign symbol, a blue rose, she said that her election as France’s president would form a trio of world leaders that “will be good for world peace”, leading “a worldwide movement that rejects unchecked globalisation, destructive ultra-liberalism, the elimination of nation states, the disappearance of borders”.

Last month, Le Pen was in Moscow for a personal audience with Putin. “A new world has emerged in these past years,” she said. “It’s the world of Vladimir Putin, it’s the world of Donald Trump in the US. I share with these great nations a vision of cooperation, not of submission.” Clearly, there is ideological common ground between the three leaders: variations on a theme of nation-first politics, support for economic protectionism and immigration controls, mistrust of international alliances and institutions such as Nato or the EU, and a rejection of globalism and the liberal consensus. But Le Pen’s actual ties with the two leaders differ significantly. With Russia, at least, they go beyond the ideological to the personal and the practical. Her meeting with Putin in March was reported to be their first; but according to French investigative journalists, it is possibly their third.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father and an admirer of authoritarianism and ultra-nationalism, told the BBC in an interview recorded before last month that his daughter had previously met the Russian president, and her former foreign affairs adviser Aymeric Chauprade said in 2014 unofficial talks had taken place. Unless she thinks media attention will serve her, Le Pen’s trips abroad are often conducted discreetly. She has, though, visited Russia in 2011 – when she told the daily Kommersant: “I won’t hide that, in a certain sense, I admire Vladimir Putin” – and in June 2013 and April 2014. Front National aides and MEPs have been to Moscow far more often – and two ruling-party Russian MPs were honoured guests at the 2014 party conference that re-elected Le Pen party leader with a 100% mandate.

In further shows of sympathy, Le Pen has called for “completely stupid” EU sanctions against Russia to be lifted, said there was “no invasion” of Crimea because it had “always been Russian”, and argued Ukraine had undergone “a coup d’état”. Nor has the party been shy about accepting Russian money, on the grounds that no French bank will lend to it. The party borrowed €9m in 2014 from the First Czech Russian Bank (which later lost its licence) and acknowledged seeking €3m from Russia’s Strategy bank in 2016. The FN has always denied the Russian loans had bought Moscow any influence with the party. Le Pen told Le Monde the suggestion was “ridiculous” and “outrageous”, adding: “So because we get a loan, that dictates our foreign policy? We’ve held this [pro-Russian] line for a long time.”

There seems little doubt that for its part, Russia is attempting to influence the outcome of France’s presidential election, whose final round on 7 May will pit Le Pen against the independent centrist Emmanuel Macron. Current polls suggest she will lose. Japanese cyber-security group Trend Micro said in a 41-page report this week that the Russian hackers known as Pawn Storm, Fancy Bear or APT28 – thought by US spy agencies and private cyber-security firms to be an arm of Russian intelligence – had targeted Macron’s En Marche! using exactly the same tactics employed against the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in the operation which US authorities believe helped sway the election in Trump’s favour.

Macron’s campaign team confirmed they had been the target of at least five sophisticated cyber-attacks since January aimed at accessing sensitive data. “Emmanuel Macron is the only candidate in the French presidential campaign to be targeted,” the campaign said in a statement. “It’s no coincidence.” Le Pen’s relations with Trump are less clearcut. She has said she would have voted for him if she could, and he has come close to endorsing her, telling AP on the eve of the first round that the far-right leader was “the strongest on borders, and the strongest on what’s been going on in France”. In January, Le Pen was photographed drinking coffee in Trump Tower with her partner, the party’s vice-president Louis Aliot, and Guido “George” Lombardi, a businessman neighbour of Trump’s who has portrayed himself as a kind of European far-right fixer for the president.

Lombardi was known to have held a fundraising party for the Front National the previous evening, and most of the efforts by Le Pen’s entourage in the US are so far believed to have been directed towards securing much-needed contributions to party funds. But Trump and Le Pen did not meet, staff from both sides have insisted. Nor did the Front National’s European affairs adviser, Ludovic de Danne, or its US representative, Denis Franceskin, get to see Trump in November, when Lombardi invited them to Trump Tower for the election night party. The FN representatives were told the president-elect did not have security clearance to come down to the lobby. But in pre-election remarks to the Hollywood Reporter, Trump said there was “no common ground to be explored” with Europe’s far right and he did not want to “establish alliances beyond the Atlantic”.

Some of his backers are less reticent. Le Pen has met leading Trump supporters including congressman Steve King, a Republican from Iowa who has courted controversy for making incendiary comments about immigrants. And while Steve Bannon’s star may now be waning, the former Breitbart CEO and Trump’s chief strategist has made no secret of his admiration for the French far right. Bannon told French website Radio Londres last summer that he saw Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, Le Pen’s niece, as “the new rising star”, and predicted France’s 2017 elections would be “historic”. Maréchal-Le Pen has praised “alternative media” and said she would be delighted to work with Breitbart if it opened a Paris bureau, as it has promised – but so far failed – to do.

Bannon has also drawn inspiration from some of the Front National’s favourite literature, including the works of Charles Maurras, a far-right Catholic theorist seen as the founding father of French ultra-nationalism, and Jean Raspail, author of The Camp of the Saints, a highly controversial 1973 novel depicting a France submerged by immigration and often described as racist. The far-right candidate is also backed by a ruthless, highly organised and very popular web and social media campaign that echoes the successful online agitprop techniques used by Trump’s “alt-right” supporters during the US presidential campaign. US-based far-right internet warriors are reportedly helping out by pretending to be French. Le Pen herself, however, seems to think that if the Trump-Le Pen nexus is an inspiration for anyone, it is for the US president. “I do not take Trump as a model,” she told La Voix du Nord newspaper in January. “He is the one who is applying what I have been proposing for years.”
© The Guardian.

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UK: Russian newspaper attacks 'gay-friendly' Manchester

Russia's best-selling newspaper has called Manchester a city of "fat women" and "debauchery".

5/5/2017- The article in Komsomolskaya Pravda criticised the city's gay district, saying it's "disgusting" people of the same sex openly kiss and hold hands. Columnist Alisa Titko told readers it was "such a pleasure there are no such gay streets in Moscow". She said it shows people are wrong to say Russia should be "more tolerant" about "non-traditional" sexuality. "In Manchester there is a whole part of the city for gay people," she said. "There is even a place there saying Gay Village. "In the evenings gays and lesbians are having fun not only inside but also outside and they do not hide their feelings." She urged readers to "remain Russian", saying: "Let's start normal families. Let's give birth in legal marriages. And don't let's mix love and debauchery."

She added the rising number of people "with non-traditional sexual orientation" in Russia was because "their mothers did not beat them enough when they were kids". It comes days after Germany's leader Angela Merkel again put pressure on Russia's president to help protect gay rights. Alisa Titko also claimed it was no surprise Manchester's men "become gay", because the city's women "are fat, not sexy" and "simply disgusting to men". She wrote: "The fat hangs from the stomach, sides, and doesn't fit in their jeans. In clubs, they still pull on tight leggings and mini dresses."

Manchester responds...

Dear Alisa,

I wonder what brought you to Manchester? It's curious you were so horrified by what you saw yet you stuck around long enough to take it all in.

I've been really taken aback recently - not just by the level of homophobia in Russia but by the way it seems to be a normalised and accepted way of thinking. It sounds like you really missed the point of Manchester.

To me, it's a city of liberation. Yes, it's a place of debauchery - but isn't that fun? It's also a place of celebration, where people dance, hook up, fall in love, express themselves - some of the greatest things about being human. Where people get away from the kind of people with the same attitude as you.

Maybe I could take you for a drink in Oscars sometime - a gay musical theatre bar. I'm sure you would LOVE it.

Big love,

Matt x

Dear Alisa,

Manchester is a friendly and welcoming city to all. It's certainly not the debauched "hell on earth" your article suggests. And even if it was - what's wrong with that, if people are enjoying themselves and not hurting anyone? I can stroll Canal Street at any time of day or night to witness a wide variety of people - gay, straight, lesbian, trans - and from all walks of life enjoying each other's company and having fun.

Having read your article fresh from the horrific reports of concentration camps for homosexuals in Chechnya, I feel it's purely there to further fuel bigotry and intolerance in Russia towards the gay community. The village promotes nothing but love and acceptance. I feel pity that you don't share those values.

Love and light,

Grant
© BBC News.

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UK: Labour sacks candidate for 'calling for the eradication of Islam' on Twitter

2/5/2017- Labour has sacked one of its election candidates over a series of tweets reportedly posted by the prospective MP online. Trevor Merralls, who leads a black cab campaign group, said his sacking was the result of a "vicious smear campaign". Earlier the party said it was "urgently investigating" claims that the candidate in Old Bexley and Sidcup posted tweets calling for the eradication of Islam. He was linked to a controversial Twitter account which has since been deleted, which posted derogatory comments about Muslims and a "reckoning" for Islam. A spokesman for the party said: "Trevor Merralls has been removed as Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Old Bexley and Sidcup." The @wellingblueboy account was allegedly used by Mr Merralls to post about black cab drivers but it also made a number of comments about the Islamic faith.

According to Buzzfeed, one of the posts included: "This is all leading to a fight of no surrender total war." Another user than responded: "Our battle is not yet with the Muslims, but those that appease them!!," The @wellingblueboy account replied: "If you follow it to its natural conclusion this is reckoning the left have deserved," Mr Merralls also allegedly engaged in conversation where he reportedly posted: "On a positive note that should eradicate islam from our continent for years". Another appeared to show @wellingblueboy discussing "establishment" plans to kill off black cabs and replace them "with muslims". Although the deleted account's tweets have been removed the other half of the conversation remains online.

A spokesperson for Jeremy Corbyn said this morning: "Labour’s National Executive committee is urgently investigating allegations of racism involving a prospective parliamentary candidate." "If the allegations are found to be true, the strongest disciplinary action will be taken and he will be removed as a Labour candidate. "The Labour party has always been at the forefront of standing against racism in all its forms. Hate and division have no place within our party." The local party also confirmed to Buzzfeed that they are investigating the allegations. "We became aware of the allegations late on Monday evening after London region announced to us our candidate in the afternoon," a spokesperson for the Old Bexley and Sidcup constituency Labour party told BuzzFeed News. "We are consulting with London region." Merralls has not commented on ownership of the @wellingblueboy account but it was operated under the name 'Trev' and the profile picture bore close resemblance to Mr Merralls.
© The Telegraph

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UK: MPs want tech giants to pay the police to find racist content online

1/5/2017- UK politicians have said that Google, Twitter, and Facebook should pay the Metropolitan Police to find extremist content on their sites, because they're not doing a good enough job by themselves. MPs investigating the tech giants described them as "a disgrace" because they don't delete illegal material quickly enough. The MPs are part of the Home Affairs Committee, which released a report today about hate speech online and its impact on the real world. In the report, they used examples like MPs receiving antisemitic abuse online, Facebook hosting sexualised images of children, and YouTube hosting terrorist recruitment and neo-Nazi videos. Social media companies, they said, should help fund the Metropolitan Police's online counter-terrorism unit to find extremist content online on their behalf. That unit is currently funded by UK taxpayers, and flags hateful content to Facebook, Twitter, and Google.

This is what the MPs proposed in their report:
"Football teams are obliged to pay for policing in their stadiums and immediate surrounding areas on match days. Government should now consult on adopting similar principles online— for example, requiring social media companies to contribute to the Metropolitan Police's CTIRU [counter-terrorism internet referral unit] for the costs of enforcement activities which should rightfully be carried out by the companies themselves."

The MPs also proposed "meaningful fines" if the tech giants didn't take down illegal content in a short time, and quarterly reports which showed how much hate speech they had removed from their platforms.

Committee chair Yvette Cooper added:
"The biggest and richest social media companies are shamefully far from taking sufficient action to tackle illegal and dangerous content, to implement proper community standards or to keep their users safe. Given their immense size, resources and global reach, it is completely irresponsible of them to fail to abide by the law, and to keep their users and others safe."

At the moment, it doesn't look like the government will change the law to force tech giants to take hate speech more seriously. According to the report, MPs have pressured the trio to do more in a series of meetings. Last month, the three firms promised to develop new tools to identify terrorist propaganda online after meeting with home secretary Amber Rudd. Facebook, Twitter, and Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
© The Business Insider

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Germany: Right-wing song lyrics put soul singer in the spotlight

German soul singer Xavier Naidoo and his band Söhne Mannheims have released an album that has created a stir nationwide. At issue are lyrics that appear to cater to the far-right.

4/5/2017- The song "Marionette" by Xavier Naidoo and his band Söhne Mannheims is peppered with more or less veiled agressive references to high treason, the "lying press" (Lügenpresse) and other ideologies close to the right-wing populist Reich Citizens' Movement.

Inciting lyrics?
The text threatens lawmakers, saying "angry farmers with their pitch forks will make sure you see the light," and resorts to language widely used by the far-right, including terms like "marionette" and "puppet player." While right-wing groups and their followers cheer the song, it has definitely raised eyebrows elsewhere - including the band's native city of Mannheim. Mannheim's Mayor Peter Kurz, whose administration has for years cooperated closely with the band on local culture projects, has asked the pop group to meet with him to resolve the issues surrounding a song that another German singer, Henning Wehland, has described as nothing but "an appeal to think." This is not the first time that critics have honed in on Xavier Naidoo and his lyrics and interviews. The 45-year-old may have sold millions of albums since 1998, received countless music awards, and appeared at every major festival - but opinions on his texts differ.

Naidoo polarizes
Born the son of a mother from South Africa and a father of Indian ancestry in 1971, Naidoo sang in school and church choirs as a child. At the age of 20, he traveled to the US, learned the music business, and returned to Germany. His 1998 album "Nicht von dieser Welt" (Not of This World) was No. 1 in the German album charts and remained in the Top 100 for nearly two years. Naidoo's 2006 song "Dieser Weg" (This Way), written for the German national soccer team, was the soundtrack to that year's World Cup. In 2015, Naidoo was chosen to represent Germany at the Eurovision Song Contest in Stockholm. The nomination was withdrawn in the wake of a storm of protests from the public and a social media backlash from people pointing out the singer's links with right-wing groups.

The previous year, Naidoo had spoken at a gathering of the right-wing populist Reich Citizens' Movement, which does not accept Germany as a sovereign state. These and other right-wing associations celebrate the soul singer - who is critical of the US, is known to pick up on conspiracy theories, and has likened Germany to an "occupied country" - and use him for their propaganda. "I understand the outcry, but the song is not a call for violence, it's an appeal for a dialogue," says band member Rolf Stahlhofen. Naidoo has yet to comment on the controversy over "Marionette."
© The Deutsche Welle*

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German Far Right Asks Monitor to Ensure It Gets Fair Election

2/5/2017- Germany's main far-right party has asked an election monitor to ensure it gets fair treatment in September's federal election, saying that civil society groups had tried to sabotage its campaigns in the past. In a letter to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation (OSCE), Alternative for Germany (AfD) said its posters had been defaced, supporters put off attending events due to protests, hotels threatened for renting rooms to the party, and activists attacked, all "severe constraints" on its campaigning. "We have reason to worry that we will not be guaranteed unrestricted participation in the election campaign in a fair way," AfD co-leaders Frauke Petry and Joerg Meuthen wrote in the letter dated April 28 and seen by Reuters on Tuesday, The anti-immigrant party polls at between 7 and 10 percent - comfortably above the 5 percent threshold needed to enter parliament. But many Germans despise it and some 15,000 people protested outside its party congress in April. The OSCE monitored Germany's last federal election in 2013 and the government has already asked it to do the same this time.
© Reuters

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Germany: 4 men on trial over beating man to death amid 'hunt for refugees'

Four men are going to court on Tuesday accused of beating a man to death after prosecutors said they went out to "hunt refugees".

2/5/2017- The four men ranging in age from 19 to 35 began their trial before a Bonn state court, charged with assault resulting in death, according to local broadcaster WDR. Prosecutors accuse the quartet of beating a 40-year-old father, who they knew beforehand, so badly that he died a few days later due to his injuries. Prosecutors say that last September, the four reportedly went out in central Waldbröl with the intention of “hunting refugees”, after one of the accused claimed refugees had stalked a girl. Witness statements helped investigators piece together the events: first the four reportedly met up to drink, then they went to search for refugees to “rough up”, carrying a baseball bat and brass knuckles. "The accusation assumes that their original 'objective' was to go out in Waldbröl to mess with refugees," a court spokesman told DPA.

The four ultimately did find some refugees and got into a fight with them, but the refugees were able to get away, prosecutors say. The quartet continued on, reportedly beating at least one other man bloody before encountering the 40-year-old victim, Klaus B., at a parking area. They reportedly had already fought a few days before with Klaus B., who was born in Kazakhstan. According to WDR, the four accused also have eastern European heritage. WDR reports that it seems Klaus B. - who had also been drinking - was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and that it is still not clear why the encounter became so violent.

According to prosecutors, the 19-year-old was the first to hit Klaus B. before the others joined in, employing the baseball bat. Even while the victim was lying on the ground and later tried to flee, prosecutors say the four continued their assault upon him. The 40-year-old suffered a fractured skull, as well as traumatic brain injuries. He died nine days later in hospital, leaving behind two children and his wife. His family have been included as co-complainants against the four because their lawyer says the children have been left traumatized by their father’s death, especially due to its brutal nature. “The wife always tells me that she absolutely cannot comprehend how the perpetrators could continue to beat him when he had already long been lying on the ground. And he kept trying to get himself up to leave,” said lawyer Christina Dissmann to WDR. “They kept going after him and beat him. That is the most difficult part.”
© The Local - Germany

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Germany: The Bundeswehr's image problem - overrun with neo - nazi's?

The case of a German lieutenant suspected of planning a right-wing terror attack has unsettled both political and army leaders. The question of whether the Bundeswehr is a right-wing haven is as old as the army itself.

3/5/2017- André E. had only spent a few days with the German army in the Thuringian city of Gotha when he told his supervising officer straight up: "I identify as a National Socialist." Based on his appearance, it wasn't exactly a secret. He sported a tattoo with the motto of the Hitler Youth, "Blut und Ehre" (blood and honor), because, as he said, he has so much admiration for the SS. André E. was in training for 10 more months, learning how to shoot an assault rifle and throw hand grenades. This all happened 17 years ago, but André E. is not just any neo-Nazi. He is one of the accused in the Munich trial against the right-wing extremist group, the National Socialist Underground, or NSU. The terrorist group stands accused of bombing attacks and 10 murders. Why did the Bundeswehr not stop him? 

Failure of military counterintelligence?
The case of Michael L. also continues to plague the Bundeswehr and the Defense Ministry, especially in light of the latest scandal around an extreme right-wing officer who was allegedly planning a terror attack. In 2012, reservist Michael L., then 35, was serving as an officer in Kunduz, Afghanistan. In 2008, he had enquired about becoming a member of the far-right party, the NPD, in the city of Kassel. He was also a member of a nationalist group known as the "Freier Widerstand Kassel" (Free Resistance Kassel). The state of Hesse had classed the organization as a neo-Nazi group. Despite his history, Michael L. made it to Afghanistan, something that Germany's military counterintelligence service, MAD, should have prevented. MAD is supposed to vet all soldiers before they serve in foreign missions. So why did Michael L. slip through?

A long history of image problems
Ever since it was founded in 1955, the German army has struggled with the image of being a haven for right-wing extremists. And it's no wonder. At the end of the 1950s, the army hired 300 officers from the Waffen-SS, Hitler's elite fighting force. More than 12,000 Wehrmacht officers were serving in the Bundeswehr - as well as over 40 Nazi generals. The Bundeswehr was tainted with this "brown legacy" from its inception, and its relationship to the new concept of the "citizen in uniform" was correspondingly ambivalent. Under Defense Minister Franz-Josef Strauß (CSU, 1956 - 62), army barracks were named after Nazi generals; those involved in the resistance attempt to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944, were labeled "traitors"; and questions about war crimes were mostly taboo.

In the 1960s, the "conscientious fulfillment of duty" was still regarded as the highest of all virtues for a soldier. But General Heinz Karst, who was in charge of army training at the time, nevertheless declared that freedom and democracy were "not the last values." At the same time, there was growing criticism about "excessive parliamentary control" over the young army. In the 1970s, Bundeswehr academies were supposed to help stamp out the last of the old mentality. But the first generation of young officers rejected reforms and were opposed to Willy Brandt's policy of detente. At the start of the 1980s, Defense Minister Hans Apel (SPD) was met with protests when he said that which could not be denied: "The armed forces were in part enmeshed with National Socialism and its guilt...a regime of injustice like the Third Reich cannot form the basis of tradition."

Too lax on extremism?
And yet, the Bundeswehr remains attractive for right-wing extremists even today. Most of the cases that come to light have to do with what are called propaganda crimes: calls of "Sieg Heil" or swastika graffiti. According to MAD, neo-Nazi sentiment is most prevalent among 18- to 25-year-olds, drawn by the lure of weaponry and the hierarchies within the army. But once identified, neo-Nazis cannot simply be thrown out of the army; courts have to confirm the presence of right-wing extremism. It's not that there are a lack of clues, rather that they are often discovered when it's too late, or by coincidence. The failure of MAD in connection with the NSU murders suspect raises the prospect that extremist tendencies were noticed, but that other soldiers and supervisors either didn't react, or reacted too mildly.

Neo-Nazi network?
As a result of all these "discoveries", Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has canceled her planned trip to the United States. It's an unusual reaction, and indicative of how seriously she is taking the situation. Observers are not ruling out the possibility that there is a neo-Nazi network within the armed forces. Some say that scrapping conscription is to blame. The Bundeswehr is lacking in "normal people," said Michael Wolffsohn, a former historian at the Bundeswehr Academy in Munich. Without conscription, the army has become overrun with extremists, eager to learn how to use weapons, he said. Conscription was a guarantee that a cross-section of society would be represented in the armed forces, in keeping with the concept of the "citizen in uniform." Chancellor Angela Merkel oversaw the decision to scrap military service in 2011. In contrast, Sweden also did away with conscription, but after seven years of a professional army, it has now reintroduced mandatory military service.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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German minister blames 'weak' army leadership after racism case

1/5/2017- German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen has attacked "weak leadership" in the armed forces, provoking dismay among soldiers' representatives, after an officer was arrested on suspicion of planning a racist attack to frame refugees. The 28-year-old first lieutenant, who had falsely registered as a Syrian refugee, was arrested in Bavaria last week. A suspected accomplice, a 24-year-old student, was also detained after being found in possession of explosives. Von der Leyen told ZDF television on Sunday night that the arrested officer had written a paper for his Master's at a military academy that was filled with "primitive racial ideas" that drew initial scrutiny from superiors but were then "whitewashed" in an "ill-advised esprit de corps". "People look the other way and it starts to ferment until there's a scandal," she said. "The Bundeswehr (army) has an attitude problem and it evidently has weak leadership at different levels."

On Monday she sent a follow-up letter to all members of the armed forces, saying she had asked the army's inspector general to examine any extremist or racist tendencies and why such problems had not been properly and fully tackled. She asked the soldiers for their support and understanding for her efforts to dig into this and other recent cases of crimes and racism involving soldiers. The chairman of the Bundeswehrverband, a lobby group that represents members of the armed forces, criticized von der Leyen's 'weak leadership' remarks. "Her comments leave us bewildered and outraged," André Wuestner told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper. "If the minister is truly serious about that, then she's massively damaging the Bundeswehr. To say all 250,000 in the Bundeswehr have an attitude problem affects us all."

The arrested soldier had previously been detained in late January by Austrian authorities on suspicion of having stashed a gun in a bathroom at Vienna's Schwechat airport. Investigators later discovered he had used a fake identity to register as a Syrian refugee, even though he spoke no Arabic. The bizarre case touches on two sensitive issues in Germany: the right-wing extremism that occasionally plagues the country, and the turmoil surrounding the influx of more than a million migrants, many from the war in Syria, since 2015. "It's not in order that the superiors didn't grasp what was going on and didn't understand their responsibility," said von der Leyen. "Evidently, the early-warning mechanisms the forces have in place didn't work, and that has to be investigated," she said.
© Reuters

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Germany: Scandal over far-right soldier 'attack plot' grows

1/5/2017- Germany's defence minister on Sunday vowed zero tolerance for far-right extremists in the military amid a widening scandal over a soldier who allegedly plotted an attack which he planned to blame on refugees. "We can tolerate many things, but not political extremism, right-wing or religiously motivated extremism," the minister, Ursula von der Leyen, told public broadcaster ZDF. She was reacting to the strange case of a 28-year-old army lieutenant, named by German media as Franco A., who led what prosecutors called a "double life" pretending to be a Syrian refugee. He was arrested last Wednesday on suspicion of planning a gun attack which he meant to blame on his alter-ego -- a fictitious Damascus fruit seller.

The scandal widened after news magazine Der Spiegel reported the suspect had expressed far-right views in a 2014 academic paper, but that no disciplinary action was taken against him. The military intelligence service is currently investigating around 280 cases of suspected far-right sympathisers in the German armed forces, the report said. Von der Leyen pointed to leadership failures within the Bundeswehr and criticised "a misunderstood esprit de corps" that had led superior officers to "look the other way" in the lieutenant's case. She and Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, in charge of immigration and refugee issues, have vowed to clear up the embarrassing case, which has led one Social Democrat member to label them a "security risk" for Germany.

'Death list'
The lieutenant was first temporarily detained in February, by Austrian police at Vienna airport, after he tried to retrieve a loaded, unregistered handgun he had hidden in a toilet there days earlier. This sparked an investigation in which a fingerprint check threw up an even bigger surprise: the suspect had in December 2015 created a false identity as a Syrian refugee. The soldier, who has an Italian father and German mother, had pretended to be a Damascus fruit seller named "David Benjamin" -- ostensibly a Catholic with Jewish roots who had fled the ISIS militant group. He had registered himself at a German refugee shelter and even launched a request for political asylum, said the prosecution statement. Incredibly, the request was accepted, even though the soldier speaks no Arabic. He was allotted a place in the refugee home and from January 2016 onward received 400 euros (A$582) a month in state assistance under this false identity.

The Bild daily has now reported that police found a "death list" compiled by the suspect, including left-wing anti-fascist activists. Police last Wednesday also arrested a second German man, a 24-year-old student and alleged co-conspirator named by media as Mathias F, who was reportedly in possession of bullets, flares and other objects that breach weapons laws. Germany has taken in more than one million asylum-seekers since 2015, many from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, sparking an anti-foreigner backlash and a spate of racist hate crimes.
© AFP

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Italy: 'Populism is not a disease'

”There is a tendency to see populism as a disease and a problem, and not as something to be understood”, said Paolo Graziano, professor of political science at the University of Padua, Italy, in an interview with EUobserver.

5/5/2017- Speaking at the yearly State of the Union conference at the European University Institute in Florence, Graziano delivered his analysis of the role and the reasons for populism. The Italian academic set out that: "We have different forms of populism and they raise very important issues that regard all the citizens and all the political parties, and this is why they should not simply be treated as a problem". ”There is a tendency to call everything that is different negative. This is human behaviour that goes beyond politics, but it is particularly true with respect to populism”, Graziano said. ”The first reaction is that we have to get rid of them”, but he explained that this attitude only added to the notion that it is ”them against us, the elites”.

It was important, he argued, to remember that there are different forms of populism. ”We have Podemos [a Spanish left-wing party] on the one hand, which is clearly populist in a number of areas, but then we also have [Marine] Le Pen [the French far-right leader]. As researchers, we are starting to work on defining different types, we have exclusionary populists and inclusionary populists". ”The world is becoming increasingly complex and globalisation has created winners and losers. Put together with social media, it is really creating a challenge to traditional parties,” he said. Populist ideologies are "thin", but social media helps the new political entrepreneurs to become credible with very personalised communication.

He added that the rise of populism is also a sign that we are entering a new phase of party politics. ”Let’s take the phenomena of [Emmanuel] Macron [the French centrist presidential candidate]. It is the first time in French politics to have a candidate that comes before the party is created”. ”We see that well-established and well-structured party systems change so dramatically that the winner of an election is not a politician by profession. He is not coming from a political party, although he did have a government position, still it is a dramatic change in the way politics is done,” Graziano said. The professor added: ”In the near future, I really see some fundamental challenges and fundamental change in how parties function beyond left and right. It’s about co-existing more than integrating people". The difference, he outlined, was between maintaining local communities versus opening them up. "We had similar pressures on the political systems back in the 1930s and a breakdown of democracies," Graziano said.
© The EUobserver

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Italian prosecutor: no NGOs-migrant smuggler links emerge

3/5/2017- A prosecutor based in Sicily told Italian senators Tuesday his office has found no links or contacts between migrant smugglers and humanitarian organizations operating rescue boats in the Mediterranean, including Malta NGOs. Last month, another Sicilian prosecutor raised alarm by saying in interviews he has evidence that some NGOs, established specifically to rescue migrants from foundering smugglers' boats, could be in collusion with human traffickers based in Libya, from where the vessels are launched. Right-wing political parties, notably the anti-migrant Northern League, seized on the Catania prosecutor's comments to support their contentions that the transferring of hundreds of thousands of migrants rescued at sea to the safety of Italian ports over the past few years essentially facilitates the human traffickers' lucrative business.

But Syracuse Prosecutor Francesco Paolo Giordano told the Senate defense commission Tuesday his investigations found nothing to indicate any such links. "As far as our office goes, nothing has emerged in terms of presumed indirect or compromising links between NGOs, or elements of them, and the smugglers of migrants," the prosecutor said. Giordano volunteered that some NGOs have shown less-than-cooperative attitudes toward judicial authorities. "We interpret that not as aiding and abetting smugglers but rather attribute that to an ideological attitude," the prosecutor said. The NGOs are expressing "humanitarian coherence, in favor of migrants, not in favor of police" who investigate the trafficking. He stressed the NGOS have allowed unfettered access to migrants for questioning. Police question migrants, often while still aboard rescue ships, to see if smugglers might have mingled among the passengers, which is not infrequently the case.

Catania Prosecutor Carmelo Zuccaro, in interviews, has said there are indications that some NGO boats turn off transponders so their movements can't be traced and then enter Libyan territorial waters to pluck migrants from overcrowded, unseaworthy smugglers' boats. Doctors Without Borders officials told the senators later Tuesday their rescue craft have entered Libyan waters only five times, and always under exceptional circumstances and after first clearing it with the Italian coast guard, which coordinates all migrant rescues, and receiving an OK from Libyan maritime authorities, too. Loris De Filippi, president of Doctors Without Borders in Italy, said the organization was "deeply indignant" over the allegations. Zuccaro has said his probe doesn't involve Doctors Without Borders or Save the Children, but instead is scrutinizing the operations and financing of several NGO newcomers, including from Malta, Germany and Spain. Giordano used the hearing to draw attention to another trafficking route and method largely escaping notice.

In 2016, in his jurisdiction in southeastern Sicily, 20 sailboats, some 15 meters (50 feet) long, filled with a few dozen Syrians and sailing from Turkey arrived. "It's a new flow," Giordano said. He described these migrants as "upscale Syrians, professionals, college graduates, doctors, engineers," arriving on vessels, which, compared to the leaky rubber dinghies and rickety wooden fishing boats launched from Libya, constitute an almost "luxury" brand of trafficking. Last week, one such sailboat disembarked its Syrian passengers, then headed back toward Turkey, Giordano said. An Italian investigation and a European arrest warrant resulted in the arrest of three Ukrainian crewmembers in Crete. A few sailboats have reached the Italian mainland, including in the southern region of Calabria, Giordano said. "But we don't know if they were pushed there by the wind or directed there possibly by a logistics base" of traffickers on Italy, he said.
© The Malta Independent

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Italy: Neo-Nazi arson gang targeting migrants raided by police

Six have been arrested on suspicion of arson, criminal damage and racial violence

4/5/2017- Italian police have dismantled a neo-Nazi group which targeted refugees and charities which were helping them in a series of arson attacks. Six people, all in their early 20s, were arrested in the northern city of La Spezia on suspicion of carrying out nighttime raids targeting migrants over the last two years. Investigators with the Carabinieri – the country's national police force – discovered instructions for creating explosives, knives and other bladed weapons in a caravan belonging to the group when during the raid earlier this week. They also found a large stash of neo-Nazi propaganda, including two swastika flags, The Local website reported. The group, who have not been named, are suspected to have been behind two arson attacks on containers owned by Catholic charity Caritas which were used to collect second-hand clothes to be given to the refugees.

They are also believed to have been involved with other acts of vandalism including damage to plaques commemorating Italian partisans and the daubing of swastikas on the walls of a local political party’s office. Police say the extremists used a WhatsApp messaging group to attract new recruits to their organisation and boasted about acts of violence against migrants which have so far gone unreported. They are now all facing investigation for arson, criminal damage and racial violence. Italy is one of several European countries which has seen an upswing in violent attacks on refugees fleeing conflict across the Mediterranean. Accommodation for asylum seekers has been burnt down on numerous occasions in many of their destination countries such as Germany and Sweden. In October last year, 200 residents of the Italian town of Gorino constructed a barricade to prevent the arrival of 12 women and eight children who were being taken to a publicly-owned hostel. The refugees had been given a police escort so there was no violence but the mayor of the region was forced to say they would be given homes elsewhere.
© The Independent

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Italian police detain 6 suspected neo-Nazis

29/4/2017- Italian police have detained six suspected neo-Nazis accused of agitating violence against foreigners. The news agency ANSA on Saturday reported that the six are accused of inciting racial and ethnic discrimination and violence. They were detained in La Spezia in Liguria. Video released by the Carabinieri shows neo-Nazi and neo-Fascist propaganda, knives and explosive-making instructions seized from a camper hidden in the woods. The six are believed to belong to a cell whose members were wiretapped calling for violence against foreigners. They also are believed to have painted swastikas on a regional office of the center-left Democratic Party and to have set fire to bins where the Caritas charity collects used clothing for the needy.
© The Associated Press

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