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Headlines 17 April, 2015

Headlines 10 April, 2015

INTERNATIONAL ROMA DAY 2015

Headlines 3 April, 2015

Headlines 17 April, 2015

Serbia: Asylum-Seekers Abused by Serbian Police, Report Claims

A Human Rights Watch report accused Serbian police officers of abusing, beating and extorting money from migrants and asylum-seekers, but the interior ministry denied the claims.

15/4/2015- A Human Rights Watch report on the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers in Serbia that was published on Wednesday claimed that border police have been threatening, beating, insulting and extorting money and valuables from migrants and asylum-seekers. “Serbian authorities should be protecting asylum-seekers and immigrants, including children fleeing war and persecution, not allowing the police to victimize them,” said Emina Cerimovic of Human Rights Watch. The Serbian interior ministry told BIRN however that no migrants had reported allegations of abuse. “No irregular migrant has addressed the ministry with a complaint that they have been harassed by police officers or forced to hand over money and a mobile phone nor to report that they were threatened with detention, deportation or physical violence,” the ministry said in a written response. “The claims made by the surveyed migrants and asylum-seekers are not supported by facts and evidence which would help in the process of determining the specific responsibilities of the police officers of the Border Police,” it added.

However the ministry admitted that the police force has so far filed five criminal charges against its own officers suspected of taking bribes from migrants. According to the Human Rights Watch report, abuses have been reported all over the country but particularly in Subotica, the northern Serbian town on the border with Hungary. Subotica is a key stop for many migrants trying to cross Serbia and enter the EU via Hungary. The report is based on interviews with 81 asylum-seekers and migrants, including 18 children, conducted in both Serbia and Macedonia from November 2014 to January 2015. Twenty migrants and asylum-seekers, including seven children aged 13 to 17, said police officers in Subotica forced them to hand over their money and mobile phones, while insulting and threatening them with violence and deportation.

“Five, including children, said the police hit, kicked, and punched them. Two said police hit them in the eyes with pepper spray,” the report states. Six other migrants and asylum-seekers said police officers slapped or punched them while fingerprinting them or when they registered to apply for asylum in other locations across Serbia. The ministry however insisted that claims of harassment of asylum-seekers while registering were “unacceptable” because the applicants’ legal representatives are also present during the process. Eight of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that the police sent them back to Macedonia, from where they had travelled to Serbia, without allowing them to apply for asylum. Another four said border police asked them for money or face being returned to Macedonia, only releasing them after they had paid up.

In addition, 13 people, including two unaccompanied children aged 14 and 17, said police had refused to register their intent to seek asylum, which left them not only without access to the asylum system, but also lacking shelter, food and medical care. “The authorities should put an immediate stop to police intimidation and abuse and hold those responsible to account,” said Cerimovic of Human Rights Watch. The Human Rights Watch report also called on the Serbian authorities to instruct officers to treat migrants and asylum-seekers fairly and immediately investigate cases of police abuse. “The government should issue clear guidance to police officers that they should treat asylum-seekers and migrants with respect and in a manner consistent with human rights obligations, and should never summarily deport them. “Officials should make clear that police [officers] will face punishment for harassment, violence, and extortion,” Human Right Watch wrote.

The number of migrants crossing Serbia in an attempt to reach the EU has significantly increased in recent years, as has the number of people claiming asylum in Serbia. The Human Rights Watch report states that the number of asylum-seekers in Serbia rose from 5,066 in 2013 to 16,490 in 2014.

Serbia’s legal obligations
The Human Rights Watch report stated that both “Serbian and international law prohibit ill-treatment and use of unjustified and excessive force by police, and require authorities to address police bribery and extortion”. “The European Convention on Human Rights guarantees the right to an effective remedy against return or refusal of asylum while its Protocol No. 4, which Serbia has ratified, prohibits collective expulsions of foreigners,” the report said. “The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 protocol, as well as its own constitution, also bind Serbia to respect the right to asylum and the principle of nonrefoulement – the prohibition on returning a person to where they may face persecution,” it added.

Human Rights Watch also said that Serbia, as a candidate for European Union membership, should respect EU standards on asylum and the humane treatment of migrants in line with the Stabilization and Association process. “Under the Stabilization and Association process, it is required to follow certain requirements for its asylum system and treatment of migrants. The European Commission progress report for 2014 urged Serbia to streamline the asylum procedure in line with EU standards,” it said.
© Balkan Insight

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Czech Rep: Prague conference with Marine Le Pen postponed

14/4/2015- The Prague conference to be attended by leader of the French National Front, Marine Le Pen, will be held at a different date than on April 23 as originally planned at her own request, Jiri Janecek, leader of the extra-parliamentary Civic Conservative Party (OKS), told CTK Tuesday. Janecek said he would soon announce the new date of the conference European Peace and Prosperity for the EU. The conference will be held in the Chamber of Deputies with the aim to open a debate on the future of Europe. It is staged by the OKS and the Chamber of Deputies member Radim Fiala, who was elected for the Dawn of Direct Democracy, but expelled from its deputy group in late March. Le Pen's National Front is a nationalist and anti-immigration party. Janecek said she was forming a network of European support for it. The OKS could be in it for the Czech Republic, he added. Collaboration with Le Pen is sought by the Dawn deputies headed by Marek Cernoch who want to form a new party. Fiala said European politicians from ten countries had been invited to the conference, but he did not disclose their names. Le Pen is a French presidential candidate for 2017.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

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French comedian Dieudonne banned in Morocco

17/4/2015- The French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, who has faced repeated charges of incitement of hatred toward Jews, was banned from performing in Morocco. Dieudonne was slated to perform on April 29 in Casblanca but organizers had to cancel because authorities withheld their permission for the show, Le Figaro reported Thursday, citing Moroccan media. The show was scheduled to take place at an event hall named after the late King Mohammed V of Morocco. A venue named for the late king, who was close to his country’s Jewish community, may have contributed to the sensitivity of local authorities. Dieudonne has been the subject of multiple police investigations and executive bans against his shows in France for their anti-Semitic content. He has more than 10 convictions for inciting racial hate against Jews. Moroccan officials offered no explanation for withholding permission for the performance.

Envoys of King Mohammed VI of Morocco have often touted the kingdom’s expenditure of millions of dollars on restoring Jewish heritage sites as an example of its policy of religious tolerance. Dieudonne is the inventor of the quenelle, a quasi-Nazi salute which French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has called an anti-Semitic gesture of hate. He also coined the term “shoananas”, a mashup of the French word for pineapple and the Hebrew word for Holocaust, which mocks the genocide without explicitly violating French laws against such denials. Dieudonne’s current show, titled “The Impure Beast,” contains profanities connected to Ilan Halimi, a young Parisian Jewish phone salesman who was tortured and murdered in 2006 by a gang of kidnappers who targeted him because he was Jewish. “If I knock down a Jewish journalist, it will be a serious thing,” Dieodonne said on stage. “They will reopen the Nuremberg trials. They will even exhume Ilan Halimi. They’re going to find my DNA in his asshole.”
© JTA News

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French far-right leader emerges stronger after facing down her father

Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the National Front, announced today he would not run in regional elections. Marine Le Pen, his daughter and party leader, took him to task over anti-Semitic comments last week.

13/4/2015- Love or hate her politics, Marine Le Pen is a charmer. With a disarming smile and no-nonsense style, she has worked hard to push France's far-right National Front (FN) to the mainstream, as she eyes a presidential run in 2017. Her father and FN founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, on the other hand is a provoker – most recently last week, when he repeated his claims that the Holocaust is but a “detail” of history. That led to an unusually public tiff within the party. And the French have watched – some with nervousness, others with glee, depending on whether they are rooting for or against the FN – to see whether family trumps political ambition in the Le Pen dynasty. Today Jean-Marie seemed to choose the former, by backing out of a race in crucial regional elections in December. “If I must make a sacrifice for the future of the movement, I would not be the one to cause it damage," he said on Monday. This marks a reversal from his assertion just days before, via Twitter, that he would stand. But he also said at the end of a press statement that he wasn’t going anywhere.

For many analysts, the fight hints at some of the limitations of the FN – about how easily Ms. Le Pen can turn a party that has anti-Semitic roots into a garden-variety political party. And even more broadly, it raises the question of how readily the FN, an “outsider” of mainstream French politics, will be able to govern if and when it makes its way into the chambers of power. For now, the father’s move could help the FN; some even reckon the spat was a staged political ploy. Real or not, Marine has cemented a reputation as a woman who can take on the most powerful politicians, even when they are in her own family. “She has shown she is a strong leader, strong enough to stand against her father and win,” says Jean-Yves Camus, an expert on the FN in Paris.

Jean-Marie's comments about the plight of Jews during World War II are the same words he uttered in 1987. He also said that French wartime leader Marshal Petain, a Nazi collaborator, is not a national traitor. His daughter has long sought to dismiss these as the words of a bygone generation. But when they resurfaced in 2015, she had no choice but to go public to condemn them. “Jean-Marie Le Pen seems to have descended into a strategy somewhere between scorched earth and political suicide,” she said last week in a statement. “His status as honorary president does not give him the right to hijack the National Front with vulgar provocations seemingly designed to damage me but which unfortunately hit the whole movement.”

Ms. Le Pen's FN could make it to a second round in the 2017 race, according to polls. The party has surged as she has tried to scrub it of some of its darker past, instead appealing to modern anti-immigrant – mostly Muslim – and anti-EU sentiment. A new survey by the firm Harris Interactive showed that among FN supporters, it is Marine who “embodies” the party’s values, with 99 percent agreeing with that statement, while only 28 percent say the same of her father. The words those respondents most associate with him? “Racist,” “old,” and “trouble-maker.” But if the math seems to point to a clear answer on how to proceed, the solution isn’t as clear-cut. Among the party faithful Jean-Marie is widely popular, “and not just among the old,” points out Mr. Camus. “He brought the far-right to the forefront of French politics out of nowhere,” he says.And the familial political saga is likely to continue: Jean-Marie said today that his granddaughter Marion Maréchal-Le Pen should stand in his place.
© The Christian Science Monitor

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France: Jean-Marie Le Pen drops out of French election after conflict with daughter

Far-right French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen said he will not run in regional elections following a conflict with his daughter, who heads the National Front party he founded.

13/4/2015- Le Pen told the French magazine Le Figaro that he will not run this year in the southeast Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region, “even though I think I am the best candidate.” “If I must make a sacrifice for the future of the movement, I would not be the one to cause it damage,” he said. His daughter, Marine Le Pen, said last week that she would oppose allowing her father to run for office as a member of the party after the elder Le Pen slammed her in an interview for criticizing his remarks diminishing the Holocaust. Jean-Marie Le Pen, 86, told the far-right weekly Rivarol earlier this month that he stood by his remark that the Nazi gas chambers were a “detail” of World War II, and accused his daughter of betrayal for criticizing him. He also defended the French Nazi collaborator Phillipe Petain and called on France to join Russia to defend the “white world.”

Jean-Marie Le Pen remains honorary president of the National Front and retains a seat in the European Parliament. Marine Le Pen, who has sought to gain mainstream acceptance for the anti-immigrant National Front by eliminating her father’s anti-Semitic rhetoric, responded by saying of her father, according to The Wall Street Journal, “His role as honorary president (of the party) doesn’t authorize him to take the National Front hostage, with crude provocation that seemingly aims to harm me but unfortunately deals a heavy blow to the whole movement.” Marine Le Pen has called a meeting of the National Front’s executive committee for April 17 to discuss her father’s role in the party going forward.
© JTA News

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In France, lessons in secularism to confront radical Islam

The French government wants to send imams to classes in secularism and religious freedom as a measure to prevent home-grown extremism. Elizabeth Bryant reports from Lyon on a program that is paving the way.

14/4/2015- Sunlight slants across a classroom at the Catholic University of Lyon, where the Bible dominates a recent lecture. The subject may seem unsurprising in this ancient city that was once a bastion of French Catholicism. But the dozen or so people jotting down notes are not theology students. One young woman wears a head-scarf. A man sports the beard of a devout Muslim. Still others are non-Muslim civil servants working for the local government. All are enrolled in a program on secularism and religious freedom that is jointly run by two Lyon universities and the city's Grand Mosque. They're the unlikely foot soldiers of a national campaign for greater reli-gious tolerance and to help shape a moderate, Western-oriented "Islam a la Francaise."

The drive has taken on new urgency since January's terrorist attacks in Paris and the departure of hundreds of French youths to join jihadist movements in the Middle East. The Socialist government has responded with a raft of new measures to fight home-grown extremism. Among them: plans to enroll hundreds of imams and other key Muslim figures in civics training programs - and to make them mandatory for chaplains working in prisons and the military. But Lyon's program has broader ambitions, as it reaches out to include government officials in the training. "If things are going to change, they need to change in all directions," says Michel Younes, co-director of the initiative at Lyon's Catholic University. "That means not only training imams about secularity, but also civil servants - because the subject of religion in public spaces has almost become a taboo." "Living together has to be more than an idea," he adds. "It's being able to be together, think together, exchange ideas together."

Imported imams
France has always had an uneasy relationship with Islam, the country's second biggest religion. Clashes over issues like wearing headscarves in public schools - now banned - to Halal butchering practices and religious burial grounds have deepened divisions and misunderstandings between the state and the five million-strong Muslim community. It doesn't help that many imams are foreigners; few French Muslims are interested in a job so poorly paid. So the clerics are imported from North Africa and Turkey, countries which often finance their salaries and even the construction of the French mosques they preach from. Many only have a sketchy idea of the country's laws and customs. Some cannot even speak French. "These imported imams are not efficient," says Hacene Taibi, who heads the Muslim teaching institute at Lyon's Great Mosque and helps run the civics training.

The mosque's own imam, who is Tunisian, now says prayers in both Arabic and French. "Sometimes the faithful here won't even accept imams who don't preach in French," Taibi says. "This training program helps them understand how this country functions." The 24-week program includes classes on law, religion and how French principles of secularity are applied to daily life. The students visit churches, mosques and synagogues. At the end of the training, they receive certificates in the "Understanding of Secularity." Since it began in 2012, it has trained dozens of imams and other key Muslim figures. They include Quranic teachers like Baian, who declined to give her last name for privacy reasons. "I was asked to take this program so I could speak to others about secularism," she says. "Here in France, we have to all live together."

Reaching the right people?
Karim Ghanemi, vice president of a local mosque association, said he was surprised to learn that laws governing secularism also granted space for religious expression - a realization that could help counter the pull of radical Islam. "Muslims here feel oppressed, when in fact freedom to worship exists," he says. "It helps remove preju-dice and misunderstanding." French authorities are not just worried about cultural misunderstandings. The number of mosques controlled by fundamentalist Salafist preachers has doubled from 44 to 89 over the past four years, according to a recent article in "Le Figaro" newspaper, which cites government statistics. France has also expelled a number of radical imams over the years.

But Muslim leaders argue that the majority of imams and other influential figures are working in exactly the opposite direction."Go to Friday prayers, everyone speaks out against extremism," says Taibi, of the Lyon mosque. "We do the same work with our teaching programs in the mosque." Whether they can influence a new gene-ration of French, who are becoming radicalized through the Internet, is a matter of debate. And it ultimately raises questions about the limits of the civics training. "These people are very far from the mosque," says Tareq Oubrou, rector of the Bordeaux mosque, referring to the new Islamists. "They don't have beards, they don't wear hijabs, they don't even do their five prayers regularly. They're just delinquents. You can't expect imams to resolve problems created by society."

More diversity, more debate
But other observers believe any action by the government is better than none at all. "Because public opinion will never forgive it for not trying to save these children," said criminologist Alain Bauer. "Nor will the parents who find their kids have left a small Post-it on the fridge saying, 'I'm going to jihad, and I'm happy and I love you.' Because that's what's happening at the moment." Younes of the Catholic University acknowledges the limits of the training in fighting extremism. "But we have to start somewhere," he said. "As more Muslims are trained, they can spread another message. That's what's important - to introduce diversity and debate. Without that, we can't confront radicalism on the Net."

Still, the Lyon program appears to be meeting another key objective. At the Bible class, student Laurent Jacquelin, a senior official for the regional prefecture, descri-bed shared meals and conversations with his Muslim classmates. "It's a chance to strengthen what brings us together, our mutual humanity," he says. "And that helps build mutual respect."
© The Deutsche Welle.

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Spain: Gays are biggest targets in hate crimes

Forty percent of the 1,285 hate crimes reported to police across Spain last year targeted gays and lesbians, the interior ministry said on Tuesday.

15/4/2015- There were a total of 513 hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation or sexual identity reported to police in 2014, a 13.5 percent increase over the previous year, the ministry said in a report. The vast majority of the victims, 72 percent, were women. Hate crimes motivated by race accounted for 37 percent of last year's tally, while those that targeted disabled people accounted for 15.5 percent. The total number of hate crimes reported last year was 9.6 percent higher than the figure for 2013, the first year Spain collected figures. The interior ministry said the rise was due to more complete record-keeping and the fact that more people feel comfortable coming forward, the ministry said.

Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz said last year's figures did not include complaints made to the regional police force in the northern Basque Country for "technical reasons". The publication of national hate crime figures last year for the first time helped throw the spotlight on the problem, leading more people to feel comfortable to file complaints, he added. A quarter of the victims of the hate crimes reported last year were under the age of 18. In most cases the culprits were identified. "Impunity for hate crimes does not exist," the interior minister said.
© The Local - Spain

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With fewer survivors around, Holocaust education is in transition

15/4/2015- On a recent morning, a group of seventh-graders in Natick, Massachusetts, was absorbed in a video of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel’s acceptance speech of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize. “Why did he win?” asked their teacher, Tracy Sockalosky. She guided the discussion to the importance of remembrance, a theme reflected in Wiesel’s book “Night,” which the class had read earlier in the year as part of an eight-week unit on the Holocaust that Sockalosky co-teaches with a colleague.

Sockalosky, a 39-year-old history and world geography teacher at Natick’s Wilson Middle School, was one of 25 educators from around the world who traveled to Poland in January for the commemoration ceremonies of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The five-day trip, organized by the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation-the Institute for Visual History and Education, in partnership with Discovery Education, included workshops at Warsaw’s new Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews, visits to Jewish historical sites and meetings with survivors.

A webcast produced during the trip, “Auschwitz: The Past is Present Virtual Experience,” will be made available to teachers and students in grades 9-12 on May 13 through the foundation’s recent partnership with Discovery Education, a company that streams educational content to teachers and classrooms across the country. With the last cohort of survivors in their final years, Holocaust education, which once relied heavily on classroom visits from survivors, is in a period of transition. “We’re on the cusp of a shift,” when it will no longer be easy to find survivors to speak directly with students, says Roger Brooks, president of Facing History and Ourselves, a Boston-based nonprofit that offers multidisciplinary professional development, curricula and resources for teaching about the Holocaust and other genocides.

Founded in 1976, Facing History, which now has programs in 150 locations around the world including Northern Ireland, Israel, South Africa and China, combines teaching the history of the Holocaust with readings that explore ethics and questions of civic responsibilities. Its Center for Jewish Education, started in 1990, works with educators in more than 750 Jewish educational settings, including about 100 day schools. While no one knows how many schools in the United States teach about the Holocaust — it’s a topic the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington is hoping to study at some point, officials there say — people in the field sense it has become more of a mainstream phenomenon in public, private and parochial schools all over the country, even in communities that lack significant Jewish populations.

Five states — New Jersey, New York, California, Illinois and Florida — have some type of mandate to teach about the Holocaust in public K-12 schools, according to Peter Fredlake, director of teacher education at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Others encourage Holocaust education or make curricular recommendations. But approach, quality and goals vary dramatically, Fredlake and others in the field say, with some schools teaching the Holocaust strictly for its historical significance and others with hopes of imparting lessons about civic responsibility and the dangers of intolerance. Meanwhile, more than 80 groups throughout the United States offer resources and training for Holocaust educators, according to the U.S. Holocaust museum. A new museum in Brooklyn, the Kleinman Family Holocaust Education Center, is the first to focus on the experience of Orthodox Jews in the Holocaust.

Many are grappling with how to teach about the Holocaust in a post-survivor age. For the past 20 years, in anticipation of the shift, USC’s Shoah Foundation has collected more than 52,000 testimonies of Holocaust survivors for its Visual History Archive. More than 1,500 of the testimonies are included in the foundation’s IWitness, a program designed for classroom use that enables students to stream video and audio testimonies and create their own multimedia presentations. The program reaches some 39,000 educators, and the January trip, in addition to seeking to deepen teachers’ understanding of the historical landscape of Poland before and after the Holocaust, sought to promote the use of the IWitness program. “This is really bringing the power of storytelling in the digital environment,” according to Kori Street, director of education at the Shoah Foundation. “It’s putting a human face to history.”

Testimonies can’t be presented on their own, however, Street and others caution. Instead, they say, testimonies must be supplemented with lessons about the context of anti-Semitism and the history that led to the Holocaust. By “looking at the small and insidious steps as they unfold, it helps students learn about warning signs, and to recognize and respond to them in their own lifetimes,” says Jan Darsa, director of Facing History’s Jewish education program. At its best, says Simone Schweber, the Goodman professor of education and Jewish studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison whose research has focused on Holocaust education, teaching the Holocaust challenges students to examine their own deeply held ideas. “It’s really hard to do,” she acknowledges, noting that students don’t always construct the moral lessons that their teachers assume, particularly if they bring in stereotypes and preconceptions that go unaddressed.

Sarah Cushman, academic program liaison officer at the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, says, “People assume that if you teach [about the Holocaust], students will understand that they shouldn’t bully. There’s a disconnect between what’s being asked of this history and what students are getting from it.” “The lessons must be made more explicit,” she suggests. Sockalosky, the suburban Boston teacher, acknowledges that the material she has presented to her students requires high-level critical thinking skills and can be challenging for seventh-graders. But the experience of standing with survivors at the gates of Auschwitz in January has deepened her commitment to reaching students at the level they are at, she says. “I have to find a way to make learning about the Holocaust not just another historical event we study,” Sockalosky says. “It’s not just about the history; it’s about the human experience.”
© JTA News

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Hungary: ‘Clean, moderate’ image outweighs far-right taboos

Jobbik wins its first individual constituency

17/4/2015- On Sunday April 12, the far-right Jobbik candidate won a by-election in the individual constituency of Tapolca. The election took place due to the death of former Fidesz MP Jenõ Lasztovicza in early January 2015. The electorate dissatisfied with the performance of the government turns to the political side it considers capable of defeating Fidesz. On February 22 in the Veszprém by-election this meant giving the mandate to the individual candidate supported by left-wing parties, Zoltán Kész, and in Tapolca backing Jobbik candidate Lajos Rig. With this the governing party’s “central power field” strategy that worked well in 2014 has suffered a setback, just as the myth that Fidesz can stop the rise of the far right. Jobbik can consolidate its position as the challenger of Fidesz and could even go first in the polls. A flash analysis of the left-leaning researcher Political Capital.

Mobilisation matters
As the mobilisation rates suggest, in the two interim elections held this year less than half of Fidesz supporters abandoned the party. However, due to lower turnouts, in Veszprém and Tapolca (both are constituencies in western Hungary) alike Fidesz’s challengers managed to attract more voters to the polls than those voting for the respective party lists one year earlier in the same individual constituencies. Jobbik could gain a lot of new voters, especially from the small villages.

Win was ‘protest vote’
Sámuel Ágoston Mráz, head of the Nézõpont Institute, said the poll outcome pointed to a “protest vote”. Tamás Lánczi, chief analyst of the Századvég Foundation, said no conclusions can be drawn from the by-election about national trends. Jobbik had done a good job of mobilising its supporters in a region where traditionally it has fared well, he said. The left wing had “lagged behind dismally”. Whereas the difference between Jobbik and Fidesz had been a few hundred votes, the gap between Fidesz and the left was several thousand.

Jobbik: breakthrough at individual level, steady move to centre
Jobbik could expand its support for three main reasons: a) their moderate shift, b) their comfortable position as the only relevant, “clean” political force that has not discredited itself in power; c) the lack of strong and united left-wing opposition. Research does not indicate rising anti-Semitism and racism in Hungary as the driving force of Jobbik’s current rise and success. Its success suggests that most of the voters no longer look at the party as extremist: taboos that have once kept a large number of undecided voters away from Jobbik have fallen to the wayside. This might sound surprising if one considers Rig’s views: on the one hand, he was accused of having a tattoo similar to the German SS’ infamous motto.

On the other hand, he regularly published Facebook posts with a clear anti-Semitic and racist stance. In one of Rig’s posts he shared his thoughts about the Roma being the biological weapons in the hand of the Jews in order to eliminate the non-Roma and non-Jewish population of Hungary. Jobbik’s electoral victory has confirmed what we have maintained all along: there is no limit to Jobbik’s expansion, and the process could only be checked by its political rivals, although there are no signs for this to happen any time soon. Following the parliamentary and municipal elections, the results of the current election serve as additional proof that Jobbik’s attempt to re-brand itself as a moderate party has been largely successful.

All this consolidates party president Gábor Vona’s position within the party: in the future he can move it in the direction of the centre-right with more confidence. Simultaneously, the result offers Vona the opportunity to eliminate his opponents inside the party who accused him of being “soft”. Incidentally, similar to what we have seen in Veszprém, Jobbik’s victory can also be attributed to the fact that it fielded a local candidate, working hard up and down the electoral district and managing to profit even from an anti-establishment sentiment. The current victory will clearly have an impact on support for Jobbik; there may be a widespread perception that Jobbik is a party capable of replacing Fidesz, and with this the party may consolidate its second place or even take the leading position in public-opinion polls.

Vona smashes glass ceiling
Radical nationalist Jobbik has become the key opposition force in Hungary, party leader Gábor Vona said after Lajos Rig’s victory in Sunday’s by-election in Tapolca. Vona said the win is “of historic importance” because it dispels the “myth” there is a “glass ceiling” over the party. Rig scored 35.27% of the vote ahead of Zoltán Fenyvesi of Fidesz with 34.38%. Left-wing candidate Ferenc Pad was third with 26.27%. The final result was expected to be announced on Thursday. Vona said the by-election had demonstrated Jobbik’s potential to replace the government. The Socialists and Democratic Coalition had been unable to score any significant success in Tapolca, so Jobbik had emerged as the main challenger for the ruling parties in the next elections. He said he was determined to develop Jobbik into a people’s party and promised to eliminate political excesses. Jobbik does not have and will not have a programme that discriminates on the basis of ethnicity or religion, Vona insisted. Those that expected the opposite had chosen the wrong party.

Fidesz: no magic bullet
The governing party’s “central power field” strategy (built on the concept that Fidesz remains the sole governing force whose position cannot be challenged by weak opposition forces lined up at the two ends of the political spectrum) has failed. In fact, the party suffered two defeats at the hands of leftist candidates (in November 2014 in an individual constituency in Budapest and in February this year in Veszprém) and in Tapolca it received a blow from the (far-)right direction.
Moreover, it is precisely in this fundamentally right-wing district (in April 2014 the Fidesz candidate received almost as many votes as his challengers from the right and the left combined) where the “central power field” strategy would have been expected to work. Yet, this time Fidesz simply managed to make the mark. Presumably, the party is in an even poorer condition nationwide.

The current election also made it patently clear that the party has no magic bullet when it comes to mobilisation: neither the so-called “Kubatov-lists” (databases used for door-to door campaigning), nor Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s personal appeal sufficed to guaranteed victory. The interim election in the constituency around Tapol-ca has also confirmed the assumption that the durability of established institutions is a function of the prevailing balance of power in party politics – and not the other way around. As hard as Fidesz has tried to consolidate its power through a series of election reforms and centralisation keeping everyone in a dependent position, once support is withdrawn the whole structure collapses as a house of cards.

With all that, Fidesz may attempt to redraw the electoral system once again (after Tapolca, the governing party may reconsider whether the elimination of the second-round ballot would serve its purpose in the 2018 general election). However, to pass another reform Fidesz would have to find an ally in Parliament because it lost its two-thirds majority in the Veszprém by-election (currently it has but 131 delegates in a 199-seat parliament and 133 would be needed for the two-thirds).
At this point there are no signs that Fidesz is capable of adjustment, and even the current tight loss is unlikely to force it to change course. Apparently, Viktor Orbán hopes to turn the tide of public mood, putting his trust in the government’s next secret weapon, tax cuts. In the meantime, with intensifying internal conflicts, recurring management blunders, a rhetoric of “the electorate will understand it all by the end of the term” and the collapse of the party’s media and intellectual background, increasingly the third Orbán administration’s future foreshadows the ordeal faced by the leftist government after 2006.

In addition, apparently Fidesz has no adequate response for the Jobbik phenomenon: for years having essentially failed to attack its rival to the right on ideological grounds, in the final stretch of the campaign it opted for a tactic of the left that clearly failed in the past few years: the stigmatisation of Jobbik (“Jobbik is a neo-Nazi party” – as leading politicians of Fidesz repeatedly said in recent days). Although Fidesz will continue to maintain that it represent a guarantee against the far right, the message no longer carries much weight either in Hungary or abroad.

Leftist parties in shock
Far-right Jobbik’s win in Tapolca indicates that voters want a different government, however their victory is a “warning sign”, Ágnes Vadai, deputy head of the Democratic Coalition, said. Viktor Szigetvári, co-leader of the Együtt party, said his party is “not happy” just to see that ruling Fidesz’s policy “has failed”, because “the democratic opposition was running the wrong candidate and in a wrong cooperation”. By contrast, he referred to the Veszprém by-election in February where the leftist opposition supported an independent candidate, who won. “Jobbik’s gaining ground is a problem and the democratic opposition cannot rejoice,” Szigetvári added.

Bence Tordai, spokesman for the Dialogue for Hungary party, called it “shocking” that an “extreme right party, which promotes (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s interests” won. Tordai also advocated maintaining the “Veszprém model” in which “both the old left and the new left” supported one candidate, whereas he said he saw no such cooperation on Sunday. The Liberals said Jobbik’s win was “shameful” for the country. Leader Gábor Fodor said the democratic opposition should make it clear that those voters who want a change of government and want Hungary to belong to the Western world must support the Liberals and the democratic left.

The left: a defeat after two victories
A win over Fidesz not only on its “home turf” (i.e., in Budapest districts) and not merely by supporting an independent candidate (as in Veszprém) would have meant a breakthrough for the Hungarian Socialist Party. It failed to achieve its goal (clearly more daunting than in the past) and with this its role as a potential challenger has become even more doubtful. This, in turn, will intensify tensions within the leftist camp and rekindle demand for new political players, a recurring issue since 2010.
For the leftist opposition the Veszprém strategy may offer a more successful recipe: in the long term the left should stand behind locally known and popular candidates and try to attract undecided voters disaffected with the government (and by now turn them away from Jobbik).
© The Budapest Times

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Hungary: Appeals verdict expected in case of murder spree against Romani people

14/4/2015- Tomorrow, Wednesday 15 April, the second round of a court proceedings in the matter of a murder spree perpetrated against Romani people in 2008 and 2009 will begin at the Municipal Appeals Court in the Hungarian capital of Budapest. It is presumed that the second-instance court's verdict will be announced in May. The trial has undergone significant delays because the judge at the first-instance court did not manage to write up his verdict within the legally-required time frame of 60 days, which meant a disciplinary proceedings was begun against him. The judge did not send his verdict to those involved in the proceedings until one year after it was announced, and Hungarian media report that the printed version of the verdict is more than 900 pages long.

On 6 August 2013 the first-instance court sentenced Árpád Kiss, his brother István, and Petö Zsolt to life in prison. A fourth defendant, István Csontos, who drove the group's getaway car, was sentenced to 13 years in prison for never attempting to prevent them from committing their crimes. The first-instance court said the defen-dants were found guilty of participating in the attempted murders and murders of several people for particularly heinous reasons, i.e., racial motivation, which is not recognized by the Hungarian Criminal Code as an aggravating circumstance. The court proved that the defendants planned and executed a total of nine attacks in a particularly heinous manner.

Six people died as a result of this crime spree, including a small child, while another five were seriously injured. The assailants threw a total of 11 Molotov cocktails and shot 78 rounds of ammunition, including at people who were fleeing burning buildings, exposing a total of 55 people to possible harm. During their assaults the per-petrators used building plans with sketches of possible exit routes, maps, night-vision goggles and walkie-talkies. During one nighttime attack on a single-family home in the northern town of Kisléta, for example, they shot a mother to death in her sleep and seriously wounded her daughter.

Hungarian authorities keep information about suspect secret
The Hungarian Defense Ministry previously announced that during the investigation, the Military Security Office (Katonai Biztonsági Hivatalnál - KBH) committed serious violations of Hungarian law. It has been determined that the former Director-General and the former Deputy Director of the KBH committed serious ethical and pro-fessional misconduct by failing to reveal to investigators and the relevant committees of Parliament that defendant István Csontos had previously been a secret asso-ciate of the KBH. The Central Military Prosecutor's Office initiated criminal proceedings in this matter against four officials on suspicion of felony forgery of public documents. It was also proven that another defendant, István Kiss, had long been on the radar of the National Security Agency because of his extremist activities prior to his arrest in 2011.

However, their surveillance of him was not expanded to include an investigation of the time during which the murder spree had taken place, even though that would have been legally possible. During the trial it also came to light that other people had contributed to the crimes as drivers of getaway cars; after the first-instance verdict was handed down the state prosecutor initiated prosecutions of those other suspects.

International parallels
The Hungarian case has several parallels with a series of murders committed by neo-Nazis against people of color from 2000-2007 in Germany which has been on trial in the Bavarian city of Munich for two years now. In that case as well, several members of the German secret services failed to inform investigators of serious facts in relation to the National Socialist Underground (NSU) group, which perpetrated the attacks. Detectives, therefore, based their investigations on the theory that the murder spree did not involve extremists. Similarly, in the Czech Republic the secret services and the anti-extremist department of the Moravian-Silesian Regional Police ignored, for several years, a series of arson attacks on Romani families' dwellings during 2007-2009 that ultimately resulted in the Vítkov arson attack.

One victim of that attack, an infant named Natálka, survived serious burns and will suffer the consequences of that crime for the rest of her life. In all of these cases, the perpetrators acted in accordance with the manual of the international neo-Nazi organization Blood & Honour. After committing their assaults, the perpetrators never sent any communications to the media informing them of their political demands. They carried out the attacks professionally and carefully kept their identities secret.

Hungarian victims spent years without state aid
In 2013 the Hungarian Romani civil rights activist and politician Aladár Horváth told the following to the German weekly Der Spiegel: "Those murders were crimes against humanity, but they did not disturb Hungarian society in the least. No one has ever apologized on behalf of the political elites or the state to the victims or their relatives, no one has taken responsibility - not legally, not politically, not symbolically. None of the victims has received adequate financial assistance." It was not until five years after the last attack that the Government of Viktor Orbán paid the victims symbolic compensation of several thousand euro each in order to improve their living situations. Hungarian director Bedenek Fliegauf has made a feature-length film about the case called "Just the Wind", and director Esther Hajdú made a documen-tary film about the first-instance trial, "Judgment in Hungary"; both have won several prizes at international film festivals.
© Romea.

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Italy: Row over migrant beds as boat arrivals intensify

Italy's interior ministry has ordered regional prefects to find emergency housing for an influx of boat migrants, sparking criticism on Tuesday over the government's handling of a crisis that looks set to intensify.

14/4/2015- A surge in attempted illegal crossings from the coast of north Africa saw nearly 8,500 migrants rescued between Friday and Monday, reigniting a debate in Italy over whether or not the country has a duty to house all new arrivals. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is "looking for another 6,500 beds for immigrants," said Matteo Salvini, head of the anti-immigrant Northern League, which has made the crisis one of its platforms ahead of regional elections in May. "I ask the League's governors, mayors, assessors and councillors to say no, with every means, to every new arrival. The League is ready to occupy every hotel, hostel, school or barracks intended for the alleged refugees," Salvini said on Facebook on Tuesday. The interior ministry had on Monday called on Piedmont, Lombardy, the Veneto, Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna and Campania regions to find 700 places each for the latest arrivals.

Puglia in southern Italy was told to find 300 places, while the Lazio and Marche regions were asked for another 250 each, with the remaining 1,500 beds to be divided between other regions. Members of the opposition have accused Renzi's centre-left government of pandering to those fleeing war zones or poverty, with many saying the policy of rescuing immigrants at sea encourages others to attempt the journey. "It is an absolute disgrace that the government, instead of repelling the invasion of clandestine immigrants, thinks to appropriate thousands and thousands of beds, giving in to the invasion," said senator Maurizio Gasparri from the centre-right Forza Italia party.

Boats 'should be sunk'
And with summer approaching and over 500,000 people waiting to set out from Libya for Europe according to EU border agency Frontex, charity organizations are warning the government is not prepared to deal with the next wave. Some 10,500 people have been plucked from boats since the beginning of April, with 20,500 people arriving in total so far this year. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 500 people have died at sea. Italy's coast guard said that 2,851 people had been picked up from boats on Monday alone. Forza Italia head Giorgia Meloni said the boats setting off from north Africa to Italy "should be stopped as they leave," while those used by smugglers to escape "should be sunk". The majority of immigrant arrivals have no desire to stay in Italy and quickly journey on towards northern Europe.

According to the UN's refugee agency, in 2014 the number of people fleeing conflicts in Syria and Iraq who applied for asylum in wealthy countries was the highest in 22 years. While Germany received the most applications, with 173,000 requests, Italy ranked behind the United States, Turkey and Sweden with 63,660 requests. The country has a publicly-funded network of reception centres housing some 30,000 people, according to the Migrantes Foundation. But due to severe overcrowding the extra beds are likely to be found in converted hotels, hostels, old people's homes and holiday residences which apply to take part in a state-funded hospitality scheme.
The government gives hundreds of structures across Italy €30 a day per migrant, with €2.50 going towards pocket money and the rest earmarked for bed, board and services such as legal assistance with applying for asylum. Critics have said this hospitality business, which at the end of 2014 housed over 32,300 migrants according to the interior ministry, is worth around €1 million a day and attracts profiteers and organized crime. Catholic associations like Caritas are putting roofs over the heads of another 20,000 immigrants, Migrantes Foundation director Giancarlo Perego said, adding that the government's preparations were "absolutely insufficient." "It's not tolerable for a municipality to be able to decide whether or not to take in an asylum seeker. It would be like deciding whether or not to support an old person who is not self-sufficient or an unaccompanied minor," he said.
© AFP

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Dead migrant thrown to the sharks by human trafficker

It is believed that the man died after breathing in petrol that spilled onto him as the stricken vessel made its voyage

14/4/2015- A human trafficker threw a dead migrant to the sharks, it was reported on Tuesday in the latest horror story to emerge from the deadly exodus of migrants from North Africa to Europe. Police from the Sicilian city of Ragusa arrested the suspected trafficker from Guinea who arrived at the port of Pozzallo on Monday with a group of migrants after their dinghy was rescued by a Maltese vessel. Some of the refugees said the suspect had thrown the migrant’s corpse overboard to deter sharks that were following their stricken vessel. The migrant is said to have died after breathing in petrol that spilled over him due to rough sea conditions. Ragusa police are also investigating the alleged trafficker for manslaughter in relation to the migrant’s death.

One of the witnesses was quoted by the Ragusa.it website: "We saw him collapse, he vomited and then fell face down in the centre of the boat...as soon as we realised he had died someone wanted to throw him in the water but the Nigerians didn’t want to, saying he was with them. But then at one point I saw them throw him in the water…” Il Gazzettino reported that some of the migrants told police that their dinghy was being followed by a pack of sharks. When the migrant died "the idea was hatched to throw him to the predators to keep them away". The human trafficker is the fifteenth to be arrested in Sicily this year. The suspect arrived in Pozzallo along with 110 migrants, including eight women and a child, from Mali, The Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana.

There were 10 separate rescue operation in the Channel of Sicily on Monday. As result, over 3,000 migrants are expected to land in various ports in southern Italy within the next 24 hours. The Italian foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni, said in a radio interview on Tuesday, that the problem of uncontrolled migration from Africa had “to be resolved at the root” by stabilising the situation in Libya. It is not clear if the migrants arriving at Pozzallo came from Libya. But with the oil-rich North African country in chaos, thanks to the presence of rival governments and Islamic terror groups, Italian government sources have previously warned that up to 500,000 migrants might attempt to flee across the Mediterranean this year, because there are currently no state controls in place to stop them. Nearly 500 asylum seekers drowned in the Mediterranean in the first three months of this year, compared with 46 in the first three months of 2014.
© The Independent

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Germany: Mosque set on fire

16/4/2015- A mosque in Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia region was set on fire on Tuesday taking the count of mosques attacked since 2012 to 81. Sultan Ahmet Mosque was targeted in an arson attack, specifically the prayer hall. “At first we thought the tea burnt. But then we noticed the smoke in the prayer room” said Veysel Arslan, who was present during the fire. CCTV footage showed that the arsonist entered the prayer hall, poured gasoline on the carpet and set it on fire. According to reports, the mosque only suffered material damage and nobody suffered any sort of injuries. The attacker is suspected to have entered through the rear side from the window. Insurance companies are at the scene assessing the extent of the damage. The Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs said that the prayer room and youth section had suffered damages. “We hope that the perpetrators of such a heinous act be brought as soon as possible before the law,” they said in a statement.

The extent of Islamophobic attacks and sentiment has increased in the past year following the rise of the militant groups ISIL and Boko Haram which have formed a self-proclaimed caliphate, which has been condemned by Muslim leaders worldwide. The organization, PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident), has been promoting anti-Islamic agenda through protests and online campaigning. The organization held a rally in December with 17,500 people. Protestors demanded stricter immigration rules in order to bar Muslims from coming to Germany. People gathered near the Dresden Opera House. The organizers celebrated their successful far right movement by singing Christmas carols. The movement has also gained sturdier resistance from the people, labeling them as “Neo-Nazi” and racist. Germany has become the second most popular destination for migrants and asylum seekers, after the United States. The right wing protesters want the government to clamp down on immigration rules and stop the influx of refugees and asylum seekers.
© Australian Muslim News

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Germany’s ethnic-Turkish minister says she receives death threats

A German cabinet minister of Turkish descent has said she regularly receives death threats via email from racists and far-right groups due to her ethnic background.
14/4/2015- Aydan Özoðuz, a Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) deputy in the Bundestag, the German parliament, and minister for immigration, refugees and integration, spoke to the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag in an interview over the weekend. "Every day I receive offensive and threatening emails saying things like, ‘You and all other Muslims leave the country now.' They even go further, saying that they will hang me from the nearest tree," Özoðuz said. The incident reveals the rising tide of Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment in the European Union's most populous country. Although she has faced similar threats in the past, Özoðuz said that the insults and abusive messages she receives on social media platforms have reached an unprecedented level, prompting her to report threatening messages and racist slurs to the police.

Speaking about the arson committed by far-right groups at a building newly restored for 12 immigrant families in the town of Tröglitz on Saturday, the minister said that similar attacks and events take place in many areas of Germany. However, she said, the Tröglitz incident was unique due to the popularity of the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) -- a far-right political party associated with National Socialism and known for its ultra-nationalist and anti-Semitic views -- in the town. "The NPD was able to carry out the act [in Tröglitz] without any interruption [by the police]. The mayor was then under pressure and was forced to resign," she told Welt am Sonntag. The moment when local politician Götz Ulrich publicly announced that the city was unable to provide protection for immigrants in Tröglitz, Özoðuz said, was shameful for Germany and should be a wake-up call for everyone.
© Today's Zaman

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Germany: Protests surround Dutch populist Wilders' speech at Dresden PEGIDA rally

More than a thousand people have gathered in Germany's eastern city Dresden to protest Dutch populist Geert Wilders' planned speech. Wilders is addressing a rally called by the anti-Islamization group PEGIDA.

13/4/2015- Leaders of the Social Democrats (SPD), the leftist party Die Linke and the Greens, including students and members of foreigners' councils, called for "Diversity instead of narrow-mindedness" in Dresden on Monday, where Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders was expected to address members of the anti-Islamization group PEGIDA. Saxony's Integration Minister Petra Köpping said earlier on Monday that people "needed to oppose" right-wing populists that PEGIDA was bringing into Dresden to propagate its anti-immigration ideas. Local Greens leader Jürgen Kasek also emphasized that civil society in Saxony would not allow people to go out in the street and "spread hate."

Dresden court restricts anti-Pegida rallies
Wilders was to address members of the anti-Islamization organization "Pegida," a short form for Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West. Nearly 30,000 members of the far-right group were expected. An administrative court in Dresden, however, prohibited anti-Pegida protesters from demonstrating within view or earshot of Wilders' appearance. Earlier on Monday, activists of the anti-Nazi union Dresden Nazifrei had requested permission to hold a rally in the city. Judges said the Dresden Nazifrei rally was intended to hinder Pegida protesters. Dresden Nazifrei members came out on the streets hours ahead of Wilders' speech, prompting the group to tweet that a 30-minute delay in the Dutch populist's appearance was because of their overwhelming presence. Earlier this year, nearly 20,000 anti-Pegida protesters gathered in Cologne, forcing the right-wing activists to cancel their demonstration in Germany's western city, which prides itself on its cultural diversity.
© The Deutsche Welle.

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Netherlands: 'The Dutch cultural vanguard has been silenced by Wilders'

17/4/2015- Historian, journalist and author Geert Mak (1946) is this year’s recipient of the Gouden Veer (Golden Quill). The prize is awarded to writers whose work is not only of cultural value but also shows a great measure of social involvement. Mak, whose work includes the best-selling My father’s century and his political travelogue In Europe, has long been a unique voice in the Netherlands, integrating the personal into an historical narrative. In an interview with public broadcaster Nos on Friday, Mak said today’s pens are not necessarily less sharp than in the past. ‘People can still get pretty agitated by the written word, although other media have come to the fore. Television is incredibly powerful, not to mention the internet and the white noise that is Twitter.’ Mak’s main beef is not with opinion makers, such as Bas Heijne (NRC), Bert Wagendorp (Volkskrant) and Rob Hoogland (Telegraaf), whose pens have not been blunted by ‘a lack of courage’, but with the elite.

Sneers The political and cultural vanguard of this country ‘has been silenced by Pim Fortuyn and later by Geert Wilders with their sneers about the elite’s blindness to the needs of the people’, Mak told Nos. ‘The elite, about which there is nothing shameful and which includes my own elite of people who write, has become fearful of the barrage of publicity that is unleashed. The elite has lost its courage. I say to the elite, and that goes double for the group around the Gouden Ganzenveer, that quality and a career are not the only things to think about. You also have to show courage; the courage to oppose and at the same time empathise with what is happening in society,’ he said. According to Mak the public broadcaster itself could do with a little courage. ‘Public television is feeding people pink slush most of the time. It’s insulting. There are plenty of people who would be interested in a documentary about the euro crisis because that is something that concerns them deeply and something they talk about at every birthday party.’
© The NL Times

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Dutch anti-Islam MP Wilders rallies German PEGIDA protesters

13/4/2015- Dutch far-right populist lawmaker Geert Wilders rallied thousands of PEGIDA followers in eastern Germany Monday to counter society's "Islamisation" but failed to draw the record crowds organisers had hoped for. The so-called "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident", founded half a year ago in the city of Dresden, had aimed to top their previous record from January of 25,000 people joining a rally. Instead, only about 10,000 turned up, according to media estimates, many waving Germany's red-black-gold national flag and yelling their standard chant of "we are the people". "Dresden is showing how it's done," said the flamboyant Dutch politician with the trademark peroxide blond hair, who has called Islam a fascist religion and compared the Koran to Hitler's "Mein Kampf".

"We have had enough of the Islamisation of society," he said, speaking in German to loud cheers from the crowd. "Immigrants have to adopt our values, not the other way around." He also insisted that "we don't hate Muslims, but they have to integrate" and demanded the reintroduction of border controls within the European Union. More than 2,000 anti-fascist counter-demonstrators had rallied in the afternoon, away from the PEGIDA protest site which was blocked off by police. PEGIDA marches, which have also targeted "criminal asylum seekers", mainstream political parties and the media -- began with several hundred supporters last October and peaked in January, just after the deadly Islamist attacks in Paris. But the weekly Monday rallies have since waned to several thousands following internal splits after an outcry sparked by its founder Lutz Bachmann posting pictures on Facebook of himself looking like Adolf Hitler.

Wilders, 51, who heads the Party for Freedom, was again accused of inciting racial hatred after pledging last year to ensure there will be "fewer Moroccans" in the Netherlands. The German integration commissioner, Aydan Ozoguz, had warned citizens against attending the PEGIDA event, saying that by inviting Wilders the group had shown its true extremist colours. "Anyone who still marches behind their flag is joining an openly far-right movement," Ozoguz told the Welt daily. Saxony state Interior Minister Markus Ulbig said: "This is not a good day for Saxony. With Geert Wilders they have invited a person who has hate inside him, who is divisive". Dres-den police declined to provide a crowd estimate for the PEGIDA event.
© AFP

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Netherlands: Crisis cabinet talks on refugees delayed until Friday

16/4/2015- Crisis talks between the two Dutch coalition parties about what to do with people who have been refused asylum in the Netherlands will resume again on Friday, Dutch media report. The talks had continued deep into Wednesday night without result and were due to restart on Thursday afternoon. However, they have now been moved on a day to give the parties time to prepare their positions, the Volkskrant says. The talks follow a ruling by the Council of Europe on Wednesday which said the Netherlands has to provide bed and board for undocumented people, but that it is up to the Dutch to decide how to do this.

The official Dutch policy is to evict people who have failed to qualify as refugees from refugee centres and to encourage them to return home. However, thousands have no paperwork or argue they cannot go back because it would be unsafe. The coalition Labour party wants to continue providing emergency accommodation but the VVD does not. It says offering bed and board will act as a draw to other asylum seekers. According to the Volkskrant, there are around 60,000 undocumented refugees in the Netherlands who were originally asylum seekers.
© The Dutch News

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Dutch must continue helping undocumented refugees: Council of Europe

15/4/2015- The Netherlands must offer food and shelter to refugees without proper paperwork but can decide itself how best to do this, according to the human rights organisation Council of Europe. The Netherlands has a policy of evicting failed asylum seekers from refugee centres if they refuse to cooperate with their deportation. Refugee organisation Vluchtelingenwerk estimates some 5,000 would-be refugees are turned out onto the street every year. Many of them remain in the country and live illegally. Several hundred high profile failed asylum seekers are currently squatting or living in temporary accommodation in Amsterdam and other cities. They say they cannot return home because it is unsafe or because they don’t have proper papers.

The Council of Europe last year said the Netherlands should ensure everyone living in the country has food, clothes and shelter and that includes failed asylum seekers who are not cooperating with efforts to deport them. On Wednesday, the council’s ruling Committee of Ministers upheld that earlier decision. Senior officials from the two ruling parties met prime minister Mark Rutte for talks on Wednesday afternoon to discuss how best to implement the ruling. The Labour party wants to provide undocumented refugees with a place to sleep and food, but the VVD is opposed.
© The Dutch News

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Dutch footballer Wijnaldum accuses own fans of racism

13/4/2015- Go Ahead Eagles player Giliano Wijnaldum had racist comments shouted at him during a confrontation between him and a group of his own club’s fans, AD reports. The confrontation happened after the home defeat against FC Twente (1-3) Sunday. Wijnaldum was confronted by four fans as he was leaving the stadium. They blamed him for the loss of the match, accusing him of a lack of commitment. Wijnaldum, of course, disagreed. According to the newspaper, this then turned into a brawl in which one of the fans got a bloody nose. Stewards of the club managed to rescue the player from his assailants. The fans still shouted insults after Wijnaldum. He defended himself by saying that he definitely gives everything he has to the club, which is when the fans started hurling racist abuse at him.
© The NL Times

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UK: Religious activities help minorities, but not Muslims, build friendships

University of Manchester PhD researcher presents findings to British Sociological Association's annual conference today.

16/4/2015- Being active in a church or other religious group is a good way for ethnic minorities to develop friendships with white people, research has found – but this does not work for Muslims. Yinxuan Huang, of The University of Manchester, was due to tell the British Sociological Association’s annual conference in Glasgow today that the religious activities of Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and black Christians made it more likely that they had a close friend who was white. An analysis of 29,016 survey responses from non-white people found that those who were active in their church, temple or synagogue were between 8% and 12% more likely to have a close white British friend than those who were not religious. The exception was active Muslims, whose religious activities did not bring them white friends.

Mr Huang also found that second generation immigrants were up to 18% more likely to have a close white friend than others. However, this again did not apply to Muslims. Giving the results of his PhD research to the conference, Mr Huang said that he found that active participation in religious activity, such as attending services, organising events or mentoring others, was necessary to have an effect – those who were spiritual without taking part were not more likely to have white friends. Mr Huang found that only education made Muslims more likely to have a close white friend: those with degrees were 17% more likely, the largest rise among all the groups with degrees. Mr Huang said: “For all non-white believers excepting Muslims, religious community participation is linked to greater connectedness with the white majority.”

He said that Muslims were “not succeeding in breaking through the barrier in bonding with the white majority. The inherent socioeconomic disadvantages and the emerging Islamophobia narrative in the public life tend to bind British Muslims closer to each other and to inhibit their contacts with the white majority.” He was due to tell the conference that “religion may create boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’ in a multicultural society. In Western Europe, this narrative has come into vogue in the politics of migration with the emergence of Islamophobia, the increasing visibility of far-right politicians who appear hostile to immigrants, and shocking events such as the murder of Lee Rigby and recent shootings in France. “Much of the focus has been on the dark side of religion in integration, whereas how religious engagement could contribute positively to a multicultural society has received little attention.

“For many ethnic minorities, religious groups and organisations are among the very few institutions that are easily accessed and trusted. Co-religionists who share similar norms and values are keen to help each other regardless of different cultural backgrounds, and entering a place of worship does not require the same experien-ces, language skills, or even social status, as joining many other types of civic organisation. “Religious involvement also provides the foundation for wider civic and economic participation, because participation in formal services and church activities effectively generates opportunities for participants to establish contacts with other people both within and beyond their faith communities.”
© The University of Manchester

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Ukip only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto

The party said it isn't "driven by the needs of differing special interests groups"

16/4/2015- Charities representing lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) people have criticised UKIP for being the only one of the seven main political parties to not mention gay people in its manifesto. As politicians come under increasing pressure to tackle issues facing the LGBT community, Ukip’s track record has been marred by a string of embarrassing gaffes. Earlier this month, Ukip’s prospective parliamentary candidate Kendrick 'Dickie' Bird was accused of calling former Liverpool and Chelsea Fernando Torres “a gay boy like the rest”, according to a report by the Oxford Mail. The party appears to have made no attempt to mend its image over LGBT rights in its manifesto. In comparison, the Liberal Democrats dedicated an entire page to showcasing its efforts to support those who identify as LGBT, while the Labour Party has promised to continue tackling homophobia at home and abroad.

Making less of a statement than the other parties, the Conservatives mentioned LGBT rights in its section on its Big Society policy, in a paragraph on “equal rights”, and reminds readers that the Coalition introduced of gay marriage. Meanwhile the Green Party has published a 10-point list of policies to “advance LGBTQ rights”, including combating violence by legislating against all forms of hate crime; and Plaid Cymru is pledging to eradicate LGBT-based bullying in schools. The SNP's stance on LGBT rights is as yet unclear, as it has not yet released its manifesto. A spokesperson for LGBT charity Stonewall has called the decision "extremely disappointing." “It’s extremely disappointing that Ukip has failed to recognise or agree to help tackle issues affecting the way certain groups of people can live freely as themselves without fear of persecution or discrimination. "We’re at an extremely important point in the LGBT movement where, if we have any hope of achieving this, complacency is not an option".

Alistair Stewart, the Acting Executive Director of the Kaleidoscope Trust, which fights for LGBT rights overseas, has said the Ukip manifesto includes a “number of things” that are “disappointing, if not surprising.” “The absence of any reference to the LGBT community really stands them out compared to almost all other parties, who have flagged their commitment to supporting LGBT voters.” Addressing Ukip's plan to cut the international aid budget and scrap the Department for International Development, Stewart said: “As an organisation that works to support LGBT people abroad we are incredibly concerned by the policy to cut the aid budget." He added the fund is one of the UK’s “strongest tools” to supports human rights abroad, as well as those who defend them.

A Ukip spokesman has defended the decision and said: “Ukip believe absolutely in equality, and as such have produced a manifesto for all, rather than driven by the needs of differing special interest groups. “We believe that amongst other things properly funded healthcare, that lower taxes, that a decent defence and political freedom from the European Union are things that are good for all people regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual preference. It is a message of equality and universality.”
© The Independent

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UKIP Black Country candidate condemns 'evil cult of Islam'

A UKIP candidate standing for Parliament has described Islam as an ‘evil cult’.

16/4/2015- Steve Latham, who is aiming to win in West Bromwich East, made the remarks on his Facebook page. ukip fb

UKIP has today stood by him after investigating. The party could not drop him as a candidate even if it wanted to as nominations closed on April 9. Last night, he apologised and said he was only criticising extremists, not Muslims in general. The former pub landlord, now a coach driver, put a message on Facebook linking to an old news story about a then-Labour minister claiming the party had been infiltrated by a fundamentalist Muslim group that wanted to create an ‘Islamic social and political order’ in Britain.
© The Express and Star

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UK: #IAmAnImmigrant campaign to tackle xenophobia

A British organisation called Movement Against Xenophobia (MAX) launched an ad campaign Tuesday in an effort to combat growing hostility towards immigrants, in the lead-up to the UK general election.

15/4/2015- The “I am an Immigrant” campaign features posters with photos of immigrants, along with their home country and their job in the UK. Some of the highlighted professions include a teacher, nurse and barrister. According to the campaign website the goal is to “challenge the negative rhetoric against immigrants, celebrate them and provide them with a platform to share their story”. The campaign encourages immigrants to submit their photos and stories, and to create their own poster. Fifteen immigrants were selected to be photographed by Vogue photographer Philip Volkers and featured on posters now plastered in the London Underground. The organization then encourages users to take photos of the posters and tweet using the hashtag #IAmAnImmigrant. Since March 15, the hashtag has been used more than 14,000 times.

Three-quarters of British want reduced immigration
The Movement Against Xenophobia group was launched in reaction to an onslaught of anti-immigration sentiment in the UK. According to a briefing released by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, approximately three quarters of people in Britain are in favour of reducing immigration. The data, which comes from polls and surveys of adults in Great Britain and the UK conducted by various organizations, shows that over 56 percent of respondents want immigration “reduced a lot”. Compared to other countries, respondents in the UK are also more opposed to immigration in general. The “I am an Immigrant” crowdfunder campaign (a platform for raising money) surpassed its £44,000 ($64,372.00) goal and raised nearly £55,000 to fund the project. On the crowdfunder site, the group says the issue of xenophobia will only get worse with the coming elections, adding that “the negative rhetoric against immigrants fuelled by populist media has meant the Government is countering this by passing legislation that is increasingly anti-immigrant”.

Immigration has been a major point on the UK campaign agendas for politicians. In 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party, promised voters that he would cut migration by the tens of thousands. Then in a 2014 speech, Cameron said, “Immigration benefits Britain, but it needs to be controlled.” But despite Cameron’s promise to curb immigration, 2015 figures show that immigration numbers were close to 300,000, a significant increase over 12 months, according to the UK's Office of National Statistics (ONS). The ONS report also showed that there was a significant increase in the amount of immigrants coming to the UK from non-EU countries, one of the groups that conservatives wanted to target.

In a statement on the MAX website, the organization says that “migrants make a substantial contribution to the economy, enrich Britain’s culture and improve the standard of its public services”. It also calls for the government “to reject the ‘numbers game’ politics of immigration and to pursue an immigration system built on human rights and the needs of the UK”.
© France 24.

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UK: Glasgow Sikh Gurdwara remains defiant after targeted with graffiti

The Central Gurdwara in the west end was vandalised last week and the Sikh community says they will continue to champion an equal and just Scotland for all.

13/4/2015- Glasgow's new £15 million Central Gurdwara has been vandalised by fascist thugs who thought it was a mosque. The Sikh building, with its gold dome rising over the west end across from the Gaelic School, had the words "F**k Islam. No SHARIAH!" and a Nazi swastika scrawled on the side, reported community leaders. The vandalism was reported to police and the damage cleared, and the Sikh community said they remained committed to creating an equal and just Scotland for all. In a statement, Surjit Singh Chowdhary, vice-president of Central Gurdwara Singh Sabha, said: "The Sikh community completely abhors the hateful ideology of Islamopho-bia. We are in complete shock that such disgraceful words were put on the walls of this great Gurdwara.

"The Sikh community's gift to Glasgow has been commandeered as a platform for the hateful messages which do not belong in our country. We hope that Glasgow stands shoulder to shoulder with us and we extend an open welcome to everyone to learn about Sikhs and our Gurdwara. The only way to challenge hate is through education to promote understanding of Scotland's diverse communities.” Charandeep Singh, general secretary of Glasgow Gurdwara on the south side, added: “These words represent ignorance at its worst. Unfortunately in this climate of rampant Islamophobia, members of the Sikh community have fallen victim too. "Instances ran-ging from jeers of 'Taliban' or 'Bin Laden' directed at turban-wearing Sikh men, to the firebombing of a Gurdwara in Kent after the 7/7 London terrorist attacks have beset the Sikh community.

"This episode is a sad reminder that Sikhs, Muslims, Jews and other minorities face public ridicule and criminal attacks which go against the values of our society. The perpetrators here are totally ignorant to the values of the Sikh community and the contribution made by Sikhs over nearly 100 years. "This sad incident should energise our political leaders and fellow citizens to continue the campaign to root out such hateful beliefs. We will continue our dialogue with the police, local & national politicians to create an inclusive society and celebrate the contributions made by Scottish Sikhs to our country.”
© The Daily Record

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Children of Holocaust survivors inherit the role of witness

13/4/2015- When David Hershkoviz was a child, he used to wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of his mother screaming in her sleep, knowing that she was reliving the horrors of the Holocaust. In time, he learned of the traumatic wartime experience that haunted her most — being torn away from her own mother at the Auschwitz concentration camp's selection line, where at 21 she was forced into work and her mother dispatched to death. "That separation never left her," said Hershkoviz, 54, his voice quivering as he choked back tears. "She said, 'I think my mother is angry at me because I left her. ... My mother never comes to me in my dreams. I haven't dreamed about her since we parted. How is that possible?'"

When his mother, Mindel, died two years ago, he wanted to carry on her legacy by bearing witness to the Holocaust. He found help in a first-of-its-kind course teaching the children of Holocaust survivors how to ensure their parents' stories live on. Hershkoviz is one of 18 graduates of the Shem Olam Institute's inaugural four-month "second-generation" course, where children of survivors study the history of the horrors their parents endured and how best to pass it on. The program aims to usher in a new stage of Holocaust commemoration in a post-survivor era. The German Nazis and their collaborators murdered 6 million Jews during World War II, wiping out a third of world Jewry. Only a few hundred thousand elderly survivors remain, and the day is fast approaching when there will be no one left to provide a coherent first-person account of the ghettos and death camps.

With Israel marking its annual Holocaust remembrance day this week, that has become the central challenge for Holocaust institutes around the world as they rush to collect as many records and belongings as possible before the live testimony of survivors is a thing of the past. Shem Olam looks to take this trend one step further, by not only recording survivors' biographies but also the emotional experiences that can be relayed through their children. "We are here to give a different narrative of the Holocaust. We've heard the story of tragedy, we want to give the story of how people coped inside this living hell," said Avraham Krieger, the institute's director. Krieger, himself a child of survivors, said the second generation grew up in homes that were haunted by the past and where the concept of a grandparent was nonexistent.

He believes that in 100 years, when people recall the Holocaust, they will be most interested in how people lived rather than how they died. He says it is his genera-tion's responsibility to counter the myth of Jews meekly marching to their deaths. "The story of the Holocaust is how a person copes in such an environment," he said. "An extreme reality, which has no parallel in modern history, of people who are in the most dire human situation and are still maintaining their humanity, still maintaining something from their values."

Deborah Dwork, director of the Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, welcomed the initiative, saying it would be very meaningful for future generations to have live contact with people who had personal relationships with survivors. She said there are still some Americans old enough to remember the powerful experience of meeting someone who was the child of a slave. "That physical presence of a second generation person will lend authenticity to the history and will give it another dimension," she said, before adding a warning. "I am a historian so what I want to say to them though is, 'You inherited the legacy of trauma but it is not your history. ... The history your parents lived is their history, not yours.'"

Established in 1996, Shem Olam says it looks to provide an alternative to the more established Holocaust museums by providing the "story behind the story" and getting beyond the victimization to focus on issues of faith and resilience. Krieger said "Shem Olam" derives its name from the same passage in the book of Isaiah that men-tions "Yad Vashem" — the name of Israel's official Holocaust memorial. Yad Vashem is Hebrew for "a memorial and a name," while Shem Olam roughly translates into "everlasting name." Located in a modest three-story building inside a Jewish seminary in this small central Israeli village, it features Holocaust-inspired artwork and artifacts collected from the destruction, such as a charred Torah scroll. Shem Olam, which receives minimal state funding and mostly exists off contributions, focuses on documenting religious life in the Holocaust. It holds public lectures and arranges delegations to former Jewish communities in Europe. But its flagship project of late has been the second-generation outreach program.

"Today we, as second generation, know which camp my mother and father were in, and how much bread they got is an important story. But it is more important to find out what kind of person they were," said Krieger, 53. "We never really asked the tough questions of how our parents coped emotionally." Besides finding a kinship with others who shared a similar background, Hershkoviz said the course helped him understand his mother better. She died at the age of 90 with 13 great-grandchil-dren, and though her biography is well chronicled, Hershkoviz is determined to keep her "emotional experience" alive as well. "The most significant thing I have to pass on from my mom is survival and how she built a new family," he said. "I feel a responsibility to tell her story. There is no one else to do it."
© The Associated Press

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Sweden: Government to invest in anti-racism centre

The Swedish government will invest five million kronor ($566,000) this year in a national centre on racism and violent extremism at the University of Gothenburg.

12/4/2015- Knowledge is the most effective tool we have against racism, according to Sweden’s Culture and Democracy Minister Alice Bah Kuhnke, who announced the initiative. "We're lacking a knowledge and resource centre and that's why we're strengthening the University of Gothenburg with five million kronor this year," she said. The national centre’s aim is to spread the use of successful programs and science-based methods to create a more tolerant society. One of the models that will be expanded is the Tolerance Project, which is based on the so-called Kungälv model, a teaching method aimed at teenagers between the ages of 14 and 16. The Kungälv model was created in the wake of the brutal 1995 murder of 14-year-old John Hron by four young neo-Nazis in Kungälv, north of Gothenburg. The model has proved successful – today there is no neo-Nazi recruitment in Kungälv – and has been recognized by the UN.

The Tolerance Project’s goals are to increase tolerance and reduce racism and intolerant attitudes among young people, especially those living in intolerant or extreme-ly intolerant environments. It is currently in schools in 20 communes. “The project uses scientific methods and works with both youth and adults in the area,” said Bah Kuhnke. “It’s important that it be expanded further.” But she emphasized that successfully fighting racism won’t be done quickly, adding that the government was making a long-term investment in anti-racism efforts in Sweden. The government has also announced plans to fund a new program to promote research on racism. And last Wednesday the government announced it would allocate 13 million kronor ($6 million) a year from 2016-19 in their spring budget to educating so called “bridge builders”, who will work to increase knowledge of Roma culture and language in the education and social care sectors.
© The Local - Sweden

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Russia: Spartak Moscow punished for racist banners

14/4/2015- Spartak Moscow have been fined £8,600 after fans displayed racist images in a game at Arsenal Tula. Arsenal have also received a fine of £11,100, most of which is for safety failures, after a supporter fell from the roof of the stadium and broke both of his arms. Spartak fans displayed neo-Nazi images at the game on 9 April. The Moscow club's supporters will be banned from their next two away games, excluding women and children under 12. Arsenal Tula will be forced to play their next Russian Premier League home match at a neutral venue. The match, won 1-0 by Tula, was also marred by violence in the stands, with Spartak fans climbing on to the roof of the stadium and throwing flares and other objects at rival supporters.
© BBC News

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EU initiative risks turning Roma into entertainers, not real people with human rights

15/4/2015- The Council of Europe recently announced a joint initiative with the Open Society Foundations (OSF), a charity led by billionaire philanthropist George Soros, to create a European Roma Institute (ERI). Billed as a “Roma-led” initiative, its declared purpose is to sponsor Romani artistic cultural production, to raise awareness of the Roma and to advise the Council of Europe on policy in relation to Roma. The establishment of the ERI comes as the Council of Europe announced it would end its partnership with the European Roma and Travellers Forum, which it set up in the early 2000s as its own consultative body.

Wasted decade for Roma?
The partner on the ERI initiative, George Soros’s OSF, has been a key player in the promotion of Roma inclusion since the early 1990s. Soros set up a network of Romani NGOs as well as powerful in-house projects devoted to supporting a Roma voice. In 2005, he initiated a partnership with the governments of ten states in central and eastern Europe under the heading “Decade of Roma Inclusion”. The idea was to get governments to assume the responsibility for the work that Soros’s civil society initiatives had pioneered. As the decade comes to a close, critiques pointed to very little change on the ground save the emergence of a small group of Roma whose careers have so far revolved around the network of Roma NGOs. Soros now faces the challenge to launch a new initiative, to show that his political impact is not limited to post-communist Europe – and not least to provide further employment for the generation of Roma activists that he has nourished so far.

Closed circle
Western governments in particular reacted sceptically when the ERI was first announced in April 2014, as did the ERTF and the Romani Study Network. There was concern over the idea that ERI, if it became part of the Council of Europe, would embed cultural production into a political organisation. Academics were worried that ERI’s declared ambition to “license research and teaching on Roma” would allow a circle of appointed individuals to interfere with the content of research and so potentially with academic freedom. This concern was amplified by the fact that those individuals, who were at the time known to be part of the circle of designated leaders of ERI, issued an overt challenge to established academic research in Romani studies, claiming that it lacked representation from scholars of Romani ancestry and was therefore inherently biased.

In a well-choreographed effort to pre-empt the critics, the second attempt to launch ERI was announced on March 26, 2015 in a joint online commentary from the Council of Europe’s secretary-general Thorbjørn Jagland and George Soros. The first sentence of their comment read: For more than four decades Europe’s Roma community have wanted to establish an institution that would give their music, art and unique traditions their own stage. The text was accompanied on the OSF website by a photo of Romani musicians playing violins and guitars. It went on to promise that the institute would not only educate about Roma culture but also act as policy adviser to the Council of Europe and member states. The public statement, which caught key advisers to the secretary-general by surprise, came just one week before a scheduled discussion on the topic at the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly.

In the very same week, it was announced that German parliamentarian Phillip Missfelder – who had tabled a motion on ERI at the Council of Europe back in March 2014, had been appointed as rapporteur on Roma for the parliamentary assembly, thus ensuring that the ERI would command support from all sides. As for the concept itself, while Council of Europe officials continue to insist in informal conversations that the recruitment process for ERI’s management will be open and transparent, OSF has made it quite clear that it has a fixed idea as to who would run the institute. It hints at an alliance which in fact includes individuals who have been referring to themselves in discussions with Council of Europe officials as “the Roma elite”. Some of them have a track record of rising up against both grassroots representatives of Roma, accusing them of everything from corruption to misogyny, and against academic experts in Romani studies, accusing them of a power monopoly.

Risk of tokenism
Overall ERI appears so far to be a conflation of financial muscle and top-down political power, pitched as a way of handing the power over the dissemination of knowledge on Roma to those who self-identify as Roma. Such an initiative risks rupturing the respect that the Council of Europe commands as the leading European institution on human rights – and one that is governed by consensus rather than muscle. It also risks using Roma as tokenistic representatives to legitimise an agenda that has become driven primarily by the need to maintain contracts for funded service interventions. Worse, it risks delivering a setback to the efforts of the past two decades which aimed to highlight the plight of the Roma as a human rights issue by foregrounding the more popular image of Gypsies as entertainers, best represented by the romantic imagery in the joint commentary by Jagland and Soros.

Finally, by putting forward the notion that knowledge on Roma should be the exclusive property of those who self-identify as Roma, it jeopardises the freedom of academics to engage in such studies on the basis of their qualifications and expertise. This means that non-Romani academics whose research might bring them to different conclusions than those that ERI prefers to showcase, might find themselves accused of prejudice and colonialism. If this happens, it will discourage many from engaging in the study of Romani culture – and will thereby isolate Romani studies from mainstream academia and confine it to a sector that is politically managed.
© The Conversation

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Headlines 10 April, 2015

Spain Islamists Accused in Jewish Bookstore Bomb Plot

10/4/2015- Members of a suspected militant Islamist cell arrested this week in Spain were trying to obtain explosives to bomb a Jewish bookshop in Barcelona, an investigating magistrate said on Friday. Other potential targets of the group included synagogues and public buildings in the Catalonia region, the magistrate said in a report after receiving information from prosecutors. The report said seven of the 11 people arrested on Wednesday in northeastern Catalonia have been put under formal investigation - a step just short of being charged - and will be held in custody awaiting trial, it added. All but one of them is suspected of belonging to a militant cell with a profile similar to that of the Islamic State jihadist movement, while the last one is suspected of aiding the cell and possessing weapons and explosives, it said.

Three other arrested persons have been granted a conditional release and a fourth is a minor and will spend six months in a youth reform center. Spain has been cracking down on suspected militants in the wake of the January Islamist attacks on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris that killed 17 people. More than 30 people have been arrested so far this year in Spain. One of those detained in Catalonia, described as the cell’s founder, had told members he had been “about to attack a Jewish bookshop in Barcelona,” the magistrate said in the report. The person had also wanted to kidnap a bank branch manager and had suggested attacking synagogues and state security forces such as police and the Catalan parliament. The attackers were to hide in a van, armed with hand grenades and guns.

Authorities found 25 empty bags belonging to one of the people that contained traces of chemicals that could be used to make explosives, the report said. Other potential targets of the group included synagogues and public buildings in the Catalonia region, the magistrate said in a report after receiving information from prosecu-tors. The report said seven of the 11 people arrested on Wednesday in northeastern Catalonia have been put under formal investigation - a step just short of being charged - and will be held in custody awaiting trial, it added. All but one of them is suspected of belonging to a militant cell with a profile similar to that of the Islamic State jihadist movement, while the last one is suspected of aiding the cell and possessing weapons and explosives, it said. Three other arrested persons have been granted a conditional release and a fourth is a minor and will spend six months in a youth reform center.

Spain has been cracking down on suspected militants in the wake of the January Islamist attacks on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris that killed 17 people. More than 30 people have been arrested so far this year in Spain. One of those detained in Catalonia, described as the cell’s founder, had told members he had been “about to attack a Jewish bookshop in Barcelona,” the magistrate said in the report. The person had also wanted to kidnap a bank branch manager and had suggested attacking synagogues and state security forces such as police and the Catalan parliament. The attackers were to hide in a van, armed with hand grenades and guns. Authorities found 25 empty bags belonging to one of the people that contained traces of chemicals that could be used to make explosives, the report said.
© Reuters

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YouTube Creators Questioned About Racism

By Krystle Mitchell

10/4/2015- YouTube is a well-known platform amongst many people worldwide. Many people use the site for a variety of reasons whether to build an audience, broad-cast their talents, watch shows, learn something new, or listen to music. Lately YouTube has had some users concerned with the company creators being prejudice. As hate marks are constantly on the site, the platform has not found a way to fully protect its users from verbal abuse. YouTube creators have been questioned about racism due to their lack of promoting non-white individuals and their guidelines of banning hate remarks.

YouTube is not responsible for promoting everyone. When a user joins the platform, he or she must have somewhat of a following already. The site is designed to promote channels and users that are worthy of a worldwide audience. Moderators also help those that should get noticed by placing them on the home screen, or sharing them on Twitter. However, there are only a few darker skinned users that are shared on the shared sites. It was not until February 2015 when Akilah Hughes, Fusion contributor, and YouTube user took the initiative to question YouTube creators about their lack of promoting brown skin creators. Hughes generated a study of the amount of shares YouTube has on its Twitter and homepage, and kept a record of how many of the people were non-white out of all the shares in the month. Her results proved the creators of the platform might have racial animosity against those that are not white.

Once Hughes’ information was completely gathered, she presented her findings to a spokesperson and asked the creators about their racist behavior. The spokesperson said YouTube is available to anyone around the world to upload videos, gain a following and profit for their content. Since it is very open, it has accumulated a large diverse library reflecting a broad spectrum of cultures, beliefs, classes, sexualities, and races that are underrepresented elsewhere.

While Hughes is the first to do the study and question the creators about their lack of promotion, she is not the first user to question the creators about racism. CNN interviewed a famous user who was harassed about her race from viewers. When CNN asked YouTube creators about the harassment and why they have not created a better protection realm, they said the guidelines are clear that hate comments are not allowed and should be reported. Users have the ability to block, delete, and refuse comments altogether. This suggests that the site can not go further than what it already does to protect users from obscene comments if they do not do any of the following.

A researcher that focuses on social issues online stated that YouTube is a reflection of the culture people live in. The hate comments are visual proof that many people out there are very racist. Social media platforms are outlets for those people to convey their hate, because the only punishment they get is being blocked by the per-son that they dislike. The person is still allowed to see other videos of the YouTuber in question after being blocked from comments. Therefore, many users ignore the prejudice comments and continue their craft since there is no way to stop them altogether. YouTube creators getting questioned about their racist behavior and acts on the hate crimes is only a stepping stone for what is to come. A new upgrade in the guidelines must take place to prevent further threats, and better ways to promote those that are not being recognized.
© The Guardian Liberty Voice

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Ireland: Protest mounted in Dublin against Polish far-right event

Scuffles reported outside Jury’s hotel but Garda spokeswoman says there were no arrests

10/4/2015- A group of up to 60 anti-racist and anti-fascist protesters gathered outside Jury’s hotel on Ormond Quay on Friday night at about 9pm where it is understood a Polish far-right event took place. There were reports of scuffles outside the hotel, but a Garda spokeswoman said there were no arrests and no incidents to report. A protest had been mounted earlier at the Academy Plaza hotel off O’Connell Street where the same event had been due to take place. Marian Kowalski, a candidate in next month’s Polish presidential election, was due to speak at the Academy Plaza hotel off O’Connell Street. The group hosting the event, a far-right Polish political movement, Ruch Narodowy, cancelled the event on Thursday, a spokesman for the hotel said. “They cancelled themselves, saying they were moving to another venue.”

Mr Kowalski, Presidential candidate for Ruch Narodowy (The National Movement) in elections taking place in Poland 10th May, was due to address Poles living in Ireland, at the hotel. He was also due to address members of the Polish community in Cork on Sunday but the Ambassador Hotel there has cancelled the group’s booking. A crowd of between 40-50 protesters had gathered outside the Academy Plaza hotel in Dublin on Friday evening. Gardai at the hotel said the meeting was cancelled and the meeting was not going on inside the hotel and that it was moved to an unnamed location. Poles living here have a vote in the election and Ruch Narodowy has members across the State with a branch in Cork.

Among those organising the protest was Shane O’Curry, director of the European Network Against Racism (Ireland), who said beforehand that the protest would be “dignified and peaceful”. It was going ahead as it was necessary to stand “in solidarity with the vast majority of Polish people in Ireland who do not share this organisa-tion’s’s views”. He described Ruch Narodowy as “deeply racist, deeply homophobic, anti-Semitic and deeply anti-women”. He said when one examined “their web-site, their literature, their insignia, their language” one could see “they are neo-Nazi. These are the real deal,” he said. Ruch Narodowy is an umbrella group made up primarily of two far-right organisations – the ONR (National Radical Camp) and MW (Common Polish Youth). They dress in black uniforms and photographs show them giving fascist salutes and marching carrying neo-Nazi flags and banners.

Though both meetings scheduled for this weekend have been cancelled there are rumours the events have been moved to alternative venues in Dublin and Cork. Among those who had contacted the Ambassador hotel in Cork was Sinn Féin deputy, Jonathan O’Brien. “I emailed the manager on Wednesday just outlining my con-cerns and giving a bit of background on the group, the basics of their politics and told her my view of the need to challenge this ideology. The manager called me back on Thursday to say they had decided not to host the event,” said Mr O’Brien. “I am all for freedom of speech but that comes with responsibilities and in my opinion the views expressed by this group have no place in a modern society. I’m not saying they don’t have a right to have these views or even to express these views but these views are dangerous and have to be challenged.”

A spokeswoman for the Academy Hotel in Dublin confirmed the event had been cancelled, as did a spokesman for the Ambassador hotel in Cork. Neither would com-ment further. A Jury’s Hotel spokesman was contacted for comment on the event at the hotel.
© The Irish Times.

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Ireland: Cork hotel drops far-right Polish debate as locals protest 'fascist views'

A Cork hotel has refused to host a debate between rival right-wing Polish presidential candidates following widespread opposition.

9/4/2015- A number of left-wing groups had planned to stage a demonstration outside the Ambassador Hotel in Cork on Sunday, where Marian Kowalski, the Presidential candidate for Ruch Narodowy (The National Movement) was due to debate independent candidate and Euroscpetic Grzegorz Braun. The hotel however has since cancel-led the event, doing so “in the interest of their reputation” said local Sinn Fein TD Jonathan O’Brien. The first stage of the debate however is still due to go ahead in the Academy Plaza Hotel on Findlater Place in Dublin City. Speaking to Independent.ie, deputy O’Brien said Mr Kowalski’s policies supported a “racist and supremacist ideology” and that “his views were not reflective of the Polish diaspora living in Cork.” “We were deeply concerned that our city was to host an organisation which is basically an umbrella group for neo-fascist and ultra conservative elements within Poland,” he said.

“The group [The National Movement] has a long history of racism and homophobia, and while I am all for free speech, there is responsibility that comes with that.” Asked if there had been calls for the Ambassador Hotel to cancel the event, Mr O’Brien said he was unaware of any such attempts. “We never asked for the event to be cancelled, nor do I believe anyone tried to do so. I was contacted by the hotel earlier today to say that they had reconsider hosting the event, and were cancelling it in the interest of their reputation,” he said. “Our intent all along was to show that the views espoused by Kowalski are not ones shared by the people of cork.”

The presence of Mr Kowalski in Ireland has proven controversial due to his claims that people of different ethnic backgrounds should be separated. Campaigning against what it calls “liberal-leftist propaganda”, his group the National Movement uses nationalistic symbols, black uniforms and “supremacist ideology” to strengthen what they call “Polish national identity”. A Facebook page advertising the event says Polish people in Ireland have been “condemned to live a life outside or homeland” and encourages people to listen to the views of both men. Organisers of the counter-protest entitled ‘Dublin Says No to Fascism‘ say they intend a peaceful picket at the Academy Hotel in Dublin, whose staff told Independent.ie that they could not comment on whether the Polish presidential debate would go ahead tomorrow.
© The Irish Independent

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Netherlands: Support grows for a ban on anti-democratic groups

9/4/2015- Anti-democratic groups should be banned in the Netherlands, according to the right-wing VVD and three Christian parties in the Dutch parliament. The parties, who together control 61 of the 150 parliamentary seats, say the constitution should be changed to prevent groups like IS overthrowing democracy in the future. ‘It is crazy that Dutch laws allow us to ban a pro-paedophile party but not one which wishes to stop democracy,’ Christian Democrat MP Pieter Heerma told Radio 1 news. Countries such as Germany and Spain already have a ban in place, Heerma said. The Labour party, which forms the current Dutch coalition government together with the VVD, is opposed to a ban. ‘There will always be people who have extremist views and that will not stop by banning them,’ MP Martijn van Dam told the broadcaster. ‘If a state introduces a ban, then democracy has already lost some ground.’ The motion will be debated in parliament later on Thursday, 

Turbulent times
ChristenUnie, which has long opposed a ban on anti-democratic parties, has now thrown its weight in with the supporters, the Volkskrant reports on Thursday. A change 
in the constitution would help the state ‘stand firm in turbulent times’, MP Gert-Jan Segers told the paper. ‘We have to deal with radicalisation on two sides,’ he said. ‘On the one hand there are the salafists and the jihadis, on the other the extreme-right wing parties. The power of the centre, which defends the democratic rule of law, could do with some support.’
© The Dutch News

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Dutch soccer fans chant about burning Jews, SS ancestry

7/4/2015- Fans of a Dutch soccer club chanted anti-Semitic slogans about the Holocaust during a match against an Amsterdam club. The chants were documented on Sunday at Galgenwaard Stadium in Utrecht, a city situated 40 miles southeast of the Dutch capital Amsterdam, during an honor division match between Amsterdam’s Ajax team and FC Utrecht, the De Telegraaf daily reported. Utrecht supporters chanted the slogans to insult rival fans, whom they often call “Jews” because of the historical Jewish presence in Amsterdam, which is sometimes colloquially called “Mokum” after the Yiddish word for “place.”

During the match, dozens could be seen and heard chanting “My father was in the commandos, my mother was in the SS, together they burned Jews cause Jews burn the best” and “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.” The chanting went on for several minutes, according to The Post Online news website. FC Utrecht said in a statement that it was investigating suspected chanters and vowed to punish those identified. The song about the SS was authored by hardcore FC Utrecht fans who are known as the Bunnikside, the daily newspaper Het Parool reported.

Ronny Naftaniel, a prominent Dutch Jewish anti-discrimination activist, called on Ajax to stop future matches featuring anti-Semitic chants. “When will Ajax players walk off the field? Take action against anti-Semitism,” wrote Naftaniel, the executive vice chair of CEJI, a Brussels-based Jewish organization promoting tolerance through education.
© JTA News

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USA: Notorious Islamophobe Dutch MP To Address Members Of Congress

by Yasmine Taeb

8/4/2015- In a post for ThinkProgress last month, I discussed how a tightly-knit group of anti-Islam activists and organizations in the United States are in fact collaborating with and at times funding similar discriminatory and bigoted elements in Europe. In a recent apt example, notorious anti-Islam and far-right Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders has announced he will be addressing members of Congress at two events later this month. Wilders, who has called for a ban on the Qur’an, the construction of new mosques, and Muslim headscarves, boasted on his blog of his invitation to the United States by members of Congress. His invitees are none other than far-right congressmen Steve King (R-IA), known for his vociferous anti-immigrant stances, and Louie Gohmert (R-TX), infamous for his House floor tirades about “terror babies” and claims that “radical Islamists” are pretending to be Hispanics to come to the United States.

The trans-Atlantic alliance is in fact a match made in heaven, as Wilders’ conspiratorial and xenophobic views align well with the extreme right fringe of the Republican Party. After inquiries to Gohmert’s office for additional details about the April 29 reception, his staff merely told me that Gohmert had invited the Dutch politician to speak on Capitol Hill but that Gohmert is not hosting the reception. Wilders is also expected to speak at a breakfast the same day for lawmakers belonging to the Conser-vative Opportunity Society, a group that was founded by former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich. “I feel deeply honored by the invitations. In my speeches I will warn my American colleagues of the dangers of Islamization,” wrote Wilders on his personal blog. This is of course not Wilders’ first speaking engagement in the United States. Wilders spoke at a 9/11 commemoration rally in New York City in 2010 where he voiced his opposition to Islam.

During a visit to Denver, Colorado in 2012, Wilders warned an audience at the Western Conservative Summit of the threat of “Islamization,” called Islam a “dangerous, totalitarian ideology” and argued for banning the construction of new mosques in the United States. Last November, Wilders also spoke at notorious Islamophobe David Horowitz’s Annual Restoration Weekend in Palm Beach, Florida and proclaimed “Islam is eating away our Judeo-Christian and humanist civilization and [is] replacing it with intolerance, hatred, and violence.” He further stated: “Of course there are many moderate Muslims. I believe in moderate people, but I do not believe in a moderate Islam. There is only one Islam – the Islam of the Koran, the Hadith and the life of Muhammad, who was a terrorist and a warlord. But even though there are many moderate Muslims, it is wrong to think that the moderates are a majority. They are not.”

Wilders, who has compared the Qur’an to Hitler’s Mein Kampf and was cited by Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik in his online manifesto, has formed many allies and friends in the Islamophobia network here in the United States, including former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Center for Security Policy President Frank Gaffney. The Middle East Forum, a militarist think tank that is the source of much of the anti-Islam propaganda spread by activists and so-called experts in the United States, funded his legal defense in 2010 and 2011 against charges of inciting racial hatred in the Netherlands. David Horowitz also funded Wilders’ 2009 U.S. trip, during which Wilders participated in an event organized by the David Horowitz Freedom Center that auctioned off cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad. Wilders is also working with U.S. allies to launch a new organization—the International Freedom Alliance (IFA)—which will promote an anti-Muslim and anti-Islam message.

The reception Louie Gohmert invited Wilders to will not be their first encounter. In fact, Gohmert appeared alongside Wilders during David Horowitz’s Restoration Weekend conference in November 2014, where Gohmert fed Wilders tales about “terrorists” praying at the National Cathedral. In response, Wilders asked the audience to give Gohmert and Michele Bachmann a standing ovation for bringing up the issue. “You’re welcome back on Capitol Hill anytime. We have three members [of Congress] here and would love to sponsor you again anytime you come,” Gohmert said. It appears as though Gohmert has indeed kept his promise and invited Wilders to speak on Capitol Hill later this month. While free speech protections are much broader in America than in various parts of Europe, where hate speech is often curtailed, our elected officials should nonetheless be absolutely prohibited from expending tax payer dollars and using government property to sponsor speeches by individuals who not only demean an ethnic group, but demonize an entire religious community.
Taeb is an attorney specializing in national security and co-author of the Center for American Progress’ report, “Fear, Inc. 2.0: The Islamophobia Network’s Efforts to Manufacture Hate in America.”
© ThinkProgress.

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Russian LGBT activists describe victimisation, repression … and hope

Group of 10 activists depict dark times for LGBT rights in Russia, as they visit London for workshops and training with Stonewall.

6/4/2015- London stretches out below the window of the Stonewall meeting room on the 13th floor of a Waterloo tower block, and a group of 10 Russian human rights defenders admire the view. “London is the capital of Great Britain,” says Sergei Alekseenko, the director of the Maximum LGBT organisation, dusting off his high school English with a smile. He adds, in Russian: “It’s good to be here.” The 10 activists are here to mine the experience of the UK’s largest LGBT rights organisation, which since it was founded in 1989 has seen the introduction of legislation allowing gay couples to adopt and the introduction of gay marriage, and to see if lessons learned in Britain can help combat an ever more repressive situation in their home country.

These are dark times for human rights activists in Russia, and particularly those advocating for the LGBT community. A series of laws, including the requirement for NGOs receiving international funding to register as “foreign agents” in 2012 and a ban on gay “propoganda” the following year, have left organisations facing hefty fines and increasing marginalisation. A pervasive tone of homophobia has emboldened violent vigilantes. “Of course people are scared,” says Alekseenko, his arms folded across his chest. “Three or four years ago there were radical individuals, but now they form groups. They makes threats on social media, they publish details of activists, of their families, they threaten physical violence. Only a stupid person would not be afraid.”

Thanks to private donors Stonewall has welcomed the activists to its London hub for a week of workshops and training on subjects from security to influencing power and media skills. Founded by a small group of activists fighting for the repeal of section 28 of the 1998 Local Government Act, which, like Russia’s 2013 law, aimed to prevent the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools, they hope they have something to give. The previous day was spent learning about media strategies, and being given tips by a former ITN news journalist on how to look, stand and sound when giving interviews to camera. By the end of the week, Stonewall’s Russian guests were learning what makes a good campaign ; the importance of using evidence, targets and goals; and ways of winning powerful allies. “It’s really a big opportunity for us to get knowledge that is difficult to get in Russia,” said Olesya Yakovenko of the Russian LGBT Network.

“It’s about giving them skills and confidence, something concrete. It’s about them hearing our experiences, including those things we got wrong,” says Caroline Ellis, a senior director at Stonewall. “We know that not everything will necessarily translate, so we’re here to learn too.” By being in London, and agreeing to speak to the Guardian, the Russian activists know they are taking a significant risk, but they want their voices to be heard. Having any kind of a voice is increasingly difficult, says Tatiana Vinnichenko, the chair of the Russian LGBT Network and director of the Arkhangelsk-based organisation Rakurs, which has been forced to register under Russia’s “foreign agents” law. “It used to be much easier,” she says, proudly wearing a new T-shirt with the slogan “Some girls marry girls. Get over it”. “In the past, people thought they could make things better, things could improve. Now people are tired of fighting and getting nowhere.”

The activists tell stories of their organisations being investigated, of constantly moving goalposts, of being watched. One organisation was deemed to be engaging in political activity for having LGBT books, and an activist who is also a teacher, is in under investigation to ensure she is not promoting homosexuality. Dissent has also become an expensive business, says Anna Annenkova, from the Side by Side international film festival, which was fined 400,000 roubles (£4,700) in June 2014 after being named as a “foreign agent”. “The first impact is of course financial, it is a huge effort to pay these fines, but the second is cultural,” Annenkova says. “To people in Russia ‘foreign agent’ means a spy, someone who wants to destroy the country. It’s really negative publicity.”

The ability to demonstrate has also been heavily curtailed, she adds. In the past protesting could carry a 500 rouble fine, now anyone holding a placard can face a penalty of 30,000 roubles, a good month’s salary. The activists all fear the growing intolerance in Russian society, citing the case of Vladislav Tornovoi, a young gay man killed in a homophobic hate crime in Volgograd in May 2013. According to the investigation, he was raped with beer bottles and set on fire; a rock was brought down repeatedly on his head until he was dead. Three men were later quietly tried and convicted with long jail sentences, but reaction to the murder from some was congratulatory.

Anton Krasovsky, the former editor-in-chief of pro-Kremlin cable channel Kontr TV until he came out as gay on air, after which he was fired and the channel closed, wrote in the Guardian that news reports of the murder were followed with comments such as: “Putin did warn us that if the homos raise their heads, the Russian people will take up arms. One head has rolled.”” He added: “How did it come about that today in Russia a good gay person is a dead gay person?” Homosexuality is not illegal in Russia. It was decriminalised in 1993 and removed from the list of mental illnesses in 1999. Since the passing of the homosexual “propaganda” law, however, there has been a hardening of public opinion. Polls suggest 68% of the public support the legislation. A 2013 survey by the Pew Research Centre revealed that 74% of Russians believed homosexually should not be accepted, compared with 60% in 2002.

“Young people are the worst affected,” says Nika Yuryeva, of Coming Out LGBT group, which has been fighting attempts to classify it as a “foreign agent” since March 2013. “There is much more aggression among young people, much more hate crime. It’s noticeable to everyone that the last 18 months have got much worse.” Activists fear further crackdowns may be in the pipeline. A draft law banning “undesirable foreign organisations”, which the Duma passed after a first reading in January, could ban any international organisation that “poses a threat to the defence capacity and security of the state or to public order, or to public health”. The human rights activists holed up at Stonewall fear the laws that legalised homosexuality in the 1990s could be under threat. The Kremlin increasingly portrays human rights as a western imposition, arguing that homophobic laws are a defence of local culture and values against western imperialism. “Propaganda works,” says Vinnichenko. “They only have to put out homophobic material and people themselves will beg Putin to change the law.”

Is there anything to be hopeful about? At the very least, a backs-to-the-wall mentality has brought activists together, says Vinnichenko. “Other NGOs have taken the LGBT movement onboard,” she says. “And if LGBT leaders in the past were in competition they now feel a certain responsibility, they know they have to work toget-her.” Some people have left the movement, but new volunteers are highly motivated. Olesya Yakovenko, who joined the Russian LGBT Network after the new laws were passed, says: “Until then we read poems, it was very gentle, but as soon as the laws came into power, we had to rethink our strategy.” After sharing stories of victimisation, fear and repression, the activists give a perhaps surprising response when asked about the future. Asked to raise their hands if they think things will get better for LGBT people in Russia in the next five years, three of them raise an arm. Among them is Sergei Alekseenko. “We have to have hope,” he says. “Otherwise how can you be an activist, if you have no optimism that things will get better?”
© The Guardian

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Russian Law Enforcement Steps Up in Information War Against Ukraine

6/4/2015- The glut of criminal cases Russia's Investigative Committee has launched over incidents that occurred on Ukrainian territory in recent months is more of a political ploy than an impartial legal procedure, perpetuating an unflattering portrayal of Ukraine to buttress the Russian state's rhetoric about the crisis in the former Soviet republic, political analysts told The Moscow Times. In addition to probing crimes that have taken place across Russia, Russia's Investigative Committee seems to have conferred an informal mandate upon itself: bring to justice those it deems responsible for committing crimes on Ukrainian territory.

Last week, the committee opened an investigation into the desecration of some of Ukraine's World War II monuments, which it said were dedicated to the "struggle against fascism" and the "military glory of Russia." These acts, the committee said, were in violation of Russia's legislation on vandalized burial places and its law forbidding the "rehabilitation of Nazism." In the aftermath of the deadly shelling of a public transport stop in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk in January, the committee announced it was launching a criminal investigation into the incident. No Russian nationals were reported to be among the victims. Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin employed colorful and emotive language in a statement about the tragedy, accusing Ukrainian forces of perpetrating the attack and lashing out at Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk for having "hurriedly accused" Russia of being behind the tragedy.

"Yatsenyuk can be congratulated on the creation of a propaganda ministry," Markin said, adding that the Ukrainian prime minister had "learned well" from Nazi German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. With its repeated calls for justice to be served on Ukrainian territory — including its call to arrest Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky and Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov for "murders and illegal warfare methods, obstructing the work of journalists and kidnapping" — the Investigative Committee has not overstretched the boundaries defined by international law, according to Russian legal scholars.

Alexander Domrin, à professor at the law faculty of Moscow's Higher School of Economics, said that international law allows any given state to pursue criminal cases in foreign countries over a crime against humanity, even if the victims are not nationals of that country. Dmitry Labin, a professor in the international law department of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, said the Russian Criminal Code's articles on crimes against peace did not contain any territorial limits in terms of jurisdiction. The practice of opening investigations into incidents that occurred abroad is common if citizens of the state in question have been victims of a crime. The Investigative Committee opened another case a week after the mutilated bodies of two Russians — 5-year-old Nikita Leontyev and his 35-year-old mother, Anna Leontyeva — were found in suitcases on the banks of the Pasarel reservoir in Bulgaria.

But the Investigative Committee's seemingly tentacular reach does not transpose effectively to actual prosecutions or cross-border arrests and prosecution, according to some lawyers. "No one [from the Russian side] will be going to Kiev or anywhere else to arrest anyone," said Pyotr Kazakov, a Moscow criminal lawyer. "It would be illegal to go and arrest someone in another country. That would be out of line." This is precisely the issue Ukraine and the West have reproached Russia for in the high-profile case of Nadezhda Savchenko, a Ukrainian military pilot who was taken prisoner in Ukraine by pro-Russian rebels in June before being handed over to Moscow. Russian authorities have accused Savchenko, who is currently being held at Moscow's high security Lefortovo prison, of complicity in the deaths of two Russian journalists killed by mortar fire in eastern Ukraine last summer. She denies involvement and says she was brought over the Russian border against her will.

Legal experts interviewed by The Moscow Times said that the sensitivity of the issue of the Ukrainian conflict and the cultural, linguistic and geographic proximity of Russia and Ukraine made the Investigative Committee more likely to pursue cases in that former Soviet republic rather than in a foreign state with weaker ties to Russia. But Russian political analysts view the multiplication of Russia's Ukraine-based criminal cases as an attempt to criticize their Ukrainian counterparts and convince the domestic audience that the Russian authorities are working to serve a population President Vladimir Putin has said constitutes "one single people" with Russia. "There is no other value in this [launching criminal investigations in Ukraine] than pure propaganda," said Nikolai Petrov, a professor of political science at Moscow's Higher School of Economics. "The legal grounds stated are not the reason for this practice." The Investigative Committee had not replied to a request to comment for this story by the time of publication.

Since the outbreak of the crisis in Ukraine, Russian officials and state media outlets have repeatedly painted a dire portrait of their Ukrainian counterparts. Putin partially justified Russia's annexation of Crimea last March by labeling the new authorities in Kiev as "nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites." Russian media designated the new leaders in Kiev a fascist junta in the direct aftermath of the ouster of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Although Russian state media has toned down its rhetoric as pro-Russian rebels captured large territories of eastern Ukraine, the country continues to be portrayed as a lawless nation hostile to its Russian-speaking population. "Opening criminal cases in Ukraine is far more rewarding for Russian investigators than carrying out investigations at home," said Stanislav Belkovsky, an opposition-leaning political commentator. "The Investigative Committee has turned into one of the branches of the Kremlin's press service."
© The Moscow Times

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Russia Is Flexible When It Comes to Justice (opinion)

By Mark Galeotti 

7/4/2015- The current fad for the Russian Investigative Committee to launch criminal investigations in cases outside Russia's borders — and often outside even tenuous Russian jurisdiction — may well come back to haunt the Kremlin. After all, at a time when the question of "sovereignty" is so central to its foreign and domestic policies, does Moscow really want to encourage the "internationalization" of justice? As already reported in The Moscow Times, it has most recently opened the case of the desecration of World War II monuments in Ukraine as a breach of Russian laws on vandalism and rehabilitating Nazism. Obviously, vandalism is a crime and painting pro-Nazi graffiti is especially unpleasant. However, to present this as something meeting the requirements for international investigations, on a par with crimes against humanity, is a reach of tremendous proportions.

There is the danger of crying wolf. The outside world tends to regard these claims as nothing more than propaganda and "lawfare," the weaponization of the machinery of justice for narrow national ends. I have heard Western justice and police officials describe the Investigative Committee as nothing more than an arm of informatio-nal warfare and political persecution. This is, in my opinion, a caricature of an agency also involved in real and serious policing work. However, if this kind of perspective takes hold, then when the committee is following a real case and looking for Western cooperation, that may not be forthcoming, as it will be assumed that this must simply be a political investigation.

Second, the hyperbole of Russian rhetoric is making it very hard for the West to be able to address or even discuss the extent to which ultranationalism is a rising force in Ukraine. Of course, Moscow's propaganda overstates this by orders of magnitude, but it is not entirely invented. However, in the current overheated and polarized environment, just as questioning the Kremlin's narrative risks getting someone characterized as some kind of fascist sympathizer in Moscow, so too someone raising the problem of the rise of the far right in Ukraine in the West can all too easily be dismissed as being a dupe or tool of Moscow's. And a parenthetical note: If Kiev wants seriously to launch an information counteroffensive, it could do worse than put some serious effort into confronting the current rise in neo-Nazism. These people may be just a small, stupid and offensive minority, but their antics play disproportionately into the hands of Ukraine's enemies.

Third, the Kremlin needs to think deeply how far it wants to allow the Investigative Committee to undermine the concept of legal sovereignty. Next time some Russian politician makes a racist slur against U.S. President Barack Obama, how comfortable would Moscow be if a race crime investigation were opened by the FBI? Next time there are allegations of a Russian company's involvement in corrupt practices, would the Kremlin be happy with an inquiry by the British fraud squad? Of course, no such investigations would get anywhere, not least because of Russia's constitutional bar on extraditing its own citizens. But that is hardly the point: the chances the Investigative Committee's current inquiries in Ukraine will go beyond a press release and some overheated press articles are equally minimal. Rather, it is the principle that the bar for international justice should be lowered far enough to include vandalism that could become a weapon for the Kremlin's foes.

Putin has long championed Russia's sovereignty, although the nuances to the way he uses this are significantly different to the West's. Just as his "sovereign democracy" meant a rather different beast to the form dominant in the West, so too his championing of national sovereignty carries with it a clear sense of national priority. The West often may not practice this (just ask the Afghans, Iraqis or Libyans), but it preaches the option that sovereignty is equal. In other words, the national sovereignty of the small and the weak is just as valid and important as that of the large and the strong. Putin's notion of sovereignty clearly assumes that some powers deserve a privileged place, including Russia in Eurasia. Indeed, he probably would have no trouble conceding Central America to Washington or North Africa to the Europeans, if only they would recognize Moscow's special status in Eurasia.

For all kinds of reasons, this is not going to happen. However, the more Putin, or at least his people, seem to be suggesting that sovereignty is a negotiable value, something that only counts if it can be asserted and protected, the more it is implicitly undermining its own security. After all, if it is acceptable for one country to try and enforce its values on another, presumably this means that all those Western programs aimed at promoting democracy, questioning media and creating anti-corruption initiatives in Russia — programs the Kremlin not wholly unreasonably regards as instruments of "soft regime change" — are also acceptable?
Mark Galeotti is professor of global affairs at New York University.
© The Moscow Times

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Italy joins France and Serbia persecuting Roma minority

10/4/2015- As Europe's Roma population continues to suffer from discrimination and deplorable living conditions, a statement by Matteo Salvini, the head of Italy's far-right Northern League, about Roma camps in the country has sparked anger and anti-Roma hate crimes. Salvini said in an interview that he would "give six months' notice then raze the Roma camps to the ground." "After segregating us for 30 years, now they want to turn up with bulldozers and get rid of us. Just let them try," said Dijana Pavlovic, the spokeswoman for the Roma and Sinti Council, as reported by Agence France Presse. In Italy, only 40,000 Roma live in purpose-built camps while around 90,000 Roma are Italian citizens with regular employment and houses.

In Serbia, the humanitarian situation of the Roma is worse, as they live in segregated metal containers "far from schools, social services and access to employment." In fact, Amnesty International revealed the failure of the Serbian government concerning a multi-million euro European Commission-funded project to resettle more than 100 Roma families forcibly evicted from the Belvil settlement in Belgrade in 2012. "Millions of euros were allocated for settlements, and yet three years later, the vast majority of Roma families who were thrown out of their houses are still waiting for a place to call home," Amnesty reported. The European Commission allocated $3.6 million in 2012 for the Roma in Serbia to be resettled in new, planned housing blocks. The resettlement program was expected to be completed by February 2015, although the Serbian government and the city of Belgrade have failed to meet the requirements.

France's Roma population is a minority group targeted by vigilante attacks and stigmatized by hate speech and it faces constant fear of harassment and discrimination. The Roma community in France has long experienced "high levels of discrimination, stereotyping and racism that result in serious violations of their human rights" while suffering from multiple expulsions and forced evictions from France. The European Roma Rights Center accused the French government of "hav[ing] a clearly harmful impact on the human rights situation of the Roma" due to the deplorable living conditions in informal Roma settlements in France set up by the government. Former French President Nicholas Sarkozy's tough treatment of the Roma still continues, with many Roma subjected to mass evictions. Prime Minister Manuel Valls's integrationist attitude toward Roma migrants is similar to Sarkozy's security policy that aimed to force Roma migrants, who are residents of Romania and Bulgaria, to return to their countries of origin. In 2010, Sarkozy ordered the expulsion of illegal Roma migrants who had committed public order offenses due to concerns about public safety.

With an estimated population of 10 million to 12 million in Europe, the Roma are the largest ethnic minority group in Europe. France is home to around 400,000 Roma while 600,000 Roma currently live in Serbia, according to figures released by the Council of Europe's Roma and Travelers Division. The Roma community is defined by the European Commission as "a variety of groups of people who describe themselves as Roma, Gypsies, Travelers, Manouches, Ashkali, Sinti and other titles. The use of the term Roma is in no way intended to downplay the great diversity within the many different Roma groups and related communities, nor is it intended to promote stereotypes."
© The Daily Sabah

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Italy rescues 1,500 migrants in one day

Some 1,500 migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to Italy in five different boats were rescued in one day, Italian coastguards said Sunday.

6/4/2015- Four coastguard vessels and an Italian navy ship intervened Saturday to save three large boats carrying migrants off the Libyan coast after intercepting distress calls from satellite telephones, only to find two other boats with migrants on board in difficulty nearby. The Italian vessels were on Sunday transferring the migrants to the island of Lampedusa and the Sicilian ports of Augusta and Porto Empedocle. In a separate incident on Saturday, 318 migrants were brought to the Sicilian port of Pozzallo after being rescued off the coast of Libya by an Icelandic navy ship taking part in a patrol for the EU borders agency Frontex. The migrants included 14 children and five pregnant women, authorities said. The number of migrants entering the EU illegally in 2014 almost tripled to 276,000, according to Frontex, nearly 220,000 of them arriving via the Mediterranean. The chaotic situation in Libya has sparked a rise in boats setting out for Europe from its unpoliced ports carrying refugees fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.
© The Local - Italy

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Italy rescues 300 migrants, pregnant migrant brought to Malta

Pregnant migrant rescued by Armed Forces of Malta and taken to Mater Dei for urgent medical attention.

5/4/2015- Italian navy and coastguard ships rescued around 1,500 migrants aboard five boats in the off the coast of Libya in less than 24 hours, officials said on Sunday. All of the migrants were rescued on Saturday by two coast guard ships and one navy ship in five separate operations, the coast guard said. The Italian coastguard was also involved in a joint medical evacuation with its Maltese counterparts on Saturday after a pregnant migrants was brought to Malta for urgent medical attention. The Armed Forces of Malta said the woman was flown to Luqa in a C/S I-1588 helicopter and taken to Mater Dei Hospital in an ambulance for urgent medical attention. The woman was rescued during a large-scale search and rescue operation of hundreds of migrants in the southern Mediterranean. An AFM spokesman said that the operation involved the rescue of at least 1,000 migrants with Reuters reporting that the Italian coastguard rescued around 1,500 asylum seekers in less than 24 hours.

The news agency reported that three of the migrants’ boats were in difficulty and sent rescue requests via satellite phones while they were off the coast of Libya, and two other vessels were subsequently spotted by the Italian coastguard. The migrants were taken to Lampedusa or ports in Sicily. Earlier, Italian media reported that the Italian navy rescued around 318 in distress at sea between Sicily and the coast of Libya. The Landhelgisgaesla, an Icelandic navy ship taking part in a EU border patrol of the Mediterranean, rescued the migrants. It arrived on Saturday evening at the Sicilian port of Pozzallo. The migrants included 14 children and five pregnant women. The migrants are believed to be from Sudan, Ghana, Morocco, Mali, Mauritanie, Senegal, Pakistan, Nigeria, Syria, Palestine, Eritrea, India and Tunisia. In February, Malta and the Italian coastguard were involved in a major joint rescue operation of at least 1,000 migrants on board 12 boats off the coast off Lampedusa while in January a dinghy carrying 87 sub-Saharan migrants were rescued and brought to Malta by the Armed Froces of Malta.

The conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, especially Libya and Syria, have led to an increase in asylum seekers entering Europe. The number of migrants entering the EU in 2014 nearly tripled to 276,000 people compared to 2013, according to the EU borders agency Frontex - nearly 80% of whom arrived via the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, preliminary figures supplied by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) warned that a record number migrants will drown in the Mediterranean this year if the current death rate remains unchecked, after 10 times as many migrants lost their lives during the first three months of 2015 as during the equivalent period in 2014. At least 486 asylum seekers drow-ned in the Mediterranean since the start of the year, compared with 46 in the first three months of 2014.
© Malta Today

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Italy: How Islamic college plan has split Italian town

Plans to build an Islamic university for 5,000 students in a small town in Italy's heel will help change attitudes towards Muslims, organizers say. But many locals are afraid that it will change the character of Lecce - and are asking who's paying for it.

4/4/2015- Carrying a shoulder bag full of books about African culture, Ibrahima Diokhane has come to the centre of Lecce on a damp Saturday morning to meet Giampiero Palladini, the Italian businessman hoping to bring what would be Europe’s first Islamic University to the city. Diokhane, from Senegal, has lived in Italy for 17 years, the last five of which have been in Lecce, a historic walled city in the heart of Puglia’s Salento region with a bustling student community. He’s come to offer encouragement for a project, seen by its promoters as “an instrument for peace” but which has divided a city that otherwise prides itself on its openness. “We need something that could help change people’s attitudes towards being Muslim,” he tells The Local.

At first glance, Italy’s ‘deep south’ might seem like an odd choice for an Islamic University compared to the more prosperous north, where more than half of Italy’s 1.5 million Muslims live. And the 5,000 students will certainly make their presence felt in the town of 95,000 inhabitants. But for Palladini, a Muslim convert born in Lecce, the location makes complete sense. “This is not something separate, it’s something that fully blends in with the history of the south,” he tells The Local, referring to a period in the ninth century when parts of Puglia were controlled by Muslims. “Geographically, we are also closer to the Arab world than we are to some parts of Italy’s north, and we feel this at a psycholo-gical level too.”

He describes Puglia, whose president, Nichi Vendola, is one of only two gay regional governors in Italy, the second, Rosario Crocetta, being in Sicily, as a ‘utopia’ when compared to the rest of the country. “We are very open. For centuries, we have welcomed foreigners. We are generally more relaxed than people in the north.” Palladini, who also heads up Confime, a confederation for Mediterranean businesses, was speaking after a press conference on Saturday to announce that the project has been registered and land obtained on the outskirts of Lecce to build a campus that will include accommodation, sports facilities and a mosque. The university, which still needs accreditation from the Ministry of Education, would initially teach courses in philosophy, literature and theology, and would be open to all students in Italy and abroad. But rising angst over persistent threats from the Isis extremist group has rubbed off on some locals' attitudes to Islam. In this environment, the bid to attract more Muslims to the area, and to an institution that will have Islamic teaching at its core, has fuelled tension in the city.

Paolo Perrone, the mayor of Lecce, told the local newspaper, Quotidiano di Lecce, last week that “at this particular time in history, the city isn’t ready”. Perrone, who was voted Italy's "most loved mayor" in 2013, declined to comment further when contacted by The Local. Meanwhile Severo Martini, a councillor from the city’s planning unit, says the project has “caused alarm” among residents, especially in the aftermath of the deadly attacks by Islamic extremists at the office of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine, in Paris in early January. Martini was among the councillors who last month rejected a permit request from Palladini to renovate a former tobacco factory to house the university. “Our worries are that, at this time, the climate isn’t good for this type of project,” he tells The Local. “Our other concern was where the funding is coming from. This part wasn’t transparent.”

But despite the objections, the local authority has no influence on whether or not the project will materialize. The funding of the university is a subject of much controversy. Middle Eastern states' funding of mosques has raised concerns elsewhere in Europe about the promotion of radical forms of Islam. In February, Austria banned foreign funding of mosques. Palladini is so far vague about where the money will come from. He says he will need €45 million to bring the university into existence, and claims to already have secured a number of pledges. He is not yet revealing any identities, but says they are mostly private sponsors from Arab nations, including Qatar and Kuwait. He says he’ll firm up those pledges over the next couple of months and shrugs off fears that the money could originate from those funding terrorism or that the university will bring trouble. “With the likes of Isis, it is a fear that didn’t exist a few years ago,” he says. “But Muslims are even more afraid right now. We’re all afraid together. People need to understand that the Muslim world isn’t Isis.”

The aim of the university is to promote culture and integration as well as open up the prospects for job opportunities abroad for young Italians. “You won’t win a war with weapons. The war will be won with culture, science and intelligence.” Giovanni, a bar owner, agrees. “Why not? For centuries we’ve welcomed foreigners, Albanians, Greeks, Libyans..." he says, adding that most young people are in favour of the project. “It could bring cultural and economic benefits. The problem is the older generation. Our city is full of churches and Catholic symbols…this level of diversity is hard for them to accept. But at the end of the day it’s a university, for study, not to bring terrorism.” Others beg to differ. “I don’t want it,” says Giuseppe Tondo, who is out of work. “This is our home. Foreigners come here but they don’t try to fit in. When we emigrated in the 1960s, we adapted to other countries’ customs. They don’t.”
© The Local - Italy

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Czech Rep: 'Romani Black Panthers' undertake 'guerilla action' in Prague supermarket

5/4/2015- On Tuesday, 24 March, the art group Romane Kale Panthera (Romani Black Panthers) presented an exhibition at the Hranièáø Gallery in Ústí nad Labem about their "guerilla action" called "Happy Pork from Lety" ("Veselý vepøík z Letù"). Through this action, the group attempted to draw public attention to the fact that a pig farm still stands on a Romani Holocaust memorial site in Lety by Písek, that the Czech Government promised to get rid of the farm in the 1990s, and that the state has still not bought out the farm. The action itself took place on 20 March, when members of the group put stickers on pork for sale at a supermarket in the Prague neighborhood of Holešovice that read "Produced from pigs raised over the graves of Romani Holocaust victims. Uncooked." "This was a secret operation, Tamara Moyzes put the stickers on, Vìra Duždová kept an eye out, and I filmed every-thing.

In order to keep it secret we did not focus on the responses of the customers in the store, but we haven't heard of any negative reactions," David Tišer, a member of the group, told news server Romea.cz. Those interested in participating can download the stickers from the group's Facebook page and spread awareness of the scandal of the Government's inaction themselves. The exhibition, called "Banned Art and the Natural Development of Non-Existence" (Zakázané umìní a Pøirozený vývoj neexistence) is dedicated to projects that draw attention to unsatisfactory public funding policies, corruption, political interests and areas ignored by state institutions. In addition to this action, Tamara Moyzes also presented a project at the exhibition in which, using objects found in dumpsters, she responds to a Hungarian law banning people from removing garbage from dumpsters under the threat of a fine. The law targets the socially vulnerable.
© Romea.

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Finnish paper Stunt About Estonia Degenerates Into Outright Racism

Leading Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat has issued an apology for publishing an article which asked readers to offer nicknames for their southern neighbors.

5/4/2015- The Helsingin Sanomat, or Finnish Times newspaper, has apologized for a stunt in which it asked readers to suggest nicknames for Estonian people, a list of 30 of which it published online and in its magazine supplement on Saturday, causing outrage in Estonia. Hundreds of suggestions were made by Finnish readers in response to the poll, for which readers also put forward their justification for the nicknames, including such explanations as "they chase money" and "they buy BMWs as soon as they can afford it." Also causing offense were the nicknames "varttiryssa," meaning "quarter Russian," and "virus," which according to Yle also implies that Estonians are part Russian. The article caused fury in Estonia, and President Toomas Hendrik Ilves told his Twitter followers he was "speechless" at the article. The Nordic News service on Twitter said it would stop tweeting news from the Helsingin Sanomat, the most widely read newspaper in Finland, as a result of the poll.
© Sputnik

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EU rights conference to give equal billing to anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred

Jewish organizations say that anti-Semitism is distinct from other types of discrimination, should not be conflated with other issues.

5/4/2015- Jewish organizations worldwide expressed shock and dismay over the weekend following the announcement that the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency is planning on holding a conference that implies an equivalence between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. The first annual colloquium on fundamental rights in the EU, held by the racism watchdog organization and titled “Tolerance and respect: Preventing and combating anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hatred in Europe,” is scheduled to be held in Brussels in early October. It will focus on the rise of anti-Jewish sentiment and violence across the continent and the “growing evidence in many European countries, especially in the past two years, of very high rates of anti-Muslim incidents, including acts of verbal and physical violence,” according to the organizers.

Jewish community leaders in Europe and elsewhere told The Jerusalem Post that despite being largely supportive of the FRA’s work, they believed it inappropriate for it to juxta-pose hate directed against Muslims with anti-Semitism as if both were one and the same. “The challenge of combating anti-Semitism would be better served by a stand-alone col-loquium fully focused on the problem,” said Eric Fusfield, the legislative affairs director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy. “Opponents of anti-Semitism have tried for years to promote greater understanding of anti-Semitism as a distinct phenomenon with unique dimensions sometimes requiring unique solutions,” he said. “It is true that some strategies for combating anti-Semitism may apply to other forms of intolerance as well, but the fact is that, for too long, the tendency of governments and international organizations to conflate anti-Semitism with other social illnesses has served as a means of avoiding the problem rather than addressing it head on, even as the crisis facing Jewish communities has intensified in Europe and elsewhere,” he added.

While it is “critical” to deal with discrimination against Muslims in Europe, the FRA “should have been more sensitive to the long and tragic history of anti-Semitism in Europe and kept these two issues separate, particularly in the context of the most recent anti-Jewish violence,” agreed Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman. “These problems are totally different, the origin of both problems is very different, the only common point is that both are racism,” asserted Eli Ringer of Belgium’s FORUM der Joodse Organisaties. According to Ringer, even though the FRA is exhibiting good intentions by organizing the conference, he fears that “some might profit from such a colloquium to evade the issue of anti-Semitism.” England’s Community Security Trust, an anti-Semitism watchdog, was likewise opposed to the format of the conference.

According to Michael Whine, CST director of government and international affairs, many European countries seek to “equate anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred in the same breath and they are not the same. Muslims are suffering in Europe, and that is being monitored, but it’s certainly not coming from the Jews, whereas many of the attacks against Jews are coming from the Muslims.” “The growing problem of anti-Semitism in Europe comes from Muslims and the Left and anti-Israel agitators,” he added. In its announcement of the conference, the FRA pointed to other roots for the rise in anti-Semitism, citing a recent Pew study indicating that “incitement and hostility rooted in theological and other discourse, far-right ideologies and Holocaust denial are growing in Europe.” “There is a heightened interest [regarding anti-Semitism], obviously influenced by the recent events in Paris and Copenhagen and so on,” Ioannis Dimitrakopoulos, the head of the FRA’s Equality and Citizens’ Rights Department, told the Post, referring to a number of recent terrorist attacks against Jews by Muslim extremists.

Research by the FRA indicates that “there is a problem which we haven’t resolved yet [and] we have to do more about it,” he said. Asked if he thought that there was any pro-blem with juxtaposing anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in the context of the conference, Dimitrakopoulos replied negatively. “I don’t think so, because first of all tackling anti-Semitism is part of a wider effort to tackle prejudice and intolerance, and somebody who suffers from a hate crime and hate speech can be Jewish, can be Muslim, can be lesbian or gay, can be Roma, can be a member of minorities that live within societies in Europe,” he said. “I think that the approach to single out each one and see how we can tackle each one has not worked out, and it’s very important to see how we can build up a common approach to this,” he said, adding that “it is very important also to note the Jewish communities are largely behind this effort.” “Nobody is denying that there are problems between the groups [Muslims and Jews] but one needs to look at it also from a common perspective,” Dimitrakopoulos asserted.

Not everyone in the Jewish community was fully opposed to the way in which the colloquium is to be organized. “The Jewish people do not have a monopoly on persecution,” remarked Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, which sponsors Jewish- Muslim interfaith events on the continent. “This is an opportunity for Jews and Muslims to recognize that we share both a common faith and a common fate. Yet, the Fundamental Rights Commission of the EU must acknowledge that a contributing force to growing European anti-Semitism are elements of the Muslim community.”

Maurice Cohen, the chairman of the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland, was likewise rather sanguine about the conference. “As Irish people, we are all too aware of how sectarian and religious intolerance has affected relations between Catholic and Protestant traditions in Ireland, and therefore we welcome any and all initiatives by the EU or anyone seeking to examine and highlight the futility and destructive nature of intolerance and xenophobia within societies,” he said. “Time and perhaps the conclusions of the colloquium will tell how effective this initiative will have been and whether or not it was correct to examine both anti-Semitism together with anti-Muslim hatred,” he said. “As a small Jewish community in Ireland, we have experienced differing degrees of intolerance over the years. It should be pointed out, however, that this has been very infrequent and not anything like that experienced by Jewish communities on the continent,” he added. “We have excellent relations with the Muslim community here in Ireland and they have informed us that they too experience varying forms of prejudice and intolerance against their community,” he concluded.

The FRA had previously drawn Jewish ire after it removed a working definition of anti-Semitism from its website in 2013.
© The Jerusalem Post

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How Hungary’s far-right party went from vicious snarl to winning smile

From black-clad marchers taking part in solemn, flame-lit rallies to posing with puppies in sun-bathed parks – Jobbik, the Hungarian far right party, has undergone an extensive make-over in an attempt to broaden its support base. The party feels the time is right for it to make an impact as, with the ruling Fidesz party hemorrhaging support, there is something of a growing political vacuum developing in Hungary. And the charm offensive seems to be working: anti-Semite or not, Jobbik has became the biggest rival for the ruling party.
By Rita Pálfi

10/4/2015- Jobbik seems to be competing for the trust of young people just as much as for those, older and disillusioned, who have turned their backs on politics. Recent mid-term elections saw Fidesz – national conservative and populist – lose its two-third majority in the Hungarian Parliament. Jobbik, though, is on the rise. According to Ipsos Opinion Research Institute’s latest polls since last October, Fidesz has lost almost 40 percent of its voters while Jobbik’s popularity has hit a new peak. According to Ipsos, Jobbik has the support of 18% of the electorate to Fidesz’s 21% (although a Median poll puts Jobbik on 15% and Fidesz at 24%).

A leopard changing its spots
Looking at these trends, Jobbik seems to be profiting from the the cloud of scandals hovering above Fidesz and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Fidesz faces a similar plight in Hungary to that of Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP in France – with its resurgent far-right Front National – before the 2012 presidential election. The leader of Jobbik, Gábor Vona, has made refining his party’s communication strategy a priority, just as Marine Le Pen did upon taking the party leadership. Compare for example the two Jobbik promotional videos at the bottom of this script, one from 2010 and the other from 2013. Three years is a long, long time in politics. Those efforts may soon bear fruit for Jobbik. There is a crucial by-election on April 12 in an electoral district in western Hungary in which the two parties’ candidates are neck-and-neck. If the Jobbik candidate wins, it would make it even harder for the ruling Fidesz-KDNP alliance to pass fundamental laws in parliament (Editor’s note 13/04/2015: the by-election was won by the Jobbik candidate).

Only as far back as a couple of years ago Jobbik was known for its harsh, anti-Semitic and openly racist statements. Nowadays the party focuses on sending positive messages: they claim to be the only party in Hungary that is not corrupt, and the only one that cares about people’s problem. The new strategy meant a change in physical appearances too, judging by the evolution in Gabor Vona’s fashion and demeanour. It appears the new strategy to appeal to voters is built around two adjec-tives: elegance and cuteness, neither of which would have been associated with his party in its early years.

For example, it would have been unthinkable back when the Hungarian Guard (the paramilitary wing of Jobbik) organised marches in villages to see a photo of the party leader smiling with puppets, or to have seen him wearing a suit. He even launched a photo competition among his Facebook fans: they were asked to send pictures of themselves posing with their pets. The prize? Lunch with Gabor Vona in Hungary’s handsomely Gothic Parliament building. Vona insists it is no trick or gimmick for the sake of the cameras. He told Reuters: “Our opponents may say this is only a media hack or a false turn, but time will tell.” He added the he wanted to transform Jobbik into a people’s party and to be able to do this, he knew what was necessary. He knew “when and where to draw the line.”

Not all members towing the new party line
However some members of the party seem not to have received Vona’s memo; there are signs that not everybody has broken with the ‘original values’ of Jobbik. While Vona was donning his suit and behaving like a perfect gentleman, one of his party members was still making racist posts on Facebook. One such post praises an article which describes Roma people as “biological weapon of the Jews”, and it was not just any old member. They were the words of none other than Jobbik’s candidate for this April’s by-election, Lajos Rig. When the post went viral he deleted it, claiming he did not remember what he shared on his wall.

It was not the first time that the wolf in sheep’s clothing forgot to get dressed. A Jobbik town council member in the south-eastern Hungarian town of Mezõtúr, János Kötél, posted about the execution of Roma people and about hanging politicians. Vona tried to distance Jobbik from these views, and forced Kötél to live with a Roma member of the party for three days. However media reports revealed later that the Roma man in question had some anti-Semite posts on his Facebook wall as well.

There are many skeletons in the closet that occasionally come back to haunt the new-look Jobbik: it was revealed recently that a couple of years ago MP Gergely Kulcsár had spat into one of the Holocaust memorial bronze shoes placed on the bank of the Danube. The reaction was swift: Kulcsár was sent by Vona back to the scene to pay his tribute immediately. The big question in the bigger picture is whether Jobbik will be main challenger to Fidesz in 2018, the year of Hungary’s next general election. The answer might very easily be “yes” if the smarter new political power manages to charm people into forgetting the party’s former, ugly self.
© Euronews

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Hungary: Weakness of others strengthens Jobbik

Extreme right poses growing challenge to Fidesz

4/4/2015- Jobbik is breathing down the neck of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his ruling Fidesz party. According to the latest from research institute Ipsos, the radical-right party has 18% support among voters compared with Fidesz’s 21%. In February Jobbik had 16%. Ipsos says Jobbik may be able to increase its voting base by more than half a million people within a year, including an estimated 200,000 former Fidesz-supporters. In particular, the extremist party has growing popularity among the under-30s, with 21% support to Fidesz’s 17%. Jobbik president Gábor Vona says he is confident the party will be the “major challenger” to Fidesz at the 2018 parliamentary election. “The Hungarian national politics will be about the question Fidesz or Jobbik,” he believes. Vona said Jobbik is no longer strong only in the underdeveloped northeast but in the whole country. This had been confirmed in the municipal elections last autumn when Jobbik ranked second in 17 municipalities out of 19, and secured the mayorship in several major towns.

In an interview on conservative news channel Echo TV recently Vona said no other party had managed to near Fidesz’s results so closely since 2010. He said the difference in the number of voters for Fidesz and Jobbik is only 200,000; about 1.7 million people would vote for Fidesz today and 1.5 million for Jobbik. Therefore it was not too early any more to speak about a “trend of change” in national politics. Vona reminded Echo TV viewers that his party had decided to change strategy at the end of 2013 by becoming a “national party” and behaving in a corresponding way, namely more moderately, prudently and closer to the people. This was how Jobbik had managed to broaden its voting base from around one million in the 2014 parliamentary elections to about 1.5 million today. He maintained that Jobbik has managed to attract around 350,000 new voters in the past few months who previously had no party preference.

Vona said that if Jobbik succeeded in taking the lead, it would not form a governing coalition with any of the current parliamentary parties. “We would prefer to have a minority government,” he said. In an interview with conservative weekly magazine Heti Válasz he opined that political debate in Hungary is concentrating on the “wrong battlefields”, and thus missing out on reality. Hungarians were looking for “meaningful debates” and “peace”. This was why Jobbik had decided to achieve a “correct and constructive political atmosphere”. Political analysts say Jobbik’s popularity is increasing so dynamically because the left wing has been helplessly losing its support base for years. Vona said the left has collapsed “morally and politically“. The four most important left parties combined could only achieve the same result as Jobbik in the Ipsos research. Only the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), which lost power in 2010, did relatively well with 12%.

The strengthening of Jobbik has been aided by Fidesz’s large loss of popularity: more than one million voters in a year. A series of controversial government decisions such as the planned internet tax, Sunday shopping closures and increasing the advertising tax have hit the party hard. Orbán is said to be no longer king of his castle, with rumbling discontent in the party and his falling out with former confidante and media magnate Lajos Simicska. The previously pro-government media owned by Simicska, in particular daily newspaper Magyar Nemzet, has taken an unusually critical tone about the Orbán government. Radical right and popular right parties are growing throughout Europe, for example the Front National in France, the Dutch Party for Freedom led by Geert Wilders and the Freedom Party of Austria. What is the reason? Analysts point to frustration among citizens about the poor economic situation in their own countries, unemployment and rigid saving measures enforced by the European Union.

There is anger that “the ones in Brussels” talk more about market and competition than social issues. Critical remarks about EU structures are thwarted and sensitive debates, such as about migration, are seemingly not discussed in an open and honest way. National governments blame the EU for unpopular decisions. The political palette of extreme-right and popular-right parties is more or less the same in Europe: they are against immigration and denounce the “misuse of asylum”, they connect drug trafficking and criminality with foreigners/minorities and open borders. In terms of social politics they support the traditional family and animal welfare, and oppose single-sex marriage. They are anti-Semitic, anti-Islam and anti-Roma. They foster a friend-enemy approach that manifests as hostility against outsiders, including criticism of capitalism and the EU, and which appeals to the lower social classes and the bourgeoisie, or middle class.

The hour of truth comes for the far right if they gain power, as FPÖ did in Austria in a coalition government from 1999 before falling sharply in support in 2002. Vona told Heti Válasz: “All the people who don’t believe that Jobbik is competent for governance will be surprised.”
© The Budapest Times

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Northern Ireland: Woman’s face slashed in hate crime attack

A woman was slashed in the face by another woman in Londonderry on Sunday night during an attack which police are treating as a hate crime.

6/4/2015- The victim, who is aged in her 20s, was walking through the subway tunnel in Duke Street, beside the railway station, when she was approached by two men and two women, also aged in their 20s, at about 10.30pm. One of the men in the group asked her for a cigarette and when she declined, he punched her in the face and began shouting sectarian abuse at her. A police spokesperson said: "A female from the group walked up to the woman and sliced her face with some type of weapon. The group then made off.” The victim was treated in hospital for a large cut and bruising to her face. The female attacker is described as being aged about 20-years-old, with long blonde curly hair. She was wearing a yellow top , denim leggings and fluorescent coloured footwear. Police are appealing to anyone who witnessed the assault, or with any information, to contact officers in Strand Road Police Station on the non-emergency number 101. Alternatively, information can also be passed anonymously via the Independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
© UTV News

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Sky Survey: 'Islam Compatible With UK Values'

More than a third of British Muslims say the actions of the authorities are contributing to the radicalisation of young people, according to an exclusive Sky News poll.

10/4/2015- Some 39% of Muslims who were asked said the authorities, including police and MI5, were a factor in radicalising the younger generation, compared to 29% of Muslims who said they were not. The research found the issue of young people travelling to fight with extremist groups, including Islamic State, or becoming so-called 'jihadi brides', remains highly controversial. Abase Hussen, father of 15-year-old Amira Abase - one of three London teenagers to head to Syria in February, has blamed police for failing to warn families the girls were at risk. However, the opinion poll - carried out for Sky News by Survation, suggests both Muslims and non-Muslims were most likely to see families as being responsible for preventing young people heading to Syria: 44% of Muslims and 65% of non-Muslims agreed.

Just 3% of Muslims thought the police were responsible for stopping young Muslims going to fight in Syria, 15% said it was the Government, 9% cited religious leaders and 2% said schools. Sympathy with those leaving the UK to fight for or marry terrorist groups in Syria was highest among women. Some 11% of female Muslims agreed they had a lot of sympathy, compared to 5% of males. The figures for non-Muslims were at 4% for both sexes. However, a majority of Muslims and non-Muslims said they had no sympathy for those joining extremist groups. The Sky News survey is the first of its kind and looked at what Muslims and non-Muslims think about issues including radicalisation, security concerns, political uncertainty, a rise in hate crimes and growing prejudice. We asked 1,000 Muslims and 1,000 non-Muslims to share their opinions and found that while 71% of Muslims in the UK said the values of British society were compatible with those of Islam, 16% believed they were not.

The results found younger Muslims were more likely to see their values aligned to those of Britain, with 73% of those aged 18 to 34 agreeing, compared to 71% of those aged over 55. Male Muslims were also more likely to agree - 78%, versus 64% for females. On the issue of integration into UK society, the survey found 58% of non-Muslims believed their Muslim neighbours were not doing enough, with those aged over 55 more likely to be critical. Two thirds of Muslims, however, said they were doing enough. Anjum Anwar, one of the Muslims questioned in the survey, told Sky News: "Are we talking about integration or assimilation? That's the problem, because I see integration happening." Saima Alvi, another Muslim respondent, said: "Do I need to stand up with a placard and say I'm an integrating Muslim? Surely not." Her non-Muslim friend Miranda Rutley joked: "Then I have to say I'm an accepting non-Muslim!" The last few years seem to have seen a significant deterioration in community cohesion: a third of Muslims say they receive more hostility than a few years ago; and 44% of non-Muslims say they feel more hostility.
© Sky News.

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UK Election 2015: 'From verbal abuse to being spat on, we need to report LGBT hate crime'

8/4/2015- One in six lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have experienced a hate crime in the last three years; one in ten of those victims experienced a physical assault; and perhaps just as worryingly, two-thirds of victims didn't report their assault. In spite of significant improvements to legal protections, LGBT people are still subject to violence and intimidation – something campaigners are pushing politicians to address in the weeks before the general election. As the campaign trail continues, IBTimes UK spoke to Sam Dick, director of campaigns at Stonewall, about what the parties need to do to address hate crime. "The biggest reason why people don't report everything -- from verbal abuse to being spat on in the street -- is because they don't think it is serious enough to report," Dick says. "They don't think it is serious enough to report because it is so commonplace to them – it is just too bothersome to report every time someone calls you a faggot or a dyke.

"While we have seen progresses and development from the Home Office and the police, so that when incidences are reported they are recorded, nothing really has been done to try to communicate to LGBT people why they need to report hate crimes," he says. Stonewall released an equality manifesto after the dissolution of Parliament at the end of last month, in which the charity calls for homophobic, biphobic and transphobic hate crime to be added to the list of "aggravated" offences – alongside hate crime based on race or religion. To really tackle the problem, Dick says, the next government needs to spearhead a campaign to encourage LGBT people to report all incidences of hate time – belying the notion that some incidents are not serious enough to be abolished.

"For LGBT people – including myself – I think people are still under the assumption that you can walk down the street holding hands with your partner and all is fine – it is not," Dick says. "It is really important that people are encouraged to report any abuse and that the process is made as simple as possible. "Someone might not be arrested, but that intelligence is captured and used to prevent far more serious incidences taking place." There have been significant steps forward in LGBT rights in Britain in the last few years, such as the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Yet in 2014, some of the UK's largest police forces recorded a rise in the number of violent homophobic crimes this year. Scotland Yard recorded 1,073 violent homophobic offences between January and October. While charities said it was encouraging that more victims were reporting their experiences, many still feel silenced by their abuse.

"We are in 2015. It cannot be too complex for police forces to develop a campaign that encourages victims to report their crimes and makes it easy to do so," Dick says. "Why in this age do we not have a simple system where people can report abuse in their community?" According to the hate crime charity Galop, the police record over 4,000 homophobic crimes -- but this figure is dwarfed by the 39,000 homophobic crimes that take place each year according to government estimates. The extent of abuse is such that it has become normal for LGBT people to adapt their lives to hide their sexuality. "In 2013, research by Stonewall found a quarter of lesbian, gay and bisexual people felt they needed to alter their behaviour so they were not perceived as gay. This meant everything from dressing or acting differently to avoiding public transport at certain times," Dick says. "The wider population don't realise this is the day-to-day experience of LGBT people and many have come to accept that this is just the way it is. There should be no reason why a person cannot hold the hand of their same-sex partner in 2015."
© The International Business Times - UK

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UK: Muslim group with links to extremists boasts of influencing election

4/4/2015- A front group for Muslim extremists which wants to let British Muslims fight in Syria has boasted that it is “negotiating with the Tory and Labour leadership” to secure some of its demands. Muslim Engagement and Development (Mend) has built links with both parties – and been chosen as an “official partner” by the Electoral Commission for May’s poll – after claiming to promote “democratic engagement” by Muslims. However, it is actually a facade to win political access and influence for individuals holding extreme, bigoted and anti-democratic views. Labour’s shadow equalities minister and vice-chair of its national policy forum, Kate Green, spoke at a Mend event last Friday addressed by a man, Abu Eesa Niamatullah, who has called British people “animals,” demanded that women should not work, attacked democracy and said that “the Creator is the one who should decide what the laws should be.” Baroness Warsi, the former Tory chairman, also spoke at the event.

In new recordings heard by this newspaper, Sufyan Ismail, Mend’s chief executive, describes the group’s strategy to act as “kingmaker” in next month’s election and claims it can control as many as 30 seats. One Tory candidate in a winnable seat was repeatedly approached by a well-known Muslim figure offering large sums of money for his campaign if he signed up to Mend’s “Muslim manifesto.” The manifesto was launched last month at an event in Parliament attended by at least ten Labour and Conservative MPs, though there is no evidence any of them were paid by Mend. Lynton Crosby, the Conservative campaign director, has attended Mend events. Mend’s director of engagement, Azad Ali, is an extre-mist who has supported the killing of British troops, praised the al-Qaeda ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki and said that “democracy, if it means at the expense of not implementing the Sharia, of course no-one agrees with that.” Mend is holding a series of events this weekend with other extremist, anti-democratic speakers and has close links to the pro-terrorist lobby group Cage.

In a talk seen by the Telegraph at the Zakariyya Central Mosque in Bolton, Mr Ismail said a strong performance by the group’s chosen candidates could make it easier for British citizens to fight in Syria. "David Cameron recently said that British Jews fighting for the IDF [Israeli army] will not be prosecuted,” Mr Ismail said. “But British Muslims going to Syria fighting against Assad… will definitely face interrogation. Now do you think that if we landed those 20 seats or 30 seats, he [Cameron] would have the audacity to say that to the Muslim community? Not a chance!” Mr Ismail also claimed that British society “hates us” and that British law specifically allowed violence against Muslims while protecting other groups. “It’s not a crime to use violent or threatening words or behaviour [against Muslims],” he said. “It’s perfectly OK under UK law to hate Islam and Muslims, it’s not a problem…if you’re Muslim, [the law says] you can take liberties big time, that’s why women are getting their hijabs ripped off.”

In fact, there were 550 prosecutions for religiously-aggravated hate crime – most of it anti-Muslim - last year and hundreds more for anti-Muslim crimes under the standard laws against assault and vandalism. Mr Ismail claimed that a 2013 arson attack which destroyed a Muslim community centre in Muswell Hill had been condoned by the rest of society, saying: “Did you hear one politician condemn it? Even one politician? When was the last time you saw a church burnt to the ground – I bet you can’t think of one.” The attack was widely condemned by politicians of all parties, including the London mayor, Boris Johnson, who described it as “cowardly” and “pathetic,” the Northern Ireland secretary and local MP, Theresa Villiers, who called it “despicable” and “an attack on all of us” and the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, who said it was a “hate crime.” At least a dozen churches or church buildings have been burnt to the ground in arson attacks in recent years, and many others seriously damaged. Mr Ismail also claimed that there were “500 physical attacks” on Muslims, “mainly women,” in London in 2013.

This was the total number of alleged Islamophobic crimes reported to police that year, the vast majority of which were not physical attacks on people. He cited cases up to eight years old as showing that there was a wave of serious violence happening against Muslims “now” and stated that anti-Muslim hate crime had risen by “more than just about any other hate crime you can imagine.” In fact, it has risen by less than many other forms of hate crime, including anti-Semitic and homophobic crime, both of which are also far greater per head of population. The demand to legalise Syria fighters does not appear in Mend’s “Muslim manifesto.” But the manifesto does demand that Whitehall builds links, cut under the coalition government, with non-violent Islamists. It also says that “insulting” Islam should be made a criminal offence.

Mend strongly supports Cage and has held joint meetings with it, including in Manchester on November 28 last year. In another talk, at a mosque in Cheadle, Cheshire, Mr Ismail said Cage and another group linked to Syrian jihadis, IERA, “do a really good job.” As well as Mr Niamatullah, the group also promotes Haitham al-Haddad, a hate preacher who descri-bes democracy as “filthy” and says that “all the kuffar [an insulting term for non-Muslims] will go to hellfire.” Haddad adds, however, that Muslims are “allowed to vote for a kafir [infidel] system in order to avoid a bigger kafir system taking power.” Mr Ismail, a tax avoidance millionaire worth a reported £65 million, told the Bolton meeting how the group had organised to “batter the Israeli lobby” in the Commons. Referring to the election, he said: “Right now, we are negotiating with the Labour leadership, we are negotiating with the Tory leadership and insh’allah [God willing] will start with the Lib Dem leadership as well, where we have a list of manifesto pledges.

“The Muslim vote is worth ten ordinary votes because… we are heavily concentrated in a few areas,” he said. “Anybody who can give any one party 10, 20, 30 seats, like we can, they have to listen to you.” Tory sources said Mr Crosby wanted nothing further to do with Mend and did not know why the group was approved to hold a fringe meeting. How-ever, the party did not respond to questions about Mend’s claim to be in “negotiations” with its leadership. A Labour spokesman denied any negotiation, saying: “We receive submissions and requests from hundreds of organisations, but it is completely wrong to suggest Mend has any influence over Labour’s manifesto process.”
© The Telegraph

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UK: Anti-Islam Pegida Group To Hold First London Rally

4/4/2015- The German right-wing, anti-Islam group Pegida, or Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West, will hold its first London rally on Saturday. This would be the group’s second demonstration in the U.K., following its event in Newcastle in February. “Now is your chance to stand proud in our capital in support of Pegida U.K. and raise aware-ness of the detrimental affect radical Islam and slack border controls/mass immigration are having on our country,” the German group said in a statement posted on its Facebook page. The rally is scheduled to start at 5:00 p.m., local time, (12:00 p.m. EDT) and will include candlelight vigils and speeches by critics of Islam. Pegida, a Dresden-based group, has organized several rallies and demonstrations across Europe since October. The group, whose German rallies witnessed the participation of thousands of people, has called for stricter immigration checks to prevent the perceived Islamization of European countries. In January, German Chancellor Angela Merkel denounced Pegida’s activities and accused it of fomenting “prejudice, coldness and hatred.”

However, the group’s demonstrations outside Germany have not witnessed significant participation. Last month, the group canceled its march in Montreal, Canada, after only 15 of its supporters showed up. Saturday’s Pegida rally in London would come just a day after two opposing extremist fringe groups held protests outside a London mosque. On Friday, supporters of the radical Muslim cleric Anjem Choudary and protesters belonging to the nationalist English Defence League held demonstrations outside the London Central Mosque -- one of the largest mosques in the U.K. British anti-fascist group Unite Against Fascism said in a statement posted on its Facebook page that it plans to hold a counter-protest in London to oppose the “racist” Pegida rally. “We stand in solidarity with German anti fascists resisting the racist Pegida and will not let the Islamophobes gain a foothold here,” the group said.
© The International Business Times

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Criminal declaration against Wilders in Austria

10/4/2015- A Muslim organization has laid criminal charges against Geert Wilders with the Austrian justice. This follows the PVV leader’s recent visit with his sympathizers of the FPO in Vienna during which he gave an anti-Islam speech at Hofburg, De Telegraaf reports. In this speech Wilders said that Islam has declared war against Europe, that Islam turns men into terrorists and that the Koran should be banned. “They (justice, ed) must now investigate whether Wilders has committed nation incitement and whether he insulted Islam as a religion.” Tarafa Baghajati, chairman of the Initiative Austrian Muslims, told the newspaper.
© The NL Times

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Austria: Bosnian fans chant anti-Semitic slogans

A group of Bosnian football fans visiting Vienna joined a Palestinian protest, which degenerated into anti-Semitic slogans on Tuesday.

5/4/2015- According to a report from the Jerusalem Post, a video was released showing the fans joining a protest in support of Palestinians in Vienna's central St. Stephen's square. The fans were in town for a friendly soccer match between Bosnia and Austria, which resulted in a one-all draw. Initially, the protest was peaceful, with cries of "Free Palestine." Within minutes, however, the protest descended into hate speech, with shouts of "Ubij, ubij Židove" ("Kill, kill the Jews!") Neither Bosnian nor Austrian officials have issued a statement condemning the incident. According to Der Standard newspaper, police have begun an investigation into the incident. Spokesperson Roman Hahslinger said approximately 100 people participated in the rally, half of whom were Bosnian soccer fans.
© The Local - Austria

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France: Le Pen senior mars French far-right party's new image

Two weeks after local elections with mixed results, old National Front demons are back to haunt French far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

8/4/2015- Le Pen is facing controversial new declarations by her father, National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, and further revelations of her party’s links with Russia. On 22 and 29 March, the National Front got its best result ever in a local elections with a 25 percent share of the votes in the first round, and 22 percent in the second round. But it failed to win a single department and got only 62 seats out of more than 4,000. The results demonstrated the party’s appeal to protest voters and its growing support in all French regions and social groups. But it also demonstrated that French voters remain wary of actually electing National Front candidates when they are in a position to win.

Party leaders denounced the two-round system, which they say favours the main parties of the "political system". They expect better results at next December regional elections under a proportional voting regime. "Regional elections are with a different voting system. As a result, logics will be different. I think we can hope for important wins in four or five regions," said Marine Le Pen. But Le Pen’s "detoxification" strategy, dsigned to smooth her party’s image and convince reluctant voters, has been undermined by her father. In an interview with far-right magazine Rivarol to be published on Thursday (9 April), Jean-Marie Le Pen attacks his daughter and shatters the moderate image she is trying to build for the party he founded in 1972. "You’re only betrayed by your own," said Le Pen, referring to his daughter Marine.

The interview comes a week after Marine Le Pen had to distance herself from her father’s renewed affirmation that "gas chambers are a detail" of World War II. In the interview with Rivarol, Le Pen also reaffirmed the far-right and xenophobic credentials of the National Front. "I never considered Petain as a traitor," he said, referring to the Marechal Philippe Petain, who took power after France’s defeat in 1940 and headed the Vichy state which collaborated with the Nazis. "I never regarded as bad French or unacceptable those people who kept their esteem to the marechal," he added. A week before he said that the National Front counted "fervent Petainists" in its ranks.

Ethnic debate
While Marine Le Pen attack the main parties and the government in particular for their liberal and pro-European policies, her father put the debate on an ethnic level. "We are governed by immigrants and children of immigrants," he said in the interview. "Valls has been French for 30 years. I have been French for 1,000 years," he added, referring to Spain-born prime minister Manuel Valls. "What is Valls’ real attachment to France? Has this immigrant completely changed?," he asked. The declarations cannot be easily discounted as irrelevant by Marine Le Pen, because her father will probably be one of the main party candidates in the regional elections in December.

The 86-year old Le Pen could head the National Front list in the Provence-Alpes-Cote-d’Azur region. With 5 million inhabitants and cities like Marseille, Cannes and Nice, the region is one of the biggest electoral targets for the party. The campaign would put an inconvenient light on her father only one and half year before the next presidential election, where she will need to establish herself as a responsible stateswoman in order to win.

Russian links
Marine Le Pen could also be obliged to clarify her party’s links with Russia.
 In early April, the Mediapart news website revealed that the National Front got Russian money as a reward for its support for the annexation of Crimea by Russia last year. According to hacked SMS-es published by Mediapart, the head of the Kremlin internal affairs department, Timur Prokopenko, and a person identified as Russian MP Konstantin Rykov discussed how "it will be necessary to thank the French in one way or another". Marine Le Pen "hasn't betrayed our expectations," wrote Prokopenko in an SMS on 17 March, just after the National Front leader recognised the Crimea move. In September last year, the National Front got a €9 million loan from the First Czech Russian Bank. Jean-Marie le Pen also got a personal loan from a Cyprus-based firm headed by a former KGB officer. In his interview to Rivarol, Le Pen called for an alliance with Russia to "save Northern Europe and the white world".
© The EUobserver

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Vice-president of Front National claims '100% of places of radicalisation are mosques'

7/4/2015- The vice-president of Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front National party has controversially claimed “100 per cent of places of radicalisation are mosques" after a leading cleric called for the number to be doubled in France. Dalil Boubakeur, the President of the French Council of the Muslim Faith and rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, was quoted by French media as telling a conference that the 2,200 mosques in France were not enough to support the estimated five million Muslims living in the country. “We need to double [the number of mosques] in two years,” he was quoted as telling an audience at the annual meeting of the Union of Islamic Organisations in France (UIOF) by AFP. "There are a lot of prayer rooms, of unfinished mosques, and there are a lot of mosques that are not being built.” Responding to his comments, Florian Philippot, a vice-president of the Front National party, reportedly told iTele: “100 per cent of places of radicalisation are mosques".

Mr Philippot claimed doubling the number of mosques would mean “three mosques a day, a mosque every eight hours”. His comments came against a backdrop of growing tensions in France following the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the attack on a Jewish kosher supermarket, both of which were committed by Islamist extremists. They were followed by a spike of attacks on mosques in the country. Front National also released a statement denouncing the request to double the number of mosques as "ludicrous and dangerous," in a statement. However, Monsignor Ribadeau-Dumas, spokesperson for the Bishops' Conference of France, said Boubakeur’s demand was “legitimate”. “Muslims should, like Christians and Jews, be able to practise their religion,” he told Europe 1.
© The Independent

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France: New Calais migrant camp 'the worst in Europe'

After hundreds of migrants were forced to relocate their shanty town to another part of the northern French city of Calais, aid workers have slammed the new settlement as the "worst in Europe" for the refugees from war zones.

3/4/2015- The flow of migrants to Calais has increased rapidly in recently years to the point where as many as 2,500 have amassed in makeshift shanty towns, the largest of which is known as "The Jungle". Most of the migrants - who come mainly from Sudan, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria - have no intention of staying in France, and are more interested in looking for opportunities to cross the Channel and seek asylum in the UK. Last week, French local authorities finally took action, saying The Jungle and all the smaller sites would be bulldozed by the end of the month. Though it's nearly impossible to keep count of a population that's constantly shifting, an estimated 1,300 have had no choice but to leave. Now, around 1,200 have moved to one single designated wasteland to the east of the city on the back of eviction threats from the French riot police. But aid workers have said that conditions at the new camp are far from acceptable.

"This is the worst camp for war refugees in Europe, if not in the world," Christian Salomé, the director of voluntary migrant help group L’Auberge des Migrants, told The Local on Friday. "It is probably the only camp in the world where there is so little water. There is only one water point and some people have to walk more than a kilometre to access it. This is unacceptable. There are no toilets either." He added that his team brings material to help build the slum every day, but that the organization has had to keep putting pres-sure on French authorities for things as basic as water points and toilets. "For the first time the migrants have an official piece of land - but it remains a slum," he said. In the meantime, non-profit organization Doctors of the World has started to dig dry toilets, basically a hole in the ground. The 18-hectare wasteland dubbed by the migrants as "The New Jungle" - tents and makeshift shelters covered by big, grey plastic canvas sheets have started to pop up.

Located on the seafront, a half an hour walk from the ferry terminals, five kilometres from the town hall, and far from any residential area, the new camp is situated in a marsh and is part of a flooding area. In the camp, the Jules Ferry centre, a former holiday spot for children, has been converted into an emergency day centre. It accommodates 50 vulnerable women and children and from April 13th it will be equipped with warm showers. During the day, the centre is open to everyone and every day at 5pm it serves 600 warm meals, just about enough to feed half of the camps’ population. Meanwhile, the migrants have been forced to rebuild the mosque and church they once had at their old camp - buildings crudely put together with wooden boards, corrugated iron and anything they could find. Volunteer Christian Salomé said it might take another few days to build the school again.

The old camp was built on the land of the Tioxide factory, one of Europe’s main produ-cers of titanium dioxide. In July 2014, the firm was granted the legal right to ask for the eviction of the migrants. But until now, there was nowhere to send them. Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart hopes the move will help the local authorities to better control the fluctuating migrant population by establishing one official camp. This is the first purpose-built camp for migrants since the 2002 closure of the Sangatte centre near Calais, which used to host about 1,500 migrants. Both France and the UK are at loggerheads as to who is responsible for the migrants in Calais. France's Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve suggested in November that the UK should send its own officials across the Channel to help block the tide of illegal migrants, but the idea was dismissed by Britain's govern-ment, which said it was "for the French to maintain security and public order on their own soil".
© The Local - France

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France: Sales of books on Islam rocket

Books on Islam are selling out in France after the deadly extremist attacks in the capital have raised uncomfortable questions about Europe's fastest-growing religion.

4/4/2015- A special magazine supplement focused on the Koran has flown off the shelves, and shops are selling more books on Islam than ever after the Paris attacks in January that left 17 dead. "The French are asking more and more questions, and they feel less satisfied than ever by the answers they're getting from the media," said Fabrice Gerschel, direc-tor of Philosophie magazine, which published the supplement. Sales of books on Islam were three times higher in the first quarter of 2015 than this time last year, according to the French National Union of Bookshops. Mathilde Mahieux of La Procure, a chain of bookshops that specialises in religion, said people want a better understanding of the religion that the brutal Islamic State (IS) group claims to represent, so that they can make up their own minds.

'Is the Koran violent?'
The jihadist attacks against the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a Jewish supermarket have left many non-Muslims looking for answers. "A very Catholic lady came to buy a copy of the Koran, because she wanted to understand for herself whether or not (Islam) is a violent religion," said Yvon Gilabert, who runs a bookshop in Nantes, western France. Others want to see past extremist interpretations of Islam. "I think we have to know how to see past the fundamentalism, in order to see what religions have to offer," said Patrice Besnard, a regular at a Paris bookshop specialising in religions.

French academics too are becoming more curious, with a chair in the study of the Koran inaugurated on Thursday at the prestigious College de France in Paris. Jean Rony, who teaches at the nearby Sorbonne University, began studying the Muslim holy book for himself this year. "Given the situation, I have added sessions on monotheistic religions to my general culture class for students preparing for magistrate exams," he said. Mansour Mansour, who runs the Al Bouraq publishing house specialising on Islam and the Middle East, said his sales have shot up by 30 percent. "The same happened after the September 11 attacks in 2001," he told AFP. Now the spike is likely to last longer "because Islam will continue to pose a geo-political problem," Mansour sighed.

Literal interpretations
Part of the interest in France appears to stem from the fact that many of the extremists committing horrific abuses in Islam's name in Syria and Iraq are of Western origin. Enraged by the jihadists' interpretation of the Koran, Mansour said his company has withdrawn several books that offered "too literal" an interpretation of Islam from his catalogue. He war-ned about people diving into reading the Koran "unaccompanied" and jumping to conclusions on its highly poetic text. Instead he recommends that the uninitiated start by reading a biography of the Prophet Muhammed. Claude Brenti, of the Catholic publisher Beatitudes, said he has noticed a change in attitudes among scholars.

"In certain Muslim circles there was a refusal to critically analyse the text, but now I see some thinkers are changing," he said. With the IS's brutality creating shockwaves since its emergence in 2013, publishers like Mansour were already selling more books on Islam even before the Paris attacks. Twice as many books published in France last year were dedi-cated to Islam than to Christianity, according to the publishing weekly, Hebdo Livres. And at France's largest book fair in March, a big seller for Le Cerf imprint, which is run by the Catholic Dominican order, was "A Christian Reads The Koran", a reprint of a book first published with much less fanfare in 1984.
© The Local - France

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Germany: Neo-Nazi's plot to win over small villages through settlers

8/4/2015- Neo-Nazis who refer to themselves as “Nationalist settlers” are reportedly occupying small villages that they believe will be susceptible to their influence in Eastern Germany. As reported in The Times, members of the political movement are reportedly taking on jobs such as farming and midwifery in areas such as Lower Saxony in an attempt to spread their radical extremist ideology to residents and create pockets of extremism. Residents have reported that newcomers, who initially seem community driven and charming, begin to win new converts to their cause rapidly. Barbara Karsten and her partner Knut Jahn, from Wibbese in Lower Saxony, said that they were impressed by the friendliness of their new neighbours when they moved in. They told of how settlers had been showered gifts such as eggs and goat's milk on the locals and managed to win their trust rapidly.

Mr Jahn said: “Our neighbours were widely accepted as good helpful citizens and could spread their supermen propaganda almost undisturbed. “A neo-Nazi bought the house next to us and now we are surrounded and fear there are more to come. We don’t want our children and grandchildren to grow up as Nazis.” A study entitled “Nationalist Settler in Rural Areas” by the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, a human rights watchdog funded by the German interior ministry, says that neo-Nazis are taking up positions as diverse as councillors, volunteer firemen and teachers. Anne Schmidt, the author of the study, told The Times: “This is a very scary movement to observe. “These extremely nationalist right-wing people are settling specifically in little-populated areas, far away from cities to live and raise their children in a backward ideology. “They subvert village structures and spread Nazi propaganda over the garden fence.”

The report states that this process has been going on "for years." It states: "Neo-Nazis can better spread their misanthropic world view to others and their children in undisturbed sparely populated areas with less influence from exterior powers." "They regard their objectives [the spread of Nazi ideals] as if they have been chosen as missionaries. The ethnic settlement projects do not have short-term goals are seen more as long-term efforts to influence culture." The foundation stated that it was difficult to give numbers of the villages being targeted but said that authorities have begun to place more emphasis on diversity training in rural schools. Tensions regarding extremism have intensified recently as Neo-Nazis were suspected of being behind threats to “behead” a conservative politician for continuing to back a controversial refugee housing building project earlier this week.

Christian Democrat politician Götz Ulrich, the politician threatened, said that neo-Nazis were “going so far as to threaten methods used during the French Revolution.' The threats followed an arson attack on a new refugee hostel in Tröglitz, a village of around 2,700 inhabitants in the province of Saxony-Anhalt and the focus of far-right opposition to the liberal asylum policies of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition. Markus Nierth, who resigned his position as mayor of Tröglitz following the attack said: “We can’t let the Nazis win in our town. I am stunned, sad and furious at the same time, Tröglitz will never recover from this.”
© The Independent

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Activists lash out at German authorities for covering up racist NSU killings

7/4/2015- Scores of authors, artists, academics and activists have lashed out at German authorities, accusing them of covering-up racist murders, and calling for new inquiry into the so-called "NSU" killings and the dissolution of the domestic intelligence agency, the BfV, in a demonstration in Berlin on Tuesday in front of the office of the representative of the state of Hessen, where about 20 people protested against alleged links between BfV agents and far-right extremists which have gathered prominence amid ongoing investigations into the killings by the National Socialist Underground group, or NSU, of eight Turkish immigrants, a Greek worker and a German policewoman between 2000 and 2007.

A group of 40 prominent signatories signed a statement read out at the rally, which said: "The NSU scandal is one of the biggest political scandals in Germany's post WWII history. "For many years the NSU carried out its murders throughout Germany, apparently under the surveillance of the domestic intelligence agency." They blamed the Prime Minister of Hessen, Volker Bouffier, and the domestic intelligence BfV for hindering deeper investigations into the allegations. "We are demanding the dissolution of the domestic intelligence agency. The Prime Minister, Volker Bouffier, should immediately resign. The contacts between the domestic intelligence agency and those extremists close to the NSU should be completely investigated," they said.

Frank Spilker, singer of the Hamburg based group Die Sterne, International Relations Professor Ulrich Brand from the University of Vienna and authors Michael Wilden-hain and Thomas Meinecke had signed the joint the statement, which called for a comprehensive investigation into the alleged links. Professor Juliane Karakayali, a sociologist known for her studies on immigration and racism, photo artist Ute Langkafel, artist Natascha Sadr Haghighian and film director Dorothee Wenner were also among the signatories. The NSU carried out its deadly seven-year killing spree apparently without arousing the suspicions of the German police or intelligence services. The signatories said that recent revelations unveiled in the state of Hessen had shown ties between the members of the BfV and far-right extremists.

They said in a joint statement: "Recent reports revealed strong indications that there had been ties between the right-wing terrorist network and the domestic intelligence in the state of Hessen. "When the 21 year old Halit Yozgat was killed by the NSU in his internet-café in Kassel in 2006, the domestic intelligence spy Andreas Temme was there. There are indications that it was not a coincidence." "The tapped telephone conversations of Temme and one of his informants from the neo-Nazi organizations show that they knew about the murder beforehand," they said. Anti-racist activists who supported the joint statement had organized the demonstration on Tuesday. On a fence surrounding the building, they hung a banner carrying the slogan: "Justice for Halit Yozgat, Bouffier resign!" Some demonstrators carried banners saying "State must end cover-up of NSU murders" and "NSU is financed, sheltered by the domestic intelligence".

Halit Yozgat was the ninth victim of the NSU. The domestic intelligence agency at the time ruled out at any "far-right motive" behind the murder, as it had done so in eight previous murders, saying it instead suspected immigrant mafia groups, drug gangs and illegal political groups. Many questions related to the NSU's murders are yet to be resolved, as dozens of secret files of the domestic intelligence were destroyed in late 2011. The claims over collusion between the BfV and extremists surfaced after the German public first learned about the NSU and its role in the murders in November 2011, when two members of the group reportedly died in a murder-suicide following an unsuccessful bank robbery. A third member of the NSU, Beate Zchaepe, is currently under arrest but remains silent.

A key witness to the unresolved murders was found dead in her apartment in the southwestern German city of Karlsruhe last week. The 20-year-old, identified as Mellisa M., had reportedly told German lawmakers behind closed doors that she felt threatened after she had given evidence on the NSU earlier in March at a parlia-mentary investigation committee in the southwestern state of Baden-Wurttemberg. The NSU terror cell is believed to have been founded by three right-wing extre-mists who lived underground from 1998 with fake identities. Since the late 1990's, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, or BfV, recruited various informants from the right-wing scene who are believed to have had contacts with the trio. The NSU scandal shocked the German public and sparked a debate on German security and intelligence organizations which were sharply criticized for underestimating the far-right threat.
© The Daily Sabah

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Germany: Arson and death threats (opinion)

The state leader of Saxony-Anhalt has warned that the arson attack on a refugee center in Tröglitz was not a one-off. DW's Naomi Conrad agrees that right-wing extremism is widespread in Germany today.
By Naomi Conrad


7/4/2015- At a packed town hall meeting in Tröglitz last Tuesday, Christoph Giegold, a tall, worried-looking man in his forties shook his head despondently: He told me he was afraid that one day his small hometown in eastern Germany would be mentioned in history books along with places like Solingen, Mölln and Hoyerswerda. All three of them are German cities infamous for right-wing hate crimes against foreigners. Not even a week later, Giegold was to be proved right: The roof of the lemon-colored house in Tröglitz that was to house 40 asylum seekers in May went up in flames in the early hours of Saturday. Investigators believe the attack was politically motivated. We don't know yet who was behind the arson attack and maybe we won't ever know for sure: But I was thinking - maybe it was the angry man, his head shaved, his fists clenched, who hurled abuse at the local politicians gathered at that town hall meeting.

Attacks on the rise
Or maybe it was someone from of the sizeable minority in the audience that clapped and nodded vigorously as the angry man let fly his xenophobia and racism, and that booed when others pleaded for compassion and understanding. Or maybe it was one of the NPD supporters and activists, mostly from outside Tröglitz, who had orchestrated the weekly protests against the plans to house the asylum seekers. Many of them were reported to be seasoned right-wing activists who travel from one rallying cause to the next, fostering and building resentment and hatred wherever they go. Maybe they're the ones who issued death threats against local politicians who came out in support of the refugees.

Let's be honest, the arson attack didn't come altogether as a surprise, or at least, it shouldn't have: In Germany today, attacks on refugees and their hostels are not isolated incidents. Far from it: In 2014, according to government figures cited by the Berlin-based newspaper "Tagesspiegel" earlier this year, there were some 150 attacks on asylum seekers and their shelters, including arson attacks. In 2013, 58 such attacks occurred, up from 24 in 2012. And there has been a rise in the number of right-wing rallies and marches in recent months - most notably by PEGIDA, an alliance against "Islamization of the West", which attracted international attention.

Right-wing extremism widespread
Right-wing extremism is widespread, horribly, terribly and dangerously so - and it's up to all of us in Western societies to stake a stand. In Tröglitz too many people remained silent, said Markus Nierth, the former mayor who resigned as far-right protests grew and local authorities refused to ban a march on his house. He stepped down, he told me last week, because he felt abandoned, left alone in his fight. And he has a point: We can't abandon those who stand up to right-wing extremism. We cannot accept that parts of eastern Germany seem to have turned into no-go areas for anyone who looks foreign, or when authorities seem to turn a blind eye on right-wing extremism.

And, most importantly, the right to asylum is not debatable. It's our duty to welcome asylum seekers, to accommodate them and treat them respectfully and humanely - and that includes fair and equal procedures, no matter whether they're from Syria, Ethiopia or Kosovo. So when the outrage and soul-searching over the latest arson attack has subsided in Germany - as it, no doubt, soon will - let us not forget those trying to stand up against xenophobia and protect those who come seeking shelter. Otherwise, it's not just Tröglitz that's in danger of going down in history alongside Solingen, Mölln and Hoyerswerda: Maybe it's all of us.
© The Deutsche Welle.

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Neo-Nazis Threaten German Official With Beheading Over Asylum Seekers

6/4/2015- A German politician has told a television channel how neo-Nazis threatened to behead him if asylum seekers were allowed to move into a town in the east of the country. German newspaper Die Welt reports that Götz Ulrich, the district coordinator of refugee accommodation for Saxony-Anhalt, told N-TV that he has been threatened with “the methods of the French Revolution” - suggesting the use of the guillotine according to a number of German media outlets - in response to plans to house 40 asylum seekers in the town of Tröglitz. The comments follow a string of incidents involving far-right groups who are opposed to officials allowing asylum seekers to be housed in the town. Over the weekend, the property where the refugees were supposed to move into in May, burned down, rendering it uninhabitable. Police are treating the incident as a case of intentional arson.

Two people were in the property at the time, but managed to escape unharmed. Police said in a statement that they are not ruling out attempted homicide. Ulrich said in an interview with DW today that there is a mood of “distress” in the town now. “I believe personally that it has less to do with the people who actually live here, and far more with figures from the far-right who have chosen Tröglitz as a stage for their demonstrations,” he said. “It has developed into a situation in which these people are attempting to see if they can influence policy - to see if the right-wing scene has enough power to prevent the Burgenlandkreis from opening its doors to refugees.” The town’s former mayor, Markus Nierth, resigned in March following a three-month anti-asylum campaign which culminated with a planned march that ended outside his house, according to German news website Deutch Welles (DW).

He cited fears for the security of his wife and children, who were reportedly subjected to abuse from neo-Nazis. Nierth told DW yesterday that “seeds of neo-Nazism are germinating” in the area. Laura Schneider, a journalist at DW, told Newsweek that members of far-right parties had turned up to a public meeting in which the public, politicians and police were discussing the issue of asylum-seekers last week in Tröglitz, and verbally abused officials. She adds that the threats to Götz Ulrich, following the threats to the former mayor, appear to be part of a pattern. “He has to decide where to locate or house a certain number of refugees. He’s the one who decided that Tröglitz could house 40 asylum seekers,” she says.

Thorbjørn Jagland, the secretary general of the Council of Europe, joined a chorus of German politicians condemning the right-wing attacks. "Incidents like this should set off alarm bells in Europe,” he said in a statement. “Democracy is increasingly threatened by racist, xenophobic, political and religious extremism.” “The growing atmosphere of hate and intolerance in different parts of society is very dangerous. We must fight it and fight its causes at all levels,” he concluded.
© Newsweek.

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Germany: 'The seeds of neo-Nazism are germinating,' says Tröglitz ex-mayor after arson attack

Police in Saxony-Anhalt have confirmed that an outbreak of fire at a housing complex in Tröglitz was arson. Evidence could be found that the house had been broken into, and that a form of lighter fluid had been used to ignite the roof structure.

4/4/2015- For Markus Nierth, former mayor of Tröglitz, there's no doubt as to who was behind the attack.
Markus Nierth: We've been hearing threats for a number of weeks now that something would happen to the house in Tröglitz. We thought it was just about spreading fear, that [the extremists] wanted to make us scared and that we would give up out of fear. Now, […] it's clear that they have taken this whole thing to a new level.

DW: You stepped down as mayor of Tröglitz out of concern for the safety of your wife: If Saturday's fire was indeed set by those who oppose the asylum house, have those concerns been confirmed?
I would hesitate to collate my situation with that of the refugee house. However, given the support that my wife and I have demonstrated for the cause of housing refugees in Tröglitz, I can see the link you are suggesting. As soon as the NPD and other [right-wing] members showed up outside our house, I realized it was time to call it quits. That's not funny anymore.

Given the intensity of the situation, do you think the police should have kept better watch of the planned asylum house?
As a matter of fact, yes. And it gets worse. There were people living there. A German couple was in the house when the fire was set to the roof structure. Thank God, they were warned by a neighbor and got out in time! This is all so terrible and shows the extent to which these people will go.

So there was no police presence outside the house?
No.

Tröglitz is a small village in Saxony-Anhalt, not very far from Leipzig and Dresden, where in the past months the overtly xenophobic movement PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the Occident) has enjoyed popularity. Would you say that the average person on the street in Tröglitz sympathizes with such a stance towards foreigners, not to mention asylum seekers?
Most of my experiences with the people here have shown me that this simply isn't the case. However, I must say that xenophobic attitudes are becoming more and more part of what is accepted here. We are starting to encounter a real problem with what's known as the "silent middle," a kind of latent xenophobia in broader society that threatens to spread. Saturday's arson attack could even be interpreted as a horrific signal. Individual human beings broke into a place where refugees are to be housed - people we are bound to protect - with the hopes of burning the place down. We now could be seeing just how real this violence is, that the seeds of neo-Nazism are germinating right here. And that's why it's time to stand up.

And do what?
This evening, at 5 p.m. in Tröglitz on the Friedensplatz (Peace Square), we will stand up to the horrific xenophobia and violence of these people. We will be there just to show them that we aren't afraid. We are calling on everyone from the entire region who wants to support us to come to Tröglitz. We will do everything in our power to put this refugee house up, and if not then we'll have to offer our own living space to them.

So you are willing to invite refugees into your house?
Not my own house, exactly, but I have property in Tröglitz where they could certainly stay. And there are already other people around here who are prepared to offer the same thing. This won't end with one burned roof.
© The Deutsche Welle.

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Germany: Arson suspected in refugee shelter blaze

A fire broke out early Saturday morning in a building that was to house asylum-seekers in the town of Tröglitz in Sachsen-Anhalt. Investigators strongly suspect arson. The fire follows weeks of protests against the shelter by the far-right NPD party.

4/4/2015- According to officials, one or more people broke into the shelter, which was to house 40 asylum-seekers starting in May, and set the fire at around 2 a.m., probably with lighter fluid or another fire accelerant. Prosecutors are categorizing the incident as “serious arson” and at a press conference in Halle, prosecutor Jörg Wilkmann said that a polit-ical motivation behind the act could not be ruled out. The fire destroyed the roof of the building. Two people who were in the building at the time, a 50-year-old woman and 52-year-old man, were able to escape unharmed after being warned by a neighbour that the building was ablaze. “At the moment, everything in this case points to deliberate arson,” Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière told the dpa news agency. “If that is confirmed, it is a heinous act that must be clarified immediately. The culprits belong behind bars.”

Federal Justice Minister Heiko Maas appeared stunned by the incident and on Twitter said “We must again make it clear: refugees are welcome in our country!” But not all in Tröglitz, in the eastern state of Sachsen-Anhalt, share his view. The town hit the headlines when the town’s former mayor, Markus Nierth, 46, stepped down in March in the wake of threats from members of the far-right NPD, who had vociferously opposed his support of the shelter and promised to hold a demonstration in front of his home. Nierth said he felt no choice but to step down in light of the far-right danger since he did not feel enough support from officials. His resignation set off a debate over how to protect politicians from demonstrators, especially when threats are made against their families. On Saturday, Nierth wrote on his Facebook page “I am stunned, sad and furious at the same time. Tröglitz will never recover from this.”

Nierth told dpa said he will offer asylum-seekers a place to live in two apartments he has and that he hopes other Tröglitz residents will also offer accommodation if they can. "We can’t let the Nazis win in our town,” he said.
© The Local - Germany

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INTERNATIONAL ROMA DAY 2015

Roma inclusion efforts must be intensified

World Roma Day on 8 April is a day for celebrating the many ways that people of Roma origin enrich our diverse European societies. However, it is also a day when we should remember their persecution and discrimination in Europe through the centuries.

8/4/2015- In 2015, this day serves as a timely reminder that in order to honour its past commitments, the European Union and its Member States must intensify their efforts to ensure the fundamental rights of all Roma in the EU are fully respected and fulfilled. "Evidence shows that many Roma continue to suffer social exclusion and discrimination in key areas of social life, such as employment, education, health and housing," said FRA Interim Director Constantinos Manolopoulos. "These phenomena are intrinsically linked to the racism and intolerance against Roma in many communities across the EU. Anti-Roma prejudice and racism undermine social inclusion efforts and community cohesion, and must be tackled decisively alongside efforts to improve their socio-economic conditions."

In December 2013, the Council of the EU recommended that Member States put in place a series of policy measures to promote the full equality of Roma. In its 2014 report on the implementation of the EU framework for National Roma Integration Strategies, the European Commission acknowledged that progress, although still slow, is being made in most Member States. Efforts nevertheless need to be intensified, especially in Member States issued with country-specific recommendations in respect to Roma integration by the Council.

FRA supports the EU and Member States’ work in this area by providing evidence for policy decisions and by helping them to develop tools and methods to improve the assessment of the effectiveness of their activities. In addition, FRA is working directly at the local level through its Local Engagement for Roma Inclusion to identify catalysts and obstacles to Roma inclusion in practice. To this end, FRA engages directly with local stakeholders, authorities, and Roma and non-Roma residents to support efforts towards their participation in shaping, implementing and monitoring Roma inclusion policies and activities.
© EU Fundamental Rights Agency

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Italy: Facebook blocks Salvini over 'gypsies' slur

Italy's far-right leader Matteo Salvini has been temporarily banned from Facebook for using the word “gypsies”, he claimed on Thursday.

9/4/2015- Salvini, leader of the Northern League, said his personal Facebook profile had been blocked for 24 hours after he wrote “gypsies” (“zingari”). Turning to Twitter, the politician said the move was “absurd!” A spokesperson for Facebook was not immediately available to confirm whether Salvini had been temporarily banned. Salvini came under criticism yesterday for stating that if given the chance he would “raze the Roma camps to the ground.” Speaking on International Roma Day, Salvini said around 40,000 ethnic Roma currently living in government-run camps should rent or buy homes. Members of the community, however, face barriers in applying for social housing, even though many people living in camps were born in Italy. Associazione 21 Luglio, a Roma rights group, has called for the camps to be closed and residents to be given equal access to housing. The association on Wednesday accused Salvini of courting voters and said the Northern League had in the past proposed maintaining the camp system. In a bid to tackle discrimination against the Roma community, Rome’s mayor last year banned the word “nomads” (“nomadi”) being used in city hall. Mayor Ignazio Marino said Roma, Sinti and Caminanti (travellers) were more accurate terms which could help promote integration.
© The Local - Italy

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NGOs demand respect for Swiss gypsies

To mark International Roma Day, minority and human rights organisations have demanded more respect and recognition for gypsies living in Switzerland. They say the Jenish, Sinti and Roma people are often stigmatised in politics and in the media.

8/4/2015- In an open letter to Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga, published on Wednesday, groups including Amnesty International and Caritas asked the Swiss government to encourage Roma residents to participate in politics. Between 80,000 and 100,000 Roma – most of them with a Swiss passport – live in Switzerland. However, they are completely absent in politics, criticised the coalition of groups behind the letter. Coalition members also said that the Roma are often victims of targeted racial profiling by the authorities. They called for measures to educate public officials about the situation of the Roma. On a more positive note, they lauded the creation of a working group tasked with the problem of too few campsites, but called on the government to make more space for foreign travellers who are passing through.
© Swiss Info

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Roma Leadership for the 21st Century

By Mensur Haliti, Senior Program Manager, Open Society Roma Initiatives Office

8/4/2015- International Roma Day is an opportunity to realize that the major source of hope for Roma in Europe is the Roma people themselves. Waiting for the EU and governments to solve the problems of our people is not an option. This sort of dependency contributes to a deep-seated sense of inferiority. Consequently, both Roma and non-Roma alike are convinced that we have always been mentally, physically, spiritually, and culturally inferior. Rebuilding dignity and pride, and developing confidence, competence, and self-reliance are the prime goals for our leadership in the 21st century. We have to look at ourselves, draw on strength from our predecessors, and grow through collective successes.

From the time we arrived in Europe at least a thousand years ago, our bodies and minds have been under assault. We have suffered and survived Europe’s terror, humiliation, and denial, including slavery, racial otherness, discrimination, forced assimilation, persecution, deportation, and genocide. Despite this, we have learned, created, invented, discovered, built, and thought. We have mastered a “way out of no way” and contributed to the overall development and rebirth of the arts in Europe. The 19th and 20th centuries saw some of our ancestors’ most important steps forward in resistance, self-definition, collective form of protest, and more organized political action. Despite all the hardships and external negative forces, our critical voices present the most progressive minority leadership in 21st-century Europe.

In the struggle to prove our emancipation, many of our people have paid a high price. Thanks to those who sacrificed, we live in a time when visibility of the Roma situation is greater than ever. We made the EU, national institutions, and various international and intergovernmental organizations, agencies, and bilateral and private donors more committed to supporting change in the lives of our people. We have also been developing a new stratum of citizens who can help surface a more impact-ful leadership. We are getting bigger in number and stronger in knowledge. The number of university students and graduates, journalists, writers, artists, public intel-lectuals, lawyers, politicians, civil servants, doctors, and teachers has been steadily growing over the last two decades. Besides this growing “elite,” our communities are also recognized as potential game changers. In many localities, regions, and countries, we represent a great voting power. We are also the youngest and fastest-growing demographic segment in the EU. This adds up to invaluable potential and strength that, if well organized, could transform the leadership status and the well-being of our people.

Yet anyone who looks beyond the glow of the moment will understand that neither our leadership nor the situation of our people will change overnight. The context has changed dramatically over the past 10 years. This has been a decade of paradox with enormous challenges. Attempts at bettering the lives of our people have been, to say the least, largely rhetorical and without substantial results. Yet it has also been a decade powered by new hope, as we have grown in number, knowledge, and individual achievement. Today, we are at a moment where the opportunity to move ahead has never been greater. The key question is: how we can seize this moment and take charge of our destiny?

We have to take the risk of leadership, which means to enable others with shared values and motives, and purposefully deploy our various resources of knowledge, skills, social capital, and material means to reposition the demands of our people in the political process that shapes their future. Moving in this direction is a very difficult and complex task—impossible to accomplish individually in solitude. It requires a collective power and transformation in ethics, competence, roles, and relationships. We need to build confidence and confront the notion that we are hopeless, powerless, and voiceless, that we need help and assistance, as well as other “gifts” from the outside. We need to create a context in which our future leadership is part and takes part of common history and struggle, as a moral source for mobilization, critical reflection, adaptation, and aspirations for collective improvement.

To engage in the distribution of wealth and power in society, we need to replace our disbelief in politics by political engagement in the democratic practices of decision making. If we realize that none of us can succeed alone in today’s changing world, we can achieve much more than what we have until today. Our sole preoccupation with the brilliance of personalities and isolated individuals must be overridden by the creation of collective brilliance. Filling the need for belonging is not just a personal struggle for connection but also our collective challenge, because it directly affects the patterns of disorganization that weaken our leadership strength and impact. Our future leadership should take the path in which people can discern common interests and mobilize common resources on behalf of those interests, including those of our supporters.

“In democratic countries,” Alexis de Tocqueville once wisely observed, “knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge that depend on others.” Moving forward, we have to better understand and combine our resources. To achieve this, we need to develop mutual relationships and experiences that would support future leadership in attaining a sense of urgency, shared purpose, courage, hope, and consistent support. We have to come to a place where every individual success will be considered as part of a collective success, and where most of the individual successes would depend on the others. Only then will we be able to exercise more effective and impactful grassroots leadership, organizational leadership, political leadership, and intellectual leadership in making democracy work every day for our people.
© Open Society Foundations - Voices.

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Sweden invests millions in ending Roma racism

A Swedish Roma activist has welcomed the government's plan to invest 52 million kronor ($6m) to promote Roma inclusion in society – but he told The Local on Wednesday that more needs to be done.

8/4/2015- The Swedish government announced on Wednesday that they are going to allocate 13 million kronor a year from 2016-19 in their spring budget to educating so called “bridge builders”, who will work to increase knowledge of Roma culture and language in education and social care sectors. “The way in which we have treated people with their roots in Roma culture and background is a very dark chapter of the story of our country and our development,” wrote Sweden's Culture and Democracy Minister Alice Bah Kuhnke in an opinion piece for newspaper Metro. “Much work remains to be done, but Sweden should be a country where everybody is treated equally,” she added.

Emir Selimi, founder and chairman of the organization for young Roma people in Sweden ('Unga Romer'), echoed the minister's words, but said the focus was wrong. “All investment is good, but at the same time I want to change what's being focused on. Inclusion and integration is not just for Roma people, but for society towards the Roma. It's not illegal to be a member of the Roma community, but it is illegal to discriminate,” he told The Local. Sweden has been hit by a wave of hate crimes against minorities in recent years. The Local reported in March that human rights organization Civil Rights Defenders has sued the Swedish state over an illegal police register of Roma people in 2013. The list, which was compiled by the regional Skåne police in southern Sweden, included some 4,700 people, some of whom were children.

The government's new investment forms part of an overarching strategy for Roma inclusion initiated by the previous centre-right government in February 2012. The goal is that a Roma person who turns 20 in 2032 should enjoy the same opportunities as a non-Roma. Although a lot of current domestic debate is centred around poorer Roma people travelling to Sweden from Eastern Europe, the ethnic minority has in fact lived and worked in the Nordic country for centuries. And Selimi said that it is time for society to step up now, not in two decades. “Historically, Roma people have lived in Europe for seven to eight hundred years. If people who emigrated to Australia just two hundred years ago can call themselves Australians, why can't we call ourselves Europeans? How much do you need to invest to replace all of that which has been taken from the Roma community?”

Around 50,000 Roma people live in Sweden. And ahead of International Roma Day on Wednesday, EU commissioners called for the member states to address the problem of discrimination. “The Roma community, Europe's largest ethnic minority with around 6 million people living in the EU, still face exclusion, inequality and discrimination. (…) The marginalization and exclusion of Europe's Roma needs to be addressed head-on,” said First Vice-President Frans Timmermans and commissioners Marianne Thyssen, Vera Jourová and Corina Cretu in a joint statement. But Selimi argued the EU needs to do more to ensure any funding is allocated to where it is needed.

“A lot is already being done, but the EU needs to have greater control of where the money goes. There's still a long way to go. But one of the things I want to emphasize, which my organization works a lot for, is the need to create a wider context to combat the incredible lack of knowledge of Roma culture. In the end, when you get to know a person you understand that they're much the same as everyone else.”
© The Local - Sweden

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Norway’s prime minister apologizes for treatment of Gypsies during WWII

8/4/2015- Prime Minister Erna Solberg apologized Wednesday for discrimination against Norway’s Roma Gypsy population before and after World War II, calling it a dark part of the country’s history, and promised to pay reparations. The Scandinavian country’s small Roma minority, of around 500, have campaigned since the 1990s for compensation for their mistreatment. Solberg’s comments followed the release of a government-commissioned report in February that detailed how Norwegian Roma citizens in the 1930s were denied re-entry after travels abroad. It named 62 people who ultimately perished in Nazi death camps after the rejections. Survivors of the death camps were also denied re-entry to Norway after the war for up to 10 years, the report by the Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities showed.
The prime minister said the measures taken by the authorities at the time amounted to a “racist exclusion policy.” “It’s time for a moral reckoning with this dark part of our history. The state recognizes its responsibility for the errors that were made and the injustice done to Norwegian Roma,” Solberg said in a statement. Data from the mid-1920s show that between 100 and 150 Roma lived in Norway at that time, according to the Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities. More research was needed to uncover the full extent of what happened to Roma in Norway during German occupation of the country from 1940 to 1945, the report said. Solberg promised that the right-wing coalition government would pay reparations but said the details would be worked out in cooperation with Roma representatives.
© Reuters

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Serbia: Belgrade Slammed for Not Rehousing Evicted Roma

Almost 1,000 Roma who were forcibly evicted by the Belgrade authorities in April 2012 have not been properly resettled even though Serbia was given EU funds to do so, Amnesty International said.

8/4/2015- Rights group Amnesty International said in a new report published on Wednesday that three years after the forced eviction of more than 200 Roma families from the Belville settlement in Belgrade, the city authorities have failed to use 3.6 million euro in European Commission funds to adequately rehouse them. Amnesty slammed what it called “a toxic combination of bureaucratic incompetence, inertia and discrimination”. It said the majority of those evicted were now living in squalid conditions in metal containers, cut off from social services. “A flagship EC-funded project intended to demonstrate how resettlements could be carried out in accordance with international human rights standards has been sunk by a catalogue of failures by the City of Belgrade,” said Gauri van Gulik, Deputy Director of Europe and Central Asia for Amnesty International.

The eviction of the Roma from the informal Belville settlement in the New Belgrade area was part of an operation to clean up the city. The families were only informed they were to be evicted two days beforehand. Former Belgrade mayor Dragan Djilas, who was present at the eviction, said at the time that the authorities wanted to improve conditions both for the Roma and their neighbours. “This is a question of law and respect of the rules in Belgrade and anyone who does not comply will be penalised,” Djilas said. But Amnesty said that afterwards, the city authorities failed to find suitable sites for housing the Roma and or to engage in genuine consultation with the families in order to complete their resettlement by February 2015 as promised.

“To be forced from your home is a traumatic experience in itself but to be placed in inadequate segregated containers and other inadequate houses for years on end has had a devastating impact on the lives and livelihoods of an already persecuted minority,” said van Gulik.
© Balkan Insight

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OSCE Chair and human rights chief call for youth focus to promote greater Roma participation

8/4/2015- Ivica Daèiæ, OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and Serbia’s Foreign Minister, and Michael Georg Link, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), called today for greater efforts to ensure Roma and Sinti participation in social, political and cultural life. On the occasion of International Roma Day, they stressed that a focus on youth, including on education, is key to providing Roma communities with greater opportunities. “Education is key to opening up greater opportunity for equal participation of Roma and Sinti youth in social, political, economic and cultural life. Empowering Roma and Sinti youth and preventing their marginalization can play a huge part in making greater opportunities and participation a reality not only for them, but also for the communities they will someday lead,” Daèiæ said, while calling on participating States to take active measures to support this.

Link stressed that failing to tap the potential of Roma and Sinti youth, and of their broader communities in general, would represent a lost opportunity. “The marginali-zation and discrimination suffered by Roma prevent them from exercising and defending their human rights, from meaningful public and political participation, and from making a real contribution to the lives of the societies from which they are effectively excluded,” Link said. “Ensuring the meaningful participation of Roma and Sinti youth, and particularly young women, in relevant decision-making processes is an investment not only in the future of Roma communities, but general society in countries across the OSCE region.”

The Organization’s work in this area, based on the 2003 Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti in the OSCE Area, was further reinforced in a 2013 decision by the Ministerial Council focusing on issues affecting Roma and Sinti women, youth and children. In December 2014, ahead of assuming the OSCE Chairman-ship, the Serbian authorities supported ODIHR in organizing an international conference of Roma and Sinti youth representatives. At the conference in Belgrade, participants from 17 OSCE participating States called for greater activism and volunteerism on the part of Roma youth as ways to mobilize and empower their communities and stimulate participation in politics and decision-making.
© The OSCE

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On Int. Roma Day, OSCE Mission to Skopje Head calls for improving living conditions of Roma

8/4/2015- The Head of the OSCE Mission to Skopje, Ambassador Ralf Breth, congratulates the Roma community on the occasion of the International Roma Day, April 8. The OSCE Mission joins the Roma community, as well as relevant Non-Governmental Organizations and state institutions, in celebrating and reflecting on our joint work to promote human rights and social inclusion. “The Mission believes that a sustainable democratic future can only be achieved in a society inclusive of all communities,” said Breth. “International Roma Day serves to remind all of us, who are working in this field, of our mandates and of the country’s commitments in regards to Roma.” Breth noted that the Mission encourages and supports a multi-agency approach, which aims to improve the living conditions of the Roma community and enables them to fully exercise their rights. “April 8 should not be the only day in the year when we reflect on the challenges that Roma face, but rather it should remind us all that there is still much work to be done in many areas such as civil registration of unregistered persons, employment, education, housing and healthcare, among others,” he said.
© The OSCE

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OSCE Mission to Serbia notes progress made and need for efforts to improve situation of Roma in Serbia

8/4/2015- On the occasion of the International Roma Day, the Head of the OSCE Mission to Serbia, Ambassador Peter Burkhard, voiced the need for continued action to improve the situation of members of the Roma community in Serbia and create conditions for the full inclusion of Roma into wider society. “We are witnessing that Roma continue to face obstacles in almost all aspects of everyday life,” said Burkhard. “It is essential that the state authorities, together with Roma representatives and civil society, in partnership with the international community, continue to work jointly on finding realistic and sustainable solutions.” Since the adoption of the 2009 Serbian National Strategy for the Improvement of the Status of Roma, the legal and policy framework has been enhanced.

“The time has now come to strengthen the system that is necessary to implement these policies,” said Burkhard. “Despite remaining issues, we have also noticed impro-vements in co-ordination between ministries, local governments and civil society in general and Roma civil society organizations in particular. These steps have led to better life conditions for all ethnic minorities, especially Roma women, while ensuring greater equality in public and political life.” “We are confident that all stakehol-ders in Serbia will continue with their efforts towards a participatory, inclusive and fully integrated society which honours and respects diversity,” said Burkhard.
© OSCE Mission to Serbia

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OSCE Mission Head calls for better integration of Kosovo Roma community

8/4/2015- “The Kosovo Roma community remains on the margins of the society, therefore more needs to be done to ensure their full social inclusion,” Head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo, Ambassador Jean-Claude Schlumberger, said today on the occasion of International Roma Day. “Members of the Roma community, along with the Ash-kali and Egyptian communities, still suffer various forms of discrimination. They face challenges in accessing education, healthcare services, housing and employment. This situation needs to change,” said Schlumberger. “The current strategy and action plan for the integration of these most vulnerable communities will expire in 2015,” Schlumberger said, urging the Kosovo government to ensure an inclusive process when drafting the new policy framework for the integration of these communities.

Representatives of the civil society and of the communities themselves need to be heard in order to offer adequate responses to their needs and concerns, he added. “Increased commitment by both central and local level institutions and the allocation of more funds are crucial to taking this process forward,” he said, noting that twelve municipalities have developed local action plans with the support of the OSCE. “These plans include concrete actions to integrate Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian commu-nities. With the appropriate support from the central level, municipalities will be able to significantly improve the living conditions of these communities,” concluded Schlumberger.
© The OSCE Mission in Kosovo

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Addressing anti-Gypsyism must be a priority on International Roma Day

An important part of the fight against anti-Gypsyism is raising awareness of the history of past persecution of Roma minorities in Europe.
By Rokhaya Diallo, board member of the European Network Against Racism.

7/4/2015- There is very little to celebrate on the eve of International Roma Day. Ten to 12 million Roma people in Europe continue to be denied their basic human rights and to be the victims of racist attacks, widespread discrimination and hate speech. Member states have adopted specific strategies for the inclusion of Roma, under European Union pressure, but these have so far largely failed. One of the reasons is that they have not addressed prejudice and negative attitudes towards Roma as the root causes of Roma exclusion. Implementation of social inclusion strategies cannot succeed if politicians do not encourage the majority population, including civil servants, state agents and the judiciary, to respect Roma and support equality, and if steps are not taken to challenge stereotypes through public awareness raising campaigns and community-led initiatives.

Fortunately, there is increasing acknowledgement that anti-Gypsyism needs to be tackled. There has been encouraging progress – both at the EU and national levels. Vera Jourova, the new European Commissioner for Justice, recently publicly acknowledged anti-Gypsyism as one of the root causes of Roma exclusion. The European Parliament is set to adopt a resolution underlining the need to combat anti-Gypsyism and calling for a European memorial day of the Roma genocide during World War II. An EU Council Recommendation adopted in 2013 calls on member states to report on the implementation of measures to combat anti-Gypsyism.

One way of addressing anti-Gypsyism is to acknowledge and shed light on past abuses and persecution of the Roma minority in Europe. As the previous Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg has emphasised, current manifestations of anti-Gypsyism are “a continuation of a brutal and largely unknown history of repression of Roma, going back several hundred years. The methods of repression have varied over time and have included enslavement, enforced assimilation, expulsion, internment and mass killings … A full account and recognition of the crimes committed against the Roma might go some way to restoring the trust of Roma communities in society.”

At a national level, some EU countries have already set a good example in this respect. The Swedish government published a White Paper on abuses and rights violations of Roma during the 1900s in 2014, which acknowledged that prejudices towards Roma in those years laid the foundation for current attitudes towards Roma. As a result, a governmental commission against anti-Gypsyism was established to address current stereotypes of Roma.

Walls
These measures are more than necessary given the current situation for Roma across Europe. Walls are being built in cities throughout Eastern Europe to separate Roma from the rest of society. Anti-Roma marches are often used to mobilise votes by populist and far right groups and parties in European countries, including Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and protesters regularly try to destroy Roma houses where families and children live. Roma children are segregated in inferior schools and classrooms in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Greece and Slovakia, among others. In the Czech Republic, almost 30% of the children attending special needs education and following a programme for mild mental disability are Roma. In Italy, many Roma are forced to live in isolated and segregated camps set up by the municipalities, making it extremely difficult for them to access basic rights to education, employment and healthcare.

Worryingly, anti-Roma prejudice is extending beyond the “traditional” far-right and extremist hate-mongers and is increasingly present in mainstream politics. Authorities’ lack of response to racist attacks or speech against Roma is widespread, and some have even excused them or suggested that Roma were themselves to blame. The generalisation of anti-Roma discourses within some political parties and by some politicians in Europe is not only fuelling deeply entrenched negative stereotypes towards Roma among the European population. It also leads to an increase in incidences of discrimination and violence against Roma, like those listed above.

In this context, recognising anti-Gypsyism as a specific form of structural racism targeting Roma people and implementing measures to combat it, would be necessary first steps in addressing prejudice going back several centuries into Europe’s history. Actions can and should be taken to respond to anti-Gypsyism. It is now urgent to step up the efforts across the European Union to dispel prejudices and tackle deeply rooted structural and institutional racism so that Roma can finally be fully included in European society.
© EuroActiv

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Headlines 3 April, 2015

Migrants Must Be Saved, Not Counted (opinion)

By William Lacy Swing, Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM)

3/4/2015- Easter tells us of mankind's triumph over injustice; Passover of mankind's liberation from dictatorship. Both holidays should remind everyone today living in peace and security of the terrible price millions elsewhere are paying to achieve the freedom to live in dignity. I am speaking of those of our fellow citizens we call migrants, who last year perished at the highest rate since the end of World War II. Most simply were trying to leave one zone of insecurity for safety. According to the agency I lead, the International Organization for Migration, today's migrants number close to one billion -- roughly one of every seven of us -- an unprecedented degree of mobility in the history of our species. They are displaced at times by armed conflict and political persecution, at others by hunger, at others simply by a desire for better futures for their families. A growing number of those men and women (and children) are fleeing imminent danger -- what we call "distress migration."

Yet distress is often what they meet: in the form of criminal smuggling gangs or dangerous routes through unsafe seas, or across burning deserts or after unspeakable torture. In 2014 IOM's Missing Migrants Project counted more than 5,000 fatalities of migrants in transit. Nearly two-thirds died on the Mediterranean Sea routes linking North Africa and Europe, today the world's deadliest transit route. This holiday season we are expecting even more death. Through March, IOM has counted nearly 500 fatalities of migrants on the Mediter-ranean Sea, during what usually is a lull in smuggling voyages. Not anymore. Easter and Passover herald the advent of spring, which in turns triggers smuggling's high season which this year appears to be under way earlier than usual. IOM now worries that 2015's death toll may top 6,000 before Christmas.

How bad is it? IOM recorded in one week this past month some 4300 migrants leaving Libya for Europe. Happily, all of those arrived safely. Yet, just a week earlier, 300 migrants died making that same voyage, due to rough seas. No longer can we merely count; we also must act -- no matter how tough the circumstances, or daunting the conditions. They're tough in Libya, where IOM estimates as many as 300,000 so-called third country nationals are stranded, mainly Syrians and Sub Saharan Africans. These are men and women who must literally dodge bullets to get to the coast, where often they're forced into leaky inflatable boats. Yet, even in Libya, the situation is not hopeless. In the past four weeks, IOM has rescued in Libya over 400 Senegalese migrants, delivering them into neighboring Tunisia and then flying them home to Dakar, their country's capital.

The stories they tell IOM staffers of their captivity at the hands of traffickers, are among the most heart-rending I've heard in 50 years of foreign service: of men and boys dying of thirst in the desert. Of midnight police raids that roust migrants from their beds -- to be beaten, robbed and dragged off to crowded jails to endure months of deprivation. None-theless, IOM has learned that with sufficient will, such victims are not beyond our reach. Working together with local authorities, the Libyan Red Crescent and Tunisia's govern-ment, IOM did not simply deliver these 400 Senegalese to freedom. The organization was further able to register another 4,000 men and women from a variety of countries whom we will evacuate in coming months. We've had similar success in Syria, where IOM has brought out more than 2000 stranded migrants since 2012. Hearing of these statistics does not soften the impact of the continuing news of migrant deaths. But it does give me hope this holiday season.
© The Huffington Post

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Croatia: Roma Suffer Racial Discrimination, UN Says

The UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern about the hardships faced by Roma people in Croatia who are cut off from the social welfare system and suffer widespread discrimination.

3/4/2015- The UN Human Rights Committee said in its report issued on Thursday that Croatia should do more to help stateless Roma to get citizenship so they can receive social welfare benefits. The committee said that Roma who became stateless after the break-up of Yugoslavia “face difficulties in meeting the requirements for obtaining Croatian citizenship because they often lack personal identity documents”. Croatia should “increase its efforts to ensure non-discriminatory access to adequate housing, social benefits and services for all victims of past conflicts”, the report said. It also expressed concern about the number of reported racist attacks on members of ethnic minorities such as Roma and Serbs, saying that such cases were not being adequately investigated and prosecuted. Croatia was urged to provide special training to law enforcement personnel “aimed at pro-moting respect for human rights and tolerance for diversity”.

The report also highlighted discrimination against Roma people, focusing on the “de facto segregation of Roma children in the education sector”. Roma and Serbs are also being discriminated against in their “access to housing, health care, employment and participation in the conduct of public affairs”, the report said. According to the 2011 census, there are 16,675 Roma in Croatia, but the UN development office in Croatia and other experts believe the number is much higher, between 30,000 and 40,000, because some Roma are not registered due to their lack of identity documents or have registered as Croats because they fear discrimination. According to a report issued in October 2014 by the UN in Croatia, there are between 1,500 and 2,000 Roma in the country who face problems with their legal status, either because they are foreign nationals or stateless. In a survey in 2013 conduc-ted by polling agency Target, 44 per cent of Croatians who were interviewed expressed prejudice towards Roma people.
© Balkan Insight

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Greek anti-racists pledge 'watch' on neo-Nazi trial

2/4/2015- Greek anti-racism groups on Thursday said they would offer daily coverage of the landmark trial of neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn this month to raise awareness of the group's alleged crimes. Entitled Golden Dawn Watch, the initiative will use accredited journalists and qualified lawyers to cover and provide analysis of the trial that opens on April 20. "This is one of the most important trials in modern Greek history," Eleftheria Koumandou, a journalist and coordinator of the Greek observa-tory against racist speech in media, told reporters. "This is historic material and we must not miss a single sentence," added Vassiliki Georgiadou, a professor at Panteio University specialising in political extremism and racism.

Around 70 members and alleged supporters of the violently anti-immigrant group will go on trial, most of them facing charges of membership of a criminal organisation, a serious offence in Greece. Others are accused of murder, conspiracy to murder, possession of weapons and racist violence. The defendants include party leader Nikos Michaloliakos and around a dozen Golden Dawn parliamentary lawmakers. Some of the defendants, who include police officers, face sentences of up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Golden Dawn says the probe is politically motivated. Set to take place in a special courtroom inside high security Korydallos prison in west Athens, the trial is expected to last several months.

The organisers said they would follow the model of NSU Watch, a similar initiative in Munich that covers the trial of a three-member neo-Nazi cell that murdered ten people in 2011, mostly Turkish immigrants. The municipality of Korydallos has called for the trial to be relocated, fearing possible clashes between anti-fascists and Golden Dawn supporters. An additional problem facing those wishing to attend the trial is that Golden Dawn members habitually pack the courtroom whenever one of their number is on trial, heckling and intimidating witnesses, the organisers said.
© AFP

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Russian propaganda in Ukraine; Long live Ruthenia

The Russian press cooks up ethnic separatism in Transcarpathia

3/4/2015- Tucked away behind the Carpathian mountains, Ukraine’s Transcarpathian region has its share of problems. Ethnic separatism is not among the major ones. Nonetheless, this remote region's Ruthenian and ethnic-Hungarian communities have become a target for Russian propaganda aimed at dividing Ukrainian society. In mid-March Ukrainian news outlets reprinted a report that organisations of Transcarpathia's Ruthenes (a small Slavic ethnic group scattered across Ukraine, Slovakia and Poland) had held a congress “demanding recognition of their national identity and autonomy of their land”. It turned out that the congress had been made up out of whole cloth by TASS, the Russian news agency. It was a postmodern tactic that might have been appreciated by the art world's most famous ethnic Ruthene, Andy Warhol. In Transcarpathia itself, the fake news caused a stir at the Ruthe-nian House in Mukacheve, a town just south of the Carpathians.

Local Ruthenes say that Petro Getsko, a “Ruthenian leader” quoted by TASS who calls himself the “prime minister of Subcarpathian Rus”, has not been seen in Transcarpathia for several years. Mr Getsko, who is a wanted man in Ukraine, is believed to be in Russia. “Russia is trying to play the Ruthenian card in Transcarpathia,” says Ievgen Zhupan, head doctor at the regional children’s hospital in Mukacheve and chairman of the People’s Council of the Ruthenes of Transcarpathia, an umbrella organisation of civic groups. Mr Zhupan no longer gives interviews to Russian media, who he says have manipulated his statements in the past. In fact Ukraine’s Ruthenian organisations are keeping their demands modest. In January several of them issued a statement expressing their support for Ukraine’s path to democratisation and European integration. Their most far-reaching request was to reinstate Ruthenian as an official ethnic category in Ukraine (it was scrapped under the Soviet regime).

There is more tension over the status of Ukraine's 156,000 ethnic Hungarians, but it mainly emanates from outside of Ukraine. Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister and one of Vladimir Putin's better friends in Europe, has repeatedly called for autonomy for Hungarian-Ukrainians. Mr Orban has found something of an ally in Laszlo Brenzovics, head of the Hungarian Cultural Association of Transcarpathia (KMKSZ) and a member of Ukraine's parliament, where he represents the party of president Petro Poroshenko. But Mr Brenzovics has never gone as far as Jobbik, Hungary’s far-right party, which calls Ukraine's crisis an opportunity to “finally resolve the situation of Transcarpathian Hungarians”. The epicentre of Hungarian culture in Ukraine is Berehove, a city of 24,000 near the border that was only incorporated into Ukraine in 1945. Hundreds of red, white and green flags flutter on monuments. Street signs are bilingual, and Hungarian can be used for some administrative purposes (a benefit of Ukraine's 2012 law on regional languages). Many locals have taken advantage of a simplified naturalisation procedure to gain Hungarian citizenship, which Mr Orban and his Fidesz party introduced in 2010.

From its headquarters in nearby Uzhhorod, the KMKSZ has hinted at sympathy towards pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine's east. It urges a peaceful solution to the conflict and calls for greater minority rights and the creation of administrative units along ethnic lines. Mr Brenzovics has also taken up the popular cause of opposition to military mobilisation; Ukraine should not send “a country lad or father from the village” to a war zone, he says. This is still a far cry from Jobbik, which denounces “Kiev's puppet government" and claims it "serves the interests of Atlantic powers”. Of course, many Ukrainians are resentful of the draft, not to mention the country's entrenched corruption and deteriorating economy.

What sets Hungarian-Ukrainians apart is the ability to express their discontent in ethnic terms, and the presence of a neighbouring government interested in exploiting it. On the Hungarian side, the Transcarpathian cause presents a chance for the ultranationalists of Jobbik to take a jab at Fidesz. Mr Orban will continue to play this political game, but he has no interest in provoking violence. As for the Ruthenes, they have no outside sponsor trying to foment separatism. The political theorist Benedict Anderson famously referred to nation-states as "imagined communities". But some such communities are more imagined than others. If the Russian press wants to find significant ethnic separatist movements in Transcarpathian Ukraine, it will have to keep inventing them.
© The Economist

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U.N. body tells Russia to act against human rights abuses

2/4/2015- United Nations experts on Thursday called on Russia to repeal laws limiting free speech and targeting homosexuals and urged action to prevent torture, racist crimes and a wide range of other human rights abuses. The 18-member Human Rights Committee also told Moscow it should move to prevent violation of U.N. pacts that it has signed by insurgents in eastern Ukraine and by the authorities in the Chechen republic, and in Crimea. The calls came in a report that indirectly drew a picture of a country rife with persecution of critics of the government and of groups that do not conform to its political and social views, and that gave no recourse to a proper ju-dicial system. The 12-page document largely referred to reports of abuses and violent activities, including by what it called "ultra-nationalist, racist and neo-Nazi groups", and of torture of suspects by police. The Committee, which monitors signatory countries' performance under the 1976 International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, issued the report after examining Russia's record and hearing comments by Moscow's delegation.

During discussion in the Committee late last month, Russian officials denied the truth of the many of the reports cited by the body's members, who include non-govern-ment lawyers and academics from developing and developed countries. The U.N. report said laws signed by President Vladimir Putin - including on limiting Internet activi-ty and restricting links between Russian non-governmental organisations and foreign groups - "appear" to vio-late the U.N. Convention. The Committee said it was concer-ned by reports of hate speech and violence against gays and called on Moscow to "clearly and explicitly state that it does not tolerate any form of social stigmatization of homosexuals". It also noted "under-representation of women in decision- making positions" in political life and urged Russia to fight "patriarchal attitudes" on the role of women and men in the family and society at large.
© Reuters

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Sweden: Lay judges step down over 'racist comments'

Several lay judges appointed by Sweden's third biggest political party, the Sweden Democrats, could face internal investigation and some have been forced to step down after claims they made racist comments online.

2/4/2015- “Some of these comments are unacceptable," party leader Jimmie Åkesson, who is returning to work after months of sick leave, told Swedish tabloid Expressen in an interview published on Thursday. "If you belong to our party, you don't have these opinions," he added. Together with the Research Group ('Researchgruppen', a network for investigative journalism), Expressen has carried out an investigation of around 6,000 people, from all parties, who became lay judges at the start of 2015. Lay judges ('nämndemän') are politically appointed and sit alongside professional judges in first and second tier Swedish courts. Eight members of the nationalist Sweden Democrat party have so far been revealed by Expressen to allegedly have written racist messages online.

One lay judge at Södertörn District Court, who has not yet been involved in any court verdicts, is said to have commented on an article on a Swedish far right anti immigration site about violence in the Rosengård area of Malmö in southern Sweden, “deport the dregs to their rubbish piles of countries”. The man, who also works at the Sweden Democrats' parliament secretariat, has since told Expressen he is going to step down from court, but it is understood he will remain at parliament. “I have spoken to him and this does not affect our confidence in him. And he has already left the assignment as lay judge,” Henrik Vinge, press secretary for the Sweden Democrats, told Expressen. But several of the other seven lay judges – some of whom have stepped down from their posts after the report, either voluntarily or asked to by the court – risk facing an internal investigation, he said. Åkesson added they could be expelled from the party if found to have broken its "zero tolerance" policy.

t is not the first time members of Sweden's nationalist party come under fire for allegedly making racist comments online. In January, the Deputy Speaker in parliament was repor-ted to have written on Facebook after the Paris attacks, "the religion of peace shows its face". He later edited the post. The vote of a lay judge carries the same weight as a professional judge in court in Sweden. Although normally appointed by political parties, their assignment is apolitical and they must remain neutral in all cases. But the system is not uncontroversial. Anne Ramberg, general secretary of the Swedish Bar Association ('Advokatsamfundet', a membership organization for practising lawyers in Sweden), described her shock at hearing about the Expressen report in an interview by Swedish Radio earlier this week. “It is harrowing. That's how you feel when you see these expressions of extremely racist and inhumane descriptions of people who come here,” she said.

Ramberg went on to criticize the current system of appointing lay judges. “It has always been a system error in the sense that the political parties appoint the lay judges. This has become especially relevant after the Sweden Democrats got up to 25 percent of the vote in some local authorities.” “A basic principle in a democratic state is that courts enjoy the public's trust. This is dependent on them being independent, impartial and that the jurors have integrity, meaning that you should not mix your political values with your judicial function.” The Sweden Democrats are the third largest political group in Sweden, scoring a record 12.9 percent of the vote in September's general election. Åkesson has returned to lead the party after a six-month absence due to exhaustion. In an appearance on popular Swedish talk show 'Skavlan' on Friday he revealed he was taking anti de-pressants and would be returning to work in stages from March 31st. According to fresh figures by Sifo released on Thursday, only 37 percent of voters think that Åkesson's return to politics will have a positive effect on his party's popularity in the polls.
© The Local - Sweden

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Hackers leak messages between the Kremlin and France’s far-right National Front

3/4/2015- French media site Mediapart has reported that hackers have leaked thousands of texts and emails sent between the Kremlin and the French far-right party, the National Front. According to French newspaper Le Monde, the hackers posted the messages on their website and many of the texts discuss Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front, and her support for the annexation of the Crimean peninsula, which occurred in March 2014. The exchanges are between ‘Timur Prokopenko,’ who the hackers identify as a Krem-lin official and Kostya, a man they describe as a “Russian connection” who has access to Le Pen. The men discuss finding out if Le Pen will back Russia in Crimea by becoming “an observer” of the annexation. According to Le Monde, one message from Prokopenko reads “We really need her, I said to the boss you could arrange this with her”, in reference to Le Pen’s support of the internationally unrecognised referendum held before Russia annexed Crimea. Kostya then gives assurances that the National Front “will officially take a position on the Crimea".

The head of the National Front’s list in Ile-de-France constituency, Aymeric Chauprade, was an observer at the Crimea referendum last March, although the party denied allegations that he had attended as the foreign policy advisor. Speaking of his decision to attend, Chauprade told Russian News Channel RT: “I think the referendum is legitimate. We are talking about long-term history. We are talking about the Russian people, about the territories of the former USSR.” In February this year, Le Pen gave an interview to the Polish weekly Do Rzeczy in which she said that France should recognise Crimea as part of Russia. In December she revealed that her party had received a €9m loan from Russian-owned First Czech-Russian Bank, leading to reports that Putin was purposefully bankrolling radical European parties in order to destabilise Europe. However, Le Pen argued that French banks had turned down the National Front for a loan and so they had accepted one from Russia instead. Le Pen visited Moscow several times last year and met with deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin and other Kremlin officials to discuss policy issues. Newsweek could not independently verify the messages reported in Le Monde.
© Newsweek.

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France's Le Pen angry at father for defending 'gas chamber' comment

2/4/2015- Tensions between French National Front leader Marine Le Pen and her father Jean-Marie worsened on Thursday as the 86-year-old founder of the far-right party defen-ded having described Nazi gas chambers as a "detail of history". Since taking over from her father in 2011, Marine Le Pen has tried to rid the anti-immigrant party of its anti-Semitic image and widen its voter appeal as she readies a bid for the French presidency in 2017. In a television interview, Jean-Marie Le Pen defended a 1996 comment that gas chambers used to kill Jews in the Holocaust were "merely a detail in the history of World War Two", a remark for which he was convicted of inciting racial hatred and fined. "I deeply disagree with him. I take note of what he said but I believe that those coming over to vote for us understand what is going on ... He is being deliberately provocative," she told the website of Le Figaro daily.

It is not the first time the two have clashed. Marine Le Pen, a combative trained lawyer, distanced herself from her father last June after a quip about a French Jewish singer that included an implied reference to concentration camp ovens. Under Marine Le Pen's leadership, the party has deepened its roots across France, winning outright control of some town halls and getting its officials elected onto the councils of "departements", broadly the equivalent of counties. Polls suggest she could make it into the second-round run-off of a presidential election but is unlikely to win. While other FN officials have been stripped of their party membership for racism, there has been no move to bar Jean-Marie Le Pen from a party of which he still holds the title of honorary president. He is popular with many FN members and will stand as a candidate in December's regional elections.

The FN founder rejected all accusations of anti-Semitism and defended the gas chamber comment as a self-evidence. "I stand by this because I believe it is the truth," he told BFM TV. What I said is what I think - the gas chambers were a detail of the history of the war. Unless of course we are suggesting the war was a detail of the gas chambers." Asked about the current state of the FN, he called it a party for patriots including "fervent Petainists", a reference to Philippe Petain, the general who led the French war-time government that cooperated with Nazi Germany's racial policies.
© Reuters

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France's far-right wins 62 seats but not a local council

31/3/2015- Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen couldn't hide her disappointment Monday not to have won one single local council in France's election, but insisted she was satisfied with her party's performance. Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative UMP party and its allies won 46 percent of Sunday's vote, taking control of 66 of the 98 local councils, mostly at the expense of the left, which lost 25 of them, according to the Interior Ministry. The left captured 32 percent of the vote and the National Front won 22 percent, the agency said. Turnout was 49.98 percent. In an interview Monday with radio RTL, Le Pen reminded her audience that that her party won just a single seat in 2011, and 62 of the 4,108 available on Sunday. "I obviously express my satisfaction. We have multiplied by 62 our number of elected counci-lors," she said.

It's the latest in a series of elections that have expanded the National Front's presence in French politics, part of Le Pen's strategy toward a 2017 presidential campaign. Le Pen herself is looking ahead to France's regional election in December. "I believe that we have serious hopes of success in 4 to 5 regions (out of 13 total)," she said.  
France's governing Socialists are facing their fourth electoral defeat since President Francois Hollande took power in 2012, reflecting the government's unpopularity due to its failure to boost the lagging economy and lower the 10 percent unemployment rate. Prime Minister Manuel Valls had called on voters to choose anyone running, even a rival conservative, to block National Front candidates.

Conservatives gained spectacular victories in Correze in central France and Essonne near Paris, the electoral homes of Hollande and Valls. They also won some councils governed by the left for decades, including as Bouches-du-Rhone - Marseille and its surroundings - that had been continuously led by Socialists for over 60 years. Candida-tes were elected by pairs -one man, one woman- to ensure that 50 percent of council members are women.
© The Associated Press

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Released Serbian nationalist burns Croatian flag in snub to U.N. court

A Serbian ultra-nationalist freed on compassionate grounds by a United Nations war crimes court, then ordered to return for violating the terms of his release, thumbed his nose at the court on Wednesday by setting fire to a Croatian flag.

1/4/2015- Vojislav Seselj, who has cancer and was freed in November, repeated that he would not voluntarily return to the tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, which revoked his release order on Monday. "When they come to arrest me, I'll sit on the ground and they can carry me to the airport in their heroic arms," the Serbian daily Blic quoted the 60-year-old firebrand as saying as he set light to a Croatian flag on the steps of Belgrade's main courthouse. The performance will only increase the pressure on Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, a former protege of Seselj's who broke with his party in 2008 to steer a more pro-Western course, to arrest him and return him to The Hague. The Tanjug state news agency, citing a spokeswoman, reported that prosecutors had lodged criminal charges against Seselj for the flag-burning. Though his Radical Party appears a spent force, Seselj's re-appearance in public life has proven a headache for Vucic's conservative government and triggered sometimes angry exchanges between Croatia, now a European Union member, and its former enemy Serbia, which wants to join.

Decade of Delay
It has also sharpened widespread criticism of the U.N. tribunal, which has yet to reach a verdict, 12 years after Seselj handed himself in, after years of stalling tactics by the defendant and the replacement of one of the three judges. Croatia handed a protest note to the Serbian embassy in the capital Zagreb and said it was recalling its own ambassador from Serbia for consultations. "Vojislav Seselj, an indicted war criminal, is using hate speech and bellicose rhetoric and symbols to try to influence the region, especially relations between Serbia and Croatia," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "European values imply good neighborly relations ... a key condition for Serbia's success in its EU membership talks." Seselj is charged in The Hague with inciting murder and ethnic persecution during wars in Bosnia and Croatia as Yugoslavia fell apart. The tribunal said it had revoked Seselj's release order because he had repeatedly said he would not go back voluntarily. The government has said it will consider how to respond. Vucic, who has accused the tribunal of trying to destabilize his government, on Tuesday appeared to rule out using force, saying Seselj would not be arrested in "a raid".
© Reuters

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Hungary Party Seeks to Shed Nazi Image as Vona Eyes Premiership

Hungary’s Jobbik party is seeking to tone down its radical rhetoric and appeal to a broader voter base, its leader said, after a surge in popularity put it close behind Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz.

30/3/2015- Criticized by human rights groups for anti-Roma, anti-Semitic, pro-Russian and anti-European Union messages, Jobbik may be on track to join a government in 2018. The party is toning down language that helped it become the second-largest in Hungary’s parliament after an election last year, Jobbik leader Gabor Vona said in an interview in Magyar Nemzet newspaper over the weekend. “We need to preserve our program in a way that appeals to the widest layers of Hungarian society,” said Vona, 36, according to the transcript of the interview. “I’m going to disappoint those who hoped that Jobbik was an extremist, Nazi party.” Support for Jobbik soared to 18 percent among eligible voters in February, from 11 percent in October, according to an Ipsos poll published last month. Backing for Fidesz plunged to 21 percent from 35 percent in the period. Jobbik enjoyed the most popularity among voters under the age of 30 and drew away disillusioned Fidesz supporters, Ipsos said on March 17.

‘Gypsy Problem’
Jobbik has, in the past, organized paramilitary groups to crack down on what it called “Roma crime.” It wants to loosen “euro-Atlantic” ties and build closer relations with countries including Iran, Russia and Turkey, resist “colonial policies” of the EU, and start talks on restructuring Hungary’s debt. The party also wants to counter “Zionist Israel’s quest for world domination,” according to the party’s website. More than 500,000 Hungarians, mostly Jews, were killed in the Holocaust, according to the Budapest-based Holocaust Memorial Center. Vona has punished some Jobbik members for inflammatory statements. This year he ordered a party member who had called for the murder of Roma, also known as Gypsies, to move in with a Roma party member for three days to repent. Another Jobbik party member who spat on a Holocaust memorial in Budapest was told to go back with a flower to show remorse.

“There’s no place in Jobbik for opinions that are profane, collective in nature and that desecrate” people, Vona said in the interview. “That doesn’t mean that we can’t talk about the local Jewish community, Israel’s policies or the Gypsy problem.” Jobbik is at odds with Hungary’s allies in NATO, as it has backed Russia over its annexation of Crimea and a disputed separatist referendum in eastern Ukraine. Hungary should hold an internal debate on its membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and try to stay neutral, especially in conflicts with Russia, Vona said. Exiting the EU may be possible only in the medium-term, he said.
© Bloomberg.

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Hungary's far-right Jobbik party challenges for power

The Hungarian far-right leader Gabor Vona, founder of a since-disbanded paramilitary group who made a career vilifying the Roma, has cleaned up his previously hardline image.

1/4/2015- Hungarian far-right leader Gabor Vona, founder of a disbanded paramilitary group who made a career vilifying the Roma, has cleaned up his hardline image. Donning suits, he has softened his rhetoric and is wooing mainstream voters. His makeover reflects his party Jobbik's transformation from hard-line fringe movement to serious political contender. The strategy appears to be working. In the past year, support for Jobbik has almost caught up with the ruling centre-right Fidesz. Last week, in the town of Tapolca western Hungary, a clean-shaven 37-year-old Vona made an appearance to support the local Jobbik candidate. Jobbik already holds the mayor's post, and hopes to take seat formerly held by Fidesz in an April by-election. During a town-hall style meeting in a sleepy rural suburb, Vona spoke of plans to restore services at the local hospital, combating official corruption and the region's economic outlook. The word "Roma" was not uttered once.

"Our opponents may say this is only a media hack or a false turn, but time will tell," Vona told Reuters. "I honestly want to transform Jobbik into a people's party and to do that I know what is necessary. I know when and where to draw the line." Critics have cried foul, saying Jobbik's core remains as extremist as ever, but this has not impeded its rise. Support for Jobbik has rocketed by 50 percent in the past year to its highest-ever level, just as Fidesz recorded a steep plunge, according to pollster Ipsos. There are currently no other major players: Hungary's Socialists, once a major political force, have not recovered since their crushing election defeat in 2010. Ipsos put Jobbik's national support at 18 percent against 21 for Fidesz, with around 40 percent undecided. Among under-30s, Jobbik leads already.

Along with its image revamp, Jobbik has benefited from a series of policy missteps by Prime Minister Viktor Orban and a perception that senior officials around him are using their posts to enrich themselves. "Young people like us trust Jobbik," said Tapolca bookkeeper Peter Korodi, 35. "They discuss problems that affect us here. I don't think they are more radical than other right-wing parties. They are changing for the better."

Skepticism
Korodi would not be drawn on Jobbik's extremist track record, which has previously attracted international attention. In 2012, there was an outcry when a Jobbik leader said lists should be drawn up of Hungarians with Jewish roots. "Voters fall for Jobbik's campaign of cuteness," Political Capital analyst Peter Kreko said. "If some-thing does not appear fascist then they don't recognise its fascism... I do not think there is real softening in Jobbik's political content." Lajos Rig, Jobbik candidate in Tapolca, remains popular even after it emerged he once shared a Facebook post that described the Roma as "the Jews' biological weapon against Hungarians." The post has since been removed from his Facebook page. Local media also reported he has a tattoo of the words "Loyalty and Honour", echoing the motto of Nazi Germany's paramilitary organisation the SS. Rig said he re-distributed the Facebook post without paying attention to its contents, and said the tattoo was a wedding token to his wife and unrelated to the SS. He declined to show the tattoo to a Reuters reporter.

Coalition unlikely
Jobbik's strong poll showing may or may not translate into success in the next elections, due in 2018, Kreko said. "At the moment Jobbik is the second-strongest party and a scenario is plausible where their role in forming a government is indispensable," Kreko said. However, it is not unusual for governing parties to suffer a drop in popularity midway through their term, he said. Fidesz has said it would not work with Jobbik, and Jobbik has ruled out entering a coalition. Indeed, the biggest hurdle to Jobbik gaining power nationally is its lack of partners. "I never considered Jobbik palatable and I don't now," Janos Lazar, Viktor Orbán's chief of staff and a vice chairman of Fidesz, told the web site index.hu last week. "Fascists like Jobbik never brought this country any good."

A far-right party in government would be a first in the European Union since Joerg Haider's Freedom Party joined an Austrian coalition in 2000, isolating Vienna and leading to a revision of the EU's founding treaty to allow sanctions if democratic commitments of a member state are in doubt. Jobbik is part of a far-right surge across Europe, caused, sociologists say, by the economic slump and anger over immigration. Groups like France's Front National and Greece's Golden Dawn have also gained in popularity, although their success remains limited. France's National Front scored its best ever local election result in March but its chances for getting into power are tempered by widespread distaste for its far-right policies and an election system that allows voters to block it from office. In Hungary, doubts persist that Jobbik's softer image is here to stay.

"It's one thing that they say the nice words now," Erzsebet Kovacs, 50, a Fidesz supporter, said about Jobbik. "They always use sweet-talk during the campaigns. When there is no election, then they are scary, even their thoughts."
© EurActiv

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Hungary: Antisemitic Fans Pressure Hungarian Rock Band To Cancel Israel Concert

By JTA
Musicians: 'If Iron Maiden and Metallica Play There, Why Shouldn’t We?' 

29/3/2015- Members of a Hungarian punk rock band said they would ignore pleas and anti-Semitic comments from fans who want the band to cancel its upcoming concert in Israel. The bass player of the rock band Tankcsapdara, Lukacs, said his group, which is popular in far-right circles, will travel in June to play in Tel Aviv despite the criticism it has recei-ved on social networks since announcing Israel’s inclusion for the first time in the band’s European tour, the news website index.hu reported. “Anyone who knows us, knows we do not get involved in politics and ideology,” Lukacs said. “On tour, we want to perform wherever possible.” On Israel, he added: “If Die Toten Hosen, Depeche Mode, Iron Maiden and Metallica play there, why shouldn’t we?” But some of the band’s fans reacted with anger to the news of Israel’s inclusion in the tour. One user wrote on Facebook profanities about circumcised penises. Another posted a picture of a kippah emblazoned with the band’s logo. A third user wished “the artificially-created entity of Israel be wiped off the face of the earth” and wrote profanities about Tankcsapdara’s musicians.
© The Forward

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Polish Nazis target Aviva football fans

Gardai monitor skinheads ahead of tonight's crunch Euro qualifier.

29/3/2015- GARDAI are on alert for Polish and British neo-Nazi skinhead gangs causing trouble at today's Ireland-Poland European Championship qualifying round in the Aviva Stadium. Intelligence reports have indicated that far-right groups associated with racist and anti-Semitic violence in the past year are heading for Dublin. Gardai are concerned at the links between the Polish neo-Nazis and their British counterparts, Combat 18, who were behind the infamous 1995 riot at the Lansdowne Road venue in which 20 people were injured. The 'friendly' match was abandoned after sustained rioting in which missiles were thrown on to the pitch. Sports Against Racism Ireland (SARI) spokesman Ken McCue last yesterday said he hopes the game goes ahead without incident, but urged gardai to ensure that no "offensive banners" are allowed into the match.

He told the Sunday Independent: "We hope that the game is not disrupted and goes ahead without incident. We are conscious of the fact that some supporters may intend carrying offensive banners into the ground. We have been in touch with our counterparts in Poland, Never Again, who are concerned about peopple trying to use the match for political reasons. We would call on the gardai to ensure no offensive banners or paraphernalia are allowed into the ground." One of the main Polish neo-Nazi groups is said to have established links with British far-right groups and was responsible for a number of violent incidents in the past year, including an attack on a free music festival in north London last summer. Earlier this month Polish police broke up one group which they said was planning to bomb a mosque in Gdansk. Thir-teen members of the group were arrested across Poland.

Police said this group has close associations with the Combat 18 group which was behind the February 1995 skinhead riot in the old Lansdowne Road stadium during an Ireland-England soccer match. They have also been accused of making and possessing explosives, and incitement to arson. A police spokeswoman said one man was arrested for inciting arson at the main mosque in Gdansk and of plotting to fire bomb immigrants' homes in Warsaw. In their online literature the Polish far right groups say they support "the national socialist ideals and establishes its main goal as fighting for the Aryan culture, traditions, heritage and the future of our race". Polish neo-Nazis have become increasingly active in Britain. Last June members of the group were blamed for attacking a free music festival in Tottenham in London during which a 24-year-old man was stabbed. Witnesses said the skinheads hurled bottles and rocks at festival goers.
© The Irish Independent

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UK: EDL moves planned Lee Rigby march after mother's complaint

3/4/2015- The English Defence League (EDL) has moved a planned march to “commemorate” Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich to another part of London after a complaint from his mother. The far-right group had scheduled a demonstration near the scene of his murder in Woolwich for 9 May but have now relocated it to Walthamstow, vowing to “counter the threat that Islam poses to our country wherever we find it”. Reasons for the change were not stated in the Facebook post announcing it on Friday but the group had been warned of a complaint by the soldier’s mother. A Facebook post published by EDL News, which is not affiliated with the organisation, claimed Lyn Rigby had expressed her opposition in an email. “I am so upset and disgusted that the EDL are using my beautiful son’s name and picture,” she reportedly wrote. “I have never given permission or agreed to any part of this demonstration. “I would never have believed in this nor would my son, who died in a horrific murder that I have to deal with and re-live every day, and to see organisations using Lee’s picture breaks my heart.”

In a Facebook post on its main account, a spokesperson for the EDL said the 9 May demonstration had been “broadened” in its purpose from commemorating Fusilier Rigby’s death to include “all issues of concern”. “The quiet respect that would have characterised our Woolwich demonstration to commemorate the fallen soldier will be replaced by a vigorous march and a forceful set of hard-hitting speeches,” the post said. “Two days after the general election, we will be reinforcing the need for government action across a wide range of issues.” The post cited grooming gangs, Islamic extremism, female genital mutilation and immigration among those, alongside the “continuing spread of mosques”, Sharia law “edging its way into the UK”, the “intrusion of unlabelled halal foods”, the “corruption of our school curriculum by a misguided focus on diversity” and political correctness.

EDL members have marched in Walthamstow, north-east London, before. In 2012, members clashed with rival demonstrators from anti-fascist groups and were prevented by large numbers of police from leaving for several hours. Fusilier Rigby’s family have previously voiced their opposition to far-right groups using his death to rally people to their cause. In the aftermath of his murder in 2013, as the EDL and British National Party planned almost 60 different demonstrations across Britain, relatives urged mourners to show their respect in a “peaceful manner” amid rising tensions. In a statement released through the Ministry of Defence, family members including his mother Lyn, stepfather Ian, wife Rebecca and son Jack, said: “We would like to emphasise that Lee would not want people to use his name as an excuse to carry out attacks against others. “We would not wish any other families to go through this harrowing experience and appeal to everyone to keep calm and show their respect in a peaceful manner.”

Islamic extremists Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale murdered the 25-year-old in a brutal attack outside Woolwich barracks, south-east London, in May 2013. They en-couraged passers-by to film their butchery while claiming his death was retribution for British involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Both men are serving life sentences in prison.
© The Independent

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UK: Far-right groups and Islamists face off outside London mosque

Supporters of Britain First and EDL gather to oppose radical Islamist Anjem Choudary, whose group handed out leaflets urging Muslims not to vote.

3/4/2015- Opposing sides from Britain’s extremist fringes have been kept apart by police amid tense scenes as thousands of Muslims emerged from one of Britain’s largest mosques after Friday prayers. Passersby and tourists had watched with bemusement and alarm earlier on Friday as dozens of supporters of Britain First – a nationalist group that has been seeking to displace the British National party (BNP) as the standard bearer of the UK far right – marched through central London brandishing large St George and union flags. They and a smaller group from the English Defence League (EDL) were hemmed in behind police barricades at the London Central mosque in St John’s Wood, shouting at crowds of Muslim men, women and children leaving the prayer hall. There were chaotic scenes outside the mosque as some worshippers from the Central mosque themselves challenged the presence of a radical Muslim activist, Anjem Choudary, who was using a microphone to address the crowds. Several Muslims accused Choudary and his followers of in effect being with the far right protesters.

While a police operation ensured that Britain First and the EDL were kept apart from those coming out of the mosque, there were minor scuffles later away from the entrance on Park Road. In one incident, officers intervened to separate young Muslim men and a group of EDL supporters, including one placard-carrying man who was dressed in a burqa. Followers of Choudary, who is linked to a number of Britons who have travelled to join Islamic State in Syria and who has claimed to reporters that he would leave the UK to live in Isis-controlled territory if authorities returned his passport, handed out leaflets urging Muslims not to vote, which they claimed was against Islamic values. Among those taking part in heated conversations with Choudary’s followers was Ahmed Dogan, an architect originally from Turkey, who said: “It’s completely the wrong message that they are putting out. “It’s also incredible that they – both them and the ones of the other side of the street – are doing this on this Friday. It’s important to us, Christians and Jews. We should be together on a day like this.”

Mohamed Drali, a young Egyptian immigrant, shrugged his shoulders as he gazed across the street at Britain First and a smaller group of EDL supporters, one of whom was wearing a pig mask. “It’s a mosque. People come here to pray and to be honest all that they are doing is making it hard for people to come and go. We should be trying to live together,” Drali said. Earlier, Paul Golding, the leader of Britain First, said his group would protest against Choudary whenever the opportunity arose. “We were here last year too. It was like Rorke’s Drift … just us in the middle of thousands of angry Muslims.” However, the reaction of most people in the area was of general indifference. Among the worshippers was a family on holiday from Egypt, who posed for pictures with the police manning barricades while protesters shouted slogans from across the street. “We saw them standing there and wondered why they were doing this. Everyone has a right to express themselves, I guess,” said one of the tourists, a young man who declined to give his name. A spokesper-son for the Metropolitan police said that there were no arrests and that crowds dispersed shortly after 5pm after protesting from 1.30pm.
© The Guardian

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UK Election 2015: UKIP Wales candidate quits right wing body

A UKIP candidate has quit a right wing group whose Facebook page once called for black people to be "requested to return to their natural homelands".

1/4/2015- Christopher Gillibrand, standing in Dwyfor Meirionnydd, was vice-president of the Traditional Britain Group (TBG). Messages posted on its Facebook page in 2013 criticised the award of a peerage to Doreen Lawrence, mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence. UKIP said Mr Gillibrand had left the group, which denies being far right. TBG describes itself as a "broad alliance of conservatives, traditionalists and radicals determined to take a stand against the current political consensus". Other candidates declared as standing in Dwyfor Meirionnydd are Steve Churchman (Liberal Democrats), Neil Fairlamb (Conservative), Marc Fothergill (Wales Green Party), Mary Griffiths Clarke (Labour), Louise Hughes (Independent) and Liz Saville Roberts (Plaid Cymru).
© BBC News

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UK: Far-right declines as UKIP rises

1/4/2015- Sparsely attended far-right rallies in Britain highlight the decline of a movement in disarray, but experts say that some of its ideas have found new expression in the eurosceptic UKIP ahead of elections in May. Anti-fascist demonstrators outnumbered the roughly 400 people at a raucous English Defence League (EDL) rally in the northern city of Manchester in March, where speakers equated Islam with Nazism, terrorism and sexual slavery. "Islam is not a religion of peace. It never was and it never will be," said a speaker at the gathering, while another brandished a Koran to jeers of "Burn it!". Far-right groups such as the EDL and the British National Party (BNP) have imploded in recent years and even the German anti-Islamist movement Pegida's first rally in Britain earlier this year was a flop.

Several of the relatively small groups have fallen victim to infighting including former BNP leader Nick Griffin, who was expelled by his party last year after defeat in European Parliament elections in which he lost his own seat. "One obvious explanation is the electoral system," said Tim Bale, chair in politics at Queen Mary, Univer-sity of London. "Clearly it's not favourable to small or extreme parties so any far-right parties have to overcome that obstacle," he said. Britain has no proportional representation and its first-past-the-post system ensures that larger parties with national organisations have an advantage. The BNP, Britain's most electorally successful far-right group, had by the end of 2014 lost both its European Parliament seats and seen the number of its local councillors reduced to just two from a 2009 peak of more than 50. 

UKIP rises
The decline of Britain's far-right has coincided with a rise for the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) and some commentators see a clear link between the two trends. "It's not quite as simple as saying it's a more respectable BNP," said Steven Fielding, director of the Centre for British Politics at the University of Nottingham. "But it has certainly picked up the votes that would otherwise have gone to the BNP or another fascist group, plus others, the extreme eurosceptics," he said. The party, which is poised to come third in the election in percentage of the vote, has denied any far-right links but it is regularly embroiled in controversies over the views of prominent members. It won its first two parliamentary seats last year with pledges to pull Britain from the European Union and dramatically reduce immigration.

Tim Bale, chair in politics at Queen Mary, University of London, said: "There's the extreme right, and what we would call the populist radical right, which is slightly less nasty". "You could say that UKIP is populist radical right," he said. The anti-fascist watchdog Hope not Hate was more categorical about UKIP picking up support from the far right, saying it had "steamrollered through their previous heartlands and stolen their voters".

Fertile soil for Islamophobia
UKIP says it is not racist and has banned former members of far-right groups from joining, although at least two prominent members who joined before the ban was introduced have been allowed to remain. The party has punished members for conduct ranging from comparing Islam to cancer to calling for a popular black comedian to move to a "black country". A UKIP parliamentary candidate resigned last week citing "open racism" within the party, and accused it of engaging in "sectarian, racist filth". But at his campaign launch on Monday, Farage said: "The thing about UKIP is we have become the most eclectic, diverse political party. "We've got all shades of opinion, we've got people from the left, people from the right, people of all ages, all classes, all races," he said.

Campaigners warn that racist views are finding fertile soil in Britain, however, amid alarm over Syria-fuelled radicalisation and high-profile paedophile scandals involving Muslim men. "I would imagine a lot of the far-right think they can go fishing in these waters under the guise that this is a semi-respectable topic everyone's concerned about," said Nick Lowles from Hope not Hate. "The danger is the definition quickly gets blurred between Islamist, Islam, Muslim, whatever."
© AFP

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UK: Preventing far right extremism? Schools monitoring ethnic minority pupils

Schools in an area with a history of far-right activism have been singling out black and ethnic minority pupils in monitoring for signs of radicalisation – while suggesting white children are not at risk due to their skin colour.

31/3/2015- The three schools, in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, have published adapted versions of the same “Radicalisation and Extremism Risk Assessment” document on their websites. The document relates to the government’s Prevent counter-extremism strategy, which requires schools to protect children from being drawn into all strands of radicalised ideas, including from the far-right. Each of the schools’ assessments say that white pupils are at low risk of radicalisation on account of their skin colour and because many families have links to the Armed Forces. This is despite a relatively recent history of far-right activity in Barnsley, where the English Defence League and the British National Party have traditionally enjoyed strong support. The Bureau discovered the documents while examining how widely the non-Muslim aspects of Prevent are being applied in schools and local authorities where there has previously been far right activity.

When Prevent was first launched by the Labour government in 2007 it focused on preventing Al-Qaeda-linked terrorism. The programme was criticised for damaging relationships with Muslim communities – who perceived they were being spied on – while failing to deal with far-right violence. The policy was specifically expanded to include far right extremism in 2009, a move re-emphasised by the Coalition in 2011. Because there is no requirement by the Department for Education for schools to publish any risk assessments carried out for Prevent, information is scarce. The three schools identified by the Bureau published their assessments voluntarily and in good faith; all three came from the same area of Barnsley in South Yorkshire; and all three used a template approved by the Prevent team at South Yorkshire Police.

The schools are: Holy Trinity, which is a Catholic and Church of England school for pupils age three to 16; Dearne Advanced Learning Centre, a specialist humanities college which takes children aged 11 to 16; and Springwell Learning Community, which runs two schools providing special and alternative education for children aged five to 17. After being contacted by the Bureau, one of the schools said it would amend the wording of the assessment, while a second said it “may be reviewed”. A third headmaster declined to discuss the matter.

BME cohort is monitored
The documents have several sections that school officials are asked to complete. In one sections that asks, “Is the school particularly prone to radicalisation and extre-mism,” each of the three schools replied: “No. Cohort of pupils are white British majority.” In a section evaluating the risk of radicalisation for pupils, the schools stated “None” and “low risk”, adding: “Several pupils are connected to the local armed force cadet clubs and take a keen interest in British military work.” And in com-pleting that section, the schools then add: “Staff continue to monitor BME [black and ethnic minority] cohort.” In a section that asks about the risk associated with the community, the schools said there was “low risk”, adding: “The local community which the school serves consists predominantly of white British families. The com-munity is mainly an ex-mining community with high numbers of unemployment. Many members of the community have ties to Armed Forces through current or past family members.” It is not known how widespread such language is in UK education because not all schools use and publish these risk assessments.

However, after being contacted by the Bureau, Simon Barber, headteacher at Holy Trinity, said the policy had been uploaded in error. He said: “I do not agree with the language used on the policy you saw and we are now in the process of putting the right one in place. “The imperative on schools to have such policies is still a relatively new requirement and many, like us, are still finding their way with them. I do think they are important and necessary given the way world politics seems to be moving. I am pleased to say that BNP support appears to have peaked and the most recent council elections saw a decline in their support. We nevertheless need to remain vigilant against far right extremism.” David Whitaker, principal of Springwell Learning Community, said any suggestion that the document had racist conno-tations was a misinterpretation. He said: “Because of your interpretation of the policy, it may need to be reviewed but I am confident that the school takes its respon-sibility at all levels very seriously and would never be complacent when making assessments of risk to our pupils.

“We fully accept that we need to be vigilant in the current climate and this applies to both extremes of radicalisation. I also accept that the comment about the cohort being mainly white British does imply that that is the only reason for the low risk assessment. However, we do take the tackling of racism very seriously indeed. We have real rigour in the way we cover this in school.” Mark Allen, vice-principal of the Dearne ALC, said: “We try to ensure we follow and implement policy in our everyday work, this being one aspect of this. However, as a school we don’t involve press agencies within our work.” He declined to comment further.

Ofsted inspection
Education watchdog Ofsted inspected one of the schools, Dearne ALC, after the risk assessments were published online but it declined to comment on whether the language used was appropriate. It is looking into whether its inspectors saw the document during the school inspection. Barnsley Council refused to comment, despite repeated requests from the Bureau, on whether it was appropriate for local schools to single out black and ethnic minority students for monitoring. A council spokesman said: “Barnsley is proud of its balanced and inclusive community relations, and active partnership working takes place to promote inclusion and equal rights. The coun-cil, police and partners will act quickly and decisively if they are notified of any extremist behaviour, whether right- or left-wing in nature.”

Alex Kenny, executive member of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said he was concerned the Government’s Prevent policy was being misinterpreted by some schools so that they were only “targeting and profiling of Muslim students as opposed to any other group”. This is despite the fact that some groups of students are clearly more at risk of being drawn into far right extremism, he added. “I think it is very easy for schools to take a wrong or mistaken approach to this matter in res-ponse to the messages they are getting from government – and this could lead to damaging consequences.” For example, he said, teachers are being told that opposi-tion to Western intervention in the Middle East is an indicator that a student may be at risk of radicalisation. “Schools are being left to interpret what the government means by this and it is not surprising that these schools [in Barnsley] have come to the conclusions they have.” The National Union of Teachers is concerned by the lan-guage used in these documents.
© The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

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British Muslims have declared an ideological 'jihad' on Isis

A group of young British Muslims have declared their own “jihad” against Isis and all other terrorist groups.

31/3/2015- The Muslim Youth League UK announced an ideological holy war against the Islamic State at a conference in Glasgow on Sunday, saying militants had “no link with Islam or the Muslim community”. It is concerned that recruitment by the group is on the rise in the UK, targeting teenage girls and boys with gory propaganda videos and social media accounts boasting of life under the “caliphate”. Shaykh Rehan Ahmed Raza, president of Muslim Youth League UK, said: "Our efforts are aimed at deterring further ISIS recruitment in Britain and defending the Muslim community, who feel their religion has been hijacked." He announced a seven-point declaration calling the killing of any person un-Islamic, whatever their faith, and condemning extremists’ “deviation” from the teachings of Prophet Muhammad and the Koran.

“The emergence of the terrorists, who would use the name of Islam to justify their atrocious activities, was prophesied by Prophet Muhammad. He declared them as being out of the ambit of Islam,” the declaration continues. “We challenge Isis, similar groups and their supporters ideologically and intellectually.” The league also announced that it rejects Islamophobic “labelling” of Muslims as extremists or terrorists by politicians, the media and public. “We ask Muslims from all walks of life, regardless of the school of thought to which they belong, to stand united against extremists who have hijacked the true teachings of Islam,” its declaration added. “We call upon scholars and community leaders to raise a united and unwavering voice against extremism.”

While an unknown number of British men, women and teenagers have joined Isis in Iraq or Syria, its atrocities against civilians and the murder of foreign hostages has provoked widespread condemnation. The Muslim Youth League and other groups are fighting back against its propaganda online and through engagement work in schools and communities. “The barbarism and lack of respect for the sanctity of human life shown by Isis is a challenge to every civilised value, not least to the tenets of Islam,” a spokesperson for the group said. The Muslim Youth League represents young Muslims in the UK and aims to promote unity and tolerance. A spokesperson said its declaration of “jihad” against Isis hoped to inspire similar statements from other British Islamic groups condemning extremism.

At least 60 British women and girls as young as 15 have joined Isis in Syria so far, police say, including three London schoolgirls who disappeared earlier this year. The numbers of British men travelling out to join the group’s bloody campaign to establish a hardline Muslim caliphate are believed to be much higher. Among them is Mohammed Emwazi, the former London university student believed to be the masked militant known as “Jihadi John” seen in Isis’ gory execution videos. In 2013, 25 arrests were made for Syria-related offences and last year that number rocketed to 165.
© The Independent

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UK: Thought for the Week: Where has this anti-Semitism come from?

Last weekend's reports of a drunken mob storming a North London synagogue and shouting "kill the Jews" was utterly chilling. Where is all this hatred coming from? Didn't we defeat Hitler, Nazism and all that it stood for?

29/3/2015- As we commemorate key events of the Second World War, our children are learning about the Holocaust at school. Then they're coming home and seeing the same insane and evil forces played out in real time on the news channels. What was supposed to be a history lesson turns out to be current affairs. Jews who fled from France to these shores a few months ago must be wondering what they've done. Is there anywhere safe for them? As these thoughts play out in our minds, let's recall the events leading up to Easter 2,000 years ago. This is the week when we remember Jesus Christ entering Jerusalem on what has become known as Palm Sunday. His entry into the capital is often described as triumphal, although that is not how he saw it. But certainly the cheering crowd was euphoric, applauding and hailing his every step into their city. It was a carnival atmosphere.

They thought he was going to overthrow the political leaders and drive out the hated Roman occupiers. Instead all he overthrew was the tables of the money-changers in the temple and all he drove out were the animals brought in to be sacrificed. It was their distorted religion which was under attack. But if you wonder where hatred suddenly springs from, look no further than this account. In a few days the cheers had turned to violent screams: "Crucify him, crucify him." The baying mob got the blood they sought. The religi-ous leaders were only too happy to comply with the crowd's ugly mood – something they themselves generated. And the animals? Well they were no longer needed. The Lamb of God who laid down his life for the sins of the world rendered them forever superfluous.
Paul Mackrell, Lay preacher and former minister
© Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser

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UK: I never fully believed that British Muslims were being victimised (opinion)

It's so distressing when those who are supposed to protect you treat you like a criminalIt's so distressing when those who are supposed to protect you treat you like a criminal
By Hanna Yusuf


3/4/2015- I've always been aware of the injustices British Muslims face, but I've sometimes doubted the narrative of the "Muslim victim". Why is it such a big deal if you're singled-out every now and then because of your appearance? If you have nothing to hide, there should be no problem – just cooperate, surely? Security officers would never apply a blanket stop and search; they only stop potential criminals with good reason, right? Wrong. Just over a month ago, I was about to arrive at border control at London Heathrow, having flown in from Dubai. Suddenly, I was pulled aside and told to hand over my passport. I smiled at the officer as she scrutinised what I was wearing from my headscarf to my sandals. She didn't smile back. I gave her my passport, naïvely expecting a normal conversation about what I had been up to during my travels. Instead I was greeted with a look that I can only describe as being full of contempt.

She began by asking general questions such as “why are you alone?”. I happily answered as fully as I could. She then began to unpick anything that I said with suspicion. She found it difficult to believe that I had paid for my own ticket and I had to explain how a mere Muslim girl could afford a trip to the Middle East. She made me feel intimidated by directing me closer to the wall – perhaps to stop the possibility of me getting away – by which time I began to cry. Ignoring my tears, she continued to make me feel like a criminal, without knowing anything about me. It took a long time before she seemed to accept that it's possible for an unmarried young Muslim woman to travel alone without the lure of a male jihadist. I was so wounded by this incident. I had no problem with being questioned by airport security, but what troubled me was the way the situation was handled. To label someone as guilty until innocent is problematic, but what made the situation worse is that even once she established that I wasn't an extremist, I was still treated with doubt.

This may seem minor, especially if you compare it to other instances of discrimination in the UK. But these small, everyday moments have a cumulative effect, and increasingly undermine the relationship between British Muslims and their home country. I'm completely aware that our authorities have to take certain measures to protect us. But it's crucial that we draw a line between national security and what can be considered to be the marginalisation of an already marginalised group. After the incident with the security officer, I made my way to border control. I was referred to a manager, mainly because I could not stop crying. He was kind and very apologetic, but he justified it as a necessary part of the airport's security measures. He assumed that the reason I was stopped was because I am a “young Muslim girl”, and therefore a potential "jihadi bride".

Indeed, I am young and I was wearing a headscarf. However, if we were to substitute the word "Muslim" for another minority group, would that be ok? Would anyone ever say: “You were stopped because you're a young Jewish girl, so we couldn't take any risks”? It's so disheartening when the people who are supposed to be protecting you treat you like a criminal. To tackle everyday Islamophobia, we must firstly acknowledge its existence. And once we've done this, we can finally start to repair the values of tolerance and diversity that Britain is supposed to be built on.
© The Independent -Voices

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Germany: Sudden death of NSU case witness

A witness who gave evidence against the NSU extreme right-wing group has been found dead in her apartment. She had given her testimony in private as she said she felt "threatened."

30/3/2015- A 20-year-old woman who testified against the National Socialist Underground far-right extremist group at a closed-door hearing was found dead in her apartment on Sunday, police said. She had given evidence at the beginning of March to a special NSU investigation committee in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, where right-wing extremists are alleged to have killed a policewoman in 2007. The witness was the ex-girlfriend of a man believed to have had connections to the NSU, known only as Florian H. He was a former neo-Nazi at the time of his death, which occurred under mysterious circumstances in autumn 2013. Florian H. was found burned to death in a car on the same day he was due to be questioned by police, as he was thought to have known who had killed policewoman Michèle Kiesewetter. Kiesewetter is believed to have been a victim of the NSU, which is also alleged to have carried out the killings of nine immigrants and a series of bombings and bank robberies.

Beate Zschäpe, the only surviving alleged member of the NSU, is currently on trial in Munich. The 20-year-old witness found dead on Sunday, had testified in a hearing closed to the public, as she said she felt "threatened." The police said she died in her apartment in the southwestern city of Karlsruhe after suffering a seizure. A police spokesman said there was no evidence of foul play, but an investigation was being launched into her death because of her role as a witness against the NSU. Wolfgang Drexler, the Social Democrat (SPD) vice president of the Baden-Württemberg parliament and head of the NSU-investigation committee, urged the public not to speculate about the nature of her death, saying "we must await the results" of the autopsy.
© The Deutsche Welle.

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German eurosceptic leader says infighting won't rip party apart

28/3/2015- The founder of the Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) has dismissed reports that an identity struggle between economic liberals and right-wingers is tearing the party apart. In recent weeks, German media have been full of stories about infighting in the AfD, which was set up in 2013 to oppose euro zone bailouts and has since stolen votes from Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives. But Bernd Lucke, an economics professor who once belonged to Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), said the AfD - which Merkel and other senior conservatives have ignored in the hope that it will implode like other protest movements - denied a split was imminent. "This impression is completely wrong, but the newspapers always like to report on things they consider to be somehow detrimental to the AfD," the 52-year-old, one of three party co-leaders, told Reuters in an interview on Friday.

He acknowledged the AfD was in "very lively" discussions about its first party program, which is due to be adopted at a congress in November. The party also plans to scrap two of the three co-leader positions this year and Lucke hopes to take sole control. "There are fierce debates, and perhaps some parts of the party are more sensitive to the tensions," said Lucke, a member of the European Parliament. "But there's a very strong and broad-based will to make the party a success, and it certainly won't be if we split." Recent polls show the AfD hovering on or just above the 5 percent threshold needed to enter the national parliament, having already won seats in four state elections. But with an election looming in May in the city-state of Bremen, voters appear unsure what the AfD stands for as economic liberals, including Lucke, are challenged by a faction that wants to push the AfD to the far right.

Last week, Lucke wrote to the party's more than 20,000 members to call on them to use a vote for the party's leaders in June to choose the AfD's future direction. He criticized the right-wingers for focusing on populist issues such as immigration. In a recent manifesto, right-wingers accused the AfD of hastily distancing itself from "civil protest movements", alluding to controversial anti-Islam protests, and of "cowardice and betraying our country's interests" instead of protesting against the "erosion of Germany's sovereignty and identity". The liberals have, in turn, accused the right-wingers of seeking to make the AfD a pure protest party bent on provocation. "Of course the AfD's task to become a successful, modern people's party isn't over yet," Lucke said, "but we've made very good progress in the last two years."
© Reuters

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Ireland: A rural town has a racism problem, but is fighting it

29/3/2015- An integral service in Donegal says that racist attacks in the town of Letterkenny is on the rise. The warning from Donegal Intercultural Platform (DIP) comes after an African taxi driver was beaten and robbed in the town. Paul Kernan, co-chair of the DIP, said that in recent months, there has been a rise in attacks that car-ried a “racist element” in recent months. His co-chair Billy Blanda told the Donegal Democrat’s Declan Magee that a gun may have been produced in one of the robbe-ries. Kernan says that the abuse ranges from physical to verbal, but has affected how some people behave. “There are groups of people who are on nights out who will only travel in groups. They’ve stopped going out alone. There is racist abuse verbally and physically. Taxi drivers are particularly vulnerable and the African drivers more so. “Cars have been damaged and money robbed. Obviously, these could be opportunist robberies but they have focused on African drivers.”

Kernan is keen to point out that rural Ireland is no more or less racist than urban Ireland, but he says that the issue must be faced. “We had an asylum hostel in the town that was closed a while ago. There was a person who went to Dublin, got their papers and wanted to come straight back. In small towns, there is that sense of commu-nity. Big cities are that bit more anonymous. “The extreme is that in a small town there is a mixture of people, so a lot of people are very visible. “Some people are quite isolated, they are afraid to say anything when there is an incident. But that silence encourages silence. “Rural counties are warm welcoming places and people deny there is a human bias. But we have to acknowledge it is there and face up to racism.”

Kernan says that groups such as his own are fighting to be included in council planning and DIP is to run a drop in centre for those affected by racism in Donegal. “Donegal has seen a big population shift. African communities are generally more visible and people are a bit suspicious of them and how they’re going to change people’s homes. That’s natural, so what we need is integration at a personal level. You need face to face conversation to change peoples’ minds.”
© The Journal Ireland

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Netherlands: 13,000 refugees the are waiting for a new home

1/4/2015- In total, 13,000 asylum seekers who have been given refugee status in the Netherlands are waiting for a new home, according to the government’s refugee agency COA. Every local authority area in the country is required to set aside housing for refugees in proportion to their size of their area. But many argue they do not have enough social housing to meet their quota. The problem is set to get worse when a further 13,000 refugee permits are approved over the next six months, the Volkskrant says on Wednesday.

Marie-Louise van Kleef, from the refugee housing platform Opnieuw Thuis, says the provinces should take advantage of the powers they have to earmark property for refugees. This has only happened once, when Groningen province forced the village of Zuidhorn to find homes for two refugees immediately, the Volkskrant says. The platform was set up by the justice ministry, local councils and housing corporations last year in an effort to solve the refugee housing crisis. The provinces are charged with making sure local councils meet their obligations. Amsterdam has the biggest problem in housing refugees with a waiting list of 1,100, the Volkskrant says.
© The Dutch News

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Netherlands: VVD suggests softer line towards dictators

28/3/2015- Suggestions by VVD parliamentary party leader Halbe Zijlstra that the Netherlands work more closely with dictators have been slammed by his coalition ally Diederik Samsom as ‘short sighted and counter productive’. Zijlstra said in an interview with the Volkskrant on Saturday that the rulers on the edge of Europe should no longer be approached with a wagging finger. ‘Rather than say “you do not work according to our standards”, we should look to cooperate with the regime, because it is in our security interests,’ he said. ‘But you should also push for gradual change.’ The speedy overthrow of ‘stable regimes’ leads to chaos and an extra source of refugees, he said. Labour leader Samsom told a party meeting in Zwolle this approach could not be ‘part of foreign policy in a government which includes the PvdA.’ ‘The trouble in the Middle East and elsewhere is partly due to the fact the west has kept some of the most brutal regimes afloat,’ he said. ‘The most important argument used by terrorists to mobilise supporters against the west is that we have done business, and continue to do so, with the most cruel dictators.’

Refugees
This is the second time in a week the VVD has gone public with strategy which is opposed by their coalition partner. A week ago another VVD parliamentarian published a paper
calling for Europe’s borders to be closed to refugees. GroenLinks leader Bram van Ojik said he wanted to know what the implications of Zijlstra’s comments are for the coalition. ‘The VVD has put human rights in the bin alongside asylum rights,’ he said. D66 parliamentarian Sjoerd Sjoerdsma pointed out that the coalition agreement states that ‘we will promote human rights in bilateral alliances’. ‘Does the VVD still support this?’ he asked.
© The Dutch News

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Far-right Dutch MP calls on EU to let 'jihadists' travel to Syria and Iraq

28/3/2015- The far-right Dutch MP Geert Wilders has called for European countries to allow "jihadists" to travel to Syria and Iraq, Anadolu has reported. The leader of the Party for Freedom told a press conference in Vienna that the policy of having travel bans on Muslims wanting to go to the two Middle Eastern countries is "the most stupid thing and should be changed". He appeared with his counterpart from the Austrian Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian. "If the jihadists want to leave, let them go," he said, "[but] never let them return... Either you prevent them from leaving and jail them, but if you do not, I'd rather have them commit a crime in Syria or any other country, not in my home." Wilders called for the reinstatement of stricter immigration controls on the EU borders in order to prevent asylum seekers from ente-ring Europe. He pointed out that more than 600,000 asylum seekers arrived in the EU last year.

Austria's foreign minister criticised Wilder's visit and lecture in Vienna. Sebastian Kurz insisted that this was made on the basis of freedom of speech and not just because Wilder is an extremist. "The lecture will lead to continuous partition of society," said Kurz. "However, anyone who does not violate the criminal law has to have a place in a democratic state even if we do not like him." Kurz reiterated the importance of reinforcing the dialogue between the West and Islam via the UN. He stressed the urgent need for coexistence among people of all religions in Europe in order to minimise the amount of fertile ground under the extremists' foot. Several other popular and official leaders in Austria have criticised Wilders' visit, calling it an invitation for people to hate Islam.
© Middle East Monitor

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Italy: Racism is still rife and they are 20 years behind England

Fiona May insists racism is still rife in Italian football and they remain 20 years behind England.

31/3/2015- The 1995 and 2001 long jump world champion - born in England but married to an Italian - was chosen by the Italian FA (FIGC) to front their anti-racism campaign, and she says change will take time. May, who became an Italian citizen in 1994, told Sky Sports News HQ the FIGC are tackling the problem and she believes educating younger generations is vital if racism is to be eradicated. May feels the problem is one the rest of Europe is struggling with too, but she refuses to shy away from the reality of racism, inside and outside of football stadiums. “Unfortunately, I would say Italy is 20 years behind, like it was in England," May said. "It was going through a twilight zone. I am going through the same thing as my parents went through 20 or 30 years ago. It will take time but hopefully it will speed up a bit more.

“It is a case of changing the mindset of people; we need to continue to be positive. I am not saying the next 20 months will make a big difference, but it will make a change. “It is not as big as I thought it is, but it is there, there is racism, especially in this stadium (Juventus' stadium in Turin) where it is unfortunately still rife. And it’s not only here in Italy but all over the rest of Europe. “My aim is not just to go for the fans but the rest of the youngsters, their future is in their hands. So we need to talk to them and explain to them, racism in and outside the stadium does not have to exist. There is racism and I can’t deny the fact there is racism. “We have made a very ambitious project for Italian culture in 20 cities in Italy, including Sicily and Sardinia, in 20 months. We still have to push on. It is not going to finish here.”
© Sky Sports

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Italy sees record asylum requests as migrant centers fill

28/3/2015- As Italy copes with record number of migrants making the risky trip across the Mediterranean to reach European shores, it is also registering a record number of political asylum requests, filling migrant holding centers with would-be refugees hoping that their cases are accepted. For years, refugees have often passed through Italy en route to northern European countries where more established migrant communities offer better job opportunities. But the U.N. refugee agency reported this week that the number of asylum requests submitted in Italy rose 148 percent in 2014 over the previous year, far surpassing Italy's previous all-time high in 2011 when some 40,000 people sought refugee status there during the Arab Spring. In all, some 63,700 people requested asylum in Italy in 2014, making Italy the No. 5 country for asylum requests after Germany, the U.S., Turkey and Sweden, according to the report by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

While Syrians and Eritreans are the most common nationalities of people arriving by boat on Italian shores, they tend to travel on. The top asylum-seekers in Italy in 2014 were instead from Mali, with 9,800 requests, followed by Nigeria and Gambia. "If I think about it I want to cry because I have no money, not even these clothes are mine," Landing Sono, a 25-year-old from Senegal, said this week at the "Umberto I" migrant holding center in Siracusa, Italy. He is one of 195 African men trapped in a limbo at the center: The men are free to leave and walk around the town, but if they flee before they have appeared before an asylum hearing, they will lose their chance to get it. Lamin Beyai from Gambia has been waiting at the center for his turn at a hearing. "It is not easy being in the sea where anything can happen," he said of the crossing. "Only God can save you there."
© The Associated Press

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Canada: PEGIDA cancels anti-Islam demonstration in Little Maghreb

It was the PEGIDA debut that never happened.

29/3/2015- About 15 supporters of the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam group that was founded in Germany and recently saw a branch open in Quebec were said to have shown up at a demonstration the group had organized in an east-end neighbourhood known as Little Maghreb on Saturday afternoon. They were hard to detect among the hundreds of counter-protesters who had shown up to PEGIDA Québec’s debut rally at a Pie-IX Blvd. shopping mall to tell the far-right group its message of intolerance has no place in Montreal. Shortly after 4 p.m., which was the start time for the rally that PEGIDA Québec had posted on its Facebook page, Montreal police announced by loudspeaker the group’s rally had been cancelled. That drew cheers from the crowd. The police, who also turned up in large numbers, were seen escorting two people with pro-PEGIDA signs away moments earlier.

“I came because I like immigrants, because I am an immigrant and because I would not want a movement like PEGIDA in Montreal,” Maria Teresa Zambrano, one of the counter-protesters, said as she waved a sign that called for “Tolerance in Place of Ignorance.” “What concerned me most was their decision to come and protest here in Little Maghreb,” another counter-protester, Cora Le Moyne, said of the far-right group. “I find it’s a provocation. We’re here to protest peacefully to show that we’re all united against Islamaphobia and to show them there’s no place for them here.” Another counter-protester, Marlene Figueroa, said she wasn’t surprised to see a far-right group spring up in Quebec. “What surprises me more is that the government, the authorities and the mayor don’t do anything. They say they have the right to do this, to show up here, openly saying they’re Islamaphobes.” Still, Figueroa said she was heartened to see the number of people who had joined the counter-protest.

PEGIDA, which in English translates as Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, was formed in Germany last year. The group’s rallies have drawn thousands of supporters in some European cities. The group’s fizzle at its Montreal debut, and the large counter-protest was cause for pride, said Montreal city councillor Anie Samson, mayor of the Villeray — St-Michel — Parc-Extension borough where Little Maghreb is located. Samson, who is a member of Mayor Denis Coderre’s Équipe Coderre party and a member of the city executive committee, said she came to the protest “to tell PEGIDA that they have no place in Montreal. All forms of intolerance has no place here. All acts of Islamaphobia, of anti-semitism or against a community of Montreal has no place here.”

Like Samson, Guillaume Lavoie, a Projet Montréal city councillor who represents the district that abuts the shopping mall, carried a rose like other counter-protesters. “I’m incredibly proud of my city today,” Lavoie said of the turnout for the counter-protest. “I find the message of PEGIDA is foreign to Montreal, foreign to us and no wonder it’s a foreign organization. It has nothing to do with who we are and what makes us a city. We’re sons and daughters of immigrants. … That actually what makes us stronger and better and happier.” As of late Saturday, PEGIDA Québec’s Facebook page had 1,628 “likes.” The police broke up a few confrontations inside the parking lot of the shopping mall, as counter-protesters would gather around one or two individuals who yelled at the counter-protesters. “Montreal is Anglo-Saxon, not French,” one man yelled in French at the counter-protesters around him. “F— off!”

Police officers stepped between him and the counter-protesters as they followed him through the parking lot yelling “Bouges (Move).” Counter-protesters then spilled into Pie-IX and headed northwest to St-Michel métro station on Jean-Talon St. under police escort. A message posted on PEGIDA Québec’s Facebook late Saturday said “many” would-be rally participants backed out at the last minute because of the “well-financed” counter-protest. The message referred to the provincial party Québec Solidaire as “Québec Suicidaire,” and said the party had orchestrated the counter-protest. “It proves to us that freedom of expression is in one direction,” it said. The group also called for public mobilization in Quebec regions, such as Sherbrooke, Saguenay, Sept-Îles, Côte-Nord and Trois-Rivières, “in front of mosques that cause problems in their community” and posted a notice for a rally in the same Montreal neighbourhood on April 4.
© The Montreal Gazette.

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