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Headlines 20 January, 2017

Headlines 13 January, 2017

Headlines 6 January, 2017

Headlines 30 December, 2016

Headlines 20 January, 2017

Germany: Top court rejects bid to ban far-right party

Germany's highest court on Tuesday threw out a bid to ban the far-right NPD party, arguing that the xenophobic fringe outfit is too insignificant to spell a real threat to the democratic order.

17/1/2017- "The request has been rejected," said Federal Constitutional Court top judge Andreas Vosskuhle about the bid to ban the neo-Nazi party, which has around 6,000 members. He added that "the NPD pursues anti-constitutional goals, but there is currently no concrete evidence... to suggest that it will succeed." The case marks the second failed attempt to outlaw the National Democratic Party of Germany, with the latest launched by the Bundesrat upper house of parliament which represents Germany's 16 states. Chancellor Angela Merkel's government supported the case, although the executive did not formally join the high-stakes legal maneuver. The Bundesrat had launched the challenge in 2013, as the country was reeling in shock over the 2011 discovery of a murderous group calling itself the National Socialist Underground.

Racist killings by the group had prompted Germany to crack down against right-wing extremism. But since then, the NPD has lost its remaining seats in state parliaments, retaining just one representative, Udo Voigt, in the European Parliament. It has also lost ground to the anti-euro fringe party AfD, which has morphed into an anti-immigration force railing against the mass arrivals of refugees in 2015. Polls now credit the NPD with around 1.0 percent support, compared with 12 to 15 percent for the right-wing populist AfD (Alternative for Germany).

High hurdles for ban
But the International Auschwitz Committee's vice president Christoph Heubner voiced dismay at the ruling, warning that it could spur extremists across Europe to champion more hate. "How can it be that those who cheerfully celebrate the Holocaust and provoke new episodes of hatred in many municipalities may remain in the democratic spectrum?" he asked. "This reality-blind and untimely decision sends a disastrous signal to Europe, where far-right and right-wing populists have found new partnerships and are now trying to transform the fear and insecurity of the population into hatred and aggression," he warned in a statement. For the court, "banning a party does not equate to banning an ethos or a world view."

"The party's battle against the democratic order would need to surpass a threshold" to warrant prohibition, said Vosskuhle, the Constitutional Court top judge. "There must be a systematic approach aimed at destroying or eliminating the liberal democratic constitution or threatening the existence of Germany," he said, noting that the threat had to be credible. With an eye cast back at the elimination of dissent in Hitler's Germany, the drafters of the post-war constitution set high hurdles for banning a party. Only two political parties have been outlawed since 1945: the SRP, a Nazi successor party, in 1952, and the West German Communist Party (KPD) in 1956.

'Germany for Germans'
Founded in 1964 as a successor to the neo-fascist German Reich Party, the NPD calls for "the survival and continued existence of the German people in its ancestral central European living space" - or simply, "Germany for the Germans". Such language flirts with the turns of phrase used by the Nazis. For the Bundesrat, the group creates a "climate of fear", "shares essential characteristics" with the Nazis and "wants to destabilise and overthrow the liberal-democratic order". Germany's domestic intelligence services classify the ultra-nationalist NPD as a far-right party. Things however have changed in German politics since the launch of the second case against the NPD in 2013.

The AfD has brushed the NPD to the fringes, and the populist movement could see members elected to the parliament in Berlin at polls later this year - something no similar party has managed since 1945. Many politicians and media commentators say parties such as the NPD must be beaten in the battle of ideas. "It's up to politics and civil society, not the courts," the centre-left Süddeutsche Zeitung daily commented. "Hating foreigners cannot be banned, no law can help against radicalisation reaching the centre of society." What's more, the newspaper argued, banning the NPD risked sending a signal to "autocrats" abroad, who could point to the decision to justify crushing the opposition.
© The Local - Germany

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German police investigating ‘neo-Nazi terror plot’ after bomb branded with swastika discovered

The suspects are believed to support a group that planned attacks on refugee centres and mosques

14/1/2017- Two alleged supporters of a neo-Nazi terrorist group have been arrested after 155kg of explosives were discovered in Germany. One suspect had built a homemade bomb emblazoned with a swastika and symbol of the Nazi SS, prosecutors announced on Saturday. The men, aged 18 and 24, were arrested after the explosives were discovered inside a house in Lauterecken, causing more than 80 local residents to be evacuated from the surrounding area so the material could be safely removed. The pair denied planning a terror attack when they were arrested in December, SWR television reported, claiming to be amateur pyrotechnics preparing for a New Year’s Eve firework display. The two men, of German origin, are being held on suspicion of violating explosives laws and preparing a “serious act of state-threatening violence”.

Prosecutors are examining a possible link to the Oldschool Society (OSS), an extremist organisation known to have planned attacks on refugee centres and mosques since it emerged in 2014. A spokesperson said the teenage suspect told investigators he had attended an OSS meeting in Rhineland-Palatinate state over the summer, the DPA news agency reported. Four members of the group are already on trial in Munich for allegedly planning an attack on asylum seekers. Federal prosecutors charged the three men and a woman with “establishing a terror organisation” and preparing attacks using explosives in January 2015. Officials said members had planned to bomb refugee accommodation in the German town of Borna, and travelled to the Czech Republic to buy pyrotechnics which they planned to make into bombs packed with nails and fuel. The interior ministry has classified the OSS as a dangerous organisation but it was also dubbed the “stupidest terror group in Germany” by media reporting that members discussed plots openly on Facebook.

A rise in extremism has been documented in Germany since the start of the refugee crisis and a series of terror attacks, with far-right groups including Pegida staging protests against immigration and the “Islamification of Europe”. Numerous attacks on refugee centres have been documented as part of a rise in political violence by both the right and left wing. German security services also remain on alert for possible Isis-inspired terror attacks following the massacre at a Berlin Christmas market and two previous attacks over the summer.
© The Independent

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UK: Antisemite, Holocaust denier … yet David Irving claims fresh support

In advance of a film about the trial that bankrupted him, the historian is boasting that his views have found a new generation of admirers

15/1/2017- Sixteen years after an English court discredited his work and the judge called him “antisemitic and racist”, the historian David Irving claims he is inspiring a new generation of “Holocaust sceptics”. On the eve of a major new Bafta-nominated film about the trial, Irving, who has dismissed what happened at Auschwitz concentration camp during the second world war as “Disneyland”, says that a whole new generation of young people have discovered his work via the internet and social media. “Interest in my work has risen exponentially in the last two or three years. And it’s mostly young people. I’m getting messages from 14, 15, 16-year-olds in America. They find me on YouTube. There are 220 of my lectures on YouTube, I believe, and these young people tell me how they’ve stayed up all night watching them. “They get in touch because they want to find out the truth about Hitler and the second world war. They ask all sorts of questions. I’m getting up to 300 to 400 emails a day. And I answer them all. I build a relationship with them.”

Irving v Penguin Books Ltd was one of the most infamous libel trials of the past 20 years. An American historian, Deborah Lipstadt, had accused him in her book, Denying the Holocaust, and Irving, then a somewhat respected if maverick  historian, sued her and her publisher. The film, Denial, with a script by David Hare, is released at the end of this month and stars Rachel Weisz as Lipstadt and Timothy Spall as Irving. It depicts how Lipstadt’s legal team fought the case. James Libson, a junior solicitor in the case and now a senior partner at Mishcon de Reya, said that the verdict seemed “momentous at the time”. Lipstadt won, with the judge concluding that Irving was an antisemitic, racist Holocaust denier. He was forced to declare bankruptcy and his scholarly reputation was shattered.

“We really thought the verdict marked a line in the sand,” says Libson. “That it marked Holocaust denial as a done subject. We’d proven it, conclusively, in a court of law. “We naively thought that the internet would help that. All the material from the case was published online and we thought that would provide sufficient answer to anyone who could possibly doubt it. Whereas, of course, the internet has actually done the opposite. Libson was assisting Anthony Julius in the case – another Mishcon lawyer who had made his name representing Princess Diana in her divorce. “I wasn’t aware until recently of how Holocaust denial has now taken off online again to such an extent. I was really excited to watch the trailer for the film and I couldn’t believe the number of absolutely vile comments beneath it – about the holohoax and so on, more than 4,000 of them. It’s incredibly disturbing. It’s actually way worse now than even Irving was because they’re so abusive.”

Irving lost the case – and another that he brought against the Observer over a review by Gita Sereny – but speaking from his home in the Scottish Highlands, a 40-room mansion near Nairn provided by an anonymous benefactor, he says that history has “vindicated” him. “History evolves. The truth about the Holocaust is gradually coming out. And this is thanks to the internet. It’s how this new generation finds me. There’s a general belief among people out there that they are being misled. The people I’ve called the traditional enemy [Irving’s term for Jews] are very worried about this phenomenon. They don’t have a handle on it. “Newspapers are dying. And the internet is suddenly there. And they don’t have an answer for it. It’s like some ugly weed they don’t know how to deal with. Eventually they will hack it down but by then it may be too late.”

Google, which owns YouTube, has come under pressure for disseminating hate speech about Jews and promoting Holocaust denial after the Observer revealed that its top results for searches around the Holocaust were directing people to denial sites. After weeks of pressure, Google agreed to make changes to its algorithm, but they are far from comprehensive. Google auto-complete still suggests the Holocaust is a “lie” and a “hoax” and still directs to neo-Nazi websites such as Stormfront, where Irving is considered an authority on the subject. He also has a presence on Facebook, where his page has gathered more than 7,000 likes.

Lipstadt said the idea that Irving had been vindicated by history was “preposterous”. “There was nothing, zilch, in the historical claims that he made. We proved that. But this is the world we are living in. Where facts don’t matter any more … and it’s absolutely terrifying. “I’ve no idea of knowing if his claims about his newfound popularity are true or not but you’d have to be living under a rock not to see that this proliferation of racism and antisemitism is being disseminated by the internet. “This has nothing to do with freedom of speech. It’s about truth and lies.” Irving, however, says that he is speaking to people who have lost trust in mainstream sources of information. “It’s all to do with this phenomenon of people not trusting what they are told by their governments and newspapers. They seek around to find someone who provides some remedy to this. And they find me.

“I am part of the remedy. It’s not just that I’m selling huge amounts of books around the world. One of the big changes of the last two years is the amount I’m getting in donations. “It used to be small amounts, and they still come in, but people are now giving me very large sums indeed – five-figure sums. I now drive a Rolls-Royce. A beautiful car. Though money is completely unimportant to me.” His new fans, he says, are the same people who in the US are supporting Donald Trump, who he believes will make a good president and “has his heart in the right place”. Though, he says, he is also impressed by the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. “The Labour party is tearing itself apart with these allegations about antisemitism,” he says, “but Corbyn seems like a very fine man. Maybe it’s because he’s near my age, but I’m impressed by him.”
© The Guardian

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UK: Muslim woman spat on in restaurant says female hate victims must speak out

‘It’s important for Muslim women themselves to have a voice in this narrative and actually set the record straight that we aren’t the threat,’ says Nahella Ashraf

14/1/2017- A Muslim woman who was racially assaulted and spat on by a stranger in a restaurant has urged more female Muslims who have experienced hate crime to speak out. Nahella Ashraf, 46, was wearing a head scarf when she was attacked as she sat around a table with four friends in the restaurant in Hammersmith, London. Ms Ashraf, from Manchester, was left “shaken” after a man sitting behind her, who was “smartly dressed and well put together”, grabbed her from the side and tried to pull her out of her seat, before launching a barrage of racist remarks and spitting in her face. “We’d been in there for about 45 minutes and we’d all finished eating. There was a guy sat behind me. I assumed he was getting up to leave but he grabbed me and was screaming at me,” she told The Independent.

“He just grabbed me from the side, my arm. It felt like he was trying to pull me out of my seat. The first thing I remember him saying was something about him not tolerating people like me. Right in my face. “It all happened really fast. I think the guys behind the counter came out straight away, and got between him and me. “They asked him what his problem was. He said ‘It’s not me, how can you have her in here?’ and then he spat at me. He leaned forward past this guy and he spat in my face. “As soon as he did that they started pushing him out. As they were pushing him out, he was just saying something like: ‘Her kind of people kill people’ and ‘They’re the problem’ kind of thing. “It was racist. He kept saying ‘those kinds of people’. He could’ve grabbed the white woman on the side of me that would’ve been easier, but he went for the Muslim woman in the crowd.”

Police were called to the incident but the suspect had already fled the scene. Officers were treating the incident as a racially motivated hate crime. Ms Ashraf, who had been working in London during the week as part of her job as a researcher, said it was the first time she had been physically assaulted because of her race, adding that she was particularly shocked that it had happened in such a public setting. “I was really shaken up. I was really shocked that it happened somewhere in public,” she said. “I’ve had people walk past me and shout abuse, but it had never been to the extent that they’ve physically touched me. “You think it might happen when you’re walking late at night on your own. I’d heard people make comments about me on a bus or a train before, but never when you’re in a group.”

She added the experience had made her realise that while many female Muslim victims of race hate crime choose not to talk about their experience, it was important for victims of such crimes to speak out in order to “set the record straight”. “Initially I thought I didn’t want to talk about it. But actually it makes me think if it can happen to me in the centre of London, it’s happening everywhere. People just don’t seem able to talk about it,” said Ms Ashraf. “I think it’s important that we do talk about it. I think it’s important for Muslim women themselves to have a voice in this narrative and actually set the record straight that we aren’t the threat.” The researcher, who is a member of campaign organisation Stand Up To Racism, said she and her Muslim friends had noticed a marked rise in hate crime against them since the EU referendum, but that it had been steadily rising in recent years.

“I think we’ve seen more since the referendum, there’s no doubt about it. Especially in the first couple of weeks. But definitely over the last couple of years we’ve become more cautious when we’re out and about,” she said. “A lot of Muslims I know, especially my female Muslim friends, have commented on how it’s gotten worse. We’re a bit more careful about where we go. We’re an easy target nowadays. “It seems to happen more to Muslim women than to Muslim men, and it’s usually men who are targeting us. “I think the fact that it’s okay for the media to talk about how we dress ... for any other women it’s not really acceptable to comment on how they dress, but when it comes to Muslim women, it’s seen as open season. “There's this idea that we’re all submissive and we’re all forced to dress the way we do and we don’t have a voice, and that it’s okay for the rest of the world to speak about us on our behalf and make judgements about us. “The idea that I’m somehow against British values is just rubbish.”

In response to the attack, Stand Up To Racism’s West London branch held a vigil in Hammersmith in protest against such racist incidents. ​Balwinder Rana, convener of Stand Up To Racism in West London, told The Independent the organisation had seen a noticeable rise in hate crimes since the EU referendum. Mr Rana said: “We were very shocked to hear about this incident. Just a few months ago there was a crime against a Polish centre on the same road. “We held a vigil in the area to show solidarity, and I was very pleased with the outcome. Nearly 40 people came out in the cold, and we had a fantastic response from passers-by. Many locals signed up to aid our cause. “The atmosphere around here has changed since the referendum. There has been a spike in these kinds of crimes. Politicians, and also the media, are mainly to blame for spreading the idea that migrants are to blame for the nation’s problems. “Nahella was born and bred in Manchester – so this is affecting more than just migrants. There’s a toxic atmosphere of fear, and we’re doing all we can to curb this sentiment.”

There was a sharp increase in the number of racially or religiously aggravated crimes recorded by police in England and Wales following the EU referendum, with a 41 per cent rise in July 2016 compared to the same month the year before. A survey carried out in December showed most British people believe hate crime had got worse since the referendum, with 58 per cent feeling they had increased since the referendum in June and 76 per cent believing hate crime was a problem in the UK today.
© The Independent

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Swedish party expels politicians for 'Camp Auschwitz' flag

Two Swedish politicians have been asked to leave the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party after one loaded up a picture on Facebook of a man holding a flag saying “Camp Auschwitz”.

14/1/2017- The anti-racist site Inte Racist, Men…(Not racist but…) on Friday reported the post by Monica Evertson, who along with her husband Peter, represents the populist party in Sävsjö, a small town in Småland. The site reported that the man holding the sign had shared a campsite with the couple at the Kuggnäs Festival. Henrik Vinge, the party’s head of press, told TT that the party intended to expel the couple. ”The local party organisation has been requested to invite these people to leave the party. If this call is not heeded, the issue will be brought up in the party's membership committee on Monday,” he said in a statement reported by Sweden's TT newswire. “This procedure could lead to people getting their membership canceled.”

The Inte Racist, Men exposé also quoted a string of racist comments Monica Evertson had made on Facebook, including one where she declared that that she “couldn’t bear to have [my] wallet stolen (by a negro)”. One of her friends commented “Everything becomes so much worse when a negro is involved,” at which the politician replied “Too right!”. According to the anti-racist site Monica Evertson has a background in the National Democrats or Nationaldemokraterna, a far-Right party which was closed down in 2014. In 2010, she also had an account on the Nordisk.nu far-Right forum.
© The Local - Sweden

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Austria's far-right Freedom Party calls for ban on 'fascistic Islam'

14/1/2017- The head of Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPO) on Saturday called for a law banning "fascistic Islam" and Muslim symbols, comparable to an existing law banning Nazi symbols, saying Islam could wipe out European society. Austria needs "a law which prohibits fascistic Islam", Heinz Christian Strache told several thousand supporters at the party's new year meeting in Salzburg. "Let us put an end to this policy of Islamization... otherwise we Austrians, we Europeans will come to an abrupt end," Strache said, in an apparent reference to the course pursued by the coalition government. The junior coalition party OVP called on Wednesday for halving the number of asylum applications accepted this year to around 17,000. Strache responded by saying: "We need zero and minus immigration." Any law against extreme elements of Islam should be similar to the law Austria introduced after WW2 banning the Nazi Party and Nazi symbols, a party spokesman said when asked for clarification.

The Freedom Party's anti-Muslim message has been well-received by a large minority of Austria's electorate. Its presidential candidate Norbert Hofer was defeated in a run-off vote last month but gained 47 percent support. The nation of 8.7 million people has received more than 130,000 claims for asylum from people fleeing war and poverty in countries such as Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq since the summer of 2015. About 600,000 Muslims, some of whom arrived during Europe's migration crisis, live in Austria. The party, which has long called for a ban on face veils, also called for changing the way refugees are taken care of. The state, not NGOs like the Catholic charity Caritas, should be in charge of their care to make sure money is spent efficiently, Hofer himself said at the same event on Saturday.
© Reuters

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Headlines 13 January, 2017

Russia: Author gay propaganda law is now pushing to let men beat their wives

Russia’s Parliament has greenlit a law from the author of Russia’s law banning so-called ‘gay propaganda’ law – this time to make domestic violence legal.

13/1/2017- Yelena Mizulina, an ultra-conservative member of the Russian Parliament, authored the 2013 bill which banned the “promotion of non-traditional sexual relationships” to minors. She was hailed as a “hero” by anti-LGBT groups from the United States, with the anti-LGBT World Congress of Families presenting her with a medal for her activism. The same lawmaker is now behind efforts that are expected to soften offences for men to beat their wives and children in the country. Mizulina, who heads the Duma Committee on Family, Women and Children’s Affairs, has introduced legislation which would decriminalise domestic violence, currently punishable by up to two years in jail. Her proposal, which would reduce punishments for spousal or child abuse to misdemeanour or administrative offences, passed through the Parliament’s lower house this week by a near unanimous vote of 368-2.

Mizulina said penalties for offences should not “contradict the system of social values that society holds on to”, insisting that domestic violence “is a normal way of life” She told the Moscow Times: “In Russian traditional family culture parent-child relationships are built on the authority of the parents’ power… The laws should support that family tradition.” Groups that help victims of domestic violence say they expect the changes to lead to an upswing in incidents. Olga Yurkova, the head of the ‘Sisters’ women’s refuge, warbned: “A huge number of women tolerate domestic violence but do not bring it out to the public. The decriminalisation will worsen the situation.” Russia got a dire warning earlier this month about its growing HIV epidemic.
© Pink News

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Europe erects defenses to counter Russia's information war

12/1/2017- Nations in Europe, where Germany and France this year hold elections, are erecting defenses to counter possible Russian cyber attacks and disinformation to sway Western politics, but intelligence experts say this might be too little and too late. The issue of Russian "influence operations" has taken on new urgency after U.S. intelligence agencies released a non-classified assessment that President Vladimir Putin ordered a campaign to move the U.S. election in favor of Donald Trump. European nations and NATO are setting up centers to identify "fake news", bolstering cyber defenses and tracking use of social media which target Russian-speaking communities, far-right groups, political parties, voters and decision-makers.

Russia denies cyber warfare and Internet campaigns targeting Western governments. Kremlin watchers say affecting the U.S. election could bring reward for Moscow, while stakes would not be so high in German and French elections. German intelligence officials, however, say there has been Russian support for euroskeptic, anti-immigrant parties in Germany and across the EU. Chancellor Angela Merkel said she could not rule out Russia interfering in this year's election. "We can’t exclude that operations of the same nature seen in the United States aim to disturb the French electoral system," France's Defence Minister Jean-Yves le Drian said in a recent interview. "I urge everyone to install the greatest vigilance."

One senior European Union official, who declined to be named, said there was no doubt Moscow would bolster far-right and populist parties in elections across Europe in 2017. The official cited the triggering of a resounding "No" given to the EU planned association treaty with Ukraine in a Dutch vote. "We see disinformation attacks before every vote that is of interest for the Kremlin," a second EU source said. "Very often the vote that follows ... turns out in favor of the Kremlin." State-sponsored television station Russia Today, active and expanding across Europe, plays a key role, but Moscow uses a range of avenues, including social media, as well as backing for non-governmental groups, Western intelligence experts say.

Off Guard, Mix of Methods
Stefan Meister of the German Council on Foreign Relations said German intelligence agencies had been caught off guard. "We have a whole mix of activities that neither the
intelligence services nor the politicians can completely understand and categorize," he said. "They’re just starting to understand it and find solutions." The EU foreign service is slated to expand a 30-person strategic communications office set up in March 2015 to counter what it sees as fake news and Russian campaigns for influence. The second EU source said the effort was "a badly under-funded, tiny team with close to no support", and added Brussels did not see Russian intervention as a priority. Individual members are now setting up their own offices to monitor and respond to disinformation, including the Czech Republic, which set up a 20-member team on Jan. 1.

Berlin is considering an office to evaluate fake news, but that effort has already run into political concerns that the government is setting up a "truth ministry" that would limit free speech or influence national elections. German intelligence cited the high-profile case of a German-Russian girl who Russian media said was kidnapped and raped by migrants in Berlin, a claim later refuted by German authorities. The case underscored mutual suspicion between Moscow and Berlin. Some other countries banned Russian-language television from broadcasting for spreading disinformation or inciting hatred. Lithuania, Latvia, Britain, Estonia and Denmark have also urged the EU to create news sources for Russian speakers.

In Latvia, facing municipal elections in June, officials cite a barrage of propaganda aimed at 500,000 Russian speakers and a cooperation agreement between the pro-Russian opposition party Harmony with Putin's United Russia party. Lithuania this week said it had barred construction of a data center for cloud computer operations last year over concerns it could be infiltrated by Russian intelligence once it was connected by fiber-optic cable to Russia. Solvita Aboltina, head of the national security committee in the Latvian parliament and a key national security adviser to the Latvian president, said the threat of cyber attacks was far greater than the risk of a military invasion. "This a very important and urgent question on the agenda," she said. "The American election is clear proof of that."

NATO Worries
Outside the political arena, there are worries in defense circles about the activities of hackers loyal to Putin, himself a former spy chief. NATO says it has seen a five-fold increase in suspicious events on its networks in the past three years. German officials say a hack in December of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) used methods seen in a 2015 hack of the German parliament that was linked to APT28, a Russian hacker group, blamed for U.S. election hacks. "We are already at war, and for many years," Darius Jauniskis, head of Lithuania's counter-intelligence State Security Department told Reuters in an interview. Cyber security is a pressing concern for NATO, whose ambassadors discussed specific fears raised by Germany about Russian election interference in December, two diplomats said. France and Germany recently set up cyber warfare units, and NATO officials have told Reuters they suspect Russia sponsors attacks against their networks before key summits.
© Reuters

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European Right-wing parties' Germany congress bars many journalists

German organisers of a meeting of European right-wing populist and anti-immigration parties said Thursday they would bar a number of journalists they deem hostile, sparking protests from media groups.

13/1/2017- The Alterative for Germany (AfD) plans to meet France's far-right chief Marine Le Pen, Dutch anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders and Italy's Matteo Salvini of the Northern League on January 21 in the western city of Koblenz. The AfD's Marcus Pretzell, a co-organiser of the conference for some 1,000 delegates, announced that all publicly funded media would be barred, reported German news agency DPA. Reporters from German news weekly Der Spiegel, the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, business newspaper Handelsblatt and the magazine Compact had also been denied accreditation, said Pretzell, a regional party leader. Pretzell charged in comments to DPA that public broadcasters were biased against them and could produce their "scripted" stories without having access to the conference.

While the banned journalists would not be able to cover speeches by AfD leader Frauke Petry, Le Pen, Wilders and others, all would be able to attend press conferences, he said. Chief editors of German public broadcaster ARD accused organisers of the meeting of "massive interference in media freedom" and said they may take legal action. German Journalists' Association chairman Frank Ueberall said political parties that shape public life have an obligation to allow open press coverage. The AfD, which opposes Chancellor Angela Merkel's liberal refugee policy, has enjoyed a surge in support in a series of state elections over the past year. Ahead of general elections likely to be held in September, the party is polling at around 15 percent.
© AFP

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Slovenia Aliens Act Proposal Worries Croatia

Croatian experts fear Slovenia's planned changes to the Aliens Act, heralding stricter procedures towards refugees and asylum seekers, could create problems for it.

12/1/2017- Slovenian plans to toughen its procedures for receiving refugees and asylum seekers worries activists and migrant experts in Croatia, where it is feared that the changes could cause additional problems. Experts told BIRN that Slovenia’s move would endanger the rights and security of refugees traveling to Western Europe along the "Balkan route" but would not end migration per se. Milena Zajovic, from the Croatian NGO "Are You Syrious", told BIRN that asylum seekers and refugees will continue to cross the border between Slovenia and Croatia illegally. Stricter rules “won’t change anything but will further lower the level of their lives and put their security at risk”, she said.

The Slovenian government backed an amendment to the existing Aliens Act on Thursday, introducing stricter procedures towards asylum seekers and refugees for a special six-month period – with a possible extension for another six months. It is likely to be backed by the country's parliament in which the plan enjoys cross-party support. Although the procedure would not apply to persons whose life is in danger if they are returned to their native countries, or unaccompanied minors, the provisions will empower police officers to refuse entry to most asylum seekers on the border. Zajovic said Slovenia was trying to imitate recent moves by Hungary, which were unfortunately now being copied by the majority of countries on the "Balkan route", including Croatia, "where we have witnessed a lot of cases in which Croatian police deported refugees to Serbia without proper procedure”. She explained that people returned to Croatia from Slovenia and Austria usually find illegal ways to resume their journeys after turning to people smugglers.

Zajovic said it was also unclear in terms of international law if border police can seriously assess “if someone’s life is in danger”. Vedrana Baricevic, from the Zagreb Centre for the Study of Ethnicity, Citizenship and Migration, CEDIM, said it was worrying what kind of measures Croatia could introduce as a reaction to the Slovenian ones. “What we have experienced along the 'Balkan route' is a sort of a ‘domino effect’; restrictions by one state are soon introduced by others. So, there is a chance for something like that,” she told BIRN. Baricevic warned that similar policies already exist on the Croatian border, with reports of asylum seekers being rejected by police. “Although it shouldn’t be so in terms of laws, in practice the police assess individual cases on the border and then a range of peculiar decisions are passed,” she concluded.

Besides tasking the military to patrol the border in October 2015, Slovenia erected a barbed wire fence in November 2015. The refugee crisis later virtually ended with the simultaneous closure of borders to most migrants in March 2016. The proposed Aliens Act amendment will likely be passed by the parliament in Slovenia since both the government parties and the strongest opposition party, the centre-right Slovenian Democratic Party, SDS, have said they will back it. The Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjorn Jagland, wrote to the Slovenian Prime Minister, Miro Cerar, on Wednesday, voicing concern that the proposal would cause issues with the European Convention on Human Rights, considering the “right to due process, the consideration of individual circumstances in the processing of applications and protection of all migrants and asylum seekers against ill-treatment”.

Thorbjorn offered the assistance of his special representative on refugees and migration, Tomas Bocek, to help the Slovenian government resolve the matter. Amnesty International, as well as other human rights NGOs, have also raised concerns regarding the announced law, claiming it strips refugees of their due rights according to international and EU laws.
© Balkan Insight

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Netherlands: Islamic elementary school attacked

13/1/2017- An elementary school attended by Muslim children in Amsterdam was attacked during the semester break. As-Siddieq Islamic School was hit by eight rounds of bullets on the wall. The armed attack was noticed on the day the spring semester began. The police have been investigating the incident. One of the children who had been educated at school said that they had seen bullet holes in the building, saying, "Parents and teachers do not feel safe." The increasing number of Islamophobic attacks of late and a rise of the extremist right in the Netherlands, previously known for its tolerant and liberal values, have evoked a sense of fear among its Muslim community. The Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) in a 2015 report covered Islamophobia in Europe. The report stated that Holland in 2015 experienced some 279 religion-based discriminatory attacks, out of which 206 were carried out against Muslims, a significant increase from 150 in 2013.

Radio Netherlands Worldwide reported that there were some 117 attacks on mosques in the country between 2005 and 2010, more than any other country. It said that in 2011, only 290 discriminatory comments were detected on the internet however with the rise of social media that number has become uncountable. The 28-country bloc EU has also been mostly unsuccessful in tackling the rapidly increasing Islamophobia across the continent with reports indicating attacks on Muslims and Islamic institutions have reached unprecedented numbers and to make matters worse, the far right groups have re-emerged in its politics, apparently attracting millions.
© The Daily Sabah

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Netherlands: 15-year-old boy commits suicide after racist bullying

11/1/2017- A school group in Limburg has called for a major investigation into the suicide of a 15-year-old pupil who had been bullied. The family of the boy, named as Tharukshan Selvan, say the school had done nothing to help despite being alerted to the problem. Frank Schings, head of the LVO Parkstad school group, says it is in the interests of everyone that the circumstances are properly looked into. ‘If we have made mistakes, we will admit them. We will also bring in an interpreter so we can speak to his parents, who speak no Dutch,’ he told broadcaster NOS. The boy’s sister said on Facebook her brother had been the target of online bullying after the family stopped his allowance. He had been spending money on buying fast food meals and gifts for his classmates and they refused to pay him back. ‘They would throw food at him, insult his skin colour and appearance,’ the sister said. Messages were placed online telling him ‘you are not fit to live. We don’t want you. We’d be happy without you. Jump in front of a train. Commit suicide,’ the sister said.

Police
He first tried to kill himself seven weeks ago, at which point the police, school and council officials were involved. However talks with representatives of all three failed to produce results, the family says. ‘They asked him if he needed help and he said no,’ his sister said. ‘He’s only 15 and they just let him go.’ Schools are required by law to have proper anti-bullying strategy. The children’s hotline Kindertelefoon said last September that this had not let to a reduction in complaints about bullying. According to national statistics office CBS, in 2015, 19 youngsters under the age of 20 killed themselves.
© The Dutch News

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Netherlands: Most PVV parliamentary candidates have another political job

10/1/2017- Nearly all the 50 parliamentary hopefuls on the PVV’s election list have another political job, according to research by the Volkskrant. Most are either a local councillor in Almere or The Hague, or represent the anti-Islam party at a provincial level, in Europe or in the senate, the paper says. The party, which has no members and no formal party structure, is currently tipped to win up to 35 seats in the March election. If elected according to the list, five new PVV MPs will have to give up their current PVV job and 13 will do two jobs. MPs may serve as local or provincial councillors but not as members of the senate or as MEPs. This means that four of the nine PVV senators would have to quit and that Wilders will need to find four replacements from the 2015 electoral list. However, most of them are now on the list to become MPs, which could mean the PVV will be unable to find enough senators, the Volkskrant says.
© The Dutch News

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Austria wants to discriminate against EU workers

12/1/2017- EU citizens should be barred from taking jobs if a qualified Austrian has applied to the same position, says Austria's centre-left chancellor. Chancellor Christian Kern on Wednesday (11 January) accused east European nations of "exporting their joblessness to Austria" and wants local employers to prioritise Austrians unless no other candidate is available. "That means - only if there is no suitable unemployed person in the country can [a job] be given to new arrivals without restriction," he said. Kern was speaking in Wels, a town whose mayor hails from the right-wing populist FPO. The FPO has seen a historic resurgence in support despite narrowly losing the presidential run-off in December.

Kern's statement was made during a presentation of a 10-year economic plan, and aims to woo the anti-immigrant voters back into his social democrat party ahead of national elections. But it also directly clashes with the free movement of workers, viewed as sacrosanct throughout much of the EU. Articles in the treaty of the European Union uphold the right for any EU national to be treated on equal footing with nationals of that member states. Kern's pledge would allow employers to discriminate against people based exclusively on nationality.

Austria's asylum cap
He also backed government plans to cut Austria's asylum application cap of 35,000 per year to 17,000. The cap, first introduced in January last year, allows authorities to impose an emergency decree to turn away people at the border should the threshold be breached. The 35,000 cap was not reached last year but the move to further reduce it was announced by the head of the People's Party (OVP), a junior member of the coalition government headed by Kern. "We want to halve this cap, we want to reduce it to around 17,000," said OVP leader Reinhold Mitterlehner according to Reuters news agency.
© EUobserver

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Germany: What to wear and what not to wear to the Bundestag

The Bundestag doesn’t look very kindly upon sartorial faux-pas, including t-shirts with "political" slogans spreading the message of love and peace.

13/1/2017- Earlier this week, a 13-year-old schoolgirl, wore her "Refugees Welcome" sweatshirt on a class trip to the German parliament. She was stopped at the security gates and asked to zip up her jacket so the slogan wouldn't be seen when she entered the building - the reason being that visitors to the parliament are prohibited from publicly displaying their political opinions. "I am disturbed by the signal the Bundestag security is giving my growing daughter," the girl's mother told "Der Spiegel" magazine, which reported the incident on Thursday. The 13-year-old works with refugees in her free time, the mother said, adding it was strange this "message of humanity" was censored in a "place like the Bundestag, which stands for the freedom of opinion and for the right to asylum, enshrined in the Basic Law."

Where does one draw the line?
In a statement to Deutsche Welle, the Bundestag's press department confirmed that "There is no specific dress code in the Bundestag." However, after every parliamentary election, members approve a code of conduct for the house, which serves to uphold the "dignity of the parliament." All exchange of political opinions takes place through debates within parliamentary bodies and expressing opinions through banners, pamphlets or items of clothing is prohibited, the statement said. The Bundestag's code of conduct has indeed proved effective in cases where neo-Nazi symbols were publicly displayed. Nearly a decade ago, the parliament reaffirmed its decision to ban all right-wing symbols, when an employee was found wearing clothes manufactured under the label "Thor Steinar," considered popular among supporters of the far right.

In many other cases however, the Bundestag's preferences when it comes to the right dress code became a subject of discussion. In 2009, for example, security officials apprehended a pupil for wearing a t-shirt that said, "Make love, not war." The schoolboy was made to wear the t-shirt inside out so the slogan would not be seen when he entered the building, German media reported.

'Clothes make the Bundestag'
Members of the Bundestag themselves have also used clothes as an excuse to target their political opponents. Over two years ago, CSU politician Dorothee Bär was chastised by her Greens counterpart Sylvia Kotting-Uhl for wearing the traditional Bavarian "dirndl" to the parliament. According to Kotting-Uhl, the dress was considered "regressive by the entire world except by Bavarians." Right-wing party, the Alternative for Germany's (AfD) leaders from Saxony also recently picked on their political opponents' clothes, suggesting that people couldn't take lawmakers who didn't dress well seriously. In a press statement after a visit to the parliament in Berlin in October, the party referred to Greens' chief Claudia Roth as a middle-aged woman wearing a "strange hairstyle," with a "coat-like something" wrapped around her. The right-wingers were also shocked by members of the leftist "Die Linke" and the Greens, who walked around in "jeans and leather jackets," the "Frankfurter Allgemeine" newspaper reported. The "lax manner of dress" in which most of the MPs of the Green and the leftist "Die Linke" parties delivered their duties in the "name of the German people," was disappointing, the AfD said in its statement.

What works, what doesn't
A visitor to the Bundestag, or even a lawmaker for that matter, can do little to make everyone happy with his or her choice of outfit. But here is a short list of items of clothing that may work while on a visit to the parliament, according to German public broadcaster SWR, which questioned the Bundestag on the issue. A burka or the full-body veil worn by Muslim women is allowed within the Bundestag's premises, despite concerns about security and Muslim women's integration into German society. However, women wearing the robe will have to show their faces to security officials to confirm their identity. Muslim women wearing the hijab - or headscarf - will also not have to face any problems getting through security. A nun's habit is also permissible in the Bundestag as well as the Kippa, or skullcap, worn by Jewish men. However, visitors wearing a pointed traditional Tyrolean hat will have to leave the accessory with security, as well as men and women wearing cowboy hats. These are not considered dignified enough to wear while listening or watching parliamentary proceedings.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Germany: Hundreds of neo-Nazis have gone underground

German police are hunting for hundreds of neo-Nazis. The Interior Ministry says there was a significant jump in outstanding arrest warrants in 2016. Experts believe that right-wing terrorist networks pose a threat.

9/1/2017- Chancellor Angela Merkel said just a few days ago in her New Year address that the most difficult test Germany faces is Islamist terrorism. But terrorism in Germany is not exclusively Islamist. It can also come from the political left or - as the National Socialist Underground (NSU) has recently demonstrated - from the right. The interior ministry said in a December response to a parliamentary interpellation from representatives of the Left Party that just under 600 arrest warrants for neo-Nazis were still outstanding. Some 403 arrest warrants were issued in the first 10 months of 2016 alone. In total, warrants were issued against 454 individuals who, in the official jargon, "have been deemed on account of relevant police information to belong to the category 'crime motivated by the political right.'" Not all of these right-wing extremists are being sought for politically motivated crimes, but in 92 cases the arrest warrant does indeed relate to a politically motivated offense.

Going underground encourages radicalization
According to Matthias Quent, a Jena-based researcher into right-wing extremism, the number of neo-Nazis who have gone underground increases the risk of creating new right-wing extremist terrorist structures. In an interview with DW, Quent emphasized that going underground could lead to further radicalization and to political aims being pursued more determinedly, with violence. This corresponds with the interior ministry's latest annual report on the defense of the constitution, which talks about an "exorbitant increase in right-wing extremist violence." The authors go on to say that "anti-asylum agitation creates a sounding board for right-wing extremist ideology fragments. Right-wing extremism gains connectivity," with the result that violence and crimes motivated by right-wing extremism and directed against asylum-seekers' accommodation increased more than five-fold in 2015 compared to the previous year. The report also found that after years in decline, the right-wing extremist scene is now attracting members again. The number of right-wing extremist-oriented people is estimated at just under 23,000.

Uninhibited discourse
Just as in France, where mosques were targeted in the aftermath of the Islamist terrorist attacks, the deadly attack on Berlin's Breitscheidplatz, where a truck was driven into a Christmas market, may inflame sentiments in right-wing circles. Matthias Quent says he has already observed on social networks that the threshold for verbal violence has fallen. "The discourse is incredibly uninhibited," he told DW. "If the perception is that the state is no longer capable of protecting its borders, or its people, from terrorism, there is an increase in the perceived legitimacy of forming one's own organizations, of resorting to violence oneself, of arming oneself." One can, for example, arm oneself online. A Russian-registered German-language website with the name "Migrantenschreck" ("Scourge of Migrants”) offers items such as crossbows or weapons that shoot hard rubber bullets. A gun costing 749 euros ($791) is described as follows: "An incredible 130-joule muzzle velocity speaks for itself, guaranteeing the successful use of this product."

The operator of this illegal internet shop, Mario Rönsch, belongs to the circle of neo-Nazis who have gone underground. Several German public prosecutors have already had dealings with him: He was wanted, for example, on suspicion of incitement and exhorting people to commit crimes. Rönsch is now believed to be living in Hungary, where he is selling weapons. The weapons Rönsch offers on his site are legal in Hungary, but it is forbidden to export them to Germany. It can hardly be assumed that Rönsch's intentions are peaceful: The website has videos demonstrating how to use the weapons in which photos of leading German politicians are shot to pieces.

Europe-wide increase
Europol's anti-terror unit observes that right-wing extremist groups all over Europe have been trying to instrumentalize the refugee crisis for their own ends. The Europol officials have also registered a significant increase in right-wing extremist websites across the European Union. As with other forms of extremism and radicalization, social networks also play a key role in right-wing extremism. "The support that potential violent criminals get for their subsequent acts of violence very often comes from social media," Ulrich Wagner, a social psychologist from Marburg, told DW. This support, he said, comes either from interactive platforms or, quite simply, from the repeated viewing of particular acts of violence. "Violent perpetrators also learn by example how to do these things," says Wagner. "And the images are there on the internet for everyone to access."
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Germany: 'Traitor of the people' is Germany's worst word of 2016

Each year, German linguists elect one word as the 'Unwort' (non-word) of the year. For 2016, the winner was a term meaning 'traitor' which has strong Nazi connotations.

10/1/2017- A jury of language experts selected their annual 'Unwort' of the year, choosing Volksverräter on Tuesday as the worst word of 2016. The jury, made up of four linguists and one journalist, said in a statement that the noun had been selected "because it is a typical legacy of dictatorships". Volksverräter literally means "traitor of the people" and is used to denote someone guilty of treason - but it also has strong connotations of the Nazi era. Along with other words and slogans linked to Adolf Hitler's regime, the word has seen a resurgence among far-right groups. Jury spokesperson Nina Janich said that members of Germany's far-right movements - including anti-Islam group Pegida and the political party Alternative for Germany (AfD) - use the term to describe politicians in an "undifferentiated and defamatory way". This usage "strangles serious discussion and, in doing so, the discussions necessary for a democratic society", she added.

Hecklers have hurled the word at Chancellor Angela Merkel during public appearances, for example in August during a visit to a refugee centre hit by far-right violence. Last year's winner was Gutmensch or "do-gooder", an expression the jury claimed "blocks democratic exchange and substantial debate" by linking tolerance with naivety or even moral imperialism. Previous winners have included Lügenpresse, another term used by Pegida to denote the "lying media', and Döner-Morde (Döner Murders), a phrase used by police and German media to describe the murders of eight ethnic Turkish and one Greek victims, which turned out to be the work of terrorist neo-Nazis. Before that, some of Germany's worst words were notleidende Banken (needy banks) and Gotteskrieger (warrior for god), often used to refer to Islamic militants.

Each year since 1991, the jury has selected the most offensive, new or newly popularized phrase in order to "promote awareness and sensitivity of language". For 2016, 1,064 votes for 594 different words were submitted. The word of the year and the non-word of the year were originally both announced by the German Language Society (GFDS), but the Unwort jury split to become independent in 1994. This year's choice for 'word of the year' was postfaktisch (post-factual).
© The Local - Germany

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Germany: Merkel's sudden urge to deport failed asylum seekers shows impact Berlin attack

9/1/2017- The discussion surrounding the deportation of failed asylum seekers in Germany has been a central one since the Berlin truck attack that killed 12 people last month. The attacker, Anis Amri, was a failed Tunisian asylum seeker whose deportation stalled because Tunisia refused to take him back. Merkel left no room for ambiguity on Monday, however. In a speech in Cologne, the German chancellor said: "Anyone who does not have a right of residence must be returned to their home country." Merkel plans to speed up the deportation of those without the right to stay. She added that anyone with a residence permit has to be integrated properly. She admitted that both of these policies have "not been so seriously pursued" recently and it is the responsibility of the government and the public to take action. Merkel also talked about finding "common solutions" to classify Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia as secure states of origin, to enable German authorities to send back migrants coming from these countries more easily. The chancellor also emphasised that a deal with these countries had to be negotiated "respectfully."

Since the Christmas terror attack, German politicians have been urging the government to get tougher on deporting failed asylum seekers and on Sunday, threatened to cut aid to countries refusing to take them back. "Those who do not cooperate sufficiently cannot hope to benefit from our development aid," Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel told Der Spiegel in an interview published this weekend. His proposition received "full support" from the Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere. Merkel's remarks are the latest sign that the champion of the "welcome-politic" is hardening her stance on immigration ahead of September's federal elections in Germany. A more aggressive approach to deportation is something far-right parties in Germany have been demanding for years but it has now been pushed onto the national agenda of every political party.

The Berlin attack was already the second one perpetrated last year in Germany by a failed asylum seeker. A 27-year-old Syrian man denied asylum in Germany died in July when he set off a bomb outside a crowded music festival in Ansbach. Merkel started her campaign to be re-elected chancellor for a fourth time in December and has made clear at her party's conference that she had toughened her stance on immigration and refugee integration. She said she supported the full Islamic veil's ban and that it was not appropriate in Germany. Gabriel had already last week announced a much tougher stance to deal with Islamism in Germany. "Salafist mosques must be banned, the communities dissolved and the preachers should be expelled, as soon as possible," the vice chancellor said, and added that those who call for violence do not enjoy the protection of religious freedom.
© The Business Insider

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German court rejects appeal by Cologne mayor assailant

9/1/2017- A German federal court has rejected an appeal by a far-right extremist sentenced to 14 years in prison for the attempted murder of a politician who is now Cologne's mayor. The defendant, identified only as Frank S. in line with German privacy rules, was convicted by a Düsseldorf court in July. Henriette Reker, who was in charge of housing refugees in Cologne at the time, was stabbed in the neck Oct. 17, 2015 as she campaigned. Reker was elected mayor the following day while in an induced coma and took office about a month later. Judges in Düsseldorf found that the assailant, a German in his mid-40s, wanted to "send a signal against the government's refugee policy." The Federal Court of Justice said Monday that it has rejected his appeal.
© The Associated Press

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Germany: Police block counter demonstrators as far-right nationalists march in Cologne

Dozens of right-wing extremists have marched through the western German city of Cologne. Police outnumbered the participants tenfold and had to block hundreds of counter-protesters who attempted to disrupt the march.

8/1/2017- Dozens of supporters of the far-right nationalist party Pro NRW marched through Cologne on Saturday, accompanied by some 1,000 police and several hundred counter-protesters. Authorities erected barriers, parked police vans on side streets and deployed horse-mounted officers to keep the counter-demonstrators separated from the right-wing protesters. German news agency DPA reported that around 100 far-right extremists took part in the protest while the local "Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger" newspaper reported around 50 to 60 people participated in the march. The protest against the sexual assaults which took place in Cologne last New Year's Eve was expected to draw some 400 right-wing extremists. A police spokesperson told news agency EPD that turnout was low probably due to the iced streets and cold weather. Despite a heavy police presence, around 200 counter-protesters were able to block the far-right protester's march, forcing them to change their route, "Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger" reported. Some of the counter-demonstrators now face criminal proceedings for attempting to disrupt the march and one was arrested. Both sides shouted chants and took turns giving each other the middle finger. At one point, counter-demonstrators chanted, "Nazis out" to which the far-right marchers replied "Nafris out," reported "Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger."

Tensions in Cologne
Police in Cologne came under fire again after this year's New Year's Eve celebrations over allegations of racial profiling and using the term "Nafri" to describe groups of North African men who officers targeted for checks during the festivities. The Pro NRW party, known for its anti-immigrant stance, has since begun selling T-shirts with the word "Nafri" on them to spread intolerance for North Africans in Germany. During the 2015/2016 New Year's Eve celebrations, hundreds of women were sexually harassed, assaulted and robbed by men who witnesses described as being of Middle Eastern or North African descent. The assaults sparked public outrage, with many criticizing Cologne police for being unprepared and slow to respond. The assaults also stoked anti-migrant sentiment, particularly within far-right parties. Right-wing extremists are set to march in the city again next weekend, with police expecting further counter-protests.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Finnish lawmaker fined for 'all terrorists are Muslims' comment

8/1/2017- Lawmaker Teuvo Hakkarainen from the nationalist Finns party was fined on Wednesday for a Facebook post calling for a Muslim-free Finland which a district court said amounted to agitation against an ethnic group. Hakkarainen, whose party is part of the country's coalition government, made the call in a comment on the truck attack in France last July that killed 86 people. Prosecutors said the Tunisian-born driver had pro-terrorist views. "All Muslims are not terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims," the parliamentarian wrote in the comment. Central Finland's district court in Jyvaskyla imposed a 1,160 euro ($1,210) fine for Hakkarainen, who accepted the verdict. Local media quoted his assistant telling the court that the lawmaker was not aware of the legislation in question.

The Finns party said it would next month discuss possible political sanctions for him. The party, previously known as True Finns, is known for its eurosceptic and nationalist views, but it has toned down its demands after joining Finland's three-party government in 2015. Finland has tightened its immigration policies, along with other Nordic countries, after about 32,000 migrants and refugees arrived in the country in 2015. Thousands of people rallied against ethnic hatred in Helsinki that year after another Finns parliamentarian called in a Facebook post for a fight against multiculturalism.
© Reuters

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Norway: Soldiers of Odin loses leaders

Just two weeks after taking over as the new leader of the quasi-vigilante group Soldiers of Odin, Jan Tellef Aanonsen says he has quit and hopes the entire organization “disappears.” Its former leader, meanwhile, was back in court this week, charged with assault.

9/1/2017- The group grabbed headlines last winter when members wearing hooded black jackets took it upon themselves to start “patrolling” various Norwegian cities. They expressed concern about the recent influx of refugees into Norway, and claimed they would “make the streets safer.” Their patrols were unwanted by the police, top politicians and local residents in cities including Drammen and Tønsberg, who found them threatening. Some referred to them as a neo-Nazi organization, while members objected to the description. Many, however, had criminal records themselves including Steffen Andre Larsen of Nøtterøy, who stepped down as leader in December and is now, reports newspaper Tønsberg Blad, back in court. Larsen was succeeded by Aanonsen of Arendal, but he only lasted a few weeks before declaring that he was quitting, too. “The reason is the earlier leader’s criminal record and a totally ridiculous organization that’s not serious,” Aanonsen told newspaper Aftenposten. “They love to run around in their black hooded jackets but now I hope Soldiers of Odin disappears. I don’t want to have anything to do with them anymore.” Aanonsen said he wanted to make the organization more professional but was met with a lack of willingness. He said he had no idea who may be leader now.
© Views and News from Norway

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Norway: Brevik back in court to claim prison breaches his human rights

Far-right terrorist and mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik will be back in court this week, claiming that his isolation in prison breaches his human rights.

8/1/2017- Breivik killed 77 people in 2011, in a meticulously planned bombing and shooting rampage he claimed was part of an anti-Muslim revolution. After setting off a car bomb in the capital, killing eight, he drove to the island of Utoya and gunned down 69 people at a summer camp, mostly teenage members of the Labour party youth wing. He was locked up for 21 years after admitting the attacks, a sentence that is likely to be extended for life. Guards keep him isolated from other prisoners, in a complex of three cells where he is able to exercise, play video games and watch TV. But Breivik, 37, sued the government last year, claiming he was treated ‘inhumanely’ because of his solitary confinement, strip searches and the fact he was often handcuffed in the early stages of his sentence. He also complained he had to eat with plastic cutlery and wasn’t allowed to communicate with sympathisers.

In a surprise ruling, the Oslo District Court agreed that it wasn’t fair for him to be kept in solitary confinement, saying: ‘The prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment represents a fundamental value in a democratic society. ‘This applies no matter what – also in the treatment of terrorists and killers.’ They ruled that his isolation breached the European Convention on Human Rights and ordered the government to pay Breivik’s legal costs of £31,786. However, the court dismissed Breivik’s claim that his ban on communicating with right-wing sympathisers breached his right to private and family life. Now the Norwegian government is appealing against the ruling that his isolation breaches his rights, saying that he is treated humanely and must be kept separate from other inmates for safety reasons.

Breivik’s lawyer, Oystein Storrvik, said his client was satisfied with last year’s verdict. He added that he expects Breivik to be allowed to meet other people in prison. Mette Yvonne Larsen, a lawyer who represented Breivik’s victims and their families, says her official line is ‘not to comment because we don’t want to give him (Breivik) any visibility.’ Many feel his crimes should be confined to the history books, and not commented on to prevent giving him the notoriety he craved. The appeals case opens on Tuesday in southern Norway, where Breivik is incarcerated. Six days have been reserved for the hearings.

Breivik's crimes
Prime minister Erna Solberg called his terror attack on July 22, 2011, ‘one of the darkest days in Norwegian history’.
He set off a car bomb outside the government headquarters in Oslo, killing eight people and wounding dozens.
Then he drove 25 miles to Utoya, where he opened fire on the annual summer camp of the Labour party’s youth wing.
Sixty-nine people were killed there, most of them teenagers, before Breivik surrendered to police.
He was convicted of mass murder and terrorism in 2012.
At the time of the attacks, Breivik claimed to be the commander of a secret Christian military order plotting an anti-Muslim revolution in Europe but investigators found no trace of the group.
He now describes himself as a traditional neo-Nazi who prays to the Viking god Odin, saying his earlier crusader image was just for show.
He made a Nazi salute to journalists at the start of his human rights case last year.
© Metro UK

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Hungarian camerawoman filmed tripping up fleeing refugees is convicted

Camerawoman Petra László caused outrage when she kicked child running from disturbance close to Serbian border in 2015

12/1/2017- A Hungarian television camerawoman who was filmed tripping and kicking migrants fleeing police has been found guilty of breaching the peace. A judge in Szeged, southern Hungary, said the actions of Petra László triggered “indignation and outrage”, and rejected her defence lawyer’s argument that she was trying to protect herself. The judge found her guilty and sentenced her to three years’ probation. If she does not reoffend during that period the conviction will be dropped. In television footage which sparked global outrage, László can be seen tripping up a man sprinting with a child in his arms, and kicking another running child near the town of Röszke, close to the border with Serbia. It later emerged that the camerawoman, who was fired over her actions, had been working for N1TV, an internet-based television station close to Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party.

The incident on 8 September 2015 occurred as hundreds of migrants broke through a police line at a collection point close to the Serbian border. “I turned and saw several hundred people charging toward me; it was quite incredibly frightening,” she said. László said she had received death threats after the incident and took part in the hearing in Szeged via a video link from a courtroom in Budapest. Occasionally breaking into tears, she told the court that she had been subjected to a “hate campaign” since the incident. She “terribly regretted” what happened at Röszke, and said that her life had been “derailed” by what happened. Both the prosecutor, who sought the maximum penalty of a stiff fine, and László’s defence lawyer who asked for acquittal, said they would appeal the verdict. László told a Russian newspaper in 2015 that she planned to move with her family to Russia after the case ended as she no longer felt safe in Hungary.

In 2015, thousands of migrants crossed into Hungary each day as the country, a southern gateway into the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone, became a temporary hotspot of the migration crisis. A week after the incident, Hungarian soldiers completed the closure of the 175km (110 mile) border with a fence reinforced with razor wire. Over 400,000 migrants passed through Hungary in 2015 bound for western Europe, but the number plummeted after the border was sealed off. The Syrian man tripped up by László was later given a job by a Spanish football coaching school, while his son ran with superstar Cristiano Ronaldo on to the pitch in Madrid before a match.
© AFP

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Hungary's Jobbik ditches far-right past to challenge Orban in 2018

11/1/2017- Hungary's main opposition Jobbik party is moving from its roots as a far-right, anti-Semitic radical group to target the mainstream, and plans to challenge ruling Fidesz for power in 2018 elections, its leader Gabor Vona told Reuters. Jobbik has openly vilified Jews, gays and foreigners, and its paramilitaries used to march through areas where Roma people live. It also favoured forging ties with Russia, Iran and Turkey rather than the European Union, of which Hungary is a member. But last month Vona sent Hannukah greetings to local Jews. His party had a lot to atone for, he said in an interview this week, insisting the shift would yield substantial political results, elevating the party to government sooner or later.

Mimicking a move by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz - which ditched its liberal roots and rose to power as conservatives in 1998 - Vona plans to take voters from the left, where parties are in disarray, and right. "We will need several bridges ... to voters on the left, not to parties on the left," he said. "Jobbik offers a message, a programme both to former leftist and former rightist voters." He said the party's new "modern conservatism" borrowed both from progressive and right-wing agendas, such as environmental protection and wage equality across the EU, and countries growing their economies without relying on immigrant workers. Vona also drew a stark contrast between his own party and Fidesz, which has put pressure on independent media and plans to "sweep out" civil society groups. "Independent institutions, checks and balances ... it may have been hard to imagine but a Jobbik government would create a far more democratic political system in Hungary than Fidesz has built in the last seven years."

In the latest opinion polls Jobbik scored about 10-13 percent, while Fidesz' support was about 31-36 percent. A large chunk, about 40 percent of the population, is undecided. Jobbik claims its core voter base is about 20 percent of eligible voters, and Vona said the party's own surveys show it as the least unpopular of all major groupings, and voters' most popular second choice. "We have very serious reserves," he said. "I am certain Jobbik will govern Hungary at some point - it is only a matter of time. Obviously we are working to make it happen in 2018." He said the double credibility gap Jobbik had - its hardline supporters felt cheated and its potential new voters need to be convinced - was temporary and natural in a transition phase. "We are growing out of our teenage years," he said. "So many times teenagers realise, wow, I was so wrong... (Jobbik) may be a teenager who collided with brick walls a few times before realising life is not black and white."

He cited the row over his Hanukkah greetings. "We were right to do what we did during the holidays," he said. "If you want to govern you need to partner with all religious and other groups. I will do the same thing (send greetings) in the next holiday season, too." In future, Jobbik would treat Israel like any other nation, he said. "If we disagree, we want to be able to criticise Israel like we criticise Sweden or Germany, but naturally we respect its right to exist, form its own identity, opinions and articulate its interests," he said.
© Reuters UK.

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Ireland: Alt-right reporter: I’m paid to troll

8/1/2017- An American writer whose column on the alt-right movement for The Irish Times caused a storm last week has boasted about earning a living from “trolling” people. The article by Nicholas Pell included a glossary of terms used by the far right that included derogatory slang for black people and feminists. The decision to publish the article was criticised by Una Mullally, an Irish Times columnist, who claimed it was “humouring fascism”. Some people on social media said they were cancelling their Irish Times subscriptions in protest. In an article published on cracked.com last year, Pell claimed he was making a generous living from provoking people online, known as trolling. In the piece, entitled “Six things you learn from getting paid to troll people online”, Pell said he would “punch up my style [of writing] and put it in the way most likely to irritate people who deserve to be irritated”.

He said if his writing irritated a person, “that probably means you’re an uptight square, just begging to be f***** with”. All the negative feedback helped get him paid. “Editors know they can rely on me to produce a stream of punters giving them the sweet page views and click-throughs they need to pitch to potential advertisers,” he wrote. “So basically every time you read my article, comment on it, and/or share it with your friends while telling them what a dick I am, you’re helping me buy another pair of $400 jeans. Thanks for that!” Yesterday Pell said he would not classify his Irish Times piece as trolling. “The article is a legitimate attempt to inform,” he insisted. “There is a tongue-in-cheek quality about it but I wouldn’t call it trolling.” Pell said he had not expected The Irish Times to publish it, but said the newspaper had told him it would appear online and in print. He does not know why it appeared only online.

He denied the piece was sympathetic to the far right. “I would say it was more balanced than people who just want to shriek about the alt-right would like,” said Pell. “The outcry about the article boiled down to the left being accustomed to controlling discourse and saying what words mean and who’s this or that. “The biggest monkey wrench you can throw is to say, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ You can see their power is waning — Brexit and the Trump election are examples. That’s what made people angry. I wouldn’t say it was sympathetic, it was fair.” Pell said everything written about the far right did not have to contain criticism of it. He does accept elements of the movement are “white nationalists or outright National Socialists [Nazis]”.

Amnesty International Ireland also criticised The Irish Times’s decision to publish the piece, with executive director Colm O’Gorman describing it as “dangerous”. Others have criticised the backlash as being an attack on freedom of speech. Ed Brophy, former chief of staff for Joan Burton, said the reaction “shows just how badly liberals have lost their nerve; limits on free speech are not the answer”.
© The Times

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France: Family name and party logo have gone but can Marine Le Pen detoxify her brand?

The Front National is cultivating a voter-friendly image. But some say its hard right core is intact.

7/1/2017- At Marine Le Pen’s modest campaign headquarters in one of the most upmarket streets of Paris – Rue du Faubourg St-Honoré – something is missing, and it’s not just the symbolic Joan of Arc statue or giant papier-mache cockerel that grace the Front National’s permanent offices a few miles away. Here, not far from the Élysée Palace where Le Pen hopes to reside in four months’ time, posters hanging in the interview room feature the campaign slogan Au nom du peuple (in the name of the people), and the words MARINE Présidente, accompanied by a blue, thorn-free rose. There is no mention of the FN nor, indeed, any sign of the Le Pen name. Gone, too, is the FN’s red-white-and-blue flame logo. Today, Marine is officially launching her presidential campaign. She arrives wearing a jacket that perfectly matches the posters and the chair set out for her next to the obligatory Tricolour, which blends into the grey-blue walls. It is all perfectly co-ordinated and reassuring. Le Pen smiles and wishes everyone a happy new year.

This is far-right lite, the “soft” image of a famously tough woman and champion of a “forgotten France” who – according to “private” photographs released last year – is also kind to kittens. It is six years since Marine took over the FN and set about making it, and herself, electable. In that time, she has transformed its status from toxic fringe movement to a party that is part of the political mainstream. Today, four months before a presidential election, victory for Le Pen remains unlikely, but no longer impossible. Le Pen père, however, has no place in this metamorphosed and rebranded party. Jean-Marie Le Pen and his daughter no longer speak after she threw him out for failing to sign up to the detoxification programme. While he continues to bang on about the Holocaust being a small “detail” of history, Marine has moved on; her targets are immigration, the EU and Islamic fundamentalism.

Jérôme Fourquet, a director of opinion pollster Ifop, says this rebranding goes beyond the usual attempt by a French presidential candidate to personalise their campaign. “Everyone in France knows the FN logo and the Le Pen name and these still make a lot of people afraid,” he said. “By erasing the logo and the name, and presenting the candidate by her first name, they are trying to create a closeness and suggest a product that is less hard, less worrying, less frightening.” Last September, the FN announced that its annual conference, traditionally a “summer university”, would be called a “summer event”, with posters depicting a seaside sunset. “It was in very soft and pastel colours, more like an advertisement for a holiday on the Côte d’Azur than for a political event,” said Fourquet. 

Marine Le Pen, 48, set about “de-demonising” the FN in 2011 after taking control of the party her father founded in the 1970s. Le Pen senior, 88, had caused a political earthquake in 2002 by winning through to the second round of the presidential election but, until relatively recently, the Le Pens have been viewed as unelectable to the ultimate office. Uli Wiesendanger, founder of the international, Paris-based TBWA advertising agency, said Le Pen had quickly realised she had to “water down” the racist, Nazi, homophobic image of the party exemplified by her father if she wanted serious power. “What she is doing is really not that creative, and I don’t imagine a marketing specialist has masterminded it,” Wiesendanger said. “I expect she thought it up herself, after she realised that the name was not appealing to people. But if the party she represents is ashamed of its name, that’s a very interesting observation. “She is far from stupid and she speaks very well, better than any other politician in the country, but I wouldn’t represent her.”

It is not clear who, if anyone, is representing Le Pen. Her 2012 presidential campaign was handled by a little-known agency, Riwal, run by long-time friend Frédéric Chatillon, a former member of the shadowy far-right student organisation Group Union Défense (GUD). In 2015, a judge ordered Chatillon, whose name appeared in the Panama Papers (the leak that uncovered a global operation of secretive offshore companies), and Riwal not to work “in a direct or indirect manner” with the FN as part of an investigation into campaign funding. Last week, outside Le Pen’s campaign HQ, L’Escale (the stopover), an election poster had been vandalised. Underneath the scratches, Le Pen could be seen against a bucolic backdrop gazing dreamily into the far-right future, above the slogan: La France Apaisée (a soothed France). Again, no mention of the FN.

Today, French pollsters are wary of predicting the outcome of the presidential election, but a second-round run-off between the centre-right candidate François Fillon and either Le Pen, or the independent former Socialist minister Emmanuel Macron, is seen as the most likely scenario. The Socialist and Ecology parties will select their candidate at the end of the month from a large cast of left-wing candidates, including former prime minister Manuel Valls. Inside L’Escale, addressing members of the Anglo-American Press Association, Le Pen was confident as she railed against multiple targets: the “blackmail, threats, intimidation … and diktats” of EU technocrats; the euro that is “a knife stuck in a country’s ribs”; the enforced “submission” of France to the will of Brussels.

Out of the blue, Le Pen attacked German chancellor Angela Merkel and the European Union’s domination of the continent’s politics, using the term à la schlague, a phrase that means “by beating” and is most often associated with Nazi concentration camp brutality. This is one reason why many concur with Fourquet and view Marine’s makeover with scepticism. “Personally, I’m not convinced that it works,” Fourquet said. “It’s like Coca-Cola deciding its trademark will no longer be red, but green. It’s a complicated thing, changing the way the public see these things – and I don’t think people will be fooled. The Le Pen name is very well known. She may have changed the packaging to something nicer, but the policies inside remain as hard as they’ve always been.”

The Contenders
Emmanuel Macron The former Socialist economy minister, 39, is now standing as an independent.
François Fillon The former centre-right prime minister, 62, who is standing for Les Républicains.                                                                                                           Outsiders Former ministers Vincent Peillon, 56, Arnaud Montebourg, 54, and Benoît Hamon, 49; and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, 65, from the far left.
© The Guardian.

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UK: Jewish woman and her son bombarded with gas canister

A Jewish woman and her 13 year-old son were bombarded with gas canister by a racist thug who chanted ‘Heil Hitler’.

12/1/2017- Four members of the Orthodox Jewish community, Cheya Stern, her 13 year old son, her brother Simon Lemberger and passerby, Abraham Law, were pelted with canisters of nitrous oxide from a white van. As he carried out the attack outside Poundland in Tottenham Hale on January 6 Patrick Delaney, 19, shouted “Hitler is on the way to you, Heil Hitler, Heil Hitler, Heil Hitler”. Shulem Stern, from Jewish community group Shomrim, said: “They were just going about their daily life but they were scared about what would happen next. “Jewish people have to face this anti-semitism on a daily basis and visibly Jewish people are often targeted. “It’s unusual that an attack will be this violent but often it will be comments and derogatory remarks. “It’s is good that someone had been convicted and some action has been taken. “It sends a message that this sort of behaviour will not be tolerated.”

Barry Bard, senior co-ordinator at Stamford Hill Shomrim, said “This was a disgusting unprovoked attack at innocent Jewish shoppers going about their daily lives. “A sad reminder of the daily anti-Semitic attacks against members of the Charedi Jewish Community, who are frequently targeted due to being quite visibly Jewish. “It is great that justice has been served, after one man pleaded guilty for his despicable actions, bringing closure for the victims. “Convictions for anti-Semitic hate crimes are sadly very rare in the UK, despite the huge amount of incidents. ” Shomrim volunteers will continue to work hard with victims and authorities to help minimise the impact of such crimes and assist with bringing offenders to justice.” Patrick Delaney will be sentenced at Wood Green Crown Court on February 2 after admitting racially aggravated harassment causing alarm or distress of Cheya Stern.
© The London Economic

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UK: Racist thugs mindlessly set fire to a Essex mosque

12/1/2017- Shocking footage has been released showing the moment two racist thugs mindlessly set fire to a mosque. The louts initially tried to break into Al Falah Braintree Islamic Centre in Essex by throwing bricks and kicking the door. But when that failed the pair, believed to be intoxicated at the time, set fire to the plastic corrugated roof on the building's lean to. Throughout the attack, which was captured on the Islamic centre's CCTV, one of the yobs repeatedly revealed his face when he looked up at the camera. After starting the fire they fled the scene at around 2.30am on Sunday as melted plastic dripped down and the fire spread. The centre's secretary Sikander Sleemy said: 'I think they had a drink or were drunk, just by the way they were walking and the fact that the pubs closed just before. 'They passed by and stumbled across to the mosque, or realised it was a mosque, and have had a bit of fun and tried to set fire to the mosque.

'I think the first boy tried to break in but couldn't and they grabbed some rubbish and set it alight and threw it on the porch area on the roof and, because of the weight of the bag, it just burned and came straight through. It was burning when one of our taxi drivers was passing. He put the fire out with a bottle of water. 'We are just fortunate they were two drunk guys who didn't know what they were doing and were being stupid. 'Had the bin bag not been as heavy it could have spread across the roof and we could have been looking at something worse.' Essex Police is treating the incident as a hate crime. The attack comes more than three years after construction worker Geoffrey Ryan, 44, approached the centre armed with two knives and launched a smoke grenade inside, hours after the murder of soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich, London. He was jailed for nine months after admitting two charges of having a bladed object in a public place and one charge of affray.

Braintree Chief Inspector Craig Carrington, from Essex police, described the latest incident as 'rare'. He said: 'This is a concerning but rare incident and the impact it has had on the community cannot be underestimated. 'We are investigating the offence and are working with our partners to reassure the community at this time.' ames Cleverly, MP for Braintree, added: 'This mindless attack on the local mosque is completely unacceptable. The actions of a couple of thugs in no way reflects the welcoming nature of Braintree.' The fire brigade were called to the scene but by the time they arrived the fire had gone out. They made the scene safe before leaving.
Anyone with information about the incident should call Essex police on 101
© The Daily Mail.

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Poles living in UK ‘scared to report hate crimes’

Fears over right to remain deter EU nationals from contacting police

7/1/2017- Poles living in Britain are so anxious about their right to remain after Brexit that they are failing to report hate crimes, according to the head of the Polish Social and Cultural Association. Joanna Młudzińska, who will give evidence on Tuesday to a home affairs select committee inquiry on the issue, said EU nationals felt so disenfranchised at being used as “pawns” in Brexit negotiations that they were opting to keep a low profile, rather than contact the authorities. The situation has become so acute that the London-based East European Resource Centre (EERC) is launching a pilot scheme to encourage EU nationals to report hate crimes. Młudzińska, who was born in London to Polish parents, said the government’s failure to clarify the standing of the UK’s 2.9 million EU citizens was “immoral” and was putting Polish and other EU migrants living in Britain in an impossible position.

“Very few people are reporting hate crimes at the moment. People are very scared, because often this occurs in the workplace and they are scared they might lose their job. Or it’s from a neighbour and they don’t want to cause more problems.” Młudzińska added: “They can’t turn around and say: ‘No, I don’t have to go home because your government has said I am allowed to stay.’ That puts you in a weaker position, doesn’t it? It makes people vulnerable. It makes them scared to stand up for themselves, to properly report things.” Last year the number of Polish-born UK residents was estimated at 831,000, making Poles the largest overseas-born group in the country and Polish the second most spoken language in England.

Various agencies have documented that incidents of hate crime soared in the aftermath of June’s EU referendum vote. On Friday, a 15-year-old boy appeared in Chelmsford youth court charged with the manslaughter of a Polish man who was attacked in Essex weeks after the UK voted to leave the EU. The death of Arkadiusz Jóźwik, 40, in Harlow was initially reported as a possible hate crime, becoming one of the most high-profile incidents of violence linked to the result of the EU referendum, although it is understood that prosecutors are not treating it as such. A number of sources recorded an increase in hate crime in the wake of the Brexit vote. Racist or religious abuse incidents recorded by police in England and Wales jumped 41% with 5,468 such crimes being logged in the month after the UK voted to quit the EU, according to the Home Office.

The uncertainty facing EU nationals living in Britain has been highlighted by a series of cases, including that of Dom Wolf, born in London to German parents, who told the Guardian  on Thursday that he could not get a British passport unless he took a UK citizenship test because he could not prove his mother had been in England legally when she gave birth to him. The 32-year-old said he felt betrayed by the country in which he was born. His parents arrived in 1974, when his mother worked for the University of London as a lecturer and his father was self-employed. Other examples include Monique Hawkins, a Dutch woman who has lived in the UK for 24 years and has two children with her British husband, but has been told by the Home Office that she should make arrangements to leave the country after applying for citizenship.

Professor Matthew Goodwin, professor of politics at the University of Kent, said that, despite the apparent rise in hate crimes following the referendum, there were inherent difficulties in quantifying the issue. “The police measures for recording hate crime and how it is categorised have only recently become more sophisticated, so we’re not really able to say whether things are actually getting worse or better,” he said. “Historically, it’s been an area where we haven’t really invested much.” Goodwin, who will also appear before the select committee hearing, said that monitoring the far right was problematic because easily identifiable organisations, such as the EDL and BNP, had fractured into small, disparate factions. “This has made it harder for researchers, as well as the security services, to keep on top. There are 20 tiny groups and it’s quite difficult to know what they are doing and how,” he said.
© The Guardian.

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UK: Man held by anti-terror police after rally by neo-Nazi National Action group

A 21-year-old man has been arrested by counter-terror police after a far-right rally by a banned neo-Nazi group.

11/1/2017- The National Action group, which was outlawed as a terrorist organisation in December, wants to fight the "disease" of "international Jewry" and admires Adolf Hitler. It is understood to have grown out of splinter groups of other far-right organisations and its membership numbers are not known publicly. The man was arrested for two public order offences after allegedly using threatening, abusive and insulting words likely to stir up racial hatred. One charge relates to remarks made on social media and the other to words spoken at an event in Blackpool in March last year, organised by the North West Infidels, another right-wing group. At the event, supporters cheered as Jews were described as "parasites" and Hitler was praised amid claims Britain "took the wrong side" in the Second World War.

A police spokeswoman said: "Officers from the North West Counter Terrorism Unit and Lancashire Constabulary have today, Wednesday 11 January 2017, arrested a 21-year-old man from Blackpool on suspicion of public order offences. "The man was arrested on suspicion of two offences contrary to Section 18 of the Public Order Act 1986 - using threatening/abusive/insulting words or behaviour or displaying written material with intent/likely to stir up racial hatred. "The arrest relates to comments made at an event in Blackpool in March 2016 and to comments made on social media. "The man will be interviewed at a police station in Lancashire during the course of the day." Support or membership of National Action was outlawed by Home Secretary Amber Rudd under the Terrorism Act last month, making it the first far-right movement to be prohibited as a terror group.
Hate crimes can be reported to police on 101, or by the True Vision website.
© North-West Evening Mail

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UK: Far-right protest outside a mosque branded "pathetic" after just 15 people turned up

7/1/2017- A far-right protest outside a mosque in Maidstone has been branded "pathetic" after just 15 people turned up. Opposition group Kent Anti-racism Network made the criticism after arriving at the Mosque in Mote Road with its own counter protest. The South East Alliance claimed it would protest from 11am until 3pm – but it wasn't until 1pm that a small group arrived waving banners and flags. The group said it was protesting against the redevelopment of the mosque, which has been approved by Maidstone Borough Council. In a Facebook post, Kent Anti-racism Network said: "There was a pathetic turnout from the fascists in Maidstone today. "A small band of fewer than twenty turned out in the drizzle to mumble anti-Islam sentiments before sloping off looking slightly embarrassed after an hour or so."

For their counter protest, members of the mosque bought pizza and offered out tea and biscuits to the Kent Anti-racism Network, according to the group. The Facebook post added: "We met loads of great people and plan to do some more work with the mosque in the future." Kent Police were at the scene to ensure the protest remained peaceful. A spokesman said: "Police officers worked with both groups regarding their plans and liaised with representatives from the mosque. "Kent Police respects anyone's right to protest peacefully, and our intention will always be to balance that right with the rights of other people and groups in the community to go about their business."
© Kent Live

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Headlines 6 January, 2017

EU: MEPs to Juncker: Reconsider Oettinger's promotion

6/1/2017- Nine MEPs have urged European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker to reconsider his promotion of Guenther Oettinger to a sensitive EU portfolio. The appeal came in a letter on Thursday (5 January), a few days before a European Parliament hearing on Oettinger's new post. The German EU commissioner is to take over the budget and human resources file, which was vacated by Kristalina Georgieva, who left to work for the World Bank. The post would make him responsible for EU officials’ proper conduct and for transparency and could see him crowned a commission vice-president. But the MEPs said his "recent actions" were “not appropriate behaviour for a commissioner and breach the Code of Conduct for commissioners". They were referring to his racist, misogynist, and homophobic remarks at a dinner with German businessmen last October and to his flight, last May, on the private jet of a German pro-Russia lobbyist. Oettinger later apologised for his comments and denied wrongdoing on the jet incident.

But the MEPs said “the actions of commissioner Oettinger clearly compromise his ability to achieve this and the appointment would send the wrong message to European citizens who expect holders of high authority to lead by example, and to respect principles of democracy, transparency, diversity, and inclusion.” They added that his racist remarks could harden feeling against minorities, as "prorogued by certain political leaders and parties” in Europe. Dennis de Jong, Benedek Javor, Ana Gomes, Soraya Post, Cecile Kyenge, Jean Lambert, Cornelia Ernst, Ulrike Lunacek and Daniele Viotti signed the anti-Oettinger complaint. Several of the MEPs, who hail from left-wing and green groups, serve on committees that would oversee his new dossier.

One of the signatories, Javor, a Hungarian MEP, told EUobserver he doubted that Juncker would change his mind. But he said the commission president should not treat Thursday’s complaint lightly. "This letter is a last signal to the EU commission that its attitude and inaction with regards to Oettinger's controversial behaviour is unacceptable," he said. A group of NGOs, also on Thursday, piled on the pressure in a separate appeal to Juncker to drop Oettinger’s promotion. The controversy comes amid a broader popularity crisis for EU officials. Juncker himself is in the spotlight for shady tax deals in Luxembourg. His EU predecessor, Jose Manuel Barroso, was recently shamed for becoming a lobbyist for a US bank. The EU’s former competition chief, Neelie Kroes, also received a "reprimand" for lobbying.

Non-hearing hearing
Oettinger will be quizzed on Monday (9 January) in a 90-minute hearing by MEPs from the EU parliament’s budget, budgetary control, and legal affairs committees. MEPs will then file an opinion to the parliament president and group leaders, who will discuss the issue on 12 January. The Oettinger hearing is a softer version of normal procedure. New commissioners usually face a three-hour grilling with a secret vote at the end, but Oettinger will face an "exchange of views” with no vote. Javor, the Hungarian MEP, who originally exposed Oettinger's lobbyist jet trip, said it looked as if the parliament chiefs wanted to give the German politician an easy pass. He said new rules coming in in January would have prevented the soft format. "My feeling is that they [parliament president and group leaders] pushed for a quick and early exchange of views to avoid a comprehensive hearing," the MEP told EUobserver.

Oettinger’s regret
Oettinger, a 63-year old Christian Democrat from Baden-Württemberg, a German region, said in October that Chinese people had “slant eyes” and insulted women and LGBTI people. He has already responded to some pre-hearing MEPs' written questions. He said in one response : "I very much regret that the words used during my speech may have hurt people. This was not my intention." He never sent a letter of apology to the Chinese mission to the EU, but he said he was sorry if his words "gave rise to the impression of disrespect for the people of China". He added that his “firm belief is that diversity is a strength and a core value at the heart of the European project.” He also promised women that they would represent 40 percent of commission managers by 2019.

On the private jet incident, he defended his decision not to declare his trip with the German pro-Russia lobbyist, Klaus Mangold, as a lobbyist “meeting”. He said that under a 2014 commission decision, a lobbyist meeting was defined as a "bilateral encounter organised at the initiative of an organisation or self-employed individual or a member of the commission and/or a member of his/her cabinet to discuss an issue related to policy-making and implementation in the Union.” He said that the Hungarian government organised the plane trip with Mangold, which was not a “meeting” because neither he nor Mangold had requested it.
© The EUobserver

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EU commissioner unfit for role after racist, sexist and homophobic remarks, say NGOs

HR chief Günther Oettinger should be leading by example rather than making divisive remarks, open letter states

6/1/2017- Germany’s EU commissioner Günther Oettinger is unfit to run the human resources portfolio because of his divisive record of racist, sexist and homophobic remarks, rights groups have said. In an open letter to the European Parliament, which will publicly question Oettinger on Monday, NGOs including Oxfam International and Transparency International said Oettinger was not suitable for the new job. Oettinger, previously the digital services commissioner, was named in October by commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker to take on the budget and human resources dossier from Bulgaria’s Kristalina Georgieva after she left for the World Bank. But in early November Oettinger was forced to apologise for referring to Chinese people as “slitty eyes” and making disparaging remarks about women, same-sex marriage and Belgian politicians in a speech.

The open letter said: “Commissioner Oettinger has made racist, sexist and homophobic remarks on several occasions in the past, most recently at a speech he gave in an official capacity in Hamburg on 26 October.” The groups said that at a crucial moment for the EU the human resources commissioner should lead by example and “speak out against racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and transphobia”. “In our view, Commissioner Oettinger is not the right person for this task.” A European Commission spokeswoman, Natasha Bertaud, said it took note of the letter but had no comment to make on Oettinger’s appointment, which became effective on Sunday.

Oettinger’s remarks about Chinese people prompted a scathing response from Beijing and red faces at the Commission. He apologised but said they were meant to give Germany a “wake-up call” over China’s increasing power and a debilitating political correctness at home. The German got into hot water again just days later for accepting a lift to Budapest in a Kremlin lobbyist’s private jet without reporting it under disclosure rules. The commission insisted he broke no ethics rules. For their part, the NGOs said this episode showed “Oettinger is unfit to inspire compliance with existing ethics and transparency rules among commission staff and his peers”.
© AFP

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Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe (with a.o. Ukip) accepted Ł1.2m grant from EU last year

The Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe - which counts Ukip MEPs among its members - received a similar sum in 2015

6/1/2017- Ukip is among a number of eurosceptic parties to have benefited from millions of pounds of funding from the European Parliament, figures show. Among the hand-outs for populist and right-wing political parties represented in Brussels last year was a £1.2 million grant destined for the Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe (ADDE). The group includes more than a dozen Ukip MEPs as well as a member of the German far-right party AFD and other Eurosceptic MEPs from across Europe. The money can be spent on meetings and conferences, advertisements, admin and travel costs and campaigning for European elections. But the money is not allowed to be spent on other campaigns, including referenda and national elections. Scrutiny of the EU grants accepted by Eurosceptic parties follows a leaked audit obtained by Sky News last year that showed Ukip had misspent some of those funds on Brexit.

In 2015 ADDE received €1.24 million (£1.06 million) and a year later the grant increased to €1.4 million (£1.19 million). Ukip was unable to confirm what proportion of ADDE's grant the party spent on its operations in Brussels. A spokesman told The Independent that some of the money had helped support Ukip events in the UK, but only when they are attended by non-Ukip speakers, as well as a conference in Sweden. Fellow far right parties in the Movement for a Europe of Nations and Freedom, which includes Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front National party, also benefited to the tune of €1.54 million (£1.31 million) last year. A Brussels audit leaked in November revealed that Ukip misspent almost half a million pounds of EU funding on trying to win the Brexit vote and elect MPs. The party was deemed to have broken spending rules by diverting taxpayers’ cash to its own polling ahead of the EU referendum and in key target constituencies for last year’s general election.

The leaked audit focused on money provided to ADDE. It found ADDE financed polling in the UK between February and December 2015, judged as “indirect financing of a national political party” and “a referendum campaign”. In the wake of that report, the European Parliament moved to toughen rules on grants including asking political parties to provide bank guarantees before they can access EU money. The European Parliament has also reduced the advance sum of money given to the ADDE for activities in 2017 in case the group misspends the money and is unable to repay it. A spokesperson for the European Parliament said: “The European Parliament is concerned that grants for European political parties are spent for the aims intended and clearly laid down in the rules. “Those aims do not include campaigns for national referenda and elections or the funding of national parties and election candidates.”
© The Independent

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East German landlords 'stop renting to politicians, fearing attacks'

Politicians from Die Linke (the Left Party) and the Alternative for Germany (AfD) are struggling to find homes and office space in the febrile political atmosphere of eastern Germany, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

6/1/2017- Susanne Schaper, a politician for Die Linke in the state parliament in Saxony, hasn’t had a constituency office since October. Neo-Nazis attacked her office in Chemnitz, throwing paint-filled light bulbs through the windows and scrawling “I love national socialism” across the wall. Her landlord cancelled her contract on the property in October 2016. Since then she has not managed to find new premises, but has been rejected ten times. Schaper understands that landlords are afraid their properties could be burnt to the ground, but told the Süddeustche Zeitung (SZ) that it is “a completely wrong signal to send.” The Linke politician is far from the only elected official in eastern Germany who has gone through such an experience. Frauke Petry, the leader of the AfD, struggled to find an apartment in her constituency of Leipzig, with landlords also fearing damage to their properties.

In Saxony, a state on the border with the Czech Republic and Poland, Die Linke recorded 45 attacks on their offices last year, while the AfD reported 32. In the states of former East Germany, Die Linke, which is situated on the far-left of the political mainstream, and the AfD, situated on the far right, are much more popular than in the former West. Die Linke are the major party in the ruling coalition in the state of Thuringia, while in state elections in 2016 the AfD won over 20 percent of the vote in Saxony-Anhalt and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Both parties are controversial due to heir histories and political stances. Die Linke grew out of the SED, the ruling party in totalitarian East Germany. The AfD are strongly anti-refugee. Petry suggested last year that immigrants could be shot if they cross Germany's borders illegally.
© The Local - Germany

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German police seize 100kg of explosives from home of teenager 'plotting far right attack'

The teenager is being held alongside a 24-year-old man suspected of involvement.

6/1/2017- German police seized more than 100kg of explosives from the home of a teenager they suspect of plotting a right-wing terror attack. Officers removed 100kg to 150kg of fireworks and other explosives materials from the home of the 18 year old in Lauterecken, Rhineland-Palatinate, reported AFP. Officers had to evacuate 87 residents from homes near the teenager's residence and seal off the area to traffic as they removed the explosives. Police are investigating whether the teenager was planning an attack in Kaiserslautern with a 24-year-old man from North Rhine-Westphalia. The pair are currently being held by police on suspicion of illegally possessing explosives and preparing to commit an act of serious violence. Police are investigating whether the pair belong to a right-wing organisation. In recent years there has been an increase in support for extremist groups in Germany, according to a report by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution in June 2015. "The intensity of right-wing extremist militancy started in early 2015 and increased steadily – from threats against politicians and journalists to arson attacks on asylum-seeker shelters, and attempted killings," said the report.
© The International Business Times - UK

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Germany reacts to misleading 'Breitbart' New Year's Eve report

The right-wing publication has falsely reported that Arab men set fire to Germany's oldest church while shouting "God is great." Dortmund police described the evening as "rather average to quiet."

6/1/2017- Germany on Friday reacted to an unsubstantiated news report published by American right-wing publication "Breitbart" that claimed a "mob" chanting "God is great" in Arabic had set fire to a Dortmund church on New Year's Eve. Under the headline "Revealed: 1,000-man mob attack police, set Germany's oldest church alight on New Year's Eve," the news site claimed that "more than 1,000 men chanted 'Allahu Akhbar,' launched fireworks at police and set fire to a historic church." However, local newspaper "Ruhr Nachrichten" said that parts of its reporting on New Year's Eve had been taken out of context and distorted to produce "fake news, hate and propaganda." "Breitbart" reported that the men seen in a video posted by "Ruhr Nachrichten" reporter Peter Bandermann had amassed "around the flag of al-Qaeda and 'Islamic State' collaborators, the 'Free Syrian Army.'" However, the flag seen in the video is widely used by various elements of the Syrian opposition, and dates to Syria's independence from French occupation. In the tweet, Bandermann wrote that the Syrians had been celebrating an "armistice in their country."

'Rather average' night
Meanwhile, netting over scaffolding near a historic church in the city had witnessed a small fire due to wayward fireworks. Authorities said the fire had been put out within 12 minutes and did not damage the structure. Police said the evening had passed "rather average to quiet," noting that the number of reported incidents fell sharply compared to last year. Eva Kühne-Hörmann, justice minister of Hesse state, on Friday warned of the consequences disinformation could have in Germany. "The danger is that these stories spread with incredible speed and take on lives of their own," she said. The story published by "Breitbart" comes amid reports that the right-wing publication seeks to expand in Europe, specifically Germany and France, which are preparing for a momentous election year. The publication's influence has expanded since its creation in 2007 after US President-elect Donald Trump nominated Steve Bannon, a former "Breitbart" editor, as his chief strategist.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Is 'racial profiling' illegal? Depends on where you live

Cologne police have been accused of racial profiling after targeting men of North African appearance on New Year's Eve. In the US racial profiling is illegal, but in Germany and the UK the law isn't as clear.

3/1/2017- There is no law in Germany that explicitly prevents a police officer from stopping and checking someone for the way he or she looks. Police in Cologne have drawn some criticism for focusing their attention on men who looked as if they might come from North Africa this past New Year's Eve. They have denied the accusations of racial profiling, even though the practice isn't expressly forbidden in Germany. Racial profiling refers to procedures in which people are subjected to special checks by police or are detained on the basis of their ethnicity. Germany does have an anti-discrimination law. The general law of equal treatment (AGG) states that all people should be treated equally and not be disadvantaged because of their race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation or a disability.

Anti-discrimination law for private interactions
When people feel they have been discriminated against, they can invoke the AGG and present instances where they allege that they were treated unfairly. The burden of proof then lies with the accused - they have to prove that they did not discriminate against the claimant. This law is not applicable in potential racial profiling cases, however, as it covers only interactions between two private parties: for example, between employers and employees. Interactions between the state - represented by police - and an individual do not fall under this law. In general, discrimination is prohibited in the German constitution, the "Grundgesetz," but there is no equivalent to the strict AGG that specifically covers racial profiling by police. In many German states, police are in fact allowed to stop people and check their IDs without providing a specific reason. These "event-unrelated controls" were first introduced in Bavaria in 1996 and were instituted in all but three of Germany's 16 states by 2006. The legality of this legislation, however, was called into question by one court that ruled police cannot stop and ask people for ID based on their skin color.

Driving while black
In the United States, racial profiling has been at the center of heated debates for years. There's even a term for a driver being stopped by officers for no discernible reason other than his or her skin color: driving while black. Going by the letter of the law, racial profiling is illegal in the United States. In June 2003, the US Department of Justice issued its "Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies," banning racial profiling by federal law enforcement officials. Back in February 2001, then-President George W. Bush had spoken out against the practice. "Racial profiling is wrong, and we will end it in America," Bush said in an address to Congress. "By stopping the abuses of a few, we will add to the public confidence our police officers earn and deserve." But since the deaths of black men like Michael Brown or Eric Garner at the hands of police, public confidence in law enforcement has suffered, the law against racial profiling notwithstanding.

Search without suspicion
In the UK, police officers are allowed to search an individual without reasonable suspicion under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. A senior police officer has to authorize the use of this policy in his or her district. Ministry of Justice statistics show that black and Asian people are more likely to be searched under Section 60 than white people are, which is why numerous British activists have been fighting the law for years. They accuse the police of racial profiling. But in January 2016 the UK Supreme Court ruled that Section 60 was in accordance with the law and did not need to be changed.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Germany: Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ is a best-seller for 2016

3/1/2017- The annotated edition of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” sold 85,000 copies in the one year since it was released in print for the first time since World War II. “Hitler, Mein Kampf: A Critical Edition” is in its eighth printing, according to the Spiegel newspaper, which noted that the book topped its best-seller list in April. The 70-year copyright in the German state of Bavaria of the anti-Semitic tract, whose title means “My Struggle,” expired on Jan. 1, 2016, allowing it to be published in the country. The publication was controversial: Some Jewish groups endorsed the annotated edition and others opposed it. The Munich Institute for Contemporary History said it published the book to preempt uncritical and unannotated versions, and that it hoped the new edition would help destroy the book’s cult status.

Its first run of 4,000 sold almost immediately, the German dpa news agency reported. “It turned out that the fear the publication would promote Hitler’s ideology or even make it socially acceptable and give neo-Nazis a new propaganda platform was totally unfounded,” institute director Andreas Wirsching said in a statement to dpa. “To the contrary, the debate about Hitler’s worldview and his approach to propaganda offered a chance to look at the causes and consequences of totalitarian ideologies, at a time in which authoritarian political views and right-wing slogans are gaining ground.” Other editions of “Mein Kampf” remain available for purchase via the internet.
© JTA News.

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German state of Brandenburg may not deport far-right victims

Brandenburg is the first German state to pass a rule forbidding the deportation of asylum seekers who have been victims or witnesses of violent crimes. Authorities hope this could curb the rise in far-right crimes.

4/1/2017- The German state of Brandenburg will not deport asylum seekers if they have been victimized by right-wing violence. Local media reported on Tuesday that Brandenburg's Interior Ministry had asked local authorities to use the leeway available to them to make sure foreigners whose asylum applications had been rejected, but who had been victims of right-wing attacks, could stay in the country. With the decree issued on December 21, the Interior Ministry implemented a resolution Brandenburg's parliament had passed in April. The directive posits that victims of crimes and witnesses to crimes of a certain severity should be allowed to stay in Germany. This includes crimes such as attempted murder, assault, arson and bomb attacks, but also kidnapping, theft, blackmail, public riots and sexual offenses. Asylum seekers who have committed a crime or share responsibility for a violent incident are exempt from the new rule.

Right-wing offenses on the rise
According to local daily "Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten," which first reported on the decree, the eastern state that surrounds Berlin is the only German state with this type of policy. Far right-wing crime against foreigners has been on the rise in Germany over the past two years amid an unprecedented influx of asylum seekers. Eastern Germany, in particular, has long struggled with far-right extremism. According to local TV station rbb, right-wing offenses in Brandenburg increased by 23 percent in 2015.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Austrian defence minister eyes plan to overhaul EU migrant policy

5/1/2017- Austria's defence minister has drafted a plan that would overhaul the European Union's migrant policy by establishing a ceiling for migration and only permitting applications for asylum from outside the EU, Germany's Bild newspaper reported on Thursday. Hans Peter Doskozil, a Social Democrat, told the newspaper the changes were urgently needed to create a more orderly system of legal migration for those entitled to asylum in the bloc. "It's about ending the failed European asylum policies. We must admit to ourselves and be honest that the EU has limited capacity to absorb more migrants. We must stop illegal immigration," Bild quoted the minister as saying. Doskozil will present the plan at a meeting of the Central European Defence Cooperation (CEDC) in February and aims "to promote the plan forcefully in Brussels," his spokesman said.

Bild said Doskozil's plan calls for an EU migration ceiling based on limits set by member states, which would effectively force countries like Germany that do not currently have such a limit to establish one. Doskozil's plan also calls for the creation of asylum centres in countries such as Niger, Jordan and Uzbekistan, potentially using existing facilities of the United Nations Refugee Agency. Migrants who were denied asylum or those who entered the EU illegally but could not be returned to their home countries would be transferred to "protective zones" that were linked to asylum centres, the newspaper said. The ministry spokesman, citing the plan, said those migrants judged to be in need of protection would be transferred to an EU country, depending on the capacity of that country for integrating more migrants. Asylum applications would be evaluated by teams of experts from EU member countries, the spokesman said.

Doskozil told the newspaper that his plan would also benefit potential asylum seekers who needed help but had not been able to apply in the past because they could not afford the passage to Europe. Austria's centrist government tightened migration laws last year amid strong gains for the anti-immigrant Freedom Party (FPO), whose candidate Norbert Hofer made it to a December presidential election run-off. Austria announced a cap on asylum claims of 37,500 last year after taking in 90,000 asylum seekers during Europe's migration crisis in 2015.
© Reuters UK.

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Russia brands anti-racism body SOVA as a foreign agent

5/1/2017- Russia’s staging of the 2018 World Cup has been placed under fresh scrutiny following reports that a Moscow-based non-governmental think tank specialising in monitoring racism and extremism has been blacklisted by the authorities. According to Football Against Racism in Europe, the widely respected network that reports cases of discrimination in European football, the highly authoritative SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis has been dubbed a foreign agent following an unscheduled inspection of its offices. Since 2014 the SOVA Center has published two influential reports in conjunction with Fare on the situation in Russian domestic football and a third is due out soon. In 2015, the two organisations combined to produce a detailed breakdown of discriminatory incidents in Russian football over two years which cited, among other things, 72 displays of neo-Nazi symbols.

Organisers of the World Cup have constantly been at pains to point out that discrimination of all types is taken extremely seriously and that measures are being stepped up to eliminate racist incidents but Piara Powar, Executive Director of Fare, said the latest move, if true since it does not appear to have been corroborated officially, would prove counter-productive. “Through the insights they offer SOVA conducts valuable work for Russian society,” said Powar. “ Without them a lot of extremist activity in Russia would go unrecorded and unknown. “The impact of this move could be felt in football and in particular the World Cup in 2018. Reliable information on the activities of the far-right and nationalist groupings in football will become harder to follow and measures for dealing with it harder to implement.”

According to Fare, Russia’s 2012 law on foreign agents means NGOs face stiff police and governmental scrutiny and Alexander Verkhovsky, Director of the SOVA Centre, was quoted as saying: “According to Russian legislation, organisations are listed as ‘foreign agents’ if they receive foreign funding in any form (which we, of course, receive) and engage in ‘political activity’. The latter is interpreted very broadly. In our case it was suggested that we provide assessment of state bodies’ activity publicly. It is obvious that almost any NGO provides such an assessment. This means that in order to list us as a ‘foreign agent’ some additional arguments are needed. “The inclusion of SOVA in the list of ‘foreign agents’ means a number of unpleasant things for us, including the obligation to indicate this everywhere. Most importantly, we know that some of our potential partners could be simply afraid to work with us. And this may lead to limiting our activity.”
© Inside World Football.

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Irish Times slammed by human rights leader over Alt-right article

The Irish Times has defended its publication of a 'fawning' article on the Alt-right movement.

5/1/2017- The piece by Irish-based US writer Nicholas Pell has caused a storm of controversy after it included a glossary of derogatory terms the white nationalist group uses to describe black people, women and people who may have changed gender. The movement, whose members have been characterised as espousing neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic and anti-feminist views, came to prominence in recent months due to its support of incoming US President Donald Trump. The European Network Against Racism (ENAR) said it had logged 37 complaints about the article via its iReport.ie racist incident reporting system as of 6pm on Thursday.

ENAR Ireland director Shane O’Curry said the level of complaints was “off the charts”. It normally receives just two or three reports per week relating to media racism. “The complaints are a reflection of the public opprobrium the Irish Times has provoked in giving a platform to a blogger with far right sympathies and uncritically furnishing readers with a lexicon devised by the far-right as though it were fact,” he said. Mr O’Curry said ENAR Ireland would be complaining to the newspaper. Amnesty executive director Colm O’Gorman described the article as “dangerous”, “unbelievable” and “just extraordinary”. He was not alone in condemning the piece, which has unleashed a barrage of negative commentary on social media platforms. One Irish Times columnist, Maeve Higgins, tweeted that the article was “gross”.

Mr O’Gorman said it was a huge surprise that the news outlet “would publish what effectively is such a fawning piece about an ideology and a movement which spends most of its time preaching sneering hate”. “I’m sure their own readers and people working in the Irish Times will be making those views very clear to their senior editors,” he said. “For a start, if you want to convey what the ideology of the so-called Alt-right is about, you need to name it for what it is. “It is a white supremacist, misogynistic ultra-conservative ideology that wants to put women and minorities in particular kinds of boxes and that wants to assert some view of white male dominant power as the norm and acceptable order. “It is extraordinary that any serious publication would run a fawning piece that in no way names or challenges those obvious facts. It is bizarre.”

Mr O’Gorman said it was important for news outlets to give voice to very diverse views, but the Alt-right article had crossed a line. “I often find myself passionately disagreeing with things that are written in the Irish Times and the Irish Independent, but they usually give me reason to reflect or to think or there is stuff to engage with there. That is really valuable,” he said. “Nobody wants a media that just spouts a lazy, unchallenging or uncontroversial narrative. Nobody wants that. “But this kind of stuff is just vacuous and worse than that, I actually think it is dangerous to give space to somebody who gives a fawning description of an ideology that is hateful and deeply misogynistic and xenophobic without in any way naming that is grossly irresponsible.”

Shortly after 12.30pm Irish Times Opinion Editor John McManus responded with a piece titled: 'Why we published Nicholas Pell’s article on the Alt-right'. He conceded that there had been "considerable adverse comment" on their decision to publish the piece. He said its purpose was to "stimulate and advance arguments about matters of public interest". "The piece by Nicholas Pell met these criteria. At a minimum it decodes a lot of the Alt-right movement’s language and at best it gives a clear indication of its thinking and ideology." He continued: "The existence of the Alt-right cannot be simply ignored. It was a factor in the US election and is closely associated with figures in the incoming administration. We would argue, moreover, that anybody who seriously opposes it should want the public to know what the Alt-right really stand for.

"Ultimately we trust in the ability of our readers to make their own minds up. We believe they expect to read things from time to time that challenge them. "Some of the language in the piece has clearly offended people which was not our intention. We felt on balance that that leaving it in gave a deeper insight into the nature of the Alt-right movement." Mr Pell, a freelance writer who has previously been published by the Washington Post, LA Weekly and Playboy, defended his article and said he had “no regrets” about the way in which it was written. He said he was “not Alt-right” but some of his views overlap with those of the movement. “Mostly my overlap with them is seeing the establishment on the left and the establishment on the right take one on the nose,” he said.

He said he had voted for Donald Trump and was supportive of so-called “new right” European parties. “I wrote this piece and I sent it off to the Irish Times. I honestly didn’t expect to hear back from them, but they emailed me back straight away and said 'we are going to run with it',” he said. In relation to offensive Alt-right terms listed in the article to describe black people and people with gender identity issues, Mr Pell said these were not terms he would use himself. “All I did was explain what these terms mean. People have been reacting like I created them,” he said. However, he said he would not condemn the use of such terminology. “I am not in the habit of telling people what words they should and shouldn’t say,” he said. Asked if he was worried people might call him a racist, he said: “I don’t give a sh** if people call me that. “I think ‘racism’ is a curse word that leftists use to shut down discussion.”
The original article received a mixed reaction on Twitter.
© The Irish Independent

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France's far-right FN scrambles for election funding

5/1/2017- France's far-right National Front says it is scrambling to find funding to fight its 2017 presidential election campaign, accusing French banks of playing politics by refusing to lend cash. Marine Le Pen's National Front (FN) has borrowed about 6 million euros from her estranged father and party founder Jean-Marie - an ironic twist since she threw him out of the party, but a vital move now with her back to the wall over financing. At the same time, Russia has started legal proceedings to recover a 9 million euro ($9.45 million) loan from the FN after the bank the party borrowed from in 2014 had its licence revoked. The impact this will have on the party's finances is unclear. "We have additional funding to find. We'll find it," Marine Le Pen told reporters. "It's half (of what we need), but we'll find it," she said, adding that she was unfazed by this but without giving further details. "We'll end up finding it. We will find one bank somewhere in the world that is willing to lend us that money," she said.

The FN said in December it needed 27 million euros for presidential and parliamentary election campaigning. The FN received the 9 million euro loan from First Czech-Russian bank to cover other election campaigning costs. But the bank later lost its license to operate. Potential Russian influence over western elections has become a sensitive issue since U.S. intelligence agencies accused their Russian counterparts of seeking to disrupt the U.S. election through hacking and cyber attacks. Moscow has denied the allegations. There is a lot at stake for Le Pen, who has moderated her party's image to broaden its appeal before the spring election and who pollsters say has a good chance of getting through to the runoff vote for the Elysee in May. Asked by journalists recently if her party was knocking on Russian banks' doors this time round too, Le Pen frankly admitted she was scouring all corners for cash. "I'm looking everywhere, including in the United States, including in Britain, absolutely everywhere," she said.

Le Pen said that, unlike mainstream parties, the FN had not managed to secure any loans from French banks. "French banks are playing a political role," she said, suggesting her party was being unjustly marginalised because of its far-right programme. Le Pen has the support of around a quarter of French voters according to opinion polls, but campaign funding for the anti-immigrant and euro-sceptical party has long been an issue. There is a funding ceiling that candidates in French presidential elections cannot overshoot. In 2012 that was 16.85 million euros for candidates taking part in the first round and 21.51 million for those taking part in the second round. FN Secretary General Nicolas Bay shared Le Pen's views on the behaviour of French banks. "They are acting in an anti-democratic way," he told reporters on Wednesday. "Democracy would require banks to lend to all candidates."

Le Pen's party has struck a deal with her father for his mini-party Cotelec to lend it some 6 million euros in tranches, her campaign director David Rachline told Reuters at the end of December. "The deal (on the loan) was concluded months ago," Rachline said, without giving further details. The split between Le Pen senior and his daughter, who took the helm of the party in 2011, ended up with the father being kicked out of the party in August last year. As for the older loan, Russia's state Deposit Insurance Agency told the RNS news agency in late December it had acquired the right to recover the defunct bank's assets. "Before the bank's operating license was revoked, the right to claim under the credit agreement with the French National Front party was ceded to a third party. Currently, this transaction is being disputed in court," RNS quoted the agency as saying.
Reuters in Moscow could not reach the Deposit Insurance Agency for comment.
© Reuters

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French Court Convicts English Soccer Fans Of 'Racist Violence'

4/1/2017- A French court has convicted four British men of racist violence for pushing a black man off the Paris metro as fans chanted, "We're racist, we're racist, and that's the way we like it." The incident, which was caught on video by a bystander, happened in February 2015. In the video, a group of Chelsea football club supporters can be seen repeatedly shoving a black man off a crowded metro train as he tries to board. The video went viral, and as the Two-Way reported, prompted Chelsea to suspend the fans from attending games. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reported that on Tuesday a French judge "convicted four men and handed down suspended prison sentences and fines." She said, "Only two of the men showed up for their trial. They denied uttering racist slurs but said they had been drinking. The others were convicted in absentia."

Eleanor reported that the victim, Souleyman Sylla, said on French radio that bringing the men to justice was important. "They needed to know they hurt a family man and that this incident really traumatized my children," he said. The Guardian reported that Sylla told the court "his life had been 'shaken up' by the violence" and that "he had had to stop work for different periods, did not use the metro for nine months and had been on medication." The Guardian wrote that the four men were ordered to pay Sylla a total of €10,000 (about $10,500), adding: "The French state prosecutor said the trial was a defining moment in anti-racism cases and a 'clear-cut example' of racism: it was rare to have such an unabashed violently racist incident that was brazenly accompanied by the chanting seen in the video footage."

The four men — Joshua Parsons, James Fairbairn, William Simpson and Richard Barklie — have all denied they were in any way racially motivated. Parsons, who admitted he pushed Sylla, said he had been drinking before Chelsea's match against Paris Saint Germain but that the "we're racist, we're racist and that's the way we like it" chant came from a different metro car, the Guardian wrote. Chelsea has since issued lifetime bans for all four men.
© NPR

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Greek asylum claims spike due to backlogs

6/1/2017- Greek asylum applications registered a massive jump late last year, but experts pin it mainly to a backlog. The Greek Asylum Service noted a 593 percent increase of asylum applications in November alone, or around 7,600 claims, compared to 2015's monthly average of 1,100. The spike appears to be broadly linked to a large-scale pre-registration programme launched over the summer and a doubling of staff at the Greek Asylum Service. "We are now seeing the process of all those people trying to get a foothold in the asylum system actually formally being registered", Minos Mouzourakis, a migration expert at the Brussels-based European council on refugees and exiles (Ecre), told EUobserver on Thursday (5 January). Tens of thousands were stranded in Greece after Western Balkan borders were closed early last year. With people no longer able to get further north, many ended up in ad-hoc camps on the mainland, with luckier ones finding accommodation in hotels or in apartments.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) set up some 21,000 accommodation places in apartments, with host families, or in other buildings. Government built camps were also established around the country. Greek authorities, along with the EU asylum agency EASO and the UNHCR, had also carried out a pre-registration exercise in June, with those claims now being processed. "Since people were pre-registered around June and July, it was expected that the first claims register would not start until October and November because people had to be given an appointment. This is kind of a slow process until its full completion", said Mouzourakis. The Malta-based EASO agency drew similar conclusions. "The applications lodged in Greece indeed increased during the course of the year," said EASO spokesperson Jean-Pierre Schembri. Schembri linked the increase to both the large group of candidate-applicants after the June pre-registration campaign and the work of the Greek authorities, along with its various partners.

Double the staff
An increase in staffing at the Greek Asylum Service also likely played a part in the November spike. The service had around 300 staff at the end of 2015, now up to 617. It is also now present on the Greek islands, where people continue landing after crossing from Turkey. Fewer people are arriving following last year's EU-Turkey migrant swap deal, but the islands remain overcrowded and in poor conditions. Frontex, the EU border agency, on Thursday reported a 79 percent drop in arrivals to Greece, when compared to 2015. But around 182,500 migrants, mostly Syrians, Afghans, and Iraqis, still arrived on the Aegean islands and mainland last year. Some 15,687 people seeking asylum are now on the islands, with Greek government structures only able to accommodate just over half.

Winter cold
"Even with recent efforts to improve matters, conditions at many sites on the islands remain very poor", UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards said in a statement. Edwards said conditions on Samos, Chios and Lesvos islands are particularly bad given the cold weather. In Samos, many have no heating. Authorities are still struggling to transfer those on the islands to the mainland. Greek asylum minister Yiannis Mouzalas in December vowed to improve living conditions in the camps on the islands. On Thursday, he told reporters that the government had completed processes to keep migrants and refugees out of the cold. “There are no refugees or migrants living in the cold anymore. We successfully completed the procedures for overwintering”, he said. Mouzalas also reportedly said the vast majority of people now arriving from Turkey to the islands are economic migrants, not from war-torn places like Syria or Iraq. He also said NGOs that don't register with the government ministry by March will be banned from working on the islands.
© The EUobserver

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Greek minister says most migrants no longer are refugees

5/1/2017- Greece's minister for migration says most people entering the country illegally from Turkey no longer are refugees, but economic migrants. Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas said Thursday that the people arriving on Greek islands from are not predominantly from war-torn countries like Syria and Iraq, a shift from the mass arrivals in 2015. Mouzalas praised a 10-month-old deportation deal between the European Union and Turkey that human rights groups have criticized. He claims that 100,000 more migrants and refugees would have been stranded in Greece without the agreement. Greece has reported that about 60,000 people are stranded in the country due to border closures elsewhere in Europe last year. Most live in government-built camps or state-sponsored housing schemes.
© The Associated Press

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Croatia Accused of Illegally Deporting Refugees

After the Jesuit Refugee Service accused the Croatian authorities of illegally deporting refugees, the Croatian Interior Ministry has denied that such expulsions are against international law.

4/1/2017- Croatia has illegally deported refugees to Serbia, breaking international laws, the Jesuit Refugee Service, JRS, in the country claims. The Catholic organisation said it had reported the Croatian Interior Ministry to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, and to the Croatian ombudsman's office, the head of the JRS for south-eastern Europe, Tvrtko Barun, told a TV show on Tuesday. Barun said a number of people who had requested asylum in Croatia had, after a short procedure, been deported to Serbia. “The police ... put them in Jezevo [a holding centre near Zagreb], and then sent them to Serbia. This is a violation of international law,” he said on the show, adding that his service had not received an answer as yet to its complaint from UNHCR or the ombudsman's office.

In a statement, JRS explained that one specific case they were referring to, a person from Afghanistan, had sought asylum in Croatia but was nevertheless deported to Serbia. This was a “direct violation of the right of access to a fair and effective process of obtaining international protection”, it said. Barun said that this was not an isolated case, adding that from 2014 onwards Croatia had offered only 251 people some form of protection according to international law. The Croatian Interior Ministry on Tuesday responded that all migrants who do not seek the country's protection are liable to be deported from Croatia and from the EU. The ministry added that the number of people seeking international protection in Croatia “drastically rose” in 2016, with 2,230 requests compared to 211 requests in 2015.

The UNHCR in late December said that Serbia had also deported refugees, to Bulgaria and Macedonia. Serbia's Labour and Social Rights Minister, Aleksandar Vulin, replied at the time that no one was illegally deported from Serbia, and that everyone who entered the procedure for attaining asylum had a right to remain until the process was over. Hundreds of thousands of refugees crossed the so-called "Balkan route" in 2016, moving through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia towards Western Europe. The route was closed in March 2016.
© Balkan Insight

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UK: Old man attacking Muslim woman in Wales proves growing Islamophobia

A 75-year-old man who racially abused a Muslim woman in veil was fined 258 pounds due to his old age in Swansea, a coastal city in Wales.

5/1/2017- Bert Fahy, a 75-year-old Irish man, appeared at the Swansea Magistrates Court and pleaded guilty to racially and religiously aggravated public order. On Nov. 22, Fahy attacked a Polish Muslim woman who was wearing a veil in Wales. He swore and shouted at the Muslim woman and loudly said: "take that f*****g thing off your face" and "go back to your own country," in the middle of the street. The woman, who has been living in Britain for nine years, followed the man to note his address and then called the police. Representing Fahy at the court, Anthony O'Connell said his client was "fearful" because he couldn't see the woman's eyes, according to local reports. District judge David Parson told to Fahy that only his "clean character" and "age" was saving him from a jail sentence and Fahy was also ordered to pay the Muslim victim a 200 pound compensation.

Speaking about the incident, Aliya Mohammed, Chief Executive Officer at Race Equality First, told Anadolu Agency on Wednesday that hate crimes are a growing problem in the community. "In Swansea we have seen a Polish Muslim woman challenged, intimidated and verbally abused by a 75-year-old man for covering her face. We live in a democracy and women have every right to dress as they choose. "No woman deserves to be harassed for the way that she looks or dresses," she said and added, "Hate crime is a tarnish on the fabric of our society and it is unfortunately a growing problem that we are seeing people from our diverse communities face." There has been a surge in hate crimes across Britain in the wake of June's referendum, which saw Britons vote to exit the EU with immigration as one of the key issues. At its peak, there was a 58 percent increase in hate crimes and police recorded more than 14,000 such crimes in the period running from a week before the vote to mid-August.

The Muslim Council of Britain, the U.K.'s largest Muslim umbrella body, wrote a letter last month to major British leaders to stand in solidarity with Muslim communities and called for political leadership on the worrying growth in Islamophobia in the country. Tell Mama, a British group that monitors anti-Muslim incidents, said more than 100 mosques and Islamic organizations in the last three and a half years were targets of anti-Muslim attacks across the country. In a shock referendum result, Britain voted on June 23 to leave the 28-nation European Union. Pro-Brexit supporters campaigned heavily on immigration and the need to regain control on Britain's borders, in a referendum battle fought against the backdrop of Europe's worst migrant crisis since World War II.

As well as "intolerance," which it said was promoted by the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), the report also noted criticism of Prime Minister David Cameron when he spoke in July 2015 about a "swarm" of migrants trying to reach Britain. In response to increasing violence against Muslims and refugees across the country, The British government plans to ban an extreme right wing group, National Action under the Terrorism Act 2000 - the first time a right-wing organization has been banned under the legislation.
© The Daily Sabah

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UK: Threat from far-right a growing concern, says Yorkshire counter-terror chief

A senior Yorkshire counter-terrorism official has revealed the “growing concern” at the danger posed by far-right groups in the wake of the murder of MP Jo Cox by a neo-Nazi fanatic.

3/1/2017- Detective Superintendent Nik Adams, the North East regional co-ordinator for the Government’s anti-radicalisation Prevent strategy, said there was a “real risk” the threat posed to the public by far-right extremists could grow “if left untapped and unchallenged”. Last month, Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced that National Action, a neo-Nazi and British nationalist youth movement which has been active in Yorkshire, would be the country’s first proscribed far-right group. Det Supt Adams said: “That reflects the growing concern about the risks that extreme right-wing groups pose.” He added: “Historically what you would see from the far-right was public disorder, public protest, that would have an impact on community cohesion, people’s sense of wellbeing and belonging.

“That sort of behaviour over time has become more concerning and when you layer on things like the murder of Jo Cox, for which Thomas Mair was convicted a few weeks ago, who was vocal in his extreme right-wing views, whilst we are not looking at intelligence suggesting we have got a growing number of Thomas Mairs, it is a concern that if left untapped and unchallenged, there is a real risk that could grow and we could see further incidents.” His warning came as details emerged of efforts by Prevent officials to deter a 14-year-old West Yorkshire boy from being drawn into terrorism after he started expressing anti-Muslim views at school. Det Supt Adams said this was the kind of work done by Prevent on a day-to-day basis, though his case differed from that of Mair, the white supremacist terrorist who murdered Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox in Birstall last summer. He said: “When you look at some of the publicity around Thomas Mair, close family, friends, neighbours, were saying he hadn’t displayed any of those behaviours.

“Only they will know if that is completely true, but it is not just young people, everyone can be vulnerable. If you are lost in life and don’t feel you belong, don’t feel you have a valuable stake in society, you are vulnerable to an extremist coming and presenting you with an alternative, presenting you with ‘here is a group of people that will accept you, nurture you, and will encourage you, here are some good things you can do which you will receive praise for’, all of which as far as society is concerned are bad, harmful, dangerous things.” Recent years have seen a series of far-right protests held across Yorkshire, meaning local police have to spend millions of pounds keeping the peace. Between the start of 2012 and October 2016, South Yorkshire Piolice spent £4,672,083 on policing demonstrations by the far-right, with a single demonstration in Rotherham in September 2014 costing just over £1m.

In 2011, the Government’s Prevent strategy was refreshed to make it clear it is about all forms of radicalisation, not just Islamic extremism. Simon Cole, police lead for the Prevent programme, said earlier in the year that while the main focus was Islamist extremism, he said there were big regional variations. Concerns over far-right extremists make up half of all referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the East Midlands. Police want to release more information about the number of referrals they receive “over time”, but say in general the proportion of Islamic vs far-Right referrals received was consistent with the demographic in the local area.
© The Yorkshire Post

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Poland: Radio Maryja Criticized in Tel Aviv University Presentation

6/1/2017- Members of the ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association have participated in a series of meetings in Israel in late December and early January, including the international conference of senior educators on ‘The Shoah and Jewish identity’ held at Yad Vashem Institute (Jerusalem). Dr Rafal Pankowski, a co-founder of ‘NEVER AGAIN’, was invited to give a presentation about the current state of antisemitism and xenophobia in Poland at the Tel Aviv University Kantor Centre for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry headed by Professor Dina Porat. The presentation, followed by a lively discussion, was held at the Tel Aviv University campus on 1 January 2017.

Although the number of Jews in today's Poland is very small, antisemitism is present in the public discourse in various settings: from the football stadium to academia and church. Antisemitism can be seen as a paradigmatic form of prejudice, a popular expression of hostility to liberal democracy in Poland and other countries in the region of Central and Eastern Europe. The linkage between antisemitism ‎and the rapid rise of other types of xenophobia was stressed during the debate. It was illustrated by the spectacular burning of an effigy of a Chasidic Jew during an anti-refugee demonstration organized by the neo-fascist National-Radical Camp (ONR) in Wroclaw in November 2015.

Radio Maryja, the nationalist-Catholic radio station run by the Redemptorist order, has been the single most powerful disseminator of antisemitic discourse for the last 25 years, as documented in numerous reports by the ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association, the Anti-Defamation League, the Council of Europe, and other organizations. According to the US State Department report on Global Antisemitism to the Congress in 2008, ‘Radio Maryja is one of Europe’s most blatantly anti-Semitic media venues.’ Radio Maryja’s founder, Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, himself has frequently engaged in antisemitic speech on air, e.g. he routinely referred to Polish State Television as ‘TELAVision’, suggesting it was dominated by Jews. In one of his broadcasts, Rydzyk openly degraded the Jewish religion: ‘I call it ai vai shalom. It is clearly a religion of trade. It is trade, and not religion.’

Surprisingly, Rydzyk was received as a guest by the current Israeli Ambassador to Warsaw, Anna Azari, in September 2016. The publicized meeting was met with raised eyebrows among Polish civil society and an open letter of protest to the embassy was written by several highly respected figures in the Polish Jewish community, such as Konstanty Gebert, Stanislaw Krajewski, and Joanna Sobolewska-Pyz. The ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association expressed its disappointment, too. Nevertheless, the contacts between the Israeli Embassy and Radio Maryja continued and the embassy was represented at ceremonies organized by Father Rydzyk in his powerbase, the city of Torun. Another meeting took place on 26 November 2016 in the form of a shabbat dinner attended by Father Rydzyk, Ambassador Azari, the Director of the Zionist Organization of America Morton Kleinand, and Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Yehiel Bar (Labour Party).

- ‘I believe it is a moral and political mistake to enter into such unholy alliances with Father Rydzyk’ - said Rafal Pankowski who is an Associate Professor in Sociology at Warsaw’s Collegium Civitas. - ‘It amounts to legitimizing Radio Maryja and its xenophobic ideology.’ ‎He pointed to the fact Radio Maryja continues to promote radically antisemitic views. For example, during a religious ceremony broadcast on Radio Maryja and its associated TV network on 3 September 2016, Father Rydzyk reprimanded the faithful by shouting: ‘This is not a synagogue!’ ‎On 5 October 2016, the regular Radio Maryja commentator Stanislaw Michalkiewicz read his column on air saying: ‘The Jewish circles in Poland are tasked with providing the European Commission with as many proofs as possible that democracy and the rule of law in our unhappy country is threatened by the fascist regime.’‎

On 20 October 2016, Michalkiewicz authored another lengthy antisemitic rant, saying among others: ‘Today the mischevious Jews understood what it is about and they transformed themselves into liberals.’ On 23 November 2016, Radio Maryja aired Michalkiewicz’s weekly antisemitic broadcast in which he alleged ‘the Jewish lobby in Poland demonstrates its racial solidarity with the Ukrainian oligarchs.’ In December 2016, Michalkiewicz toured Polish churches and cultural centres in the US, spreading his antisemitic conspiracy theories. - ‘The levels of far-right activity, hate speech and hate crime in Poland have risen rapidly since the summer of 2015’ - said Rafal Pankowski. - ‘They must be condemned and confronted, not ignored or condoned.’

The ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association is a Warsaw-based anti-racist educational and monitoring organization established in 1996.
© NEVER AGAIN Association.

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Polish racism in a Mazurian kebab shop

It started with a firecracker – and ended with a knife to the stomach. The tragedy in Elk is the result of extreme right-wing propaganda.

4/1/2017- Place: Elk, a sixty-thousand strong city in the Polish region of Mazury. Time: the last night of the year. Action: A bar brawl ended with the death of a twenty-one-year-old Polish man. Sadly, this is nowhere near an isolated occurrence: not so long ago, similar incidents of bar brawls escalating to knifing to death took place in Sopot, Radom and Warsaw. But the Elk stabbing is special nonetheless: it sparked riots lasting for two days now. Lynching almost took place, more than thirty people were arrested, a wave of hatred is sweeping social networks, nationalist organizations urge revenge against the supposed murdered. Why? Simple: the accident took place in front of a kebab shop and foreign workers from the fast food took part in the incident.

Obviously there is no way to justify the actions of the Tunisian suspected of murder – you just do not solve a dispute in front of a kebab shop with a knife (with the possible exception of self-defense). It is up to the court to clarify what happened. Should the kebab shop worker have become yet another foreigner brutally beaten up in Poland? Just another victim of a racist attack like those in Poznan, Wrocław, Łódź, Warsaw, Gdansk? The attacks keep occurring more and more often in just about every larger city in Poland: during the last year, the amount of racially or religiously motivated attacks rose by forty per cent.

Catholic fundamentalism on the rise
It is not difficult to connect the dots and realize the relation of these attacks to the politics of the ruling party Law and Justice (PiS), to the deluded raving of Jarosław Kaczyński about zones of Sharia law in Sweden and to the declared unwillingness to accept refugees from Syria. And, primarily, to Kaczyński’s constant flirting with nationalists, racists and preachers of violence – like the Member of Parliament Paweł Kukiz or the extremist right-wing movement Ruch narodowy. Those who incited the riots feel their violence is being officially blessed by higher echelons. Mariusz Błaszczak, the Minister of Interior, even went as far as to claim that the attitude of people trying to lynch the supposed perpetrator is “perfectly understandable”.

“We’ll kill you, fucking Muslim!” was what George heard while being beaten up and kicked on the ground in Poznan. In Warsaw, the waiter Karim was assaulted with shouts of “Go back home, terrorist!”. It is not even necessary to be a Muslim, it’s enough for Polish nationalists to think you look like one– in Wrześno a twenty-four-year-old man attacked a married couple from India, while in Krakow and Wrocław it was Sikhs who paid for wearing their traditional turbans.

So how about the victims of ethnic tensions on the Polish side? Until the 31st, there was not a single one. Daniel R. is the first. His death tops the wave of hatred driven by nationalists – both those in the streets and those wearing suits and sitting in Parliament’s benches. It is they who are responsible for this death; they are as guilty as the hand that wielded the knife. Finding evidence is as simple as taking a look at the Facebook profiles of extremists like Robert Winnicki, Marek Jakubiak or the already mentioned Kukiz, looking up their media appearances on the topic of Muslims – and reading the statements issued by their organizations regarding the Elk incident. The atmosphere in Poland grows ever thicker – and it is they who carry the blame.

Just who is the threat around here?
I remain convinced that should the incident have involved a Polish entrepreneur running a pizzeria who killed a thief attempting to rob him, the Internet would be abuzz with proud declarations of the right to defend one’s property. But in the Polish chain of social hierarchy, the white bandit seems to have a certain kind of immunity. The excluded excludes another in order to finally get above someone. It raises one’s dignity and it means one can get at least a bit of pride out of his ethnicity, if nothing else. According to the website elk24.pl, the youth rushed into the kebab shop and stole two drinks while his friend threw a firecracker inside. The attacker acted like a typical Polish football hooligan: with a firecracker in hand and a big mouth thanks to his buddy behind his back. But he got really unlucky.

The polish Muslims are a tiny minority, numbering less than thirty thousand. A lot of them are very well integrated – doctors, vets, businessmen or students – and what is important here, there is no religious fundamentalism among them. Which is more than can be said for the Catholic majority. The fairy tales about the islamization of Poland are pure fantasy. The real and much more dangerous threat on Polish streets is the one presented by white nationalists – and not just for the people with darker skin. For gays, lesbians, squatters, feminists and left-wingers of all kinds the encounters with members of this group often end up being rather brutal. The activities of the Polish extreme right are being documented in detail in the Brown Book published by the association “Nigdy Więcej” (Never Again).

Waiting for the real terrorists
There is one more – purely technical – factor to this. By condoning assaults on Muslims we are asking for an actual terrorist attack in our part of Europe – not committed by the common, honest immigrant but his polar opposite: a radicalized religious fundamentalist, produced by our own hatred. How long can we keep tormenting people in the name of our fearful delusions – and without any reprisal or consequence? How long can we keep insulting and attacking our visitors? Destroying their store fronts, spraying hateful inscriptions upon their doors, beating them up in the streets, robbing them? Elk had to call for reinforcements by the police and the army. 2017 is off to a pretty bad start.
Originally published on Krytyka Polityczna. Translated by Michal Chmela.
© Political Critique

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Poland: Poll shows Majority of Poles do not want refugees

3/1/2017- A total of 52 percent of Poles do not want Poland to accept refugees from war-torn countries, a poll by CBOS shows. Meanwhile, 40 percent of those polled believe Poland should accept refugees, but only temporarily, until they are able to go back home. Only four percent claim the Polish government should allow refugees to settle in Poland. Two thirds of those polled said Poland should not accept refugees coming to the EU from the Middle East and Africa, but 58 percent said Poland should accept refugees from the war-torn regions of eastern Ukraine. The authors of the poll said that it was conducted in the first half of December, before a Polish driver was shot and killed in recent terror attack at a Christmas market in Berlin.
© The News - Poland

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Slovakia: Police investigate far-right extremist Magát

The supporter of Adolf Hitler has had several incidents with police.

3/1/2017- The police are investigating statements made by far-right extremist Marián Magát, who openly supports Adolf Hitler and Anti-Semitism and denies the Holocaust, the Aktuality.sk website reported. “We can confirm that Marián M. is accused of Holocaust denial and approval of crimes committed by a political regime,” spokesperson for the Žilina police, Jana Balogová confirmed to Aktuality.sk. She failed however to specify which statements he is to be prosecuted for. Magát, who has organised protests against Islam and the EU, co-founded the extremist paramilitary group Vzdor Kysuce and ran for the far-right People’s Party – Our Slovakia (ĽSNS) in the March 2016 elections, said he does not deny the existence of death camps as they certainly were established. He also does not deny that people were dying there, as he said in a video published on a social network.

Magát has had several incidents with the police. Last summer, for example, he was invited to a hearing concerning the incident at one of the protests he organised, during which extremists tore the EU flag. The police also dealt with him for his pre-election banner on which he was threatening asocial people and political thieves with labour camps, Aktuality.sk wrote. In addition, the Czech police accused Magát of inciting hatred against a certain group of people in the summer of 2015 . He was detained during his anti-Semitic speech at the protest against immigrants that took place in Prague, the website reported. Magát also faces charges for unauthorised arms distribution.
© The Slovak Spectator.

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Slovakia bans train patrols by far-right party

1/1/2017- Train and railway station patrols set up by a far-right parliamentary party are illegal in Slovakia as of Sunday. The People’s Party Our Slovakia launched the unarmed patrols in April following a violent incident on a passenger train, claiming the state was unable to keep people safe. After efforts by the state railway company to ban the patrols had failed, lawmakers voted in October to outlaw them. The far-right populists entered Slovakia’s parliament in March 2016 with 14 lawmakers in the 150-strong chamber. Their leader, Marian Kotleba, is known for his support of the wartime Nazi puppet Slovak State. Kotleba’s party is popular with young voters, according to a study released in December by the Bratislava-based Institute for Public Affairs.
© The Associated Press

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Italy to step up deportations after migrant death protest

Italy on Wednesday pledged to step up deportations of migrants whose asylum applications have been rejected, following a riot in a northern Italian reception centre which ignited political debate.

4/1/2017- The country has been on the frontline of migrant arrivals from across the Mediterranean, and in recent years has struggled to provide accommodation for the thousands of newcomers. "We have saved many lives but we cannot accept rule-breaking. We need to speed up deportations," Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano, the country's former interior minister, said in an interview with La Stampa daily. He was "working to tie up agreements which will reduce arrivals and prevent departures" from the coast of North Africa, he said after a record 181,000 people were rescued from the Mediterranean and brought to safety in Italy in 2016. Clashes broke out over living conditions in the Cona migrant centre in the Veneto region following the death of a 25-year-old woman of a blood clot on Monday.

An investigation has been opened into the death of the woman, named by Italian media as Ivory Coast native Sandrine Bakayoko, amid reports that workers at the centre waited several hours before calling an ambulance. During the protests, asylum seekers set fire to furniture and objects inside the facility, and cut electricity. Italian media reported that 25 staff members had to barricade themselves inside a room overnight, though no injuries were reported. A parliamentary delegation had visited the centre last November, where over 500 migrants live in the former military base.

The MPs presented a report to the Interior Ministry at the time denouncing "serious structural deficiencies", Republica reported. One member of the delegation, Nicola Fratoianni, condemned the poor living conditions including lack of water and light, and and said the centre had been a "ticking timebomb". There had been protests in early 2016, when a small group protested about poor hygiene and sanitary conditions. And a peaceful sit-in was held in August, to protest long waiting times for asylum decisions. Over 1,400 people were housed in the space originally intended for just 15. On Wednesday, 100 people were transferred from the Cona centre to Bologna, where they were destined for other facilities. They were met by a small group of Italian demonstrators holding banners reading: "Solidarity with those who revolt".

Political debate
The violence at the centre was condemned by politicians from all of Italy's main parties, with far-right leader Matteo Salvini taking advantage of the incident to call for support. "When I'm in government, there will be mass expulsions, centre closures, and the navy ships will send people back after saving them," the head of the Northern League wrote on Facebook. "Enough! 2017 will be the year of sending them back." MP Marietta Tidei of the Democratic Party responded to Salvini's comments, saying that while the violence at the centre should be condemned, Italians should reject "the reprehensible exploitation of Matteo Salvini, always ready to fuel a dangerous climate of migrant hatred". There were also renewed calls from organizations which work with migrants to restructure the reception centre system, because the so-called 'maxi-centres' are unmanageable.

According to the latest government figures, 175,485 migrants currently live on Italian territory, spread out between reception centres, 'hotspots', and migrant and refugee centres. A total of 14,669 of those live in temporary accommodation centres (CPA), of which there are seven in Italy, including the one in Cona. These centres are only designed for migrants to live in for a short period, however the average time spent there has increased throughout 2016, particularly since neighbouring France, Austria and Switzerland closed their Italian borders, making it impossible for many migrants to make their planned journeys on to northern Europe.
© The Local - Italy

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Italian policeman injured in far-right bookshop blast

1/1/2017- A police explosives expert was seriously injured on Sunday when a device placed outside a far-right bookshop in the central Italian city of Florence blew up, police said.
The officer suffered serious injuries to a hand and an eye, city police chief Alberto Initmi told RaiNews24 television. Police called in an explosives team after a patrol spotted a suspicious package outside the bookshop, which has ties to a far-right group called Casa Pound. As the experts approached the package, the blast occurred, said investigators cited by the Italian news agency AGI. The device had been fitted with a timer, they added. Casa Pound first emerged in Rome in 2003. The movement now has several hundred members, who stage protests against the European Union (EU) and immigration.
© The Local - Italy

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Headlines 30 December, 2016

Russian Justice Ministry Blacklists Prominent Anti-Racism Research Center

30/12/2016- Russia’s Justice Ministry has added another prominent NGO to the federal government’s list of “foreign agents.” According to an official announcement on the ministry’s website, the SOVA Center, a think tank that conducts sociological research primarily on nationalism, xenophobia, and racism in Russia, is the latest organization to be blacklisted. Federal officials have said only that the SOVA Center was declared a “foreign agent” after an unscheduled inspection of its offices, without offering any further details. Russia’s 2012 law on foreign agents requires NGOs that receive funding from abroad and engage in loosely defined political activity to register as “foreign agents,” incurring additional, often crippling police scrutiny. Earlier this year, the Justice Ministry also blacklisted the Levada Center, one of Russia's three largest national polling agencies, and the only pollster widely viewed as independent. The Levada Center is currently contesting this decision in Russian courts. The SOVA Center was first established in 2002 by human rights activists from the Moscow Helsinki Group and “Panorama” Center.
© The Moscow Times.

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Finnish neo-Nazi jailed after death of man he attacked

30/12/2016- A Finnish member of a neo-Nazi group was sentenced on Friday to two years in jail after the death of a 28-year-old man he had assaulted during a demonstration in Helsinki. The Finnish national had stopped in front of the group in September and spat on the ground. A member of the group, Jesse Torniainen, kicked the man in the chest and he fell to the ground and hit his head. Helsinki district court heard the man spent the following days in hospital but then left against the advice of doctors and used narcotics. He died six days after the assault. Torniainen admitted assault but denied he had caused the man's death. The court dropped charges of aggravated manslaughter, concluding it was unclear whether the man's own actions had contributed to his death. The prosecutor said she would likely appeal the verdict. Torniainen, 26, is a member of the Nordic Resistance Movement, a far-right group the Finnish intelligence service says aims to create a national socialist state. Police have said they will file a lawsuit to shut down the movement. Anti-immigrant sentiment has been on the rise in Finland, a country of 5.5 million where about 32,000 migrants and refugees arrived last year.
© Reuters

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EU legitimacy in question

Referendums are dangerous for the EU. In recent years, almost all popular votes on EU matters ended up with the same answer: No.

30/12/2016- The vote with the most far-reaching consequences was Britain's EU membership referendum on 23 June, when 51.9 percent of voters chose the most radical option: leaving the Union. Only weeks before, in April, 61.1 percent of voters in a Dutch referendum had rejected an EU-Ukraine association agreement, casting doubts on the bloc's strategy to stabilise the war-torn country. These two referendums in 2016 followed one in Denmark, at the end of 2015, when a closer cooperation with other EU countries in some justice and home affairs issues was dismissed by 53 percent of voters. "I'm fundamentally not a big friend of referendums," European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said in June, days before the UK vote. "One always breaks out in a sweat when someone dares to ask the opinion of the people," he told Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Admittedly people do not always vote only on the question asked in a referendum, and domestic politics often has an influence on their final decision.

The 'last‑chance commission'
Juncker's lack of confidence in the public's judgement seems to be reciprocated. According to the latest Eurobarometer survey - the regular EU study of public opinion - conducted last spring and published in July, just 33 percent of Europeans said they had trust in the European Union and 34 percent had a positive image. The level of trust was slightly above the 31 percent low reached in 2013-2014, just before Juncker became commission chief, but down from 40 percent in spring 2015. "This will be the last‑chance commission," Juncker warned in 2014. "Either we will succeed in bringing our citizens closer to Europe, or we will fail." Two years later, the EU is about to lose a member and anti-EU movements are gaining ground in several countries.

Dutch and French far-right leaders, Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen, are leading in opinion polls ahead of elections next year. And in Austria, far-right candidate Norbert Hofer narrowly missed the presidency in a rerun election in December. In countries such as Poland and Hungary, elected leaders have pursued programmes putting them in a collision course with EU policies or values, but they stop short of running for the EU exit door. Even in Germany, immune from large far-right movements since World War II, the year 2016 has seen the rise of the anti-migrant and anti-EU Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Launched in 2013, the AfD won a symbolic victory in September when it finished second in the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern elections, ahead of chancellor Merkel's CDU in her own region.

From democratic to legitimacy deficit
In 2016, opposition to policies like the eurozone's austerity push developed into a broader critique of the EU's role in issues, including the refugee crisis and free trade. Another referendum was organised in Hungary against the EU's policy of sharing asylum seekers. Only 44 percent of voters participated, but 98 percent of the valid votes cast rejected the idea that the EU should impose mandatory quotas. Even the EU's trade policy, of which the commission has led the charge for decades, is under growing criticism. France, a founding member of the Union, called for more national involvement. The ultimate proof of contention regarding the EU's role came when the Belgian region of Wallonia held up the signing of an EU-Canada trade deal. Canada ultimately had to negotiate directly with Wallonia to ensure its concerns were taken into account. After the much talked about democratic deficit of the 1990s and 2000s, the EU seems now to suffer from a legitimacy deficit.

Legitimacy from common benefit
"Historically, the EU drew its legitimacy from common benefit. It brought more prosperity, affluence, accountability. The benefits outweighed the costs," Jiri Priban, director of the Centre of Law and Society at Cardiff University, told EUobserver. But with time, the EU has become a more political project and "the question of its legitimacy will hit at every new step", he noted. "Every law expresses a certain public spirit," he said. But now, "the EU is turning into a machinery of decision-making and it is losing its spirit and is producing ghosts of the past, like nationalism, ethnic hatred and authoritarianism". The EU, faced with what Juncker has called "a polycrisis" - from economic crisis to refugee crisis - is also more fragile than other levels of powers. "Europe is the weakest level of power of all, because European identity is so weak," Herman van Rompuy, a former European Council president, said during a conference in Brussels in November. He said that when a problem arises, "we switch from a functional question to an existential question", thus slowing action and encouraging anti-EU forces.

'People respect leadership'
For Priban, EU democracy was threatened at national level by austerity policies and constraints on governments. To regain legitimacy with European citizens, the EU needs a new deal to create investments and jobs and recreate the common benefit narrative. Van Rompuy also explained that EU leaders were neither decisive enough nor protective enough of their citizens. "The lack of trust is so profound that we cannot expect to overcome it in a few years," he said, adding that the EU needed to show better leadership and give concrete results on the economy, security or migration. "People respect leadership even if they don't agree," the former EU leader said.

This story was first published in EUobserver's Europe in Review 2016 magazine. You can download a free PDF version of the magazine here.
© The EUobserver

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The European Elections to Watch In 2017

The continent faces several key flashpoints that will help decide its future.

30/12/2016- It might feel like Europe has been through the wringer in 2016, but really it’s only just beginning. 2017 brings elections that will be critical—not only for the future of their countries but for the continent as a whole. Here are the five crucial polls to watch out for. 

March: Dutch Parliamentary Election
This is the first of several flashpoints in western Europe’s struggle against hard-right populism. The far-right Freedom Party, led by bleach-blond anti-Islam campaigner Geert Wilders, is vying for first place in the polls with Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right People’s Party. If the polls are right (and nowadays that “if” has to do a lot more work than it used to) it’s going to be very close, and could end with Wilders’ party winning (albeit probably needing to find coalition partners) or coming a close second, meaning there’s a possibility Wilders might end up in coalition with another party.

Most dramatic outcome: A solid Wilders win that allows him to form a government, which would see crackdowns on the Netherlands’ Muslim population at home, and a dramatically Euroskeptic turn abroad.
Least dramatic outcome: A solid Rutte win where he doesn’t need Wilders as a partner (the performance of Rutte’s current partner, the Labor party, will be important here). Rutte is a pro-European moderate of calm temperament and his continued presence at the helm would be a relief for the EU establishment.

April: Serbian Presidential Election
The Serbian presidency is a largely ceremonial position. But any national election in the country, which is an EU candidate state that also faces significant attempts from Russia to wield influence, could be interesting in geopolitical terms. The incumbent, Tomislav Nikolic, is a nationalist who has expressed strong pro-Russian views. He is also a former member of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, whose leader—the country’s Prime Minister, Aleksander Vučić—treads a path between appeasing the nationalist right and backing EU membership.

Most dramatic scenario: Vojislav Seselj, Serbian Radical Party leader and a former close ally of Slobodan Milosevic, is standing, following an acquittal on war crimes charges relating to the 1990s Balkan conflicts in the Hague earlier this year. However, his party took only 8 percent of the national vote in the recent parliamentary elections.
Least dramatic scenario: A second term for Nikolic would mean more of the same: shaky progress toward EU accession, balanced with occasional pro-Russian maneuvers.

April and May: French Presidential Election
Probably Europe’s most exciting election of the year. There are likely to be at least four serious challengers in the race: Francois Fillon, the winner of this year’s center-right primary and a fan of Britain’s Margaret Thatcher; Marine Le Pen, who has led her far-right National Front out of the wilderness and within touching distance of the presidency with a blend of anti-immigrant rhetoric and economic populism; Emmanuel Macron, the former economy minister now running as an independent with a Tony Blair-esque, reforming, centrist platform; and whoever wins the primary for the center-left socialists. Parliamentary elections will then take place in June.

Most dramatic outcomes: If Le Pen wins, the EU will be approaching real crisis—the hard-right candidate is pro-Russia and vehemently anti-Brussels. But a Macron win (unlikely but possible) would be seismic in its own way: a victory for centrism at a time when reports of its death are everywhere.
Least dramatic outcomes: Pollsters say the most likely scenario is a face-off between Fillon and Le Pen in the second round, leading to a comfortable Fillon victory. There’s also the slightest of possibilities that the unpopular Socialist party, currently in power, might persuade voters to give it another chance with a new candidate, meaning four years of continuity.

September: Norwegian Parliamentary Election
A classic continental coalition battle, this one. The incumbent government is a minority administration comprised of ministers from two parties—the populist Progress Party and the center-right Conservatives (led by Prime Minister Erna Solberg)—and propped up by two more: the Liberal Party and the Christian Democratic Party. An alliance of left-wing parties, led by Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre, will battle with it for power.

Most dramatic outcome: If the Christian Democrats switch support and the left puts in a decent electoral performance, the government could change.
Least dramatic outcome: Rising oil prices would boost the economy, and could keep the government sitting pretty.

Before October 23: German Parliamentary Election
The country has its own hard-right populists on the rise, but in reality the German election to the Bundestag could well end up being 2017’s least dramatic vote. Chancellor Angela Merkel, arguably Europe’s most powerful politician, has faced searing attacks from her own party’s right flank, and from the hard-right populist Alternative for Germany (AFD), formed only in 2013 and already polling between 10 and 15 percent. But while that’s sparked excitable headlines, Merkel still commands about 35 percent support: 10 percent ahead of her center-left coalition partners the Social Democrats (SPD), and 20 points ahead of the far right.

Most dramatic outcome: Any result that saw Merkel toppled would send shockwaves through Europe.
Least dramatic outcome: Merkel’s position is far stronger than the coverage suggests, especially as the AFD would struggle to form a coalition with anyone, even if it performed better than expected. Europe’s great survivor could well survive once again.
© Newsweek Europe

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Netherlands: Police suspect arson at mosque fire

29/12/2016- A fire broke out at a planned mosque building in the city of Culemborg in central Netherlands on Wednesday. The Dutch police and Muslim community believe that the fire was deliberately started by an arsonist, media sources said. The fire reportedly started at the pool and spread to the whole building, leading to substantial damages. The building was known to contain asbestos, while electrical and gas connections were also cut at the night of the incident. The planned mosque building was purchased by the Association of Islamic Communities in Culemborg last April. Hasan Barzizaoua, chairman of the association, said that he hoped the fire was not a targeted action, because the current mosque never had problems in Culemborg over the past twenty years. However, he noted that he could not think of another cause for the fire. Police immediately launched an investigation into the incident.

Islamophobia has been on the rise in Netherlands in recent years, reports suggest. Muslims have been categorically targeted and with little to no exemplary punishment handed down to the perpetrators. According to the islamophobia report of the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), 142 cases of verbal and physical assaults were reported last year in Netherlands, but only 46 percent of these cases were punished. The report also revealed that 19 mosques in Netherlands were attacked a total of 27 times in 2015.
© The Daily Sabah

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Croatian Activists Target Fascist Slogan Near WWII Camp

Police questioned youth activists who covered up a controversial plaque which includes a fascist slogan near the Croatian WWII concentration camp in Jasenovac.

29/12/2016- Three activists from the Zagreb-based Youth Initiative for Human Rights NGO were taken to the police station in the town of Novska in central Croatia for questioning on Thursday after they pasted a poster over the plaque with the fascist slogan in the nearby municipality of Jasenovac, not far from the former concentration camp. The NGO said that the police then forwarded the case to the state attorney’s office, which will decide whether to file a criminal report about the alleged vandalism of a memorial. The plaque, commemorating 11 soldiers who died during the 1990s war, includes the ‘Za dom spremni’ (‘Ready for the Home(land)’) slogan, which was used by the World War II Croatian fascist Ustasa movement, which also ran the nearby concentration camp in Jasenovac, where over 83,000 Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascists were killed. The slogan is also part of the legally-registered coat of arms of the Croatian Defence Forces, which fought in the 1990s war and whose veterans installed the plaque.

The Youth Initiative for Human Rights said in a statement that the slogan represents “a manifestation of a racist ideology and glorifies the fascist regime of the NDH [the Nazi-aligned Independent State of Croatia]”. In a letter on the poster that the activists pasted over on the plaque, they said that Croatia respects human rights and that its institutions are based upon democratic principles. “Our republic is established in accordance with these values and is clearly defined against any and all non-democratic, non-free, racist, fascist and totalitarian attempts,” the letter said. It also accused the Croatian Defence Forces veterans’ association which put up the plaque of mocking the victims of fascism and flouting democratic principles. “With this plaque of yours, you have, by emphasising symbols of hatred, stood against the basic postulates of our shared country. Furthermore, perhaps unintentionally, you have had used the killed [soldiers] by using their deaths for the promotion of efforts that oppose the constitutional principles of Croatia,” it said.

After Croatian weekly newspaper Novosti reported about the plaque in December, it was condemned in both Croatia and Serbia, with critics saying its proximity to the former concentration camp was an insult to the victims of the Ustasa regime. A parliamentary committee discussed the issue and also found that it insulted the victims and that “necessary actions need to be carried out for the removal of the plaque”, but no more was done. The Croatian Defence Forces were founded in 1991 at the beginning of the war in Croatia as a paramilitary unit and the military wing of the far-right Croatian Party of Rights, then integrated into the regular Croatian Army in 1992.
© Balkan Insight

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Czech Republic to fight 'fake news' with specialist unit

Centre will tackle interference in upcoming election as fears grow over propaganda websites allegedly linked to Russia

28/12/2016- The Czech government is to set up a specialist “anti-fake news” unit as officials attempt to tackle falsehoods, predominantly about migrants, which they claim are spread by websites supported by the government of Russian president Vladimir Putin. The new unit will aim to counteract interference in the Czech Republic’s forthcoming general election, to be held in October, amid polling evidence that online disinformation is influencing public opinion and threatening to destabilise the country’s democratic system, established after the fall of communism in 1989. Although definite links are hard to prove, officials say they are convinced the Kremlin is behind about 40 Czech-language websites presenting radical views, conspiracy theories and inaccurate reports. The officials believe the objective is to transform the Czech Republic’s current status as a western-aligned country.

“The key goal of Russian propaganda in the Czech Republic is to sow doubts into the minds of the people that democracy is the best system to organise a country, to build negative images of the European Union and Nato, and [to] discourage people from participation in the democratic processes,” Tomáš Prouza, the Czech government’s state secretary for European affairs, told the Guardian. Part of the interior ministry, the new Centre Against Terrorism and Hybrid Threats will begin operating on 1 January with 20 full-time specialists. They will be based in the building that was used as an interrogation centre by the former communist regime’s secret police during the cold war, when the former Czechoslovakia was a close ally of the Soviet Union.

The specialists will scrutinise disinformation and attempt to counter it, via a dedicated Twitter account and a new section of the interior ministry website devoted to communicating the government viewpoint. The centre will also train civil servants to avoid blackmail and resist foreign lobbying. “Ensuring free and fair elections is a basic aim,” said a senior official in the unit, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We will coordinate preparation to minimise the dangers to our elections. We will watch closely what happens in France [which votes for a new president in the spring] and Germany [where a general election is expected in September] and see what we can learn in the Czech Republic.” The Czech fears echo those voiced by Germany’s domestic intelligence chief that Russia-linked “fake news” sites could interfere with its election. Claims have also been made of Russian cyber activity aimed at influencing last month’s US presidential election in favour of Donald Trump.

“They will undoubtedly try to influence the upcoming elections by discouraging people who would most probably vote for the democratic parties from voting,” said Prouza. In autumn’s election, voters will be deciding the membership of the Czech Republic’s chamber of deputies and the make-up of its next government. The country is currently governed by a three-party coalition consisting of prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka’s Social Democrats, Christian Democrats and ANO, a populist party led by a wealthy businessman, Andrej Babis. ANO is widely considered the favourite to emerge as the biggest party, with Babis, a Euro-sceptic, tipped to become prime minister. The new “anti-fake news” centre has drawn accusations that it will result in censorship, spying and a crackdown on free speech – a charge rebutted by its supervisors.

“The disinformation campaigns are trying to radicalise society and undermine its psyche. And to a certain degree it’s working. You can see it,” said the anonymous official. “The parties and forces being supported in these campaigns aren’t constructive or democratic. They are critical of the democratic system and the elite. Often they don’t say what they mean, but for the first time democracy itself is being blamed.” Online agitation in the Czech Republic has been particularly influential during the refugee crisis, coinciding with a spate of anti-Islam rallies typically attended by protesters carrying placards denouncing the EU, Nato and Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor. It has fuelled public fears of terrorism and of an influx of people from the Middle East, even though the Czech Republic has only a tiny Muslim population and has been largely unaffected by the refugee crisis.

When a crowd wielding red cards booed the president, Milos Zeman for being too close to Moscow at a Prague ceremony in November 2014, marking the 25th anniversary of Czechoslovakia’s anti-communist Velvet Revolution, the website  AE News claimed – citing flimsy evidence – that Zeman had been the victim of a Ukraine-style “Maidan” revolt hatched by the US embassy. Efforts to uncover the origins of sites such as AE News have failed. “It is so well secured that Czech journalists have not been able to find out who is behind it,” said Jakub Janda, deputy director of the Prague-based European Values thinktank, which runs a programme called Kremlin Watch. But intelligence officials and seasoned politicians have little doubt. They blame elements among the Czech Republic’s estimated 45,000-strong Russian community and Russia’s sprawling Prague embassy – a legacy of the cold war.

Moscow provides the “most active foreign intelligence services” on Czech soil, according to the Czech Republic’s domestic security agency, BIS, whose most recent annual report describes Russian espionage activities as geared towards “fabricating disinformation” and promoting the motto that “everybody is lying”. The agency has complained about the number of Russian diplomats in the Czech Republic – estimated at between 130 and 150, double the number of Americans present – and says many are operating as undercover spies. Ivan Gabal, an independent MP and deputy chairman of the parliamentary defence committee, advocates expelling Russian citizens convicted of peddling fake news and ejecting Moscow’s diplomats suspected of spying.

“This country strived for 20 years after communism to create an open, democratic society that’s part of the west, and now we have achieved a recognised place in the free world, we’re not going to give it up for some KGB guy,” he said, referring to Putin’s past career in the Soviet intelligence services. “He is looking to break Europe up into elementary member states that compete with each other for Russian resources and influence. The risk is great. They feel we still belong to their sphere of influence. We are a bigger threat to them than Britain, because we’ve only been democratic for 25 years and we’re proof that it’s possible to transition from totalitarianism to an open society.”
© The Guardian

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France: Estate agent advertises flat with 'no blacks' allowed

Levallois-Perret say a 'naive' staff member had copied out what a homeowner had said 'without knowing'

28/12/2016- A Parisian estate agency has been accused of racism after it specified “no blacks” on a rental advert. Laforêt advertised for the apartment in the Levallois-Perret suburb of the capital but warned that the renter must be a French national and “no blacks” were allowed. A potential renter spotted the advert in late November and shared it on Twitter, asking if it was legal. When he received little response, he tweeted it again on Boxing Day at several leading French human rights groups, journalists and politicians asking “what kind of criteria is that?” The estate agency apologised for the advert saying a “naïve” employee, who no longer works at the company, had simply transcribed what the homeowner said “without knowing”.

Agency head Laurent Balestra told France Info that the incident had “shocked” him and it was the homeowner who was “racist”. He said “When owners are racist, I give my staff instructions not to take their bookings. You cannot afford racism in this area”. It comes amid rising tensions in France following several years terror attacks by Isis militants in Paris and Nice. Far-right political parties, such as the FroThe FN’s leader, Marine Le Pen, looks set to make it into the run-off for next year’s presidential election as the ruling Socialist nt National, have been gaining significant ground in the polls while calling for an end to immigration and a referendum on EU membership. party looks set to falter following the unpopular tenure of Francois Hollande.

The country was embroiled in a xenophobia row after several southern towns and cities banned Burkinis from beaches following the Nice terror attack in July where 84 people were killed by lorry which ploughed into the Bastille Day crowd. The French Supreme Court later ruled it was a violation of Muslim women’s fundamental liberties. But former President Nicolas Sarkozy poured fuel on the fire by promising to ban burkinis if he was returned to office as the Republicans’ presidential nominee for 2017 – but later lost to his former deputy Francois Fillon.
© The Independent

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Germany: Crimes against refugee centers down slightly in 2016

Just over 900 offenses have been committed against refugee homes in Germany in 2016, reflecting a 10 percent drop on last year. But some parliamentarians say the figures are still "frighteningly high."

28/12/2016- Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) said up until December 27, out of the 921 reported offenses against refugee homes, 857 of them had a suspected far-right background. That compares to a total of 1,031 offenses in 2015, 923 of which were suspected of having a far-right background. Investigators said most of the crimes were for damage to property including graffiti. But more than 150 cases involved violence against migrants. The figures revealed 66 arson attacks, down by almost a third on 2015, and four explosions, the number of which had halved compared to last year.

'One frighteningly high number'
Despite the decrease, members of the German parliament have urged more government action against extremist political groups who often carry out the attacks, at a rate that is almost four times higher than in 2014. "That is one frighteningly high number," warned Eva Högl, the Social Democrat's (SPD) deputy parliamentary group leader and domestic security expert, in an interview with "Welt." "The number of attacks in 2016 is striking," Irene Mihalic of the Green party told "Welt". "After such a terrible attack as one on the Christmas market in Berlin, we have a great responsibility in what we say publicly." The number of migrants arriving in Germany has fallen significantly since its peak in 2015. Around 305,000 had registered for asylum in Germany by the end of November, compared to 890,000 last year, according to German government figures.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Germany: Cologne Far right New Year's Eve protest banned by police

Neo-Nazi group NPD planned march on anniversary of widespread sex attacks.

28/12/2016- Cologne police have banned a protest by the neo-Nazi NPD (National Democratic Party), which they intended to mark the anniversary of the mass sex attacks in Cologne on New Year's Eve. Police said in a statement the ban was imposed because of a "serious security threat, which cannot be averted otherwise". The protest had been planned to take place in front of the city's cathedral, where during 2015 New Year's Eve celebrations, hundreds of women were attacked and sexually assaulted by men described as being of Arab or North African appearance. The attacks saw a wave of opposition to Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policies, after more than a million asylum seekers and immigrants entered the country in 2015. Anti-immigrant group Pegida held a rally outside Cologne cathedral days after the attacks in a bid to whip up support, which was met by a counter protest by left wing groups.

Police have drafted in thousands of extra officers and boosted security measures ahead of this year's New Year's eve celebrations. Founded by German far right factions in the 1960s, the NPD party is known for its affiliation with skinhead groups and the extreme right supporters alleged to be behind attacks on refugee centres. German authorities have made several attempts to ban the group, with a bid in 2003 failing after it was revealed the group had been infiltrated by security services. It has lost support in recent years as the anti-immigrant AfD party has grown in popularity, losing its only state parliament seat in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in regional elections in September.
© The International Business Times - UK

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Hungary: The Desperate Suffering Of Refugees

Mustafa and his family are waiting in a Hungarian refugee centre when I meet them. With his mother, his uncle and his siblings, he is hoping to be granted permission to cross the border into Austria.
By Jenny Brown


27/12/2016- "It's dark the other side of the border," Mustafa tells me. He's not talking about a literal darkness, but rather the darkness of the unknown that awaits them. It has been more than nine months since he and his family left their home in Iran. Originally from Afghanistan, Mustafa's parents left the country before he was born, forced out by decades-old instability and conflict. The situation for many Afghan refugees in Iran has become untenable and the family made the difficult decision to leave. To reach Hungary they travelled through Turkey, then to Greece via the Aegean Sea, to Macedonia, and then through Serbia.

Mustafa recalls the complicated and confusing reality of his journey. Each country has different procedures and forms to be filled, different authorities to contend with, different ways of doing things and perhaps most telling, different forms of welcome – or not. As Afghans, Mustafa and his family are ineligible for EU relocation, which means that for now at least they are expected to either keep on waiting, or return home. It's an impossible and heart-breaking choice given all he and his family have endured to make it this far. Mustafa uses a single word to describe the sea crossing from Turkey to Greece: "terrifying". It was only after two failed attempts that they finally reached the Greek shore. Twice their boat was turned back by Turkish coastguards. Mustafa describes the stampede to get on board. Sixty-five desperate passengers crammed into a boat built to hold 45, setting off into the midnight darkness.

What strikes me most as Mustafa recalls the journey is how he describes being forced to throw everything they carried with them into the sea in order to lighten the boat's load. Afterwards I reflect on what he shared. What would it feel like if I had been forced to leave behind my home and everything I owned? What if the few things I had carried with me, like family photographs, were also then lost to the sea? It is a darkness, and distress, that few of us can imagine. Thoughts of light and darkness have remained with me since I returned from Hungary. Throughout the Bible we are instructed to bring light to dark places in the world. Refugees like Mustafa and his family, and the 65 million people in the world today who have also been forced to leave their homes and seek protection and sanctuary, know only too well what it means to live in a dark place.

At Christian Aid, and as Christians, we believe that there is the image of God in all people. All of us are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect, to be able to hope, to see light. Yet all too often, refugees receive neither dignity nor respect. Hope wanes as rich and wealthy nations turn their backs on people in need. Swathes of the UK media promote and perpetuate a dehumanising narrative to describe people seeking sanctuary. Our government continues to show a shameful reluctance to welcome more than the minimum number of refugees.

Earlier this year Christian Aid launched a campaign to Change the Story about refugees. As an organisation born out of the European refugee crisis in 1945, we are as committed now as we were then to stand up for people who are marginalised and demoralised, for those whose lives are marked by conflict and poverty, for those who experience injustice in whatever form. We are determined to tell a story that upholds people's rights, that challenges the toxic rhetoric, and that enables people who have been forced from their homes due to unimaginable suffering and impossible choices to believe that the light will come again.
Jenny Brown is Christian Aid's senior EU relations adviser
© Christian Today

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Opinion: 2016 - Lies, propaganda and calamities

The past year has destroyed our certainties. We are worried about Europe's future and the solidarity of the West, writes Barbara Wesel.

25/12/2016- It was a year that shocked us more than almost any other within living memory. Our trust in our ability to foresee the course of history has been destroyed, along with our trust that although Europe has its problems, our future inarguably lies in solidarity with one another. It has also shattered our belief that the world will continue to develop according to the principles of liberal democracy, as well as our confidence that our institutions and civilized interaction within society can control the political course. We stand before the ruins of our concept of how the world ought to be.

Brexit: The dam bursts
Everyone was wrong: pollsters, betting shops and political analysts. The result on that June night when the Britons decided to leave the European Union was like an earthquake. The propaganda of the EU opponents had been successful. People believed any nonsense: that hundreds of millions of pounds of contributions to the EU would be put into the healthcare system, that trade deals with the entire world would be easy to strike, and that the Brexit would bring about an economic boom. Seldom has such a shameless campaign of lies had such success.

By now, it has become apparent that leaving the bloc will be complicated and cause economic damage to all involved. And it will be the Britons in the economically disadvantaged regions in the north, who voted in favor of the Brexit, who will pick up the tab. The reasons for their voting as they did include political nostalgia, yearning for a past that seems to have been more in their control. Since the British referendum, we know that those who chose to leave are mostly older and worse educated. These "losers of globalization" have become the major political factor. But Europe has lost its self-confidence. Since the Brexit, the peace project that has dominated the past few decades has been called into question. The willingness to compromise on the part of EU member states has declined, and the word solidarity has become a term of abuse. Nationalism, the specter of the past two world wars, is experiencing a resurrection.

Autocrats everywhere
A look outside the EU puts shivers down one's spine: Europeans watched on as President Erdogan used a failed coup to turn Turkey into a dictatorship. Purges and mass arrests are his instruments for extending his power. The EU desperately clings onto the refugee deal and wants to keep "channels of communication" to Ankara open. But in truth, there is nothing more to talk about, and hasn't been for some time. Erdogan, who arrived on the scene as a reformer, has turned into an autocratic ruler. There are also political enemies even in the ranks of the EU: Victor Orban has been able to erode Hungary's democratic institutions unimpeded, and since then has been stirring up eastern Europeans against the West. And Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Poland has taken Orban's cue: Step by step, he is jettisoning democratic rights while Europe looks on helplessly. The EU should throw Poland out, former freedom fighter Lech Walesa recently said. But it can't; the hands of European democrats are tied by its own rules.

And then came Trump. When the unimaginable happened in November and the Americans elected as president a real-estate mogul with a dubious past, unpredictable character and no political experience, an even more profound shockwave went through Europe. The belief in the continued existence of the West, in NATO and its defense pledges and in democracy in the USA are shattered. The "losers of globalization" had raised their voice, along with racists, misogynists and far-right extremists of every persuasion. In view of these threats, Europe should really close ranks, but only a few people seem to understand the gravity of the situation. Angela Merkel is certainly one of these few.

Putin is the godfather
In the background, Vladimir Putin is rubbing his hands in glee. The European right-wing populists fawn on him and take his money. Do the voters in Austria understand what the Freedom Party (FPÖ) was doing there in Moscow? Do they want to wake up as a province of a new Great Russian Empire? The right-wing rabble-rousers in France and the Netherlands are also looking to move toward Putin. And he is using every opportunity, from cyberattacks to propaganda campaigns, to undermine Europe. The veneer of civilization is thin, and the populists, from Nigel Farage to the Alternative for Germany (AfD), constantly push the boundaries of accepted decency as a political device. For example, Farage recently attacked the widower of murdered British politician Jo Cox - she was killed by a Neonazi during the Brexit campaign - as an "extremist." Farage is still looking for more taboos to break. And the AfD's Marcus Pretzell used last Monday's attack on a Christmas market in Berlin to criticize Angela Merkel along the same lines. The rule is: Facts no long play any role and any sense of decency is abolished. Joseph Goebbels would be proud of his pupils.

What now?
We still have a chance. The case of Austria has shown that liberal voters can be mobilized. They have prevented FPÖ candidate Hofer from reaching a position of prestige. And in Poland, the opposition is now fighting vigorously against the erosion of democracy. Those who do not want to see the scenarios from the year 2016 as their future must become involved in protecting liberal democracy. And this also means showing the Farages and Pretzells of this world where the boundaries are.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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UK: Far-right protests draining police resources, figures reveal

South Yorkshire police forced to spend almost £5m since start of 2012 on keeping peace at demonstrations

25/12/2016- South Yorkshire police have spent nearly £5m on policing far-right protests since the beginning of 2012, figures have shown. Freedom of information requests by the Guardian have revealed that 99.5% of the force’s overall expenditure on protests from the beginning of 2012 to October this year went on policing demonstrations by far-right groups. Between the start of 2012 and October 2016, the force spent £4,672,083 on policing demonstrations by the far right, with a single demonstration in Rotherham in September 2014 costing just over £1m. The figures provided by the force do not include salaries and planning costs, so the total figure is likely to be higher. Of the police forces that responded to the Guardian’s request for information, South Yorkshire’s overall costs were by far the highest.

West Yorkshire police spent £1,055,732 between the start of 2014 and October 2016, compared with £2,907,955 by South Yorkshire. In the same period, West Midlands police spent £898,767. The Metropolitan police said they did not routinely cost such events and Greater Manchester police said the information did not exist in an “easily retrievable format” in their database. South Yorkshire’s biggest bill was run up on 13 September 2014, a month after the Jay report concluded that 1,400 children in Rotherham had been sexually exploited by groups of mostly Asian men over 16 years. Hundreds of far-right protesters descended on the town and the cost of policing was £1,010,343. Rotherham experienced 14 demonstrations by the far right in the space of 14 months following the publication of the Jay report.

In May 2015, Rotherham council commissioners and South Yorkshire police asked the Home Office for special powers to ban demonstrations by some far-right groups such as the EDL and Britain First, but the Home Office said the legal criteria for a ban had not been met. South Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner, Alan Billings, said a case could be made for banning certain groups from demonstrating because of the community tensions they caused and the cost to the public purse. “It’s very difficult to call for the banning of assemblies because, for all of us in politics, there will be times when we want to protest and be on the streets saying our piece,” he said. “It’s very hard for us to say that’s fine for us but not for somebody else but, with the far-right groups in Rotherham, I’d say a case could be made because they’re not just coming and saying their piece and going away.
“South Yorkshire police doesn’t just have to deal with the far-right marches, but with the reasons that there are far-right marches here, which are things like CSE [child sexual abuse] investigations. “We also had the Hillsborough inquests and we’ve had to put up the tab for that and now the civil claims will start against South Yorkshire police as a result of the Hillsborough verdicts and as a result of non-recent CSE in Rotherham … so our expenditure goes up exponentially as a consequence of all that. Into the midst come these far-right marches.” Rotherham’s Labour MP, Sarah Champion, said the figures came as no surprise. “Rotherham has been subjected to repeated – almost monthly – demonstrations and this has led to locals feeling nervous and a notable drop in people shopping in town,” she said. “We must, of course, respect the right to peacefully protest. However, this must be balanced against the needs of the local community. It is deeply concerning that these national demonstrations represent such a significant drain on South Yorkshire police’s budgets and are diverting resources away from local frontline policing and investigations.”

Champion said she had repeatedly raised these issues with the government, with a view to increasing available funding and taking action to limit the impact and frequency of marches, but the government had not taken meaningful action to address the problem. Among the other police forces who responded to the Guardian’s request for information was Kent, with an expenditure of £751,954 on policing far-right protests since the beginning of 2014, Bedfordshire police (£529,777.97) and Sussex police (£463,192).
© The Guardian.

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UK: Adults urge teen boy to beat up gay cyclist, then allegedly police refuse to help

A gay man was allegedly beaten up by a teenage boy as two adults urged him on.

24/12/2016- The man was on his bike cycling from Stockton to Middlesbrough when the incident happened. According to reports, a car cut him off in the road prompting the altercation. Two men and a teen appeared in the car and went on to hurl homophobic abuse at the man. They asked if he was gay, before urging the teen to attack the cyclist. The man said: “I didn’t retaliate as I didn’t want to hit a child and I knew it would escalate if I responded. “They went once they realised I wasn’t going to do anything and I wasn’t badly hurt but this isn’t just about me. “I think they’ve done this before and it could have been a lot worse for the previous person – or the next person. “They didn’t know anything about me and they might have used homophobia as an excuse but it was really all about their lust for violence, which was definitely their main motivation. “They’re absolute scumbags and I can’t imagine what kind of life that child is growing up into.”

The alleged incident is now being investigated as a hate crime according to police. Incredibly police refused to help with the issue at first, according to the man’s report. The man says that when he went to report the crime to an officer in a patrol car passing by. However they allegedly refused to help him and said he should have rung 999. A spokeswoman for the force apologised and said investigations were ongoing into the hate crime. She said: “We are looking at the complaint thoroughly to understand the full picture, however, the service the victim received was not acceptable and we understand why he would be dissatisfied.”
© The Pink News

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