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Headlines 29 May, 2015

UK & GERMANY News Week 21

Headlines 22 May, 2015

INTERNATIONAL DAY AGAINST HOMOPHOBIA

Headlines 15 May, 2015

UK, Germany & Europe News Week 20

Headlines 29 May, 2015

Germany: Amnesty discusses racism surge, criticizes government

Amnesty International has criticized the German government for lacking a clear policy to combat racism at its annual meeting in Dresden. The rights group is currently documenting racially motivated attacks in Germany.

23/5/2015- Some 500 Amnesty International (AI) members are currently in Dresden to discuss the issue of racism in Germany. The rights group's German section demanded Saturday that the German government develop a strategy to deal with growing racism in the country. According to AI Germany's general secretary, Selmin Caliskan, racism was not the same phenomenon as right-wing extremism and must be analyzed as a problem for the whole society. A team of AI's researchers from the organization's London headquarters is in Germany to document racist attacks and human rights violations by government officials, Caliskan told the DPA news agency. The findings will not be published until 2016, she added. "In relation to rights breaches by police, it is very difficult to find people who are willing to talk about it," said Caliskan.

Racism and the far-right
The AI official said the organization's hate crime report would also investigate the scandal surrounding the far-right National Socialist Underground (NSU) group's attacks on immigrants, mostly on Turks. The extremist group had killed nine immigrants between 2000 and 2006. AI will also look into the surge in the number of attacks on refugee hostels in Germany. Caliskan said that racism could be combated through intercultural institutions that can educate people, particularly the police. "Discriminatory police checks are still the order of the day and must be abolished," urged Caliskan. When asked about why the organization chose Dresden as its conference venue, she said the location carried significance because it had been the center of the right-wing PEGIDA's anti-Islam demonstrations.

Badawi's plight
AI's conference, which is not open to public, will also discuss the topic of human rights in the digital age. Ensaf Haidar, the wife of imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, will also speak at the conference. Amnesty International has over 130,000 members and supporters in Germany.
© Deutsche Welle

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UK & GERMANY News Week 21

UK: Preventing violent extremism in the United Kingdom: Time for a radical rethink

Alyas Karmani and Ratna Lachman of JUST West Yorkshire give an anti-racism perspective on UK counter-radicalisation measures, and in particular the ‘Prevent’ programme, which has not only stigmatised Muslim communities but is also failing to achieve its goals. They put forward some proposals for a radical rethink of the programme.

22/5/2015- Much to the consternation of civil liberties and human rights practitioners, following the victory of the Conservatives in the 2015 election, the incoming UK government has announced that it intends to introduce sweeping anti-extremist measures in the first 100 days of the new Parliament. Alongside proposals to replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights, the UK appears to be creating a legal framework that will enable any future government to change the legislative framework in response to the short-term exigencies of political ideology rather than subscribing to a global benchmark that safeguards the freedoms and rights of all human beings.

The spate of proposals announced by the Home Secretary Theresa May, that will enable action to be taken against non-violent “extremists who spread hate but do not break existing laws” will effectively take anti-extremism measures into a murky extra-judicial terrain that is open to abuse and misapplication. Furthermore the failure to articulate exactly what kind of action the government intends to take and what constitutes hatemongering remain unclear. The proposed extremism banning orders aimed against extremist groups that “undermine democracy” are intended to scoop up individuals who fall short of “existing terrorist proscription thresholds”.

The government’s failure to clarify under what circumstances it deems democracy to be undermined could scoop any gathering into the dragnet of criminality. Controversially the proposal to introduce extremism disruption orders will enable the police to apply to the high court for a restriction order to limit “harmful activities” of an extremist. The definition of “harmful” includes risk of public order, harassment, alarm or distress or creating a “threat to the functioning of democracy”. For a government that prides itself on British values of free speech and subscription to liberal principles, the intended measures will not only include a ban on broadcasting but “extremists” will be required to submit to the police in advance any proposed publication on the web and social media or in print.

The implications of this measure for civil liberties is profound as anyone proposing to take part in public protests or speak at public events could potentially be banned. Disturbingly, the Home Office is drawing up a blacklist of organisations that is intended to prevent individuals, government and the public from engaging with them. Already the Metropolitan Police, the lead force for the National Domestic Extremism Unit (NDEU) holds a national extremism database that includes the names of people who have done little more than organise meetings and protests on animal rights and equal marriage.

In announcing these controversial measures, the Conservatives have shown that they have yet to learn the lessons from the failure of its previous anti-extremism policy developed while it was in a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. You only have to ask community activists, frontline workers, youth workers or community members for their views on the United Kingdom’s £40 million Preventing Violent Extremism programme, also known as ’Prevent’, and there is widespread agreement that it does not have the support of Muslims due to its approach of labelling and demonising the Muslim community as potential extremists and terrorists.

While the characteristic UK government response has been to side line those voices, researchers, practitioners and policy makers have been highlighting the dangerous conse-quences of the failure to engage in critiques around Prevent. Monies under the scheme are allocated to local authorities in areas with large Muslim populations and where the government deems that Muslim are at risk of travelling overseas to join ISIS and other jihadi groups. The programme also supports funding for youth community mentoring initia-tives located in schools, universities and colleges. If the monies poured into Prevent by both the UK’s last Coalition government and the previous Labour government were meant to stop extremism and terrorism, then by its own measure the scheme has been a dismal failure. More than 500 British citizens have left the UK to join ISIS, and the terror threat in the UK has been raised to severe. So the question arises: why has Prevent failed to achieve its goals?

The recent intervention of Dal Babu, former chief superintendent with the London Metropolitan police, has highlighted disquiet around the programme that is being felt at the highest levels of the British establishment. In a recent interview with the BBC, Mr. Dal Babu describes the programme as a "toxic brand". “Many Muslims see Prevent as spying and those Muslim organizations who have taken Prevent funding have a considerable credibility gap within the Muslim community.” (March 2015) Paul Thomas, a University of Hudders-field professor who is an expert in the area believes that the “overwhelming focus on Muslims” and on “education and health professionals … to spot signs of radicalisation and on intervening to warn young people away from such radicalisation” is “a very basic, blunt approach.”

The problem with Prevent is that successive governments have attempted to deliver Prevent against the background of a toxic narrative that has blamed Muslims for the rise in extremism and terrorism. The attempt to present the phenomenon as running counter to British values has been unproductive as many of the qualities ascribed to Britishness – belief in democracy, observance of the rule of law and freedom of speech – are values that the majority of British Muslims maintain they ascribe to. The Prevent agenda has unfortunately created a hierarchy of Muslim organisations who have the support of the government – organisations such as the Quilliam Foundation who support the government’s stance on extremism and are therefore deemed to be ‘acceptable’ while those like the Muslim Council of Britain and CAGE, who have challenged Prevent have been excluded from government consultations and discussions on the issue.

The failure of the programme is also evident from the fact that those organisations in the front-line of delivering Prevent-funded programmes are viewed with suspicion and hostility and regarded as extensions of the surveillance arm of the state. There is genuine resentment that the modalities of community development and outreach approaches which have been historically used to empower and build capacity within communities are now being used to potentially criminalise young people. Likewise in an era of financial austerity when much of public funding to civil society has been decimated, the impact of Prevent has been disastrous for the NGO sector. It has undermined solidarity either because of resentment from organisations who have found themselves frozen out of the funding opportunities or opposition from organisations who see Prevent-funded organisati-ons as legitimising the Islamophobic policies of the state. Often the decision by Muslim organisations to accept Prevent monies is a survival response rather than an expression of support for the agenda. Unfortunately racists and the far right have interpreted it as Muslim-preferment by the government that has disadvantaged poorer white inner-city communities.

At a whole-society level, it has been argued that the legislative measures contained in the government’s Counter-terrorism and Security Bill have created a push factor in terms of nudging Muslims towards violent extremism. There is clearly a need for further research in this area but what is irrefutable is that the Counter-terrorism and Security Bill has widespread implications for civil liberties and human rights. The UK’s new government should review Prevent as a matter of priority. In the rethinking process the following fundamental flaws need to be addressed: 

# A move away from the disproportionate focus on Muslim communities and ’Islamic extremism’ to focus on all forms of extremism in real practical terms and not just rhetorically.
Prevent has become a political tool for reinforcing government policy rather than a safeguarding tool for protecting those who are vulnerable. It fails to acknowledge the role of UK and US foreign policy as a key push factor and driver in violent extremism, and instead promotes the defunct ’conveyor belt’ theory that only identifies the primacy of extre-mist ideology which conveys a person to violent extremism and not external factors such as Islamophobia and social exclusion. Any new approach needs to accept that whilst extre-mist ideology is a pull factor the push factors towards it are often foreign policy and Islamophobia.
Where Prevent pertains to children and young people the powers need to be wrested away from politicians, police and the security services and placed in the hands of those who have a statutory duty to safeguard young people
The need to change the ’War on Terror’ paradigm which underpins the government’s anti-terrorism strategy and replace this with a paradigm based on normalising relations with Muslims globally based on conflict resolution and restorative justice.
Prevent should not be used as a means for fracturing and dividing the Muslim community along the fault lines of being either ’moderate’ or ’extremist’.
Prevent should not be used as a security tool and attempts at the securitisation of the public sector needs to be resisted; large swathes of the public sector and public sector workers have been trained in Prevent and co-opted into the security apparatus of the UK and there is genuine unease at being trained to become extensions of the surveillance arm of the state rather than public servants and service providers.
In order to restore confidence in Prevent and re-establish relationships of trust with the Muslim community there must be a clear independent scrutiny framework of Prevent.

If these factors are meaningfully addressed then there is potential for Prevent to become a true safeguarding and violence prevention tool. However given the Conservative government’s current trajectory, this seems very unlikely to happen and hence those who are vulnerable and at risk will be failed, criminalised and stigmatised, and this is unlikely to improve state security or keep British citizens safe from terrorist attacks. Ultimately the ever-increasing stream of vulnerable young people and families opting to leave UK shores and into the hands of the ISIS death-cult in Syria highlights that we need a new approach to combating extremism and terrorism.
© Enargy Webmagazine

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UK: Black students 'refused entry to club' in Leicester

A doorman at a Leicester nightclub has been suspended after a group of students alleged he refused to let them in because of their race.

21/5/2015- Footage recorded by one of the students shows a bouncer agreeing they were being barred "because they were black". A statement from Ghost Nightclub said it wel-comed people "from all walks of life" and had suspended the doorman. In the mobile phone video, the bouncer says he was enforcing the club's rules and claimed it was not his decision. Kosi Orah, a 19-year-old University of Leicester student from Essex, who was celebrating his birthday on a night out with friends, said they were turned away from the nightclub. But the owners of Ghost Nightclub said: "We reiterate that we only have a shoes-only, 18-plus door policy. "I urge people to take a look at our Facebook page to see that we welcome people from all walks of life. "This is a 45-year-old business - the oldest nightclub in the city - which has been owned by the same family for all that time. "We urge the group of students who were turned away to get in touch with the management of Ghost Nightclub so that we can resolve this."

Leicestershire Police said it took hate crime seriously and was looking into the complaint. "The incident has been reported and recorded and inquiries are ongoing," a police statement said. "We take reports of racism extremely seriously and would encourage anyone who has been a victim of such a crime to contact us." In the video, the doorman, who has not been identified, is heard to say: "I have no problems with you guys at all, but that is the rules of the club." One of the group asks: "It is because we're black?", followed by the doorman's reply of: "Yes, that's what I am saying." Mr Orah said he was shocked by what happened and the experience had "tainted my view of the city as a whole".
© BBC News

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UK: Failed Ukip candidate with 6000 votes turns to extreme right

He increased Ukip support in his constituency by 240 per cent and outpolled the party's deputy leader - but Jack Sen, the party's former candidate for Lancashire West, is also a "national socialist".

20/5/2015- Mr Sen says he is a keen follower of both the British fascist leader Oswald Mosley and Enoch Powell, whose 1968 "rivers of blood" speech stirred up racial tensions. He believes that Britain wants to embrace national socialism; the full name for Adolf Hitler's movement. And, during a speech at a prominent far-right meeting in London earlier this month, Mr Sen accused Ukip - from which he resigned yesterday - of having been "taken over" by "Jewish special interest groups". He admits to being concerned about the "nega-tive connotations" of the term "national socialist", but describes himself as such, nevertheless. "If national socialist means that I love my country, believe in a strong national identity, will fight to preserve our culture and want a strong society, safety net for the poor, national healthcare etc. then certainly I see myself as a national socialist."

'Weeding out the lunatics'
He adds: "Oswald Mosley is someone I respect and appreciate and Enoch Powell. I believe in a strong state that works in the interests of the people in the country, not in those of big business or immigrants or internationalists." Now no longer a Ukip member, Mr Sen is keen to "come out" with his views. But they are nothing new, he insists, saying he held them long before joining the party. And yet he made it through Ukip's vetting process - a process described by the man tasked with running it as an exercise in "weeding out the lunatics". At the general election, Mr Sen polled 6,058 votes as his name appeared on the ballot paper as the Ukip candidate for Lancashire West. The seat was held by Labour, but his relative electoral success is down to one thing, according to Hope Not Hate's Simon Cressy: his status as a Ukip candidate. "Sadly, they received large amounts of votes all over the UK. "The bad press Mr Sen received over the anti-Semitic comments will have no doubt dented his vote somewhat. However, most voters probably didn't see the news coverage. Ukip's vetting procedure is clearly flawed."

Anti-Semitic tropes
A Ukip spokesman admitted that the party could not hope to have a watertight vetting process. "You can't see inside someone's mind, with the best will in the world. You can only talk to them and see what they have to say." Mr Sen was suspended from Ukip on 1 May after a series of racially charged comments, including references to common anti-Semitic tropes. He was given 21 days to appeal. However, his suspension came too late to remove his name from the ballot paper. Ukip said that, had he been elected, he would not have sat in Parliament as a Ukip MP. In the event, he came third, with 12 per cent of the vote - nearly 5,000 ahead of his Liberal Democrat rival Daniel Lewis. He referred to his suspen-sion during a speech at the London Forum this week.

He said Ukip asked him if he was anti-Semitic after abusive tweets were directed at the Labour MP Luciana Berger from his account. He told the audience: "I know the way I think and it might be anti-Semitic, I'm not sure." But he claimed that he would not have voiced as much publicly because he is "not that stupid". That event at which Mr Sen spoke this week - the London Forum - has been linked to British supporters of the Greek neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party and the National Front. The group is described by the anti-fascist campaigners Hope Not Hate as an "extreme right wing think-tank". These days, the former Ukip candidate for Lancashire West describes the party as a "safety valve" for the establishment. It is, he says, a safe protest vote in the eyes of the major parties. And, for the man who attracted thousands of votes at the election, Ukip is not sufficiently hardline nationalist.
© Channel 4 News

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UK: Far-right group Britain First announce Luton march after staging mosque ‘invasions’

A far-right group which provoked anger after ‘invading’ two Bury Park mosques has announced a large scale demonstration through Luton, we can reveal.

20/5/2015- Britain First, formed four years ago by ex-BNP members, will stage a protest through the town on June 27 to “demonstrate that Luton is an English town not a mini caliphate”. Last June group leader Paul Golding and other members were filmed storming into Luton Central Mosque and Bury Park Mosque to hand out leaflets and bibles. The group, which called the visit an ‘invasion’, were seen doorstepping a number of other mosques across the country in similar videos. Next month’s protest, which has been been denounced by a number of community leaders, is expected to bring between 500-1000 protestors into the town. Britain First deputy leader Jayda Fransen told the Luton News: “At the moment the plans that have been made are for a march through the town, then speeches will be given. “This is the first one that we have held one in Luton so we are expecting a good turnout. “We had around 500 turn up to one in Dudley the other week and we are aiming to get far more than that on the streets.”

On why the demonstration has been organised, Miss Fransen said: “Luton is a hotbed for Islamic extremism and locals have appealed for us to go there. “We are against Islamic extremism but do not oppose people because of race. “We expect to have a lot of opposition there on the day but it is not something that will put us off.” Dawood Masood, founder and CEO of Quba Trust, criticised the plans. He told the Luton News: “As a proud young Lutonian it does worry me that an organisation that has previously been known to dirupt and barge in to local faith institutions is intending to come and cause more anxiety into our town. “Marching into a town centre and shouting is not really going to achieve anything. “They are not putting “Britain” First but themselves and their own political agenda.”

He added: “I believe that groups like Britain First have a misconstructed understanding of Islam. “I believe the hatred Britain First have for the Muslims and Islam is born out of ignorance and lack of interaction with real, decent, normal Muslims. “As a Muslim i believe, our Prophet, is a prophet of mercy, he taught us, the only way to overcome anger and hatred is through dialogue and discussion.” Concerns have also been raised that the demonstration will be a drain on police resources. Last November a 400 strong group of English Defence League protesters marched from the Brache to Park Square, an event which ended with six arrests. Beds Police fielded 300 officers, ten horses and a dozen dogs to manage the demonstration, though the whole operation required the input of around 700 staff. A subsequent EDL protest on New Year’s Eve attracted just 12 protestors, but cost the force £23,111 due to contingency plans that were put in place.

Luton South MP Gavin Shuker slammed the plans for a Britain First demonstration. He told the Luton News: “Once again Luton is being targeted by a far right march, the difference between now and 2010 is that now we have fewer officers and a bigger hole in the police budget. “There is a place for free speech and the police can only ban a march if it is demonstrated that they will not be able to control it. “These extremists will come and have a few beers and a lovely time spreading their message of hate but once again we will pick up the tab. “Luton taxpayers will be stuck with the bill for people coming in from outside of Luton.”
© Luton Today

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UK: Islamic preacher Abdur Raheem Green banned from St James Park by Newcastle United

Abdur Raheem Green has been asked to withdraw from speaking at event Against Racism, Against Hatred held at St James' Park.

20/5/2015- An Islamic preacher has been banned from St James’ Park following concerns from the local community over his appearance at a conference. Abdur Raheem Green, who has previously been barred from Arsenal Football Club’s Emirates Stadium, has been asked by Newcastle United not to attend the North East Islamic Diversity Centre’s event Against Racism, Against Hatred this Thursday. Labour peer Lord Jeremy Beecham was due to speak at the event but has withdrawn, while Newcastle based Rabbi Aaron Lipsey said ‘more thought’ should have been put into the speakers. Muslim convert Abdur Raheem Green is known for preaching at Hyde Park corner in London. He is also chair of the Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA) which is continuing to be investigated by the Charities Commission over its governance, organising events and inviting external speakers. However after concern from the local community, including local Jewish people, Newcastle United said they had asked him not to attend.

Emirates Stadium barred him from attending a conference there in 2012 after fans complained. Event organiser Abu-Tayeb, of the North East Islamic Diversity Centre, said it would be a ‘great shame’ that Abdur Raheem Green would not be heard as he would have clarified statements made 27 years earlier which had caused offence. He said the event had been organised to tackle both Islamaphobia and anti-Semitism following the attack on a Jewish man in Gateshead last summer and the aim was to ‘remove misconceptions’ and ‘share that Islam does not promote anti-semitism in anyway’. A Newcastle United club spokesperson said: “Following concerns in the local community ahead of a privately booked event at the stadium on Thursday, we have made enquiries with the event organisers and have requested that a scheduled guest speaker is withdrawn with immediate effect and does not attend.

“Newcastle United is committed to championing inclusivity and equality in football and across wider society and we will continue to work closely with anti-discrimination groups, supporters and stakeholders to uphold community values.” Abdur Raheem Green had been billed as an ‘international speaker’ by organisers and would have shared a panel with Grace Dunne from the Anne Frank Trust, Laura Pidcock of Show Racism the Red Card, Bradford District Councillor Alyas Karmani and Abdul Basit from Newcastle Central Mosque. However the club’s events team were called by at least one member of the Jewish community objecting to him speaking at St James’ Park.

Rabbi Lipsey, Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregation in Newcastle, said he had never intended on going to the lecture due to other commitments but that he would be ‘uncomfortable’ to share a platform with Abdur Raheem Green. He said: “He has made comments, none of which sits comfortably with any sort of liberal democracy. “The aim of the conference is laudable - it’s clearly something that they want to address and Islamaphobia is a pressing concern for all of our communities and it’s a great thing to do to bring people together but obviously Abdur Raheem Green may not be the best person to present that to the wider community.”

Abu-Tayeb, of the North East Islamic Centre, said: “It’s a real shame that freedom of speech has been inhibited in that way. What was intended was a positive, strong message to reach out to as many people as possible that’s why we have such a diverse panel of Muslims and non-Muslims. He was going to give clarification on a statement 27 years ago.” The North East Islamic Diversity Centre was founded after the September 11 terror attacks in New York and aims to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about Islam, and also runs social programmes for the elderly and homeless in the region.
© The Cronicle Live

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UK: Police powerless to stop neo-Nazi rally in Jewish area of London

Police have no powers to ban a static demonstration and must safeguard the right to protest, says Met police spokesman.

20/5/2015- Scotland Yard has said it cannot prevent a neo-Nazi protest taking place in the heart of one of London’s biggest Jewish areas, as community leaders and the local Conser-vative MP called on the Home Office to ban the rally. A group of anti-Jewish demonstrators have signalled their intention to hold a rally on 4 July in Golders Green, an area of north London where Jewish residents make up 20% of the population. The timing is particularly provocative as it takes place on a Saturday, the Jewish day of rest when most obser-vant Jews will be walking to synagogue. Police have no powers to ban a static demonstration and must safeguard the right to protest, a Met police spokesman said. Ch Supt Adrian Usher, the officer in charge of policing in Barnet, said a plan for the policing operation was being formulated. “Officers are speaking to the organiser of the protest to understand what their plans are,” he said.

The Finchley and Golders Green MP, Mike Freer, told the Guardian he had asked the Home Office to ban the protest. “The rally is not about free speech but a deliberate attempt to provoke tension and antisemitism,” he said. Jewish community groups, including the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Community Security Trust and the London Jewish Forum, have also called for a ban, and more than 1,100 people have signed a Change.org petition to that effect. A spokesman for the CST, a community body that monitors antisemitism, said it had been aware of the proposed demonstration for several weeks. “By definition, this is attracting self-selecting antisemitic neo-Nazis who want to spend their Saturdays antagonising Jews,” a spokesman said. “If they come to Golders Green, then it will be an opportunity for Jews and non-Jews alike to stress their united values and their utter rejection of racism and antisemitism.”

The organisation said it would not be organising a counter-demonstration, but would support those who wished to hold one securely, with the cooperation of the police and local council. Several Jewish groups have said they will organise counter-demonstrations, including leftwing Jewish collective Jewdas and the grassroots Campaign Against Antisemitism, with more than 200 people pledging attendance. CST cautioned against a repeat of the “hype” surrounding a similar anti-Semitic demonstration touted by the neo-Nazi blogger Joshua Bonehill-Paine in Stamford Hill in the aftermath of the Paris attacks at a kosher supermarket. Bonehill has faced a number of criminal charges, including for alleged antisemitic harassment of MP Luciana Berger. The Stamford Hill demonstration was eventually cancelled, but a handful of protesters did turn up in the north London suburb on 18 April, with little media attention.

“Jews now face two choices for 4 July. They can ignore the neo-Nazis, as in Stamford Hill, or they can protest,” the CST’s Mark Gardner said. “Whichever choice each individual takes, we hope that they will do so out of a feeling of pride and strength, rather than fear and intimidation.” The Board of Deputies of British Jews said it “strongly condemns the offensive and unacceptable plan” for the protest. It said it supported the right of the community to make a counter-protest and had made “firm representations to the home secretary and the Metropolitan police and look to them to prevent it happening or to move its location within the limits of the law.” A Home Office spokesperson said: “The police have a range of powers to deal with demonstrations and can apply for a ban on marches through the Public Order Act 1986. No application has been received for a ban on marches in Golders Green.”
© The Guardian

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UK: Petition to stop far-right protest in Golders Green

Hundreds of people have signed a petition calling on the Home Secretary to ban a neo-Nazi demonstration in Golders Green.

20/5/2015- Far-right groups including the New Dawn Party are planning the protest on Saturday, July 4. The rally has been linked to an anti-Semitic demonstration in Stamford Hill last month. A Metropolitan Police spokesman said the force has no legal power to prevent the 'static' protest, but must balance the right to protest with the rights of those impacted by it. The petition, on change.org, calls for Theresa May to ban the rally because “it is racist in nature and has no place on modern Britain.” Marc Feigenbaum, of London, was one of those signing the petion. He said: “This will be a highly inflammatory march through a very Jewish area of London. They are only doing this to antagonise the local Jewish community.” Another, Lucette Tucker said: “This has no place in the 21st century. Racist and disgusting, particularly in this area.”

A spokesman for the Jewish security firm the Community Security Trust (CST) said: “We are aware that a rally is being planned for Saturday July 4 by some people who held a far right demonstration in Stamford Hill in April. “It is the same people and it is a follow-up to that. That is as much as we know. “As things stand, it is a static demonstration and we believe it is more difficult to ban a static demonstration than a moving march. “We are speaking to the police and the Home Office about it and we have been for a couple of weeks. We are exploring what the options are in that respect.”

Chief Superintendent Adrian Usher, who is in charge of policing in Barnet, said: "Officers from Barnet will continue to work closely with the local community to make sure we fully understand their concerns and to brief them on the policing operation as it develops. "We are aware of a static protest being planned for 4 July in Barnet Borough. Officers are speaking to the organiser of the protest to understand what their plans are." MP for Finchley and Golders Green Mike Freer said: “I have called in the Home Office to step in and ban this demonstration. The rally is not about free speech but a deliberate attempt to provoke tension and anti-Semitism”.
© Times - Series

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UK: The most depressing result to come from a survey about Muslims yet

19/5/2015- Almost a third of schoolchildren believe that Muslims are “taking over our country” according to the largest study of its kind carried out in the UK. A survey of almost 6,000 children aged 10 to 16 across England found that negative attitudes towards migrants and Muslims were widespread among school pupils. The data, based on questionnaires sent to more than 60 schools across the UK by charity Show Racism the Red Card (SRTRC) between 2012 and 2014, also found that 60 per cent of children questioned believed “asylum seekers and immigrants are stealing our jobs”. The survey’s results come shortly after Labour MP Tristam Hunt’s embarrassing encounter with a schoolchild, who told the shadow education minister that he would vote Ukip because he would “like to get all the foreigners out of the country”.

SRTRC chief executive Ged Grabby said the results demonstrated more needed to be done to combat far-right extremism and cautioned what message younger people were taking from the media. “This survey shows that this is fuelled by a totally distorted view of the number of immigrants and Muslims living in the UK,” he told The Guardian. Of the 5,945 children survey across England, 49 per cent agreed with the statement that migration was out of control or not being managed properly. University of Manchester professor Hilary Pilkington cautioned that the results were “not evidence of widespread racism among young people” but instead an indication of “anxiety – often based on inaccurate informa-tion”.

41 per cent of children did not think that “Muslims are taking over England” and just under half (47 per cent) thought that relations between Muslims and non-Muslims were poor. But Dr Paul Jackson from the University of Northampton, who also worked on the research project, was pessimistic - despite acknowledging some young peoples’ “gap between the reality and perception on issues”. He said: “The subsequent levels of hostility towards these groups is very worrying and is something that we, as a society, need to take seriously.”

© The Independent

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UK: Ukip docudrama cleared after more than 6,000 complaints

Channel 4’s Ukip: The First 100 Days imagined Nigel Farage as prime minister and featured far-right supporters holding an Israeli flag.

18/5/2015- A controversial “mockumentary” imagining the first 100 days of a Ukip government has been cleared by the broadcasting watchdog after attracting more than 6,000 complaints, the Guardian can reveal. Ukip: The First 100 Days – which imagined Nigel Farage as prime minister, depicted rioting in reaction to anti-immigration raids and showed the closure of a factory as the UK pulled out of the EU – was investigated by Ofcom over claims that it was misleading, offensive and biased. A scene that portrayed far-right supporters holding an Israeli flag was said to be offensive, inappropriate and harmful in the light of a spate of antisemitic attacks. And the programme in general raised issues under Ofcom’s rules on offensive material, misleadingness and due impartiality, it was claimed. But the regulator rejected each of those accusations in turn and concluded that the programme, which starred Priyanga Burford as an Asian Ukip MP, was not in breach of the broadcasting code.

An Ofcom spokesman said: “Ofcom carefully investigated this dramatisation of what the first 100 days under a Ukip government would be like and has found the programme did not breach the broadcasting code. “We found it was not misleading, taking account that it was clearly presented as a fictional drama, and that the depictions of Ukip policy were closely based on the party’s recent announcements, in particular on immigration and the EU. “It was duly impartial because it included numerous statements, both from archive clips and from actors, who expressed support for Ukip and its policies.” Farage condemned the show at the time of its broadcast, claiming it was “biased” and “partisan”. Channel 4 had said “a lot of research” went into the film and that Farage had been invited to watch it before it was broadcast and then to do an interview afterwards but he declined.

The news comes as Ukip finds itself in turmoil. Its leader Nigel Farage was called a “snarling, thin-skinned, aggressive” man by a senior colleague, while he himself has faced calls to stand down. Other senior figures, however, have lent him support as a bitter war of words raged. The party’s general election campaign director Patrick O’Flynn made the comments about Farage after the latter resigned the party’s leadership following his failure to be elected as an MP, before withdrawing that resignation within days – he said – at the request of the party. A senior Farage aide subsequently left the party as a damaging public row erupted. One of the party’s biggest donors, Stuart Wheeler, said Farage should stand down and hold a leadership election. Farage has reacted to the criticism by hitting back at the “one person in Ukip” opposed to him – presumed to be the party’s only MP Douglas Carswell.

While the party did not make its own complaint about the programme - called Ukip: the first 100 days - the news that it has been cleared by Ofcom represents another setback at what is already a difficult time. The programme eventually attracted more than 6,150 complaints; many – as the Guardian revealed – as part of an orchestra-ted campaign by the far-right group Britain First, which is known for running “Christian patrols” and invading mosques. Senior Ukip figures attacked the programme when it aired in February, before the official start of the election campaigning and Ofcom’s purdah period. Farage said it was a “biased, partisan depiction” of Ukip. And he said it “may well have backfired on Channel 4”.

And one of the party’s MEPs Gerard Batten said it went beyond legitimate political debate. He told LBC radio: “I’m not quite sure what you would describe it as apart from a piece of bile and vitriol from our political opponents, who don’t happen to be in a political party – they’re in a TV channel and don’t have to go through the inconvenience of running for office. “They can just spout their views and don’t actually have to go out and defend them in elections, which we do.” An Ofcom spokesman refused to confirm the decision, which is expected to be announced on Monday, saying only that it would be “published in due course”. Likewise, a Channel 4 spokesman, who would only say: “We are confident that that programme did not breach the Ofcom code.” A Ukip spokesman said: “Ukip didn’t make a complaint, and thus we have no comment to make.”
© The Guardian

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UK: Ukip's Suzanne Evans: 'nobody wants Nigel to leave'

17/5/2015- Ukip’s internal warfare continues today with interventions from both sides. Suzanne Evans, the party’s deputy chairman, appeared on the Andrew Marr Show this morning to play down the tensions. She told Andrew Marr that the situation has been overegged: ‘I don’t think anyone hates anyone, I genuinely don’t. I think we’ve had some problems with some advisers around Nigel who very much kept him in their pocket if you like and he’s had too much influence from them. But they’ve gone.’ She singled out Raheem Kassam, Farage’s ex-senior advisor, who she happily noted has left the party and returned to work for Breitbart, a ‘far right, Tea Party, American style shock-and-awe publication’ where she thinks ‘he’ll be right at home’. Although Evans repeatedly said Ukip ‘can really move on from this’, does she think Nigel Farage needs to take a break? ‘Yes, and Douglas Carswell has said that he does hope that he still takes a break. Let me be clear: I have spoken to Douglas and people have been reading too much into that statement.’

And is a ‘break’ coded language for stepping down as leader? ‘Absolutely not, nobody wants Nigel to go, he’s a fantastic leader, a great political communicator. Look at where he’s got us to in the last five years’ Evans suggested that the briefing war this week has been the result of ‘an awful lot of testosterone .’ But not everyone has received that message. Kassam himself has popped up on the Telegraph’s website, suggesting that the plotters are hoping to ‘erase’ Farage from the political stage and they need to publicly apologise for their actions: ‘So Mr Carswell and Mr O’Flynn should take a step back from representing the party publicly, and focus instead on their constituencies. ‘If they had done this throughout the election campaign, instead of plotting to decapitate the leader and his staff, they may have achieved better results. ‘If they apologise in public to Nigel for the way they have behaved this week, there may be a way back for them, in time. If they fail to do so, however, they should resign the party whip.’

Evans, who was mentioned by Guido as one of the plotters against Farage, said ‘Nigel is the last person who wants Ukip to be a one man band’ but still found time to mention her own leadership credentials — particularly over her role in writing the party’s general election manifesto. ‘Nigel called it the best manifesto ever written, which was a feather in my cap’. Many kippers watching this interview will be thinking that Evans’ more consensual, polished and less abrasive style is just what the party needs right now. But at present, there doesn’t appear to be a vacancy.
© The Spectator - Coffee House blog

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UK: Ukip spy who infiltrated protest group 'tried to encourage abuse of Farage'

Party admits it sent informant into Thanet branch of Stand Up to Ukip during election campaign, and protesters claim he urged them to deface posters.

16/5/2015- Ukip sent a spy to obtain “information from the inside” on an anti-Nigel Farage protest group, where campaigners say he tried to encourage activists to deface posters and heckle outside meetings. The party admitted that it had sent an informant into the Thanet branch of the “Stand Up to Ukip” group during the election campaign, following what the party described as “a series of threatening attacks against Mr Farage in the run-up”. It added: “In order to provide reasonable security it was of course necessary to have information from the inside. In order to do this it was important to gain the trust of the activists, an approach used by a great many security operations tasked with protecting the safety and well being of a targeted individual.” The party’s statement comes after campaigners in the Stand Up to Ukip group uncovered the spy after finding a photograph of him standing next to Farage and his close protection officers on a Ukip members’ Facebook page.

They said they were always suspicious of a man claiming to be called “Edward Johnson” who turned up for a few of their meetings this year in Farage’s target seat of South Thanet, saying he was a builder from Essex. But the Stand Up to Ukip group claims the insider went even further than just trying to infiltrate their activities and tried to encourage the campaigners to behave badly and abuse Farage, which could potentially have discredited them. Text messages from “Edward Johnson” provided by Thanet Stand Up to Ukip urged one campaigner to help him deface Ukip posters. This read: “Alright mate I done a bit of defacing last night at the billboards only a bit as there was quite a lot of people about also saw some more that havnt been touched next to asda in town what do you think ? They mega offend Me what say you pal ??? You have some friends that might want to help ?” Another read: “Hey dude i just saw farage the barrage down broadstairs beach gave him some shit which he didn’t like lol I over heard he was coming back down in an hour if you wanna come down and give him some Abuse ?? tell your mates.”

The campaigners said “Edward Johnson” even provided them with a list of public meetings that Farage would be attending. After searching the internet for the mobile number used by “Edward Johnson”, the Stand Up to Ukip campaigners found it was listed on the website of someone called John Hutchins, whose Twitter biography says he is a close protection officer. A LinkedIn page for one John Hutchins said a man of that name has since January worked for Secura Associates, the company used by Farage to provide his security. Secura Associates and Hutchins have not responded to requests for comment about the allegations. The allegations of dirty tricks in South Thanet, where Farage failed to get elected last week, comes after a bruising 48 hours in which Patrick O’Flynn, a senior Ukip figure and MEP, accused some in the leader’s inner circle of running an overly aggressive campaign.

Several times in the election campaign Farage complained about a group of “trade union-funded activists” being bussed in to his target seat to sow “hatred and resentment, and they’re inciting vandalism and public disorder”. He was particularly angered by a demonstration organised by a group called Beyond Diversity, which he said frightened his children and forced them to flee while he was having lunch in a pub near his home. This group is unrelated to the Thanet Stand Up to Ukip group, which is organised by people local to Thanet, including campaigner Bunny la Roche. In December, Ukip’s chairman in Scotland, Arthur Thackeray, had boasted that the party was using undercover measures to spy on its opponents. He described Ukip’s network as “‘a very good intelligence service” adding that the private investigations would “most definitely” continue ahead of the election.

A spokesperson for Thanet Stand Up To Ukip said: “We were sickened to see that this man who had come to our meetings, socialised with us, listened to our conversations seems all the time to have been a member of Nigel Farage’s team. “But he not only spied on us, he actually urged some of our members to commit criminal damage.” Farage’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt to win South Thanet became particularly bitter and divisive at some points, with Ukip’s supporters and detractors claiming to have been subject to intimida-tion and dirty tactics. Norman Thomas, editor of a community magazine, Thanet Watch, claimed at one stage that there had been a campaign of intimidation against people publicly opposing Ukip. Ukip supporters in the area were also targets for vandalism and protests, with one Ramsgate councillor having his garage defaced three times.
© The Guardian

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Germany/UK: Jeremiah Duggan Inquest hears British student's suicide was 'constructed set-up'

A British student who was found dead following an apparent suicide in Germany was likely to have been the victim of a "constructed set-up", an inquest has heard.

19/5/2015- Jeremiah Duggan, 22, was found dead on a motorway near Wiesbaden in March 2003 after he attended an event by the LaRouche "far-right cult". German police ruled his death was due to "suicide by means of traffic accident" – a verdict never accepted by Duggan's family. In 2010, the High Court in London ordered a fresh UK inquest into the student's death to rule whether claims of foul play were credible and if Duggan's Jewish background had anything to do with his death. On the first day of the new inquest at Barnet coroner's court, forensic expert Paul Canning said evidence from the scene of Duggan's death shows "the only possible conclusion is that it must have been a set-up".

Canning claimed there is no evidence that Duggan came into contact with the two cars German police said were involved in his death. He also said the damage to the vehicles would have come a "heavy metallic instrument" or another car rather than the impact of a person. He said: "After making a lengthy examination of the photographs I conclude that, based on my experience of attending hundreds of fatal and very serious road traffic accidents, that in examining the scene of the accident, the road, Jeremiah's body and both vehicles involved, I could find no traces of blood, hair, tissue or clothing on the vehicles or road, except round the immediate vicinity of Jeremiah's body."

German police said Duggan was killed after running into the path of two oncoming cars following the testimony of several witnesses. However, Canning said it is likely the damage to the cars was caused beforehand and placed at the scene. "After looking at the photographs the only possible conclusion I could find was that it was placed there and further, that it looks like pre-existing damage that was undertaken prior to this incident," Canning said. The original inquest also heard how Duggan had attended a youth event by the LaRouche movement, whose leader Lyndon LaRouche has been accused of anti-Semitism by several Jewish organisations.

Duggan, a student at the British Institute and the Sorbonne in Paris who was Jewish and brought up in the north London area of Golders Green, is said to have thought he was attending a conference on the Iraq War when he went to the LaRouche event. Just 45 minutes before he was killed, he rang his mother Erica Duggan to tell her "I'm in big trouble". The inquest continues.
© The International Business Times UK

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Germany's last Nazi hunter Thomas Walther, interview

Thomas Walther tells Tony Paterson in Lüneburg that it was only when he retired as a lawyer in 2006 that he realised he had to 'do something useful' 
 
22/5/2015- It is a spectacle few Holocaust survivors dreamt they would witness 70 years after the end of the Second World War: in a courtroom in the picture-postcard German town of Lüneburg, a 93-year-old man with thin parchment-like skin hobbles towards his seat near the judge with the help of a rollator. He is so frail that he is supported by two orderlies. Oskar Groening is one of the last surviving SS guards to have served in the Auschwitz death camp, where more than a million people were systematically murdered in the Holocaust. Today, Groening sits face to face with his now grey-haired and often equally frail surviving victims and their relatives. Several have travelled from America, Canada and the UK to give evidence at what has been called “Germany’s last Auschwitz trial”. With their testimony, death-camp hell is suddenly and horrifically relived: the excrement-filled cattle trucks in which Jewish prisoners were transported for days, often without food or water, before arriving at Auschwitz: the machine guns, the uniformed SS men screaming orders before marching whole families off to the gas chambers.

For Groening, the confrontation with his former victims is often too overwhelming to bear: “There is no question that I am morally guilty – I beg for forgiveness,” he tells them. On Thursday, doctors announced that the strain of the proceedings was taking its toll on the former SS man, who is charged with being an accessory in the murder of 300,000 Auschwitz prisoners. His trial has been interrupted to enable him to recover. Without the efforts of a trained lawyer and former German judge called Thomas Walther, it is unlikely that Groening would ever have been put on trial. Until last year, it was assumed that his case had simply been forgotten by the German judiciary. Mr Walther – who has quietly earned himself a reputation as Germany’s “last Nazi hunter” made sure that proceedings against him were started. In doing so he has reopened a chapter of German justice that most had assumed was closed for good.

Mr Walther is a self-effacing man in his early 70s. His jeans, trainers and the almost-shoulder length hair suggest that he was always something of a rebel. “I am a product of the ‘68 generation,” he told The Independent in the lobby at Lüneburg’s luxury Bergstroem Romantik hotel. Thomas Walther was only a baby in 1945. He says his father later made him aware of what the Nazis did with the story of how his family had given two Jewish families sanctuary on the so-called Nazi “Kristallnacht” of 11 November 1938. Hundreds of synagogues and Jewish businesses were ransacked in a chilling foretaste of the Holocaust that was to follow. The Walthers helped their Jewish friends escape to Paraguay and Australia: “Fred Biel is the name of one who went to Australia – I still have contact with him today,” Mr Walther said. But as a law student at Hamburg university in the 1960s, the Holocaust and the way the then West German judiciary dealt with perpetrators was hardly an issue. “We were young socialists and our main interest was reforming the Social Democratic Party from within – the Holocaust was not on our radar,” he admitted.

In 1957, Fritz Bauer, a legendary German-Jewish state prosecutor was tipped off that Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi who organised the transport of Jews to Auschwitz, was hiding in Argentina. Mr Bauer was so doubtful of the Germans’ willingness to extradite Eichmann that he opted to give the information to Israel. Mossad, the Israeli secret service, subse-quently tracked down Eichmann, captured him and put him on trial in Jerusalem. He was hanged in 1962. More than 120,000 investigations of suspected Nazi war criminals were carried out by post-war Germany, but only 560 people were convicted. “When the first Auschwitz trials began in Frankfurt in 1965, the police on duty at the court stopped short of giving the accused a “Heil Hitler” greeting, but they saluted them all the same,” Mr Walther recalled. “The press coverage was minimal,” he added.

Mr Walther admits that like millions of other Germans, he was content to keep the Holocaust under the carpet. “At the time, the Cold War was the big issue, everyone was worried about the Soviet Union,” he said. He spent most of his career as a judge and prosecutor working in the south German provinces. But, in 2006, shortly before he was due to retire, he decided to “do something useful” and accepted the offer of a job at Germany’s central office for the prosecution of Nazi war criminals in Ludwigsburg. At Ludwigsburg, Mr Walther soon came face to face with the enormity of Nazi crimes. “The judiciary was content to prosecute on a piecemeal basis. The judges demanded eyewitnesses and evidence to get a conviction. The deputy commandant of Auschwitz was only convicted after three pieces of paper were produced showing that he had signed orders to commit mass murder,” he recalls.

Even in 2006 there were suspected Nazi war criminals like the Ravensbrück concentration camp dog handler, Elfriede Rinke, who had escaped conviction. Rinke belonged to a group of guards whose dogs were used to maul prisoners to death. “There was nothing left of these prisoners, their flesh was torn to shreds – but at Ludwigsburg I was told I could not begin to prosecute Rinke because I had no witnesses,” Mr Walther says. His break came in 2008, just as the Ludwigsburg Nazi prosecution unit was celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding. Important guests from America were expected to attend the event. At the same time, a former SS guard at the former Nazi extermination camp of Sobibor called John Demjanjuk was in the US and facing the possibility of extradition to Germany. “I pointed out to my superiors that it might be problematic, if we could not mount a case against Demjanjuk,” Mr Walther recalled.

He seized his chance. The Demjanjuk case brought a sea change  in the German judiciary’s take on Nazi war criminals. Mr Walther argued that Demjanjuk could face prosecution without the evidence of eyewitnesses, and solely by dint of the fact that he was employed as a guard at a camp where all the inmates were instantly dispatched to the gas cham-bers on arrival. As such, he maintained Demjanjuk was automatically part of the Nazi mass murder machine. The judiciary agreed. On the basis of his Sobibor guard's ID card, Demjanjuk was convicted in 2011 by a Munich court of being an accessory to the murder of 27,900 Dutch Jews at Sobibor. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment. “Demjanjuk was just the opening shot,” Walther says. “There should have been many more prosecutions like his. For decades German justice just failed to apply laws about being an accessory to mass murder that were already in place.”

Oskar Groening is the latest former Nazi guard to face charges of being an accessory to mass murder. He may be the last one. Lawyers representing two other surviving Auschwitz guards who have been identified in Germany, claim that their clients are “too frail” to stand trial. “German justice may have finally come for those who survived the Holocaust – but has arrived very, very late,” admits Mr Walther.
© The Independent

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Germany: AfD Chief Lucke denies plans to split the party

The head of Germany's right-wing AfD party has denied allegations he plans to leave the organization in order to form a new party. The announcement follows months of infighting for the Euroskeptic AfD.

19/5/2015- Bernd Lucke, party speaker and co-founder of Germany's right-wing Euroskeptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, on Tuesday played down rumors that he was planning to leave the party and form a new political organization. There has been a long-simmering dispute on the future direction of the party between Lucke and his wing, whose key concerns are free market policies and the abandonment of the common European currency, and the more far-right group led by the party's other co-founders Frauke Petry, Konrad Adam and Alexander Gauland. Though Lucke kept his distance from the Dresden-based anti-Islamization group PEGIDA, albeit voicing support for "most of" their desires, Petry met with the group's leaders in an effort to find common ground in the vacuum on the right of German politics - with Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) traditionally a rather centrist party among European conservatives.

While economics professor Lucke has tried to keep the AfD on its financial liberalism track, Petry and her camp have been more openly critical of Germany's immigration policies. Despite the squabbles, the AfD has continued on its path to success - though it fell just short of the 5 percent hurdle to join the federal parliament in 2013, last year it was elected to the European Parliament and has gained seats in five regional German parliaments, most recently in Bremen.

Adam: new initiative reminds me of the Jehovah's Witnesses
The infighting escalated Monday when Petry, party co-chair and head of the AfD for Saxony, called on Lucke to distance himself from reports that his new initiative Weckruf 2015 (Wake-up call 2015) was a new and separate party. According to German news agency DPA, Petry and Adam even went so far as to block Lucke's access to his party email account to show their displeasure with what they have previously described as his "despotic" leadership. Speaking from Strasbourg, where he is a member of the anti-euro bloc in the European Parliament, Lucke clarified that his new group, which was joined by over 1,000 AfD members in under 12 hours, was "an attempt to save the AfD" from being "threatened by fraying at the edges." "We want to stay in the AfD to defend our ideas," he told reporters, adding that he wanted to prevent the party from entering the territory of "enraged citizens" populism.

Konrad Adam mocked the name of Lucke's party-within-the-party, calling it "really strange" and saying it made him think of "the Jehovah's Witnesses or the Salvation Army." Gau-land, meanwhile, called the initiative a "tool for battle within the party," saying that he could not see how Lucke planned to save the AfD with it. Gauland argued that the AfD needed both a far-right and a free-market liberal wing: "I am completely in favor of us doing everything to maintain unity, but there are of course limits at some point." Lucke hopes to use the initiative to consolidate power at the next party conference in June. He had already paved the way for himself in January, when he successfully persuaded the party to approve a measure reducing the leadership from a three-person formation as it stands now, with himself, Petry and Adam at the helm, to a single party chairperson. The vote for the new, solitary leader will be at the party conference in the city of Kassel in mid-June.
© The Deutsche Welle.

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Germany: Leader warns AfD could become National Front

The leader of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) warned on Tuesday that his own party has the potential to turn into a German version of the National Front, France's far-right political party.

19/5/2015- Party founder and leader Bernd Lucke, along with three close allies, conceded to several German journalists on Tuesday that his party had the potential to develop into an anti-American, Islamophobic German version of the National Front, Süddeutsche Zeitung reported. The extraordinary admission happened in Strasbourg where Lucke and party MEPs Hans-Olaf Henkel, Bernd Kölmel and Joachim Starbatty attempted to clear up confusion about their future in the party. On Monday Lucke along with other economic liberals in the party announced the setting up of a group called 'Wakeup Call 2015'. Many party members had expressed "their dissatisfaction with the perception of the AfD and at the direction which some of the party leaders are trying to take," the leaders said on the group's website, adding that "many are considering leaving the party or are calling for the founding of a new one."

The party leaders said that they, too, shared these concerns and had no desire to serve as a respectable veneer for extremist opinions. But in Strasbourg on Tuesday, Lucke assured journalists that setting up Wakeup Call 2015 did not amount to a threat to leave the party, saying the opposite was true. He said he was making a call for moderates to stay in the fold and argued that Wakeup Call 2015 was needed to stop the party from turning into a home for the far right. "It is an initiative to prevent mass flight from the party," he said. "The vast majority want the party to stick to the principals on which it was founded in 2013."

Drift to the right
An economist by profession, Lucke set up the AfD in 2013 as a protest against the euro, which he described as ill-fitted to the different cultures and economic priorities of the member states. Last year was a breakthrough year for the party as they first won 7.1 percent of the vote in the European election before going on to consider-able success in east German state elections, easily passing the 5 percent barrier for representation in the legislature on every occasion. But the party's success in east Germany also led to the empowerment of a populist right-wing faction which has recently challenged Lucke for control of the party agenda. Particularly contentious in recent weeks has been the refusal by the leaders of this faction to unconditionally condemn the National Democratic Party, widely viewed in Germany as being a neo-Nazi organisation. Lucke's Wakeup Call has not gone down well with the leaders of this faction. Alexander Gauland, the party head in Brandenburg, called it a "weapon of war" for the purpose of maintaining control within the party.

Legal proceedings
Now the party head in Saxony, Frauke Petry has announced she is considering legal proceedings against the new group, reports the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Speaking at a press conference in Dresden, Petry said "the party doesn't need a wakeup call. I am confused at this new group that was not agreed upon with anyone in the party leadership." She added that she doubted that the group was compatible with the party's constitution. Threatening to take on Lucke for the party leadership at the party's June convention, Perty said "the AfD can exist without Mr Lucke in 2015."
© The Local - Germany

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German euroskeptic AfD leader Lucke threatens party departure

A split appears imminent in the euroskeptic Alternative for Germany (AFD) party. Co-founder Bernd Lucke - a professor of economics - has threatened to quit the party, lamenting the far-right influence in AfD's ranks.

18/5/2015- Lucke and four other AfD European parliamentarians called a press conference for Tuesday in Strasbourg. Reports on Monday said they had already founded a new association called "Weckruf 2015," or "Wake-up call 2015." In a message to members, Lucke said he did not believe that appeals for unity helped any more. "The fundamental attitudes of these two groups are irreconcilable," Lucke wrote in an open letter, a clear allusion to the growing right-wing influences on AfD policies - people more troubled by the EU's rules on migration, for instance, than on the economic merits of monetary union. "We are not willing to serve as a serious facade in civil society for these groups," Lucke and his allies told party members in their letter.

New party intended?
His rival, Frauke Petry, an AfD co-chairperson who also heads the AfD's eastern Saxony state branch, called on Lucke on Monday to distance himself from the reports that a new association or party was intended. Lucke, a free-market economics professor vehemently opposed to European monetary union, co-founded the AfD in 2013 to protest German and EU-wide policies during the eurozone debt crisis. It unsettled German politics by creating an opposition alternative to the right of Germany's conservative Christian Democrats led by Chancellor Angela Merkel. The AfD fell narrowly short of being elected to the German federal parliament in September 2013, just missing the 5-percent hurdle that guarantees representation.

Footholds in five assemblies
Since then, however, it has gained opposition footholds in the European Parliament and in five German regional parlaiments, the latest being the city-state of Bremen. A fellow market liberal and former German industry leader, Hans-Olaf Henkel, resigned his party executive seat last month after clashing with what he termed "right-wing ideologues" in the AfD. Lucke said on Monday that if the AfD failed at its federal party conference on June 13 to isolate itself from the "machinations" of right-wing nationalists then the formation of a new party was possibly the only way forward. "We don't see a future for us in the AfD if the party doesn't decisively resist those who while brawling try to draw attention to themselves or peddle on the fringe of society," wrote Lucke and his supporters. Early this month, the German business newspaper "Handelsblatt" reported that the AfD has 21,226 members plus a further 1,502 supporters who donate money.
© The Deutsche Welle.

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German police brutality scandal: Officers in Hanover accused of racism

A rights organization has accused German federal police of "an appalling level of racism and contempt for human beings." Prosecutors are looking into the torture of migrants by officers in Hanover.

18/5/2015- On Monday, the German human rights organization Pro Asyl responded to reports that the Hanover federal police had tortured at least two migrants in the past year. In an exclusive aired Sunday, the public radio and television broadcaster Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) detailed at least two incidents of violence against migrants in custody. With Pro Asyl calling the reports evidence of "an appalling level of racism and contempt for human beings" by the Hanover federal police on Monday, the nongovernmental organization's head, Günter Burkhardt, demanded a broad investigation. "The whole cesspool must be exposed," he said, calling the "inaction of accomplices in police uniform" while their colleagues allegedly tortured migrants a "scandal within a scandal."

NDR has released texts allegedly sent by an officer to colleagues via WhatsApp, as well as a photo of a shackled teenager from Morocco "in an unnatural position." The broadcaster has reported that the evidence implicates multiple officers, with the boots of at least two shown in the photo. An unnamed official from the Hanover federal police told the broadcaster that the two cases it has detailed are not isolated.
© The Deutsche Welle.

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Germany: Thousands protest against PEGIDA march in Stuttgart

Several thousand people in Stuttgart have gathered to protest against the right-wing group PEGIDA's planned rally. PEGIDA is a movement of people opposed to a perceived "Islamization" of western countries.

17/5/2015- Some 4,000 people took to the streets of Stuttgart on Sunday to block the right-wing PEGIDA's planned demonstration in the city. Several hundred police officers were on hand to handle possible violence between the right-wing organization and its opponents. The comparatively few PEGIDA participants, estimated to number between 200 and 300, could barely make their voices heard among the thousands who thronged to oppose the group's march. Despite heavy security, there were reports of heated arguments and skirmishes, as well as of eggs and apples being thrown at the police, who also discovered a smoke bomb in the area. Officers had to escort several members of the right-wing group so they could safely reach their protest venue. Stuttgart's police also tweeted to citizens, asking them to demonstrate peacefully and let PEGIDA activists pass through. There were reports of other extreme right groups such as the "Berserker Pforzheim" showing solidarity with PEGIDA, which stands for Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West.

UN committee expresses concerns
The anti-PEGIDA rally in Stuttgart was called by the group "For diversity, against racism," a conglomerate of many civil society groups, including the Stuttgart church. Several such groups have emerged since PEGIDA began its demonstrations in December last year, blaming the increasing influx of immigrants into Germany and Europe for terror attacks and endangering Western culture. Meanwhile, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination last week expressed its concern "at the proliferation and dissemination of racist ideas by certain political parties and movements" in Germany. It lauded Berlin's attempts to comply with the UN anti-racism convention, but said the country lacked efficient measures to punish racist speech crimes. It also called for a clearer definition of racist discrimination, which would make filing a complaint easier in such cases.
© The Deutsche Welle.

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German navy to rescue migrants then sink boats

German naval ships have been ordered to sink migrant ships in the Mediterranean after rescuing passengers, according to a report. Bundeswehr rules also call for rescued migrants to sleep on ship decks.

17/5/2015- Since May 5, the Bundeswehr ships Hessen and Berlin have reportedly sent four inflatable boots and one made out of wood to the murky bottom of the Mediterranean Sea near the coast of Libya, as part of their mandate to destroy migrant boats upon taking the passengers aboard. "Otherwise, they would present a maritime barrier to other boats on the open sea," frigate Captain Alexander Gottschalk told the mass-circulation newspaper Bild am Sonntag. "Also, from the air, we might perceive an empty boat as a boat in distress and go try to save it." Gottschalk added that migrants would be checked for potential weapons before being taken aboard ships. He said during their transport to centers in Italy the migrants would sleep under tarpaulins on deck, which he called feasible in the mild 20-degree Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) days of summer. Up to 2,000 migrants have drowned since the beginning of 2015 in the waters between North African launching points and the southern European coast, including more than 800 people in a single accident in April. EU foreign and defense ministers plan to meet Monday to discuss such issues.

Disputed EU efforts
On Saturday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said he opposed a quota to spread migrants around the European Union based on members' populations, employment levels and other factors - what German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has referred to as " sharing the burden." Roughly 50 percent of Germans approve of the country's potentially taking in more migrants. The quota plan, however, appears to be unraveling in the face of opposition from other EU countries. Though the European Union has yet to hash out exact details of the plan, countries such as Hungary, Slovakia and Estonia have already rejected it.

In an interview published in the Sunday edition of Die Welt, Steinmeier, a member of the Social Democratic Party, said in the coming days officials would have to "clear up complicated legal, political and practical questions" before launching an EU anti-smuggling military mission in the Mediterranean. He added: "Last but not least, we need close coordination with the United Nations Security Council and sufficiently reliable agreements with Libya." Authorities have yet to work out how exactly to differentiate smugglers from vessels with legitimate reasons to be on the sea. Ideas presented satellite or drone photos of boats on the Mediterranean.

EU officials also need to figure out what to do with migrants once they have been taken off the smuggling ships, on which many likely had paid personal fortunes for safe passage. Federica Mogherini, the European Union's foreign affairs coordinator, has said that no migrant will be returned to Libya, a main launching point for many but the country of origin for few, against his or her will.
© The Deutsche Welle.

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Headlines 22 May, 2015

Bulgarian Police Arrests Over 60 Illegal Immigrants in Sofia

21/5/2015- Officers of the State agency National Security, the Migration Directorate, as well as police authorities have executed a specialized operation and arrested 60 illegal immigrants, located in Sofia, near Lavov most. Traffic was stopped along the Mariya Luiza Boulevard on account of the action. Several hostels and rooms for rent were raided since information was released that citizens of Afganistan and other Middle Eastern and African countries were residing there. According to unofficial information, the action was aimed at exposing an illegal trafficking scheme for people coming from Asia, Africa and the Middle East into Europe through Bulgaria. Hundreds of illegal immigrants reportedly are living close to Lavov Most and are often said to be getting into arguments with locals. This is the reason for constant police surveillance.

In January the State Agency for Refugees to the Council of Ministers imposed curfew on local refugees, in order to minimize clashes with local police and citizens. Meanwhile, a number of international human rights organizations expressed their severe criticism for the policy implemented and largely deemed it to be an act of discrimination. The refugee issue continues to be of major importance in the EU as well. The debates regarding the proposal for the implementation of a quota principle were quite heated with the majority of Northern European countries being against it. Discussions on the topic will be continuing in the upcoming weeks.
© Novinite

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Ireland: First Families First: Same-sex proposal ‘deeply worrying’

Group concerned at how same-sex marriage Yes vote might play out in family law cases.

20/5/2015- The First Families First group advocating a No vote in the forthcoming same-sex marriage referendum has said nobody has challenged their concerns on the change to the Constitution proving there is something “deeply worrying” about the proposed amendment. Three weeks ago the group - comprising journalist John Waters, former MEP Kathy Sinnott and Dublin-based psychotherapist Gerry Fahey - launched their campaign, which they say is not against the principle of same-sex marriage. They are concerned about what effects a Yes vote would have on the Constitution - and ultimately how this might play out in family law cases. In response, they proposed to insert language from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into the Constitution, that the State “shall respect the right of the child who is separated from one or both of its biological parents to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents”.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Mr Waters said a lack of opposition to their concerns was a silent acknowledgement of their value. “We waited with bated breath for politicians or lawyers to come forth and contradict us. Nobody has done so,” he said, viewing this as a de facto confirmation of “something deeply worrying” about the proposed amendment. Of their proposed addition, he said: “Only a total crank could object to the idea that you would put into the Constitution a protection which would guarantee to protect the right of a child and a parent to have a relationship through their lives. “It is the one right that the Government does not apparently want to extend to children which is the most fundamental right of all.”

Mr Waters said he was confident the No side could prevail and that the nation’s division was moving swiftly toward a 50:50 split. “I believe the Yes vote is in freefall at the moment and will continue to be in freefall until Friday,” he said. Ms Sinnott appealed to the youth vote to give serious consideration to their choice. “Maybe [to] put it in a language that they are much better at than I am: this is not a software change and it’s not even a hardware change - this is a complete change of operating system,” she said of the amendment. “They have to take on board that this is their future. They are going to be these parents and families as this develops in the family courts. “They are going to be the ones that are going to bear the first wave of heartbreak in this. And I would just appeal to them that they look more deeply than maybe their social media page into what the No vote is about.”

Mr Waters also used the occasion to criticise former president Mary McAleese on her decision to publicly support the Yes side. “In the future now we will have to ask each [presidential] candidate not just what you will do when you are president but what do you propose to do when you are no longer president; when you have the status and the clout of this office for the rest of your life.” He also said the ruling of discrimination in the Ashers Bakery case was “indicative” of where society is headed. “Will a Muslim baker have to accept an order for a cake with a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad; will a Jewish baker have to accept an order for a cake from a neo-Nazi group with a Swastika on it? Where will it end?”
© The Irish Times.

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Irish travellers' racism victory after court rules Wetherspoon pub discriminated

A group of Irish travellers were discriminated against by a north London Wetherspoon pub, a court has ruled, leading to lawyers claiming victory in the fight against “acceptable racism”.

18/5/2015- The Coronet in Holloway Road refused entry to delegates from an annual conference of the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain - now known as The Traveller Movement - in November 2011. Its lawyers complained to the Central London County Court that a group of 15 people denied entry for racist reasons included travellers, a police inspector, a barrister and a priest. Pub owners JD Wetherspoon denied allegations of discrimination, but Judge John Hand QC ruled there had been direct discrimination and awarded damages totalling £24,000. A Wetherspoon spokesman confirmed eight claimants against the pub chain were successful. Tim Martin, chairman of Wetherspoon, said: "Wetherspoon apologises to the eight individuals who were denied entry and for any upset and distress this caused to them.

"It is the first time that a claim of this nature has been brought against the company in the 35 years of its existence. "In the light of the judgment, though we have always been fully committed to operating our premises in a non-discriminatory way, we will undertake a full review of our relevant policies, procedures and training." Martin Howe, a solicitor with Howe & Co who acted for the travellers, said: "This judgment will shake to the core all those who engage in racist conduct towards Irish travellers and Romany gypsies. "The last bastion of 'acceptable racism' has come crashing down."
© This is local London

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The Roma – a different story | Bright Green

By Suad Skenderi.

19/5/2015- Roma, a widely dispersed group of people living in most of the European countries. Infamous for the majority, forgotten by the institutions, and neglected in the decision-making processes. A people with no kin state who fought for the establishment of many of today’s nation-states. According to many sources, including opinion polls, reports, media outlets, and education systems in Europe, Roma or ‘Gypsies’ [sic] are shown as modern segregated pagans, societies’ villains, marginalized and exotic leftovers in most of the European countries. They are vulnerable barbarians, shown either as parasites or as fond of criminality, and should be kept mute and powerless. Altogether, this series of despicable arguments show that Roma are a poor socio-economic unit living on the edge of society. But hold on a second, IS THIS REALLY THE TRUTH?

Recently, Roma have become a topic for extensive research and, with contribution from a variety of angles. Generally, research depicts Roma in both a positive and negative light. A big chunk of the research with negative connotations reinforces the above-mentioned stereotypes through surveys conducted in ghettos, media generalizations and other marketing tools – all mechanisms to perpetuate the humiliating image of Roma. Meanwhile, a small proportion of research papers show Roma as a political unit, a nation engaged in struggle, as people who aim to progress towards a better life, or as contributors to the socio-economic development of society. There is a reason why most of the sources of information and research are full of stereotypes and prejudices – the lack of recognition of the political project that represents Roma people, and the lack of political representation of Roma people.

At the first World Romani Congress in 1971, which took place in Orpington (South East of London), Roma people held their first ever nation-building meeting, seeking common values and interests that would unify them. The main motivation of this congress was the trauma of the Samudaripen (Roma Genocide) that happened during the Second World War. The congress was led by Roma prominent figures from most of the European nation states and still acts as a milestone for the idea of a Roma Nation. It brought with it the claim for a common self-identification and recognition through the name of ‘Roma’, which means ‘man, human being’ in Romani language. In this way, Roma people declined to be identified with the pejorative ‘Gypsy’, a name given by the majority of the European nation states for a group of people that until then had had nothing in common. The participants at the first World Roma congress also adopted a common flag and anthem. Since then, there have been seven subsequent World Roma congresses, each strengthening Roma identity, culture, and a common sense of belonging.

These three main elements of nation-building – a non-territorial nation; a political unit; and an anthem and flag – have remained the most important and have unified Roma people’s struggle, development, and progress. In spite of this, Roma are still identified as a socio-economic group without any values and interests by the majority popula-tion, by the media and by a series of research papers that ignore the realities of this nation-building process. We continue to be called ‘Gypsies’ and the recognition of Roma as a nation has been woefully inadequate. This ignorance has hindered the possibilities for achieving equality and has rendered the struggle of Roma invisible. In a context where we preach European values and equality for all, Roma are always shown as the scapegoats of policy failures, criminality and illegal immigration. Roma are not the stereotypes you were led to believe, but contributors to society who are often neglected. History does not teach the struggles of Roma and neglects to each our history to young people.

One of the recently established and most important days of remembrance that should be vocally celebrated is May 16, Romani Resistance Day. On this day in 1944, Nazi policy makers decided that many Roma inmates should be exterminated in the gas chambers of concentration camps. On that day, the Roma inmates in Auschwitz II-Birkenau’s Zigeunerlager showed unity in resisting their captors. However, in the eyes of those in the majority population who are ignorant of our history, ‘Gypsies’ deserved that fate. When we imagine Roma, we only consider the ‘Gypsies’, the results of the opinion polls, the research and media depictions reinforcing the stereotypes that Roma are poor nomads, beggars or robbers. Roma were never given an opportunity to prove that they are something other than these labels. We generally do not consider the existence of Roma such as that famous pioneer of comedy Charlie Chaplin; or the remarkable football superstar Ricardo Quaresma; the king of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley; or Brazilian president Juscelino Kubitschek de Oliveira.


Thus, recognition of Roma as a nation is hindered and silenced in most European countries. One way to overcome this situation is to truly embrace equality, freedom and justice. We should understand the notion of equality as a principle regardless of nationality, ethnicity, religion, gender and other existing cleavages. Equality as well as freedom and justice should be understood as existing for everybody; these values should not be owned and bestowed by one group of people to another. Another way would be for Roma to create their own story. If they did so, I would not expect Roma to believe the discourse that they are born as outlaws and social deviants. Furthermore, I strongly believe that Roma can improve the situation only if the old and the new generations collaborate on the same agenda.

Young Roma activists and academics such as those who established the blog Romalitico can be among the most effective challengers of negative narratives to prove that Roma are not what you are told but a non-territorial nation that deserves respect. Indeed, it is up to the upcoming generations to use their energy with the existing innovative democratic tools to debunk stereotypes with the help of the elders. However, this can only be successful if the new generations consult the elders for their wisdom and experiences on the Roma struggle for recognition; while our elders make way for the youth and empower them for a better future.
Suad Skenderi is an executive director and author of the academic medium Romalitico. He is currently working on a Masters degree in Political Sciences with the Central European University.

© Bright Green

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Netherlands plans to ban full-face veil in public places

22/5/2015- The Dutch government on Friday agreed to introduce a partial ban on the wearing of the full-face veil in public places, the Home Affairs Ministry said in a statement. The proposed ban, which must be approved by parliament before it can become law, would apply to all face-covering clothing, including ski-masks and helmets, on public transport and in schools, hospitals and government offices. The measure "had nothing to do with religion," Prime Minister Mark Rutte told journalists in The Hague after the proposed measure was passed by the cabinet. "In a free country like the Netherlands, everyone has the right to dress how they choose, no matter what others think. That freedom is only limited in situations when it is essential for people to look at each other," the statement said. Anti-Islam opposition politician Geert Wilders, whose far right policies have won him widespread support among Dutch voters, has long sought a ban on face veils and burqas. Wilders told Dutch television on Friday the proposed measure was "weak". Only a few hundred women in the Netherlands veil themselves completely, but Rutte said such laws were needed to "enforce values" of Dutch society. France banned full-face veils in 2010, in a move that was upheld last year by the European Court of Human Rights.
© Reuters

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Netherlands: Ethnic minority students face internship discrimination

21/5/2015- Students with an ethnic minority background have to write more letters to find an internship than their native Dutch peers and earn less while on work experience programmes, according to the eighth national internship monitor. In total, 1,700 students took part in the monitor, which is compiled by internship website StudentenBureau. The results of the survey show 52% of ethnic minority students have to write at least six letters to find a placement, compared with 38% of the native Dutch. They also earn an average of €14 a month less and score 0.3 percentage point lower in their final assessment. ‘It is really regrettable that your name and the way you look still has an influence in 2015,’ the bureau’s director Laurens Simonse told Metro news. ‘But many companies are still unwilling to give minority students a chance or operate different standards.’ The survey defined someone as an ethnic minority if at least one of their parents was born abroad.

Pay
The survey also showed one in five students was not paid at all during their internship. The average payment is €275 a month, a €10 rise on 2014. The best paid internships are in the
IT sector, where the average income is €356. The worst paid interns are in the healthcare sector, where the compensation averages just €131 a month. The sector by sector diffe-rences may explain the difference in wages between male and female interns. The average male intern was paid €324 a month, while women earned €248. The survey also showed 43% of interns were offered a job by their employer at the end of their work experience placement and just over half of them accepted the deal.
© The Dutch News

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Netherlands: Just 10 refugee children won residency via the amnesty last year

20/5/2015- Just 10 refugee children were given permission to stay in the Netherlands via the general amnesty last year, the NRC reports on Wednesday. In total, 530 children expected to be given residency rights under the amnesty in 2014, the paper says. Children’s rights group Defence for Children says the figures are ‘shocking’ and show the conditions for qualification are much too strict. The amnesty, agreed by Labour and the right-wing VVD as part of their coalition deal, only applies to children who have lived in the Netherlands for at least five years under the care of national government. Being under local council supervision does not count.

Defence for Children and the UN’s children’s rights group Unicef published their annual report on the state of children’s rights in the Netherlands on Wednesday. In the report, Defence for Children also said it was concerned about the disappearance of so many children from refugee centres. Last year 110 youngsters under the age of 18 vanished without trace, despite the government being responsible for them. ‘We are talking about children who came here alone, without parents,’ the organisation said. ‘They run a real risk of being preyed on by child traffickers.’ ‘Normally when a child goes missing, an Amber Alert is issued for them,’ the organisation said. ‘But for these children there is no investigation.’
© The Dutch News

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Netherlands: Wilders: Put Mohammed cartoons on display in Parliament

19/5/2015- PVV leader Geert Wilders has submitted a request to Kamer President Anouchka van Miltenburg to have the prophet Mohammed cartoons from Garland, Texas displayed in the Tweede Kamer, lower house of parliament. Earlier this month Wilders was the guest speaker at a competition for the best cartoon depicting the prophet Muhammed in Garland. There was a shooting incident at the event just after Wilders left. A security card was injured and the two attackers were killed by the police. According to Wilders, the attackers want to make it impossible to exhibit Mohammed cartoons. “The only way to make clear to terrorists that we will never let them win, is to do what they try prevent us from doing”, Wilders wrote to Van Miltenburg according to NOS.
© The NL Times

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Luxembourg PM marries gay partner

18/5/2015- Luxembourg prime minister Xavier Bettel put himself in the history books on Friday (15 May) by becoming the first EU government leader to marry someone of the same sex. The marriage - held in private - symbolises how legal rights for gay citizens of the EU have advanced in the past years. Since 2001, gay marriage has become possible in just over a third of EU countries. When counting non-EU members Norway and Iceland, twelve European countries allow people of the same sex to marry. Luxembourg is the latest addition, since 1 January 2015, and Finland will follow, although the law will only take effect in 2017. “Luxembourg can set an exam-ple," Bettel noted on his wedding day, which was attended by Belgian prime minister Charles Michel. Bettel, who married a Belgian architect, is the second govern-ment leader in the world to marry someone from the same sex.

In 2010, Johanna Sigurðardottir, then prime minister of Iceland, married her gay partner. The next country to take a position on the matter will be Ireland which is due to decide by referendum on Friday (22 May) whether it will legalise same-sex marriages. Several polls show that a majority intends to vote Yes, although support has dropped somewhat recently. A civil partnership has been legal in Ireland since 2011, but homosexuality was illegal until 1993. The referendum results will be announced on Saturday. A look at the map of progress on gay rights in Europe is almost a reminder of the divide between East and West during the Cold War. Except for Ireland, the western and northern part of the EU have legalised gay marriage, central Europe including Germany have a registered partnership possibility, while many eastern European countries have constitutions limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples.

Earlier this month, an NGO that advocates equal rights published its annual review of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex. Again, western European nations generally score higher than eastern countries. However, legalising same-sex marriage does not automatically change views. In the Netherlands, the first country in the EU and the world to legalise gay marriage in 2001, a recent study showed that attitudes towards gay people differ to those towards straight people. A study by the Netherlands Institute for Social Research showed that there is a difference between agreeing with general statements on gay rights, and encountering gay people on the street. While 90 percent of those polled said gay men and women “should be able to live their lives as they want it”, 35 percent said they would find it offensive to see two men kiss in public. Two women kissing was offensive to 24 percent, and a man and a woman kissing in public would offend 12 percent.
© The EUobserver

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Northern Ireland: Black people suffer most racism, much of it below radar

Everyday’ abuse may not warrant criminal investigation but causes damage, conference told.

19/5/2015- Black children had bananas thrown at them as they walked with their father, and a black woman was singled out by gardaí to produce her ID on a cross-border bus, a conference has been told. These were among examples of the “everyday racism” black Africans experience,said Dr Lucy Michael of the University of Ulster. She said black Africans suffered the most sustained racism here and the impact on children was the most worrying aspect because, perhaps unlike their parents, they would be less able to rationalise the abuse. The conference, hosted by European Network Against Racism (ENAR) Ireland, was held to mark Africa Day on Tuesday. Dr Michael said such acts of “everyday racism” may not warrant criminal investigation, but could “be just as damaging to the individual as a violent attack”.

“Everyday racism is the racism other than that which ‘bad’ people do, the everyday things we see and tolerate and start to normalise and start to ignore. But when we start t look for it, it is everywhere.” Dr Michael has analysed the reports of Afrophobic racism made to ENAR and included in its most recent quarterly reports, which found black and black African people experience the most racism. In other incidents a black woman was threatened in a pub and had a drink thrown over her, while in another a black man was assaulted by six people while walking alone in Dublin city centre on mid-week evening. “We need to understand that many of these incidents pass under the radar but the drip-drip-drip in a person’s life accumulates and damages their ability to participate, to contribute and damages their mental health.”

She said there was a tendency to see only the “black body” and not the person, as could be seen in references to dirt, disease, pollution, laziness , and making animalistic sounds or gestures. Salome Mbuga, founder of migrant women’s network Akidwa, said as a black woman living in Ireland for 21 years, she had “on many occasions had to challenge racism and discrimination”. “Many people of African descent have very bad experiences fighting to be respected, fighting for services for their children.” She called for a new National Action Plan Against Racism, the last one having expired in 2008, and for a body to replace the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, which also closed in 2008 as a result of cutbacks.
© The Irish Times.

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Finland: Justice, morality and exclusion from the law: the case of the Roma

‘Culture’ appears to be both an easy way in and out of understanding the complexity of the ‘moral’ and the ‘just’ among minority or excluded groups. 
By Raluca Roman, PhD student at the University of St Andrews, UK

19/5/2015- A law case made headlines in March 2015, concerning the kidnapping, sexual abuse and bodily harming of a young Finnish Roma woman by a Finnish Roma man and his daughter. The case revived the distinction between cultural individual rights, since much of the discussion revolved around the seemingly ‘parallel’ system of moral conduct according to which members of the group lived. The case simultaneously, and unsurprisingly, polarised members of the Finnish Roma community, as many from the majority society found the ruling inappropriate.

The event that sparked such interest began in 2010 when the then 19-year-old victim started an online conversation with the then 17-year-old female captor, and was introduced to the latter’s father. The victim was taken prisoner, kept captive and forced to have sexual intercourse with the male captor without the use of any contraception. As a result, between 2010 and 2014 (when she was released) the woman became pregnant four times and gave birth to three children; all of whom were registered under the female captor’s name. The victim was eventually able to escape when the clinicians tending to her last pregnancy found her situation suspicious, conducted a house visit and reported the matter to the police.

Beyond the gravity of the case and the uproar it stirred within the Finnish media, what seemed most clearly under debate was the short sentence received by the two perpetrators for their crimes. The male captor was sentenced to 3 years and 10 months imprisonment for aggravated trafficking in human beings, while his daughter received a sentence of 2 years and 8 months imprisonment for the same crime. Debates on the reasons behind the short sentences, particularly in the media, pointed out the ethnic origin of the two–Roma–was seen as the basis for legal leniency. ‘Cultural background’ was also an explicit part of the defence. The male captor claimed that, according to the Finnish Roma culture, where ‘official’ marriage is not always customary, the girl had become his wife by living with him, hence sexual intercourse was automatically voluntary and consensual.

Finnish Roma activists responded harshly to the statements of the accused and condemned the use of ‘cultural rights’ to justify crimes of this (or other) nature. Culture was not to be seen as an excuse or a motive for crime, nor should crime be associated with cultural practices. Furthermore, outspoken Finnish Roma raised concerns of the ways in which the media’s portrayal of the event would affect the shape of the Finnish Roma community more broadly, attributing them once again to a marginal, external position in relation to the mainstream system of justice. The full consequences of this case are yet to unfold, as both human rights Romani activists seek to dismiss the ruling and ask for a harsher sentence.

The headlines made by this case is but one in the countless number of cases focusing on human trafficking and ‘Roma background’, where too often the two were seen interlinked, and the focus of academics, politicians and, journalists was too often placed on the ways in which ‘culture’ provides space for criminality. In many ways, when it comes to Roma/Gypsy groups, there seems to be little distinction made between instances of apparent lawlessness, impunity and institutionalised marginality; the interplay of state power and legal justice; diverse ways of conceiving community norms and moral pursuits; and the ways in which the state itself shapes the status of legality/illegality in regards to ethnic minority groups.

For Roma communities across European countries, much like for many other marginalised communities, the case has rather been made for their self-exclusion from majority institutions (including that of the law), dismissing the ways in which different manifestations of the ‘law’ can and should be analysed. And, much like in the case of other cultural, ethnic or religious groups that seem to live on the fringes of the mainstream, Roma have persistently been approached via their lack of, or counter-position to majority understandings of justice and morality, rather than via the dialogical nature of the relationship between the two. Taking heed from the case above, it is necessary to take a look at the shape and structure of the Finnish Roma community, their relation to the law and the often made confusion between instances of marginality and instances of criminality.
The Finnish Roma: outside the law?

The Finnish Roma, who refer to themselves as the Kaale, are a Roma population of about 10,000 people and have, since the mid-1990s, been officially recognised as a traditional minority in Finland. Most Finnish Roma abide by a strict moral code, placing great emphasis on honouring one’s family, one’s elders and one’s community. Most do not speak a Romani language and those who do speak a dialect that is almost incomprehensible to Roma groups from eastern Europe. Their dress and customs, as well as their overall appearance, make them distinguished members of Finnish society and clearly distinguishable from their majority Finnish counterparts.

At the same time, while officially subject to Finnish rights and legislation, Finnish Roma have frequently been portrayed as living different lives from those of the majority. In particular, their methods of conflict resolution within the community (often termed ‘blood feuds’ or family ‘vendettas’ within the media), have been regarded as creating a parallel system of justice, within the confines of the Finnish Roma society itself, and separating them from the majority conceptions of the just and lawful. This is what one could call Finnish-Roma law; throughout my fieldwork I have come to see and understand it as the rule and respect devoted to one’s family, rather than the animosity towards non-kin.

Finnish Roma, in reality, have no distinctive system of justice as such, outside the mainstream legal one; there is no ruler or central organ within the community that would judge the morality or validity of actions or take it upon itself to mediate disputes. Rather, what seems to characterise the ways of enacting a form of justice among this community is the non-institutionalised legacy of kin devotion, which at times extended outside of kin in the form of honour killings or vendettas. The existence of such a system often galvanised outside perceptions of Finnish Roma as deviants within the modern Finnish state, unable to fit within contemporary ideas of a law-governed society, and as individuals evading (or avoiding) the mainstream system of justice. Yet, what is often left out of the conversation is that the Finnish-Roma system of ensuring justice from ‘within’, and separating it from those ‘outside’ has its birth in the history of Finnish Roma in the country, their relation to the Finnish state, and the personalised story of their relationship with the Kaaje (the name they give to non-Finnish Roma Finns).

The system of justice that defined Finnish Roma society in the past was built upon an already attributed position within majority Finnish society: that of excluded members of Finnish institutions. While majority Finns always interacted with the Finnish Roma, whose services they needed and desired (such as horse trade, fortune telling, crafts making), Finnish Roma (or gypsies, as they were then known) remained perceived as strangers of the nation’s ruling bodies, including that of the law and the mainstream Lutheran church. At the same time, while marginalised and excluded from many of society’s pathways of national belonging (including the state church until the 1970s), they were not, in fact, willingly marginal and always interacted with local populations. Their distinct system of family rule (and punishment of those who infringed upon the honour of the family) may in fact be linked more to this particular ambiguous position within the nation-state rather than to their self-exclusion from society’s institutions.
Evangelical conversion and the shift of the ‘moral’ law?

Around the same time that the Finnish Roma stopped travelling in the 1970s, a large number within the community started converting to the Pentecostal movement in the country, mainly from the Lutheran state church to which they officially belonged. This process of socio-religious change cross-cut family rivalries, in that individuals from and across feuding kin groups experienced the same process of Evangelical conversion and adopted a similar belief in Christian salvation. Given the emphasis placed by Evangelical movements (Pentecostalism in particular) on ‘breaking with the past’, including breaking with past disputes, the question emerged on how the Finnish Roma ‘law of the family’ was shaped by this process of conversion. More so, what can this change tell us about changing relations with the mainstream system of justice?

In cases when one or all of the parties were now Evangelical, rather than seeking revenge, one family would choose to avoid encountering the other. This tacit agreement is made from the side of both Evangelicals and non-Evangelicals, knowing that those now ‘in faith’ are bound by their religious identity to avoid any act of physical violence. Exceptions inevitably occur, which the media thrive on. But the number of family disputes and public acts of family vendettas has diminished greatly over the years. Whether this is due to Pentecostal belonging, improved social conditions or increased contact with the Finnish legal system (or a mix of all and more), these changes are noticeably shaping the understanding of the ‘moral law’ in relation to kin and non-kin.

The family and close kin remain the central points of attachment and allegiance, and everything else is incorporated within. Nevertheless, living in and being a recognised part of Finnish society, in a more obvious and continuous way (through non-segregated housing, recognition of minority rights, increased contact with state institutions and group mobilization), have proved to be pathways of re-shaping ‘traditional’ kin disputes. Perhaps, after all, the very existence and shape of a perceived parallel system of law that the community upheld lies in the very position they have historically been shaped by: that of a marginal group in Finnish society. Changes in this positioning may shift and shape group understandings and relations to the ‘law’, understood as the institution of the state.
The shifts of culture and the Europeanization of Roma politics

Going back to the kidnapping case, culture’ appears to be both an easy way in and out of understanding the complexity of the ‘moral’ and the ‘just’ among minority or excluded groups. In the case of Finnish Roma, the link of ‘culture’ has more often than not been attributed to marginality and exclusion from majority institutions. However, members of this specific minority are no longer silent witnesses to their own social positioning. They have engaged vastly through diverse forums of discussion such as newspapers, social media and mass media, showing the polarisation of the community in respect to the use of ‘culture’ as motivation. The media, in this case, was both a source of tension and mobilization, highlighting the problematic use of group rights or cultural rights in overriding individual rights.

Furthermore, the changes in European politics and policymaking in relation to Roma groups have changed the way in which (at least some) Roma relate to the mainstream institutions of law and government. The brief case presented above seems little to do with the shape of transnational legislation, and more with the limited access that members of the Finnish Roma community have had to local, mainstream pathways of justice. Yet, with increased numbers of Roma communities migrating to western and Nordic European countries (presumed welfare societies), the issues of group interaction, legislation proposals and specific ways of responding to the institution of the law come to the fore.

In the case of Finnish Roma, as in the case of their ‘alternative system of justice’ and the ways in which ‘culture’ has been linked to ‘lifestyle’, they have always been embedded within the Finnish state. In the context of increased Europeanisation and in the context of increased contact and participation within international institutions, it will be of no surprise if the ways of enacting, and understanding the meaning of the ‘lawful’ and the ‘just’ will be re-shaped, in different and specific ways. Whether this will enable them enhanced access to self-representation, mobilisation and emancipation within an increasingly Europeanized Roma politics, or whether the spread of anti-Gypsy attitudes across Europe will lead to different re-conceptions of the law from within, is another matter altogether.
© Open Democracy.

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Finland: Far right set to enter government coalition

Timo Soini, leader of the Eurosceptic Finns party, is expected to become finance or foreign minister after his populist party finish second in elections.

19/5/2015- Finland’s government is expected to include far right representation after the new prime minister, Centre party leader Juha Sipilä, confirmed that he was opening negotiations to bring the populist Finns party (PS) into coalition for the first time. The PS’s charismatic leader, Timo Soini, is poised to become a minister, probably with the finance or foreign affairs portfolio, after the party finished second in the general election on 19 April. Sipilä said it was the “best option” to meet the challenges facing the country, notably the economy. He said he wanted a strong coalition capable “of making reforms and implementing those decisions”. The third partner in the coalition will be the conservative National Coalition party, led by outgoing premier Alexander Stubb. The coalition will have a comfortable majority, with 123 seats out of 200.

Negotiations have begun on a detailed agenda for government. The Social Democrats, part of the previous government, will be in opposition after their crushing election defeat. Throughout the campaign, Soini, 52, assured voters he was ready to govern. He is a well-known Eurosceptic and a critic of the financial rescue package for Greece. Soini avoided any reference to the euro on the campaign trail, though his party manifesto clearly states that Finland should renegotiate the terms of European Union membership and recover powers from Brussels. Soini also toned down his criticism of immigration, though he made no attempt to condemn the xenophobic comments of some other PS candidates.

There is a consensus view, shared by the three main parties that have governed in the past, that it is preferable to have the populists on board, rather than allow them to gain ground in opposition. Along with Belgium and Greece, Finland is the third EU country with populist Eurosceptics in government. Although Sipilä may be able to come to terms with Soini, Finland’s stance on Europe will soon become an issue, particularly if he becomes minister of finance or foreign affairs. Stubb, the third leader in the coalition, advocates European integration and would like Finland to join Nato. However, like the other coalition partners, he has misgivings about helping Greece. The three coalition partners will also need to agree on the severe austerity drive Sipilä is preparing in an effort to sort out the country’s finances, after enduring three years of recession and poor growth in 2015. The premier has announced that he intends to cut public spending by at least €6bn ($6.8bn) during his term of office.

He is also pushing trade unions and employers to agree on labour-market reforms to boost competitiveness. So far they have failed to agree on a common platform. The conservatives are prepared to implement drastic cuts in public spending, but the PS is more cautious. On several occasions the PS has stated that austerity measures should not be too severe.
© The Guardian

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Italy: Model student hit by racism over high grades

The Senagalese father of a 14-year-old pupil at a school in Pisa has complained to police after his daughter allegedly received a series of anonymous racist letters.

18/5/2015- The girl, described as a model student who hopes one day to become a lawyer, received six letters in which she was insulted because of her academic ability and the colour of her skin. The letters were found in the girl's diary, which had been thrown in the bin, local newspaper Il Tirreno reported. In one of the letters, the girl was told: “There’s no such thing as a black person becoming a lawyer”. Another read: “When will you return to your f*****g country?” By the time she received the sixth letter the girl’s father, who is from Senegal and has lived in Italy for 15 years, decided to go to police. He also went to the girl’s school to talk with her classmates. “In my speech I tried to be passive,” he told Il Tirreno. “‘To me you are all my children,’ I said. No one looked uncomfortable. It was as if the story regarded someone else.”

The messages allegedly started when teachers published the grades of the students in the class about a month ago. “My grades are quite high,” the girl, who has not been named, told the paper. “In law I got top grades because I like the subject and I like the teacher.” The letters, four of which were typed and two handwritten on lined paper, have now been handed into the school and police. “I honestly don’t suspect anyone,” the girl added. “I don’t like the situation because knowing that there are people in my class who think these things about me is really painful.”
© The Local - Italy

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Austria: 20,000 Mourn Croatia’s Dead at Controversial WWII Site

More than 20,000 people came to the town of Bleiburg in Austria to mourn Croatia’s defeated Nazi collaboration forces and civilians killed by Yugoslav Partisans 70 years ago.

18/5/2015- People from all over Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and other countries gathered at a field near the town of Bleiburg in southern Austria on Saturday to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the killings at the end of WWII. At the commemoration organised by the centre-right Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, party and the Catholic Church, the archbishop of Zagreb, Josip Bozanic, led a holy mass for the troops and civilians who died. “Today we have gathered in this field where... the Bleiburg tragedy of the Croatian people began - a crime against humanity which was systematically carried out by the Yugoslav army under the sign of the red five-pointed star,” Bozanic said during the mass.

Fleeing troops from the Nazi-aligned wartime Independent State of Croatia, NDH, along with other collaboration forces from Serbia and Slovenia, accompanied by thousands of civilians, surrendered to the British Army and Yugoslav Partisans in Bleiburg on May 15 1945. The captives were then taken back to Yugoslavia by the Par-tisans. Estimates of vary, but according to Croatian historians, around 30,000 of them were killed on the way, most of them in Tezno and Macelj in Slovenia. Bozanic said that the end of the war and the start of Communist rule in Yugoslavia marked “the beginning of the persecution, imprisonment and killing of innocent people”. “We need a shift from all evil ideologies; fascism, Nazism, and Communism. In our country, soaked in blood, it is important to seek the truth,” he said. He called on the Croatian authorities to work towards finding the remains of all those killed along the way from Bleiburg – a route referred to in Croatia as “the road to Calvary”.

Dragan Covic, the Croat member of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s tripartite presidency, recalled how the killings were a taboo topic during what he called “five decades of Communist repression” in the former Yugoslavia. “For mentioning Bleiburg, one would end up in a communist prison,” he added. Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic did not attend the ceremony after making an unannounced visit to pay tribute on Thursday last week. Instead she sent as her representative Bruna Esih, president of the Hrvatski krizni put association dedicated to preserving the memory of Bleiburg. Esih complained that the left-wing-majority Croatian parliament ceased to finance the Bleiburg commemoration event in 2012. “There is no power which can deny the right of a nation to pay its respects to its fallen ones; there is no power which could be more strongly unified in its striving to claim that right,” she said.

A Muslim imam is always present at the annual ceremony because a number of Muslim Bosniaks from Bosnia and Herzegovina were also executed along the way. The mufti from Zagreb’s Muslim community, Aziz Hasanovic, attended this year and noted that émigré Croats, descendants of people who survived the killings, had kept the memory of Bleiburg alive until the end of Communist rule. After the speeches, delegations laid wreaths and paid their respects at the central Bleiburg memorial. After laying a wreath, the president of the Croatian HDZ, Tomislav Karamarko, said that society should accept that Yugoslav Partisan leader Josip Broz Tito was responsible for the crimes. “Croatian social democracy will never be a true social democracy until it renounces the criminal Josip Broz Tito; only then, a Croatian left will be born,” Karamarko told journalists.

Over the years, the Bleiburg commemoration has attracted further controversy because some people who attended dressed up in the uniforms of Croatia’s wartime Ustasa troops and directed hate speech against Serbs and Communists. At Saturday’s commemoration however, only a small minority were dressed in Ustasa uniforms, while Ustasa songs were only sung in a nearby food and drink tent.
© Balkan Insight

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Croatia Urged to Stop Pensions for Nazi-Allied Troops

The director of leading Jewish rights organisation the Simon Wiesenthal Centre wrote to Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic demanding an end to pensions for veterans of Nazi-allied units from WWII.

19/5/2015- The director of the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Centre, Efraim Zuroff, said in an open letter to Milanovic that was made public on Tuesday that the pensions were an insult to victims of Croatia’s wartime pro-German regime. According to the Croatian pension insurance institute, in 2013 Zagreb paid out pensions to 13,000 former soldiers and policemen of the Nazi-aligned puppet state Independent State of Croatia, NDH. Even veterans of the notorious elite voluntary Ustasa unit, responsible for killing Serbs, Jews, Roma and opponents of the NDH, are eligible to receive these pensions. In his letter, Zuroff stressed that “the special benefits that members of the Ustasa movement got with a law passed in the fall of 1993 is an insult to Ustasa victims and their families”.

The law passed in 1993 was an attempt by the Croatian right-wing government at the time to compensate members of units that fought against anti-fascist Partisans, so that vete-rans on both sides received benefits. “With a view of the horrifying war crimes that were committed by the Ustasa in NDH, we believe that such a policy direction was wrong, contrary to the principles of the Republic of Croatia and that it represents a frightening insult to Ustasa victims, their families and all Croats who have a sense of morality and integrity,” Zuroff’s letter said. “Therefore, we invite you to take appropriate action and change this policy as soon as possible in order to spare Croatia of embarrassing rewarding of those who committed the worst and cruelest crimes of the World War Two, with special awards for their cruelty and moral blindness,” letter concludes.

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre is dedicated to locating all alleged Nazi criminals who are still alive, maintaining the memory of the Holocaust and tackling Holocaust denial in the process. Zuroff is an Israeli historian who has been responsible for ensuring some Nazi wartime criminals from Eastern Europe were brought to justice. In 1998 He played a signifi-cant role in the exposure, arrest, extradition and prosecution of Dinko Sakic, the former commandant of the Ustasa concentration camp Jasenovac. In 2013, Croatia spent around 46 million euro on pensions for the 13,000 former NDH soldiers and policemen. Two-thirds of these payouts were so-called ‘family pensions’, claimed by the veterans’ spouses after their deaths.
© Balkan Insight

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Bosnia: Srebrenica Genocide Resolution Expected to Fail

A draft resolution condemning the Srebrenica genocide of July 1995 has been sent to the Bosnian parliament, but Bosnian Serb lawmakers are again expected to reject it

22/5/2015- Mirsad Mesic, one of the MPs who proposed the resolution that was sent to parliament on Thursday, said that lawmakers from Bosnia’s Serb-led Republika Srpska had in previous years blocked the adoption of a declaration on genocide in Srebrenica and were expected to do so again. However he urged his fellow MPs to heed the verdicts of the Hague Tribunal and International Court of Justice, which defined the 1995 massacres of more than 7,000 Bosniaks as genocide, and support the resolution this year. “I believe this is a basic civilised responsibility of all people in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the world, to support this resolution which condemns genocide and the killings of innocent people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and this is the minimum we can do to create preconditions for reconciliation in this country,” Mesic said. The European parliament adopted a resolution on Srebrenica in 2009, as did the Serbian legislature, but without using the term genocide. The proposed resolution condemns the genocide committed by Bosnian Serb forces and calls on judicial institutions to punish those who deny genocide as well as those responsible for it. It also urges people to honour the victims, regardless of their religious or ethnic background.

But Dusica Majkic, a lawmaker from the leading Bosnian Serb party, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, said that the resolution only focuses on Bosniak victims so it will not get the support of the Bosnian Serb MPs. “We won’t even be inside [the building] at the moment of the vote, because parliament is headed by [Bosniak MP] Sefik Dzaferovic who is suspected of war crimes against Serbs. If we were there, we would vote against, because this country needs to sit down and agree politically what the truth is. Where are the other victims?” Majkic asked. Munira Subasic from the Association of Mothers of the Srebrenica and Zepa Enclaves said that the country should be ashamed that on the 20th anniversary of the worst crime in Europe since World War II, parliament has yet to adopt a resolution distancing itself from the crime. “Each year we are offended by those who deny the crime. If they are against this resolution then they are proud of the genocide and the criminals,” said Subasic.
© Balkan Insight

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Bosnia: Anti-racism chief Piara Powar condemns homophobic banner at Sarajevo derby

18/5/2015- Piara Powar, the executive director of the Football Against Racism in Europe network, has condemned a homophobic banner on display at the Sarajevo derby in Bosnia-Herzegovina on Saturday. A large banner, which read: “17 May is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia and in honour of your holiday tomorrow we want you to suck our dicks” was held up on one half of a curve of the Olympic Stadium Asim Ferhatovic-Hase during FK Zeljeznicar’s clash with FK Sarajevo. Images of the match showed a large presence of stewards and police, none of whom appeared to challenge the banner, prompting Powar, formerly a director at Kick it Out, to deplore the actions of the supporters and urge the Bosnian authorities to act.

“This choreography was one of the worst displays of homophobia we have seen this season, which may be a source of pride for the people responsible for it but it may also mark a watershed moment,” said Powar. “The rules of football are clear, acts of discrimination are to be challenged and sanctioned, we will be contacting the Bosnian FA and the Bosnian government asking them to do just that. “National sporting events cannot be the means of spreading hate; the people of Sarajevo know that better than most others. “In the meantime, we stand alongside the victims of this act, the LGBT community in Bosnia, in defying hatred and calling for tolerance and inclusion.”
© The Guardian

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Hungary: UN Says Questionnaire Risks Spreading Xenophobia

22/5/2015- The United Nations human rights watchdog said Friday it was "shocked" by a Hungarian government questionnaire which links migration with terrorism, fearing it could bolster anti-immigration sentiments. "We are shocked by the Prime Minister's introductory message, which suggests a link between migration and terrorist attacks, including the attack which took place in Paris in early January this year," the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement. "We are also worried about the phrasing of some of the suggestive, leading questions, which actively promote hostility toward migrants and risk spreading xenophobia within the country." The "national consultation" being sent to Hungarian voters seeks to build political support for Prime Minister Viktor Orban's rejection of immigration and for his call on the European Union to give individual countries more power to set their own immigration policies.

One of the questions asks voters whether they agree with the government that it should support "Hungarian families and children to be born" instead of immigration. The Budapest office of Amnesty International called for a boycott of the campaign, urging citizens to instead send Orban a letter calling on Hungary to respect the human rights of migrants and refugees and asking him to refrain from using prejudicial rhetoric against them. "It is a fact that the world is now facing its largest migration crisis since World War II," Amnesty International said. "Migrants, however, are not criminals and do not represent a threat to Hungarian society." Since late 2014, Hungary has seen a huge rise in the number of migrants arriving through its southern border with Serbia. Most quickly move further west to Austria or Germany.
© The Associated Press

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Hungarian justice minister says no to immigrants, Gypsies already pose huge burden

22/5/2015- If any further convincing is needed, in order to show that Fidesz has morphed into Jobbik, then the words of Hungary’s Minister of Justice, shared by Inforádió Friday morning, should suffice. László Trócsányi started off by attacking the European Union’s system of quotas when it comes to accepting and assigning refugee claimants among the member states. He then added that Hungary was already dealing with a huge influx of refugees, in significant part from Kosovo, noting that for Hungary the Balkans represented a priority and a problem, rather than the Mediterranean. He then explained why the Orbán government had no choice, but to say ‘no’ to more immigrants and refugees: Hungary can’t accept any more economic migrants, because it must tend to the integration of 800,000 Gypsies. In other words, the Roma pose too big of a problem and the Orbán government’s hands are already full with them.

The Hungarian left-centre weekly 168 Óra framed the story with this title: “It’s because of the Gypsies that we don’t want any refugees.” The liberal 444.hu website noted that the debate on immigration has “reached new heights,” observing sarcastically that Mr. Trócsányi was a “genius” for connecting the issue of immigration with the Roma minority. The paper remarked that perhaps rather than suggesting that the Gypsies are to blame for Hungary not being able to support a compassionate immigration policy, one might consider that a whole slew of unnecessary soccer stadiums built by Mr. Orbán’s government and his friends or the massive corruption that permeates the government is the reason why there is no money, resources or energy remaining to accept refugee claimants. Dialogue for Hungary (Párbeszéd Magyarországért – PM), a small opposition green party, is already demanding that Mr. Trócsányi resign. The party’s spokesperson, Rebeka Szabó, said it was infuriating that the Minister of Justice would speak of the entire Roma minority as a burden for Hungary.

The Hungarian Liberal Party joined in the calls for Mr. Trócsányi’s resignation, adding that it is totally unacceptable for a government minister to judge Hungarians based on their ethnic or racial origins. I should note that Mr. Trócsányi visited Canada this past March, where he came to negotiate with Stephen Harper’s government on “the regulation of migration” and, since Hungary has taken over the chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), to open the commemorations hosted by the Embassy of Hungary in Ottawa. Hungary’s participation in the IHRA clearly hasn’t made the Orbán government any more sensitive to issues of minority rights and anti-racism. I continue to believe that it is shameful, how the Government of Canada has turned a blind eye (more so than any of its partners), to the true nature of the Orbán regime.
© The Hungarian Free Press

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Hungary’s Orban faces MEPs over death penalty stance

19/5/2015- Just more than three weeks after his controversial comments on restoring the death penalty, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been defending his stance to MEPs. Hungary’s premier was appearing at the European Parliament in Strasbourg at the request of political groups from both left and right. “Hungary is a constitutional country which conducts its political fights within constitutional means. I would be happy to see a change to the European law which would give back the question of the death penalty to the national competence,” Orban told euronews. “It is not there. We have to get it back first. And than we can debate and than decide on this matter. This is the right order,” he added.

The centre-right EPP group to which Orban’s Fidesz party belongs did not back the call for the Hungarian prime minister to appear before parliamentarians. “Viktor Orban has clarified that there is no debate and no legislative initiative on death penalty in Hungary and therefore it’s no longer an issue,” said Manfred Weber, a German Conservative MEP. The European Commission reiterated on Tuesday that any reintroduction of the death penalty would lead to suspension of voting rights. The death penalty was abolished in Hungary in 1990 shortly after the end of communism. Jobbik, a far-right party in Hungary, has stepped calls for capital punishment, putting Orban under pressure to full suit.
© Euronews.

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Watch: France’s Jean-Marie Le Pen clashes with UKIP MEP Woolfe

19/5/2015- “Ils ne passeront pas!” or at least they won’t when Jean-Marie Le Pen is holding court in the corridors of the European Parliament. Le Pen, founder of France’s far-right Front National party, was giving an interview to Euronews when a confrontation took place with UKIP MEP Steven Woolfe. Woolfe, walking in the opposite direction, was seemingly annoyed at the throng of people surrounding Le Pen. He pushed his way through the crowd in a manner which drew the attention of Le Pen, who shouted at Woolfe to take more care. Woolfe, returning to explain his actions, was then blocked off by one of Le Pen’s security guards, who barked at him to ‘move away’. While they may not like to admit it, both parties have rather a lot in common at the moment. UKIP and FN have been beset by bitter infighting at the very highest levels after failing to do as well as they had hoped for in recent elections.
© Euronews

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France police cleared over Zyed and Bouna 2005 deaths

A court in France has acquitted two police officers accused of failing to help two boys, whose deaths at a power substation led to weeks of riots.

18/5/2015- Bouna Traore, 15, and Zyed Benna, 17, were electrocuted in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois in October 2005. Police had chased the boys as they made their way home from a football match. Almost 10 years later, the court in Rennes cleared Sebastien Gaillemin and Stephanie Klein of charges of failing to assist some-one in danger. Adel Benna, Zyed's brother, said he was sickened by Monday's ruling. "Police officers are untouchable. It's not just in this case, they are never convic-ted," he told reporters. The officers had been accused of doing nothing to help, despite knowing the boys were in danger when they were seen approaching the EDF power facility. They insisted they were not to blame. Bouna and Zyed were electrocuted while a third youth, Muhittin Altun, escaped with burns. The deaths ignited three weeks of clashes with security forces in run-down city suburbs across France. Vehicles and public buildings were burned and thousands of people arrested in rioting that led to the first state of emergency in the country for more than 20 years.

'Relieved'
For years the case dragged through the courts, until in 2012 France's highest court overturned a ruling that dropped a "failure to help" charge against the officers. But Monday's closely-watched decision, which comes after a five-day trial in March, is final and cannot be appealed. The trial focused on a phrase that Mr Gaillemin, 41, radioed to colleagues, saying: "If they enter the site there's not much hope they'll make it alive." The call was received by Ms Klein, a police intern at the time, who was accused of not reacting. But president judge Nicolas Leger ruled that neither officer had a "clear awareness of an imminent and serious danger", which would be required under French law for a conviction. The officers' lawyer, Daniel Merchat, said his clients were "relieved". "For nine years, my clients have been completely convinced that they committed neither a mistake, nor a crime. This nine-year case has left them suffering... for them this is now a page that has turned," AFP news agency quoted him as saying.

If found guilty, the two officers would have faced up to five years in prison. However, both the defence and prosecution had called for an acquittal. The two dead teenagers' relatives have launched a civil case, seeking a total of €1.6m (£1.2m; $1.8m) in compensation and damages. The hashtag #ZyedEtBouna was trending in France on Monday, with many users expressing their dismay at the verdict. But far-right National Front MP Marion Marechal Le Pen, a granddaughter of party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, provoked an angry response when she used the word "rabble" to describe young delinquents, echoing what former Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy had said two days before the two boys died. She suggested the ruling showed that the riots had been unleashed "for pleasure and not because of a police blunder". Clichy is one of France's most notorious immigrant "banlieues" (suburbs). In January, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said France should no longer tolerate "ghettoisation" in the suburbs, following the Paris attacks that left 17 people dead. Social alienation was seen as a factor in the attacks, carried out by jihadist gunmen.

France 2005 riots
Rioting in Clichy-sous-Bois spread to several regions of France

25 October: Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy pelted with stones and bottles in Paris suburb of Argenteuil. Describes violent elements as "gangrene" and "rabble" ("racaille" in French)
27 October: Deaths of Zyed Benna and Bouna Traore in Clichy-sous-Bois trigger riots
30 October: Mr Sarkozy pledges "zero tolerance" of rioting and sends police reinforcements to Clichy-sous-Bois
3 November: Violence spreads beyond Paris region to eastern city of Dijon and parts of south and west
9 November: Emergency powers come into force across more than 30 French towns and cities
© BBC News

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France opposes EU migrant quotas

18/5/2015- French prime minister Manuel Valls has attacked EU plans to impose quotas on migrant relocation, the latest in a series of setbacks for the European Com-mission proposal. "I am against the introduction of quotas for migrants. This never corresponded to the French position," he said while visiting Menton in southern France on Saturday (16 May). A town on the French-Italian border, Menton has, in recent times, seen some 200 migrants a day coming from Italy en route to Britain, Germany, or Scandinavia. According to the commission proposal, EU countries should accept numbers of asylum seekers corresponding to their population, wealth, and unemployment rate, among other factors.

France would be asked to accept 14.17 percent of all those who reach the EU, while Germany would receive 18.42 percent, Italy 11.84 percent, and Spain 9 percent. Valls said "France has already done a lot," citing its resettlement of 5,000 refugees from Syria and 4,500 from Iraq since 2012. "Asylum is a right, attributed according to international criteria ... That is why the number of its beneficiaries cannot be subject to quotas, one is an asylum seeker or not,” he said. He added there should be "a European system of border controls". France’s opposition to the commission plan follows its rejection by several other European countries.

Last week, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia said they wouldn’t accept quotas. On Friday (15 May) they were joined by Poland, the EU’s sixth biggest country. "We're not saying that we won't welcome migrants. We’re saying that we want to make a credible offer and so like other European colleagues, I'm in favour voluntary decisions on this issue," said Polish prime minister Ewa Kopacz. According to the plan, Poland would have to accept 5.64 percent of claimants. For his part, Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban had earlier called the EU plan “mad”. In addition, Britain, Ireland and Denmark will not be obliged to take part, under opt-out rules granted in EU treaties.

France and other countries’ opposition to quotas will leave the commission with a political problem as it tries to satisfy "frontline" countries in the south of Europe. Under the current rules, called Dublin II, countries of arrival are responsible for the asylum application and are expected to keep migrants on their territory until the application is reviewed. The quota plan would help relocate migrants in case of sudden and massive influx and relieve frontline states such as Italy, Malta, or Greece. A failure to find a solution could open a wider debate on the set-up of the Schengen area of free movement ahead of presidential elections in France in 2017. Former president and possible candidate Nicolas Sarkozy called on Sunday for "a Schengen-2" system, saying that in the current regime "fraud is a rule rather than an exception and [that] works to the detriment of French tax-payers".
© The EUobserver

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French Protestants vote to permit vicars to bless gay marriages

France's main Protestant church votes to allow vicars to choose whether to bless same-sex marriages.

17/5/2015- France's largest Protestant church voted on Sunday to allow vicars to bless gay marriages, two years after they were legalised amid huge protests by Roman Catholics. The United Protestant Church said its synod had agreed that vicars opposed to same-sex unions would not be forced to bless them. Church weddings or any religious marriages in France must be preceded by a civil ceremony in a town hall. "The synod has decided to take a step forward in accompanying people and these couples by opening the possibility of celebrating liturgical blessings if they want," said Laurent Schlumberger, president of the Church. The United Protestant Church claims 110,000 active members from a community estimated to number about 400,000 believers. Most of France's smaller, evangelical Protestant churches oppose gay marriage. About two-thirds of French people identify themselves as Catholic.

Hundreds of thousands of people joined street protests, including conservative Catholics, far-Right supporters and several prominent members of Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party, to protest the controversial 2013 legalisation of same-sex marriages. However, the former president came under fire from allies for promising to scrap gay marriage laws if he is re-elected in 2017. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-Right Front National, stayed away from the 2013 protests as she tried to court gay voters and distance the party from the homophobic outbursts of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. Her deputy, Florian Philippot, was "outed" as gay by the magazine Closer last year. Mr Le Pen has accused him of creating a "heterophobic" clique around his daughter. The 86-year-old Mr Le Pen blames Mr Philippot for his political and personal rift with her over his comments that the Nazi gas chambers were "a mere detail of history" and his defence of the head of France's wartime Vichy government, which collaborated with the Nazis.

The vote by French Protestants came as Ireland prepares to hold a referendum on legalising same-sex marriage this week. The Church of Scotland voted on Saturday to allow the ordination of gay ministers.
© The Telegraph

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Most Czech MEPs disagree with refugee quotas

Most Czech MEPs addressed by CTK disagree with the European Commission's (EC) plan to introduce a quota system to spread applicants for refugee status more evenly across the EU member states that the EC was to discuss Wednesday.

20/5/2015- The MEPs have a problem with the measure, aimed to relieve the pressure on Italy and Greece where most migrants arrive, being ordered by Brussels and they say it has divided the EU. The MEPs also say the proposal has diverted the discussion on the migration crisis to other issues. However, some Czech MEPs praise the proposal, saying it is comprehensive and that not only quotas are involved in it. "We are of the view that it is not at all an effective solution. First, the introduction of mandatory quotas will clearly divert the discussion from dealing with a number of other legislative measures. As a result, we have a rather absurd debate on the theme of quotas, while we are unable to deal with the issue comprehensively," Pavel Telicka (ANO) said. He said it is undignified "to bargain about people entitled to refugee status as if they were a commodity" and that he has objections to the way in which the proposal is taking shape.

Telicka said MEP Petr Jezek, also an ANO member, was in Malta last week. He talked about the problem with representatives from NGOs there who said the proposed solution leads nowhere. "I think we should react similarly like to the ships of Somali pirates. There will be EU military capacities that will be catching the boats, they will unmask the smugglers and take very hard measures against them," Telicka said. Jan Zahradil (Civic Democrats, ODS) said the EC is trying to centralise further powers in Brussels with the proposal and that it is an unfortunate interference by European bodies in states' sovereignty. He also mentioned the security aspect. "I would by no means underestimate the news that militant Islamists are smuggled into Europe this way." Zahradil said the solution lies in the naval blockades, towing of the ships back to their home ports and the building of refugee facilities right on the African continent, even though this may be difficult in Libya.

MEP Tomas Zdechovsky (Christian Democrats, KDU-CSL) said "states should cooperate on a voluntary basis in accepting refugees" because otherwise, countries will not cooperate effectively. "We are not the only country that has a problem with the quotas. Unless the European institutions act prudently, they will threaten the unity of the European community that is already quite fragile," Katerina Konecna (Communists, KSCM) said. MEP Jaromir Stetina (TOP 09) said he does not agree with the mandatory quotas either, but he agrees "with a number of 'immediate' measures, including missions of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) in the Mediterranean or the use of the ongoing missions in Mali and Niger that should deal with the cross-border nature of the security threats," Stetina said.

Miroslav Poche (Social Democrats, CSSD) said the EC proposal is comprehensive. "It does not only speak about the placement of 20,000 asylum-seekers, but it is a set of measures that could resolve the situation in the medium- and long-term future," he said. "I do not think that the quotas would harm us in any way. The EU is based on solidarity, we have joined the principle and unless we help the Mediterranean countries deal with this problem, they will not be ready to help us solve the situation in Ukraine or elsewhere next time," Poche said.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

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Czech producers criticised over TV show depicting family living under 'Nazi occupation'

18/5/2015- The producers of a Czech reality TV show that will feature a family attempting to live under Nazi occupation have drawn criticism for trivialising the tragedies of the wartime era. Called “Holiday in the Protectorate,” in reference to the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, the puppet state set up in the Czech lands following the Nazi dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in 1939, the show places the family of three generations on a farm decked out in furniture from 76 years ago. There they will have to deal with food shortages, Gestapo informers and intimidation by German soldiers, all played by actors, while period clothing and the use of rare original currency add to the wartime atmosphere. But critics have accused Czech Television, the show’s producers, of making light of the Nazi occupation and a time when arrest and execution were a constant threat.

“On behalf of my family I’m going to launch an official complaint,” one critic wrote on an internet forum. “The programme dishonours the memory of the people who had to live through those times.” Another wrote: “People know what went on and how bad it was. What are they going to do next? Big Brother Auschwitz?” The programme’s producers have said they are aware of the sensitivities surrounding the subject but want to show the difficulties and pressures of living under occupation. “When starting the project, we knew that it may provoke a discussion on how far such genre may go. I tried to show that period with utter seriousness and with respect for its tragic character,” Zora Cejnkova, the programme’s director, told the CTK news agency.

“We are aware that it is controversial to return to so turbulent a period,” she continued. “However, we believe that it is correct to attempt to do this, providing that certain ethical rules and historical reality are observed.”
© The Telegraph

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Czech Rep: Zeman warns against hatred at Terezín commemorative event

17/5/2015- Czech President Milos Zeman warned against indifference that contributed to the increase in hatred and against Islamist radicals at the 69th Terezin Commemoration Ceremony, attended by Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and other government ministers Sunday. Zeman said society had been divided by racial hatred in the 1940s, while religious hatred came from the south now. He repeatedly called for a military action against the bases and training centres of Islamic State (IS) radicals. Those who might attack the Czech Republic may be training in the IS camps already now, Zeman said.

Hundreds of people took part in the event commemorating the victims of Nazi persecution at the National Cemetery at Terezin, including representatives of the government, parliament, diplomatic corps, religious communities and organisations remembering the legacy of World War Two victims. The participants included Terezin survivors. One of them, Ljuba Petrzelova, had to go to the Terezin ghetto in 1942 when she was six years old. Most of her family members and friends died in Oswiecim (Auschwitz), only she and her mother survived the Holocaust. "Only the two of us survived from our large family. The Soviet army that arrived here saved us," Petrzelova told CTK. She said the horrors of war must be remembered so that they are not repeated.

After the occupation of the Czech Lands by Nazi Germany in March 1939, the Nazis turned Terezin into a ghetto for European Jews, while the nearby Small Fortress was turned into the Prague Gestapo prison, through which 32,000 people passed. Transports of Jews, first from the Protectorate Bohemia and Moravia and then from other countries, such as Austria, Denmark, Germany, Hungary and Slovakia, arrived in the town. Over 155,000 Jews were sent to Terezin in 1941-1945 and 2600 of them died there. However, Terezin was just a transit camp for the Jews from where regular transports were dispatched to extermination camps, mainly to Oswiecim in Poland. The victims have been commemorated in the Terezin Memorial, previously called the Memorial of National Suffering, since 1947. In 1991, the Ghetto Museum documenting the live stories of Jews, was established.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

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Why Islam doesn’t need a reformation (opinion)

Those who are calling for a ‘Muslim Martin Luther’ should be careful what they wish for
By Mehdi Hasan

17/5/2015- In recent months, cliched calls for reform of Islam, a 1,400-year-old faith, have intensified. “We need a Muslim reformation,” announced Newsweek. “Islam needs reformation from within,” said the Huffington Post. Following January’s massacre in Paris, the Financial Times nodded to those in the west who believe the secular Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, could emerge as the Martin Luther of the Muslim world. (That might be difficult, given Sisi, in the words of Human Rights Watch, approved “premeditated lethal attacks” on largely unarmed protesters which could amount to “crimes against humanity”.)

Then there is Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The Somali-born author, atheist and ex-Muslim has a new book called Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now. She’s been popping up in TV studios and on op-ed pages to urge Muslims, both liberal and conservative, to abandon some of their core religious beliefs while uniting behind a Muslim Luther. Whether or not mainstream Muslims will respond positively to a call for reform from a woman who has described their faith as a “destructive, nihilistic cult of death” that should be “crushed”, and suggested Benjamin Netanyahu be given the Nobel peace prize, is another matter.

This narrative isn’t new. The New York Times’s celebrity columnist Thomas Friedman called for an Islamic reformation back in 2002; US academics Charles Kurzer and Michaelle Browers traced the origins of this “Reformation analogy” to the early 20th century, noting that “conservative journalists have been as eager as liberal academics to search for Muslim Luthers”. Apparently anyone who wants to win the war against violent extremism and save the soul of Islam, not to mention transform a stagnant Middle East, should be in favour of this process. After all, Christianity had the Reformation, so goes the argument, which was followed by the Enlightenment; by secularism, liberalism and modern European democracy. So why can’t Islam do the same? And shouldn’t the west be offering to help?

Yet the reality is that talk of a Christian-style reformation for Islam is so much cant. Let’s consider this idea of a “Muslim Luther”. Luther did not merely nail 95 theses to the door of the Castle church in Wittenberg in 1517, denouncing clerical abuses within the Catholic church. He also demanded that German peasants revolting against their feudal overlords be “struck dead”, comparing them to “mad dogs”, and authored On the Jews and Their Lies in 1543, in which he referred to Jews as “the devil’s people” and called for the destruction of Jewish homes and synagogues. As the US sociologist and Holocaust scholar Ronald Berger has observed, Luther helped establish antisemitism as “a key element of German culture and national identity”. Hardly a poster boy for reform and modernity for Muslims in 2015.

The Protestant Reformation also opened the door to blood-letting on an unprecedented, continent-wide scale. Have we forgotten the French wars of religion? Or the English civil war? Tens of millions of innocents died in Europe; up to 40% of Germany’s population is believed to have been killed in the thirty years’ war. Is this what we want a Muslim-majority world already plagued by sectarian conflicts, foreign occupations and the bitter legacy of colonialism to now endure, all in the name of reform, progress and even liberalism?

Islam isn’t Christianity. The two faiths aren’t analogous, and it is deeply ignorant, not to mention patronising, to pretend otherwise – or to try and impose a neatly linear, Eurocentric view of history on diverse Muslim-majority countries in Asia or Africa. Each religion has its own traditions and texts; each religion’s followers have been affected by geopolitics and socio-economic processes in a myriad of ways. The theologies of Islam and Christianity, in particular, are worlds apart: the former, for instance, has never had a Catholic-style clerical class answering to a divinely appointed pope. So against whom will the “Islamic reformation” be targeted? To whose door will the 95 fatwas be nailed?

The truth is that Islam has already had its own reformation of sorts, in the sense of a stripping of cultural accretions and a process of supposed “purification”. And it didn’t produce a tolerant, pluralistic, multifaith utopia, a Scandinavia-on-the-Euphrates. Instead, it produced … the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Wasn’t reform exactly what was offered to the masses of the Hijaz by Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab, the mid-18th century itinerant preacher who allied with the House of Saud? He offered an austere Islam cleansed of what he believed to be innovations, which eschewed centuries of mainstream scholarship and commentary, and rejected the authority of the traditional ulema, or religious authorities. Some might argue that if anyone deserves the title of a Muslim Luther, it is Ibn Abdul Wahhab who, in the eyes of his critics, combined Luther’s puritanism with the German monk’s antipathy towards the Jews. Ibn Abdul Wahhab’s controversial stance on Muslim theology, writes his biographer Michael Crawford, “made him condemn much of the Islam of his own time” and led to him being dismissed as a heretic by his own family.

Don’t get me wrong. Reforms are of course needed across the crisis-ridden Muslim-majority world: political, socio-economic and, yes, religious too. Muslims need to rediscover their own heritage of pluralism, tolerance and mutual respect – embodied in, say, the Prophet’s letter to the monks of St Catherine’s monastery, or the “convivencia” (or co-existence) of medieval Muslim Spain. What they don’t need are lazy calls for an Islamic reformation from non-Muslims and ex-Muslims, the repetition of which merely illustrates how shallow and simplistic, how ahistorical and even anti-historical, some of the west’s leading commentators are on this issue. It is much easier for them, it seems, to reduce the complex debate over violent extremism to a series of cliches, slogans and soundbites, rather than examining root causes or historical trends; easier still to champion the most extreme and bigoted critics of Islam while ignoring the voices of mainstream Muslim scholars, academics and activists.

Hirsi Ali, for instance, was treated to a series of encomiums and softball questions in her blizzard of US media interviews, from the New York Times to Fox News. (“A hero of our time,” read one gushing headline on Politico.) Frustratingly, only comedian Jon Stewart, on The Daily Show, was willing to point out to Hirsi Ali that her reformist hero wanted a “purer form of Christianity” and helped create “a hundred years of violence and mayhem”. With apologies to Luther, if anyone wants to do the same to the religion of Islam today, it is Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who claims to rape and pillage in the name of a “purer form” of Islam – and who isn’t, incidentally, a fan of the Jews either. Those who cry so simplistically, and not a little inanely, for an Islamic reformation, should be careful what they wish for.
Mehdi Hasan is a presenter on Al-Jazeera English. The views expressed here are his own
© Comment is free - Guardian

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Swedish anti-Islam rally only attracts handful

According to the police, counter-demonstrators dramatically outnumbered anti-Islam Pegida protesters at a rally in Uppsala in central Sweden on Saturday.

16/5/2015- Police said that the Pegida gathering attracted only a handful of listeners, while 250-300 anti-Pegida demonstrators showed up at Forum Square in Uppsala to voice their opposition to the anti-Islam organisation. Two of those who spoke at the rally were was the gallery owner Henrik Rönnquist, the founder of the Swedish branch of Pegida, and street artist and provocateur Dan Park - both previously convicted of incitement to racial hatred, Police spokesman, Jonas Eronen, said that it had been a quiet afternoon and that "there were no arrests at all."

Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident) rallies began in the German city of Dresden last year with several hundred supporters and snowballed to reach 25,000 people on January 12th. But numbers have fallen since the movement's founder, Lutz Bachmann, stepped down on January 21st after a picture surfaced of him posing as Adolf Hitler. Other senior figures have also since resigned. Small offshoots of Pegida have sprung up in other German cities and marches have taken place in Austria, Denmark and Norway, involving however only a few hundred people and generally outnumbered by far larger anti-racism rallies. Previous Pegida rallies in Sweden have attracted very little support - at a rally in Linköping in March only four Pegida protestors turned up to support the right-wing group. There they were also vastly outnumbered by anti-Pegida demonstrators.
© The Local - Sweden

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Spain Joins Criticism of European Migrant Quota Proposal

18/5/2015- Spain is criticizing a proposed plan that would see more migrants sent its way as part of a package of measures designed to ease pressure on countries dealing with a huge influx of migrants into Europe. Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo says the plan doesn't account for Spain's sky-high jobless rate of nearly 24 percent and the country's efforts to prevent illegal migration from North Africa via Spain to other European countries. Garcia-Margallo made the comments Monday in Brussels where officials discussed a naval operation to go after trafficking networks sending migrants across the Mediterranean into Europe. Britain, France, Estonia, Hungary and Slovakia have already criticized or rejected the quota plan. The idea behind it is that when a country reaches a maximum, migrants seeking asylum would be sent elsewhere.
© The Associated Press

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Ombudsman claims discrimination in EU projects

Watchdog found that many EU-funded projects do not comply with the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

19/5/2015- The European Union’s public watchdog claims that regional projects across EU member states are vulnerable to civil rights abuses and that spending on such programs has not been monitored adequately. In a new report, European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly targets the EU’s Cohesion Policy, which is designed to spur development in the bloc’s poorer regions by spending more than €325 billion on a huge range of projects between 2014 and 2020. She found that many EU-funded projects are not in line with the Charter of Fundamental Rights — the main EU legal text protecting human and social rights. Signed in 2000, attached to the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, and upheld by the European Court of Justice in a ruling in 2014, the charter holds that human rights should be part of EU law.

O’Reilly said EU funding needed to be more closely watched so that it complied with the charter. “The Commission should not allow itself to finance, with EU money, actions which are not in line with the highest values of the Union — that is to say, the rights, freedoms and principles recognized by the charter,” she said. The report cited several examples of abuse, including: EU funds being used to build separate institutions for people with disabilities instead of community-based living; a planned segregated neighborhood for Roma; and the setting of higher barriers to women’s associations’ access to funds. The ombudsman said these instances were clearly against the rights enshrined in the charter, which calls for better social inclusion of women and minorities and for funding to finance such projects.

The ombudsman’s opinions are non-binding. But the criticism on this issue reflects recent heightened scrutiny of European structural and investments funds. Budget negotiations for 2014-2020 tightened rules on EU funds suspensions after several cases had been revealed of corruption, lack of strict public procurement measures, or projects funded. However, they were not fulfilling funding criteria. Non-governmental organizations, including the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, have reported several potential breaches of human and social rights with EU funded projects in the UK, Italy, France, Lithuania, Romania or Hungary. The Mental Disability Advocacy Center said that EU cohesion funds are being used to build facilities that do not respect human dignity.

The office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, among several experts consulted by O’Reilly for the report, said “there is insufficient understanding that measures […] that perpetuate segregation of the Roma, are not compliant with fundamental rights” — with, for example, EU funds contributing to building a Roma segregated school in Jarovnice, Slovakia.

To address these concerns, the ombudsman said, the Commission should:
# Be more thorough in monitoring how the funds are spent — especially during the evaluation and reporting stage of the funding process
# Push member states and managing authorities to fully respect rules on fighting gender discrimination.
# Gather experts and NGOs to monitor the implementation of EU funds rules on social and human rights issues

The European Commission has not previously cut off or suspended EU cohesion funds based on concerns about fundamental rights and discrimination. It has been reluctant to intervene on these issues, since most of the funds are allocated and managed at the national level — or even by local and regional authorities.
© Politico EU

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INTERNATIONAL DAY AGAINST HOMOPHOBIA

Why doesn't the EU do more to protect gay rights? (opinion)

Numbers. Percentages. Figures.
By Evelyne Paradis


19/5/2015- From the widely unpredictable UK general election result and its now infamous exit poll to the sobering reflections across Europe marking the end of WWII - the past week has been full of surprising numbers. In Montenegro last weekend, as part of the European IDAHOT Forum 2015, I launched ILGA-Europe’s new Rainbow Europe package. Our very own annual collection of facts and figures, wich summarises the legal and policy situation for LGBTI people in Europe. I cannot possibly list all the headlines here; the detailed country information is now available on www.rainbow-europe.org. However, one number has stuck in my mind over the past few days: 52 percent. On our annual Rainbow Map, we rank 49 countries on a sliding scale ranging from full equality (100%) to gross violations of human rights (0%). The European Union only scores 52 percent. The union, whose core values are human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, barely registers above 50%. Why is that?

Why is the EU, formally a leading light for equality, languishing behind so many of its composite members? I find myself struggling to answer that question. Historically, the EU has been the driver of many advances for LGBTI equality. The evolution comes from the Treaty of Amsterdam’s anti-discrimination protection on the ground of sexual orientation to the equality mainstreaming required as part of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union is very encouraging. EU court cases such as P. v. S and Cornwall County Council were instrumental in safeguarding people from unfair treatment because of their gender identity. From 2009-2014, the European Parliament has adopted 115 reports or resolutions which referred to sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBT people who are persecuted because of their sexual orientation and gender identity can now claim asylum everywhere in Europe because of the EU - the EU has a proud tradition of standing up for the human rights of LGBTI people.

Recent shift
In recent years, there has been a perceptible shift away from EU-instigated change. Now national governments have taken up the mantle and started to implement legislation to safeguard against discrimination. Don’t get me wrong, we are not complaining about that. Moves to strengthen protection for LGBTI people across Europe are obviously very welcome. Progressive laws initiated by proactive national governments are great news for the LGBTI people living in those countries. But all of this comes with a huge proviso. The advances made at national level should not be happening in a vacuum. The fact that regional change is occurring does not mean that the institutions can become complacent. By having the member states fill the legislative gap, the EU runs the risk of creating a two tier system of protection for LGBTI people within its borders.

The EU cannot abdicate its responsibility to push for greater equality simply because member states are taking more initiative. Once a juggernaut for equality improve-ment through equal treatment directives, the EU has seemingly ground to a halt. This critique is not coming from a position of bitterness or scepticism. Quite the opposite: As head of a European equality organisation who has lived in Brussels for years, I have a personal belief in the potential of the European Union as well as a professional interest in it. The LGBTI community are long-time supporters of the European project too, as they have witnessed its transformative power first hand. This is why our trepidation is so concerning and telling. If the support of staunch constituencies, such as the LGBTI community, is wavering, where does that leave the EU?

Not naive
We are not naive or overly idealistic either. ILGA-Europe and our member organisations are well aware of the limits of EU powers. I am not for a moment suggesting that the EU infringe on the principle of subsidiarity. But we have to stop wringing our hands and imagining that the EU institutions are powerless. Making people’s lives better and protecting the vulnerable is not beyond their imagination. They have done it before and they can do it again. Interested friends and journalists often ask me about the marriage equality debates going on all over the continent, wondering why the EU isn’t doing more to encourage full civil marriage rights.

This discussion neatly encapsulates what we mean about the EU’s unmet potential. The European Union does not have competency to legislate directly on family related issues, so naturally decisions about who can get married will continue to be defined by member states on an individual basis. But the EU does have the power to protect LGBTI children from bullying in schools. The EU does have the ability to guard LGBTI people against hate crime and hate speech. The EU can ensure that families from member states which recognise them are not deprived of their civil status when entering another member state with no such recognition. The EU does have the potential to stop discrimination based on sexual orientation when accessing goods and services. Sadly, the European Union is simply not doing this.

Why not?
The real question we are left with is “why not?”. Just as we expect national governments to exercise the leadership required to progress on our Rainbow Map from year to year, we expect EU institutions to do the same. We know what needs to happen, what actions make a difference for LGBTI people, and in fact for the benefit of everyone in our societies. Change is possible and doesn’t need to take generations. We have no excuses anymore.
Evelyne Paradis is director of ILGA-Europe, a Brussels-based NGO which promotes human rights for LGBTI people
© The EUobserver

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Day against Homophobia: “The fight for equality continues”

16/5/2015- The International Day against Homophobia is marked every 17 May to raise awareness about the importance of non- discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people around the world. This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the decision by the World Health Organization to remove homosexuality from the list of mental disorders. MEPs highlighted the importance of fighting discrimination during a discussion with experts in the Parliament on 12 May. EP Vice-President Ulrike Lunacek, who is the president of the Parliament's LGBT intergroup, said: ”Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is illegal and is prohibited in the EU. The European Parliament together with civil society has had a strong influence on this.” EP Vice-President Dimitrious Papadimoulis, chair of the high-level group on gender equality and diversity, commented: “The fight for equality continues daily. The whole of society needs to take an active role in reducing prejudice as this is an aspect that affects everyone.”

Discrimination still rife
Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation still takes place in the EU, despite laws prohibiting it. According to the largest LGBT survey ever carried out in 2013, 47% of LGBT people said they had personally felt discriminated against or harassed on the grounds of sexual orientation. 




lgbt_en(final) 



© European Parliament News
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Kyrgyz Group Wrecks Day Against Homophobia

18/5/2015- Plans by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activists to celebrate a day against homophobia in Kyrgyzstan were spoiled when their party at a trendy Bishkek restaurant was ruined by nationalist, wannabe gay-wedding crashers. The private May 17 gathering -- timed for International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia -- was attended by members and supporters of Bishkek's LGBT community. But the group of angry men, who claim to uphold traditional Kyrgyz values, were there to stop what they believe was a gay wedding ceremony taking place in the Astoria Garden's fenced-in courtyard. "We will not allow a gay wedding in Kyrgyzstan," said Marat Oskonov, who was among the activists led by members of the nationalist vigilante group Kyrk Choro (40 Knights.)

Police officers were called to the site and prevented the groups from fighting, but the party was ruined and attendees were left fearing reprisals. "We can't go outside now because there are people who are against us," said David, a guest who didn't want to give his full name. Partygoers called the incident a violation of their human rights. For what it was worth, they also denied that any sort of wedding was taking place. "There wasn't any wedding here, we were only marking antihomophobia day," David said. "We don't have the right to register a marriage. That takes places at registry offices."

Nevertheless, the nationalists are sticking to their story, saying that Mendelssohn's Wedding March was playing when they arrived and insisting that a video of the ceremony was posted on the Internet. "We saw a wedding party was going on there, we have proof," said Rysbek Karimov, a Kyrk Choro member. "We saw two men getting married here. This is not the Kyrgyz mentality. Kyrgyz men marry women. We want it to stay this way." Gay marriage is not technically illegal in Kyrgyzstan, but the country has a poor reputation when it comes to LGBT rights.

Right groups say homophobia is widespread in Kyrgyzstan, where a leader of the Kyrgyz Muslims' Spiritual Directorate issued a fatwa in 2014 against same-sex relations. A Human Rights Watch report said that Kyrgyzstan police have extorted, threatened, arbitrarily detained, beaten, and sexually abused gay and bisexual men. The country has also come under criticism for a pending bill that would criminalize "gay propaganda." The bill was introduced to parliament in October 2014 and must pass a further reading before going to the president for final approval. The bill calls for "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" to be punishable by up to one year in jail. It says journalists found guilty of "propagating" homosexual relations will be held accountable.

Kyrk Choro and other antigay and nationalist groups accuse unidentified "foreigners" of promoting same-sex relations and corrupting moral and traditional values in Kyrgyzstan. In late December and early January Kyrk Choro targeted two karaoke bars in Bishkek that it claimed were frequented by Chinese businessmen and local prostitutes. Customers at the bars were rounded up and shown before videocameras. In other actions, Kyrk Choro has demanded that ethnic Uyghur vendors at a popular Bishkek bazaar be replaced by local ethnic Kyrgyz. Kyrk Choro, which claims to have 5,000 members across the country, came into existence in 2010. The group's name, originally Kyrgyz Choroloru (Kyrgyz Knights), refers to the 40 fighters in the traditional Epic of Manas who fought alongside the Kyrgyz hero in defense of the Kyrgyz nation.
© RFE/RL

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Brazil: International Day Against Homophobia Raises Issues

The International Day Against Homophobia on Sunday, served to highlight ongoing human rights violations faced by those in the country's LGBT community.

8/5/2015– On Sunday May 17th, the International Day Against Homophobia, in addition to other celebrations and observances in Brazil, caused issues to resurface concer-ning obstacles currently faced by the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) community in the country. The International Day Against Homophobia marks the day that the World Health Organization removed the classification of homosexuality as a mental illness on May 17, 1990. Since that day, people around the world, including those in Brazil, have celebrated the ongoing advancement of rights for the LGBT community. However, many feel that there is more work to be done. In Brazil, while the country’s Supreme Court ruled to officially recognize stable unions between same-sex couples in 2011, there is currently no national law that crimi-nalizes prejudice and/or discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity.

“We have a very serious problem in this country, and that is the absence of a federal law that protects the rights of this population, so it is an invisible population in the eyes of Congress,” Heloísa Gama Alves told Agência Brasil. Alves is the Policy Coordinator for Sexual Diversity for the São Paulo State Department of Justice. The state of São Paulo does have a state law, passed in 2001, which punishes discrimination against people from the LGBT community. Previously in 2001, deputy Iara Bernardi set out to change things nationally with her proposal of Bill 122. The bill, if it had passed both Houses of the Brazilian Congress, would have grouped cases of discrimination against gender, sex, sexual orientation and sexual identity with cases of discrimination against race, ethnicity, religion and nationality, recognized crimes whose penalties can currently amount to up to five years in prison.

Bill 122 passed in the Câmara dos Deputados (Brazilian House of Representatives) but was struck down in the Senado Federal (Brazilian Senate). “In the Senate, the very conservative religious forces managed to stop the project,” said Bernardi. Between January and April of this year alone, there were a reported 356 complaints alleging rights violations against those in the Brazilian LGBT community, according to data collected by Disque 100 (Dial 100), a confidential national hotline of the Human Rights Secretariat of the Presidency, provided for complaints about human rights violations. Additionally this year, there have been a reported 25 administrative cases alle-ging homophobia in São Paulo. Although some of the cases contain evidence of discrimination, proceedings cannot be opened due to the lack of a federal law, accor-ding to Alves.

In April, images taken of transgender prisoner Veronica Bolina after she was beaten to the point of disfigurement by police in São Paulo, swept Brazilian social media, outraging many. With incidents of transphobia and homophobia continuing to make the news in the country, it appears to many as if there have been too few changes in Brazil since the 1990 declassification by the World Health Organization. Daniela Andrade, a transsexual Brazilian who legally fought and won the right to be recogni-zed by the government as a woman told Agência Brasil, “The community only appears in the media as criminal, as mentally ill, as the man who became a woman, an exotic thing.”
© The Rio Times

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Australia: Rainbow flag flies from City Hall to support LGBTQI community

17/5/2015- The rainbow flag has flown outside Brisbane City Hall for the first time, to signify the city's support for International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. Supporters rallied in Queen's Park on Sunday morning before walking to King George Square, where they held a minute's silence for victims of homophobic or transphobic abuse. Around 20 people raised a giant rainbow flag and sang, before inviting others to stand beneath it. Convenor of the Brisbane LGBTIQ Action Group Phil Brown said seeing the flag was a sign of hope.  to the many marginalised LGBT people themselves, but also to mainstream society about the harm that discrimination and prejudice has on real people, who could be their neighbours, friends, relatives and workmates," he said. "Flying the flag will begin conversations over the breakfast table and in the work tea-room. These conversations will bring about greater understanding, break down barriers and promote respect for all citizens."

The lights on the Story Bridge would also glow in the rainbow colours on Sunday night, including purple, the official colour of IDAHOT. Mr Brown said such gestures were significant to the queer community. "[There is] celebration to have recognition and validation that LGBT residents actually exist, and the uplifting effect this has knowing this message is being shared with the wider community in which we all live," he said. In Australia, someone who is the target of homophobia is six times more likely to take their own life than a straight friend. Jane Foster-Cosgrove volunteers with church groups helping to promote better mental health, and attended the rally and flag-raising with her husband to show support for the LGBTIQ community. "The consequences of homophobia right across the age groups is just horrific, regardless of any other perspective anyone may have around the issue of gay rights," the 59-year-old grandmother said. "I don't believe anybody can stand back from it... the impact on our young people of homophobia is devastating."

2015 marks the tenth annual IDAHOT, with Biphobia also added to the name of the day this year. May 17 was picked as the date because it marks the day in 1990 that the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases, where it had been listed as a mental disorder.
© The Brisbane Times

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Obama: LGBT rights are human rights

17/5/2015- A full month ahead of what the White House has declared LGBT Pride Month, President Obama and the first lady are honoring the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) – May 17 – by saying LGBT rights are “human rights” and that “all people deserve to live free from fear, violence, and discrimination, regardless of who they are or whom they love.” In a statement released by the White House, Obama addressed workplace discrimination for LGBT employees and the rights of transgender individuals, and he also acknowledged the importance of LGBT rights overseas. “Overseas, I am proud of the steps that the United States has taken to prioritize the protection and promotion of LGBT rights in our diplomacy and global outreach,” the statement read.

IDAHOT comes just weeks ahead of pride season this June and the Supreme Court’s highly-anticipated decision on national marriage equality, and just days ahead of a key vote in Ireland. There, Irish voters will head to the polls on Friday, May 22 to decide if the country’s constitution should be changed to make way for marriage equality. If the country votes in favor of same-sex marriage, it will be the first nation to grant couples marrying rights by referendum. “This day and every day, the United States stands in solidarity with members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and all those around the world who work to advance the unassailable principle that LGBT rights are human rights,” National Security Advisor Susan Rice said in a statement.

Amb. Rice also condemned recent comments by Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, who threatened violence against LGBT citizens of his own country during a recent speech. Amb. Rice said Jammeh’s remarks “underscore why we must continue to seek a world in which no one lives in fear of violence or persecution because of who they are or whom they love.” IDAHOT also happens to land on the 30th annual AIDS Walk New York, which is expected to bring roughly 30,000 people to march in Central Park to raise money for AIDS charities and organizations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that roughly 50,000 people in the U.S. are infected with HIV each year.

In a 2011 presidential memorandum seeking to advance global LGBT rights, Obama stated he was “deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world, whether it is passing laws that criminalize LGBT status, beating citizens simply for joining peaceful LGBT pride celebrations, or killing men, women, and children for their perceived sexual orientation.” According to information provided by Amnesty International (which cites the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association), 78 countries have laws in effect that are used to criminalize consensual sexual relationships between adults of the same sex.

And at home, Texas Republicans recently reaffirmed the need for IDAHOT (and a SCOTUS ruling) when they signed a letter of support for the state’s longstanding ban on marriage equality. “Traditional marriage is the bedrock institution of both our society and the success Texas has been blessed to experience since our admission as the 28th state within these United States of America,” the letter states.
© MSNBC

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Turkey: On IDAHOT, here’s something to feel good about in MENA

17/5/2015- Today is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, and there's a lot to feel bad about in the MENA region. But next month, Turkey will go to the polls where Deva Ozenen, the country's first trans woman to run for a parliamentary seat, will have a place on the ballot. Turkey’s LGBT landscape is a mine-field of contradictions. It's home to the grandest gay rights parade in the Muslim world, and hosted its first gay wedding last year. Yet, one report found it also leads Europe in the number of transgendered people murdered between 2008 and 2014.

Ozenen's hoping to change some of those things in office. Here are the important bits of an interview she had recently with the Independent. You can read the full version here.

On Turkey's conservative political arena:
“If we are waiting for Turkish society to get ready for us, we’ll wait a long time,”
“We are going against the tide. We are trying to get our rights and we don’t care if society is ready for this or not.”

And on her admittedly slim chances of getting elected as part of Turkey's recently minted progressive nationalist party, Andalu:
“I am a pioneer. I opened the door. So, in the next elections, maybe there will be more LGBT candidates… It’s a good opportunity for us to become more visible.”

© Albawaba

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Russian Gay Activists Detained By Police At Flash Mob

17/5/2015- Russian police detained 17 protesters on Sunday as they gathered in central Moscow to release colorful balloons into the air to mark the International Day Against Homo-phobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, an organizer of the failed flashmob said. Some 50 people assembled on a square outside a Moscow theater but crowd control police drove up a bus and started shoving the protesters inside before they managed to unfurl any banners or chant any slogans. One of the organizers, Andrei Obolensky, said later that he and others were still detained at a police station, and only one of them had so far been released.

The LGBT community has come under increased pressure in Russia as President Vladimir Putin has charted a more conservative course since starting his third term in 2012. A 2013 law against gay "propaganda" sparked an outcry among Russian rights activists and in the West. But partly reflecting the influence of the Orthodox church, many Russians back the law or have negative feelings towards gays. A similar event took place undisturbed in Russia's second city of St Petersburg on Sunday, with activists waving rainbow flags and releasing scores of balloons while police looked on. "It's tough, members of the LGBT community face lots of discrimination in their lives, at work, at school... people are faced with violence in the streets," said protester Nika Yuryeva.
© Reuters

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Georgia: Anti-homophobia day marked in secrecy in Tbilisi

When groups in Tbilisi wanted to mark the international day against homophobia May 17, they had to organize it in tightly-controlled secrecy and gather in silence.

17/5/2015- Time and location was secret, and everyone who showed up, including journalists, had to register beforehand and go through a vetting process, where journalists for media that have espoused homophobic views were excluded. A few dozen people gathered in Round Garden, in Tbilisi’s Vake district, at 11am. The garden has four entrances which each leads to a street, and is therefore suitable for quick evacuation. The mostly young people there were surrounded by hundreds of police, who arrived in yellow municipal buses. The gathering progressed peacefully in near silence; without the shouting of slogans and whistling and noise often used in political demonstrations here, underlining the sensitivity of the subject matter. Several tens of anti-gay activists demonstrated peacefully some distance away from Round Garden, without being aware of the presence of gay rights campaigners nearby.

The main message at this year’s International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia in Tbilisi was a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, which a few days ago sentenced the government of Georgia to pay more than 33,000 euros to thirteen people for damages after being attacked during a May 17 event in 2012. “…the duty of the State authorities to ensure freedom of assembly and speech, as well as the physical security of all persons who take part in legal demonstra-tions which are held simultaneously.” “LGBT community feels being in risky situation,” another poster read. The gathering went on in near silence, without any shouting or use of whistles. Irakli Vacharadze, leader of the rights group Identoba, said today’s gathering was dedicated to the ruling of the Strasbourg court, which decided that ‘democracy means people respecting each other.’ That’s why participants brought quotes from the court ruling, he explained.

Other participants said that it is not enough to have a legislation which protects minorities. The laws have to be properly enforced. Some think today’s gathering was proof that it is possible to express one’s opinion without being attacked, but others think it is comical when people have to use such a degree of secrecy in order to make a statement. Earlier the same morning, several people showed up at Vachnadze Street, where peaceful protesters were violently dispersed on May 17, 2013. There was a 15 minute gathering there, including posters and umbrellas with the message ‘25th article of the Constitution’, which guarantees freedom of assembly. The small protest was a part of an online campaign launched by Women’s Initiatives Supportive Group called ‘This street is taken.’

There was a third gathering outside the Prosecutor General’s Office, organized by LGBT Georgia. At this one, there was no police protection. Around 30 people were gathered to demand that the Prosecutor General’s Office prepares a draft bill that makes it easier for people who have changed their sex to change their ID docu-ments. They also claimed that the Ministry of Justice is responsible for enforcing the ruling by the Strasbourg court about May 17, 2012. Protesters held posters that read ‘everyone is equal’, ‘I changed sex, you change my ID.’ Some also carried rainbow flags. The rally ended without incident. An anti-gay rights demonstration took place near Rustaveli, joined by several tens of people, including clerics. They said they came to mark Family Purity day, which the patriarch announced last year. The demonstration headed to Sameba Cathedral in nearby Avlabari.
© Democracy & Freedom Watch

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Barbados: This young gay woman has gone from being homeless to a hero for LGBTI rights

Donnya Piggott is just 24, but has already made a huge difference to the lives of LGBTI people in Barbados.

16/5/2015- She is constantly under the threat that her mother is going to make her homeless again, but she still has the fight and strength to carry on and help others achieve equality. It is desperately needed, as Barbados still has a law banning gay sex and homosexuality is largely considered taboo. For International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT), the theme is 'youth'. And while Piggott may be young, her work with the Barbados Gays, Lesbians and All-Sexuals Against Discrimination (B-GLAD) has not gone unrecognized. Queen Elizabeth II will personally give her an award in June for her activism work.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is your perspective on advocacy?
I find many reputable and larger organizations tend to focus a lot on politics. If you’re going to be focusing on the laws, it still needs to be important for the people on the ground, for the people who are still facing terrible situations. It’s about balance. If you’re going to do a lot of political advocacy, that advocacy has to still help the people on the ground. For a young boy that wants to commit suicide, it just doesn’t work. Even larger countries who can be very advanced or progressive on LGBT laws and LGBT rights, people are still being left behind.

What kind of work are you doing in Barbados?
We do a lot of public advocacy, a lot of public discussions and screenings. We work along the community and we try to provide that balance. We’re trying to juggle it. One one hand we want to push political leaders on laws but at the same time we want to educate parents, educate teachers, educate the regular person on the ground: this is how your behaviour is affecting other people. We’re trying to balance that kind of advocacy.

Do you face a lot of homophobia?
Certainly, it happens a lot of at home with my family. My social circle is surrounded by people like me and people who have progressive ideologies and because of that, I’m protected by them. But when I go home, and if my mother sees a press release, she'll probably throw something back in my face. A lot of people tell me that my sexuality is wrong, or people send me quotes from the Bible and tell me I'm going to hell. It's difficult.

How do you get on with your family?
My father is very indifferent, but we've always had a great relationship. My mother is the complete opposite, I don’t have a great relationship with her at all. She says she's disgusted by me. Sometimes she might show glimpses that she might be proud but a week later she says something very homophobic to me. It's really difficult with my mother.

Is it a religious or a cultural thing?
It’s a cultural thing and it’s about her own embarrassment. She says she wishes she could leave the island. She says she’s so ashamed of me. So that’s very painful. I try to stay out of her way.

Is that what made you get involved in activism?
I had personal issues of my own. I wanted to join an LGBT organization. When you're isolated, you need to feel comfortable. I started B-GLAD at university, and then I found other people who were interested. I was going through a rough time, I was homeless....I don't like to talk about it that much. I tend to hide, it's such a small island.

If you don't mind talking about it, what was it like being homeless?
That was one of the hardest times of my life. I still have a fear of banging on doors. It was when my mom had kicked me out and I was living in my car. There was one time in the middle of the night the police showed up and banged on the glass. I was sleeping in the car with my girlfriend at the time. We had parked remotely, hidden by some trees. They just woke me up, I was so scared. They called us nasty. When I was given some help, I went to an apartment through an institution. At 4am, I remember once, the landlord just banged on the door and told me I had to leave because the institution was apparently not reputable. He just kept screaming and banging, telling me I had to leave. I still have this fear of banging, even if someone's just knocking on my hotel room door, it still shakes me up. It's something that will stay with me. I live with my mother now and she always threatens to put me out or she's telling me to leave. I don't think she knows the impact on me at all.

Let's talk about something happier. What was it like to be receiving the Queen's Young Leaders award?
That was amazing, it was really something amazing. It was celebrated amongst the community, I was really proud of that moment. It really sends a message in Barbados, even though the government didn’t acknowledge it at all!

What does IDAHOT mean for you?
It’s definitely the single most important day for the movement. It’s a day when we get to do a collective day of advocacy across the world. It brings a huge sense of awareness in just one day. It’s about being unified on this one day and making it happen.

What would you say to a young person that wants to make a difference for LGBTI people?
If you’re going to be a volunteer, that’s brilliant, and there are so many things that you can do to contribute to the movement. But to be a public advocate, think about it and think about what you want. I think yes, a lot of us are martyrs. We put ourselves out there, and when I put myself out there as an advocate, they call me a lesbian. When my parents knew, it was a whole other form of coming out I had to do because then everyone knew. Barbados is small, and when I see people I used to hang out with and they ask what I do, they often end the conversation there. It's something you have to be committed to.

What is the best way of changing hearts and minds?
You often meet people who are not willing to hear what you say. They poison their lives because they’re not in the same place that you are. I think it’s important that as advoca-tes that we understand where people are at and we don’t get kind of flustered when people don’t get us right away. It’s ok because advocacy is a process. You get mad when someone says something homophobic, but you have to understand they don’t see homophobia like we do. They don’t see the things that we see like we do. Advocates have to realise people are in different places, and we need to reach them where they’re at and not get so upset. We need to educate people, but we still need to be patient with people.
© Gay Star News

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Lebanese LGBT Group Makes Stand Amid Regional Persecution

Activists in Lebanon are joining a global call for LGBT equality.

15/5/2015- On Sunday, Beirut will host a day of events promoting acceptance as part of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT). Amid a regional landscape in which instability and conflict have driven further persecution of an already embattled minority, Lebanon has become a platform for the promotion of LGBT rights. Even in a country relatively seen as a beacon of tolerance, however, the struggle for equality remains a long one.

Finding a community
Yasir fled Baghdad for Beirut in February, having lost virtually everything because he is gay. Outed about his sexuality against his will, he was disowned by his family, some mem-bers of whom he then overheard talking about killing him. In Lebanon, he found a community at Proud, the LGBT organization behind the IDAHOT event, and he'll be performing in a play exploring the lives of those who fled persecution. Yasir, 37, who also took part in writing the script for the performance, said he wanted to take part "to reflect what Iraqi homosexuals think and feel, and what they are suffering from." "They are a community that is marginalized — they feel they have no value," he said. For Yasir, who previously had a high-powered job in Baghdad, living as a refugee without steady accommodation or a job has been difficult. But now that he has found support at Proud and is able to be open about his sexuality, he said the move has been worth it. "I now have my well-being, and that is the most important thing," he said.

Growing threat
The Middle East is home to some of the most draconian anti-gay legislation in the world, with homosexual acts in countries such as Iraq, Iran and Yemen potentially punishable by death. Post-Arab Spring, the situation for many in the LGBT community across the region has become worse, argued Hossein Alizadeh, Middle East/North Africa program coordina-tor for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. Alizadeh told VOA that militias and groups like the Islamic State were operating in "a vacuum of power." "What you see is vigilante groups going after easier targets, like LGBT communities, in order to show their strength," he said, adding that such groups also sought to present their efforts as a way of clamping down on so-called "Western influence." Alizadeh, however, said there had also been a growth of LGBT organizations, with Lebanon leading the way regionally in this regard because "there is a space to talk about rights."

For Bertho Makso, director of Proud, it is because of this that Sunday's activities, which will include a photography exhibition and film screenings, must not just be about Lebanese LGBT rights, but those of refugees and people spread across the Middle East more broadly. Calling the country "an oasis compared to the countries around it," he said the perfor-mances were to "highlight the region itself." "At Proud we have beneficiaries coming from all over — Jordanians, Palestinians, Iraqis, Syrians and of course the Lebanese themsel-ves," he said.

Continuing discrimination
Although Lebanon is seen as a relative haven compared with some of its neighbors, domestic discrimination remains rife. Article 534 of the Lebanese penal code states that "sexual intercourse contrary to nature" is punishable by up to a year in prison and has been used to clamp down on the LGBT community. Public acceptance remains low; a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2013 found that only 18 percent polled agreed "society should accept homosexuality." Meanwhile, LGBT refugees, already restricted in their rights, were particularly at risk of "falling into further vulnerability," Makso told VOA. Like the others performing in Proud's play, when Tarek takes to the stage on Sunday, he will be wearing a mask to hide his identity. Having left Syria in August 2013, he told VOA that the difficulties of being a refugee in Lebanon were compounded by being gay. His boyfriend was among those arrested in a series of raids by Lebanese police last year targeting gay men. Also, Tarek and his boyfriend were attacked by a neighbor when he realized they were a couple.

Tarek's experience is far from unique. A recent report by the American social services organization Heartland Alliance on Syrian LGBT refugees found that 56 percent had been physically assaulted in Lebanon, while 58 percent described their mental health status as poor. "The police and the public don't like us," Tarek said. "We've stopped going out and we try to stay hidden." Meanwhile, because of gender inequality, life for female members of the LGBT community remains even more hidden, said Proud's advocacy officer, Cosette Maalouf. "Often in the region, women are not supposed to have a sexuality at all, and women are often more able to hide in society than men," she said.

But there has been progress
Proud is just one of a number of groups promoting LGBT rights in Lebanon, including Helem, which began more than a decade ago as one of the first groups in the Middle East advocating in support of the issue. Last year, a case against a transgender woman charged under Article 534 was thrown out in what some campaigners claimed was a landmark decision. Meanwhile, an online video released by Proud in the run-up to Sunday features a number of non-LGBT celebrities and has received a largely positive reaction from local media, reflecting slowly changing attitudes among some. Alizadeh saw this growing acceptance among some Arabic media outlets based in Lebanon, and their use of a more accepting "frame of reference and vocabulary" when describing the LGBT community, as important.

"The things that happen in Lebanon can trickle through to other countries," he added. "I've seen it happen culturally, and it is a very important part of the battle." Although Tarik has faced discrimination both as a gay man and Syrian refugee, it was only in Lebanon that he was finally able to acknowledge his sexuality. With three roles to play in Sunday's theatrical performance, he cannot wait. "It is a very nice feeling to be in the play, and I am very affected by it. Last night I couldn't sleep as I was chatting to a friend about it all night long," he said. "I know I will reach people, and I feel it is a responsibility to my community to help carry their voice."
© VoA News.

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Ireland: Study reveals extent of homophobic bullying in primary schools

A new study into homophobic bullying in primary schools, has found that one in 10 principals have to deal with homophobic behaviour on a weekly or monthly basis.

17/5/2015- More than half (57%) of principals surveyed said that they were aware of homophobic bullying or name calling in their schools. The results are being released as part of International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. Director of the Anti-Bullying Centre DCU, Dr James O'Higgins-Norman, said that bullying can have a profoundly negative effect on young LGBT people. "It tells them that there is not a place for them in society," he said. "It tells them that expressing their sexuality and coming out and being part of mainstream culture is not something that's going to be easy, and it confines them again to a level of doubt, and a struggle with their identity that really wouldn't have to happen if there was greater acceptance and education in our schools."
© The Irish Examiner

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UK: Spy Base GCHQ Takes Stand Against Homophobia

The nephew of Alan Turing, the Second World War codebreaker who had to hide his homosexuality, says he is "delighted" by the move.

17/5/2015- GCHQ will be lit up like a rainbow this week to promote the fight against prejudice towards people based on their sexuality. The spy agency refused to employ openly gay people until the early 1990s but will mark International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia with the lighting display. The Cheltenham centre of the country's intelligence agency previously operated as Bletchley Park, where gay codebreaker Alan Turing's efforts helped keep Britain safe during the Second World War. Mr Turing helped develop a new machine to break German codes on an industrial scale but also had to keep his homosexuality secret from those around him. In 1952 he was convicted of gross indecency and killed himself two years later.

GCHQ has moved on since then, having a Pride network for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) issues since 1996. In 2009, then Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered an "unequivocal apology" for how Mr Turing had been treated and four years later, the Queen granted the codebreaker a posthumous pardon. Speaking of the lighting display, GCHQ director Robert Hannigan said he was "proud" of the organisation's "diverse and creative workforce". He added: "World-leading innovation in technology absolutely requires diversity. That was true for GCHQ when Alan Turing tackled Enigma for us and it is just as true today."

Mr Turing's nephew Sir John Dermot Turing said he was "delighted" by GCHQ's gesture, adding: "My uncle, Alan Turing, made a crucial contribution to the safety of the nation when he worked for GCHQ's forerunner Bletchley Park but due to society's attitude at that time he was forced to hide his sexuality. "It is important that his successors at GCHQ today are free to be themselves and, therefore, bring their talents to such vital work."
© Sky News.

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UK: This New Taxi Is Taking LGBT Pride On The Road

If you're looking for a way to showcase your LGBT pride on the road, look no further.

14/5/2015- In conjunction with the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on Sunday, May 17, London taxi driver Ian Beetlestone and ad company Ubiquitous and Transport for London have produced the ultimate queer taxi. Complete with a billowing rainbow flag and the phrase "Ride with Pride," it's the perfect way to transform a boring black car taxi experience into a statement about homophobia and transphobia this weekend. "As we mark International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia this Sunday, I want everyone to know they are welcome to hail a ride in our iconic, beautiful vehicle,” Beetlestone reportedly told Gay Times. The International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia began in 2004 and is an attempt to draw the attention of politicians, the public and the media to violence experienced on a daily basis by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. It happens annually in conjunction with the anniversary of the World Health Organization declassifying homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1990.
Want to learn more? Head here.
© The Huffington Post

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IDAHOT: Five reasons why we still need it

These incidents prove we still have a long way to go

17/5/2015- Today international day against homophobia, transphobia and biphobia is being celebrated across the world to mark how far many societies have come to empower people of all sexualities and genders. But on days like this it is also worth reminding ourselves how much further society has to go until the LGBTIQ community is treated equally in society.

When Britain can’t support its LGBTIQ community
Police reported last year that homophobic attacks were on the rise in London, Greater Manchester, South Wales and Northern Ireland. In one such brutal attack, Robbie Kingsford was beaten up and verbally abused in south-west London. Meanwhile, in December a gay woman was allegedly asked to stop consoling her distraught partner in a London restaurant, and research in September revealed gay and lesbian police officers still feel they can't reveal their sexuality. It is a similarly story for LGBT teachers, one in four of whom feel the need to hide their sexual orientation in school. More than half of Union NASUWT's members said they had experienced homophobia, bi phobia or transphobia during their teaching career.


When healthcare providers are often unfriendly or discriminatory to LGBTIQ people
An account from a Bengali man has recently revealed the stigma and oppression of living as a gay man in a conservative society, as well as the unfriendly healthcare he receives. The man said in a first person account: "LGBT people are at a disproportionately higher risk of HIV and will continue to be so for as long as the stigma, taboos, shame and fear persist. "Young LGBT people, in Bangladesh and elsewhere, often do not have access to the information and resources they need to be able to engage in safe sex."


When gay rights activists risk detention by police for publishing a magazine
In January it was reported that gay rights activists in Uganda had risked death threats, threats of violence and detention by the police to publish a magazine which aimed to "share the realities of being gay" in the country. The magazine, called Bombastic, had been published by campaigners in Kampala in a bid share stories of members of the LGBTI community in the country, where homosexuality is still illegal – and the government has repeatedly tried to ban the "promotion of homosexuality". At the time, Jacqueline Kasha, a lesbian activist and the magazine's organiser, told The Independent how police had temporarily detained Bombastic volunteers in the eastern part of the country, while members of the clergy had also threatened her with court action. She said: "We are not journalists and I don't respect the media here in Uganda. "The media is furious with us because we are reclaiming our stories. We expect them to retaliate. We are always frightened, but nobody else is going to stand up for us; our community needs a face."

When homophobia still apparently occurs in institutions of education
Earlier this year it was reported that one in five gay students said they had experienced bullying or harassment in school at the hand of their teachers, according to research. The research also strongly suggested that poor sex education lessons are driving a rise in the number of young gay men contracting HIV. A college head at Oxford University has also warned this week that female students were suffering “excessively harassing and intimidating behaviour.”


When authorities respond to homosexual activity with aggression, or uphold it
The president of Gambia threatened to "slit the throats" of gay people living in the country earlier this week, in a speech about the nation's youth. President Yahya Jammeh made the chilling threat apparently in response to Western leaders who have criticised the nation's regressive attitude to homosexuality. Earlier this year Senator Vitaly Milonov, the architect of Russia’s anti-gay laws, threatened revenge on a lesbian pair who captured him in the background of a kiss selfie by shutting down a gay club “as a joke.” The notoriously homophobic politician said: “This shows that these people are not of a normal sexual orientation, but that their sexual deviance shows in all aspects of their lives. I didn’t understand what they are doing but they have a nice sense of humor.”

© The Independent

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Op-ed: Why We Need an International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia

The Human Rights Campaign's global director Ty Cobb tells us why IDAHOT is more important than ever.

15/5/2015- Twenty-five years ago today, the world changed for millions. Not by a war, but by words. On May 17, 1990, the World Health Organization declassified same-sex attraction as a mental disorder, stating that “homosexuality is not a disease, a disturbance or a perversion.” From 1948 until that day, being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender was considered by the world’s most preeminent health body to be a “mental handicap,” an illness to be treated, cured, “fixed.” In the United States, the American Psychiatric Association had declassified same-sex attraction as an illness in 1973, long before the WHO made its determination. The uprising at Stonewall, San Francisco’s Compton’s Cafeteria Riots, and the tireless efforts by thousands of LGBT Americans led to a social movement that created a more equal country for us all.

But for those living in countries in Europe, Asia, or Africa, the WHO’s declassification of same-sex attraction was a clarion call and a demand for greater action. Love was no longer diagnosable. This turning point is highlighted throughout the world every year since 2004 on May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia. As with the APA decision, the removal of homosexuality as a disease by the WHO opened a door for activists in other countries to seek similar advances. Every year, LGBT activists stand together on this important date to promote social and legal change. In Riga, Latvia, a flash mob will encourage the visibility of the LGBT community in front of the national parliament, while in New York, the Free & Equal Campaign of the United Nations will screen a short film in Times Square. And worldwide, governments will convene high-level meetings on IDAHOT to create discussion and foment positive change for LGBT people.

Last year U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement that aligned the rights of LGBT people with the human rights of all people. His statement was joined by one from the White House, which issued a statement in honor of IDAHOT for the first time. This year the Human Rights Campaign, the U.N. Free & Equal Campaign, and the U.N. Foundation hosted the first-ever U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT People in a conversation about advancing LGBT equality throughout the world. In addition, HRC is joining the conversation on IDAHOT this year by recognizing the important 2015 theme of youth. HRC’s Youth Ambassadors — a group of young activists chosen for their courage and commitment to speaking out on issues affecting LGBT youth — have sent a video message to young people across the world, expressing solidarity against homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, and all forms of hate (watch it below).

In 2013, HRC launched HRC Global, a new program to help strengthen the global equality movement. The program mobilizes our 1.5 million members and supporters in support of global equality campaigns, joining with LGBT advocates and organizations abroad to support their efforts through partnerships and leadership development and working to build new allies on the global stage.

IDAHOT is an additional opportunity to join with the LGBT community across the globe. It celebrates not just one moment in history but what can be accomplished worldwide, from Kenya and Kyrgyzstan to our own front doors. The United States has an important role to play in fighting for the basic human rights of everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. As President Obama proclaimed in 2011, the “struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States' commitment to promoting human rights.” Today, we stand as one to celebrate IDAHOT.
Ty Cobb is the director of HRC Global.
© The Advocate

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Headlines 15 May, 2015

The Curious Music Of Esther Bejarano And Microphone Mafia

15/5/2015- It's an unusual sight. A very petit, elderly woman shares the stage with two rappers. They perform a Jewish partisan song at the Peace Festival in Berlin. Esther Bejarano is a Holocaust survivor. Music has always been important in her life. She grew up in a musical family - her father was a Jewish cantor - and even in her darkest times, music was present. The 90 year-old is one of the last surviving members of the Auschwitz Girl's Orchestra. The orchestra had to perform when trains full of prisoners arrived at the death camp. Victims destined for the gas chambers. For decades, Bejarano has been visiting schools all over Germany to talk about the Holocaust. "When I am no longer there, and all the other witnesses are no longer there, the young people always tell me, 'Don't be afraid, we are going to tell your story. We will never forget.'"

Six years ago, Esther Bejarano got together with Microphone Mafia, a German hip-hop duo. They make music that connects the past with the present, drawing from their different backgrounds. A blend of Yiddish, Turkish, and Italian songs with elements of Hip Hop. Bejarano explains: "We are three generations, we are three religions, that's special. And we also show the people we can live together, we can make music together, and now they are my family." "Every person has a microcosm, their own cage, so we have to try to change that. A political person is someone who tries to change his own prejudice," says Kutlu Yurtseven from Microphone Mafia. One thing that unites the diverse group is their belief in tolerance and anti-racism, a message they work hard to spread. They've released two CDs and in the last three years and have played over 200 concerts. 90 year-old Esther Bejarano is relentless. It helps that her son Yoram is part of the group, but still I wonder where she finds all the energy. "When I see that all the people are satisfied with my work, then it helps me very much," answered Bejarano.

Though she was born in Germany and has lived in Hamburg for the past fifty years, Esther Bejarano doesn't call Germany home. She can't, she says, as long as neo-Nazi groups are allowed to continue. Wir Leben Ewig by Esther Bejarano
© NPR Berlin

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Why Do So Few People Know the Epic Stories of Romani Resistance?

by Pierre Chopinaud

15/5/2015- On the evening of May 16, 1944, in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, SS guards armed with machine guns surrounded the area of the camp designa-ted for Roma and Sinti prisoners. Their intent was to round up the nearly 6,000 prisoners there and send them to the gas chambers. But when the guards approached the area, they were met with armed resistance from the inmates. The prisoners had learned of the planned “liquidation” and fashioned weapons from sheet metal, wood, pipes, rocks, and any other scraps of material they could get their hands on. According to the memories of survivors and witnesses to the incident, the inmates forced the guards into retreat, and though some prisoners were shot that night, the act of resistance allowed the Roma and Sinti prisoners to put off execution for several more months.

How can such an epic episode have been lost to history? Who knows about the Sonderkommandos revolt of August 1944? Who knows about Witold Pilecki, who infiltrated Auschwitz to organize its resistance network? Keeping alive the memories of these events could help prevent such crimes from happening again in the future. This is why La Voix des Rroms is raising awareness around May 16, the Romani Resistance Day in Europe. The Romani Resistance Day represents a change in the way Romani culture and identity appear in public space. This change comes from an understanding of this space as a political one, where a history of resistance replaces a history of oppression. We have urged Romani organizations across Europe to embrace this date: there are several events planned this year in Budapest; Lety (Czech Republic); and Paris, where we are organizing Romani Resistance Day (Fête de l’insurrection gitane) in collaboration with other stigmatized minorities like Muslims and blacks.

For too long, Roma people have been misrepresented by stereotypes: the beggar, the prostitute, the compassionate victim, the folkloric artist. Those stereotypes overshadow the nuances of Romani culture and identity, which have to be the result of political struggle. Romani cultural creation aims to challenge mainstream culture, identity, and representation, just as the African American civil rights movement in the United States changed the whole of America’s identity. We must do all we can to promote Romani culture and identity. For more than four decades, Europe’s Roma communities have wanted to establish an institution that would give their traditions and creations their own stage. Across Europe, institutions exist to celebrate an array of cultures, nationalities, and identities, but there is nothing of this kind for Roma.

The European Roma Institute, recently proposed by the Open Society Foundations, the Council of Europe, and leading Roma organizations and figures, is a unique way to address this imbalance and give Romani traditions and creations their own stage. In order to be successful, the European Roma Institute will need to tackle the breadth of Romani culture and identity. A lot has been done in the past to promote Romani culture with the help of an institutional framework, but it failed, in my opinion, because the specificity of Romani culture cannot be expressed using mainstream categories. There are some very specific features of Romani identity and culture that need to be addressed, like Romani humor; among all Roma, there is a common perception of the world, a common distance from society, as is exemplified in Charlie Chaplin movies—whose grandmother was, in fact, a Roma woman from England.

The main challenge of the European Roma Institute will be to deal with the tensions between unity (we are all “Roma”) and multiplicity (we all belong to the “landscape” or the territories we live in). That double belonging has always structured Romani identity. It needs to be fully addressed.
© Open Society Foundations - Voices.

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Portugal: Professor's solution to refugee crisis: 'Shoot all that black scum'

A Portuguese professor has spread racist slurs on the Internet, and been getting away with it for years. Are they tasteless examples of economic theories, or a criminal offense? Jochen Faget reports from Lisbon.

15/5/2015- Events took the worst turn conceivable: In order to justify tough austerity policies, a conservative MP representing the Portuguese governing party PSD quoted from the blog of Pedro Cosme Vieira, an economics professor, but he drew only derision and contempt rather than praise and approval. An opposition politician double-checked and discovered that the scholar from the north Portuguese city of Porto has used his blog to spread vile, racist propaganda. For example, all the migrant boats in the Mediterranean could be sunk by battleships; potential survivors could then be shot one after another. Initially, this would lead to the deaths of up to 5,000 people, but in the end no one would dare to risk making the trip to Europe. For years, the professor has been getting away with swaggering about "black scum;" pensioners, who could be shot in order to solve the social security funds problem; or about AIDS victims, who could be "put down" without, in his view, causing too much of a stir among the population.

Several years of blogging, no reaction
"The most amazing thing of all is that it took such a long time until those statements led to any consequences," sociologist Joao Teixeira Lopes, who also teaches at Porto Univer-sity, told DW. His dubious colleague had been blogging for more than five years without becoming caught in the crossfire of public opinion. His views had been called - at worst - bizarre or eccentric, but never disgraceful or unacceptable. "To some extent, his readers condoned or adopted his statements. There was no reaction at all. I think that's alarming." Cosme Vieira's employer, the University of Porto, set a bad example. When, eventually, public outcry increased, it issued a statement which called the professor's opinions strictly private opinions that did not reflect the university's views. In addition, the university's ethics council would be tasked with investigating the professor's actions. That was definite-ly the wrong signal, according to Teixeira Lopes. "The university should have opened disciplinary procedures immediately, and it should have raised its voice very clearly against racist practices and statements."

Racism as a legacy?
Portuguese society, however, still struggles when it comes to fighting racism, the sociologist continued. The country, which was proud of being the last European colonial power during the 1970s, has never really reviewed its history, he said. Even major massacres carried out by the Portuguese in Africa had never been reviewed, let alone punished. In part because of their colonial history spanning almost 500 years, the Portuguese viewed themselves as tolerant, paternal friends of the Africans - and a certain latent racism existed as a result. "Of course it's wrong to argue that all Portuguese are racists," said Teixeira Lopes. "By the same token, it would be wrong to suggest that there are no racists at all. I'd say we have racists in Portugal - due to historic reasons." Those "historic reasons" may have played their part when the right-wing politician who quoted from Cosme Vieira's blog did not take offense at the economist's racist statements. The politician's willingness to cite Cosme Vieira's work is exactly what makes the issue so controversial, according to Teixeira Lopes. By condoning the racist comments as eccentricities of an out-of-touch yet competent professor, the politician revealed a major social and cultural problem.

Public prosecutors investigate
What about Pedro Cosme Vieira himself? In an e-mail, he expressed amazement about his sudden surge to fame, while declining requests for an interview, he did say he was using drastic examples because his readers were not highly educated. In his blog he also wrote: Yes, he was a racist and called racism the flip side of intelligence. The racist comments on his blog, however, have been read by a public prosecutor. In contrast to the University of Porto, the prosecutor's office has taken action and started an investigation into his statement for allegedly inciting hatred.
© The Deutsche Welle.

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Vandals target French Jewish cemetery, Vienna’s Freud museum

Vienna’s Sigmund Freud Museum, a Jewish French cemetery and a Polish watchdog on anti-Semitism all were hit by vandalism in recent days.

15/5/2015- In France on Sunday night at least six tombstones were smashed at a Jewish cemetery in Lille, northern France’s largest city, according to a report sent out Thursday by France’s National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA. Vandals also poured paint on the gravestones.

In Vienna, vandals earlier this month smashed three of the Freud museum’s display windows, the Israel-based Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism reported on Tuesday. The works targeted are by the Austrian sculptor Peter Kogler, whose creations, fine wire nets with illumination fittings, were inspired by Freud’s discoveries about the unconscious. Near one of the vandalized displays, an expletive directed at “Lamech Sigi” and the word “sect” were scrawled in blue marker. The combination of the name of a biblical figure, Lamech, Noah’s father; the diminutive of “Sigmund”; and the reference to a sect suggested that the vandalism was an anti-Semitic act, the Forum said.

In the Polish town of in Tarnow near Krakow, vandals broke an ornate mezuzah off the doorframe of the newly-opened office of the Antyschematy 2 nonprofit group, which combats anti-Semitism and other forms of racism. Tomasz Malec, the foundation’s president, told Gazeta Krakowska he believed the attack was a hate crime.
© JTA News

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Former Kosovo Serb Minister Indicted for Hate Speech

A former Kosovo Serb minister has been charged with inciting 'national, racial and religious intolerance' - three months after a wave of protests led to his sacking.

14/5/2015- Charges have been filed against former government minister Aleksandar Jablanovic at the prosecutor's office in the town of Gjakova/Djakovica, accusing him of inciting “national, racial and religious intolerance”, as well as for “intolerance”. Jablanovic was told to appear for interview with the prosecutors on May 11 but did not go because he was on holiday, so he has now been ordered to appear on May 22. The ex-minister said he was a victim of intimidation. “I see this as a means of pressure on the Serbs [in Kosovo] that aims to scare and discipline its political representatives,” Jablanovic said. “We are not guilty of anything and have no reason to prove our innocence, and especially not in front of the prosecution in Gjakova,” he continued, calling the charge a way to detract attention from the overall treatment of Serbs in Kosovo.

Jablanovic was Minister for Communities and Returns until a statement he issued on the eve of Orthodox Christmas about protesters who had stopped Serbs from visiting an Orthodox church in Gjakova/Djakovica. The then minister called the protesters “savages” for throwing stones at the bus transporting the pilgrims to church. He was later forced to resign. Driton Caushi, head of the nationalist Vetevendosje party in Gjakova/Djakovica, which spearheaded the protests, said that if Jablanovic were to be indicted, it would set an important precedent. “This is a good opportunity to prove that such statements are unacceptable,” he told BIRN. However, he said the case was unlikely to succeed because of its “highly political nature”. “Our legal system is weak as it is, let alone when politics is involved,” Caushi said.

Jablanovic’s statement on January 6 provoked outrage among Kosovo Albanians and sparked protests in various Kosovo towns. The minister apologised for his choice of words but discontent remained high and a rally organised in the Kosovo capital on January 24 was widely considered the biggest protest held since the country declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Another large protest followed on January 27 – marked by higher levels of violence between police and protesters. On February 3, Prime Minister Isa Mustafa announced that he was removing Jablanovic from his cabinet. Dalibor Jevtic has since taken his position. Jablanovic is a member of the pro-Belgrade “Srpska” party, formed before the local elections in November 2013 with the goal of putting forward candidates “on a platform supported by Belgrade”. That fact alone has increased distrust for the party and its representatives amongst the Kosovo Albanian majority.
© Balkan Insight

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Ireland: Travellers and gay people have common cause against racism and homophobia (opinion)

‘The approval for two women to marry should not be at the bequest of straight people’s generosity’
By Rosaleen McDonagh 

13/5/2015- There have always been lesbian and gay Travellers. Our community may have at times tried to suppress, oppress and deny this diversity. Family and faith are often considered the cornerstones of Traveller identity. As in all populations, families can demand unrealistic standards. As individuals, we all aspire to ascertain unconditional love from our family. When we cannot deliver in our attempt to be what they want us to be, there is an overwhelming sense of sadness and confusion on both sides. Notions of sinfulness attached to lesbian or gay desires are, intrinsic within religious faith. Faith is private and should not be used by the collective to hide behind a shared thinking that attempts to dictate moral conduct. Faith may influence personal ethics but must not be a tool to denigrate free-thinking and choices.

Over the past 10 years, lesbian and gay Travellers have increasingly been supported by different versions of family. When you’re a Traveller, family events such as weddings, christenings and funerals are huge moments of pride. Imagine not having important aspects of your life honoured and celebrated. Tradition has within it an expectation that we would live our lives like our ancestors. The language of culture can be used as a great way of expecting, controlling and monitoring people’s behaviour, especially women’s. Believing that cloning one generation after another would ensure the notion that Traveller ethnicity was and is protected from disruption or corruption is naive.

Our community didn’t fall apart, nor was our ethnicity diluted, when women went to work, got educated or even fell in love with a partner of their own choosing. The approval for two women to marry should not be at the bequest of straight people’s generosity. In the same light, our ethnic status as Travellers exists as a reality, not something afforded to us on a whim by liberal settled people. There’s a correlation of experience for those of us who know racism and those who know homophobia. Hatred, greed, bigotry and domination come from the same place, usually from the same mouths and minds. The dynamics of homophobia and racism are similar.

We, as Travellers, have shared that space of being despised, ignored, punished and disrespected. Internalised oppression can leave us believing that other groups, pushed to the edge of society, are favoured. The perception among settled people of Travellers is negative and suggests that we are a homogeneous group. Ethnicity, however, does not equate to conformity. Cultural identity has the elasticity to stretch, shape and expand ideas regarding the “norms” of any community. Society and all its apparatus still tell us we’re wrong because we are Travellers. Similar to what happens with Traveller ethnicity, gay people get negative messages regarding their sexuality. Many settled gay people are isolated and vulnerable. Gay people are often rejected by their families, bullied by neighbours and have had to struggle to come to terms with who they are.

Putting your politics into practice often means you have to dig deep inside yourself to eradicate elements of homophobia or racism. Over a 20-year period, my gay settled friends have had to go through a vetting process in order for me to fully trust that they were not racist. More than likely, my gay settled friends were silently screening me for homopho-bia. Neither of us told the other what we were doing. Awkward silences emerge, when casual discussions drifted into homophobia or racism. When our community was being publicly punished for the actions of a few, these friends were, however, the ones that were not silent, never using the word “but . . .”; sensing ridicule and violence were never far away.

In order for us to be recognised as a minority ethnic group, we are relying on gay people’s support. Settled gay people have supported gay Pavees, at times when we, as a community, disowned or denied our gay sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. On May 22nd, we can show our solidarity.
© The Irish Times.

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Russia: Is Radical Nationalism Getting Out of Control? (analysis)

Radical nationalism has long been one of the leading threats to Russia’s national security. However, in recent years, and especially during the Ukraine crisis, the Kremlin has tried to co-opt the nationalists to use them to mobilize the population. At the moment, according to Donald Jensen, resident fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, there are increasing signs that the political situation may be gradually drifting out of the president’s control.
By Donald N. Jensen


12/5/2015- As the official investigation into the killing of Boris Nemtsov has pursued the so-called «Chechen trail» in recent weeks, less attention has been given to another theory regarding the assassination that also was popular in the first days after the shooting. The Chechen suspects may have been set up to deflect suspicion from the real masterminds of the crime—nationalist extremist groups on the political periphery with links to either the security services or hawks within Putin’s inner circle. These groups have all been pressing Putin to take a more aggressive approach in Ukraine and against powerful Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov, whom they see as undermining the Russian state. With the Nemtsov killing, so the theory goes, they hoped to provoke Putin into assuming a tougher stance. We will likely never know for sure who is responsible for Nemtsov’s death, but such speculation reflects the fact that the violent nationalist organizations on which Putin has relied, especially since his return to the presidency, are becoming more powerful and difficult to control.

Radical nationalism has long been one of the leading threats to Russia’s national security, a danger noted by Putin himself during an appearance on a call-in show last month. Over the past decade several large-scale underground nationalist groups have been crushed by law enforcement authorities. At the same time, the Kremlin has tried to co-opt the nationalists to use them to mobilize the population behind the Ukraine war. They have been allowed to hold large-scale rallies in downtown Moscow and to stage publicity stunts, such as Putin publicly riding with the Nationalist Night Wolves biker gang. Some groups probably quietly receive financial or political support from elements of the leadership.

Russian radical nationalists, including groups such as the National Democratic Party, the National Socialist Initiative, the Russian Imperial Movement, and the Russian National Union, supported the so-called «Russian Spring»—the annexation of Crimea, the invasion of eastern Ukraine, and the granting of independence to the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics. According to a recent report by the SOVA organization (which tracks violent extremist groups), Russian official propaganda has be-come more traditionalist, militarist, and authoritarian since the Crimean annexation, and this has created fertile ground for the development of new, more uncon-trollable extremist organizations—some of which are armed—that have displaced many older groups whom the Kremlin has long manipulated and sometimes sponsored. But these nationalists’ support for Putin is slipping, SOVA found, in response to criticisms of current Kremlin policy: that it does not adequately support the «Russians» in the Ukrainian southeast; that it primarily aims to advance the personal and mercantile interests of Putin and his circle; that it is providing a pretext for the curtailment of political freedoms in Russia; that it is distracting popular attention from the economy; and that it is being pursued primarily to boost Putin’s personal popularity, not the good of the country.

This combination of Maidan opponents, assorted radical nationalist organizations, and returning fighters from eastern Ukraine is a volatile and potentially destabilizing mix. Particularly dangerous are the fighters—perhaps 2,000 in all, according to a recent Brookings/Atlantic Council Report—who operate in rogue units only loosely under Russian, DNR, or LNR command. Although individual affiliations are fluid and overlapping, the fighters include members of Cossack organizations, Chechens, Afghan war veterans, former inmates of Russian prisons, members of Russian ultranationalist groups with links to domestic nationalists and power structures inside Russia, former Ukrainian security force members, and several hundred fighters from other countries. (The neo-Nazi Russian National Unity Group has also actively recruited volunteers from the Internet, and the National Liberation Movement has recruited and outfitted volunteers.) These individuals share common ideological views: anti-Americanism, anti-liberalism, extreme nationalism, a fascination with authoritarianism, and a rejection of European integration. Many will eventually return home with combat experience and a desire to take part in radical nationalist politics.

As the strains between Putin and the nationalists have increased, the Kremlin has taken steps to bring the groups under control. On the battlefield these measures have included better integrating the fighters into the Russian military command structures, purging recalcitrant radical leaders such as popular hero Igor Girkin (Strelkov), and helping separatist forces in Donetsk and Luhansk restrict the operations of armed independent units. (Pro-Moscow separatists may have liquidated independent-minded commander Alexander Bednov, organizer of a militia unit in the Luhansk People’s Republic.) Russian officials reportedly have sometimes closed the Ukrainian border to prevent the return of fighters, and press reports have claimed that last year Russian forces killed several hundred retreating fighters rather than let them cross the frontier. The Kremlin also has used the Prosecutor’s Office in Luhansk to control and arbitrate conflicts among field commanders.

These steps have had mixed success. While in large part Russian and allied separatist forces in Luhansk and Donetsk have made progress in consolidating control, adherence to the Minsk II ceasefire agreement, which is unpopular among the nationalist fighters, has been ragged. A special rapid response unit of the Russian Interior Ministry was sent to Donbass in late March to crack down on Cossacks forming the core of the Don Army, which reportedly had refused to join separatist army struc-tures. Various groups of fighters also struggle over the allocation of resources.

In Moscow, the authorities have renewed pressure on the nationalists, despite their political usefulness for Putin—they balance the growing authority of the Kadyrovtsy (Kadyrov’s followers)—and a reported rivalry between Putin advisor Vladislav Surkov and Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev for control over Ukraine policy. The police have conducted searches of the homes of several nationalist leaders, filed criminal cases against some extremists for inciting hatred, and shut down some nationalist websites. The Kremlin has boosted the more controllable, pro-regime patriotic organizations, such as the National Liberation Movement. Putin also has reorganized presidential administration offices that deal with fighters and reshuffled the Federal Security Service (FSB) in an attempt to increase its efficacy in dealing with ethnic and nationality issues and the threat of terrorism, even though some officials in the security services undoubtedly sympathize with the radical nationalists. (Loyalties are cross-cutting: Viktor Zolotov, commander of the Internal Affairs troops who are FSB rivals but Putin loyalists is reportedly close to Kadyrov. Kadyrov’s Sever battalion is formally a part of the Interior Ministry.) In a speech at the Collegium of the Prosecutor’s Office on March 25, Putin called for tougher measures against extremism.

The problem facing the war against extremism is that there are increasing signs that the political situation—particularly Putin’s ability to restrain the radical nationalists while at the same time maintaining a balance between the nationalists and Kadyrov—may be gradually drifting out of the president’s control. Commentator Gleb Pavlovsky recently said he was unsure whether Putin could contain a conflict between Kadyrov and the security services if one arose. «Power [vlast] in Russia is a loosely put together complex of departments that fight one another,» argues journalist and political commentator Konstanin Gaaze. «They are all partly loyal to Putin, but they are all loyal in their own way. And in general, they do what they want.» The elites «no longer feel fear... [and] have lost discipline. They lie to and attempt to manipulate the Kremlin.» Alarmingly, political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky recently claimed that there even exist silovik hit teams that operate independently of the government.

The rise in influence of the radical right also constrains Putin’s ability to make decisions. It would resist any decision by Russia’s president to strike a deal with the West over Ukraine; pulling out of Donbass entirely might create a threat to the regime itself. The far right’s support for Putin is thus conditional. The extremists will love only a victorious gladiator who constantly moves forward. Should he stumble, the «Black Hundreds» spawned by the illegal annexation of Crimea could sweep over Russia.
© The Institute of Modern Russia

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Czech Rep: Prime Minister Sobotka rejects EU immigration quotas

13/5/2015- The Czech Republic wants to help refugees on the basis of sovereign government decisions, not of EU mechanisms, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said yesterday, insisting on the Czech Republic's rejection of the compulsory quotas for the immigrants. Sobotka (Social Democrats, CSSD) said the Czech Republic was defending the principles of common sense. The European Commission announced yesterday that by the end of May, it would submit a proposal of a redistribution of the refugees within the whole of the EU due to the current immigration wave. By the end of the month, it will propose a programme within which it will be possible to resettle legally 20,000 persons from the third countries who clearly need international protection within the EU. "In my view, there is no legal framework within the EU on the basis of which the quotas could be implemen-ted," Sobotka said.

According to the documents of the European Commission, the Czech quota may be 2.63 percent or some 520 persons. "The Czech Republic would certainly cope with 500 refu-gees," Interior Minister Milan Chovanec (Social Democrats, CSSD) said. "However, the government will ask why, under the proposal, the Czech Republic should accept more refugees than, say, Sweden," he added. The ANO movement and Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL), another two members of the coalition government, are also against the quotas for the refugees, their representatives have said. Former president Vaclav Klaus (2003-2013) said the planned redistribution of the refugees within the EU was a tragic error. An agreement of European countries on sending the refugees back to their countries of origin is the only reasonable reaction to the immigration wave, Klaus, a Eurosceptic, said.
Sobotka said the Czech Republic was ready to spend more money on the aid to the refugees here and especially in the countries from which they were coming.

However, it wants to provide the help on the basis of a voluntary approach, depending on its capabilities and capacities, he added. Sobotka said individual EU countries knew best what the situation in them was. The Czech Republic will present its position at the meeting of the European Council, he added. At it, it wants to defend national interests and the "principles of common sense," he added. Sobotka said the Czech Republic was not the country of destination of the immigrants. Within the Schengen area, nothing can prevent them from leaving elsewhere, he added. As a result, the quota system cannot be implemented in the way that would be tenable in the long run, Sobotka said. Last year, the Czech Republic granted asylum or a similar degree of protection to 765 people, mostly from Ukraine, Syria and Cuba.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

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Czech and Slovak PMs reject quotas for refugees at Prague meeting

12/5/2015- The Czech Republic and Slovakia reject the introduction of compulsory quotas for refugees now discussed in the EU, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico told journalists after a joint government meeting yesterday. The European Commission may propose the system of distribution of asylum seekers in EU countries according to a quota system on Wednesday. "I basically refuse any policy of quotas," Fico said. He said any position of the EU should be based on the voluntary principle and decisions of individual countries. Sobotka, too, spoke about a voluntary approach. He said the European Council had discussed some pilot projects and evaluations before making another decision. Sobotka said the current efforts amounted to unnatural acceleration of the whole process that might only harm the debate on migration. He said the individual countries know best what measures they can implement as a sign of solidarity. "This cannot be replaced with any quotas," Sobotka said. The criteria of distribution take into account the economic performance, population number, unemployment rate and the number of current asylum seekers in the individual EU countries.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

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USA: Pamela Geller and the Anti-Islam Movement

By David K. Shipler

12/5/2015- The winning cartoon in the contest to draw the Prophet Muhammad, early this month in Garland, Texas, which two gunmen attacked, depicts a fierce Prophet waving a scimitar and saying, “You can’t draw me!” The artist, whose hand and pencil are visible, replies from outside the frame, “That’s why I draw you.” And so the principle of free speech confronted American society’s unwritten code of restraint on contemptuous stereotyping. Mocking Islam’s ban on images of Muham-mad, the contest’s organizer, Pamela Geller, of a crusading anti-Muslim group called the American Freedom Defense Initiative, invited cartoonists to compete for a ten-thousand-dollar prize. The winner, Bosch Fawstin, an Albanian Muslim who had renounced Islam, went into hiding.

Freedom of expression suddenly looked like two overlays on a map, the legal landscape and the cultural landscape, each with its own boundaries. The First Amendment protects the legal right to almost all expression, on the understanding that the best answer to offensive speech is more speech. Culturally, however, Americans have generally limited what they say out of respect for the dignity of others. People who violate the limits can suffer opprobrium, damage to their reputations, and even the loss of their jobs. Let us hope that they cannot also lose their lives. No such opprobrium exists in the subculture of anti-Islam activists that has developed since 9/11.

Geller, who gained fame by opposing the effort to build a mosque and Muslim community center near the site of the World Trade Center, is “the anti-Muslim move-ment’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups. Geller operates within a context that includes groups with names like Jihad Watch, Now the End Begins, Unmasking the Muslim Brotherhood in America, Understanding the Threat, and Discover the Net-works, which sound the alarm about the supposed encroachment of Sharia, or Islamic law. They work to convince the public that the Muslim Brotherhood is pursuing a grand plan to infiltrate and subvert the United States, facilitated by Americans’ complacency, and in the process earn ample profits, judging by the flourishing cottage industry of books, videos, Web sites, and training courses for police departments.

Virtually all the alarm over the coming Islamic takeover and the spread of Sharia law can be traced back to an old document of questionable authority and relevance, “An Explanatory Memorandum on the General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America.” Dated May 22, 1991, it was found in 2004 by the F.B.I., buried in one of a large number of boxes uncovered during a search of a house in northern Virginia. (I reported on the discovery and the use of the document for my book “Freedom of Speech: Mightier than the Sword.”) It is cited on numerous Web sites, and in articles, videos, and training materials, which quote one another in circular arguments. Its illusion of importance was enhanced by federal prosecutors, who included it in a trove of documents introduced into evidence in the 2007 trial of the Holy Land Foun-dation, a charitable organization ultimately convicted of sending money to Hamas.

The memo, however, is far from probative. It was never subjected to an adversarial test of its authenticity or significance. Examined closely, it does not stand up as an authoritative prescription for action. Rather, it appears to have been written as a plea to the Muslim Brotherhood leadership for action, by an author we know little about, Mohamed Akram. He is listed elsewhere as a secretary in the Brotherhood, but he writes in the tone of an underling. Islam watchers do not quote his appeal that the recipients “not rush to throw these papers away due to your many occupations and worries. All that I’m asking of you is to read them and to comment on them.” These lines reveal the memo as a mere proposal, now twenty-four years old. No other copies have come to light.

Two features of the memo are highlighted by the Islam watchers: first, its assertion that “the Ikhwan [Muslim Brotherhood] must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within,” and, second, "a list of our organizations and the organizations of our friends." One of the more prominent organizations on the list is the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which opposes discrimination against Muslims and, on its Web site, has featured videos of American Muslims rejecting acts of terrorism as violations of Islam’s tenets. But the peaceful rhetoric is just a ruse, John Guandolo, a former F.B.I. agent, contends. Guandaolo allowed me to attend a training session he held for community activists. In his presentations, he conflates the named orga-nizations with the Muslim Brother-hood, and the Brotherhood with Hamas, the radical movement that evolved from the Brotherhood and now rules the Gaza Strip. So the memo’s list of friendly orga-nizations, which may have been compiled casually by a wishful-thinking operative, becomes a tool of guilt by association.

Whenever a sheriff’s department or local police force hires Guandolo to train officers in the dangers of a Muslim takeover, CAIR and Muslim community centers push back hard, urging that the sessions be cancelled. They don’t always succeed, but when a department capitulates and calls off the course, Guandolo publishes blog posts accusing police officials of giving in to Hamas. Last fall, after the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona opposed a scheduled training session, he urged that the group be indicted, for giving “material support” to Hamas, as a designated terrorist organization.

What these activists say about Islam and their right to say it are different issues, now entangled. By attacking the cartoon gathering, the gunmen in Texas have refra-med the argument about it in favor of their enemies. Without their attack, the focus would have been on the bigotry of the cartoon exercise. It is now also on free-dom of thought—“not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate,” as Oliver Wendell Holmes declared. Geller claimed that from the beginning the cartoon contest “was about freedom of speech, period.” Handed the chance to bask in righteousness, she took it with her customary flair for hyperbole, telling CNN, “Increasingly, we are abridging our freedoms so as not to offend savages. The very idea that if something offends me or I’m insulted by some-thing I’ll kill you and that way I can get my way, and somehow this is O.K. with members of the élite media and academia, is outrageous.”
David K. Shipler covered Vietnam for the Times from 1973 to 1975. His latest book is “Freedom of Speech: Mightier Than the Sword.”
© The New Yorker

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Serbia: Belgrade Activists Demand Criminalisation of Genocide Denial

Serbian peace group Women in Black staged a public performance in Belgrade as part of a campaign for a parliamentary resolution to criminalise any denial that genocide happened in Srebrenica.

12/5/2015- Women in Black staged the hour-long silent performance named 'Crossing the Doorstep' in Belgrade’s Srebrenicka Street on Monday, the latest in a series of events that will be held this year to mark two decades since thousands of Bosniak men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb forces in 1995. “It is mostly aimed at parliament, which we have been urging since 2009 to adopt a resolution [on Srebrenica] and to pass a law which would make Srebrenica genocide denial a criminal act,” said one activist, Milos Urosevic. “We want a resolution to explicitly say that genocide was committed in Srebrenica and to name July 11 as Memorial Day,” Urosevic added. During the performance, Women in Black’s activists stepped over a wooden doorstep which had the number 8,372 written on it, representing the number of known victims killed in a massacre.

Women in Black activist Snezana Tabacki said ‘crossing the doorstep’ represented accepting that genocide actually happened. “When you cross a doorstep you stop being silent about the crime and you enter a phase in which you confront it and say, yes, it happened,” Tabacki said. Although international and Bosnian courts have classified the Srebrenica massacres as genocide, Serbia still officially denies this. In 2010, parliament adopted a resolution condemning the killings in Srebrenica, but stopped short of calling it genocide. “This has all been sweeping things under the carpet and saying that we should turn to the future and forget what happened. But we think that a future without facing the past is impossible,” Tabacki said.

Monday’s performance was one in a series of events organised on the 11th of each month by various peace groups from Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. The events will continue until July 11, the 20th anniversary of the killings.
© Balkan Insight

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Greece: Anarchists disrupt Golden Dawn trial

15/5/2015- The trial of Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn was interrupted Friday by a noisy incursion by anarchists, prompting an adjournment to June 4. The anarchists, who are themselves on trial for alleged participation in a far-left extremist group, entered from an adjoining chamber. They hurled insults at the members of the neo-Nazi party and plastic bottles, which hit some of the journalists covering the trial. The trial opened in April inside a special courtroom at the high-security Kordyallos prison, with 69 Golden Dawn members and alleged supporters accused of murder, conspiracy to murder or being part of a criminal organisation. The mayor of the Athens suburb of Kordyallos, where the prison is located, has been pleading for months for the trial to be held elsewhere. Local officials had previously warned of clashes between Golden Dawn supporters and anti-fascist groups in the area when there is a hearing.
© AFP

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Greece: Scuffles at trial of Greek extreme-right Golden Dawn party

15/5/2015- Lawyers representing Greece's extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party demanded a change of venue Friday for security reasons after party leaders and members on trial were threatened by suspected members of a leftist group being led to another courtroom. Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos and party lawmakers are among 69 defendants accused of running a criminal organization in the closely watched case held in a special courtroom in the country's largest prison, Korydallos. A separate case against suspected members of the left-wing Nucleii of Fire group, which is accused of several bombings, is also being heard at the prison. Nucleii suspects heading to their own courtroom managed to open the Golden Dawn courtroom door and threatened the defendants, trying to enter the room and throwing a bottle before police intervened.

Golden Dawn lawyers refused to participate in any further court proceedings Friday and demanded the trial be moved to another location. The trial, which is expected to take more than a year, was adjourned until June 4. First appearing as a fringe neo-Nazi organization in the mid-1980s, Golden Dawn morphed from a marginal far-right group into the country's third most popular party during Greece's five-year financial crisis. It won 6.28 percent of the vote in a general election three months ago, despite having its state campaign funding axed. But Golden Dawn has been blamed in a series of violent attacks against immigrants and left-wing opponents, including the stabbing death of rap singer Pavlos Fyssas last year. Michaloliakos, a 57-year-old anti-immigrant firebrand, and 12 other members of parliament each face up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.
© The Associated Press

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Poland: A Wake-up Call

The incumbent president’s second-place finish in the first round of elections throws Polish politics into disarray.
by Martin Ehl


12/5/2015- About two weeks ago I spoke with some Polish friends from the media and Warsaw think tanks about the expected results of the first round of the country’s presidential elections. No one wanted to be quoted, so strictly off the record they opined that the overwhelming support in opinion polls for the incumbent, Bronislaw Komorowski, was no guarantee of success and that results could be surprising. They were right. After eight years of government by the center-right Civic Platform (PO), Polish politics is again as unpredictable as ever and any calculations and projections can now be thrown out the door.

Last weekend, the first round was won by Andrzej Duda – up until a few months ago, an unknown, young, conservative politician. His boss, Jaroslaw Kaczynski of the Law and Justice Party (PiS), nominated Duda essentially to lose the presidential race and to test the terrain before parliamentary elections scheduled for this coming fall. Duda, however, received 34.76 percent of the vote, followed by the favored Komorowski with 33.77 percent. In third place, another shock: Pawel Kukiz, a rocker-turned-populist politician, took 20.8 percent.

The next two weeks should see a lot of mudslinging and turnabouts as Duda and Komorowski duke it out leading up to the runoff round. At least that is the expectation, but one never knows if Komorowski's campaigners will finally wake up. Their performance so far has been very poor, and the behind-the-scenes infighting among different wings of the governing PO (to which the president belongs) hasn’t helped. And the PiS candidate immediately took the initiative, appearing the Monday morning after the elections in a central Warsaw metro station spouting the slogan "Leťs go to work!" The governing party now has a serious challenge on its hands before the fall elections as it seeks to regain the voters’ trust, and not only because its heavyweight and natural leader Donald Tusk left for Brussels to chair the European Council. People just seem to be tired of Civic Platform governments and politicians.

Both camps will be courting the disgruntled voters of Pawel Kukiz. He attracted those voters weary of the entrenched division in Polish politics between the center-right and the conservative right – especially the young. Kukiz received 41 percent of the votes cast by under-29s. He also added some leftist voters who took the nomination of Magdalena Ogorek, a young and inexperienced historian, as a joke by Leszek Miller, leader of the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance. If this election was a forecast of things to come, then the left, as we knew it, is gone. Ogorek garnered just 2.4 percent, landing her in fifth place, behind the two main candidates and two populists.

Duda has already started trying to reach out to Kukiz’s followers. The rocker’s only political-related idea in his campaign was to introduce single-member constituencies (about which he even wrote and recorded a punk-like song). On election night Duda took up the theme of first-past-the-post constituencies, saying, "We can talk about them." Komorowski got into the act as well, promising a referendum on single-member districts. He also has probably gotten the message that he can’t wriggle out of a live TV debate with his opponent (as he did before the first round with the other candidates).

Any confidence in Duda’s camp must, however, be tempered by the realization that the low turnout – just 48.96 percent, the lowest in a presidential poll since 1990 – played a major factor in the first-round results. PO voters are traditionally not as disciplined as those of the conservatives, and Komorowski didn’t even pick up the usual electoral pool of the party. But the president’s team will likely attempt to mobilize PO voters as much as possible against the supposedly "anti-European" forces of Kaczynski and his clan (as the mainstream media and governing politicians often portray them). And Duda knows that he failed to attract many voters in the first round outside the usual conservative cluster.

Certainly, with the prospect of the conservatives getting closer to power and the strong populist voice recorded in the rocker's camp, Polish politics is becoming a lot more interesting than it was over the past eight years of stable, pro-European, liberal government – which led Poland, it must be said, through the financial crisis without negative GDP growth. The question remains whether that is good news for the rest of Central Europe.
Martin Ehl is the foreign editor of the Czech daily Hospodarske noviny.
© Transitions Online.

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Italy: Uproar as Padua woman hosts migrants for free

Thousands of Padua residents have signed a petition to evict six migrants from a house where they’ve been hosted for free.

11/5/2015- The petition comes amid a crackdown by Massimo Bitonci, mayor of Padua and member of the far-right anti-immigrant Northern League party, on tenants hosting migrants in private properties. Three thousand people have so far put their names to the petition to evict the six migrants, who moved into the city centre property that is rented by the woman, called Patrizia, last month TGcom24 reported. Fabrizio Boron, a Northern League councillor who organized the petition, said “there is no guarantee that they’re not terrorists”. The rental contract for the property expires on July 31st and Patrizia is reported to have fled the city and left the matter with her brother to deal with, TGcom said. Her brother, who reportedly works for a charity called Percorso Vita, is said to have convinced her to loan the organization the property for free.

The property’s owner was quoted by TGcom as saying: “I’m very upset, I won’t let it happen again.” Bitonci said that “hosting illegal immigrants in private homes is the wrong choice.” “People have asked me to intervene because the situation is intolerable,” he added. Police are due to start checks on homes across the Veneto city, where more than 500 migrants are said to have recently arrived, from Monday, Padova Oggi reported. In practice, tenants can reach an agreement with social cooperatives to make properties available, but need to comply with health and safety regulations. Anyone caught flouting the rules faces a fine of €500 or more.

For almost a year, 200 migrants have been housed in 40 apartments across the city, Roberto Tuninetti, who works for Coges, a social cooperative, told Corriere del Veneto. The Veneto and Lombardy regions refused a request from the Italian government in April to find emergency housing for the country’s migrant influx. The call came after a surge in attempted illegal crossings from the coast of north Africa saw nearly 8,500 migrants rescued in one weekend, reigniting a debate in Italy over whether or not the country has a duty to house all new arrivals. More than 1,000 migrants died while attempting the crossing within one week in April after their boats capsized.
© The Local - Italy

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Swedish neo-Nazi party dismantles as support drops

A Swedish neo-Nazi party, the Party of the Swedes, has decided to bow out of politics after membership dropped following last year's elections.

12/5/2015- The decision was first announced late on Sunday in a lengthy statement on the party's website after a meeting of party officials. "It wouldn't be right vis-a-vis the great champions of the party to let the party wither away," the party's leadership wrote. Founded in 2008, the party only managed to win one seat in its short history: a councillor in 2010 in the small southwestern town of Grästorp, who later had to step down because he lived in a neighbouring municipality. Four years later, despite fielding more candidates and having greater financial resources, the national election of 2014 was a "serious setback" for the party, according to the statement, as it only managed to garner 4,189 votes (0.07 percent) compared with the 10,000 targeted. Although it carefully avoided any references to Nazism, the party -- which called for "a Swedish Sweden" and was openly xenophobic -- had its roots in a group called the National Socialist Front.

It criticised the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats, Sweden's third largest party, for being too accommodating on immigration. Neo-Nazis have a long history in Sweden and other groups include the Swedish Resistance Movement. "The party of the Swedes has been one of the biggest organisers on that side. Now we will probably see new actors and groups," the editor of anti-racist magazine Expo, Anders Dalsbro, told news agency TT. Earlier this year a report by Expo concluded that while Sweden's neo-Nazi organizations are declining in numbers, but their activity is growing in intensity.
© The Local - Sweden

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Sweden: 'Tired' Green leader uses offensive Roma word

Green party co-spokesperson Åsa Romson has apologized after calling Roma people “zigenare” (gypsies) as well as comparing the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean to the Holocaust.

11/5/2015- Åsa Romson used the term “zigenare” following a debate between the leaders of Sweden’s major political parties, broadcast on SVT. The word, which means “gypsy” in English is deeply offensive. In April it became one of a selection of words followed by the phrase "använd istället" (use instead) in the latest edition of Sweden's official dictionary produced by Svenska Akademien (The Swedish Academy). The book advises all Swedes to use “Roma” instead. But Romson used word term “zigenare” instead of “Roma” as she defended describing the migrant crisis in Europe as “the new Auschwitz” in the broadcast on Sunday night. After her comparisons with the mass killings proved controversial, she told SVT she wanted to apologize to “any of the groups” affected by Adolf Hitler’s crimes during the second word war including “zigenare” (gypsies), Jews and gay people.

She also said the word “zigenare” during an interview with Sweden’s Expressen newspaper on Sunday. The leader later told SVT that she was sorry, adding that she had used an expression that “did not fit”, while trying to make a strong argument about the migrant crisis in the EU. Her press spokesperson Hellström Gefvert later told the broadcaster that Romson had been “tired” after the debate and knew that her choice of words was “indefensible”. On Monday, Romson issued another apology on Twitter, posting: "Again: It was wrong to make an Auschwitz analogy. I sincerely apologize". Sweden's Social Democrat-Green government announced last month that it was going to allocate 13 million kronor a year from 2016-19 to help tackle racism towards Roma people, including increasing understanding of Roma culture and language in Sweden's education and social care sectors.

Romson is not the first Swedish politician to compare Europe's refugee crisis to the Holocaust. Last month, Liberal Party MEP Cecilia Wikström told The Local that EU member states were currently doing so little to help guarantee safe passage for migrants that future generations would compare their actions to Sweden "turning a blind eye" to the Holocaust. "I think that my children and grandchildren are going to ask why more wasn't done to help people running away from Isis, or violence in Eritrea or wherever, when we knew that people were dying in their thousands. People will ask the same question they did after the war, 'if you were aware, why didn't you do something?'", she said.
© The Local - Sweden

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Denmark: Extremists pose challenge to Danish democracy

15/5/2015- Far-right European politicians, Golden Dawn from Greece and Geert Wilders from the Netherlands, are attending a festival (Folkemodet) on the Danish island of Bornholm on 11-14 June. The open-air political festival features prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt as a main speaker as well as most of the government, opposition party leaders, business representatives, trade unions, media and cultural celebrities. Folkemodet is a Danish counterpart to the famous Swedish Almedalveckan, which each year draws up to thousands of visitors to the Swedish island of Gotland. It has a very informal style and offers a rare chance for politicians to meet ordinary citizens in an unstaged setting.

As many as 100,000 participants are expected to attend the Baltic sea island Bornholm event but this year's first-ever attendence by far-right politicians will prove a challenge to Denmark's tradition of openness and freedom of speech. The presence of Wilders – who has received scores of death threats over the years for his anti-Islamic views – will also mean a large security upgrade at the popular festival. The press freedom organisation, Trykkefrihedsselskabet, invited Wilders to speak. Georgios Epitideios, a former general and Golden Dawn member of the European Parliament, has also confirmed his participation. Golden Dawn, from Greece, is considered to be a neo-Nazi party.

Epitideios was invited by ’The Danes’ party’, a small ultra-right party, which has no elected representatives at the national or local level. "We have chosen to debate, among other things, what we want in Europe. And it is natural to invite a party that is really big," head of the party, Daniel Carlsen, told Berlingske Tidende. The news has already caused several politicians to cancel their participation. "There will be so many police on the island that it will spoil the whole mood, and it will ruin my experience," Liberal member of the Zealand Regional Council, Claus Bakke said. Veteran Liberal politician and former MEP Bertel Haarder took another approach, urging even more Danes to attend the Bornholm event. But he also questioned the wisdom of inviting Golden Dawn and others.

Other defended the decision. "Isn't freedom of expression relevant to 'Folkemodet'? Yes, of course it is. Wilders has a relevant history and some relevant positions. He has done nothing wrong, but he holds opinions that the terrorists do not like, "said Katrine Winkel Holm, chairman of Trykkefrihedsselskabet and a frequent commentator at Jyllands-Posten. Jylland-Posten’s editor Flemming Rose, who has also received death threats following the newspaper’s Mohammad Cartoons in 2005, is also among the participants in the festival.
© The EUobserver

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Denmark: Danish school fined $6,000 for forcing Muslim student to taste pork

11/5/2015- A Danish court has ordered a culinary school to pay around $6,000 in damages to its Muslim student after a woman was required to taste pork as part of her studies. The 24-year-old student, who arrived in Denmark from Libya, when she still was a baby, attended the Holstebro Culinary School, named after the town where it’s located. According to the Politiken daily, the student, whose name wasn’t revealed by the paper, was told by school officials that she would have to taste the food she cooks, like the rest of her classmates. Dishes the group cooked contained pork, forbidden for Muslims due to religion, prompting the woman to abstain from trying them. As she refused, she was asked to only taste, but not to swallow the pork dishes. The woman recorded the conversation with school officials and later presented the tape as evidence in court.

It appeared that the student was informed that pork and wine would be in the recipes, but she was only informed that trying prepared dishes was compulsory after the course began. The woman insisted that she was being discriminated against on religious grounds and filed a complaint against the school to the Equal Treatment Board. The board upheld her claim and ordered the school to pay the student $75,000 in moral damages. The culinary school challenged the verdict in the Danish High Court, saying that the woman hadn’t graduated as she missed classes too often. The High Court upheld the lower court’s decision, but ordered the school to pay a smaller sum in compensation of 40,000 Danish krone (around $6,000).
© The Muslim News

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France: Ghosts of the Paris riots return to haunt France

The death of two boys while being pursued by police sparked cataclysmic unrest in 2005. Now the country is on edge again as a court decides whether the officers could have saved them.

15/5/2015- The French internal security service made an anxious telephone call. “What are the chances of riots in Clichy-sous-Bois next Monday?” Mehdi Bigaderne was asked. Mr Bigaderne, 32, is the Assistant Mayor of Clichy, a suburban town which is 10 miles and 100,000 light years from the boulevards and brasseries of Paris. It was here that the “Paris” riots began almost a decade ago. During three cataclysmic weeks in October and November 2005, the violent unrest spread to the banlieues, or suburbs, of almost every large town in France. On Monday a court will decide whether two teenage boys whose deaths provoked the riots could – and should – have been rescued by two police officers. It is widely expec-ted that the court, sitting in Rennes, 200 miles away, 10 years after the event, will clear the two officers.

Mr Bigaderne, who grew up with one of the dead boys, thinks that would be a great mistake. “There is a terrible burden on the shoulders of the judges,” he says. “People here and in similar places all over France are waiting and watching for this judgment. They have been waiting for 10 years. “No one wants the officers to receive a harsh punishment. We want to see whether justice exists in this country for people like Bouna and Zyed and tens of thousands like them.” So what did Mr Bigaderne tell his recent caller from the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Intérieure, the French equivalent of MI5? If the court in Rennes clears the two officers, will there be riots in Clichy-sous-Bois on Monday? “The generation that went out on to the streets in 2005 has moved on,” he tells The Independent. “Some have started families. Some have jobs. To the younger kids, it is all very distant. I don’t think they will react violently. “On the other hand, if there was another spark – another incident, involving police, here or in another banlieue – yes, I fear that the whole thing could explode again.”

On 27 October 2005, a dozen teenage boys from Clichy-sous-Bois, from a jumble of racial backgrounds, were chased by police for no special reason. They ran away because they feared the brutality of the police. The police chased them because they ran away. In March, the court in Rennes heard that Bouna Traoré, 15, and Zyed Benna, 17, were separated from the rest, with a friend, Muhittin Altun, 17. To escape, they climbed a 13ft-high wall into an electricity substation. All three received massive electric shocks. Bouna and Zyed died; Muhittin survived, seriously burnt. Two police officers were tried for “failing to come the help of a person in danger”. Sébastien Gaillemin, 41, was accused of chasing the boys and then abandoning them to their fate. Stéphanie Klein, 38, who was a trainee in charge of the local police switchboard that day, was accused of failing to issue an alert. Both denied that they knew that the boys were in danger.

The cases took a decade to come to court because the state prosecution service refused on three occasions to bring charges. France’s highest court finally ruled that a trial should be held. In Rennes in March, the state prosecution again insisted that there was no evidence to convict the two officers. So what has changed in the past 10 years in the multi-racial banlieues that surround Paris and most other French cities? On the surface, little. The banlieues are still a patchwork of prim bungalows, grim public housing estates, fast-food joints, motorways, gang warfare, curious remnants of farms and villages, strip malls, forests, carpet shops, scrapyards, abysmal public transport, casual violence, poverty, despair and millions of hard-working people.

Since 2005, Clichy-sous-Bois has become a poster child for the limited government efforts to improve the banlieues. It has gained a police station and an employment exchange. The worst tower blocks have been dynamited or renovated. To reach Paris, 10 miles away, it still takes 90 minutes by slow, meandering buses and then unreliable trains. A new tram line is promised for 2018 and an express metro line by 2024. Unemployment remains at 20 per cent – twice the national average. In some housing estates, 40 per cent of people are unemployed. Relations between local youths and the police are slightly improved but not much.

Mr Bigaderne belongs to a generation which has tried to work for change. Just after the riots, he founded an association called AC Le Feu (meaning, phonetically, “enough of the burning”). He is now Assistant Mayor of Clichy-sous-Bois, with special responsibility for “social cohesion”. “A few things have changed for the better,” he says. “Other things have changed for the worse. “The mood in the country worries me. We seem to have become more divided than ever. There are politicians, and not just on the far right, who want to exploit racial fears and Islamophobia. There is also something which scarcely existed in 2005: the identification of some young people with ultra-extreme forms of Islam. There is no use ignoring it. That is a genuine problem.”

American TV reporters spoke in 2005 of a “French intifada”. There was also talk in the British press of “race riots”. Both descriptions were grossly misleading. The French banlieues in 2005 were social ghettos but they were not mono-racial ghettos. Many of the groups of rioting kids consisted of different races – white, black and brown, just like the national football team. The rioters were protesting against police violence or exclusion or they were trying to “out-riot” the hated kids – also white, black and brown – in the next housing estate. They were certainly not rioting in the name of Islam. In the past 10 years, Mr Bigaderne says, the social landscape has changed. The racial mingling has given way – partly, not entirely – to mono-racial communities. “The Turks stick together. The Pakistanis are very close‑knit. Some of the sub-Saharan African communities live all together,” he says.

The young people who rioted in 2005 identified with their cité, or estate, or with their resentment towards the police or their lack of opportunities. In many cases, that remains true, Mr Bigaderne says. “But there are now kids who have turned to these extreme and violent distortions of the message of Islam. “Just the other day I heard of a boy, only 14 years old, who has gone from here to Syria.” The core problem, he says, is the same as it was a decade ago: a muddled or wounded sense of “identity”. In 2005, the great majority of the rioters were French born. So were the Kouachi brothers, who attacked Charlie Hebdo in January. “The right wing in this country becomes indignant when they see kids waving Algerian or Moroccan flags,” he says. “The real question that these politicians should ask themselves is: why do kids, who don’t speak Arabic, who have never been to North Africa, identify with countries about which they know nothing? What have we ever done to make them feel French?”

An acquittal of the two police officers on Monday will not bring young people on to the streets, Mr Bigaderne says. It will reinforce their conviction that the promises of the French Republic – especially “equality” and “fraternity” – still do not extend the 100,000 light years from central Paris to Clichy-sous-Bois.
© The Independent

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France: UN rights experts rap France over treatment of Roma

A UN rights watchdog group on Friday rapped France over its treatment of the Roma and its failure to tackle growing hate and xenophobic speech.

15/5/2015- The report by an independent group of experts said while France had adopted a national action plan to fight racism and anti-Semitism on April 15th, there was lots left to be done. "The committee is concerned by the recrudescence of hate and xenophobic speech in certain political circles and the media which contribute to the trivialisation of racism and xenophobia," a report said. It expressed concern over continued racist remarks and commentary on the internet and criticised France for specifically failing to list inciting racial hatred as a crime. France this year said it was investing €100 million ($110 million) in a major anti-racism and anti-Semitism action plan devised after deadly jihadist attacks in and around Paris in January, which killed 17 people. The programme, which increases penalties for crimes deemed to be fuelled by racism and anti-Semitism, comes at a time when acts against Muslims and Jews have shot up in France.

The two communities -- the largest in Europe with an estimated four to five million Muslims and around 600,000 Jews -- are not the only targets. The Roma, a minority group that comes mainly from Romania and Bulgaria, also face considerable discrimination, according to activists. The experts expressed alarm "at the growing stigmatisation of the Roma" and "the increasing hate speech against them, including by elected political representatives." In December, a right-leaning French mayor sparked outrage by refusing to allow the burial of a Roma child on the ground that the burial space was reserved for local taxpayers. He later apologised to the family. The UN panel also denounced "incessant and repeated attacks on their rights to housing" through the forcible clearing of camps without offering them any alternative accommodation.

The evacuations were often accompanied by "excessive police force", there were attacks on the Roma by private individuals, and Roma children were often deprived of even basic education as local authorities often refused to enrol them in schools. The Roma were also generally unable to access the health care system, they said, calling on France to take measures to protect the community, especially women, from physical attacks. The report also denounced France's gritty immigrant-filled "ghettos" saying they "can lead to racial segregation." The experts said they were "especially worried by the fact that these populations continue to encounter discrimination in terms of work, housing, culture, health services and face difficult situations in terms of schooling." The panel also said the indigenous populations of many French overseas territories -- small islands in the Pacific and Indian oceans -- were discriminated against in terms of social, economic and cultural rights.
© The Local - France

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France: Police get violent with Calais migrants

French police have launched an internal probe after officers were caught on camera violently ejecting migrants from trucks and apparently spraying them with tear gas in Calais.

13/5/2015- A video has emerged that was reportedly filmed on the outskirts of the northern city on May 5th, a day after Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve visited the camps. It shows scenes filmed from a distance of the CRS riot police interacting with migrants who appear to have been caught hiding in the back of UK-bound trucks. The officers shove the migrants, push them over the motorway guardrail, and even threaten them with a baton. In one scene, police spray what appears to be tear gas on migrants on the roadside. The French police directorate said it launched an investigation on Monday into the violence. "The exact circumstances of this intervention will be rapidly examined... and any failure to apply the ethical rules will be punished," the police said in a statement on Tuesday.

Prosecutor Jean-Pierre Valensi of Boulogne-sur-Mer near Calais told AFP he had summoned the police's internal inspection body over the footage, which shows acts that are "liable to be classed as criminal... if they are proven". The short film is paused between scenes with quotes from Cazeneuve, who encouraged migrants to stay in France and to enjoy the opportunities here instead. "We must make them understand clearly that asylum in France offers the best chance for them,” the minister said after his visit. The video was uploaded by a group called Calais Migrant Solidarity, which has a website in both English and French. There, the group explained that the video showcased what was actually "everyday police brutality"

Nan Suel of French NGO Terre d'Errance told AFP: "I agree that the policemen are in an impossible situation... but nothing justifies these violent acts." "The first word the migrants learn in French is 'degage'," which means "go away", she added. French authorities have been under pressure to tackle a crisis that has seen hundreds of migrants set up temporary camps around the port city, from where they hope to make it across the Channel to the UK. Police at Pas-de-Calais said more than 300 migrants -- double the average 150 a day -- arrived on Tuesday on roads leading to the Channel tunnel. With its rail and sea links to Britain, Calais has long been a hub for migrants, but numbers have soared since spring 2014, as more and more people flee conflict and repression in Sudan, Syria, Eritrea, and Ethiopia.

But the conditions for the migrants, most of whom are fleeing war and repression in Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea appears to be worsening with police forcing them to relocate to a new camp on the edge of town, described by one humanitarian organisation as “the worst in Europe”. The video, which made headline news in the French media, echoes a January report from Human Rights Watch which accused the police in Calais of "harassment and abuse" towards migrants. “Asylum seekers and migrants living in the poverty in the port city of Calais are victims of harassment and abuse by French police,” the group wrote. The report was based on the accounts of 44 migrants who claimed to have witnessed the abuse. France’s Interior Ministry suggested the report was biased.

Meanwhile in Paris, around 500 migrants have set up makeshift shelters at two locations in the heart of the city. When The Local visited recently, many said they weren't keen on staying in Paris and had their sights set on the UK and Norway.
© The Local - France

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France: Suspended from the FN, Le Pen says to create 'political movement'

'I'm going to create a movement that will not be a competitor to the FN,' former far-right leader announces

11/5/2015- France's far-right National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, whose party membership has been suspended by his own daughter, said on Monday he plans to set up his own political group. Last week, party chief Marine Le Pen suspended her father's membership and called a meeting to strip him of his title of honorary chairman after the former paratrooper repeated his view that Nazi gas chambers were a mere "detail" of World War Two. "I will not create another party. I will create a formation that will not compete with the FN," Jean-Marie Le Pen said on Radio Courtoisie. Opinion polls this year have suggested Marine Le Pen will head the field in the first round of presidential elections due in 2017, although she is not expected to be able to muster enough support to triumph in the subsequent second-round ballot.

But if her father were to make a presidential bid with a new party, he could take part of the National Front's traditional electorate with him, divide the far-right movement and weaken his daughter's chances of leading the first round. Le Pen senior said his new group will be "a parachute against disaster" and will welcome all who disagree with the National Front's current political line. Since taking the helm in 2011, Marine Le Pen has sought to rid the party of its anti-Semitic image and position it as an anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic force offering protectionist policies to shelter France from globalisation. Jean-Marie Le Pen said those opposing the new line "are numerous but do not have the means to make themselves heard".

He added that the new formation's objective is to put pressure on the FN to "return to decades-old policies". Le Pen senior last month agreed to give up on seeking to stand for the party in regional elections, but has insisted he will not quit politics altogether and will continue as a member of the European Parliament.
© Reuters

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Turkey: Meeting to bring together all against homophobia and transphobia

11/5/2015- May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, a day of celebration of sexual identities and sexual orientations, a day to raise awareness on the violation of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals) rights in as many as 120 countries and, as Yýldýz Tar from the Turkish LGBTI rights organization Kaos GL puts it, “a day to stand against and take action on all physical, moral and symbolic acts of violence against gender identities and sexual orientations.” It’s also a day in marking the week-long gathering in Ankara that is the International Anti-Homophobia Meeting. Coordinated by Kaos GL, and in its tenth year now, the International Anti-Homophobia Meeting is a set of activities spread over a week to raise awareness in combating homophobia and transphobia. The meeting culminates on May 17 with the now-traditional March Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Yýldýz Tar, a LGBTI activist and the editor of KaosGL.org, said, “Organized since 2006, the objective of the International Anti-Homophobia Meeting is to create a platform for discussions on discrimination against LGBTIs in Turkey, a chance to increase their visibility, and to liberate LGBTIs and heterosexuals together. Everyone who is willing to discuss the problems of LGBTIs, homophobia and transphobia are welcome at the meeting.” “Various networks have flourished through the fight against discrimination and thanks to these networks the International Anti-Homophobia Meeting has reached beyond Ankara to many cities in Turkey,” said Tar. “Many people who are against homophobia and transphobia are coming together both through the events in the International Anti-Homophobia Meeting, as well as many other events organized in other cities.” Tar cites gathering of LGBTIs in 25 cities and towns across the country on May 1 as a good example to the organized structure of the LGBTI movement in Turkey.

In the name of love and freedom
Kaos GL has more than a decade of experience in organizing social, cultural and academic events to increase the human rights of LGBTIs. The program of this year’s International Anti-Homophobia Meeting is a testament to that. Queer pedagogy and activism, as well as homophobia, sexism and ethnic discrimination in sports, will be discussed next weekend. The meeting will also be home to the award ceremony of the Women to Women Story Contest, the only lesbian short story contest in Turkey. With the LGBTI movement getting stronger in Turkey, how has homophobia/transphobia and perceptions of LGBTIs changed in the last decade? “The last decade has been a period of fighting where the LGBTI movement has become stronger and more organized, making its way from the bedrooms (so to speak) to streets and public spaces, demanding equal citizenship and equal rights,” said Tar. “Naturally these fights, these paths we have created against homophobia and transphobia have an impact on everyday lives.”

That said there is still a long way to go for LGBTIs in Turkey. “Today, we still cannot talk about constitutional equality. We cannot see equal citizenship on the horizon. Homophobic and transphobic discriminations continue in the work place. The education rights of LGBTIs are being hijacked. Discrimination continues in every sphere of life. Spaces for breathing, rights for organization and thought are being restricted. Hate crimes continue to claim lives,” said Tar, giving a very recent example. “Only last week, four transphobic hate crimes took place in three different cities on a single night. Not only do these crimes claim lives, they also hope to silence LGBTIs, as is the nature of hate crime and hate speech.”

For Tar, these adversities bring LGBTI communities closer. “In this more than bleak atmosphere, LGBTIs do not stay silent, claiming streets, schools and the work place. Organized structures are increasing throughout the country. While the legal regulations don’t look hopeful, social transformation seems to be on a roll as we have never seen before,” said Tar. “’Society is not ready for homosexuals,’ is a tired argument now. As part of society, LGBTIs continue more ardently to stage fights for their rights, freedoms, equality and most important of all, for love,” Tar said.
© The Hurriyet Daily News

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Poland: Vandalism destroys monument to Jewish community killed in Holocaust

An act of vandalism destroyed a monument commemorating a Polish Jewish community.

10/5/2015- Police are investigating last week’s incident at the Jewish cemetery in Rajgrod, a town of some 1,7000 in northeastern Poland. The cemetery does not have security monitoring. The monument was unveiled last September by the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland and Israeli Avi Tzur, whose ancestors came from Rajgrod. The town’s Jewish population was liquidated in 1942. “This type of damage is seen as a despicable attack on Holocaust victims and their families involved in a project of commemoration,” said Monika Krawczyk, director of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland. “The Foundation calls on the Polish authorities to immediately take measures to repair the damage, arrest the perpetrators, and provide care for other such sites throughout Poland.”
Polish Jewish activist Piotr Kadlcik said it was hard to call this an ordinary act of vandalism. “The destruction of a massive monument located away from the city requires careful planning,” he told JTA. Jews lived in Rajgrod from the 16th century through World War II. In 1857, some 1,569 Jews lived in Rajgrod, making up 90 percent of the town’s entire population.
© JTA News

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Hungary's Jobbik builds far-right media empire

10/5/2015- Prime Minister Viktor Orbán isn’t the only one trying to build a new media empire, after his public conflict with long-time friend, media magnate and oligarch Lajos Simicska. Jobbik leader Gábor Vona, who is a more astute politician than just about anyone else in the Hungarian opposition, is building a media empire of his own. And this media empire is looking quite different from the rabidly antisemitic and racist Kuruc.info, and it also bears no resemblance to the tired, dry essays that appeared in previous far-right publications created by Jobbik’s predecessors, such as the Magyar Fórum weekly, once edited by the late István Csurka. Mr. Vona’s media looks, sounds and feels very much like Mr. Vona himself, following his new, “improved,” gentle and warm/fuzzy makeover.

Jobbik’s media voice is geared towards young Hungarians, it has a distinctly irreverent feel to it, which is similar to liberal, youthful publications such as 444.hu or Index, it tends to combine tabloid-type pieces with more serious material and is laced with more a implicit anti-Roma sentiment than before. Rather than overt racism, these publications and media organs encourage readers to draw their own racist conclusions instead. Earlier today, Mr. Vona encouraged his 255,000 followers on Facebook to support the party’s growing media portfolio, especially as the party expects more attacks from political opponents, following efforts to turn it into a potential governing party. He noted that Jobbik-supporters and those interested in the party, should rely on three sources of news: the Alfahír.hu online news site, Jobbik’s N1TV online television broadcast and Barikád, the party’s central organ.

“I realize that in the coming months, they will shoot at us from every angle, in order to destroy what we’ve started. The lies, attacks and distortion will come from every direction, so please don’t believe everything that you hear or read about us,” wrote Mr. Vona on Facebook. The Jobbik leader is an avid Facebook user and he then posted another item earlier Sunday: the party has covered all bases and those with more academic inclinations are encouraged to read the quarterly journal, Magyar Hüperión. So what does Jobbik’s media empire look like? Let’s start with their online television broadcast, N1TV. The broadcast includes daily, generally professionally-edited videos posted to YouTube and some regular weekly television shows. Sándor Pörzse, a former parliamentarian, now works for N1TV. Many of the videos appear to be lighter forms of entertainment, but in fact are very much politically charged.

One example is a show where two men dress up as sixteenth century knights and head out to Budapest’s party district on a Saturday night. They then sit down to chat with young Hungarians who are either coming from a party, or headed to one. In the most recent episode, the “knight” asks a young female about her views on ISIS and whether she agrees with Prime Minister Orbán, who sent Hungarian troops to fight alongside coalition partners. One of the knights then entertains the young women by quoting – verbatim – passages from the Koran, after the smiling, cheerful party-goers confirm that they do not feel that ISIS poses a threat to Hungary. The other knight is fluent in English and starts chatting with visibly intoxicated tourists in Budapest’s city centre, who endorse N1TV.

This N1TV show best exemplifies Jobbik’s attempt to come across as fun-loving and dynamic; a party that is innocuous, doesn’t always take itself too seriously and is comprised of people who are just like any average twenty-something Hungarian. The programming also includes weekly interviews each Friday with Mr. Vona, who uses this medium to provide “rebuttals” to Mr. Orbán’s weekly Friday morning radio broadcasts.

Interestingly, N1TV shows are produced by a former, prominent HírTv celebrity called Szabolcs Kisberk. Mr. Kisberk appeared in HírTV’s weekly show Célpont. While most of his colleagues decided to jump ship after Mr. Simicska’s conflict with Mr. Orbán, and were sure to display their loyalty to the prime minister, Mr. Kisberk decided to hitch his wagon to Jobbik. The border between Fidesz and Jobbik has always been porous, so this need not come as a surprise. It’s worth keeping in mind that the ultra-Orbánist Echo TV, owned by oligarch Gábor Széles, is often more extremist in its right-wing programming than the “new” Jobbik.

The online Jobbik newspaper, Alfahír, interviewed Mr. Kisberk, after he jumped ship. He told Adrián Magvasi, one of Alfahír’s young reporters, that he had several job offers after quitting HírTV, but he chose N1TV because he feels that it provides him with the greatest degree of professional freedom, and also because he has big plans to turn the still relatively small online broadcaster into Hungary’s primary internet-based television station. “Younger viewers have almost totally given up on traditional television and obtain most of their information from the internet. This is becoming more common even among the older generations,” said Mr. Kisberk.

The reporter producing the interview, Adrián Magvasi, is one of nine young contributors and editors at Alfahír. Their irreverent and informal approach is similar to that of 444.hu, but–of course–we are still dealing with a far-right publication. One of the regular contributors, Dániel Kovács, recently wrote a racist piece on Roma in a small village in eastern Hungary, who were waiting in line to receive aid and livestock from pro-Fidesz sociologist and adviser Zsuzsa Hegedűs. Ms. Hegedűs runs a charity and she showed up in the village in a government-owned Audi, with associates who brought along live pigs and chickens to distribute. The article’s racism is different in tone, in that it is slightly more implicit and is generally irreverent in tone. More than 2,500 people shared the report and Mr. Kovács’s photos on Facebook.

Alfahír is closely tied to Jobbik, although they are careful not to make it seem as though it is simply a dry, party paper spewing propaganda. Yet a number of Jobbik politicians are contributors and others, like the 31 year old Tamás Nótin, are municipal city councilors and also members of Alfahír’s editorial board. Mr. Nótin’s articles seem to focus on foreign policy news and on the Roma minority in Hungary. Beyond the implicit racism directed at the Roma and a very dreary view of American foreign policy, Alfarhír also seem preoccupied with the Hit Gyülekezete church, a Pentecostal mega-church in Hungary, which has traditionally developed close ties to both the liberal politicians of today’s opposition, as well as more recently to the Orbán government.

It’s worth watching and tracking how Jobbik expands its media presence, and how this media reflects the new efforts at creating a “big tent” party ahead of 2018, spearheaded by Mr. Vona.
© The Hungarian Free Press

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Netherlands: Two men kissing in public is offensive, say 35% of the Dutch

11/5/2015- Although 92% of the Dutch think gay men and women should be able to ‘live their lives as they want to’, 35% consider two men kissing in public to be offensive, according to research by the government’s socio-cultural think tank SCP. One in four people find the sight of two women kissing to be offensive, while 12% find a heterosexual kissing in public to be objectionable. At the same time, 78% support gay marriage, 65% support adoption by same-sex partners and only 7% would consider it a problem if their children had a gay teacher. The figures date from 2012 and show an overall improvement in attitudes towards gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, the researchers say. The figures also show people over the age of 70 and people who are strongly religious are more likely to be anti-gay. At the same time, the percentage of people who are negative about homosexuality in general has gone down from 15% in 2006 to 8% in 2012. School pupils are also more positive, the researchers say.

Worrying
Nevertheless, emancipation minister Jet Bussemaker said the results of the survey are ‘very worrying’. ‘Emancipation requires maintenance,’ she told website Nu.nl. ‘One of the most important things we can do is to keep approaching youngsters. This is where acceptance starts.’ Gay rights lobby group COC said the survey ‘shows the veneer of acceptance in the Netherlands is thinner than we think’.
© The Dutch News

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Macedonia Govt: Kumanovo Attackers 'Neutralized'

11/5/2015- Macedonia's Interior Ministry Spokesman has confirmed 8 police officer are dead as of Sunday afternoon after the developments in Kumanovo the previous day. At a press conference Ivo Koteski made clear that the operation against the attackers had now ended, with some of the assaulters "eliminated". Authorities had not confirmed until this moment that the operation was over. Now a message is also available on the Interior Ministry's website [MK]. "We are talking about one of the most dangerous terrorist groups which were a threat ot the entire region and which was involved in a number of attacks, and its members were subject to international warrants over the heaviest criminal offenses," the ministry points in its message, but does not elaborate which the group's name was.

It however gives names of people suspected of leading the group: Muhamed Krasniqi, Mirsad Ndrecaj, Sami Ukshini, Beg Rizak and Dim Shehi. All are described as Kosovo nationals. He added that 14 bodies wearing uniforms "whose identity will further be established" were found at the site of the last shootout. Earlier, Koteski had stated that the armed men who opened fire on police had entered Macedonia from "a neighboring country". In his words, some 30 "terrorists" had surrendered to police on Saturday evening. Two separatist entities of Albanian minorities have already claimed responsibility, but this cannot yet be confirmed. A session of Macedonia's security council is to take place in the coming hour, with President Gorge Ivanov and political parties to discuss the events.
© Novinite

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Macedonia: Five Police Killed in Gunbattle

Interior Minister says five police killed and many others injured in battles with gunmen in the northern town of Kumanovo.

9/5/2015- Macedonia authorities said five policemen were killed and more than 30 injured on Saturday in clashes with gunmen in the northern town of Kumanovo. Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska said the police action had been necessary as the armed group were planning attacks on strategic targets. "The operation is still ongoing until the last terrorist has been neutralised. The fact that this has lasted for 16 hours shows how dangerous they are," Jankulovska said, adding that most of the group had surrendered. The battled with the unidentified, uniformed gunmen started early on Saturday morning in Kumanovo. Earlier, police spokesperson Ivo Kotevski said an operation had been launched in the suburb of Divo Naselje to "uncover and break up an armed terrorist group" that had entered Kumanovo from "a neighboring country" with the aim of "attacking state institutions".

Kotevski said police encountered heavy resistance from the "well trained" group that was using "automatic weapons, bombs and snipers". Television images showed smoke rising from houses in the area and the sound of gunfire. The shootout came amid heightened political tensions between the government and opposition in Macedonia, with some critics accusing the authorities of plotting acts of violence to distract attention from the ongoing crisis. The shooting started at around 4.30am local time and continued throughout the day. Police armoured vehicles have been deployed to the area and media reported smoke coming out of at least one house. Media also reported a heavy police presence on the Skopje-Kumanovo highway.

Lumi Beqiri, a civil activist from Kumanovo, said that from his fifth-floor balcony he was able to see clouds of thick smoke rising from a building housing two elemen-tary schools, one ethnic Albanian and the other Macedonian. Beqiri told BIRN that people from the area who had been caught up in the fighting had fled on foot towards the town centre. "Shots and louder detonations are being heard sporadically. The fighting at moments subsides and then it intensifies again," he said. Although he was not actually in the neighbourhood where the fighting was taking place, he could hear gunshots being fired even in his vicinity. The ethnically mixed town, some 25 kilometres northeast of the capital Skopje, was near the frontline during the armed conflict in Macedonia in 2001 between ethnic Albanian insurgents and the secu-rity forces. About 38 per cent of the 100,000 residents are ethnic Albanian.

The Mayor of Kumanovo, Zoran Damjanovski, told a press conference that the violence represented “a dangerous scenario which has been condemned by all communi-ties in the municipality.” Both Albanians and Macedonians in the town wanted to coexist in peace, he added. Macedonia's ruling VMRO DPMNE party appealed for calm, saying that the destabilisation of the country did not suit anyone and would be extremely damaging all concerned. Meanwhile, the US embassy and the EU delegation in Macedonia said they were following the situation and speaking to political leaders on both sides. "We hope that an escalation of tensions can be avoided," the EU delegation said in a statement. "Today's bloody clashes in Kumanovo, with human casualties, show the political crisis in Macedonia reached a critical point [with consequences] for the future of the country," the European Parliament rapporteur for Macedonia, Ivo Vajgl, said.

The Slovenian MEP is part of a European team of mediators between the Macedonian government and the opposition aiming to find a solution to the country's prolonged political crisis. Reactions came from neighboring Albania and Kosovo as well. Albanian Foreign Ministry said that "the escalation of the situation must come to an end, for it does not serve the democratic stability and prosperity of Macedonia." Kosovo's Foreign Ministry said it "condemns the violation of order and security by any individual or group with destabilizing aims in Macedonia."

Government accused of ‘staging’ violence
The shootout comes amid a political crisis in Macedonia revolving around opposition claims that Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski has orchestrated the illegal surveillance of some 20,000 people. Amid daily anti-government protests and mounting pressure upon Gruevski to resign, some observers accused the authorities of trying to distract the public from the crisis by fabricating ethnic unrest. The leader of the opposition Social Democrats, Zoran Zaev, said he suspected the government was behind Saturday’s violence in an attempt to deflect attention from the crisis. "People recognize who has an interest in this kind of scenario,” Zaev said. Zaev appealed for all ongoing anti-government protests to temporarily end, but there were calls on social networks for another protest to be held on Saturday.

Political analyst and former Macedonian MP Mersel Biljali also suggested that the Kumanovo violence was being staged by the authorities. "I urge citizens - Macedonians, Albanians and all the rest - not to succumb to the provocation of this staged conflict with its tragic consequences, whose goal is to save a criminal government,” Biljali wrote on Facebook. “We mustn’t let organised criminals trick us. We should confront them together,” he said. CIVIL-Centre for Freedom, an NGO, said: "The timing of the police action and its intensity... raise many questions. First of all in the context of the deep political crisis, the protests of Macedonians across the country against the police brutality and the content of the published tapes, as well as ahead of the announced big protest meeting on May 17 aimed at demanding the government's resignation."

CIVIL urged Prime Minister Gruevski and his albanian coalition partner, Ali Ahmeti, of the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, to break their silence about events. The DUI on Saturday appealed for calm, insisting that people should "not succumb to provocations" that were against the interests of the country and Albanians in gene-ral. Kumanovo is located next to the rural municipality of Lipkovo, where, on April 21, the authorities claimed an unidentified armed group from nearby Kosovo had briefly stormed a border police outpost and captured, then released, four policemen.
© Balkan Insight

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UK, Germany & Europe News Week 20

UK: Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes Soar as Far-Right Sentiment Grows

More than 47,000 hate crimes were recorded between 2012 and 2014.

15/5/2015- Hate crimes against Muslims in Britain have spiked in the last three years, police documents reveal. Figures obtained through Freedom of Information requests show that racially or religiously aggravated harassment crimes surged from 15,249 to 17,605 between 2012 and 2014. More than 47,000 hate crimes were recorded over the same time period. One example occurred in August 2014, when a 42-year-old man hung swastikas and Ku Klux Klan symbols over the site where a mosque was going to be built, writing the words “Burn in hell” over flags. Other incidents involved football fans tearing pages from the Koran to make confetti. “With racist bullying in schools attributed to Islamophobia on the rise according to ChildLine, job discrimination against Muslims commonplace and regular attacks against Muslims ... there is a serious concern that needs to be both acknowledged and tackled,” said Dr Shuja Shafi, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain.

A spokesperson for the Church of England also condemned the attacks, saying, “Any rise in racially and religiously aggravated offences is a matter of deep concern and regret.” Although the statistics already appear worryingly high, it is believed that the actual number of incidents could be much higher as victims often fail to come forward. Warwickshire Police described these types of crimes as unreported. “There’s still a lot of work to be done and we will be launching a major new campaign in the next few months aimed at further increasing reporting of hate crime,” a spokesperson said. Far-right anti-immigration party UKIP secured one seat in this month’s election, but nearly 3.9 million votes, demonstrating a growth in xenophobic and far-right sentiment in Britain.
© Telesur TV

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UK: FA angers anti-racism ambassador over 'not proven' stance

The Football Association has angered prominent anti-racism ambassador Troy Townsend after ruling there was no proof that Hornchurch supporters racially abused his players during an Under-17 game this season.

15.5.2015- Essex County Football Association opened disciplinary proceedings after allegations that Hornchurch fans ‘made loud monkey noises and banged their chests as part of their celebration’ after a late goal against Redbridge. But three officials on an FA Disciplinary Commission reached a unanimous decision that the charge was “not proven”. “No staff from either team actually witnessed the behaviour complained of,” noted Commission chairman Noel Casey, a barrister, and members Louise Dorling and Michael Kay. “Most of the evidence as to the said behaviour... was hearsay. Only one witness gave evidence as to hearing what he genuinely considered the noises complained of; his position on the pitch was not close to the AFCH (Hornchurch) supporters. Several AFCH spectators gave evidence that they had not witnessed the alleged behaviour.” The ruling has infuriated Townsend, Kick It Out’s Education and Development manager, who has since quit as coach of Redbridge U17s.

“Many things about this case disappoint me.” Townsend told Sky Sports News HQ after the Commission’s reasons were published. “The written reasons are not a true reflection of the facts. The current system still has many flaws. This case is no longer, as there is no right to appeal, but what about other people who come up against this kind of injustice? What about my young players who basically have had their evidence dismissed? They know what they heard and know what they saw but, unlike the professional game where there is the advantage of video footage and other measures, people at grassroots will continue to have real doubts about whether these hearings will be found in their favour.”

The FA admitted it will “learn important lessons” following the case.
“It is custom and practice for the FA not to comment on individual cases.” said Heather Rabbatts, chair of the FA’s Inclusion Advisory Board. “However it is of continual importance for us to review how we investigate discrimination cases both at central and County level and we will be looking to learn important lessons from this case for the future.” Senior Hornchurch officials say they found no evidence of wrongdoing after the club held a separate inquiry. “I was gobsmacked by the allegations.” Colin McBride, Hornchurch chairman, told Sky Sports News HQ. “It has gone to a fair hearing, with credible Commission members, and nothing has been proven. We have black and mixed race players in our squad, and we take any allegation of racist behaviour involving our club seriously. We also had an internal club investigation into the allegations.”
© Sky Sports

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UK: Migrant stages protest on roof of Dover immigration centre

Lithuanian was facing deportation on Friday and threatened to take his own life, citing lack of care for a potentially fatal medical condition

15/5/2015- A man climbed to the roof of an immigration detention centre on Friday and threatened to take his own life, in protest against his imminent deportation. The man, who the Guardian understands is called Dainus, resisted attempts to talk him down from the roof of the immigration removal centre in Dover’s Western Heights for several hours. He was set to be deported to Lithuania on Friday and feared he would not receive medication for a pre-existing medical condition which would eventually prove fatal. Other sources inside the detention centre, which was placed on lockdown for the duration of the incident, said Dainus had been denied the medical treatment he needed in recent days, leaving him ill and in pain.

A Home Office spokesman confirmed the incident at the centre and later said the man was eventually brought down “safe and well”. But the department made no comment on the claims the man had been denied medication. Dainus spoke to the Guardian by mobile phone from the roof, but he was upset and it was difficult to understand everything he was trying to say. “I’m sick, I’m prisoner in England’s system,” he said. “I’m due for deportation. I need help. I have a ticket to go to Lithuania; no more chance, no appeals, nothing. If I go back I’m dead in a year. I have now one chance.” His conversation was punctuated with sobs and he frequently broke off to shout at immigration officers below, warning them to stay away. He said at one point: “People are coming now so I’m going to jump.”

Dainus had been inside the detention centre since the beginning of March, a source told the Guardian. The Dover Express, citing a former cellmate, reported that Dainus had earlier served a three-month sentence for shoplifting. It also said he was 36 years old. Another detainee at Dover immigration removal centre, who gave his name as Ali, told the Guardian by phone that Dainus had not been trying to escape, but wanted to make a point about the way he had been treated, particularly the lack of medical care. “He was suffering from a lack of healthcare,” Ali said. “I know the guy. He’s a very nice guy. I was very surprised that the guy went to that limit. He was terrified. “The healthcare is terrible here. If I had been in RSPCA London as a dog I would be happier there. Truly is that what British should be? I have been in this country for years and I’m ashamed, I’m embarrassed.”

Ali said Dainus had eaten breakfast with the other detainees as normal that morning, until a truck, which brings food to the centre every day, had arrived. “As they opened the gate he went through the gate, just to get on top of the roof top. He didn’t try to escape, he was just going out there to make a point. “He put a blade on his neck and he was saying don’t come near me. I’m sure he would have jumped because he was very angry.” Guards quickly surrounded the building which Dainus had scaled and put mattresses down to break his fall in case he jumped. Ali said the cushioning would have made little difference. “It’s quite far down, about five floors. If he had jumped he would have definitely died, 100%,” Ali said.

Another source inside the centre, quoted earlier on the Detained Voices blog, said detainees had banged on their doors throughout the lockdown. He made similar complaints about the lack of medical treatment at Dover. “There are no human rights at all. There is no medication. They say you’re not entitled to it. There are people with HIV, Hep B, Hep C and they’re not getting any medication,” the source, who was not named, said. The incident began before 9.30am and the centre remained on lockdown until at least 4pm, a source told the Guardian. The source added that migrants at Dover immigration removal centre had been having consistent difficulties accessing legal advice. Kent police confirmed it had received a call about the incident at midday on Friday, but a spokeswoman said officers had not attended and officials from the immigration service were at the scene. A Home Office spokesman said: “We can confirm an incident involving one individual at Dover immigration removal centre. He subsequently came down voluntarily.”
© The Guardian

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UK: Farage's political career on line as Ukip revolts over leadership

Nigel Farage's leadership of Ukip is under intense pressure after a major donor backed demands for him to quit.

15/5/2015- Spread-betting tycoon Stuart Wheeler's call for Mr Farage to stand down came after the party's election campaign director Patrick O'Flynn claimed the leader was turning the party into a "personality cult". Ukip MEP Mr O'Flynn denied he was launching a "coup" against Mr Farage but hit out at "poisonous individuals" in the leader's inner circle who he claimed wanted to push the party into a "hard-right, ultra-aggressive American Tea Party" approach. Party secretary Matthew Richardson, one of the aides reported to be the target of Mr O'Flynn's attack - although not named by the MEP - has offered his resignation, according to Ukip sources.

The divisions within Ukip have been exposed after Mr Farage was widely mocked for quitting as leader after failing to win the South Thanet seat he stood for in the general election, only to be reinstated three days later after the party's national executive committee (NEC) rejected his resignation. Mr Wheeler, a former party treasurer who donated almost £100,000 (€138,000) to help fund Ukip's general election campaign, told BBC Radio 5 Live that Mr Farage should go. He said: "I would like him to step down, at least for the moment. And if he wants to put himself up in an election, then he has every right to do so, though I personally would prefer somebody else now."

With the prospect of an in/out referendum on Europe, Mr Wheeler said: "The type of campaign that's now needed has to be slightly less aggressive and more towards winning over people in the centre". Ukip treasurer Hugh Williams hinted that Mr Farage's leadership risked the party being seen as a one-man operation. He told BBC Radio 4's 'The World At One': "There has to come a time - and I think that time is probably now - when he has to let the party stand on its own two feet and become a party in its own right. "Otherwise there is this danger, and it is obviously perceived by some to be a great danger, that it is seen as the Nigel Farage party rather than the UK Independence Party."

In an interview, Mr O'Flynn claimed Mr Farage had become a "snarling, thin-skinned, aggressive" man. Mr Farage, speaking outside the party's London office, said: "If the NEC unanimously back me, that's not my fault, is it?"
© The Irish Times.

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UK: Anti-Extremism Measures Proposed by the Home Secretary (Press Re;ease)

14/5/2015- We fully acknowledge the threat that rhetoric which groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda present and the impacts that they have on a small number of young men and women in our country. Indeed, we within Faith Matters have been at the frontline of challenging and tackling such rhetoric over the last decade through robust debate and through highlighting inconsistencies in the narratives of those who peddle such hate. We will continue to challenge these narratives and to do so with more speech in the coming months and year. The latest counter-terrorism measures risk alienating those we seek to protect from radicalisation. The Home Secretary Theresa May did the media rounds yesterday to explain how her policy aspirations from March will morph into legislative plans.

Certain measures would potentially give the police powers to limit the “harmful activities” of an extremist individual through a high court order. But worryingly, the line con-cerning a “threat to the functioning of democracy” is nebulous and potentially far-reaching. Would a peaceful campaign to discourage electoral participation fall foul? These questions need asking. Otherwise we find ourselves excluding needed debates in public spaces. Theresa May spoke of our pluralistic society, of one nation living together. We welcome this statement and the fact that she qualified that extremists of all kinds seek to divide us; that Islamist and neo-Nazi extremism preach a divisive hatred that undermines our British values.

Powers to close premises including mosques where extremists seek to influence others is short-sighted. Closing a mosque, for example, would demonise swathes of ordinary Muslims who use the facilities for prayer and community functions. Such actions need to be balanced on the basis of the proportionality of impact. For example, by closing a mosque where there may be more than one person who espouses extremist rhetoric, how many other individuals who harbour deep grievances may be created? In such circumstances, it is important to focus police, legal and judicial actions against those espousing such views, than by closing a whole mosque which serves thousands of local residents.

The issue is not religiosity but the mechanisms of violence and the behaviour involved and how a person is drawn to the company of individuals and materials (both offline and online) that direct them towards radicalisation. What makes an individual become open to the views of an extremist? How do they become so withdrawn that they seek a violent response? If extremists exploit a grievance narrative, should we not challenge the underlying politics of it? Instead of shutting people out, a healthy and inclusive debate might help us engage with these grievances rather than legislate against them which also builds up longer term grievances.

The solution to radicalisation and extremism has to come from the communities which are affected. We understand what the government intends and we cannot ignore these issues. However, in the long-run, intention may do more community harm without a debate that fundamentally addresses radicalisation. To avoid this harm requires the government to empower communities rather than pursuing a number of the proposed legislative policies.

If Theresa May wants a partnership in society to root out extremism, it requires a fine balance so that free speech is protected.
© Faith Matters

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UK: David Cameron appoints anti-gay marriage MP to be minister for equalities

A Tory MP who previously said the state had “no right” to redefine marriage, and who voted against same-sex marriage, has been appointed minister for equalities.
12/5/2015- Caroline Dinenage, the MP for Gosport, was appointed by Prime Minister David Cameron today as the Parliamentary under secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice and the minister for equalities at the Department for Education. In 2013, she told a PinkNews reader that the “state has no right” to redefine its meaning of marriage and that “preventing same-sex couples from being allowed to marry takes nothing away from their relationship.” Ms Dinenage, the daughter of Fred Dinenage, the veteran ITV regional news presenter and former presenter of children’s programme How2, also voted against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill at its Second Reading in the House of Commons. Ms Dinenage voted for other components of the bill, so as to stay loyal to the Tory party line, and was absent for the Bill’s Third Reading.

In a letter to a PinkNews reader, Ms Dinenage wrote that the Church states that “marriage is in its nature a union of ‘one man and one woman’, and went on to say “the insitution [sic] of marriage is distinctive.” She wrote: “These proposals were not included in any of the three main manifestoes [sic] nor did it feature in the Coalition’s Programme for Government. As I have mentioned, under current law same-sex couples can have a civil partnership but not a civil marriage and I believe that there is no legitimate reason to change this. “Preventing same-sex couples from being allowed to ‘marry’ takes nothing away from their relationship.” A previous appointment to the equalities office also proved controversial, as now Education Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities Nicky Morgan also voted against same-sex marriage.

The Tory MP for Loughborough, who retained her seat in last week’s general election, was controversially appointed to the equalities post in July last year – despite voting against same-sex marriage. Mrs Morgan has since become a supporter of LGBT rights, telling PinkNews in October that she would “probably” vote in favour of same-sex marriage if she could do so again. Benjamin Cohen, Chief Executive of PinkNews, said: “Like Nicky Morgan, Caroline Dineage voted against the David Cameron’s key equality measure, same-sex marriage. “I hope that just like Nicky before her, Caroline will now announce that she has changed her mind, and recognise the value of marriage equality in England and Wales.”
© Pink News

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UK: 'Hipster cop' picture taken as police watched as tensions rose at EDL protest

Police were criticised for protecting the far right group at the expense of locals, but despite tensions EDL march was largely safe 

11/5/2015- On Saturday, 50 to 100 members of the far-right English Defence League marched through Walthamstow, one of the most diverse parts of London, leading to tensions and fourteen arrests. It was there that the “hipster cop” photo — showing a man with a large, waxed beard who was mocked for being part of a largely mythical subculture — was taken. At the time, the policeman was standing on Walthamstow’s Forest Road, just outside the lawn of the town hall and magistrate’s court. The man — now identified as Peter Swinger, an ex-soldier who loves motorbikes, according to the Daily Mail — was keeping apart the EDL contingent and a group of local people who had come to oppose the far-right group’s march.

Behind Swinger stood the EDL, who had walked up one of the area’s main roads to stand in a pen that formed the main site of the protest. At the time, they had been standing in that pen and listening to speeches and rock music, carrying cards that referenced the child grooming cases in Rotherham and elsewhere. In front were local residents, apparently unconnected from the main counter-protest, who repeatedly told the EDL to go home and that they were disturbing the largely peaceful nature of the diverse area. As seen in video of the event, many locals criticised the police's response for protecting the EDL at the expense of locals. Police had established a special metal pen for the far-right protestors to stand in, around which police formed a number of protective cordons.Still at least two people were injured, including one woman who appeared to have been hit by an object thrown by a member of the EDL. She had been stood on the balconies that can clearly be seen in the now-viral hipster cop photo.

Other members of the local community criticised the EDL for having largely come from outside to protest in the area. While flags and shirts from a range of the EDL's various "divisions" could be seen — including those from Sheffield, Walsall and Staffordshire — none of the group appeared to have come from Walthamstow or any-where else in the surrounding East London. Though the EDL’s number has been depleted in recent years, turnout was still fairly high. Their number was matched only by the huge amount of police that followed them through the streets — as well as scores of police officers on foot and wearing riot gear, the EDL needed to be protected by dozens of vans and horses.

The EDL had said long before the march that it was being held in memory of Lee Rigby, and that it had been moved to Walthamstow after objections to the group marching in Woolwich, the site of his murder. But it may also have been an attempt to reclaim their pride in the area after local residents and Unite Against Fascism stopped the group from marching through Walthamstow in 2012. The photographer who took the original picture of hipster cop appeared unimpressed by the attention given to him. “Several 100k of our money wasted protecting 65 racists & everyone is talking about 1 plod's beard,” he tweeted the afternoon after the protest.
© The Independent

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UK warned by east Europe not to meddle with migrant rights

11/5/2015- Eastern Europe is warning David Cameron against meddling with “sacrosanct” migrant worker rights, as the newly re-elected prime minister prepares to renegotiate Britain’s EU membership terms. While Mr Cameron’s election victory has been greeted positively from across Europe, Britain’s traditional allies in the east are already preparing for a fight to defend the free movement rights of migrant workers. “They cannot be touched,” Peter Javorčík, Slovakia’s Europe minister, told the Financial Times. Szabolcs Takács, Hungary’s EU minister, called freedom of movement a “red line”, adding that it was one of the EU’s biggest achievements. “We don’t like it when Hungarian workers are called migrants, they are EU citizens with the freedom to work in other European countries,” he said.

Meanwhile Rafał Trzaskowski, Poland’s Europe minister, said: “We are ready to sit at the table and talk about what needs to be reformed . . . but when it comes to immigration, our red lines are well known.” Britain has in the past counted former communist countries in central and eastern Europe as natural allies, but Mr Cameron has hurt relations in recent years by his tough stance on migration. José Manuel Barroso, former European Commission president, said on Monday the principle of free movement of people was inviolable but that Mr Cameron “had a point” in wanting to stop “some abuses of our social security systems” by migrant workers. Mr Barroso said if Mr Cameron approached his renegotiation in a positive spirit it was possible to have “a good conversation” with other EU leaders. “The tone is very important,” he said.

He also told the BBC’s Today programme that the prime minister had “renewed legitimacy and greater internal authority” after this election victory and that Ukip had become “almost irrelevant” in the British debate. “He is someone who is determined and pragmatic,” Mr Barroso said. The Europe issue is set to become the biggest flashpoint in Mr Cameron’s pursuit of a “new deal” for Britain, which he will put to an in-out referendum on UK membership of the bloc by 2017. His election victory last week was accompanied by signs from leaders in western Europe that they would try to help him reset Britain’s relationship with the EU. Angela Merkel, German chancellor, described his win as “simply great” and François Hollande, French president, called Mr Cameron on the day of his victory to invite him to Paris. Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president, said: “I stand ready to work with you to strike a fair deal for the United Kingdom in the EU.”

Mr Cameron needs to secure a good deal, amid warnings by David Davis, a senior Conservative MP, that 60 or so Tory MPs could vote for a Brexit unless he succeeds. Mr Davis wants Britain to be able to “opt out” of any EU rules it does not like — a demand unlikely to be agreed by Mr Cameron’s negotiating partners. And Graham Brady, chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 committee, on Sunday night urged Mr Cameron to give all MPs, including ministers, a free vote in the EU referendum. Mr Trzas-kowski said Poland, like other countries, was willing to help but there were limits. “Poland’s strategic interest is to keep Britain in. But it does not mean we will agree to anything. Competition and the internal market are sacrosanct. And so is freedom of movement,” he said.

Referring to Mr Cameron’s 12-seat Commons majority, Mr Trzaskowski said: “He is strong, he now does not have to pander to anti-European feelings . . . [or] be held hostage by a tiny minority of his party with anti-EU views.” In his election manifesto, Mr Cameron promised a four-year waiting period for migrant workers claiming UK benefits, a measure British officials think will need EU treaty change and unanimous support from all 28 member states. Eastern European officials oppose anything esta-blishing two tiers of worker rights that in effect discriminate against their citizens. Some senior EU diplomats who will be closely involved in any renegotiation fear that Mr Cameron may overplay his hand on a toxic and emotive issue for voters in eastern European. While there are past examples of Denmark and Ireland securing special deals on EU membership terms, none of these required other member states to make serious domestic political sacrifices.
© The Financial Times*

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UK: Hundreds of racist incidents reported at Coventry schools

On average there are two cases of racism abuse recorded EVERY day at schools in Coventry, new figures show.

11/5/2015- Hundreds of racist incidents are recorded at schools in Coventry every year, new figures show. On average there are two reports of racist abuse a day at the city’s schools. More than 440 racist incidents were recorded in Coventry schools during the last full academic year (2013/14). And experts say they’ve seen an increase in abuse targeted at Muslims and gipsies. The figures cover the last five years in Coventry and show there has been little change in the number of reports each year - with 439 racist incidents reported in 2009/10 compared to 444 in 2013/4. A spokesman for Coventry City Council said that in theory the reports covered state schools and academies but not free schools. However, schools are not legally obliged to provide statistics meaning the figures are unlikely to be complete.

The severity of each incident is unknown and schools are likely to have different standards as to what constitutes racist abuse. A racist incident is described by the council as one that is perceived as racist by the alleged victim. Once an allegation is made it is recorded and investigated by the school. James Kingett, from anti-racism educational charity Show Racism the Red Card, said that racism in schools had changed in recent years. He said: “The idea that racism is an issue that has gone away or decreased is a little bit misleading. “The face of racism is changing though. “We’re seeing increased levels of prejudice against groups that weren’t facing the same level of prejudice five years ago. “We’re seeing increased anti-muslim sentiment and Islamaphobia as well as racism towards gypsy, Romany and travellers. “Particularly we’re seeing racism towards immigrants and people perceived as foreign or non-indigenous to the UK.”

Mr Kingett said some of the racism seen in schools reflected the stance of certain media groups and political parties. In the last five years the council’s figures for racism have varied between 376 a year to 445 - an average of eight or nine racial incidents per 1000 pupils. Nearly a decade ago the council said that a perceived increase in the number of racist incidents in Coventry’s schools was down to them encouraging schools to record every incident. The authority said that was important as it allowed them to see the true picture of what was going on. A report of a racist incident doesn’t indicate that a racist incident has taken place.
© The Coventry Telegraph

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UK: Nigel Farage back as Ukip leader, after party members reject resignation

Nigel Farage has withdrawn his resignation and will remain Ukip leader following uproar among the party membership.

11/5/2015- Chairman Steve Crowther released a statement on Monday afternoon, saying Farage's offer to resign was unanimously rejected by the National Executive Committee, who "produced overwhelmingly evidence" that the Ukip membership did not want him to go. It read: "The NEC also concluded that Ukip’s general election campaign had been a great success. We have fought a positive campaign with a very good manifesto and despite relentless, negative attacks and an astonishing last minute swing to the Conservatives over fear of the SNP, that in these circumstances, four million votes was an extraordinary achievement. "On that basis Mr Farage withdrew his resignation and will remain leader of Ukip. In addition the NEC recognised that the referendum campaign has already begun this week and we need our best team to fight that campaign led by Nigel. He has therefore been persuaded by the NEC to withdraw his resignation and remains leader of Ukip."
© The Belfast Telegraph

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UK: Britain First leader sparks police hate crime warning

Paul Golding told Dudley rally that burying dead animal at proposed site would scupper plans.

10/5/2015- A police chief has warned hate crimes will be “relentlessly” pursued after a far-right leader threatened to bury a pig at a mosque construction site in Dudley. Paul Golding told a Britain First rally in the town on Saturday that he is prepared to go to prison in a bid to stop the place of worship being built. Another speaker also made remarks about the Prophet Muhammad, which were recorded and reported by anti-fascist activists in the crowd. A Muslim community leader later said the inflammatory comments came against a backdrop of hate crimes and had been reported to the police. West Midlands Police has now confirmed that the speeches, on the steps of Dudley Council House, had been “closely monitored”.

Chief Superintendent Chris Johnson said: “We are aware that some people may have taken offence to comments made during speeches at Saturday’s peaceful protest in Dudley and understand the impact of these type of threats. “The event was closely monitored throughout by police officers and no crimes were committed or arrests made. There is a clear distinction between freedom of speech and a criminal act. “Members of the public should be under no illusion that when words become criminal actions, West Midlands Police will use every available power to relentlessly pursue offenders. “The force has a strong history of taking action against perpetrators of hate crime.”

The former BNP councillor’s threat follows four severed pig heads being dumped on the doorstep of a new community centre in Solihull last month. Protesters claim the building is being used as an unauthorised mosque. West Midlands Police is investigating and has CCTV of a suspect. Mr Golding claimed that the act of leaving a pig on the building site would desecrate the ground and mean the work could not go ahead “against the rules of the Koran”. But Muslim leaders responding to similar attacks around the world have pointed out this is a misconception which does not stop new mosques being built. Amjid Raza, of Dudley Central Mosque, said: “We heard the same thing in November – that they were going to bury pig heads on the mosque site. “The police are aware of it as complaints have been made. “I haven't listened to all of the speech at the rally but comments were made about the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and these have been reported to the police.”

The rally brought Dudley town centre to a virtual standstill as around 150 flag-waving Britain First supporters took part in the march to the council offices. Far-right groups want to the stop the building of a new mosque, which has been granted planning permission on a site away from the existing place of worship.
© The Birmingham Mail.

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Britain First Dudley march: Police outnumber protesters as rally gets underway

Right-wing group members in town today to protest against mosque plans.

9/5/2015- More than 100 police officers were on the streets of Dudley today, outnumbering Britain First protesters who are staging a rally. Members of the right-wing group turned out to protest at plans for a mosque in the town. Dozens more anti-facists staged a counter demo. Police lined the streets and most shops were closed, with some shuttered or boarded up. Britain First supporters away from another rally organised by anti-racist groups alongside Dudley Central Mosque. The group plan a march followed by speeches outside the council offices in the town centre. The anti-racist gathering - featuring bands performing on a lorry trailer stage - was about half a mile away. Paul Golding, Britain First leader, said: "There's been a petition in this town - tens of thousands of people in this town are against this mosque, this mega mosque."

However at Dudley Central Mosque - which is the place of worship the planned new site will replace in another part of the town - leaders opened the doors to people of all backgrounds to view the plans and drink tea. Spokesman Amjid Raza said: "It's unfortunate that this is the fifth protest from the far-right who have come from outside Dudley to spread hatred and fragment the community. "I give credit to the community who have responded positively every single time to say 'not in my name and not in the name of the people of Dudley'. "Not only has the Muslim community felt under siege from this scaremongering which has led to attacks over the past six or seven years but it has affected the livelihoods of the traders who have had to close their shops. "We respect people's right to protest but that right shouldn't in-fringe other people's rights and leave them scared to go out." Mr Raza said the new mosque - featured in plans shown to the community at the existing building - had been reduced in size to reflect the wishes of the community and would include facilities including a sports hall.

He added: "We are using this day as an opportunity to celebrate the diversity in Dudley and to give people a chance to ask us questions about Islam and the develop-ment of the new mosque." The proposed mosque - which has planning permission but has hit legal red tape - is planned for Hall Street away from the existing place of worship. Dudley Police and the local authority said there would be no road closures or diversions in a bid to limit disruption to the town’s traders and residents. “This event is very different to those the town has accommoda-ted previously,” said Chief Supt Chris Johnson of Dudley Police. “The number of protesters has not been finalised but is expected to be much smaller in scale and our operation reflects that. “Our well-rehearsed plans are flexible and we have the necessary available resour-ces to manage any size turn-out.”

Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands David Jamieson commented: “We are all proud that Dudley is a diverse borough, where people from different backgrounds and cultures get on. “We will protect the right of people to peacefully protest, but expect everyone who visits the borough to respect local people and their right to live in harmony.”
© The Birmingham Mail.

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Scotland tops league for gay rights

Report by human rights association shows Scotland is fairest nation in Europe in terms of legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.

10/5/2015- Gay rights campaigners have welcomed a report showing that Scotland is the best country in Europe for LGBTI legal equality. The 2015 Rainbow Europe Index was compiled by ILGA-Europe, an international human rights association. Scotland comes ahead of the rest of the UK and Europe in the legal protections it offers lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. The annual index measures progress in European countries on LGBTI equality against 48 criteria, including legal protections from discrimination in work and services, measures to tackle hate crime, rights and recognition for transgender and intersex people, and equality in family law, such as same-sex marriage and parenting rights. Following the legalisation of same-sex marriage last year, Scotland meets 92% of the criteria, compared with 86% for the UK as a whole.

Scottish LGBTI equality and human rights charity the Equality Network, which released details of the European study, said the UK’s overall figure was brought down by a “lack of protections for intersex people in England and Wales, and Northern Ireland’s failure to respect LGBTI human rights in a range of areas, including its refusal to legalise same-sex marriage”. The Equality Network welcomed Scotland’s place at the top of the index, which it said was down to the Scottish government’s willingness to consult properly with LGBTI people. But the charity warned against complacency. Policy and public affairs coordinator Tom French said: “The fact that Scotland now ranks best in Europe overall on LGBTI legal equality is welcome recognition for the efforts of campaigners and the willingness of our politicians to properly consult with LGBTI people and then act on the evidence by passing progressive measures.

“However, the Equality Network warns against any complacency, as we know there is still much more to do to achieve full equality for LGBTI people in Scotland. As ILGA’s review shows, there are still areas where Scotland is failing to respect LGBTI human rights and falling behind the progress in other countries, particularly when it comes to the rights of trans and intersex people. “There is also a big difference between securing legal rights and full equality for LGBTI people in their everyday lives. Despite real progress in the law, LGBTI people in Scotland are still facing unacceptable levels of prejudice, discrimination and disadvantage throughout their lives.” Scotland is joined in the top five by the rest of the UK, Belgium (83%), Malta (77%), and Sweden (72%). The five countries ranked worst for LGBTI legal equality in Europe were Azerbaijan (5%), Russia (8%), Armenia (9%), Ukraine (10%) and Monaco (11%). ILGA-Europe represents 417 member organisations in 45 European countries.
© The Guardian

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Germany: Why 'Forbidden Films' Remain Officially Locked Away

14/5/2015- At the beginning of Forbidden Films, documentarian Felix Moeller's camera warily contemplates a fortified bunker. The contents are, a curator warns, "literally explosive" — Nazi propaganda films on highly flammable nitrocelluloid stock. The sequence is suitably ominous, but it turns out that the storage facility's thick walls and earthen berm cannot contain its noxious content. Of the 300 films banned by the Allies after World War II, only 40 are still quarantined by the German government. Even these are available for screening in certain scholarly venues and circulated freely via the Internet and bootleg DVDs. Liberal good intentions are no match for file-sharing technology. For viewers who haven't skulked though the Web's back alleys in search of Third Reich comedies, dramas and adventure flicks, Forbidden Films offers fascinating clips from such notorious efforts as The Eternal Jew, Jew Suss and The Rothschilds. All were made to incite anti-Semitic passions and justify Nazi atrocities.

The protagonist of Jew Suss is an 18th century financier (and rapist) who plans to transform part of Germany into a new Israel. He may embody the most abhorrent of Nazi fantasies, but the Hitler-era German film industry also turned out movies that demonized Britain, Poland, Russia, France and out-of-it Germans. In a snippet from one of many dramas that promoted the Hitler Youth, a cranky leftie dad tries to force his noble blond son to sing "The Internationale." Later, of course, the kid happily joins the chorus of a hymn to Hitler. There's a whole lot of singing in these movies. Happy Stuka pilots become a flying choir during a bombing run, and Austrians in Tyrolean get-ups turn to music while held in what's identified as a "British concentration camp." Imprisoned by their Polish tormentors, ethnic Germans yearn musically for "oh, dear homeland." It's something like Dorothy's revelation in the contemporaneous Wizard of Oz, except that in Nazi films singing tends to be a communal activity. The tunes extolled nationalist socialism, after all, not bourgeois individualism.

In his memoir, Luis Bunuel recalls that people in Hollywood weren't too scared by their first exposure to Triumph of the Will, Leni Riefenstahl's epic ode to Hitler and Nazism. It had too much folk dancing and oom-pah-pah music to be threatening. The excerpts assembled in Forbidden Films are similarly jolly and even goofy. Yet they're from movies that conveyed their message to Europe with grim effectiveness. Does Nazi cinema now appear too silly to censor? Moeller talks to scholars in Germany and Israel, most of whom think the films should be available, but only in a limited way. He also interviews people who have just attended screenings, whose opinions vary widely. Viewers in Jerusalem seem the least bothered; those in Paris the most.

Two German men whose faces remain in shadow recount various reactions to these movies from their former colleagues in the neo-Nazi movement. Even people who subscribed to Hitler's views, one says, would "laugh out loud" at the cartoonish stereotypes in The Eternal Jew, which explicitly compares Jews to rats. Other recent viewers, however, express surprise that some of the Nazi movies are well-crafted, involving and even persuasive. Having seen — and believed — the anti-Polish Homecoming, a German announces that the 1939 invasion of Poland was justified. No wonder that when a group of mostly college-age French viewers is asked whether Jew Suss should be shown on TV, not a single hand is raised in agreement.
© NPR

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Germany faces ‘bigger danger’ from underground neo-Nazis

Islamophobic and racist propaganda by populist politicians fuel racially motivated attacks, UN human rights body warns

15/5/2015- The United Nations has expressed concern over growing support for racist and Islamophobic movements in Germany and urged the government to take stronger measures against racist violence and discrimination. The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, or CERD, released Friday its report on the human rights situation in Germany, following a periodic review meeting in Geneva last week, with the participation of government and NGO representa-tives.

CERD voiced concern over growing support in Germany for anti-immigration populist parties, anti-Islam movements like PEGIDA and a dramatic increase in attacks on the asylum centers by far-right groups. "The Committee is greatly concerned at the proliferation and dissemination of racist ideas by certain political parties and movements and the lack of efficient measures taken to strongly sanction and deter such discourses and behaviors," CERD said in its report. "The Committee is concer-ned at the increase of consequences that such discourses have on racially motivated acts, including violence, against groups protected under the Convention," it added.
Rise of PEGIDA
Anti-migrant sentiment has increased in Germany in recent months with thousands attending marches organized by PEGIDA, a right-wing group opposed to immigration and the ‘Islamization’ of Europe. PEGIDA inspired dozens of copycat groups in other major German cities and mobilized thousands, benefiting from growing fear of Islam. Far-right extremists carried out 162 attacks against asylum seekers and their houses in 2014, according to police records. There were 58 such attacks in 2013.

‘Anti-Muslim racism’
The U.N. committee underlined in its report that racism problem was not limited to the far-right and populist groups in Germany but also had structural and institutional aspects. "Institutional anti-Muslim racism" remained a problem in the country, the report said, pointing out discrimination faced by Muslim children at schools, and Muslims in accessing work opportunities. It recommended government to take concrete measures to address the problem, including awareness raising programs at schools and campaigns in the media as well as training for public officials on combatting racial-discrimination. The committee also demanded from Germany to prepare a separate statistical record of racist and Islamophobic hate speech and violence.

Unresolved neo-Nazi murders
The UN committee sharply criticized German authorities for failing to effectively investigate a series of murders committed by the shadowy far-right terror cell NSU. "The Committee remains concerned at the State party’s [Germany’s] continued failure to recognize its systemic shortcomings in identifying and handling the racial motivation behind such acts, which may mask institutional racism," the report said. The NSU killed at least eight Turkish immigrants, a Greek worker and a German policewoman between 2000 and 2007, all apparently without arousing the suspicions of the German police or its intelligence services. The German public first learned about the existence of NSU in November 2011, when two members of the group reportedly died in a murder-suicide following an unsuccessful bank robbery. Until 2011, Germany’s police and intelligence service excluded any racial motive for the murders and instead treated immigrant families as suspects in the case and harassed them for alleged connections with mafia groups and drug traffickers.

The committee demanded a deeper investigation into the murders.
"[Germany should] take all necessary measures to unveil the remaining dimensions and scope of the NSU movement, its affiliations and the threat it may still pose today," the report said. The NSU scandal shocked the German public and sparked a debate on German security and intelligence organizations which were sharply criticized for underestimating the far-right threat. The destruction of dozens of domestic intelligence secret files on far-right movements, soon after the disclosure of the NSU in November 2011, raised fears that domestic intelligence agents or staff and members of the NSU could be connected. The domestic intelligence agency BfV has repeatedly denied there have been any relationships between its staff and agents and the NSU murders.
© Anadolu Agency

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German states make new push to ban far-right NPD

9/5/2015- Germany‘s federal states are assembling new evidence to support a ban on the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) and will present it to the Constitutio-nal Court next week, an Interior Ministry spokesman confirmed on Saturday. After several failed attempts to ban the party in recent years, representatives of the states have been given a new deadline - May 15 - to present hundreds of pieces of evidence underpinning racism and xenophobia within the NPD. The first-ever attempt at a ban failed in 2003 because it turned out the leadership level of the NPD had been infiltrated by intelligence agents. Two years later, the federal government decided to deactivate the approximately 30 informants that were operating in the party‘s upper echelons. If the current bid is successful, it would be the first time in more than half a century that a political party had been banned in Germany and the NPD would be kicked out of state legislatures.
© DPA

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Refugees 'in line of fire' of EU mission, UN warns

A senior UN official has warned the EU that “innocent refugees”, including children, will be “in the line of fire” of any operation to sink migrant smugglers’ boats.

11/5/2015- Peter Sutherland, the UN special envoy on migration and a former EU commissioner, issued the warning at a meeting of the UN Security Council (UNSC) in New York on Monday (11 May). He noted, that in the first 10 days of this year, “at least” 1,800 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to get to EU shores. “This total represents a 20-fold increase over the same period last year. At this pace, we are on course to see between 10,000 and 20,000 migrants perish by autumn”. He said about half the people who make it have a legitimate need for EU protection. But he warned that an EU military operation in the Mediterranean would be more difficult than Atalanta, its anti-piracy mission in the Indian Ocean, which has all-but stopped attacks on international shipping. “Some people draw comparisons to Atalanta. But the calculus in the Mediterranean is far more complicated, with innocent refugees, including many children, in the line of fire between smugglers and any potential military operations”, Sutherland said.

For her part, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini told the UNSC, also on Monday, that she’s been tasked “to propose actions to disrupt the business model of human trafficking networks across the Mediterranean”. “We have in these [past] weeks prepared for a possible naval operation in the framework of the European Union Common Security and Defence Policy. The mandate of this operation is currently being elaborated with the EU member states”. “We want to work with the United Nations, in particular with the UNSC”, she added. She took pains to say the military operation is part of a wider approach.

Other European initiatives include: tripling the resources of the EU’s search and rescue operation, Triton; proposing binding quotas for migrant relocation in EU states; working with UN refugee agencies; and working with north African governments to improve law and order. “This is not all about Libya, we know that very well. This can happen in other parts of the world. But we all know also very well that the vast majority of human trafficking and smuggling in these months is happening in Libya, or rather, through Libya”, Mogherini noted. She also pledged that "no refugees or migrants intercepted at sea will be sent back against their will". EU foreign ministers will, in Brussels next week, discuss an initial blueprint for the boat-sinking operation. The Guardian, a British daily, has said it’ll be based on a UNSC resolution, to be introduced by the UK, because the EU has no legal mandate to propose one.

The Guardian says the mission is to be headquartered in Rome under Italian command. It's to entail sending warships, some with helicopter gunships, from around 10 EU countries - including France, Italy, Spain, and the UK - into Libyan waters. Initial news of the EU idea has met with opposition from Russia, a UNSC veto-holder, how-ever. Russia’s envoy to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, said last week that “apprehending human traffickers and arresting these vessels is one thing, but destroying them would be going too far”. The UN’s Sutherland, on Monday, noted that migrants pay between $5,000 and $15,000 each for the sea passage, which often amounts to their life savings. "Moving people across borders is, today, more lucrative than the sale of illicit drugs or arms”, he said. He praised the Italian navy for saving lives.

But he criticisied Triton, saying it has just six ships, compared to 32 vessels in Italy's “Mare Nostrum” operation, and that Triton’s mandate keeps it too close to the Italian coast. He urged the EU to take in more asylum seekers and refugees and to extend legal ways of getting in, for instance, by issuing short-term work visas, for the sake of “circular migration” - seasonal workers who come and go.
© The EUobserver

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Libya blasts EU migrant crisis plan

Libya's ambassador to the United Nations has largely rejected a European Union plan to fight the growing migrant crisis, ruling out EU forces in his crumbling country and claiming his Western-backed government has not been consulted.

9/5/2015- Ibrahim Dabbashi said the best way to resolve the issue was to arm the "legitimate" government. A rival regime is backed by Islamist-allied militias who have taken the capital Tripoli. And Mr Dabbashi warned that if there was no progress in UN-led peace talks between the two sides in the coming weeks, his government, which is under a UN arms embargo, "has to take necessary steps even to take the capital by force". He said his government had been left out of the urgent international discussion of the migrant crisis, with thousands of people from the Middle East and Africa departing from Libya's shore for Europe and many dying at sea. The crisis has grown amid the chaos that has consumed Libya since the overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, after a UN Security Council-backed military intervention.

Diplomats have been working quickly on a draft Security Council resolution, which would be militarily enforceable, to authorise an EU operation that would seize suspected migrant smuggling ships on the high seas, in Libya's territorial waters and even on the country's coast. The EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, is due to brief the council on Monday. Security Council diplomats say Libya's blessing is needed, especially for any EU ground forces in the country. The council expects a request from Libyan authorities to allow that to happen, Lithuanian ambassador Raimonda Murmokaite, the current council president, has said. But Mr Dabbashi gave a different impression, saying: "They never asked anything of us. Why should we send them this letter? We will not accept any boots on the ground."

He called the idea of deploying more boats to the waters off Libya to save migrants a "completely stupid decision" because it would encourage even more migrants to come to his country, further burdening local authorities. And he rejected the idea of destroying the migrant smuggling boats, saying it would be difficult to distinguish between those and other craft. The "only way out" of the migrant crisis, he said, was to help his government, based in the east, to extend its control throughout the country, which also is now facing the rise of groups aligned with the Islamic State (IS) organisation. "Once the government retakes the capital Tripoli and controls the whole western area of Libya, I think it would be very easy to stop this flow of illegal immigrants to Europe because we know everyone who is involved in this business," he said, adding that the smuggling operations were largely based in the west.

Earlier this year several council members blocked his government's request to import a large shipment of arms amid concerns that weapons would fall into the wrong hands. Because of a UN arms embargo, Libya's government must ask for exemptions to import arms. A frustrated Mr Dabbashi said arms were needed to fight IS and "the first victims" of such refusals would be Europe, saying "the terrorists will infiltrate ... Europe itself." He called on European governments to pressure council members to allow arms requests and blamed two council members in particular, the United States and Britain. "Maybe they don't care if the immigration continues or not because they are far away from it," he said.

Mr Dabbashi said he expressed his views just two days ago in a meeting with deputy US ambassador Michele Sison. "The usual reply is, 'We need a government of national unity' in Libya," he said. "But if there is no government of national unity, what should we do? We give the time for terrorists to expand in Libya." The UN missions for the US and Britain did not comment. A spokeswoman for Ms Murmokaite said all council members should see the draft resolution before Libya was consul-ted. Some UN officials and diplomats are pressing for peace talks between Libya's two governments to reach a deal by Ramadan, which begins in mid-June, saying that political stability in the country would help resolve the migrant crisis. Mr Dabbashi was wary of the timing for a deal but said his government had been "very flexible" in the talks. Without progress there, and without council support, he said, "we will do it our own way. Within months, Tripoli will be in the hands of the legitimate Libyan authorities".
© The Belfast Telegraph

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Has Europe’s populist tide peaked?

By Dhara Ranasinghe 

13/5/2015- A populist surge in Europe that seemed unstoppable just a short while ago appears to be floundering. Greece's left-wing Syriza party, which catapulted to power in January on an anti-austerity ticket, has seen its popularity fall as it tries to avert bankruptcy and last week, the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) emerged from a general election with just one seat in parliament. Across the Channel, France's far-right Front National is locked in a bitter dispute between the party's founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, and his daughter, Marine, the current leader. In Spain meanwhile, the spectacular rise last year of the anti-austerity Podemos party has been stalled in 2015 by allegations of corruption, the country's economic recovery and the emergence of a new party called Ciudadanos or "Citizens."

"These populist forces in Europe are still strong, but I don't think they will get into a significant position in government as they have done in Greece," Antonio Roldan Mones, an analyst at Eurasia Group, told CNBC. "In Spain, support for Podemos is not going to continue in the same way because the economy is recovering and it is being constrained by a new party, while in France the Front National did well in last year's European elections but is unlikely to get into government."

Stalled
The 2007-08 global financial crisis and subsequent austerity measures fuelled the rise of several populist movements in Europe and forced mainstream parties to adopt tougher stance on issues of popular concern such as immigration. However, analysts said that now, populist parties were hindered by their lack of a coherent economic agendas and politicians that lacked experience. In addition, electoral systems, such as the U.K.'s "first past the post" may hamper smaller parties' ability to gain repre-sentation in parliament. "I don't think that populist parties will have a long-lasting effect on the party system (not policy), because a) they cannot recruit their leader-ship from a large and experienced base and therefore often rise and fall with charismatic individuals, as well as disappoint when included in government (as seen in Germany, Austria).

Also, b) established parties adapt their strategies to recapture voters (as seen in U.K.) and c) the electoral system makes it difficult to succeed (e.g. first pass the post in the U.K.)," said Mareike Kleine, associate professor of European Union and international politics at the LSE European Institute. In the U.K. system, the candidate with most votes in a constituency wins—and all other votes in that area count for nothing. This meant that after last week's election, UKIP holds just one seat, despite receiving almost 4 million votes and fielding candidates who came second in a number of constituencies. Elsewhere in Europe, Italy's Five-Star Movement, led by comedian Beppe Grillo, has faded, despite gaining considerable traction two years ago. In Germany, Pegida, a populist anti-"Islamisation" movement, was thrown into disorder in January after its leader quit after it was found that he had photographed himself posing as Hitler.

No spent force
Still, analysts said populist parties were impacting governmental policy and that this was likely to continue for a while. "Our longstanding view has been that non-main-stream parties such as UKIP and the National Front (in France) would influence the political debate and increase the trend of political fragmentation… resulting in wea-ker governments overall, but without winning power," Tina Fordham, chief political analyst at Citi, told CNBC. That fragmentation is something that is likely to be seen in Spain's general election later this year, said Nicholas Spiro, managing director at Spiro Sovereign Strategy. He said Spain's two big political parties – the conservative People's party and the Socialist Party – would face stiff competition from populist parties Podemos and Ciudadanos. "We are likely to see a deeply fragmented parlia-ment in Spain after the elections," Spiro told CNBC. "A Rubicon will be crossed in Spain, which has been dominated by two parties for decades." Meanwhile, UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, seemed unperturbed by failing to gain a seat in last week's election. Having resigned as party leader on his defeat in the constituency of South Thanet, he was reinstated on Monday after UKIP refused to accept his abdication.
© CNBC

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The rise of the right - and the end of a European dream (opinion)

As the UK election results played to an end and leaders stepped up to podiums to resign - numerous other little ceremonies were taking place all over France.
By Fidelma Cook


15/5/2015- At the mairies in all our villages, the maires, sashed and solemn, poured drinks for all after a few dignified words. Glasses were raised in a toast to 'Victory'. Seventy years ago, the Allies of the Second World War formally accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany's armed forces. VE Day (Victory in Europe) has been celebrated ever since, and nowhere more strongly than in France, the trampled land of so many invaders. Around the same time of the surrender, across the globe in San Francisco, representatives from 50 countries met to look beyond the carnage to carve out a means of avoiding another world war. They tentatively began drawing up the foundation of the United Nations. The dream then, soon to be augmented by the Common Market and the EEC, was of a united Europe and beyond.

But particularly of a Europe where old hatreds and rigid borders would no longer fuel land grabs or nurse the tensions that explode into war. Although the horrors of the war years were never far away, there was a fervent, desperate desire, demand, for peace and unity. Europe, the graveyard, was to emerge a true linked landmass where national identity would be preserved but with the common purpose of the common good. Nationalism in its most tainted form, as witnessed in Italy, Spain and Germany, would be starved of the resentment, which fed it. Nations would merge in both economic and cultural empathy and so would be born a continual future of peace and prosperity. The expansion over the years of those initial simple, even Utopian, ideals, reached into every aspect of our lives.

In my teens, my convent boarding school boasted a language laboratory so advanced it was visited by other schools. In tiered rows we learned French, Spanish and German to be capable of integration in this new Europe we would stride confidently across for work and pleasure. Latin still remained, but now used as a new exciting tool to explain the development of language and the romance of its forms. There was a real feeling of casting off rigid adherence to one country and one culture. A glorious, if slightly frightening, expansion of both mental and physical boundaries until they ceased to exist. And, although passionate and proud of my own country, Ireland, while being schooled in the land that had shackled it, I equally yearned to be European. Many of us did if taught by enlightened, optimistic teachers and urged forward by parents who'd seen the brutal consequences of xenophobia played to an unimaginable end. Perhaps that's why so many of my generation take easily to transplantation and do it neither as conquerors nor reluctant settlers.

And perhaps it was why, sitting under my French beams, glancing out on olive and fig trees as temperatures climbed in the 20s, I watched the election results with both detachment and mild apprehension. There was a supreme irony to realise that down the road glasses were being raised in memory of a day that was to finally end all the divisions now seemingly again before us. As Scotland turned yellow and appeared to strain at the very border; the Tories were returned with no impediment to implementing a referendum, which could see the UK out of the EU. This morning French media were obsessed with both the SNP rout and the referendum. Obsessed with how the two in their different ways would affect all our joint endeavours in a supposedly fluid Europe. Already threatened by terrorism; in economic meltdown; increasingly right or far right leaning; France is shaky and seeks a return to stability. It does not need or want its neighbours to be engaged in any form of turmoil that could change the hard won status quo.

Ironically again, the SNP leadership has stated clearly that they see the EU as part of their future, but that leads the French to fret in print as to how that would work if the referendum vote went badly. Unless of course Scotland was independent and then...and so it goes on. Meanwhile many ex-pats are already planning their exit strategy if the UK withdraws following the 2017 in/out vote and the two-year notice period. Even before David Cameron had had his audience with the Queen, they were penning their fears on the online forums; fearing for their pensions, their health care, their rights. Intelligent, well thought out reassurance from better-read members has so far done little to quell the growing panic...years in advance. And lurking like jackals in the shadows are the increasingly violent and growing far-right groups which are infesting every member EU state.

UK?
So it is little wonder that the results unfolding through a sultry French night were watched from France with such intensity. For all around seem to be intent on separa-tion of some kind. And this hoped for united Europe is once again lurching towards divided, squabbling, dangerous territory. Or perhaps we only momentarily dreamt it was ever otherwise.
© The Herald Scotland

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FIFA introduces more racism surveillance for World Cup

12/5/2015- A new system of match observers monitoring incidents of racism and discrimination at 2018 World Cup qualifiers was announced by FIFA on Tuesday. The system will be coordinated by world soccer's ruling body and implemented in cooperation with the European anti-discrimination organization FARE. Any incidents of discrimination or racism will be reported to FIFA which has pledged to impose disciplinary sanctions on any countries involved. The implementation of the new system is particularly apt as racism is rife in soccer in Russia, hosts of the 2018 World Cup. More than 200 acts of racism were committed by Russian fans between 2012 and 2014 according to a recent report by the Sova Center, a Moscow-based racism-monitoring group.

Last month FIFA president Sepp Blatter said "a lot of work needs to be done" to wipe the scourge of racism and discrimination from Russian soccer and the game in general. FIFA and European soccer's governing body UEFA have often handed out relatively minor punishments when incidents have occurred in the past. Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure said there needed to be tougher action against racist behavior. "For me the real matter is we need to take real sanctions," he said at the launch of the FIFA initiative. "We can see we have a couple of clubs that are bigger than a country now and pay maybe 20 thousand and something like that for me is not enough. We need to do more."
© Reuters

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Violence, hostility slow Europe's progress on LGBTI equality: rights group

10/5/2015- Azerbaijan, Russia and Armenia are the worst countries in Europe for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights, but violence against LGBTI people remains rife across the continent, a rights group said late on Sunday. Some countries have made historic strides toward giving LGBTI people legal equality, but progress has been marred by rollbacks in eastern Europe, where LGBTI rights are increasingly condemned as contrary to traditional family values, ILGA-Europe said. The group's annual Rainbow Map was launched on Sunday to mark the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on May 17, as an index that ranks European countries based on legal benchmarks for LGBTI equality.

Britain topped the index for the fourth consecutive year, followed by Belgium and Malta, one of the most improved countries in the past year, alongside Finland and Croatia. "Homophobic and transphobic violence, hate speech and discrimination continue to be an everyday occurrence," said Joyce Hamilton, ILGA-Europe co-chair, part of The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. Transgender people in Europe are discriminated against in aspects of life such as employment, education and healthcare, and still face widespread violence, as do lesbian, gay, bisexual and intersex people, the rights group said. Attacks on LGBTI people have been reported in Britain, The Netherlands, Spain, Serbia, Montenegro and Turkey, with transgender women and sex workers the most vulnerable, it found.
Marriage Equality
European governments are starting to adopt gender recognition laws, allowing transgender people to change gender legally without undergoing surgery and sterilization, procedures which are required in most nations in Europe, ILGA-Europe said. Malta last month became only the second European nation, after Denmark, to allow transgender people to change their legal gender without medical or state intervention, and Poland, Norway and Ireland are reviewing the relevant legislation, it said. Family and marriage equality rights also gained momentum as same-sex marriage was approved in Finland and enacted in Britain, while same-sex civil unions became legal last year in Andorra, Croatia and Estonia, the rights group said. However other countries have adopted restrictive definitions of marriage, ILGA-Europe said, including Macedonia, whose constitution now defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, and Slovakia, which imposed a ban on same-sex marriage.

Opposition to LGBTI equality escalated in eastern Europe last year as politicians in several countries spoke out against LGBTI rights, according to the rights group. Policies on equality were criticized as a "Western cradle of decay" by a politician in Lithuania and as "discrediting the institution of the family" in Belarus, it said. Yet the growing visibility of LGBTI advocates in public, including the election of openly gay mayors in Poland and Turkey and Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkçvičs coming out as gay on Twitter, was very encouraging, ILGA-Europe said. "Now more than ever, Europe needs political leaders to work with and for LGBTI people," Hamilton said in a statement.
© Reuters

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