NEWS - Archive May 2006

Poland in trouble (May)

Headlines 26 May, 2006

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Headlines 12 May, 2006

Headlines 5 May, 2006

Council Elections in the UK

Poland in trouble (May)

JEWS AND DIPLOMATS EXPRESS CONCERN OVER XENOPHOBIA IN POLAND

29/5/2006- Poland's tiny Jewish community is increasingly harassed by hate mail and phone calls amid concerns the ruling conservatives are turning a blind eye to xenophobia, Jewish leaders and diplomats say. "In the last few weeks we have seen a clear rise in various types of incidents, which we did not see earlier," said Piotr Kadlcik, head of Jewish religious communities in Poland. "We receive threatening phone calls and text messages," he told private Radio Zet. Worries that latent anti-Semitism in European Union member Poland is creeping back were highlighted on Saturday when the country's Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich was punched by an unknown assailant shouting "Poland for the Poles." Schudrich, a New Yorker, and Israeli Ambassador David Peleg said they viewed the attack as an isolated act of hooliganism. But they also said the decision by the ruling Law and Justice to invite far-right League of Polish Families into a coalition this month encouraged such acts. Western diplomats say the government's ties with Radio Maryja, a fringe Catholic broadcaster which sometimes airs xenophobic views, is also of concern. "When you let an extreme rightist, xenophobic party into the coalition, it empowers the ultranationalists and those people who like to run around town screaming
nasty things and looking for a fight," Schudrich told Reuters. The incident happened during a visit to Poland by Pope Benedict, who on Sunday visited the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz to pray for reconciliation between Catholics and Jews.

President Lech Kaczynski invited Rabbi Michael Schudrich to his palace, where he expressed regret over the attack and said Poland will not tolerate anti-Semitism, said the presidential undersecretary of state, Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka. "The purpose was to say 'I'm sorry for what happened,"' Junczyk-Ziomecka, who was present during the nearly one-hour meeting, told The Associated Press. She said Kaczynski also told Schudrich that "Poland is an open society, a democratic society. It is open for everyone who wants to be here." Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz condemned the attack on Sunday and called Schudrich to say he would not tolerate anti-Semitism. The police said they were searching for the assailant and had opened an investigation into the hate mails. "I have recently received plenty of such signals and complaints," Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewskathe, an adviser to the prime minister, was quoted as saying by the weekly Wprost. Poland was home to the world's largest Jewish community of some 3 million before World War Two before most of them were killed by the occupying Germans. Thousands of survivors emigrated in 1968 after an anti-Semitic campaign by the then-ruling communists, reinforcing perceptions that anti-Semitism is deeply embedded in Poland. Only a few thousand Jews remain in the country.

Good times at risk
Relations between Jews and other Poles took a turn for the better in 1989 when Poland overthrew communism, and so did ties with Israel, with the Jewish state seeing Poland as one of its strongest allies in the EU, Israeli officials say. Diplomats say ties took a hit after Law and Justice teamed up with the League and populist Self-Defense party, saying it needed their support to push through
its anti-corruption agenda. The Israeli and U.S. ambassadors in Poland have formally and privately warned Law and Justice that the
alliance was a concern to their capitals, diplomats said. Members of both parties had for years made thinly veiled anti-Semitic remarks and railed against Poland's EU drive and foreign investors. Both have toned down their views and the EU has chosen to give
both parties the benefit of the doubt. League leader Roman Giertych, who is education minister, called the attack on Schudrich "banditry" and rejected any connection between his party and anti-Semitic acts. "We have absolutely no connection to this sort of racism or anti-Semitism," he told reporters.
© Reuters

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A COMMON IDEOLOGICAL PIPELINE (Poland, Russia)

29/5/2006- In early May, Radek Sikorski drew some fire when he compared the North European Gas Pipeline deal linking Russia's West Siberian fields and Germany to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939. That the Polish defense minister had decided to comment on what is, strictly-speaking, an economic matter was sign enough that Poland's politicians are currently dealing with a shortage of sober analysis. "Hysterical" is how Gleb Pavlovsky, a public relations guru with close ties to President Vladimir Putin, accurately described the outburst. The 1939 pact was a deal between totalitarian regimes from opposing ideological extremes that was principally designed to postpone an inevitable war between Germany and the Soviet Union so that the two could get other nefarious projects out of the way first. These days, war between Russia and Germany is anything but inevitable, so it was clear from the start that Sikorski's historical reasoning had gone amiss. No one doubts that Poland has a right to its historical sensitivity in relation to Germany and Russia. The experiences of the Nazi devastation of Warsaw, among other crimes, and the 35 years of Communist rule engineered by Moscow will always lead the Poles to cast a wary eye on happenings to their immediate east and west. But Sikorski's comments mark a recent turn in political attitude that is having ramifications on the domestic front as well as in the international arena. This new shrillness has grown since the Law and Justice, or PiS, party became the ruling party in a minority government back in September. With the formation of a populist coalition between the PiS, the Self-Defense Party -- which largely targets the country's farmers -- and the far-right League of Polish Families, or LPR, in early May, the volume has just climbed higher and higher.

Intolerance often gets people screaming, and in Poland's case a growing fear of outsiders has led to an increase in decibels. But this has happened in such a way that, despite the sullen manner with which Poland's political leaders greet anything Russian, events in Polish society are amazingly beginning to mirror those taking place in Moscow and beyond. The hysteria is not confined to Poland, of course. Last year, when thugs attacked the children of Russian diplomats in a Warsaw park, the Kremlin screamed that it was evidence of widespread anti-Russian sentiment. Had the response been calmer, Russian hooligans would probably not have been encouraged to mount a series of retaliatory attacks on Polish nationals in Moscow in the weeks that followed. When Russian Muslim leader Talgat Tajuddin said that gay parade marchers "should be bashed" if they dared venture onto Moscow's streets, he was echoing, almost verbatim, remarks made by LPR deputy Wojciech Wierzejski when the possibility of a gay parade in Warsaw was again. "They should be beaten with batons," he said. "Once they feel the pain, they won't come again because gays are, by definition, cowards." The last sentence was aimed at German gay activists who were planning to come to Warsaw for the event. So much for a repetition of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. If we can speak of an ideological pipeline being laid in Europe, then surely it is between Warsaw and Moscow, with liberal Berlin being firmly left out in the cold.

As was the case with Putin, Polish President Lech Kaczynski was elected largely because he promised to end the endemic corruption that had infected the previous administration. Putin's pursuit of the oligarchs has led to accusations of creeping dictatorship. The PiS government's accelerating initiatives against the post-communist left have raised suspicions of an anti-democratic witch hunt. Control of the media is also a major issue in both countries. That there is a lack of independence in Russian broadcast journalism has been well documented. In Poland, the PiS-led government just appointed Bronislaw Wildstein, an aggressive anti-communist who believes in exposing and charging those people who had dealings with the old regime, to head Polish public television. In March, PiS chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski charged there was "no press freedom" in Poland and that the new government would take steps to allow journalists "to report the truth," a statement that drew attacks from media representatives. "The time when the state controlled the media has long passed," said Wanda Rapaczynska, head of the Agora group, which publishes the daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. "I hope the PiS chairman will not try to capitalize on this fantasy that journalists are not free to report truthfully." So the picture of Poland that was being painted during Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the country belied the atmosphere of suspicion, and sometimes fear, that has been building up since the right-wing populists came to power. The pope's message was largely a humble one, with occasional critical allusions to the arch-conservative clerics who allow anti-Semitic comments to be broadcast on the radically Catholic Radio Maryja

Russia is also no stranger to virulent racism, which is invariably anti-Semitic to the core as well. The members of the Mad Crowd ultranationalist group that were arrested in St. Petersburg and charged with a number of murders -- motivated both by racism and infighting -- are only its most extreme manifestation. While Polish extremists have yet to take up arms against their hate targets, their activities are also becoming alarmingly vicious. Earlier this month, an anarchist was stabbed in Warsaw, seemingly because his attackers found his name and address published on an extreme right-wing web site. Polish football hooligans -- notoriously right-wing -- have upped their level of violence in recent weeks and, along with rioting in Warsaw's Old Town and generating some other disturbances, have reportedly been involved in kidnapping and extortion. Kaczynski's clean, bold new Fourth Republic thus comes full circle. So, despite the bile that Moscow and Warsaw frequently spit at each other, perhaps the best bet for the two countries' leaders would be to sit down and talk it out man to man. What is already clear is that the two sides will find that they have a whole lot in common.
© Indymedia Poland

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POLAND'S CHIEF RABBI ATTACKED ON WARSAW STREET

28/5/2006- Poland's chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, was attacked in a central Warsaw street on Saturday in what the Interior Ministry said was probably a provocation meant to portray Poland as an anti-Semitic country. "While I was walking in Warsaw, someone yelled 'Poland is for Poles'," Schudrich, a New Yorker who became chief rabbi of Warsaw in 2000 and of all Poland in 2004, told Reuters on Sunday. "I went back and asked him why he said that and then he hit me and sprayed me with something like pepper gas." A Warsaw police spokesman said the spray appeared to be ineffective because Schudrich had suffered no adverse effects. The Interior Ministry said in a statement it was looking for a 25-year-old man and that the incident might be a "provocation aimed at creating an image of Poland as an anti-Semitic country." The attack coincided with a visit to Poland by German-born Pope Benedict, who was due to pray later on Sunday at the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz, where 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, were killed during World War Two. Schudrich, 50, oversees a small Jewish community in Poland, which has in past years made strides in reconciling with its Jews following bouts of anti-Semitism under communist rule which ended in 1989.
© Reuters

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JUSTICE MINISTER WARNED ABOUT DANGER POSED BY THREATS ON NEO-FASCIST WEBSITE(Poland)

27/5/2006- Reporters Without Borders wrote to Polish justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro today to alert him to serious threats being made against Polish journalists by Redwatch, an extreme right-wing group that advocates violence. Redwatch-Poland has posted a list of 15 left-wing and far-left journalists and directly threatened them with reprisals for their anti-fascist views. Redwatch is an international organisation that has its headquarters in Britain. Its website encourages its members to attack human rights activists, politicians, journalists and students by posting their names, photographs and addresses. A human rights activist who was No. 2 on the list of “enemies” on the Redwatch-Poland site narrowly escaped a murder attempt on a Warsaw street on 16 May. His assailants hit him, used a pepper spray on him and stabbed him before making off. The knife came within a few centimetres of his heart. The Polish site is an offshoot of the website of another Polish neo-fascist organisation, Blood and Honour. The prosecutor handling the case, Elzbieta Janicka, told Reporters Without Borders that the investigation into the Redwatch-Poland site’s content was blocked because it was hosted on a server in the United States. She said the office of the Warsaw public prosecutor had requested information from the relevant US authorities but she did not know if the request had reached the right people. Asked if the police were checking on Polish fascist organisations, she simply said, “enquiries are continuing.” Reporters Without Borders sent the justice minister the list of the 15 threatened journalists, who prefer not to be identified again for security reasons. The press freedom organisation said it took the threats very seriously as they are often followed by action, and it voiced astonishment about the vagueness of the prosecutor in charge of the case.

It urged the minister to do everything possible to ensure that those responsible are identified and brought to trial and that the threat posed by far-right groups based in Poland is taken seriously by everyone concerned, including the prosecutor. Redwatch-Poland and the other Polish neo-fascist group to which it is linked, Blood and Honour, have views similar to those of such groups as Youth of Great Poland, which belongs to the League of Polish Families (LPR), a member of the ruling coalition. Redwatch-Poland targets the left-wing and far-left media and those that defend gay rights. The 15 named journalists work for the following media: the www.indymedia.pl website, the monthly Pracownicza Demokracja, the magazine Nigdy Wiecej, the www.gaylife.pl website, the monthly Dzi, the Polish edition of the French monthly Le Monde Diplomatique, the magazine Krytyka Polityczna, the monthly Nowy Robotnik, the daily Dziennik Zachodni, the news website www.innastrona.pl, the quarterly magazine Zadra, Radio Koszalin and the www.lbc.z.pl website. Some of the targeted journalists told Reporters Without Borders they were sceptical about the efforts being made by the police to find those responsible for the threats, pointing out that they had not been contacted by anyone involved in the investigation.
© Reporters Without Borders

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PILGRIMAGE WILL LET POPE PRAY FOR A COUNTRY THAT IS TURNING TO INTOLERANCE(Poland)

When Benedict XVI arrives in Poland today he will find anger over the mix of Catholicism and politics

25/5/2006- In the shadow of a giant, shimmering steel cross in central Warsaw, 17-year-old Alexander Pawlowski has a blunt message for Pope Benedict XVI: “He should tell the Government to stop ramming the Roman Catholic faith down our throats.” The Pope, who embarks today on his first pilgrimage to Poland, is unlikely to heed the schoolboy protester, who is drumming up support against a fervently Catholic Government led by a right-wing nationalist Prime Minister. The teenager is, however, one of a growing army of critics who say that Poland is fast becoming the least tolerant member of the European Union. The Pope is treading in the footsteps of John Paul II and will use his trip to echo the words of his Polish mentor: stay true to the Catholic faith at a time of Islamic resurgence and shifting global values. Behind the scenes, though — and explicitly during a planned visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp on Sunday — he will be urging the Polish Church to stay out of politics and do more to encourage social tolerance and civic rights. Critics of the Government — from harassed homosexuals to censored sixth-formers, from nervous Jewish activists to cowed doctors — want more and are sure to be disappointed by the pontiff. Pope John Paul made his first pilgrimage to Poland in 1979 and captured a popular mood: it was the first nail in the coffin of communism. Pope Benedict, by contrast, is visiting a country deeply divided and confused. “It has become ‘absurdistan’,” a gynaecologist, speaking in the privacy of his consulting room, said. He listed recent demands of deputies from the League of Polish Families, now a key government coalition partner. “Some want the Ten Commandments posted on public buildings, another wants cameras put on the entrances of brothels and many want to ban gay schoolteachers.”

The gynaecologist is at the sharp end of the new Catholic evangelism. Poland’s strict abortion law permits emergency termination in the case of serious foetal deformity or a direct threat to the mother’s life. “But performing any kind of termination is regarded as a flaw in your career, and doctors will do anything to get out of it, however necessary it may be. We are afraid and have become cowards,” he said. Thomas Baczkowski agrees. He is the chairman of a gay rights group, the Rownosci Foundation, which has been denied public funding. “The noose is tightening,” he said. “Homosexuality was never illegal here but the communist secret police gathered a list of 15,000 gays for their own purposes. Now there are signs that some use could be made of this list by the present rulers.” Politicians have been mysteriously resigning. “Some of them are people we know to have been secretly gay,” Mr Baczkowski said. Tax inspectors are raiding gay pubs to check their account books. Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, the Prime Minister, has denounced homosexuality as abnormal, and President Kaczynski, in his previous incarnation as the Mayor of Warsaw, banned gay demonstrations and encouraged counter-protests. “Many younger Polish gays are now emigrating to London or Berlin,” Mr Baczkowski said. “The gays are the avant-garde of a liberal society, just as Jews used to be in the 19th century,” Piotr Pazinski, editor of the Jewish magazine, Midrasz, said. “That’s why you will find many Jewish activists expressing sympathy: it’s about protecting minorities — the very cornerstone of a liberal democracy.” Mr Pazinski also detects what he calls “velvet anti-Semitism” in Poland. Most politicians are wary of openly denouncing the Jews, who are, in any case, a very small community. “It’s all between the lines, a question of language and atmosphere,” he said.

The most forthright manifestation of intolerant Poland is Radio Maryja, which has developed a big following in rural areas and is part of a Catholic media empire run by Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, a monk. It broadcasts prayers and hymns interspersed with rough-tongued commentary on freemasons, Jews, homosexuals, Germans and the EU. The Vatican asked the Polish Church to crack down on the station and Father Rydzyk was given the equivalent of a slap on the wrist. This battle for the soul of Catholicism is dividing Poland. The Government makes its sentiments clear but in a way that does not bring it into open conflict with EU norms. Polish institutions jump to conform. One guideline from the Education Ministry advises schools not to hold discussions on the Iraq war, ecological issues or sex. Alexander Pawlowski is indignant about an attempt by the Education Ministry to force schools to filter internet access. “Bit by bit they are taking away our freedom,” he said. The leadership of the Church is split between Pope John Paul loyalists, who want to maintain conservative standards while upholding the traditions of an open society, and those bishops who favour a more inward-looking nationalist agenda. The late Pope effectively steered the Polish Church from Rome. Now, it is rudderless. Pope Benedict will address the bishops in Czestochowa, in the south, on Saturday. It will be a private talk — the Pope disapproves of public confrontation. Most Polish observers believe that he does not yet have the power to change the direction of the country.

Polish attitudes to gays
+ 89 per cent consider homosexuality abnormal
+ Almost half of those think it should not be tolerated
+ Only 6 per cent would have no problem with their child being gay
+ 70 per cent are against homosexual unions and 85 per cent oppose gay adoption
+ 80 per cent oppose gay teachers
+ 75 per cent do not want Pope Benedict XVI to make any changes to the Church’s teachings on the subject
Source: Polish Public Opinion Research Centre
© The Times Online

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ATTACK ON WARSAW ANTI-FASCIST MACIEJ D.(Poland, press release)

Say "NO" to white-collar fascists and fascist bandits on the streets!
The release was written on request and with the consent of Maciej D.:

17/5/2006- There was an attempted murder carried out against Maciej D in Powisle in Warsaw around 18.30hrs on 16 May. Maciej D. is a well-known local anti-fascist activist. He had been intimidated by Warsaw fascist for a long time having been attacked before a few times in front of his house in Warsaw. According to the doctor's opinion, this time the attackers attempted to kill the victim. One of the attackers used a tear gas, while the other one stabbed Maciej with a 30cm-long knife in his back, near the heart. In result, one of his lungs was punctured; luckily, he survived. He is currently in a hospital where he underwent a surgery. The doctors described his condition as stable.

The latest incident, is most probably, connected with the growing societal acceptance of nationalistic and neo-fascist attitudes and with the lack of reaction to the publications calling on violence against people with different opinions. The most adequate example of these publications is the website "Redwatch" which has published pictures, descriptions, and addresses of anti-fascist, ecological activists, left-wing journalists and academics. The website has been created by members of ultra right-wing organizations such as Blood and Honor, NOP, All-Polish Youth and NOR. Maciej D. was one of the persons described on the "Redwatch" website. We are afraid that the attacks will carried against other people listed on the website.

It is high time to say "STOP" to the political situation in which such incidents are being tolerated. It is high time to say "STOP" to the political agreement under which the highest positions in the country are taken by people known for their right-wing opinions and dissemination of hate speech targeting those whose opinions are different.

We are calling to join the mass protest against right-wing politicians, such as R.Giertych and W.Wierzejski, whose presence on the political stage encourages fascists. Say "NO" to white-collar fascists and fascist bandits on the streets!

Maciek's friends and the members of anti-fascist movement:
Demonstration at 15hrs on 20 May
Venue: Zygmunt's Statue (Old City), Warsaw
© Indymedia Poland

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A HOMOSEXUAL CONSPIRACY IN POLAND

17/5/2006- A member of the Polish political party League of Polish Families, which party is a member of the coalition government, startled Poland with his comments about homosexuals in Poland. The comments were made by Wojciech Wierzejski. What follows is a selection of comments made by this individual. In a letter to the Polish Minister Of Justice and to the Polish Minister of the Interior he requested that they check "Legal and illegal sources of financing" of organizations of gay activists. He claims that the protests against the Minister of Education, Roman Giertych, who is the head of the political party League of Polish Families, are the work of homosexual organizations. He said that there were in fact students and teachers who were participants in the demonstrations held in Warsaw against the appointment of Roman Giertych as Minister of Education and not only homosexuals. But he said that the teachers and students were useful fools who were manipulated by the homosexuals. "And there aren't enough anarchists in Poland to organize such large rallies on the streets. " "Homos organize those rallies using on-line chats and forums. They sign all kinds of appeals against Roman Giertych. " "Every police officer will confirm that homosexuals are a circle that is nearly 100 percent identical to the circle of the pedophiles. It is a fact that does not require any research. " "If deviants begin to demonstrate, they should be hit with batons. " He has taken the position that the opposition to Roman Giertych is a homosexual conspiracy. While he takes this position a petition to remove Roman Giertych as Minister of Education had to be removed yesterday from the Internet because of the traffic that was going to that website. Over 300 people per second were trying to sign the petition to remove Roman Giertych as the Minister of Education.
© Masterpage

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ANTI GAY POLISH MINISTER BLAMES “HOMOS” FOR PROTESTS

17/5/2006- While gay activists in Poland commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), the country’s minister of education, is seeking a police investigation against gay groups. Wojciech Wierzejski, a member of the Polish ruling coalition partner, Giertych's League of Polish Families, who govern along with the anti gay Law and Justice Party, has been the subject of student demonstrations and petitions against him. He is blaming it all on gay groups, claiming the “homos” are conspiring against him, the Financial Times reports. Mr Wierzejski is reported to believe that gay people want to implement “deviant” ideas in schools, and vows that as long as he is minister, "there will be no homosexual propaganda in schools.” A postcards project has been taking place in Poland today for IDAHO, gay groups are sending postcards which show lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in various every day situations.
© Pink News

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ANTI-SEMITISM HAS 'NO CHANCE' IN POLAND

17/5/2006- Poland’s president today assured the Israeli ambassador that anti-Semitism has “no chance” in Poland, responding to Jewish anxieties over a new coalition that includes a nationalist party with a far-right youth wing, the presidential office said. President Lech Kaczynski met with Israeli Ambassador David Peleg this afternoon to address concerns over the coalition with the League of Polish Families, a nationalist and Catholic party with the radical, right-wing All-Polish Youth group. “Mr Kaczynski guaranteed that there is no space for anti-Semitism in Poland,” Andrzej Krawczyk, the president’s under-secretary of state, said. All-Polish Youth members have been known to make Nazi salutes and chant “Sieg Heil” during street protests. The group also has attacked gay and women’s rights marches in past years. Kaczynski assured Peleg that he, his office and his governing Law and Justice party were guarantees that “anti-Semitism in Poland has no chance,” the presidential office said in a statement. Law and Justice sealed a coalition May 5 with the League, and another small party, Self-Defence, that gives it a majority in parliament.
© Ireland on-line

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ANTI-SEMITE APPOINTED EDUCATION MINISTER (Poland)

Israeli Foreign Ministry weighing individual boycott on Roman Giertych, a Polish anti-Semite nationalist who was appointed Poland's vice premier and education minister; Giertych to be responsible for Holocaust awareness, fighting anti-Semitism

17/5/2006- The Israeli Foreign Ministry is considering imposing an individual boycott on Roman Giertych, a Polish anti-Semite nationalist who was appointed Poland's vice premier and Education Minister. Recently the Polish Families League party, headed by Giertych joined the Polish coalition. As Education Minister, Giertych will be responsible for increasing awareness of the Holocaust, fighting anti-Semitism and making arrangements for visits by Israeli students to Nazi death camps in Poland. The Polish Families League (PFL) is a marginal Catholic-nationalist party that presents itself as the political and ideological heir of the large anti-Jewish party that operated in Poland between the two world wars. The Polish gay and lesbian community will also face a tough battle as a result of the new coalition with the PFL. An official in Poland said in response to the appointment, "Poland is a very friendly country, but Israel can not remain indifferent."
© Ynet News

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NO PLACE FOR EXTREMIST PARTIES(Poland, opinion)

Is this really happening in Poland? Can the government of a modern, democratic member state of the European Union, in the year 2006, contain two cabinet ministers who are renowned for their bigoted views, and little else?
By Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, was born in Poland.
 

15/5/2006- The answer, sadly, is yes. Roman Giertych, the new Education Minister, comes from a political tradition tainted by extremism and xenophobia. Andrzej Lepper, the new Deputy Prime Minister, elevates demagoguery above democracy. M³odzie¿ Wszechpolska, or the All-Polish Youth (MW), the youth organization associated with Mr. Giertych's League of Polish Families (LPR), was known in the 1920s and 1930s as a violently anti-Semitic organization. Revived by Mr. Giertych himself, today MW confronts many groups, particularly homosexuals, with ugly rhetoric and, on occasion, physical intimidation. From the LPR, Poles hear of "Judeo-communist" plots and the danger that Poland will be turned into a "Jewish reservation." On Radio Maryja, listeners are told that Jews are sabotaging the struggle for democracy in Eastern Europe, that the "Holocaust industry" is robbing Poland of its assets, and that - most fantastic of all - Pope Benedict XVI has condemned Radio Maryja because he is a German, and therefore terrified that powerful Jews will label him an anti-Semite.

Watching with alarm
Those watching Mr. Giertych with alarm will be scarcely more comforted by Mr. Lepper and his Samobroona Party. When asked by a Polish journalist about his connections with the Inter-regional Academy of Personnel Management (MAUP), a private Ukrainian university that is run by what is arguably the most vicious cabal of anti-Semites in Europe, Mr. Lepper dismissed the question with the words, "Then write that I am an anti-Semite." In a democratic European state, a cabinet-level politician is expected to protest that he is not an anti-Semite, because anti-Semitism symbolizes the ugly history that Europe is supposed to have broken with. Mr. Lepper's response, therefore, partly answers the question of why Poland's friends regard the coalition assembled by Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz with such distress. The chilling thought that young Poles will be taught "patriotism" by a man like Mr. Giertych, who appears to believe that loving one's country is the same as hating foreigners and "outsiders," is another part of the answer.

A simple observation
But what completes the answer is a simple observation: Poland's relations and good standing with the outside world have advanced at breakneck speed. Anyone who has followed and admired Poland's extraordinary transition from communism to democracy will want those relations to advance even further. But a coalition that embraces extremist voices threatens to turn back the clock on these accomplishments. This is especially true of Polish-Jewish relations. In recent years, incredible strides have been made. The Anti-Defamation League actively supported Poland's request to UNESCO to have Auschwitz classified as a "Nazi German" extermination camp, and not a "Polish" one. As Jews and Poles have joined together to remember and explore our histories, we have emphasized that the responsibility for the three million Jews who perished in Poland during the Holocaust lies with the Nazis. Last September, President Aleksander Kwaœniewski was honored with ADL's prestigious Distinguished Statesman Award for his great strides in improving Poland's relations with the Jewish people and his efforts to combat anti-Semitism and xenophobia.

Immediate measures
Above all else, the protests from Poles themselves against the new coalition are truly heartening. Both the Prime Minister and President need to heed those voices. When it comes to international concerns, three measures would make a significant impact. Firstly, Mr. Lepper should publicly renounce his associations with MAUP and return the honorary doctorate granted to him by this institution (an award which was also conferred on David Duke, the former leader of America's Ku Klux Klan). Secondly, if Mr. Giertych really must be in the cabinet, then it should not be in the post of Education Minister. Thirdly, bearing in mind the persistent criticism of the political support which it receives from Radio Maryja, the government should take the bold step of reminding the station that broadcasting content that incites anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice is a violation of Polish and European law. These three steps would help allay fears that Poland is backsliding on issues of tolerance and human rights. Above all, they would enable Poland and its friends, Jewish and non-Jewish, to continue to focus on how the past can help us build a common future.
© Warsaw Business Journal

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WHAT ARE THEY GOING TO TEACH POLISH KIDS...

...now that catholic-nationalist, arch-conservative, Roman Giertych has become Education Minister?

12/5/2006- Polish university students did something they don’t usually do this week. No, they probably didn’t go to the library! They took to the streets of Warsaw and Krakow, in protest against the appointment of Giertych as Minister for Education, part of the deal the government made when it formed a coalition last week with his party, the far-right League of Polish Families, and another fringe party. Teachers also protested. Giertych has also, alongside another extremist, Andzej Lepper, been made Deputy Prime Minister.

Cleveland Jewish News comments that, as well as being Education Secretary and DPM:
Giertych is honorary chairman of the All-Polish Youth [which he reformed in 1989], a mostly skinhead group whose members have been photographed giving the Nazi salute. In the 1930s, the All-Polish Youth spearheaded attacks on Jewish university students (and led boycotts against Jewish businesses].

All-Polish Youth is the youth wing of the League of Polish Families, a party that believes that the Catholic Church should have a central place in government, is suspicious of foreign capital and foreigners in general, is rabidly homophobic and is associated with a kind of 1930’s anti-Semitism.

One of the 2,000 protesting students in Warsaw was reported by Bloomberg as saying:
“The All-Poland Youth uses intolerant, racist, anti-Semitic slogans,'' said Dominika Blachnicka, a 25-year-old sociology student. “[Giertych as Education Minister] is the fulfillment of my worst nightmare.'

Giertych has pledged that he will not be trying to introduce his weird ideology into the Polish education system. But it must be tempting for him. So how would Polish education curriculum look like if he had a free rein to do what he liked?

History classes
Roman Giertych comes from a four-generation line of Polish nationalists. His dad, Maciej, is a nationalist member of the European parliament. His grandfather, Jêdrzej, was a contemporary of the 1930’s nationalist leader Roman Dmowski and someone historian Norman Davies has called ‘a professional anti-Semite’. His great-grandfather, Franciszek, was another nationalist! Is there a factory some place where they are manufacturing these guys?  Racism and nationalism is in the Giertych blood. So history classes taught by the new education minister would present Poland as the ‘Christ’ of Europe, a nation that has suffered so Catholics could be free from freemasonry and the Jewish menace, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah…

Biology classes
Maciej Giertych is not just an MEP and nationalist, he’s also a dendrologist (the genetics of trees). Writing for the creationist Answers in Genesis web site he says that:
I know of no biological data relevant to tree genetics that would require evolutionary explanations. I could easily pursue my career without ever mentioning evolution.
[…] Evolution is not a conclusion drawn from observations. It is an ideology to which observations are applied when convenient and ignored when not.

Natural history classes, according to the Giertych syllabus, would consist of the Book of Genesis, and not much else.

Sociology classes
Sociology would be banned as it is taught almost exclusively by commie and liberal scum. Period.

Sex education classes
There would be no sex education classes. But if the nuns (who would run all schools) had to bring up the subject they would say that the only contraception method acceptable is the ‘natural method’ (close your eyes, cross your fingers and hope for the best).

Economics…
The boys would be taught that Jews own everything and that’s just not fair. The girls would be told not to worry their pretty heads about such matters and to go and wash up the dishes and put the dinner on...  The only policy so far to come out of the Giertych camp is to put firewalls around school web sites to 'stop kids looking at porn when they are at school,' said Roman Giertych this week. Hopefully the rest of his initiatives will be equally as bland.
© The Beatroot weblog

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POLISH NATIONALISM RESURGENT

The enlargement of Poland's conservative government by two parties, variously described as populist, nationalist or anti-EU, is proving controversial.

9/5/2006- It has evoked unease in Brussels, among Jewish organisations in the West, and among politicians and political commentators in neighbouring countries like Germany. An official in the government has also quit her job in protest against the populist Andrzej Lepper being invited to join the government as agriculture minister and deputy prime minister. Irena Lipowicz was in charge of Polish-German relations at the foreign office. Her departure followed the resignation of veteran diplomat Stefan Meller as foreign minister. New education minister Roman Giertych, an ultra-conservative Eurosceptic, is also a controversial figure. Last September's Polish parliamentary elections proved a disaster for the then ruling ex-communist Democratic Left Alliance. It had reconstituted itself in the early 1990s as a Western-type social-democrat party and claimed to draw inspiration from the UK's New Labour and its leader, Tony Blair. In its place came the Law and Justice Party (PiS).

Traditional values
Law and Justice pursues a conservative social agenda - opposed to more liberal abortion legislation, gay marriages and the legalisation of "soft" drugs. It would also like to reinstate the death penalty. Its economic policies have been described as "centre-left": a strong state-run welfare system and continued state ownership of several strategic industries. Law and Justice supports further EU integration "on terms advantageous for Poland". It also continues to back Polish military involvement in Iraq. More controversially, from a Central European perspective, Law and Justice leaders claim that Poland's peacefully negotiated transition to democracy, 17 years ago, was actually a "stitch-up" between the Communists and a coterie of centre-left dissidents. They perpetuated some of the abuses of the old system and sought to marginalise people of a more traditionally patriotic persuasion, the party says. Hence Law and Justice's claims to be carrying out a root-and-branch clearing out of corruption and to be building a new Polish "Fourth Republic".

Controversial leader
Since Friday, Law and Justice has been joined in government by two even more controversial parties: Self-Defence and the League of Polish Families. Self-Defence now have the ministries of agriculture and maritime economy, while the League has the education portfolio. Self-Defence was founded in 1992 as a pressure group representing certain rural interests: former collective farm labourers, small local businessmen, and lower-level members of the Communist-era rural bureaucracy. It drew attention to itself by noisy demonstrations - blocking roads and depositing manure outside government offices. Latterly, it has smartened its image and sought to broaden its appeal to the urban working and lower-middle classes. It had its best result so far in September's parliamentary elections, winning 12% of the vote. Self-Defence's former opposition to the European Union is tempered by the knowledge that many of its supporters now benefit from EU subsidies. In joining the government, it has also agreed to tone down earlier claims that social welfare spending could be boosted by increasing the national debt and by raiding Poland's currency reserves. Self-Defence has also tried to forget some of the more controversial assertions of its leader, Mr Lepper, who once praised Adolf Hitler's economic policies and claimed that Poland should cultivate close relations with Russia and Belarus.

Conservative Catholics
The League of Polish Families has a much older political pedigree. Established five years ago from a fusion of several so-called "Catholic-nationalist" groups, it claims to be the successor of Poland's main pre-war right-wing opposition party - the National Democrats. Its leader, Roman Giertych, is the grandson and great-grandson of prominent National Democrat politicians. The National Democrats called for a centralised state, in which the Catholic Church - as a symbol of national identity - would have a privileged position. They advocated the forced assimilation of national minorities and the elimination of Jewish influence in business and the professions. Vehemently anti-German, they urged Poles to overcome their traditional prejudices and seek a close understanding with Russia. The League of Polish Families campaigned against Polish membership of the European Union. Its youth wing regularly takes part in anti-gay and anti-abortion demonstrations. It opposes "excessive" foreign investment - and wants the state to retain control of "strategic" enterprises. Like Self-Defence, it has called for the immediate pull-out of Polish troops from Iraq. The League won 8% of the vote in September's elections - but has since declined in opinion polls.
© BBC News

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LETTER FROM THE NATIONAL UNION OF STUDENTS FROM LUXEMBOURG TO THE POLISH MINISTRY OF EDUCATION

31/5/2006

Dear Mr Giertych,

We, The National Union of Students from Luxembourg, in support of the Swedish National Union of Students are deeply concerned about recent developments regarding women and LGBT-persons’ rights in Poland. Official politics in Poland and statements by the Ministry of National Education are undermining basic human rights and supporting a growing climate of intolerance in Poland.

The Ministry of National Education has made inappropriate statements about projects aiming for gender based equality which are financially supported by the European Commission Youth Programme, calling them a “depravation of youth” at the same time as marches for tolerance have been attacked by protesters supported by League of Polish Families. We have also noted statements like “homosexual people should not be let into schools to make propaganda” from League of Polish Families, controlling the Ministry of National Education.

We are concerned about the safety and wellbeing of Polish students and youth and for Luxembourgish and European students visiting or thinking about visiting Poland. Everyone has the right to participate in higher education and should be met with respect within the academic sphere regardless of sex or sexual orientation.

The homophobic attitude of the Polish Ministry of Education is deeply concerning and a shame for Poland and its role within the European Union, a union based on human rights and civil liberties.

We are kindly hoping that the Ministry of Education will apologize for the false and misleading image that they have given about this project. We hope that the Polish Ministry of Education will do everything in their power to re-establish trust between Luxembourgish students and Polish politics if the ministry is interested in establishing strong ties between Luxembourg and Poland on an educational level.

Yours sincerely,

For the UNEL, the National Union of Students from Luxembourg,

Gilles Ramponi
Secretary

PS: This letter has also been forwarded to Mr. Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, The Prime Minister of Poland and Mr. François Biltgen, The Minister of Higher Education in Luxembourg
© Indymedia Poland

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PROTESTS AGAINST THE MINISTER OF EDUCATION(Poland)

A wave of protests against the new Minister of Education is sweeping across Poland. Pupils, students, teachers, individuals from the world of science and culture, as well as parents have been manifesting their disagreement with the appointment of Roman Giertych, the leader of the radical right-wing party - League of Polish Families (LPR), for this position.
By Marta Lempicka/ HRH Warsaw.

19/5/2006- Since 6 May, school children and students have been demonstrating and expressing their discontent and frustration due to changes in the government. Among others the following slogans have appeared on banners: “Roman I choose to play truant” (“Roman wybieram wagary”) and Minister Roman Giertych is the Trojan horse of education” (“Minister Roman Giertych to koñ trojañski oœwiaty”). Up till now, protests have been held in Lodz, Czestochowa, Gdansk, Katowice, Poznan, Rzeszow, Szczecin, Wroclaw and Warsaw. During the upcoming weekend further demonstrations are planned in Warsaw, Szczecin and Bialystok. The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights is monitoring – in Warsaw directly, and in other cities indirectly – the enjoyment of the right to assembly. The protests are not limited to demonstrations, but have also manifested themselves in spontaneous campaigns of collecting signatures under the open letter to Prime Minister Marcinkiewicz regarding the immediate dismissal of Roman Giertych from the post of Minister of Education. The open letter states that: “In his public activity Roman Giertych uses a language of hate and contempt, propagates praise for violence and negates the value of tolerance. His pedagogical experience is limited to reactivating “The All-Polish Youth”, an organization that refers to fascist tradition.” The letter was signed by around 58 thousand people, including many individuals from the world of science and culture, as well as non-government organizations, inter alia prof. Maria Janion, prof. Wiktor Osiatyñski, Marek Edelman, Halina Bortnowska-D¹browska, Danuta Przywara, Aleksander Smolar, Agnieszka Holland and Andrzej Wajda. The organizers of the campaign have announced that if the appeal is ineffective, the campaign will be resumed starting 23 May.

The Polish Teachers´ Union (ZNP) is also demanding the dismissal of the new Minister of Education. In its statement regarding the appointment of Roman Giertych for the position of Minister of Education, it expresses expectations that an individual with a well-founded pedagogical background, who enjoys the respect of educational circles as well as public approval, will become the Minister. The ZNP has announced a picket in front of the Sejm on 9 June, which will be staged under the banner of protecting Poland’s education from the actions and intentions of the authorities, as these may lead to negative phenomenon in the area of education and upbringing. Among these actions and intentions the ZNP rates inter alia the plans to create the National Institute for Upbringing (Narodowy Instytut Wychowania) and the abolition of the Teachers’ Charter. Roman Giertych is the head of the League of Polish Families (LPR), a party that opposes Poland’s membership in the EU, is pro-Catholic and nationalist. He is well-known for his homophobic statements. He claims that homosexuals are guilty of inciting the current protests against him.
© Human Rights House Warsaw

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POLISH STUDENTS MARCH IN WARSAW, PROTEST COALITION GOVERNMENT

9/5/2006- Polish students marched to protest the country's new coalition government, which includes farming and Catholic parties who question European Union membership. About 2,000 protesters convened in Warsaw wearing masks and holding placards to accuse ministers of incompetence and intolerance, and call for faster economic and legal reforms. ``This is not a government that will create a liberal, modern Poland,'' said Przemyslaw Czernek, a second-year art history student. ``If it manages to last three years there will be stagnation, not serious reforms.'' The protest highlights a divide in Poland between people who have embraced EU membership since 2004 and those who want the country to shun western Europe and focus on social spending and promoting religious values. A man in Lodz, Poland's second-largest city, formally renounced his citizenship yesterday, and over the weekend a series of unsigned billboards called on Poles working abroad not to return to the country. On May 5, the governing Law & Justice party formed a coalition with the agrarian Self Defense and the Polish Families League, which promotes social policy based on Catholic principles. ``I'm not afraid of having them in the government,'' Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz said in an interview with public radio a day before. ``We have great opportunities in this country and we need a majority coalition in order to realize them.'' Law & Justice has struggled to pass laws since it set up a minority cabinet in November and has sought support to push through its program, including establishing an anti-corruption agency and boosting economic growth to help cut unemployment, which at about 18 percent is the highest rate in the EU.

Monster Mask
One marcher in Warsaw today wore a mask that caricatured Education Minister Roman Giertych as Frankenstein's monster. Giertych leads the Polish Families League and an association of school principals said yesterday his ``anti-European and intolerant'' views were unacceptable for an educator. Interior Minister Ludwik Dorn said he would not want his children brought up according to the philosophy of the All-Poland Youth, a group linked with the Families League. ``The All-Poland Youth uses intolerant, racist, anti-Semitic slogans,'' said Dominika Blachnicka, a 25-year-old sociology student. ``It's the fulfillment of my worst nightmare,'' Blachnicka said of Giertych's entry into government. Protesters also mocked Agriculture Minister Andrzej Lepper's recent criminal conviction for slander, chanting ``Lepper to prison.'' Lepper, a farmer, leads the Self Defense party.
© Bloomberg

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MAVERICK POPULIST CHOSEN AS POLAND'S DEPUTY LEADER

8/5/2006- Andrzej Lepper, a former pig farmer famous for rabble-rousing rhetoric and populist street protest, has been appointed Poland's Deputy Prime Minister in the country's latest lurch to the nationalist right. The maverick leader of Poland's Self-Defence Party, has been named deputy premier and Minister for Agriculture after marathon coalition talks. Under the deal - which has already prompted the resignation of Poland's Foreign Minister - both Self-Defence and a small right-wing Roman Catholic party, the League of Polish Families, will join the government led by the Prime Minister, Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, of the nationalist Law and Justice Party . The arrival of Mr Lepper in government completes an extraordinary transition for a man accused of anti-Semitism and well-known for his past leadership of violent street protests against free-market reforms and Polish membership of the EU. The rise of such an unpredictable populist, who has made clear his ultimate ambitions to become President, has alarmed Western diplomats and provoked concern at home. Opinion polls suggest seven out of 10 Poles oppose the appointment. Mr Lepper has warned that he may take his populist, anti-EU protests to the streets of Brussels. Though he has tempered some of his more extreme comments, he recently called Poland's central bank chief, Leszek Balcerowicz, "a scoundrel and economic bandit". Mr Lepper has previously praised Hitler's early employment policies and said that "the most dangerous nation for the Poles is the Jewish nation". But when he was asked in a recent interview with the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz whether he was anti-Semitic, he replied: "Not at all ... as far back as 2001 I threw prominent members who spread anti-Semitism out of the party. I'm really a tolerant person." Many believe that, rather than changing his mind, Mr Lepper is merely changing his tune. "Like all populists, he is flexible, adapting his message to circumstances," said one opponent, adding: "The real thing for Lepper is to get power. The support he could collect on the street has already been collected. Now he has to enlarge his electorate and, to do that, he has to enter the circle of power." Coalition negotiations are not yet complete, but the arrival of Mr Lepper would bring an unguided missile into the heart of government, beefing up internal opposition to economic reform. No government in the past two years has had a solid majority.
© Independent Digital

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DANGER IN POLAND(Editorial)

6/5/2006- Deprived of a parliamentary majority, unable to agree with the liberals of the Civic Platform, Polish conservatives formed a government with populists and nationalists of the extreme right on Friday, May 5. President Lech Kaczynski named Andrzej Lepper, head of the Samoobrona (Self-Defense) peasant party, and Roman Giertych, head of the League of Polish Families, as Vice-Prime Ministers in the cabinet of Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz. The former, who had a quarrel with the law during the 1990s for barring the roads with tractors, will be ... Minister of Agriculture. The latter, an ultra-nationalist ideologue, homophobe, moderator of the Youth of Greater Poland movement, an Anti-Semite, a fundamentalist Catholic close to that Radio Marya that worries even the Vatican, will be Minister of Education. The two do not hide their hostility to Poland's integration into Europe, even if Mr. Lepper now vaunts the merits of Community subsidies. Their nomination led to the resignation of the Foreign Affairs minister, Stefan Meller, a diplomat and academic born in France, one of the Polish government's last survivors from Solidarity.

This cabinet reshuffle marks the end of the post-communist transition period. Former communists transformed into Social Democrats and the heirs to Solidarity alternated in power during the first decade of the return to democracy. Last autumn's elections cleaned them out. The forces that had disappeared during the forty years of Soviet control are resurfacing, as though the Polish political landscape were rediscovering its pre-war contours. Perhaps it's a forced and provisional landscape before the country becomes a real modern democracy where ultranationalist and obscurantist movements would have no chance of sharing in governmental responsibilities. That explanation is for reassurance. The ascension of the extreme right in one of the principal states of the "new" Europe nonetheless remains worrying. The Poles have become well-known, since the negotiations for Poland's adhesion, then its entry into the European Union, for bitterly defending their own interests. Nothing is more normal than that. But it's another thing altogether to abet the arrival in power of parties and persons who fundamentally share neither Europe's objectives nor its values. An analogous situation occurred in the early 2000s when Jörg Haider's populists entered the conservative government in Vienna. At the time, Austria was made the object of "sanctions." Today, the European Union says nothing. Tired out, it has even lost its capacity for indignation.

This editorial apeared originally in Le Monde. Translation  for t r u t h o u t by French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.
© Truthout

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THE EXTREME RIGHT TAKES OVER POLISH MINISTRY OF EDUCATION (Press release)

5/5/2006- Roman Giertych, the leader of the extreme-right political party League of Polish Families (LPR) and of the nationalist youth organisation All-Polish Youth (MW), was nominated to the post of Minister of Education today. “It is a disgrace! Our worst worries are coming true” – comments Marcin Kornak, the chairman of the anti-fascist ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association. – “The lack of reaction from the politicians to the growing wave of chauvinism in Poland has led to an extreme nationalist being nominated to the ministry of education post. We protest against it!” The newly appointed minister of education is the leader of the All-Polish Youth and he is going to promote its educational patterns in Polish schools. The All-Polish Youth draws from the darkest traditions tainted with extreme nationalism and antisemitism. For years it has recruited its members from among skinheads. It promotes xenophobia and a violent rejection of everything that does not match its criteria of “true Polishness”. The All-Polish Youth has been repeatedly accused of being fascist and the media have published photos of its members (today MPs for the LPR) rasising hands in the Hitler-salute.

‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association is a non-political organisation that has monitored racism in Poland since 1996. It publishes Poland’s only anti-fascist journal “NEVER AGAIN” (“NIGDY WIECEJ”).
© NEVER AGAIN Association

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POLISH NAZI IN TOP POST

Rafal Pankowski reports for Nigdy Wiecej and Antifa-Net in Warsaw

4/5/2006- Mateusz Piskorski is a shadowy figure who has been known to Searchlight readers for several years, having made his name as a translator and publisher of hardcore nazi material such as the brochure, National Socialism, penned by British nazi satanist loony David Myatt. Since the autumn of 2005, 28-year-old right-wing extremist activist Piskorski has been an MP for a populist party politically close to the Polish government. Searchlight’s Polish sister magazine, Nigdy wiecej/Never Again, has monitored Piskorski’s activities since the mid-1990s and Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s main daily paper recently published a lengthy article on him, written by a member of the Nigdy Wiecej/Never Again team. The article yet again exposed Piskorski’s militant nazi background and documented how, not so long ago, he was the busy publisher of several nazi skinzines. The material in these rags was deeply racist offensive. For example, a 1999 article about the conviction of a skinhead for beating up an African American working as a basketball player in Poland and titled “Judeo-justice” said "Many of you [...] must have heard of the punishment of one of the most accomplished members of our movement, Pawel from Stargard. When it occurred, the attack on the nigger Eggelston was widely reported even in the national media [...] The court that handed down this verdict was clearly not guided by the interests of Poland, nor that of the white race. Pawel is in jail, and the provocateur Eggelston still besmirches Polish earth rather than hopping around someplace in Mozambique from one palm tree to another in search of coconuts, is constantly wandering the streets of Stargard.”

In his main publication, Odala, Piskorski sang the praises of the so-called Aryan Race and of Adolf Hitler. He also supported the struggle against ideologies “foreign to our race, like Christianity, Liberalism, and Marxism”, describing Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany as the most successful nations of all time, and publishing interviews with notorious Holocaust deniers.

Over the years, Piskorski and his friends, Marcin Martynowski and Igor Gorewicz, have moved increasingly in the direction of fascist neo-paganism and racist pan-Slavism. Another article in Odala proclaimed: “Considering the decay and multi-raciality of the West, only a united Slavdom – the northern empire of the rising sun – is the hope for the White Race and anyone in the West who does not support the Slavs betrays the White Race and himself”. In 2001, Piskorski’s pagan association, Niklot, lost a court case it brought against Marcin Kornak, the editor of Nigdy Wiecej/Never Again magazine, for calling the group “chauvinistic and antisemitic”. The lawsuit flopped, the judge noting that such a description was, in fact, quite accurate. Piskorski and his playmates first tried to enter the political mainstream in 2000 by allying themselves with the local PSL Peasant Party (PSL) but this attempt failed after it came under media scrutiny. Two years later Piskorski’s mob enlisted in the populist Samoobrona (Self-Defence) party but, in 2004, he was forced to withdraw from running for a European Parliament seat after his fascist background was again mentioned by the press. Nevertheless, he resurfaced last year as a successful candidate for the Polish national parliament and as one of Samoobrona leader, Andrzej Lepper’s, chief advisers.

Since his election to parliament, Piskorski has managed to participate in a Brussels conference of Reseau Voltaire, a conspiracy-obsessed group that believes the 9/11 attacks were the work of Mossad and CIA. He has also visited and supported Transnistria, a mafia-ruled breakaway republic on the territory of Moldova, which is a magnet for the Russian fascists and extremists with whom Piskorski is linked via Alexander Dugin’s Euroasian Movement. His Transnistrian trip, also exposed by Nigdy Wiecej/Never Again, led the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to slap tougher restrictions on the use of diplomatic passports by MPs. Embarrassed, Lepper, who is now chasing increased political respectability – with his eyes set firmly on the deputy prime minister’s job – even threatened Piskorski’s expulsion from the party and forced him to admit his “mistake”. Despite this, Piskorski remains a leading light in Samoobrona’s foreign policy group. Furthermore, his links with the extreme right-wing are far from a mere thing of the past as illustrated by a recent formal question he put in parliament to the minister of internal affairs, calling for repression of “so-called anti-fascist groups”.

A commentator of the European Tribune, writing in the wake of the Gazeta Wyborcza exposé, noted aptly: “The fact that this disgusting nutcase can be an MP and senior figure in a party which is in a de facto parliamentary coalition with the government is just depressing”.
© Searchlight

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Headlines 26 May, 2006

SLOVAKIA BARS ROMANIES FROM STUDYING

23/5/2006- Slovakia discriminates against Romanies and bars them from education and from housing, says an annual report by the Amnesty International (AI) human rights organisation released today. AI subjected Slovakia to a similar criticism last year, but then it highlighted police actions against Romany disturbances triggered by economic reform. Housing of Romanies is one of the most serious problems, Slovak AI spokeswoman Ingrid Kralova said. The report mentions a case of 27 Romanies who were to get social housing in Dobsina, east Slovakia, in 2003, but the locals refused to accept them and wrote a petition against them. Kralova said that the U.N. commission for elimination of racial discrimination last spring considered this the violation of the right to housing. AI writes that the Slovak government reacted to discrimination against an estimated 500,000 Slovak Romanies two years ago and adopted the national action plan that aims at the strong ethnic minorities' full integration. AI has been saying that the availability of education for Romany children is complicated in Slovakia as many of them are sent to special schools for children with learning difficulties. The government therefore promised to prepare special tests for Romany children and children from poorer backgrounds. Kralova said the AI was monitoring how these tests would be applied.

Government commissioner for Romanies Klara Orgovanova said these tests could help Romany children take an active part in the society. But she told CTK that in east Slovakia there was still a tendency to separate education of Romany and non-Romany children. The AI criticises the Constitutional Court's decision that ruled that any positive discrimination against Romanies is anti-constitutional. AI writes that this decision in its consequence marred all special measures that were designed to improve ethnic minorities' access to education and employment. The law on public health, in force since January 1, that adjusts sterilisation conditions has been assessed better. It was proposed by civic associations, one of which is AI as well. Slovakia has been accused of having performed forced sterilisation of Romany women. AI also succeeded in Slovakia last year when the High Court ruled that the police acted at variance with law when they prevented 30 AI activists from demonstrating outside the Belarussian embassy. The High Court decided that only a town authority, not the police has the power to prevent citizens from applying the right to assembly, AI writes in its report. It adds that the demonstration was duly announced. The data on the number of Romanies living in Slovakia differ. The AI estimates there are about half a million Romanies in the country, while Deputy Prime Minister Pal Csaky, who is in charge of minority and human rights issues, said it is some 320,000. In the latest census, only some 90,000 stated their nationality as Romany.
© CTK

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ST. PETERSBURG GOVERNOR SAYS NEO-NAZIS "NOT DANGEROUS"(Russia)

26/5/2006- Echoing comments last month by the police chief of St. Petersburg, local governor Valentina Matvienko played down the problem of neo-Nazi violence in her city. “There are all kinds of youth groups in the city, but they are not dangerous,” the governor was quoted as saying in a May 24, 2006 report by the Baltic Information Agency. Repeating her police chief's attempts to frame the issue of racist violence as a media conspiracy aimed at exaggerating its extent in order to make local authorities look bad, Governor Matvienko was quoted in an ITAR-TASS report the same day saying that:
Over the past few years there has been an attempt to stamp Petersburg as the capital of xenophobia and, unfortunately, many media outlets have fallen for this provocation… I have carefully followed the investigation [the arrest of five neo-Nazis earlier this week] and it has now been established that behind these crimes stand 'puppet masters' who want to discredit Petersburg.”
The May 18, 2006 edition of the St. Petersburg supplement to the national daily “Novaya Gazeta” shed some light on what motivated this defensive and highly disingenuous reaction. Reportedly, the Russian Federation's Ombudsman for Human Rights, Vladimir Lukin, had written a letter to the governor and to leaders in the local legislature criticizing the lack of a proper response by St. Petersburg law enforcement agencies to neo-Nazi violence. Mr. Lukin suggested that the legislature and the governor's office should form a special working group to study the problem. However, the legislature's governing council responded indignantly that “framing the problem in that [critical] tone does not correspond to reality” since there is no serious problem of extremist violence in the city, just “isolated incidents” that “shouldn't be discussed in the manner of a public spectacle.” The city prosecutor responded by announcing that “it appears that somebody wants to make our city look bad.”  Now the governor has added her two cents-neo-Nazi groups are “not dangerous.” Meanwhile, the violence goes on.
© FSU Monitor

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INTERNATIONAL HR ACTIVISTS PROTEST AGAINST MOSCOW GAY PRIDE BAN(Russia)

25/5/2006- Despite the Moscow mayor’s threat of mass arrests, and the threat of violence from nationalist and religious leaders, Tatchell and other international human rights activists — including Scott Long of New York-based Human Rights Watch — hopes to join the historic first Gay Pride march in Russian history on Saturday, the thirteenth anniversary of the 1993 abolition of Soviet-era laws against male homosexuality, Ukgaynews website said Thursday. The Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, has banned the gay parade and is threatening to also outlaw the parallel gay rights conference and festival, though this morning’s opening session at the Swisshotel went ahead without problems. Organizers learned that the Mayor had also banned three pickets that were planned for Saturday. However, “representatives of the gay community are adamant in their determination to hold a gay parade in Moscow, but are keeping its route a secret”, Interfax reported. Immediately prior to flying to Moscow, Mr. Tatchell said that the Mayor of Moscow insisted he was supporting democracy by banning the parade. “We ask him to prove it by giving the go-ahead to Moscow Gay Pride,” Mr. Tatchell said. “Democracy means respecting the rights of minorities. ”Who does Luzhkov think he is? Joseph Stalin? “Someone should remind the Mayor that the anti-gay Soviet Union is dead. Russia is now a democracy and in a democracy people have a right to protest peacefully. ”These attempts by the Russian state to suppress Moscow Gay Pride are a throwback to the bad old days of czarist and communist totalitarianism. Threats and intimidation by the Mayor of Moscow will not stop the gay freedom struggle in Russia,“ he insisted. ”The ban on Moscow Gay Pride is a violation of the Russian constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, assembly and the right to peaceful protest. Russian gay activists are currently challenging the ban in their own courts. “If necessary, they will appeal to the European Court of Human Rights,” said Mr Tatchell. Many well-known gay rights campaigners from around the world will attend Moscow Gay Pride. Other prominent attendees will include the Deputy Mayor of Paris and several members of the European Parliament. Over 250 representatives from more than 30 countries will participate in the simultaneous Moscow International Gay Festival from 25 to 27 May. This festival will feature a series of lectures by Merlin Holland, the grandson of Oscar Wilde. Moscow Pride takes place a week after the start of the Russian Presidency in the Council of Europe and just prior to the summit of G8 leaders in St Petersburg. President Putin has not commented on the banning of Moscow Pride or on the threats of violence from religious leaders.
© MosNews

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5 LINKED TO ST. PETE SLAYING(Russia)

25/5/2006- Five men detained last week in St. Petersburg for possible ties to the killing of an African student are being charged with killing a prominent racial issues expert, city prosecutor Sergei Zaitsev said Wednesday. The suspects, members of the Mad Crowd group, are thought to have taken part in the June 2004 fatal shooting of Nikolai Girenko, 64, as revenge for Girenko's testimony in court against another extremist group, Schultz-88, the prosecutor said. Girenko, who pioneered a method for classifying ethnically motivated crimes, died after an unidentified assailant rang the doorbell of his St. Petersburg apartment and then shot him through the closed door as he approached it. Besides the murder, the five suspects are also to be charged with taking part in a series of other attacks and robberies, including a 2003 killing of a Chinese citizen and a 2003 attack on an Armenian citizen, Zaitsev said. The arrested men have also confessed to having incited teenagers to attack a Tajik family. In that 2004 attack, Khursheda Sultanova, a 9-year-old Tajik girl, was stabbed to death while her father and a sibling also suffered knife wounds. The suspects are also being investigated for their ties to the killings of a Vietnamese citizen and a Sengalese student, the prosecutor said. The suspects are all in their early twenties.
© The Moscow Times

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5 YOUNG EXTREMIST SUSPECTS DETAINED IN ST. PETERSBURG(Russia)

24/5/2006- St. Petersburg authorities have detained five young men suspected of being members of a local extremist group blamed for the shooting death of an African student last month, a news web site reported. The five Mad Crowd suspects, who were detained last week, are all 21 or 22 years old and will be charged with "committing grave crimes as an organized group," Fontanka.ru said Monday. Two suspects are students at local universities: one at the Baltic International Tourism Institute, the other at the Herzen Pedagogical University. A third is unemployed, a fourth worked odd jobs, and the fifth is a private security guard who previously served in the armed forces in Chechnya, the web site said, citing unidentified law enforcement officials. Authorities said the suspects had tattoos of swastikas and extremist or racist slogans on their bodies, and searches of their apartments turned up extremist literature. It was unclear exactly which crimes the suspects were accused of, but Mad Crowd is thought to have carried out a number of racist attacks in recent months, including the slaying of Senegalese student Lamzar Samba with a single gunshot to the neck outside a nightclub in April. Police believe Mad Crowd founder Dmitry Borovikov, 21, pulled the trigger, using a rifle he had borrowed from another St. Petersburg resident a year earlier, Fontanka.ru said. Borovikov died Thursday after being shot when resisting arrest. A St. Petersburg court in December sentenced five Mad Crowd members to prison terms of two to three years after convicting them in connection with a series of racist attacks.
© The Moscow Times

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ST. PETE POLICE SHOOT SUSPECTED RACIST(Russia)

22/5/2006- St. Petersburg police shot and killed a 21-year-old man wanted in several racist attacks after he lunged at arresting officers with a knife, prosecutors said Friday. A police officer shot Dmitry Borovikov, a founder of the extremist group Mad Crowd, once in the head at around 10 p.m. Thursday, St. Petersburg prosecutor's office spokeswoman Yelena Ordynskaya said. "The officer fired a warning shot in the air, but [Borovikov] tried to stab him, and the officer was forced to take action," Ordynskaya said. Borovikov died later in the hospital. Prosecutors were investigating whether the use of deadly force by the officer was justified, a standard procedure whenever an officer uses a weapon. Ordynskaya said a federal warrant had been issued for Borovikov's arrest in connection with his suspected role in several racist attacks. She declined to give details because of the ongoing investigation. Interfax, citing an unidentified police official, reported that Borovikov was a suspect in the shooting death of Senegalese student Lamzar Samba last month. Samba, a fifth-year St. Petersburg Communications University student, was killed by a single gunshot to the neck as he left Apollo, a nightclub popular among African students, early April 7. Police have linked Borovikov to a gun that may have been used in Samba's murder, Interfax and St. Petersburg news web site Fontanka.ru reported. Borovikov's home address is 4 Boitsova Pereulok, Interfax reported. It was in the courtyard of that building that Khursheda Sultanova, a 9-year-old Tajik girl, was stabbed to death in 2004. It was unclear whether Borovikov is suspected of involvement in the crime. A St. Petersburg court sentenced five Mad Crowd members to prison terms in December: three got three years on charges of participating in racist attacks and two received two years on charges of inciting racial hatred and forming an extremist organization. Police have put out an arrest warrant for another Mad Crowd leader, Ruslan Melnik.
© The Moscow Times

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MARRIAGE WITHOUT BORDERS(Austria)

The initiative "Ehe ohne Grenzen" (marriage without borders) is struggling for the right of partnership and the right to stay. Since 19th of April 2006 a manifestation in front of the Ministry of the Interior in Vienna (1010, Herrengasse 7) take place every Wednesday, 5pm.

"The right to family life is indivisible!"
Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)

22/5/2006- We are a group of bi-national couples in Austria and have joined forces under the name "Ehe ohne Grenzen" (marriage without borders). The Austrian immigration policy and the new immigration package keep us from living together with our partners and children in peace and without fear. We, as bi-national families, are being discriminated against through this policy and our family life is threatened in its existence. Being married to an Austrian citizen doesn't mean that you automatically have the right to legally stay in Austria. For us, there is no certainty that we will ever be able to lead self-determined lives with our families - neither in Austria, nor in the countries of origin of our partners or any place else. Since January 1, 2006 the legislator requires that the application for a residence permit has to be filed in the country of origin. This means partners have to live separated from one another for an undefined period of time without knowing whether the application will succeed, without any guarantee that they will ever be able to live together in Austria.

Non-Austrian partners without a residence permit might be expelled from the country any day. Every time the door bell rings, it might be the police wanting to throw your partner into prison for up to 10 months. Afterwards they will want to deport your partner to the country from which he or she has fled. Without a residence permit you can't obtain a working permit. The Austrian partner has to raise the minimum monthly income of EUR 1,056 required since the beginning of 2006. Many people can't comply with this requirement. For so-called third country nationals, it is almost impossible to legally enter and leave the country or to survive. Due to this, residence bans and expulsions are what follows rapidly. A joint family life becomes impossible. As a basic principle, Austrians who marry so-called third country nationals are criminalised and considered as suspicious.

We demand our human rights back:
+ Immediate working and residence permits for our spouses!
+ Residence permits should immediately be granted to all asylum-seekers who were or are married to an Austrian, irrespective of the wedding date.
+Same-sex marriages and partnerships concluded abroad should be acknowledged.
+Equal opportunities should be granted to so-called third-country nationals with a residence ban so that they can reintegrate and resocialise themselves.
+Bi-national marriages should be decriminalised.
© No Racism Net

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ITALY CONSIDERS IMMIGRANT AMNESTY

22/5/2006- The new minister in charge of immigration in Italy plans to overhaul tough policies and relax the criteria required for being a legal immigrant. Paolo Ferrero says he intends to normalise the position of immigrants already in Italy, if they have jobs. Italy has a growing number of illegal immigrant workers arriving in the south of the country from Africa. Mr Ferrero was appointed by Romano Prodi, whose centre-left coalition came to power after winning April elections. Italy has had several amnesties for illegal immigrants and on each occasion, the number of residency permits available has been far exceeded by the number of people applying. Two months ago, more than 500,000 people queued for just 180,000 permits. The numbers applying show there are far more illegal immigrants living in Italy than official statistics suggest. Mr Ferrero, a member of the Communist Refoundation Party, blames the immigration law passed by the previous centre-right government, which only granted access to immigrants who could demonstrate they had a regular job. It has made it impossible, he said, to migrate to Italy legally. And most politicians accept that thousands of small businesses in the country now employ illegal migrant workers. There is a huge black economy particularly in the north of the country. Some did come to Italy legally, but it can often take over 18 months to get an annual work permit renewed and most do not bother. While surveys show most Italians would like to see illegal immigrants expelled, two-thirds say they are willing to legalise those who have jobs.
© BBC News

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HIRSI ALI CASE SPARKS WIDER DUTCH PASSPORT ENQUIRY

23/5/2006- A majority of MPs in the Dutch parliament have demanded to know how many other former asylum seekers have been stripped of Dutch naturalisation because they lied about their identity. The governing Christian Democrats (CDA) and Liberals (VVD) supported the opposition green-left party GroenLinks in calling for an investigation to establish how often the sanction has been applied since the law came into force in 1989. This is the latest element in the political storm over the position of former Liberal MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The Somali-born critic of Islam announced last week she is leaving the Netherlands for the US after Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk cast doubt on the validity of her Dutch naturalisation. In a television documentary days earlier, Hirsi Ali said she had lied about her name and date of birth to get asylum in the Netherlands in 1992. She became a Dutch citizen five years later. Hirsi Ali has been open about these lies since 2002 when she joined the VVD. Verdonk, also a member of the VVD, said she had not been aware of the lies prior to the television programme. The Minister came in for a lot of criticism in relation to the way Hirsi Ali has been treated. But Verdonk argued she was merely following a Supreme Court ruling that said it is unclear who has been naturalised if the applicant uses an assumed name. Parliament passed motions to compel Verdonk to review Hirsi Ali's case and to ensure she keeps her Dutch nationality. This has led to calls for equal treatment for everyone. "Ayaan must not be treated better or worse than others," CDA MP Mirjam Sterk said. "We want to know what criteria were in force in recent years and how they were applied". Liberal MP Arno Visser said "clearer insight" was required with a view to drafting a new amendment of the law. He said the intention was not to reverse all previous cases in which a person's citizenship was removed.
© Expatica News

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DUTCH SWITCH TO POINTS SYSTEM FOR KNOWLEDGE MIGRANTS

22/5/2006- The Dutch government has agreed to modernise the country's migration procedures. Of particular interest to expats is a new points system for 'knowledge' and 'high-quality' migrants. Immigration and Integration Minister Rita Verdonk got cabinet approval on Friday for a simplification of the system which results in a cut in the number of entry and residence permits from 29 to 5 categories. The centre-right coalition government said the reforms better reflect the national interest by combining the country's restrictive entry policy with greater selectivity. "The new policy will be based more on the need for migrants that exists in Dutch society," a spokesperson for the Justice Ministry said on Friday. Verdonk's department is part of the Justice Ministry. The Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) has been severely criticised over several years for being overly bureaucratic and slow in handing resident permit applications. Verdonk hopes to improve the IND's performance by simplifying and centralising the processing of applications, and making more use of digital technology. Companies will have a greater say in the selection of migrants under the new system, the government said. The five categories of permits under Verdonk's reforms cover exchange and temporary work; study and regular employment; 'knowledge' and 'high-quality' work; family and partner reunion; and humanitarian grounds.

The first category covers temporary workers and people on exchanges. They can receive a non-extendable residence permit valid for a maximum of one year. Holders of this type of permit will not be entitled to bring in family members or obtain social welfare. They will not have to take an integration course. The second category allows residency to students and workers for the duration of their study or employment in the Netherlands. A holder can apply to bring in family members if he or she can support them, but the temporary permit is invalidated if the holder applies for social welfare. This temporary permit can be converted into permanent residence. The cabinet is to investigate whether international students who have completed a course at a third-level education institute should be allowed to stay longer in the Netherlands to look for work. They can currently stay for three months after completion of their studies. A points system is the key element of the third category for high-quality, knowledge and work migrants. Foreign workers not assigned to the Netherlands by a company can be granted entry on the basis of their skills. The government said this regulation is intended for "innovative business people, freelance researchers and creative top talents". People who make use of this 'talent regulation' can be granted a two-year residence permit in the first instance. It can be converted into a long-stay permit after five years. Expats with an employment contract come into consideration for a five-year permit straight away. The family and partner category allows entry to relatives or partners of a Dutch person, the holder of long-stay residence permit or a person with asylum status. Newcomers granted a family permit are free to seek work and must undergo an integration course. Victims of persecution or human smuggling, as well as people who need medical treatment in the Netherlands, can apply for a residence permit on humanitarian grounds.
© Expatica News

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CREATOR OF INTERNET AUSCHWITZ RAVE CLIP ON TRIAL IN HOLLAND

22/5/2006- A student who used images of the concentration camp at Auschwitz in a hoax publicity video for a techno rave will be prosecuted for discrimination, a prosecution spokeswoman said Monday. The student, identified as the 23-year-old Dickie Thijssen by Dutch media, will appear before a magistrate Wednesday, Jechien de Graaf of the Rotterdam prosecutor's office said. If convicted he faces a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a 4,500 euros fine. Thijssen, who is living in the southwest of the country, apologised extensively on the internet for the offence caused by his video. The clip, which was widely circulated on the Internet last year, purported to give details of a techno music festival called "Housewitz", a reference to techno "house" music.

Horrific pictures
It used images of the Auschwitz death camp in German-occupied Poland, turning the famous slogan above the main gate "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work Shall Set You Free) into "Tanzen Macht Frei" (Dance Shall Set You Free). The clip announced the DJ’s Michel der Heidi and Adolf Von Bauren with Sieg Heil, and spoke about “seven million party people, set their body’s on fire”, and said the dresscode was “skinny Jew”. It also included many horrific pictures of the gas chambers with statements such as “hot showers, free of charge” and “train stops at party ground”. 1.1 million people were killed by the Nazis in Auschwitz-Birkenau during WWII, mostly European Jews. The film says the dance party was due to take place in The Netherlands on May 4, the day on which the nation commemorates victims of war, but was in any event a hoax since no such party was ever planned or held. The film was met with outrage by the Dutch justice ministry, the Auschwitz museum and the Polish foreign ministry. The spokesman said at the time that the authorities would examine the film to “check if its content is discriminatory.” In August last year, the Dutch Internet-regulating body decided to bring charges against the site that was putting out the video. But the weblog geenstijl.nl refused to remove the clip with a so called ‘educational’ argument: “This clip shows how our educational system has failed.”
© EJP

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RACE RIOT TOWN 'REMAINS POLARISED'(uk)

25/5/2006- Communities in Oldham remain "deeply entrenched" five years after serious race rioting in the Lancashire town, a report into the aftermath of the violence concluded today. Despite efforts to bring communities together following the riots in summer 2001 - when Bradford and Burnley also saw similar disturbances - some people were still refusing to mix with those of other races, it said. Speaking prior to the release of the report, Trevor Phillips, the head of the Commission for Racial Equality, warned that similar riots could break out again anywhere in the country. The 2001 violence was some of the worst civil disturbances seen in the UK, with 12 hours of violence in Bradford alone resulting in 300 police officers being injured and £10m of damage being caused. Today's document was commissioned by Oldham council and compiled by Ted Cantle. Mr Cantle's initial Home Office report on the disturbances, published in December 2001, called for urgent action to integrate "shockingly" divided communities. Despite good work by the local council, schools and businesses, the review team said it was "struck by the extent to which divisions within and polarisation between Oldham's many communities continue to be a feature of social relations and the seeming reluctance of many sections of the community to embrace positive change". The document concluded that "the most immediate impediment to change is the mindset of deeply entrenched communities". Its authors cited examples such as that of a young Muslim mother who, when interviewed, said she had been discouraged from mixing with her non-Muslim Indian neighbour. A white man said he did not want to mix with Asian students at the college he attended because he felt they had "nothing in common". "Such attitudes are completely untenable as a basis upon which to build cohesive communities," the 66-page report said.

Mr Cantle told BBC Radio Five Live that changing such attitudes would take a long time. "There is, I think, more openness and trust," he said. "But there are some very entrenched divisions in Oldham - it's going to take some time, probably at least a generation, to deal with the divisions." Speaking before the report was published, Mr Phillips called for more efforts to integrate the different communities. He said it was vital to avoid the sort of situation that caused riots in Birmingham last October and widespread violence in French suburbs around the same time. He described that situation as "where there are communities just standing on opposite sides of the road, suspicious, don't know each other, ready to believe the worst of each other, and when something goes wrong, ready to throw bricks at each other". Asked whether there could be more problems this summer, Mr Phillips said: "There is absolutely no question that, in many cities in this country, and indeed some small towns, both settled immigrant communities and also new immigrant communities - Portuguese agricultural workers, Poles and so forth - are changing the landscape. "Some people are anxious about this, and the way they respond is sometimes governed by the what the far right will do because they will exploit it. So, anywhere in this country, it is possible that we might see what happened in Oldham once again."
© The Guardian

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THREE GUILTY OF RACIST MURDER DURING RIOTS (uk)

23/5/2006- Three Asian men were sentenced to life in prison yesterday for the murder of a black IT worker during last year's Birmingham riots, as detectives vowed to continue their hunt for the rest of the "pack of thugs" involved in the killing. Isaiah Young-Sam, 23, was stabbed in the heart in a racist attack last October as he walked through the Lozells area of Birmingham with his brother and two friends. He had taken a back route home, to avoid violence that flared after rumours were spread about a local West Indian girl being gang-raped by Asian men, when he was attacked by a group of up to six men. Waqar Ahmed, 26, Azhil Khan, 23, and Afzal Khan, 22, from the Handsworth area of the city, were told they would each serve a minimum of 25 years in jail, despite the judge accepting that none of them had wielded the knife. Sentencing the trio at Birmingham Crown Court, Mr Justice Mackay said: "The four men were set upon because they were Afro-Caribbean and for no other reason. They had done nothing to these defendants and done nothing to incur or justify hostility. What led to the death of Isaiah Young-Sam was the colour of his skin." The defendants were each jailed for 10 years after being found guilty of a separate charge of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm to Locksley Byfield, one of Mr Young-Sam's friends. These jail terms will run concurrently. Mr Justice Mackay told the defendants: "You've been convicted of a most serious offence, the murder of Isaiah Young-Sam, a young man with great promise who had done you no harm. Your action was racially aggravated and you are also party to the grievous wounding of his companion. The sentence for murder is fixed by law and is one of life imprisonment."

On the evening of 22 October, while trying to avoid violence, Mr Young-Sam was confronted by the attackers who appeared from two or three cars wearing bandanas, armed with knives and bats and shouting racist abuse. The three defendants bought one-way tickets to Pakistan three days after the stabbing, but were returned to the UK by the Dubai authorities. Mr Justice Mackay said he was satisfied none of them struck the fatal blow. The judge said: "In my judgment, these three defendants all went to Lozells Road that night looking for trouble and found it. They were three normally respectable, law-abiding men, from good backgrounds, but they were drawn like moths to the flame by the sheer excitement, the street drama of that night. None of these three were the principal murderer, the man who actually wielded the knife, but they all went along with the attack." Detective Chief Inspector Matthew Ward, from West Midlands Police, who led the investigation, welcomed the sentences "as a successful step on a long journey for justice for Isaiah, his family and his friends". He said that up to a dozen offenders had been involved in the murder and that efforts to bring them to justice would continue. "During the course of this trial, we have heard new evidence from witnesses who have previously declined to speak to us. I urge these witnesses and others within the community to come forward now and help us to secure the conviction of Isaiah's killers and in doing so begin to heal some of the scars his death left in the community," he said. Mr Young-Sam's 22-year-old sister, Kavina, said she could not understand the motivation for killing an innocent person, and remembered her brother as "such a kind, fun-loving, humble, respectful and dignified young man who always gave off a pleasant vibe". Detective Chief Inspector Ward said 10 people had so far been arrested in connection with the incident.
© Independent Digital

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RISE OF UK'S 'INTER-ETHNIC CONFLICTS'

As three Asian men are found guilty of killing a black man during riots in Birmingham last year, the BBC News website examines what caused two ethnic minority communities to clash.

22/5/2006- In recent years Birmingham has been markedly exempt from the racial clashes that have sporadically affected other towns and cities with large ethnic minority populations. While northern towns such as Oldham, Burnley and Bradford were plagued with race rioting during the summer of 2001, Birmingham remained calm. So last year's disturbances in the Lozells area were in sharp contrast to the popular image of Birmingham as a city at ease with its diversity. But what made the clashes stand out even more was the fact that it was two ethnic minority communities - black and Asian - that were at loggerheads. Ostensibly, unsubstantiated rumours of the rape of a black woman by Asian men started the violence. But according to Birmingham race campaigner Maxie Hayles, the trouble was rooted in long-standing division between the two communities. "Just because people don't throw bricks at each other on a daily basis doesn't mean everything's rosy in the garden," he says.

Economic division
"The allegation of rape was just the straw that broke the camel's back. "The reality is that there's an apartheid situation. We live in a society where you've got white on top, Asians in the middle and then black at the bottom, particularly in economic terms." Lozells is an inner-city area that has seen significant change in its ethnic mix. Forty years ago African Caribbeans were its main ethnic minority group. Today more than half the residents in the area are Asian while the black population has decreased to less than 20%.
As Asians arrived from countries such as Uganda and Kenya, in the 1970s and 80s, they became the mainstay of the area's business community.  Mr Hayles, of the Birmingham Race Attacks Monitoring Unit, says black people now have little economic muscle in the area. "You'd have to walk miles to find a black-run business in Lozells, even some of the businesses selling Caribbean food like yam, they've been taken over by Asians, forcing African Caribbeans to spend their money with Asian businesses," he says. Such perceptions of economic disadvantage are mirrored in the situation of many other ethnically-mixed areas around the UK, according to Ted Cantle of the Institute of Community Cohesion. But Mr Cantle, who wrote a review for the government after the 2001 riots warning of communities living "parallel lives", says until recently such "inter-ethnic conflicts" were not on the agenda of public bodies and the mainstream media. "There are intertwined things here that's it's difficult to separate out," he says. "There are these feelings of superiority, of naked racism and a perception of unfairness and that 'they're getting a better deal than us'. "This is fuelled by the way money has been handed out in the past by putting one group in competition with another."

'Level playing field'
Mr Hayles thinks greater effort should be made to create more equality among Birmingham's ethnic minorities. "I think local authorities and central government needs to create a more level playing field since they're talking about community cohesion and economics has a part to play within it," he says. But city councillor Salma Yaqoob says in Birmingham both the city's Asian and black communities face "deprivation" and the Asian community is not benefiting at the expense of others. "When it comes to economic issues both the black and Asian communities are suffering so from my standpoint the communities should be united and collectively coming together to demand those resources", says Ms Yaqoob, who represents the city's Sparkbrook ward. "It's disastrous that we're being pitted against each other," . After his report highlighted how competing for funds led to tension among communities, the system was changed says Mr Cantle, although public funding still often favoured particular communities in more subtle ways. He said: "Funding is often allocated according to need, need is often broken down into ward-based areas and ward-based areas often relate to particular communities.

'Boundaries reinforced'
"What we've actually got to do is look for the commonalities and incentivise working across boundaries and joint projects while at the moment we do exactly the opposite." But the UK's shifting racial mix and changing definitions complicated matters, he said. "At one time, going back into the 60s, 70s and even the 80s,"black" was an all-encompassing term, almost a political expression of being in a minority counterposed against a white majority," he says. "All of that's changed and identities are increasingly fine-tuned and now include faith groups. "So the pressure is now to work across boundaries but those boundaries are becoming increasingly reinforced."
© BBC News

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PROTEST MARS MAYOR CEREMONY(uk)

20 demonstrate over BNP as Asian councillor makes history

23/5/2006- A protest by opponents of the far-Right British National Party marred the swearing in of Leeds's first Asian Lord Mayor last night. Kashmir-born Labour Councillor Mohammed Iqbal, 45, who arrived in Leeds from Pakistan at the age of nine, became the city's first citizen at the annual council meeting at the Civic Hall. About 20 anti-BNP protesters stood outside the meeting, urging councillors to sign a "statement of unity" against racism and fascism in protest at the recent election of Leeds's first BNP councillor, Chris Beverley, who polled 2,083 votes in Morley South this month. Coun Beverley was the only member who abstained in last night's vote for the Lord Mayor and his deputy. Several councillors who spoke in favour of Coun Iqbal as mayor made references to the dangers of extremism. Labour member Roger Harrington expressed his views in verse, saying he hoped Coun Iqbal's year as mayor would provide a focus for unity and help mend broken bridges between the races. Tory leader Andrew Carter, referring to last July's bombings in London, said: "People who wish to divide the communities of Leeds will not prevail." Coun Iqbal praised the city of Leeds and its citizens for providing him with a home, education and work. "I would not have believed even 10 years ago that this great city would bestow on me this honour of being Lord Mayor. Leeds is renowned for welcoming and embracing people from different religious, cultural and racial backgrounds. The city gives me and people like me a great sense of belonging. "People went through a traumatic time last July. Events in life give us extra strength, courage and enthusiasm to work for the community. I will use this year to pay back the city that adopted me from the age of nine."

The incoming Lord Mayor's charities are the paediatric intensive care service at Leeds General Infirmary (the hospital needs 14 new vital sign monitors costing some £10,000 each) and an appeal in his native Kashmir for a burns unit in a local hospital. Outside the mayor-making ceremony, protesters urged councillors to sign a statement of opposition to the BNP. Sam Kirk, of Leeds Unite Against Fascism, which called the protest, said: "The majority of people in Leeds reject racist and fascist politics but, sadly, we have got a BNP councillor. I believe he was elected as a protest vote and people are not voting for fascist politics." A single supporter of the BNP waited in the rain for the arrival of Coun Beverley – but he was already in the council chamber. One of the councillors who signed the statement was Colin Campbell, a Lib Dem councillor for Otley, who said: "I'm a great supporter of democracy and it's important we are all prepared to stand up and express our regret – that's the best word I can use – that the BNP felt is necessary to enter into politics in Leeds. "Their presence is divisive in a city that prides itself on its tolerance. It is beholden on all of us to make sure they don't make any more progress."
© Yorkshire Post

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DECLARATON FOR PROTECTION OF CITIZENS IN BULGARIA FROM NEO-TOTALITARIANISM

20/5/2006- International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) and Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) invited the European Parliament to support the Written declaraton for protection of citizens in Bulgaria from neo-totalitarianism. The Declaration was created on the initiative of five members of the European Parliament that were worried for the increase of rascist behavior and of xenophobic propaganda, which were being conducted by by main political parties and agencies for law implementation. As it is stated in the IHF press release, coalition Ataka, which entered the Bulgarian Parliament after the last year elections, systematically uses xenophobic and rascist propaganda. It has, as it is stated, contributed to forming negative stereotype about Roma and other minority groups. Members of this coalition keep refering to Roma as to "a criminal community" and claim that Roma "are a threat to Bulgarians" because of the high natality rate. Leader of Ataka Volen Siderov is known as a radical anti-Semitist and as a person that denies holocaust. Actions of this movement also endangers other minority groups – Turks, Jews and Moslims. IHF and BHC invited members of the European Parliament to pay attention to the increase of rascist tendencies and discrimination of minorities in this country when deciding about the date of Bulgaria accession to the EU.
© Minority Rights Center

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NEW TRAIL IN MADRID AGAINST THE KILLER OF A MINOR MIGRANT(Spain)

Movement against Intolerance is Popular Prosecution

22/5/2006- Jose David Fuertes Sanchez is on trial again as presumed responsible of the murdered of the 16 year old minor migrant from Angola Augusto Ndombele Domingo. The Madrid Supreme Court ordered to repeat the trial in which Fuertes was declared innocent of the crimes of assassination and homicide in a illogical and arbitrary verdict as the Supreme Court determined. Today It’s therefore the second time this trial take place. The first trial was appealed to the Madrid Supreme Court by the family of the victim and Movement against Intolerance, particular and popular prosecution respectively. The highest tribunal ordered to repeat the trial in October 2004 and summoned Fuertes to communicate it to him but he runaway so a search warrant has to be implemented. Fuertes hand over by himself so he was put in jail again. The events took place the July the 20th. It started with a strong argument between two people one of them a friend of the victim in front of a pub in Alcorcón Madrid. When the situation calm down one of the people went into the pub and in a few minutes came out with some others, Fuertes among them. Who directly stabed Augusto twice just because he was black, and kill him at his 16 years old. Fuertes has several criminal records in violent accions with fanatic supportes of Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid, Ultrassur and Frente Atlético, respectively. Both of them are nest for neonazi gangs and fanatic violence people. Movement against Intolerance as a Popular Prosecution charged Fuertes of assassination aggravating with racism, It supposed 20 years in jail. Paulina Domingos the mother of the victim has declared to the media that she expected a verdict of condemn for Fuertes. She also denounced that the presumed murdered treatened and pay some witness to declare in favour.
© Movmiento Contra la Intolerancia

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IMMIGRATION AGENCY 'BROKE THE LAW' - NEW DIRECTOR RESIGNS(Norway)

The agency in charge of immigration to Norway (UDI) violated both the law and political directives when it granted residency permits to nearly 200 Iraqi Kurds last fall. A commission that's probed the controversial permits blasted the former head of UDI, and his successor has resigned.

22/5/2006- News of the granting of the permits set off a political storm when it broke in March, and a commission was set up to investigate the agency, formally known as the Directorate of Immigration, or UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet). The commission unveiled its findings Monday morning, and they were harsh in their evaluation of practices at the agency, which was headed at the time by Trygve Nordby. He later resigned to take over as head of the Norwegian Red Cross and was succeeded by UDI's second-in-command, Manuela Ramin-Osmundsen. She was only in the job a few weeks before being forced into taking a leave of absence when the investigation was launched. The commission held Nordby primarily responsible for the illegal granting of the permits, but concluded that Osmundsen was aware of the situation and failed to object. She has now resigned. It was reported over the weekend that UDI employees long have worked under a climate of fear, and dared not criticize or challenge the agency's leadership.

Charges of disloyalty
The former government minister in charge of UDI already has claimed that UDI's bosses at the time were disloyal in their actions. Erna Solberg of the Conservatives was furious when she found out that UDI had defied ministry instructions that Solberg claimed were clear. By the time the permits were granted in October, however, the center-right government coalition of which Solberg was a member had lost the election and was on its way out. It's earlier been reported that Nordby and his management team at UDI believed the incoming center-left government coalition would have a more liberal view on immigration issues, and go along with granting residency to the Iraqi Kurds, even though not all their identities could be confirmed and some had criminal records. It later emerged that around 50 Iranian asylum seekers also were granted residency in Norway after they'd claimed they were homosexual and would be persecuted back home in Iran. Among the Iraqi Kurds granted residence permits was the mother-in-law of Mullah Krekar, Norway's most controversial refugee who's been deemed a threat to Norway's national security and is appealing an expulsion order.

Resignation 'respected'
Ramin-Osmundsen's resignation comes as a disappointment to those who were encouraged to see a woman and immigrant herself rise to the top post at UDI. Instead, the lawyer educated in France who originally hails from Martinique in the Caribbean had a record short tenure. "She decided that it would be difficult for her to lead UDI through the challenges it faces given the restoration of confidence necessary for good management of refugee and immigration policy," said the government minister now in charge of UDI, Bjarne Håkon Hanssen. "That's to be respected." Hans Petter Graver, who led the investigation into UDI. stressed that his commission's report directs its criticism against former UDI boss Nordby. "He engaged himself personally and had a management style that ignored opposition," Graver said. Nordby, took over as head of the Norwegian Red Cross after Jonas Gahr Støre, who was named Norway's new Foreign Minister. It remained unclear whether the charges against Nordby will have any effect on his new position at the Red Cross.
© Aftenpost

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HUNGER STRIKE LATEST MOVE BY ASYLUM SEEKERS (Cyprus)

Asylum seekers yesterday launched a hunger strike in a desperate effort to get authorities’ attention.

21/5/2006- Immigrant support group KISA president Doros Polycarpou told the Sunday Mail 10 Kurds from Syria decided to stop eating after talks with Interior and Labour Ministry officials broke down. The immigrants will have been demonstrating exactly two weeks tomorrow. Initially they had been camping out in Nicosia’s Eleftheria Square but on Friday moved to the Red Cross premises. The asylum seekers want the right to work without limitations, government housing, access to benefits where the right to work is refused, medical and pharmaceutical care, an end to police mistreatment, an end to deportations to countries which persecute them, and genuine examinations by an independent body of each asylum application. Polycaropu said: “Representatives from various Interior and Labour Ministries’ services came here [to the Red Cross] today and it was agreed that the problems regarding the asylum seekers’ pink slips, medical card and welfare benefits would be dealt with as early as Monday or Tuesday.” The human rights activist explained a number of asylum seekers whose pink slips were up for renewal had been turned away by immigration officials without examining each case. The officials had promised to look into the matter and assure each asylum seeker whose application was justified would be given a pink slip. They also conceded they would give a medical card allowing the immigrants access to free medical care and benefits as soon as possible. Last week the Social Services had said these benefits would be given on condition the immigrants returned home. Polycarpou explained that the problem which remained was the ministries’ refusal to start up direct talks between ministry representatives and the immigrants. Instead they wanted to send a memo round to all ministers telling them to take the matter into consideration. But although the demonstrators were tired and despite pressures from authorities to pack up and go home, they had not intention of giving up, he added. Earlier in the day police sent buses to the Red Cross and threatened to forcefully remove the men, women and children from the premises. “After some time it was agreed that if the men slept outside at night and only the women and children slept indoors then they could stay. They are all allowed inside the building during the day. This was deemed necessary for safety reasons,” Polycarpou said.
© Cyprus Mail

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GRASSROOTS MOBILISES TO PROTECT IMMIGRANT CHILDREN(France)

24/5/2006- Samira and her two sons Alex and David have been playing hide-and-seek with the French authorities for the past month, to avoid being expelled to Azerbaijan under a toughening of policy towards illegal immigrants and their children. Backing them is a support network — of teachers, parents, rights activists and left-wing politicians — that is waging a grassroots campaign against plans to expel hundreds of immigrant families with school-age children. France's centre-right governmnent has vowed to step up the deportation of illegal immigrants — who number 200,000 to 400,000 in the country — as part of a toughening of immigration policy backed by three-quarters of the public. The rhythm of expulsions has been steadily rising, from 15,000 in 2004 to 20,000 last year, and Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has set a national target of 25,000 expulsions for 2006. Families with children enrolled at school have been given the right to remain until the end of the school year on June 30 — at which point state officials are under instructions to arrest and conduct them to the border. "At least 10,000 children" enrolled in French schools are at risk, according to the Education Without Borders Network (RESF), which is campaigning for the children and their families to be given French residence permits. Sarkozy defended the government's policy during a trip to Africa last week: "If I allow people who have children enrolled at school to remain in France, I will be creating a new channel" for immigration, he said. Anyone is free to register their child at a school in France — without having to produce identity or residence papers. Schoolteachers and parents opposed to the plan say many of the children concerned are well-integrated and thriving in the French school system — and that to deport them would go against the very principles of the Republic.

"The idea of a child being handcuffed and bundled onto a plane to return to face a life of poverty is quite simply outrageous," said Richard Moyon, a teacher and member of the RESF network. RESF charges that many of those concerned have been unfairly denied political asylum in France and could face persecution upon their return home. Since late April, more than 27,700 people have signed an RESF petition against what they denounce as a 'childhunt' — pledging to "sponsor, protect and house" the children and their families, even if it means breaking the law. "If they ask us for shelter, we will not turn them away... We will not turn them over to the police," they promise. Well known signatories include the Socialist former minister Jack Lang and the anti-globalisation icon Jose Bové and the protest movement has found a strong echo in the left-wing media. "France is set to turn into a strange country: thousands of children will be forced into clandestine existences... Holidays for some, fear and persecution for others," wrote Libération newspaper. The Socialist mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, has come out in support of the campaign and "civil sponsorship" ceremonies have been staged at a number of left-wing town halls to lend an air of officialdom to the protest movement. In some cases teachers, students and their parents have taken in entire families threatened with expulsion — and the protest movement has already notched up a string of victories.

In one high-profile case, Rachel, 15, and Jonathan, 14, a brother and sister from the Democratic Republic of Congo were granted a stay of expulsion after spending two months on the run. This week, in Evreux north of Paris, the authorities called off plans to deport an Angolan mother and her 16-year-old daughter following a strike by staff at her high-school. Since 2004, the RESF network has blocked dozens of deportations — which are part of a wider move to tighten immigration rules under Sarkozy's authority. French lawmakers this month voted in a "selected immigration" reform — which aims to favour skilled workers and cut back on family reunification, while scrapping automatic residence rights for illegal immigrants who have spent 10 years in the country. Sarkozy strongly denies that his policies are racist — Africans make up a majority of illegal immigrants in France — warning that a failure to combat the phenomenon would only play into the hands of the xenophobic far-right.
© Expatica News

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LE PEN AND FRENCH FAR RIGHT ACHIEVE RECORD POPULARITY

21/5/2006- As the French government tears itself apart amid a trumped-up corruption scandal, and the socialist opposition fails to capitalise on the chaos, Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the far-Right National Front (FN), has gained record levels of support - without saying a word in public. According to a survey in the news magazine Le Point last week, 22 per cent of the French population has a "favourable opinion" of Mr Le Pen - up five per cent from the previous month. The rating is far higher than the 16 per cent popularity which Mr Le Pen scored in polls four years ago, just before the presidential elections in which he shocked France by beating the socialist prime minister, Lionel Jospin, in the first round. He lost to Jacques Chirac in the second round and political commentators insisted his success was a blip that would never happen again. "His ideas have never been so popular," said his daughter and likely successor, Marine. She is "very, very optimistic" about her father's chances in next year's presidential election. "He will be in the second round, the only question is who he will be against," Miss Le Pen said. "It's a case of people realising that reality is reflecting what we have been saying for the past 30 years. It is also because the political system is caving in on itself." The swing to the extreme Right has been attributed to a series of events, during a period of economic gloom, that have crippled the government: last autumn's rioting in the suburbs; student violence over a proposed employment law; and now the Clearstream dirty tricks scandal. Polls have shown the FN relentlessly on the rise since last November's violence in the immigrant ghettos on the outskirts of France's biggest cities. In October, eight per cent of French people said they would vote for Mr Le Pen's party. By December that had risen to 11 per cent, and by February it was 12 per cent. In March, at the height of the student riots, would-be FN voters increased to 13 per cent and in April they were 14 per cent.

Before 2002, the highest point for the FN, which was created in 1972, was in the mid-1990s, when the party took over six mayoral posts, capitalising on increasing concerns over immigration. Supporters believe that Mr Le Pen's silence over the Clearstream scandal has helped to distinguish him from the tarnished crowd. Most critics of the French government have had a field day over the scandal, which has pitted President Chirac and the prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, against Nicolas Sarkozy, the foreign minister - all members of the same right-of-centre party. But Mr Le Pen has made a point of keeping out of the political mudslinging, telling friends that Clearstream is nothing more than a "sordid masquerade". "There's no reason for me to attack these people with my little hammer when they're smashing each other up with a road drill," he said privately, according to Le Figaro newspaper. Both Mr Sarkozy and Mr Chirac have attempted to win over FN supporters, offering increasingly hardline immigration policies. But Miss Le Pen dismissed Mr Sarkozy's tough new immigration bill, which was passed by the lower house of parliament last week, and his declaration that foreigners in France could either "like it or leave". She said: "Either he has changed and is convinced by our ideas, in which case why insult us, or he is obsessed with getting into power no matter what. "Personally I believe it is the latter." Pollsters who have been studying voting intentions - separate from popularity ratings - suggest it would be unwise to write off the FN leader in next year's vote. In April - before the Clearstream scandal - a survey by the Sofres polling company predicted that Mr Le Pen could finish third in the first round of voting for the presidency. It put him behind Mr Sarkozy and the Socialist contender Ségolène Royal, but ahead of Mr de Villepin.
© The Telegraph

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GERMAN ARRESTS OVER RACE ATTACKS

26/5/2006- German police say six people have been injured in apparent racist attacks amid concerns of rising hate crimes as the football World Cup approaches. At least 13 people have been arrested in connection with the three separate attacks on men of Mozambican, Guinean, Cuban, Turkish and Indian origin. The attacks took place in Berlin and the cities of Weimar and Wismar. They come days after the interior minister dismissed warnings that foreign fans were at risk of attack. A report published by the German government earlier this week said racist violence increased by 23% last year. But the attacks on Thursday and Friday highlighted fears as Germany takes centre stage for the World Cup in June.

In the attacks:
+ Two men from Mozambique and a Cuban were attacked in Weimar - were eight people arrested
+ An Indian trader was beaten up at a market in Wismar - five were arrested
+ A Guinean and a Turkish man were injured in separate attacks on the Berlin underground
Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has already warned that the government will take a tough stance against xenophobia during the football tournament, adding that "no one who attempts to attack foreigners, especially people of colour, will succeed". German police have warned that far-right groups are planning to use the World Cup as a platform to win publicity.
© BBC News

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TWO SUSPECTS FREED AFTER 'RACE-HATE' CLAIMS RULED OUT(Germany)

24/5/2006- Two German white men who had been suspected of nearly killing a man because he was black were freed this week, with sources saying the assault appeared to have been just an alcohol-driven, middle-of-the-night brawl. The victim, engineer and doctoral student Ermyas M., managed to record the attackers using racial insults just before they knocked him unconscious. After the recording was broadcast nationwide, federal prosecutors took charge of solving the "race-hate" crime. The prosecutors in Karlsruhe said magistrates had ruled that the evidence for serious offences was not strong. The suspects, aged 29 and 30, were arrested five weeks ago in Potsdam, on the outskirts of Berlin, and flown to a federal jail in Karlsruhe. The victim, who is an Ethiopian-born German national, is getting better after serious head injuries. Leaks by investigators suggested earlier that the victim had been drunk and aggressive before the 4 a.m. fight at a Potsdam tram stop. Sources said Tuesday investigators believe that he picked a fight with the whites on April 16, and broke his skull when his head fell on the hard pavement. It was not clear if the suspects would still have to face lesser charges. Evidence suggested the assailants used racial epithets and struck Ermyas M harder than they might have done with another white, but this was not enough to justify a sedition or race-hate indictment. On Monday, four youths were convicted of terrorizing and beating a 12-year-old boy in a small German town because he was black. The incidents prompted questions about whether blacks are safe in Germany, which next month hosts the World Cup football tournament.
© Expatica News

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GERMAN COURT: CITIZENSHIP REVOCATION LEGAL IN CASE OF FRAUD

Germany's high court on Wednesday ruled that officials can revoke someone's citizenship if the person lied during the application process. Lawmakers will now have to regulate what happens to family members in such cases.

24/5/2006- The decision comes just days after the high-profile case of Somalian-born Dutch lawmaker Ayann Hirsi Ali, who had her Dutch citizenship revoked because she had lied during her naturalization process. The German ruling is based on the case of a man of Nigerian origin, who had lied about his employment status to become a German citizen in 2000: While he had told authorities that he was working at a company, someone else was actually doing the job in his name. The fraud became apparent when the man was arrested for drug dealing and sentenced to three years in prison. Officials in the city of Pforzheim in southwestern Germany revoked his citizenship as a result. The man consequently sued, saying that Germany's constitution, the Basic Law, prohibited revoking someone's citizenship.

Nazi crimes original reason for protection
But judges at the Federal Constitutional Court saw things differently. While the constitution protected the German citizenship to prevent arbitrary revocation as it happened in Nazi Germany, judges said that a revocation was possible in case of fraud. They added that this was even the case if the person were to become stateless as a result. Government officials had argued that a blanket protection of German citizenship status would have delayed the already drawn-out application process even further as every case would have to be checked more carefully. According to officials, 84 citizenships have been revoked during the last two years while 420,000 citizenships were granted. As a result of the case, high court judges did require German parliamentarians to regulate what will happen to family members of people, who received their German citizenship because of fraud.
© Deutsche Welle

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RACIAL ATTACK ON POLITICIAN ANGERS GERMANS

22/5/2006- A German politician of Turkish origin was attacked in East Berlin over the weekend and German politicians said Sunday that far right extremists were trying to damage the country's reputation 18 days before it was to play host to soccer's World Cup. Giyasettin Sayan, a member of the Berlin regional Parliament, was attacked Saturday in his political constituency of Lichtenberg by two men who called him a "dirty Turk" and said they were going to "get him, " the police said. Claudia Roth, leader of the Greens, an opposition party, said the rightist extremists were trying to "damage the reputation of Germany before the World Cup."  Sayan, who belongs to the Party of Democratic Socialists, the heirs to the former communist party of East Germany, was beaten and his head and face were slashed with a broken bottle in a part of Berlin known as a center of neo- Nazis. Last year, there were 18 recorded attacks on foreigners in Berlin of which two took place at the Lichtenberg suburban railway station, the police said. The attack was quickly condemned by politicians from all parties and the police have offered a €3,000, or $3,800, reward for information about the assailants. Berlin's conservative Christian Democrats, already deep in a political campaign to try and unseat the capital's government, which is led by a coalition of Social Democrats and the Party of Democratic Socialism, said the attack was "cowardly." The attack on Sayan took place just days after a former government spokesman, Uwe-Karsten Heye, warned visitors coming to Germany for the World Cup against visiting certain areas that he called "no-go areas" for non-whites. "There are small and midsized towns in Brandenburg and elsewhere where I would advise anyone with a different skin color not to go," said Heye. Heye added that those entering these areas "may not leave with their lives." Those remarks provoked an outcry from some who said he was exaggerating the problem but support from others who said they welcomed the idea that someone finally explained the reality.

The East German state of Brandenburg has a reputation as a home for rightist extremism, partly because the state had little or no contact with foreigners during the communist period and partly because of chronic high unemployment, which is often above 30 percent in some towns. Even last week, local politicians acknowledged that there was a serious problem with far right extremism in the state whose voters last year elected far- right extremist parties into the regional Parliament. Jörg Schönbohm, the interior minister of Brandenburg and a conservative Christian Democrat, said last week that the authorities had to do more to curb extremism and foster tolerance. An Ethiopian was almost beaten to death last month after being attacked in the regional capital of Potsdam, and the federal prosecutor decided to take over the case rather than leave it to the Brandenburg state prosecutor. Some politicians warned Sunday against stigmatizing the East German states. Uwe Schünemann, the Christian Democrat interior minister of the western state of Lower Saxony, said there were "extreme right wing groups, in other states, not just in the east." Heye's comments also provoked criticism from the interior ministry, which said the one million visitors expected to visit Germany during the World Cup would be safe. Wolfgang Schäuble, the federal interior minister, was scheduled on Monday to present the annual report on the protection of the constitution, which among other things documented the number of neo-Nazi and extreme right- wing groups and tried to assess their influence. After media leaks about the report's findings, the Interior Ministry confirmed Sunday that the number of neo- Nazis had increased by 300 to 4,100 in 2005 compared with 2004. The number of skinhead bands, usually associated with far right extremists, increased from 106 in 2004 to 142 last year. The number of rightist extremists ready to use violence has increased by 400 to 10,400 over the same period, the ministry said.
© International Herald Tribune

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GERMAN MISTRUST OF MUSLIMS AND ISLAM GROWS

Experts fear new conflicts after a study published this week showed most Germans doubt the Western and Islamic worlds can peacefully coexist. Mistrust of the 3 million Muslims living in Germany appears to be growing.

20/5/2006- In spite of official attempts to promote dialog among religions, distrust of Islam continues to grow, with 60 percent of Germans expecting tension between traditional German society and immigrants from Muslim countries, according to an Allensbach study commissioned by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper. "Germans are increasingly of the opinion that a lasting, peaceful coexistence with the Islamic world will not be possible," the researchers said in the survey, released Wednesday. Some 56 percent of Germans said they believed a "clash of cultures" already exists, partly a result of recent incidents that received a large amount of media attention, according to the survey's authors Elisabeth Noelle and Thomas Petersen.

Germans less willing to show tolerance to Muslims
The case of a Berlin "honor killing," a quarrel over two Bonn students who wore burkas to school and discussions concerning increasing schoolyard violence among immigrant children have all made headlines in the German press recently. "In view of the diffuse feeling of being under threat, and the suspected intolerance of Islam, the readiness of Germans to show tolerance to the Muslim faith is sinking," Noelle and Petersen wrote. Germans' esteem for Islam has been falling since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, with 83 percent of the 1,076 Germans questioned in the survey agreeing with the statement that Islam is driven by fanaticism. That amount was 10 percent higher than two years ago. A majority, 71 percent, said they believed Islam to be "intolerant," up from 66 percent. When asked what they associate with the word "Islam," 91 percent of respondents connected the religion to the discrimination of women, and 61 percent called Islam "undemocratic." Eight percent of Germans associated "peacefulness" with Islam.

Willing to limit freedom of religion
About 40 percent of Germans queried were willing to limit the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion if constricting the practice of the Muslim religion would lead to fewer violent Muslims choosing to live in Germany. Over half of those who took part, 56 percent, agreed with the statement, "If some Muslim countries forbid building churches, then it should be forbidden to build mosques here." There was one result amid the responses that improved the mood of those working on intercultural dialog: two-thirds of Germans said they believed Islam does not pose a threat, but that radical, politically motivated individuals are behind extremist acts.
The survey's authors wrote that "there is a pattern of polarization" widening the gap between Germans' feelings of their own situation and "the others," which could be the "beginning of a spiral of conflict." "Since the end of the World War II, the German population has had a particular aversion to conflict," Noelle and Petersen wrote. "But in regards to Islam, the fronts are obviously getting harder."
© Deutsche Welle

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UN ENVOY: RACIST CLIMATE SPARKED ANTWERP MURDERS(Belgium)

23/5/2006- The racist double murder in Antwerp on 11 May is characteristic of a political and ideological climate in Europe that fosters crime, a top UN official has claimed. "Someone thinks that the ideological climate allows him to buy a weapon and take to the street to commit murders," UN Special Rapporteur on racism, xenophobia and intolerance, Doudou Diène, said. Diène was speaking at a seminary on racism and xenophobia in the media held in Vienna by the European Commission on Monday, newspaper 'De Tijd' reported. The Senegalese envoy linked the double murder in Antwerp to the reactions to the murder of teenager Joe Van Holsbeeck a month earlier in Brussels. He said the media and politicians involved one community in the debate, referring to the fact that North African youths were falsely accused of the Brussels Central murder. The suspects eventually turned out to be Polish nationals. Diène said individual crimes are on the rise, but so too is the making of a political statement, raising concern about the trivialisation of racism and xenophobia through their inclusion on political agendas. "The policies of extreme-right parties slowly influence the election policies of the democratic parties. The red line is gradually being breached," Diène said. He added that there is also increasing legislation that "criminalises" immigrants and asylum seekers.
© Expatica News

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CRACKDOWN ON FRAUDULENT CITIZENSHIP REQUESTS(Belgium)

22/5/2006- The federal government is sharpening its naturalisation laws to combat fraudulent citizenship applications, but has also opted to lift the ban on dual nationality. The Belgian government approved accelerated naturalisation procedures in 2000, but the new law came under heavy criticism. Flemish opposition parties the extreme-right Flemish Interest and the Christian Democrat CD&V said there was too much room for abuse. Government parties the Liberal VLD and the Socialist SP.A soon joined the outcry and Justice Minister Laurette Onkelinx was instructed to amend the law. The proposed adjustments were presented to and approved by the Cabinet at its weekly meeting last Friday. The new procedures mean that those who gain the Belgian nationality via a fraudulent application can lose their citizenship. Previously, only terrorists could lose their Belgian passport. The government will also extend the timeframe in which a naturalisation request must be investigated from two to four months. The extension comes on request from the public prosecution service, security service VS-SE and the immigration service DVZ-OE. But the government will also lift the ban on dual nationality. Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said there is a greater stimulus for an immigrant to integrate into Belgian society if they don't have to give up their original nationality when becoming a Belgian citizen. Finally, the naturalisation legislation will also be amended so that illegal residency in Belgium cannot be used as one of the pre-conditions for gaining Belgian nationality. That pre-condition states that immigrants must have lived in Belgium for five years to come into consideration for citizenship. The legislative proposals will now be sent to the Council of State for advice.
© Expatica News

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WE'RE IN THIS TOGETHER(Belgium, editorial)

Marching against racism and violence, 20,000 people have honoured four Antwerp victims, but what impact will their silent protest have? Aaron Gray-Block reports.

26/5/2006- Oulemata Niangadou, 24, Luna Drowart, 2, Songul Koç, 46 and Mohammed Bouazza, 23. All four were victims of senseless and/or racist violence…

Malian nanny Oulemata and Flemish toddler Luna were gunned down and killed in Antwerp on 11 May. Turkish woman Songul was also shot in the same attack, and is still recovering in intensive care. Mohammed drowned in the Schelde River in Antwerp on the night of 30 April, the victim of an attack allegedly committed by a racist. But Antwerp responded on Friday as 15,000 to 20,000 people took to the streets to honour the victims and reject racism and violence in a silent march. Though fewer people took part than expected due to the cold and rain, it was still the biggest march in Antwerp's history and the accompanying police operation was the city's largest ever. The motto for the march was: 'The sadness of A' and 'Stop racism, diversity is reality'. It comes just a little over a month after 80,000 people marched in the Belgian capital of Brussels after the murder of teenager Joe Van Holsbeeck. Together, about 100,000 people have silently shouted the same message: "This must stop."

A new beginning
In Flanders' largest city, the chairman of the Antwerp Consultation Council for Minorities, Georges Kamanayo, said Friday's march "must primarily signify a new start". "Let us hope that the politicians will now finally be shaken awake and that the relationships between the more than 100 nationalities that live here become better from today," he said. Refusing to criticise the extreme-right Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), Kamanayo said racism penetrates deep into society. He stressed further that society must ensure it does not penetrate further, thereby preventing its youth from growing up in such a climate. Antwerp Mayor Patrick Janssens also hopes the city's march will create a better social atmosphere, but warns it will not instantly transform the city into an example of tolerance. "There are societal problems. There is racism, there is intolerance. That does not simply go away and we must keep daring to identify the problems. Sticking our head in the sand has no sense," he says.

Marching together
Antwerp's silent march started shortly before 3pm on Friday and followed the Schelde wharves to the Bolivarplaats in front of the new Antwerp Court. Family of the victims, dressed in white, led the march, followed by schools and youth organisations. The route was made car free for the day and participants were urged to travel to the city by public transport. To ensure that the immigrant community could also participate, it was decided to start the march after the end of Islamic Friday prayers. The Antwerp City Council, most Flemish youth groups, the Muslim community, the Forum of Jewish Communities, the small business association Unizo and unions had each urged the public to join the march. Despite the rain, many participants had answered the organisers' call to wear a piece of white clothing as a symbol of solidarity and unity. But in the days leading up to the march, the family had also requested the Vlaams Belang — which has been accused of creating a racist climate that led to the murders — to refrain from becoming involved. It was a request the party eventually pushed aside — to great controversy — as it urged its members to participate in the march. Defending the decision, Vlaams Belang leader Filip Dewinter stressed: "We have asked all Antwerp residents to come. Not just our supporters". The leader of the Arab European League, Dyab Abou Jahjah, initially said the march was hypocritical, but later urged party members to join the protest in a "calm and dignified" manner.

Unity or discord?
Though media commentators often focus on the unity of a silent march, Catholic University of Leuven criminologist Tom Daems also warns they can create division by alienating the family of victims who receive less attention. He points to Annie Deketele, the mother of the murdered Talitha, who said at the end of April in the aftermath of the murder of Joe Van Holsbeeck that there had been no silent march for her daughter, murdered by a neighbourhood male youth. And when King Albert II placed a wreath in honour of Van Holsbeeck, Deketele's oldest daughter asked why there was no wreath for her sister. Comments from the chairwoman of the group Parents of the Murdered Child, Marina Maes, also give cause for reflection. On 21 May, their March of Hope was held in Brussels, but without the required permission from the city council, nor the reduced train ticket offered by Belgian rail NMBS-SNCB for Van Holsbeeck's silent march and the march held in Antwerp. She said the media attention was also meagre, stressing that the marches for Joe and Luna were therefore even more painful for the members of her association. She described their march as "the day of the forgotten" victims. Daems says these families feel left out in the cold because their suffering attracts less recognition from media, politicians and church leaders. Instead of applauding the marches, they react with bitterness. He suggests the way in which society responds to crime, by making both the crime and victims "exceptional" should be re-examined as part of the overall debate.

Strength in numbers
Dominating the current debate in Belgium though are widespread public concerns for racism and senseless violence. A political scientist with the Catholic University of Leuven, Mark Hooghe, said there is one element common between both the Brussels and Antwerp marches: protest - a protest against violence in society. However, unlike Brussels, he said the problem of racism also formed a central theme of the Antwerp march. It was an expression of "hope" that in Antwerp, of all places, a "peaceful society" can be created. Though not necessarily political in nature, Hooghe said the Antwerp march was a message for government authorities: how do we fight racism and how can the city respond? Questioned why people feel the need to come together after violent crimes, Hooghe said people "feel very alone as a potential victim" and that they need reminding that people can be relied upon. He said a march can "create a feeling that we are very much together, there is something that connects us and that together in this city, we can make something of it".
© Expatica News

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20,000 MARCH IN ANTWERP TO PROTEST AGAINST RACISM(Belgium)

26/5/2006- An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people took part in a silent march against violence and racism in Antwerp on Friday. The march started shortly before 3pm on the Brouwersvliet and ended at about 4.30pm on the Bolivarplaats in front of the new Antwerp Court building. Family members of the victims, dressed completely in white, led the march and addressed the crowd from the Bolivarplaats. The march had trouble starting in the beginning, as hundreds of people who arrived by buses and trams were dropped off in front of the march rather than behind it, leading to delays. Throughout the march, children with different skin colours carried signs saying 'The sadness of A' and 'Stop racism, diversity is reality'. To allow the immigrant community to participate, the march started after the end of traditional Friday prayers. The march was intended as a protest against racism and senseless violence in response to the Antwerp shootings on 11 May. In that attack, Malian nanny N'doye Olemaou and two-year-old Flemish girl Luna were shot and killed, while Turkish woman Songul Koç is still recovering in intensive care. But the march was also intended to honour Moroccan Mohamed Bouazza, 23, who downed in the Schelde River on the night of 30 April allegedly after a racist attack. During her speech on the Bolivarplaats, Bouazza's mother was highly critical of the extreme-right Vlaams Belang party. More specifically, she said leader Filip Dewinter is responsible for what happened and urged people against voting for the party. The march passed off without incident as a couple of hundred native Belgian and immigrant volunteers in orange vests helped maintain public order. Police encountered few problems and carried out a "limited number" of preventative arrests, spokesman Sven Lommaert said. The headquarters of the Vlaams Belang was guarded throughout the march by police officers and a water cannon vehicle, but few problems were also reported there.
© Expatica News

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BELGIANS SEEK ROOTS OF RACIST CRIMES

String of Attacks on Foreigners Feeds Fears About Political Appeal of Intolerance

20/5/2006- When 18-year-old Hans Van Themsche was expelled from his boarding school dormitory for smoking, police officials here say, it pushed him over some existential edge. He shaved his head, bought a Winchester hunting rifle, put on a black leather trench coat and wrote a note saying he was going to kill foreigners. Then he went on a shooting rampage in the narrow cobblestone streets of this ancient port city. First he shot and critically wounded a Turkish woman wearing a head scarf as she sat on a bench reading a book. Then he calmly walked down a street and turned his gun on a black, 24-year-old nanny from Mali and a 2-year-old white toddler in her care, killing them instantly. Police say that a plainclothes officer caught up with Van Themsche a short time later. After the teenager ignored orders to drop his weapon, the officer shot him, wounding him in the stomach. The May 11 rampage was the worst in a string of racially motivated crimes that have rocked Belgium in recent weeks. Mainstream politicians, religious leaders and human rights activists have warned about a dangerous rise of intolerance. Many of them blame that atmosphere on Vlaams Belang, or Flemish Interest, a xenophobic and hugely popular separatist party in Flanders, the northern part of Belgium. Members of Van Themsche's family hold prominent positions in the party. "It was not only a racist murder but a political one, because the guy who did it was from the circles of an extreme right party and was influenced by their ideology," said Meryem Kanmaz, a political scientist at the University of Ghent's Center for Islam in Europe.

A swelling tide of immigrants from Africa and the Middle East is fueling frustration among the majority populations in countries across the continent. "Europe is not ready to accept that our societies are multicultural," Kanmaz said. "Today, the European identity is a European one and a Muslim one, too, and if they don't accept that, it leads to discrimination."  Vlaams Belang is the successor to Vlaams Blok, a Flemish party that was outlawed in Belgium two years ago on the grounds that it was a racist, criminal organization. Frank Vanhecke, the head of Vlaams Belang, condemned the May 11 killings and said opponents were trying to link them to his party to undermine its surging popularity before municipal elections in October. "Nobody has the right to hold us morally responsible for these events," he told a party congress shortly after the shootings. Some politicians and activists are using the murders to try to strip Vlaams Belang of the government funding received by every political party in Belgium. But analysts say that even as other parties express alarm at the group's growing appeal -- it received 24 percent of the vote in Flanders in 2004 elections -- they are moving closer to some of its xenophobic positions. "Since 1994, other political parties, such as the Christian Democrats and the Liberals, have been saying the same sorts of things" against immigration, "so there is a validization of the racist way of seeing things," said Christian Desert, a spokesman for the Brussels-based Movement Against Racism, Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia. "There is a social crisis here, like in other European countries," Desert said, "and if the politicians can't find political solutions, some try to find the solution with foreigners by saying they're the problem."

Philippe Van Der Sande, a Vlaams Belang spokesman, pointed to foreigners as the problem but said that the party had never advocated violence against them. "People are fed up with crime in our cities and radical Islamists who don't accept integration and won't assimilate and accept our Western democratic society, and so those are things we want to change with our policies," he said. "Do we have a multicultural Europe or one that is based on Jewish-Christian values?" Human rights activists say the recent upsurge in violence against foreigners in Belgium may have been set off by the killing last month of a 17-year-old white boy by people who robbed him of an MP3 player in the central train station in Brussels, the capital. The teenager's assailants were initially reported to be African, but two Poles were later arrested and charged with his murder. On May 6, two men -- one a French citizen of African descent -- were savagely beaten after walking past a bar frequented by skinheads in Bruges, about 50 miles west of Antwerp. On May 10, the body of a Moroccan man who had been in a fight with skinheads at an Antwerp disco was found in a nearby river. Van Der Sande said that Van Themsche was not a member of Vlaams Belang but that his aunt represented the party in the Flanders legislature. The suspect's father is also a local party leader, officials said. "He apparently wanted to commit suicide, and he played a lot with violent computer games, and he went to a shop and bought a gun and started shooting around with it," Van Der Sande said. "Such a murder has no racist motives. He was probably mentally disturbed."

Sven Lommaert, a police spokesman, and Dominique Reyniers, a spokeswoman for the Antwerp prosecutor's office, gave nearly identical descriptions of the crime, as did Van Themsche's two attorneys. On the Monday before the killings, Van Themsche was caught smoking in his dormitory room at a boarding school in Roeselare, about 60 miles southwest of Antwerp. That led to his automatic expulsion from the dorm, according to Bart Herman, one of his attorneys. Shortly before he left Thursday morning, he shaved the top of his head, leaving long strands of hair hanging from the back, and wrote a letter to his parents saying that he was going to kill some foreigners and commit suicide. "I don't want you to be hurt by my expulsion," the letter said. Van Themsche traveled to Antwerp, legally bought the rifle and then, at about noon, shot a 43-year-old Turkish woman as she sat on a park bench about 200 yards from the city's famed Gothic Cathedral of Our Lady. "I heard a loud noise and I jumped from my chair -- I thought it was fireworks," said Stephanie Van Demberk, 22, an intern at a nearby architectural firm. "I went to open the door, and the shooter passed by me right outside. He was very tall, and he was wearing a long leather jacket down to his ankles and carrying a big gun," she said. "It was a very warm day, very sunny and nice. He walked by like he was going grocery shopping. A woman started screaming and he stayed the same, walking like nothing was happening. " Van Themsche walked another 200 yards down the cobblestone streets and shot the nanny and the toddler, who was on a small bicycle, witnesses said. The plainclothes police officer confronted him shortly after that. During his interrogation, Van Themsche "confirmed that he sympathized with the extreme right side of our political landscape" and "declared himself to be a skinhead," said Reyniers, the prosecution spokeswoman. He did not explain why he killed the small girl, she said, "but in the opinion of the investigating judge, the girl was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Reyniers said law enforcement officials were investigating whether Van Themsche was acting out a scene from the video game Grand Theft Auto. He has been charged with two murders and attempted murder and is being held at a prison hospital. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison. Belgium has no death penalty. Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt called the killings "a terrible and cowardly act" of "extreme racism." His spokesman, Didier Seeuws, said that gun control legislation introduced in February had been expedited and, if approved as expected, would require new background checks, a mandatory "cooling off period" and other safeguards.
© The Washington Post

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COMMISSIONERS DIVIDED OVER EU LIST OF 'SAFE' COUNTRIES

24/5/2006- Brussels has failed to agree on a list of safe countries from which asylum claims can be dismissed and to which immigrants can be sent back automatically under a fast-track procedure. The European Commission "decided to take a bit more time to complete the list and come back and take a decision in a couple of weeks," its spokeswoman told journalists on Wednesday (24 May). The draft proposal by EU justice commissioner Franco Frattini debated by the college included seven states, according to commission sources: Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde, Ghana, Senegal, Mali and Mauritius. Refugees from Senegal and Cape Verde have been among illegal migrants landing in their thousands at the Canary Islands over the past months and creating pressure on the Spanish government to tackle the looming problem, with Madrid referring to it as a European issue. But during the debate on Wednesday, some commissioners objected to the fact that only African countries featured on the list. EU development commissioner Luis Michel has been a leading opponent to the idea of including countries from only one region on the list - although he was not present in college today. Other commissioners - mainly Margot Wallstrom, in charge of communication and Neelie Kroes, responsible for competition, opposed that Mali and Botswana be regarded as "safe" by the EU. Mali is criticised by international human rights organisations due to its practise of female genital mutilation, while in Botswana homosexuality is illegal and the country also practises the death penalty.

Avoid "shopping" for asylum
Mr Frattini said after the meeting that he would come back to his commission colleagues in two weeks with "a substantial proposal" which he will also outline to the EU justice ministers next week and consult with the European Parliament later. The list of safe countries is required under a new law approved by the EU last December which should lead to a common approach to Europe's asylum and immigration policies and so avoid cases of asylum seekers "shopping" for countries with more relaxed rules. But the bloc's member states and institutions have so far been unable to find consensus on which state's nationals arriving to Europe as immigrants should be regarded as safe enough for the bloc to send them back home. The European Parliament for instance opposed Algeria, Libya and Morocco from appearing on the list, due to serious human rights concerns. Should the final list be approved by EU governments, however, the EU-wide agreement will replace individual member states' bilateral agreements with those countries.

New waves of African immigrants
Following tragic events last autumn, when hundreds of Sub-Saharans stormed the fences surrounding the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta in Morocco, Madrid has pressured the Northern African countries to tighten border controls towards the Sub-Saharan countries of origin, and sign rendition agreements with Spain. From Brussels, calls for more burden sharing between EU countries in the area of immigration have been raised. Earlier this week, justice commissioner Frattini met with Libyan leader Ghaddafi to discuss the areas of security and immigration, and on Tuesday the commission said it would deploy EU surveillance planes, boats and rapid reaction aid teams to deal with a new flood of illegal migrants from Africa to Spain's Canary Islands. Some 7,000 Sub-Saharan immigrants arrived on the Spanish Canary Islands outside the coast of West Africa in the first five months of 2006, and local authorities estimate that some half a million Sub-Saharans are "in transit" in the country at the moment. Meanwhile, the EU has seen a gradual drop in asylum requests over the past years, with around 112,154 persons having applied in the first half of 2005, 17 percent less than for the first half of 2004, according to the UNHCR.
© EUobserver

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EU DELAYS 'ASYLUM-SHOPPER' CURBS

24/5/2006- The EU's most senior officials have failed to agree on a list of countries from where asylum applications will be presumed to be unfounded. The proposal was brought before all 25 European commissioners by Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini. The EU wants to cut down on "asylum shopping", where refugees apply for asylum in countries thought to be more amenable than others. However, the commissioners could not agree which states to put on the list. But Mr Frattini said he would circulate a new list in two weeks' time, which - if the Commission approved it - could be presented to a summit of EU leaders in mid-June. Supporters see the policy as a key step towards a common EU immigration asylum policy, which is supposed to take shape by 2010. Once the list is approved, EU states will be predisposed to regard asylum requests from the countries concerned as unjustified. However, Mr Frattini said this would not mean that officials would not be obliged to carry out a "case-by-case individual evaluation". A first draft of the list is reported to have included eight African countries: Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde, Ghana, Mali, Mauritius, Senegal and Tanzania. However, Mr Frattini said on Wednesday that Mali would now be dropped because of its practise of female genital mutilation. He also said that the list would most likely be expanded to include countries in other parts of the world. They would qualify for the list if they were deemed to be free of persecution, torture or inhumane treatment, Mr Frattini said. A UK diplomat said the government broadly supported the EU proposal but would not be bound by it. Britain would retain its opt-out from this area of EU policy.
© BBC News

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WAR ON TERROR ‘UNDERMINING HUMAN RIGHTS’

23/5/2006- Governments and international institutions have turned a blind eye to massive human rights violations and “sacrificed principles in the name of the war on terror,” Amnesty International said on Tuesday. In its annual report, the London-based human rights watchdog said the security agenda of the powerful and privileged had diverted the world’s attention from serious human rights crises elsewhere. Criticising western governments, Irene Khan, Amnesty’s secretary general, said: “When the UK remains muted on arbitrary detention and ill-treatment in Guantánamo, when the US ignores prohibition on torture, when European governments are mute about their record on renditions, racism or refugees, they undermine their own moral authority to champion human rights elsewhere in the world.“ While the report covers the past twelve months, the British government has recently called on the US to close the Guantánamo Bay detention centre, which prime minister Tony Blair branded an “anomaly”.

The United Nations also came in for censure. According to the report the UN had failed to monitor the human rights performance of China and Russia “allowing their political and economic interests to prevail over human rights concerns domestically or internationally.“ “Those who bear the greatest responsibility for safeguarding global security in the Security Council proved in 2005 to be the most willing to paralyse the Council and prevent it from taking effective action on human rights,“ Ms Khan said. Amnesty said attacks by armed groups reached new levels of brutality and intensity in 2005 but insisted the perpetrators should be brought to justice through fair trial, not torture or secret detention. The “war on terror” was failing, the report claimed, and would continue to fail “unless human rights and human security are given prededence over narrow security interests.”

The 288-page document said torture and ill-treatment was reported in 104 of the 150 countries covered by the survey, despite the fact that 141 countries were party to the UN convention against torture and other ill-treatment. Highlighting the continuing conflict in Darfur, which she described as “staggering in scale”, Ms Khan said the UN and the African Union’s “feeble action” had fallen “pathetically short” of what was needed. There had been 13 Security Council resolutions on Darfur but the number of UN peacekeepers deployed there was zero. 2.2m people had been displaced by the conflict and an estimated 285,000 killed by starvation, disease and violence. The report also scrutinised America’s continued use of Guantánamo Bay to hold detainees without trial. Amnesty said 759 people had been held at the camp in Cuba since January 2002, including at least two juveniles, yet none of the prisoners had been convicted of a criminal offence. In an otherwise damning overview of international human rights, Amnesty saw some signs of progress. It hailed the first-ever indictments from the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Uganda. It also welcomed the fact that in the past year powerful governments had been “called to account by their courts and public institutions.”

It cited the UK, where the High Court rejected the government’s plan to use evidence extracted under torture in other countries and investigations by the Council of Europe and the European parliament into European involvement in the US-led “renditions” - unlawful transfer of prisoners to countries where they would be at risk of torture. Other grounds for optimism were the falling number of overall global conflicts in places like Angola, Liberia and Sierra Leone; the crowds that turned out to urge the G8 to “Make poverty history” and the “outpouring of support” from ordinary people to the victims of natural disasters.

Country by country details
© The Financial Times

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Headlines 19 May, 2006

PRE-SCHOOL INTEGRATION PLAN UNVEILED (Denmark)

The newest integration plan intends to mix bilingual children in nurseries and daycares to counteract ethnic divisions

19/5/2006- The Danish government's latest integration plans are targeting the youngest of the young. Some 85 nurseries and daycares in the Copenhagen area will be receiving a letter on Friday containing plans for mixing 'white' and 'black' children in the municipality's childcare institutions. The plan involved creating reserved 'language spots' for bilingual children in 64 institutions where 'ethnic' Danes are overrepresented, daily newspaper Politiken reported. 'It's not about an enforced quota, but a voluntary offer that will be able to ensure a better mixing of children. That will benefit all children, also ethnic Danes,' said Bo Asmus Kjeldsgaard, deputy major for youth affairs. The 'Diversity in Copenhagen's Daycares' is a part of the Socialist People's Party integration strategy, and has a budget of DKK 6.6m. The 21 daycares that currently have an unusually high number of children with an ethnic background other than Danish are also receiving word that they must try to attract more Danish children to balance the scales. Those institutions will be receiving extra aid to develop a better attraction plan, which could include offering more outdoor and ecology based activities. Saud Ali is the mother of three children attending the age-integrated Krible Krable daycare on Nørrebro. The majority of children enrolled at the institution have bilingual parents. It is on the list of institutions where the ratio of Danish to ethnic Danish children is relatively low. Ali thinks the new plan is a good one. 'It is a good idea because children learn more Danish [in a mixed institution] and they also learn about each other's cultures from the time they are little. Danish children, immigrant children - they are children regardless, and they need to be integrated,' said Ali.

But not everyone is as enthusiastic about the plan. Henriette Brockdorff, head of the union of social educators and club members, is worried that while the plan has good intentions, it could create unwanted vacancies. 'Earmarked spots allow for less flexibility, so there runs a risk of empty places which could leave institutions with an economic problem.'  'If this place should have an effect on integration, then it requires a more holistic approach, in relationships and networking, instead of just focussing on the individual children,' said Pauline Ansel Henry, of Copenhagen's Parent Network. She says the plan needs to be developed more, and also across community borders. 'It would be best if children can attend daycare with children they can become good playmates with, both at home and at the institutions.' Kjeldgaard maintained that the plan is a necessary step in integration and added that a few years ago immigrant families weren't using the day care facilities at all. 'We encouraged them to use the daycares and it worked. Now we need to counteract the ethnic polarization that happened as a result,' he said.
© The Copenhagen Post

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BOAT WITH ILLEGAL AFRICAN MIGRANTS SENT BACK OUT TO SEA (Portugal)

19/5/2006- A small boat carrying nearly 60 illegal migrants who were attempting to reach Europe was allowed to dock at Cape Verde’s main port, after the authorities had earlier said they would “escort” the vessel to international waters. None of the passengers and crew, mainly from Senegal, Mauritania and Guinea-Bissau, were allowed off the boat, which was guarded by about 20 police and troops with automatic rifles, port officials said. Authorities said they had per mitted the boat to dock and given its passengers food and water, as it had become impractical to keep the vessel anchored outside the Port of Praia under surveillance by a Navy launch. The fate of the Ghanaian-registered boat and its 58 passengers and five crew remained unclear, although the Praia government had told the Lusa News Agency earlier that it was going to escort the vessel out of the islands’ territorial waters and leave it to its fate. Such action was in keeping with Praia’s policy towards illegal immigration, said Internal Administration Minister Julio Correia. Some of the migrants told Lusa that they had set off from a port in Mauritania and were heading for “somewhere” in Europe. But the skipper of the boat gave a different story, saying his vessel had been hijacked by its passengers in the Port of Dakar, Senegal, and forced to travel to Cape Verde to pick up more migrants and then sail north to the Spanish Canary Islands.
© The Portugal News

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POLICE MOVE ON PROTESTERS' REFUGE (Ireland)

19/5/2006- Up to 15 police officers in Dublin have entered a cathedral where 41 Afghan asylum seekers are on the sixth day of a hunger strike. The men have vowed to starve to death unless they can stay in the Irish Republic, claiming they fear being tortured in their homeland. About 40 gardai blocked access to St Patrick's Cathedral from 0700 BST and officers entered the building later. One young person was taken from the cathedral to hospital in an ambulance. Rosanna Flynn, of campaign group Residents Against Racism, claimed some of the children inside the cathedral had attempted suicide during the night. The Irish government is refusing to negotiate on the men's asylum claims. The Afghans have said they will scrap their protest if an international body reviews their applications. Supporters of the men have hung a banner on railings outside the cathedral, stating: "No-one is illegal." The men began their protest on Sunday afternoon. A number of the men were hospitalised earlier this week with one reported to be critically ill, suffering from severe dehydration. The men, who were initially also on a thirst strike, agreed to drink some water after a meeting with government officials was granted. Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell urged the men to stop the protest but said he would not negotiate with them. He said the men had not yet exhausted the asylum appeals process. The Afghans say they are from a mixture of ethnic and political backgrounds and have denied that any of them were Taleban members. Irish church leaders have urged the men to give up their hunger strike.
© BBC News

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THE MISSING(Kosovo, commentary)

Kosovo's non-Serbian minorities have not been invited to the talks on the territory's political future, although they will be deeply affected by the outcome.
By Karin Waringo, freelance journalist and researcher specializing in southeast Europe and Romani affairs.


On 4 May, the Serbian delegation to the Kosovo status negotiations submitted a proposal for the creation of 16 majority-Serbian municipalities in Kosovo, made up not only of Serbs but also of Roma, Turks, and other non-Albanian communities. Belgrade’s proposal, which some will call self-interested, highlights a fundamental issue that has remained unaddressed during the status debate: the representation of non-Serbian minorities. Talks between teams from Serbia and Montenegro and from Kosovo opened in Vienna in February. The international community has long insisted that the outcome of the negotiations would largely depend on safeguards for human and minority rights. In November, the head of the UN's civilian administration in Kosovo, Soren Jessen-Petersen, said, "To a very large extent, [the status settlement] is about the minorities.” Still another segment of international opinion on Kosovo, the Contact Group of four Western European countries, Russia, and the United States, has repeatedly called on the non-Albanian communities from Kosovo to participate in the status negotiation process. These calls have not had much effect, because the international community has not devised mechanisms to allow meaningful participation in the process by the non-Albanian communities. When the Kosovo government set up a Consultative Committee on Minorities in November, Jessen-Petersen hailed the move as a step forward. But this initiative has a few fundamental flaws.

First, as its title suggests, the committee's role is purely consultative. It reports to Pristina's negotiating team at the status talks, but it is tasked only with providing advice on so-called minority issues – as though members of minorities should have no say on other issues as well. Finally, the body is chaired by an ethnic Albanian, the well-known publisher and commentator, and member of the Kosovo parliament, Veton Surroi. All of this ensures the committee's unsuitability to champion minority interests in cases where they might conflict with the interests of the majority. Does it matter? After all, talk of Kosovo’s minorities has become rather theoretical. According to estimates based partly on official statistics and partly on calculations by international organizations, Kosovo today has a population of 2.5 million, of whom 140,000 are Kosovo Serbs. If Serbs make up 70 percent of the non-Albanian population, as estimates suggest, then non-Serbian minorities in Kosovo now account for about 60,000 people, far fewer than before the war and ethnic persecution beginning in the late 1990s. Of the estimated 150,000 to 200,000 Roma who lived in Kosovo before the war, for instance, there are hardly a few tens of thousands left in the territory.

Lost influence
The example of the Roma makes a fitting, and tragic, case study of the inadequacy of minority representation at the current talks. Indeed, the Kosovo Romani community has not just lost in numbers – a blow that is already devastating, as numbers almost immediately translate into political weight and influence – but also in its capacity to stand up for its interests. It takes a real effort to recall that the Kosovo Roma were once one of the wealthiest and best integrated Romani communities in Eastern Europe. Kosovo Roma had their own cultural institutions, their theaters, newspapers, and radio stations. The community brought forth many university graduates who became leading intellectuals and politicians in Yugoslavia. The current Romani community in Kosovo is a shrunken remnant. The disruption of the war and subsequent allegations of collaboration with the Serbian nationalist cause have fostered divisions into three smaller communities, two of which, the Ashkali and Kosovo Egyptians, claim to have little in common with the Roma. By itself none of these groups carries enough weight to make it a political player, and despite the international community lumping the three together under the label RAE, for Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians, there is hardly any cooperation among them. Living conditions are appalling. Employment opportunities hardly exist. Media reports on the situation in the camps for internally displaced people near the city of Mitrovica, where several hundred people have lived for years with dangerously high levels of lead contamination, helped make more people aware of the dire conditions there. Many Roma, not only those in the camps, continue to live as refugees in their own country. Most essentially, however, in the context of the current negotiations, Kosovo Roma lack political leadership. Four seats in the Kosovo parliament are reserved for the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities, and just one is now held by a representative of a Romani party, Haxhi Zylfi Merxha.

A place at the table
Although they have yet to make any significant breakthroughs, the status talks in Vienna are meant to lay the groundwork for the future of Kosovo. Reporting to Secretary General Kofi Annan last year on the "standards implementation process" that paved the way for the opening of the negotiations, UN Special Envoy Kai Eide urged the inclusion of minorities in the status talks. “In addition to Belgrade and Pristina, the Kosovo Serbs will have to be addressed as a party to this process,” Eide said, adding, “Mechanisms must also be found to involve the smaller communities.” In November, a team of independent experts commissioned by the Council of Europe visited Kosovo in order to verify compliance with the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in the UN-administered province. Like Kai Eide, the Council of Europe team considered it vital to include the non-Albanian communities in the status negotiation process. “[R]epresentatives of all minority communities must be given a meaningful role going beyond mere consultation … in order to ensure that the outcome takes into account also their concerns,” the team wrote in its report, where it repeatedly insisted that its remarks concerned non-Serbian minorities as well. International support also came from Turkey: In a debate at the UN Security Council in February, the Turkish delegate, Baki Ilkin, said that additional minority representatives should be assigned to the status talks, in addition to the representative of the Kosovo Serbs. Alternatively, the Turkish ambassador proposed to "institutionalize" the relationship between the Consultative Committee and Kosovo's negotiating team to enable all minorities to contribute to the negotiations at each stage of the talks. But despite its words calling for minority rights and the need to preserve a “multiethnic Kosovo,” the international community has not taken any concrete steps to enable the political participation of Kosovo’s non-Albanian communities in the status talks.

Reacting to the opinion of the Council of Europe’s experts, UNMIK referred to the establishment of the Consultative Committee for Minorities, while highlighting in its statement that the role of this body was merely to provide advice on minority issues. In January, former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, who was named UN Special Envoy for the status negotiations in November, said he and his team had already met with the representatives of the minority communities and that he now looked forward to meeting with representatives of civil society organizations and women’s groups. The equation of ethnic minorities with civil society organizations is found in many UN documents on Kosovo. In March, Jessen-Petersen issued a call to the Kosovo authorities to bring more women into political life, insisting that women’s views had to be taken into account in Vienna. So far there has not been a similar statement referring to Kosovo’s smaller communities, in particular, the non-Serbian minorities. The international community’s insistence on minority rights and minority protection does not fit the reality on the ground. Over recent months, Kosovo’s non-Serbian minorities have repeatedly made clear that they have specific concerns they would like to see addressed during the status talks. Roma, Ashkali, Bosniaks, and Gorani have repeatedly asked for direct participation in the talks in Vienna, to no avail. If the international actors cannot find mechanisms to ensure the participation of Kosovo’s smaller communities in a process of such significance for Kosovo, it is hard to see how the same players will make sure that minority rights are respected in the Kosovo of the future.
© Transitions Online

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NEO-NAZIS BREAK INTO ROMA HOMES, THREATEN TO KILL(Czech Rep.)

17/5/2006- Three young neo-Nazis broke into a bloc of flats in Neratovice last week banging on the doors of the flats of Romany tenants and threatening to kill them, the daily Deniky Bohemia writes in its central Bohemian edition today. Police detained the men who are members of the National Resistance movement on the spot. They face up to three years in prison if found guilty. "They broke the windows of our flat with a cobble stone. There were 11 of us there. Three of us hid ourselves under the table and the rest have been pressed near the door. Our children were in shock," one of the Romanies who became the target of the most violent attack by the neo-Nazis told the paper. The assailants aged 16 to 20 broke the entrance door to the flats without any conveniences where Romany live and they also broke the doors of two vacant flats. They shouted threats and chanted racist slogans. According to Romanies, police they alerted arrived within ten minutes. Police have been on alert since then and have strengthened patrols in the vicinity. Local Romanies believe that the attackers came from a nearby restaurant where neo-Nazis gather, but a local waiter denied this. According to the police, such an incident with a racial motive is exceptional in the area and nothing like this was registered there last year. However, the local court in Melnik has been dealing with a three-year-old case of an attack on Romanies in which underage perpetrators feature.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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BULGARIAN GAY GROUPS CALL FOR HOMOPHOBIA OUT

17/5/2006- Bulgarians supporters of the International Day against Homophobia (IDAHO) have joined a world-wide minute's silence to mark the second International Day against Homophobia on May 17. Gay activists are hoping Bulgaria will join silence events taking place in France, Peru, Uganda, Ivory Coast, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong and Brazil. According to the organizers of the initiative, a minute's silence is a way of concentrating and reflecting on the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexual and transsexual all around the globe. According to Gemini, one of the most active gay groups in Bulgaria, this special day is meant to fight this specific form of discrimination - homophobia. They reminded on a bold step of Brazil drafting a UN resolution aimed to recognise the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexual and transsexual, which is now tabled for approval by the UN Human Rights Commission. Bulgarian gay groups have unified their calls to the government to make amendments to the Penal Code in the sense of defining crimes motivated by homophobia. Meanwhile, the European Parliament's Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights vowed its support for the event, and Labour MEP, Michael Cashman, president of the group, called it "a bold step." On 17 May 1990 the World Health Organisation (WHO) removed homosexuality from the list of mental diseases putting an end of century-long fight with homophobia.
© Sofia Echo

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LET SOMEONE ELSE DO IT(Bulgaria)

In the absence of a law or money, Bulgaria has ceded the responsibility of school desegregation to private groups.
By Hristo Hristov, Sofia-based reporter with the biweekly newspaper Drom Dromendar.

18/5/2006- In a country like Bulgaria, where segregation of the Romani minority became a state policy during communism, private groups have been struggling for five years to lay the foundation for a permanent desegregation of the country’s school system. But many groups think it’s high time the state took over and made desegregation a national policy. Eight organizations run projects in Bulgaria aiming to remove Romani children from segregated schools and integrate them into mainstream schools. Their work is coordinated by the Sofia-based foundation Equal Access, established in 2002 to turn these desegregation projects into a long-term state strategy. The foundation lobbies local and state governments, the Education Ministry, and parliament to adopt action plans for desegregation. Equal Access gathers information on desegregation of children and on the conditions of study in segregated schools in Bulgaria. The first school desegregation efforts started in 2000 in Vidin with a successful pilot project carried out by the Drom organization. The next year, Drom’s success prompted similar projects elsewhere involving 1,263 pupils. In Sofia, desegregation started in 2003 and in Plovdiv, the country’s second-largest city, in 2005. So far, about 2,500 children have taken part in the project in seven big cities, said Kalinka Vasileva, executive director of Equal Access.

An old problem
When the communists took power in 1944, they started to establish state schools across the country, but that process did not begin in Romani neighborhoods until the 1950s, when a rule was promulgated requiring children to attend school in the districts where they lived. In the 1960s, vocational training programs were set up in Romani districts. These were non-academic schools – often referred to as “Gypsy schools” – as Romani children were considered less intelligent than non-Romani children. Teachers with the least training or worst reputations were sent to work there, according to a 2005 report on desegregation efforts authored by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee. From the 1960s until the 1990s, more than 300 schools with predominantly Romani students were established. Of these, 140 had only Romani pupils, the report states. In the 1990s some advocacy groups started lobbying the Education Ministry to abandon the local-school rule, which it did only in 2003. But nearly 70 percent of Romani children continue to study in segregated schools, according to Vasileva. The curricula of these schools focus on gaining elementary literacy and some workplace skills.

A good plan
It was not until 1999 that the government began to officially consider desegregation – in the Framework Program for Equal Integration of Roma into Bulgarian Society. The program foresees measures aimed at ensuring free access of Romani children to mainstream schools and the abolition of segregated classes in these schools. It includes six measures to combat discrimination: desegregation of Romani schools, stopping the practice of registering healthy Romani children in schools for mentally disabled students, fighting racism in classes, teaching the Romani language in schools, preparing Romani children for higher education, and offering elementary literacy and employment qualification courses to Romani adults. However, until 2001, when a right-wing government left power, the program was simply words on paper. The government took no steps to implement it, nor did it have any intention of doing so, according to the Helsinki Committee report. In 2002, the new government issued an instruction for integration of minority pupils – but municipalities were not required to comply, the report states. Some schools and kindergartens still refuse to enroll Romani pupils, saying that they are full and that children should enroll in their local schools. But the real reason is that school principals are afraid that enrolling Roma will prompt the “white” children from stable families to leave the school, according to some school principals interviewed by TOL. The Helsinki Committee report says that attitude is widespread, except for in towns where the NGO-sponsored desegregation programs are taking place.

A NGO job?
The process of desegregation includes organization of preparatory classes for Romani pupils, improvement of poorly performing schools, and the hiring of assistant teachers, usually Romani representatives of groups conducting desegregation projects in various towns. These assistants help Romani children with their study in the host school. Sometimes they join classes and translate for Romani children from Bulgarian into Romani. They also help Romani children with their homework and act as mediators among teachers, children, and parents. The Drom organization’s Vidin team includes 14 full-time employees, including assistant teachers, parents’ coordinators, drivers, teachers, teachers’ coordinators, and school principals. In all of the desegregation projects, private groups provide buses to take Romani children from their homes to mainstream schools. They also provide food, textbooks, and often clothes and shoes for the children. For pupils having trouble with their studies, additional one-on-one classes are offered. Private groups are also helping teachers learn how to work in a multiethnic classroom. In Vidin, parents have established a committee to provide aid to Romani families, including giving them clothes, helping them to get medicine from the health insurance fund free of charge, and offering free legal consultations. The desegregation team in Pleven is supported by evangelical and the Seventh-day Adventist churches, which have given financial support to parents of children in the project. They also give children school materials and food, and they monitor the pupils' educational progress.

Words, words, words
But in the absence of a law that local governments must obey, desegregation efforts remain scattershot. “Desegregation is not a state policy yet and it will be very difficult to become such. The state doesn’t want to take upon itself desegregation, and that’s why government lets the NGOs [manage] desegregation. It is still only Romani organizations that are active in desegregation,” Vasileva said. No money for desegregation has been earmarked in the national and local budgets. Although the Education Ministry adopted a strategy for desegregation based on the integration framework in 2002, state institutions, such as the ministry, and local governments still play little role in the desegregation of Romani schools. It took the ministry three years after adoption of the framework plan to issue a document on integrating minority children into the educational system. Last year, after prodding from the state Council of Cooperation on Ethnic and Demographic Issues, the ministry again issued instructions to municipalities for desegregating their schools – but still did not require them to do so. “In order to carry out desegregation and to achieve real results, NGOs [working on desegregation] want the government to pass a law on educational integration of Romani children and allocate funds for it rather than look for money from foreign donors,” said Stela Kostova, chairwoman of the Roma Youth Organization in Sliven, the group heading the desegregation project there. Instead, in 2005 the Education Ministry set up a center for educational integration of minority children to function as an intermediary between donor organizations and local NGOs working on integration projects rather than a state institution allocating state money. “The center only throws dust in our eyes. However, it’s better this way than doing nothing. But we NGO people keep pushing for desegregation to become a government priority,” Kostova said.

However, two main factors could force the state to get serious about desegregation: pressure from the European Union, which has made recommendations to Bulgaria on desegregation in its annual country reports; and the demographic crisis stemming from the lower birthrate and the annual decrease of pupils attending schools in Bulgaria. These phenomena have prompted a reform of the entire educational system, including shutdowns or mergers of some schools. With schools merging, children from different cultural backgrounds might find themselves sitting side by side more frequently, regardless of the state’s inaction.
Translated by Petrana Puncheva.
© Transitions Online

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BRUSSELS SHIES AWAY FROM TURKEY-ARMENIA GENOCIDE DISPUTE(European Union)

19/5/2006- The French parliament on Thursday suspended a vote on a law that would criminalise denial of the alleged Turkish genocide of Armenians in the early 1900s, with Brussels shying away from seeing the event as a political criterium for Turkish EU entry. In 2001, French lawmakers passed a bill which accuses the Ottoman Turks of committing genocide against the Armenians between 1915 and 1923, with Armenians asserting the campaign cost 1.5 million lives. As a consequence, French MPs were on Thursday (18 May) set to vote on a law similar to already existing legislation against holocaust-denial, which could see an individual facing a sentence of up to five years in prison and a €45,000 fine. The president of the French parliament, Jean-Louis Debré, however interrupted the session in the middle of a heated debate, saying there was "no time" to deal with the initiative put forward by the socialist opposition party. The announcement caused uproar in the visitor's grandstand, where dozens of members of the French 400,000-strong Armenian minority clapped their hands for over five minutes, while shouting "The vote, the vote!" For its part, Ankara denies the genocide charges, recognising only 500,000 Armenian deaths during the Ottoman war, and rejects the genocide tag saying both sides suffered severe losses in the war. Addressing the plenary in Paris, French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy following his party's line, stressed the "serious political consequences" an adoption of the law would mean. "The Armenian cause is righteous and it should be defended and respected. But the national representation must keep France's interests in mind, and the methods it uses to defend its principles," Mr Douste-Blazy told deputies. Ankara has announced that Turks could boycott French products and French firms could lose lucrative contracts if the legislation is passed, just as the country did in 2001 when the alleged genocide was officially recognised by French law.

Political criteria in EU talks?
The topic has come up several times in the discussion on a future possible EU membership of Turkey, which started accession negotiations last autumn. A number of European parliament reports urging Turkey to admit to the genocide have been adopted by MEPs since as far back as 1987. In September last year MEPs backed a resolution on the matter to be forwarded to the European Commission, which monitors Turkey's readiness for EU accession, urging the latter to include the genocide in Ankara's EU membership negotiations with Brussels. "The proposal that the recognition of the alleged Armenian genocide as a political criteria has arisen from time to time throughout the accession process with Turkey," a commission official told EUobserver. Brussels has however so far taken a hesitant approach to include conditions on historical events as political criteria for EU accession, because of the European continent's motley war and border history. The official said that during the bloc's last enlargement round, several eastern European member states had- and in some cases still have- ongoing disputes about "who did what to whom during the war", and that therefore it was important to Brussels to stay out of such disputes. As for Armenia, the official said "We do not take a stance on the Armenian case, we leave it to historians to study what happened." The official said a number of EU countries were sceptical to a commission defining historical events, explaining that to add such a criteria to the current demands would need unanimity among member states. He pointed out however that the commission has underlined the importance of "good neighbourly relations". The so-called "accession partnership" text, adopted by EU member states in January this year, suggests that candidate states "address any sources of frictions at their borders". "That is the closest we get to addressing the matter," the commission official said. Some MEPs have followed along the same line of argument, pointing out that it would be insensitive and unfair to demand political criteria for Turkey other than those used for the last round of enlargement. "The recognition of the Armenian genocide should not be political criteria for EU accession of Turkey," leftist German MEP Feleknas Uca told Euobserver, adding that compliance with the so-called Copenhagen Criteria should continue to be the sole measure of EU-accession for Turkey.
© EUobserver

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TURKISH SECULARISTS RALLY OVER ATTACK

18/5/2006- An attack on Turkey's top administrative court has brought to the surface simmering tensions between secularists and Turkey's governing Justice and Development Party, which has Islamist roots. Turkish media have described the gunman as an Islamist and the incident is being linked to a court ruling earlier this year barring a teacher from promotion because she wore a headscarf.
Wednesday's attack, in which one judge was killed and four others injured, has become a rallying point for Turkish secularists - one columnist referred to it as "Turkey's September 11th". The country's President, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, himself a former judge, described it as "an attack on the secular republic". Many thousands of people came onto the streets of Ankara to mourn the murdered judge and defend the country's secular constitution. Government ministers attending the funeral were met with chants of "murderers out" and calls for their resignations. The country's powerful military, which regards itself as the guardian of Turkey's secular state, turned out in force. The shooting has brought to the surface simmering tensions between the overwhelmingly Muslim, but staunchly secular, Turkish establishment and the governing Justice and Development Party. Secularism is the cornerstone of the modern Turkish state, which was founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. However, political Islam has been on the rise in Turkey over the past decade. Members of the secular establishment have long been suspicious of the Justice and Development Party's leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who once served a jail term for reciting an anti-secular poem.

Headscarf row
Despite his insistence that his party has changed, they allege it has not entirely shaken off its Islamist roots and accuse it of quietly trying to put religion at the heart of Turkey's government and society. Opposition politicians also accuse the government of encouraging this week's attack on the court by criticising that court's earlier ruling on the headscarf ban. The ban has become the symbol of deep divisions over the role of religion in Turkey. Women are not allowed to wear headscarves in government buildings, schools, universities or at public ceremonies. That has led to rows in the past, for instance when the staunchly secular president refused to invite any headscarf-wearing wives of top officials, including Mr Erdogan's, to an official reception. Many secular Turks regard the headscarf as a threat - a symbol of radical Islam. Mr Erdogan has made it clear that he would like to see the ban overturned, something which would be welcomed by his party's religious grassroots. However, he has made no real move to do so, perhaps realising that this would prompt a major confrontation with the secularist establishment. This includes the army, which mounted three coups between 1960 and 1980 and, less than a decade ago, helped to ease Turkey's first Islamist prime minister from power. The fact that the attack on the court is being linked to the headscarf issue has re-opened old political wounds. They may be difficult to heal, particularly with another possible flashpoint between the Justice and Development Party and secularists looming next year - the election of a new president to replace Mr Sezer.
© BBC News

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STUDENT OFFERS 7 WAYS TO AVOID BEING ATTACKED(Russia, letter)

18/5/2006

Editor,
I am writing in response to the growing wave of racially motivated attacks across Russia. As we mourn the deaths of our brothers, I believe that abandoning our studies in fear should not be an option. "Skin terrorism" must not be allowed to win.

However, each and every one of us must be vigilant and street smart. Here are some ways to avoid racist attacks:

1. Stay six steps away from everyone in all directions. This measure won't save anyone from gun attacks, but it is a sure way to fend off knife attacks.
2. Avoid going to dangerous nightspots. It is stupid to go to a club where a dark-skinned foreigner was knifed a few weeks back.
3. When invited by a stranger for a chat or a drink, thank him or her and walk away or pretend to be deaf.
4. In the metro, use the first car instead of the middle or last cars. The rational is that racists won't stage an attack near the driver's cabin; police would be waiting for them at the next stop.
5. Select friends wisely.
6. Always be on the alert while approaching your hostel or apartment.
7. Avoid long waits at bus stops. Take a taxi home or wait for the bus in a nearby shop or restaurant.

Ted O.
St. Petersburg

© The Moscow Times

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RUSSIA BECOMES UNLIKELY HUMAN RIGHTS GUARDIAN

19/5/2006- A confident, even swaggering, Russia takes the helm of Europe's foremost human rights body today, ready to deflect accusations that it has failed to live up to the standards set by the institution it will lead for the next six months. Russia's chairmanship of the Council of Europe, whose three pillars are human rights, the rule of law and open democracy, comes just two months before President Vladimir Putin hosts the G8 summit in St Petersburg and will place the Kremlin's commitment to the core values of the West under fresh scrutiny. In recent months, concerns have been raised about Russia's moves to shut down non-governmental organisations, its curbing of the media and its imprisonment of Russia's richest man just when he was becoming a political rival of Mr Putin. The President has, meanwhile, developed strong links with the hardline authoritarian leaders of Belarus and Uzbekistan. In Chechnya, according to Human Rights Watch researcher Anna Neistat who visited the restive Russian republic three weeks ago, the pro-Moscow leader Ramzan Kadyrov has taken torture to a new level as he seeks to crush resistance. But the West's dependency on Russian energy has radically changed the balance of power, leaving European governments with less political leverage at a time when Russia has already used its gas-powered influence over the West-leaning former Soviet states of Ukraine and Georgia. Asked yesterday how Russia would respond to Western concerns about the level of its commitment to democracy and human rights as Council of Europe chairman, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: "I believe our common commitment to democracy will certainly be reconfirmed during the six months of the Russian chairmanship." But he made it clear that, for Russia, the West does not have the monopoly on democratic values.

"I do not believe the West would be interested in seeing the Council of Europe become a place where just one out of many models of democracy would be made a criteria to judge each and every other state," he said. "The world is much more complicated. It's not black and white and attempts to approach the whole problems in black and white manner has been made in the past few years. And they're not working." His comments come after President Putin issued a muscular rebuttal of criticism from the US Vice-President Dick Cheney who - while in Lithuania - accused Russia of bullying its neighbours, reversing the democratic gains of the past decade and trampling on Russians' rights. The secretary general of the Council of Europe, Terry Davis, acknowledged that sometimes, "people in the West see the Council of Europe as a lecture room to give lectures to the people of eastern Europe, and naturally that is resented". Even so, Russia's first chairmanship, which has come about through alphabetical order, has raised eyebrows in Strasbourg, where the council's largest member stands accused of having failed to implement key demands, including judicial reforms and ending the culture of impunity for security forces in Chechnya. Russia, which joined the Council of Europe 10 years ago, remains the only one of 46 member states not to have abolished the death penalty completely, even though a moratorium was put in place in 1998. But diplomats see the next six months as an opportunity and a challenge for the Kremlin. "I think it's an opportunity for them to show they adhere to the core values," said the Polish ambassador to the Council of Europe, Piotr Switalski. "Particularly now there are so many critical voices and doubting governments, to show they are on the right course." Russia's first initiatives will be announced today. They will include a sports conference in Moscow in November, and an inter-faith conference in Niznhy Novgorod in September to which Orthodox Christians, Catholics and Buddhists will be invited.

Strong-arm methods
Chechnya
"Torture is simply rampant," according to Human Rights Watch researcher Anna Neistat, who spent two weeks in Chechnya where she interviewed more than 70 victims and relatives. "They all say it's worse than a war." Hostage-takings of the relatives of Chechen fighters are common in an attempt to obtain a surrender. It is not known how many civilians have "disappeared".

Democracy
Media and opposition parties are muzzled. Many non-governmental organisations have been shut down. This week, the lower house gave preliminary approval to a bill that would strip MPs of their seats if they change parties. Critics say it marked a final step to create a "rubber-stamp" parliament.

Economic bullying
Russia cut off gas to Ukraine last winter and has started a trade war with Georgia by banning imports of wine and mineral water. Both republics are attempting to loosen their ties to Moscow.
© Independent Digital

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CONFERENCE IN MOSCOW: “FUTURE OF RUSSIA UNDER THE THREAT OF FASCISM ”(Russia)

On May 14 2006, more then 150 representatives of different NGOs, youth associations, democratic political parties, independent antifascist groups, ethnic associations, experts, journalists and cultural figures took part in an antifascist conference in Moscow.

18/5/2006- The conference was organized by Moscow Helsinki Group, Memorial, the “Sova” Center, Anti-war club, the “Holocaust” Foundation, Moscow Bureau for Human Rights, Independent Union of Afghanistan Veterans, the “Civic Assistance” Committee for Refugees and Forced Migrants, Center for Development of Democracy and Human Rights, Moscow Antifascist Center, Forum for Migrant Organizations, the Public Verdict Foundation, the Committee for Human Rights, “Ezhenedelny zhurnal” (“Weekly magazine”) magazine, Youth Human Rights Movement, professors of Maxim Gorky Literary Institute, members of Republican party, “Yabloko” party, United Civic Front, “Sojuz Pravyh Sil” (Union of Right Forces) party, youth movement “Da!” (“Yes!”).

The problems discussed at the conference were racism, xenophobia and discrimination in Russia, counteraction practices and plans for cooperation. The conference started with awarding the winners of the contest for local journalists who write about ethnic tolerance. The awards were given by the Ombudsman of Russian Federation Vladimir Lukin. Lyudmila Alekseeva (Moscow Helsinki Group), Emil Pain (Center for Ethnopolitical and Regional Studies), Boris Dubin (Levada-Center), Alexander Verkhovsky (Sova-Center), Andrey Yurov (Youth Human Rights Movement), Yury Dzhibladze (Center for Development of Democracy and Human Rights) made their speeches, stating great level of nazi violence and nationalistic tendencies in society as well as violation of civic freedom by the state under the banner of fighting xenophobia and the danger of pseudo-antifascism translated by such groups as “Nashi”.

The conference adopted the declaration “Russia is under the threat of fascism again” suggested by Natalia Novozhilova, Vladimir (available in Russian), and urged the society to sign it. It’s possible to sign the declaration on the site of the Russian Civic Congress. “We claim, that there is only one way to stop fascists – unite efforts of civil society and authorities. And it is mass civil activity which can make the authorities enter into the antifascist struggle. It’s useless to wait for the authorities to awake by themselves” – says the declaration. The conference has adopted the Program of Action (available in Russian), which will become a basis for forming the Antifascist Front.

There were several moot points during the debate on the Program, two of them are the most notable. First, there was a suggestion to include in the Program a statement about necessity to fight against radical nationalists together with moderate ones, which was declined, moreover there is a statement in the Program urging to boycott every public figure who ventures racist speeches. Second, all the suggestions to toughen the legislation against nationalists were declined, because of the inefficiency of such measures and because of the danger of provoking the state to misuse repressive mechanisms. The further work will be coordinated by the organizational committee and working groups formed during the conference. To contact the organizational committee, send your e-mail to mailto:mshndcr@yandex.ru .

One of the first activities of the Antifascist Front will be an antifascist demonstration on the June 22, day of the Nazi invasion to USSR.
© SOVA Center for Information and Analysis

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COUNCIL OF EUROPE URGES RUSSIA TO STEP UP FIGHT AGAINST RACISM

16/5/2006- The Council of Europe’s expert body combating racism has released a report on racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance in Russia. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) noted progress in a number of fields concerned with combating racism in Russia, since its previous report in 2001. “The criminal law provisions aimed at combating racial discrimination, racism and extremism have been reinforced and there have been some prosecutions of hate speech. The Labor Code now contains an extensive provision prohibiting discrimination in employment. Some measures have been taken or are envisaged, notably at local level, to promote tolerance and to encourage interethnic dialogue,” the report published on the Council’s website on Tuesday said. “However, a number of recommendations made in ECRI’s second report have not been implemented, or have only been partially implemented. Despite some condemnations by the public authorities of racism and hate speech, there needs to be greater urgency at both local and national level in tackling the problem,” the report said. The commission mentioned that “the criminal law provisions aimed at combating racism are not adequately implemented particularly because the racist motive of an offence is not taken sufficiently into account. Following recent changes in the legislation, non-citizens encounter difficulties in regularizing their legal status. Many immigrant workers, notably from CIS countries, experience oppressive working conditions. The situation of asylum seekers and refugees is precarious.” The report also noted problems of racial discrimination in Russia, “particularly in education, access to public services and employment.” It expressed concern over the legal status and living conditions of the Meskhetian Turks in Krasnodar region. “The number of antisemitic acts has increased as well as racism and intolerance in general. There has been a rise in racial violence, an increase in cases of racist expression, as well as the increasing use of racist and xenophobic discourse in politics.

Visible minorities including Chechens, other Caucasians, Roma, Meskhetian Turks, citizens from CIS countries, Africans, Asians and other non-citizens, as well as members of small religious groups including Jews, are the main targets of racially motivated attacks, and of racist inflammatory discourse. Police and Cossacks often adopt discriminatory and unlawful conduct in virtual impunity. Racial discrimination in the residence registration system remains serious. This system effectively has a negative impact on the basic rights of visible minorities throughout the country,” the report said. The commission recommended that the Russian authorities improve the implementation of criminal law provisions against racism and intolerance. It also recommended creating an independent body in the country specializing in the field of combating racism and racial discrimination. The authorities “should take measures to regularize the situation of non-citizens and protect them from labor exploitation. They should envisage a general strategy aimed at countering any discriminatory acts, racist violence or hate speech, through preventive measures and, where necessary, appropriate penalties against perpetrators.” The report was made on the base of the analysis dated December 16, 2005. Comments of the Russian authorities were also published at the council’s website. They said that “the system of the Russian legislation pays adequate attention to the issue of combating racial discrimination. Tendency of qualifying racist acts without motivation of racial hatred is gradually disappearing.” The authorities noted that it was not a general practice or deliberate policy aimed at the discrimination of minorities and that “the term ”non-citizens“ does not exist in the Russian legislation and law enforcement practice.”
© MosNews

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ECRI REPORTS ON CYPRUS, DENMARK, ITALY, LUXEMBOURG AND RUSSIA

ECRI released today five new reports on racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance of its third monitoring cycle on Cyprus, Denmark, Italy, Luxembourg and the Russian Federation. The third round country reports focus on “implementation ”. They examine if ECRI’s main recommendations from previous reports have been followed and implemented, and if so, with what degree of success and effectiveness.

16/5/2006- ECRI recognises that positive developments have occurred in all five of these Council of Europe member countries. At the same time, however, the reports detail continuing grounds for concern for the Commission:

In Cyprus, the legal and institutional framework against racial discrimination has been considerably strengthened. However, the continuing lack of a comprehensive immigration and integration policy has resulted in a particular vulnerability of immigrants to human rights violations, exploitation and discrimination. New opportunities for actively promoting dialogue and reconciliation between the members of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities still remain to be seized.

Denmark adopted an Act on Ethnic Equal Treatment and created a Complaints Committee for Ethnic Equal Treatment, whose mandate is to examine complaints of discrimination in all areas, including employment. However, the Nationality Act, the Integration Act and the Aliens’ Act have been further modified in a manner which disproportionately restricts the ability of members of minority groups to acquire Danish citizenship, to benefit from spousal and family reunification and to have access to social protection on par with the rest of society. 

In Italy, the authorities have established a specialised body to combat racial discrimination, which assists victims and raise awareness of this phenomenon among the general public. However, immigration legislation has made the situation of many non-EU citizens more precarious, and its implementation, notably in respect of immigrants without legal status, has resulted in the exposure of these persons to a higher risk of human rights violations.

Luxembourg has adopted a new law easing the requirements for foreigners’ participation in local elections. However, housing conditions for asylum seekers and refugees still leave much to be desired, and no policy has been introduced to integrate communities from an immigrant background in matters such as employment and housing. 

In the Russian Federation, the criminal law provisions aimed at combating racism, racial discrimination and extremism have been reinforced and there have been some prosecutions of hate speech. However, there needs to be greater urgency at both local and national level in tackling the problem. The existing provisions are not adequately implemented particularly because the racist motive of an offence is not taken sufficiently into account. Visible minorities and members of minority religious groups are the main targets of racially motivated attacks.
© Council of Europe

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EUROPE MUST ACT TO ADDRESS THE REALITY OF RACISM IN ITS SOCIETIES(Press release)

The European Network Against Racism (ENAR) expresses its concern about the recent series of racist incidents in Belgium. ENAR cautions against the trivialisation of racist discourse by the media, public institutions, political parties and the public at large, which has created an environment of increased acceptance of racist discourse and attitudes in European societies. The network also reiterates its call for a strict implementation of European and national anti-racism legislation. On 11 May, a young man killed a black woman and a two-year old girl and severely injured a woman of Turkish origin in Antwerp. The perpetrator admitted the attacks were racially motivated. The same day, the body of a 21-year-old Moroccan man was found in the Schelde River; his family alleges he was killed after a racist incident in a night club. A few days previously in Bruges, a group of skin heads attacked two men, a white Belgian and a French man of African origin; the latter is still in a coma.

On 12 April a teenager was killed in Brussels Central Station in an attack by two young men. The attackers were immediately described as North African; this proved to be a false accusation, but was readily accepted by the authorities, the media and the public alike. The incidents are seen by many as a reflection of the atmosphere of increased acceptance of racism in Belgian society. As ENAR’s Belgian member organisation MRAX (Mouvement contre le Racisme, l’Antisémitisme et la Xénophobie) stated in a press release on 12 May: “This violence does not come from nowhere. It is the result of years of ambiguous or openly racist discourse, which aims to make ‘foreigners’ responsible for individual frustrations and social misery.” MRAX also expressed its concern about the continued public financing of extreme-right wing parties in Belgium, such as Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), which have encouraged stigmatisation against ethnic minorities in Belgium. Political parties have a responsibility to respect the rights of everyone in society; as leading stakeholders in social and political debates they must demonstrate leadership and act as a positive force for change.

In this respect, ENAR stresses the importance for political parties to sign the Charter of European Political Parties for a Non-Racist Society, which calls on democratic political parties in the European Union to act responsibly when dealing with issues related to race, ethnic and national origin and religion. It encourages political parties to work towards fair representation of racial, ethnic, national and religious minorities within and at all levels of their party system. 

More information on the Charter
© EUropean Network Against Racism

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GERMANS NEGATIVE ON ISLAM, POLL SHOWS

18/5/2006- Germans are growing increasingly negative over Islam and concern is rising over the country's Muslim minority, a recently released poll shows. "If one looks at this from a pessimistic viewpoint it could be seen as the start of a downward spiral toward conflict," said the Allensbach polling agency who conducted the survey for the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper.  Asked if they though Christianity and Islamic could co-exist peacefully, 61 per cent of those surveyed said they believed there would always be "major conflicts" between both faiths. Some 91 per cent said they associated Islam with oppression of women, up from 85 per cent in 2004. The statement that Islam was dominated by fanaticism was shared by 83 per cent, compared to 75 per cent two years ago, the poll showed. A total of 71 per cent said Islam was intolerant, up from 66 per cent in 2004. Asked if there should be a ban on the building of mosques in Germany as long as the building of churches in some Islamic states is forbidden, 56 per cent agreed, said the poll. There is even considerable backing for ending Germany's constitutional right of freedom of religion with regard to Islam, the poll showed. Asked if strict limits should be imposed on the practice of Islam in Germany to protect the country, 40 per cent said they would support such moves. A total of 56 per cent said they believed "a clash of civilizations" had already begun, up from 46 per cent in 2004, the poll results showed. "The clash of civilizations has already begun in the minds of (German) citizens," concluded the Allensbach Institute. There are about 3.5 million Muslims living in Germany out of a total population of 82 million. Turks are the biggest minority and number about 2.5 million.
© Expatica News

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FIGHTING RACISM NEEDS ACTION, NOT WORDS (Germany, opinion)

When a public figure warned dark-skinned people to avoid parts of eastern Germany, he raised a new debate on racism. DW's Peter Phillipp says talk on the topic is good, but action would be better.

19/5/2006- Was it a generic judgement, or a serious and substantiated warning? Once again, it comes down to a battle of ideologies. The same questions came up several weeks ago, after an Ethiopian-born German was nearly beaten to death in the street in public. The pundits asked: Are East Germans more xenophobic and racist than the rest of the country? And just how well does Germany as a whole deal with people of color? It took a while for the debate to die down, but now, it has broken out again. In force. It was an unusual comment for a former government spokesman to make. In a radio interview, Uwe-Karsten Heye warned people of color who were planning to attend the World Cup in Germany this summer to avoid certain areas of eastern Germany. Otherwise, he said, they faced serious danger. Of course, Heye was just repeating what statistics have long showed: Certain regions in Germany are more dangerous than others. But it was certainly wrong to give the impression that racism prevails solely in the eastern states. Official statistics clearly refute this. There are radical right-wingers in the West as well as the East, and the violent crimes they commit are rising in both regions.

Short-term memories
This of course makes east Germans no more racist than their western German counterparts. But that is also not what Heye meant to say, which is why he issued a correction to his statement. He wanted to draw attention to a problem that authorities and public officials all too often turn a blind eye to: Xenophobia and racist assaults tend to be seen as a "one-off" event, and then things go back to business as usual. Long forgotten are the roiling far-right scenes of the early 1990s in places like Rostock and Hoyerswerda in the east, and Solingen in the west. Then, foreigners were openly hunted down and most average citizens looked on passively. In recent times, active racist violence may have calmed down in Germany, but the core problem hasnt been eliminated. It can't be, because there is no patent remedy for racism. Interviews with horrified citizens look good on television, but they don't prevent racism, which has its roots in ultra-bourgeois homes, in joblessness and hopelessness, in failed schools and training programs, and -- above all -- a lack of will on behalf of the government to resolutely tackle the problem. When right-wing radicals flood into Saxony's parliament, why shouldn't their followers feel compelled to go out on the street and set fire to a Turkish kabob stand, or thrash an African?

Call for energetic action
Of course it is wrong to designate whole parcels of land as radical-right danger zones, and declare them "no-go zones." To do so is to be unfair to the honorable and upright citizens in those regions. We cannot make this problem go away simply by talking. We need to take action at last. Energetic action, if necessary, in terms of monitoring, prosecution and punishment, so that the violent far-right elements and their backers finally feel the pressure. This is not something we can accomplish overnight, and certainly not before the World Cup. But the sooner we start, the better.
© Deutsche Welle

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RACISM WARNING HAS GERMAN HACKLES RAISED

On Wednesday, a former government spokesman said black visitors to Germany should be careful where they go in the country. His remarks have drawn criticism -- and support.

18/5/2006- It doesn't take much to try Germany's patience in the weeks leading up to the World Cup soccer championships. Nerves are especially raw when it comes to comments and incidents that cast doubt on the country's hospitality and its openness to the millions of international guests expected to descend on the country in June. On Wednesday and Thursday, that sensitivity was laid bare for all to see. A former government spokesman on Wednesday suggested that dark-skinned visitors to Germany should consider avoiding the eastern part of the country where racism runs high. "There are small and medium-sized towns in Brandenburg, as well as elsewhere, which I would advise a visitor of another skin colour to avoid going to," said Uwe-Karsten Heye, who now leads an anti-racism organization called "Show Your Color." "It is possible he wouldn't get out alive." The comments came as part of an interview with the public radio station Deutschlandradio Kultur about how right-wing extremism and racism can be combated in Germany. Heye also said there was an increasing tendency in the country to look the other way when it comes to right-wing violence. His comments about "no-go" areas in Germany came as a response to a question about whether tourists from Togo or the Ivory Coast should feel comfortable travelling anywhere in Germany. But by specifically mentioning Brandenburg, the eastern German state surrounding Berlin, Heye ensured a swift reaction. The governor of Brandenburg, Matthias Platzeck, called Heye's statements an "unjustifiable slandering of entire regions within Brandenburg." The state's Interior Minister Jörg Schönbohm demanded Heye's resignation from "Show Your Color." And even the Turkish-German parliamentarian Ekin Deligöz from the Green Party warned against overstating things. "That's want they want," he said referring to right-wing extremists. "They want foreigners to stay home and not even to come to Germany in the first place."

The uproar comes just weeks after an apparently racist attack against an Ethiopian-German in the Brandenburg state capital of Potsdam, just outside of Berlin. Almost a month after the attack, the victim remains in hospital with severe head injuries. Earlier this week, reports of a racist attack on an Italian in Berlin once again stirred up opprobrium, though it was later revealed that the alleged victim may have invented the incident. And most are willing to admit that there are parts of Germany with a very real problem with racism. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a Green Party representative in the European Parliament, came to Heye's defense by saying: "The reality is school classes with many immigrant children question whether it is safe to go to Brandenburg or Mecklenburg-West Pomerania" -- another state in eastern Germany -- "for camping trips." Yonas Endrias, a member of Germany's African Council, likewise supported Heye. "None of us blacks would go on an outing in Brandenburg," he said. "There is also racism in western Germany, but as a black person, the chances of being attacked in an eastern German village are much higher." Following the Potsdam attack in April, the Africa Council spoke of areas in eastern Germany which blacks should avoid. On Thursday, as a reponse to the furor, Heye clarified his remarks by saying he didn't intend to single out Brandenburg. He also praised the state's extensive efforts to combat right-wing extremism. But he didn't back down. "We cannot make it the responsibility of the victims to decide how to defend themselves from racism and anti-Semitism," he wrote in a statement for the online version of Vorwärts, a Social Democrat Party publication which he edits. "This is the responsibility of the pluralistic society. Unfortunately, the tendency to look away has increased."
© Spiegel Online

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GERMAN SCHOOLS TRAIL SIGNIFICANTLY IN IMMIGRANT EDUCATION

A newly published PISA study reveals that children of immigrants have fewer chances to succeed in German schools than they do in almost any other industrial state.

16/5/2006- The results of the latest study by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which were published on Monday, show that Germany is by far and large failing to help children of immigrant families integrate into society through education. The study "Where Immigrant Children Succeed" drew evidence from the 2003 tests conducted with 15-year-old students in 41 countries, which covered mathematics, reading comprehension, science and problem-solving skills. It focused, however, on 17 countries with large immigrant populations, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Russia, Hong Kong and the US. According to Barbara Ischinger, Director for Education at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the difference in school performance between immigrant children and native German students was more pronounced in Germany than in almost any other country covered by the study. "Something needs to be done about this urgently," Ischinger said.

From bad to worse
While in some countries, second-generation immigrant children stayed on the same level of their first-generation counterparts, or, in some cases, recognizably improved their performance, Germany and, to a much lesser extent, Denmark and the Flemish part of Belgium, were an exception in this respect. On average, 15-year-olds with an immigrant background trailed behind their native counterparts by 48 score points, an educational deficit worth about one whole year of study. In Germany, the gap between second-generation immigrant children and native students was twice as big: 90 score points. Forty-seven percent of immigrant children born in Germany failed to achieve the minimum proficiency in mathematics, whereas in the case of first-generation immigrant children, who spent one part of their schooling in their country of origin, the deficiency in the knowledge of mathematics was shown by only 25 percent of students.

Not their fault
The report spotlights the enormous challenge facing the German educational system as it grapples with the problem of integrating immigration children. The mere fact that Germany has a large immigrant population cannot adequately account for the fact that immigrant children underperform in German schools. Traditional immigrant societies like Canada, Australia and New Zealand, for example, show significantly better results than Germany. Second-generation 15-year-olds with an immigrant background in Canada, for example, have scored 111 points more on average than their counterparts in Germany. That amounts to almost three years of study. Language and the geographical origin of immigrant children may present additional factors, according to the report. But this is not sufficient to explain variations in performance between the countries. For example, immigrant students whose families come from Turkey tend to perform poorly in many countries, but they do significantly worse in Germany (405 score points) than they do in Switzerland (436 score points). The performance of immigrant children in Germany can't be blamed on their lack of interest in school, either. On the PISA index of interest in and enjoyment of mathematics, for example, German immigrant students score significantly higher than native students. This also holds for the PISA index of instrumental motivation. 

Missing language skills
In the countries which have well-established and well-structured language support programs for immigrant children, especially in early childhood, the performance of second-generation immigrant children tends to be much closer, if not equal, to that of native children. In Canada and Australia, for example, immigrant children perform as well as native Canadians and Australians. In Germany, the gap between native and immigrant children is particularly pronounced in those cases in which immigrant families do not speak German. Additionally, the problem lies in German primary schools, which are ill-equipped to deal with socio-economic and cultural problems facing immigrant children. Immigrant children tend to be directed to schools with lower performance expectations and dominated by disadvantaged student population. According to German Education Minister Annette Schavan, German schools addressed the problem of integration "too late." Schavan announced that a general integration strategy was currently under development by the German government. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is planning to host a summit dedicated to the topic at the end of June. Language programs, starting with kindergarten, are expected to perform an important role in the new government strategy.
© Deutsche Welle

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NEW BATTLE OVER FLEMISH INTEREST FUNDING (Belgium)

18/5/2006- Five political parties have requested the Council of State withdraw the EUR 2.1 million in public subsidies paid to the extreme-right Flemish Interest. The parties have been identified as the Flemish Socialist SP.A and left-wing Spirit parties and the Francophone Socialist PS, Liberal MR and Humanist cdH. The Flemish Interest risks losing its funding for 12 months, news agency Belga reported on Thursday. The complaint is based on the assumption that the Flemish Interest party has made racist statements and is in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights. All parties had earlier backed a similar complaint that was to be lodged by multicultural youth group Kif Kaf and anti-racism organisation MRAX. Both organisations started proceedings to lodge a complaint in November 2005, but the process became bogged down in legalities. The shootings in Antwerp last week injected new vigour into the procedure and the complaint was finally lodged with the Council of State on Thursday. The Flemish Interest is accused of discriminating against immigrants, describing them as criminals and claiming that they don't belong in Flanders. Unofficially, the party is also accused of creating a racist climate that contributed to the double murder in Antwerp last week. The Council of State must issue a ruling within six months.
© Expatica News

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ANTWERP SHOOTER 'PLAYED OUT COMPUTER GAME'(Belgium)

16/5/2006- The Antwerp public prosecution office is investigating whether the suspect in the Antwerp racist shootings was re-enacting violent computer games during his rampage last week. Part of the suspected killer's "punitive expedition" through the city centre resembles scenes from Grand Theft Auto (GTA), currently one of the most popular computer games. The 18-year-old Hans Van Themsche has been arrested for the shooting death of a 24-year-old Malian au-pair and a two-year-old Flemish girl. A Turkish woman was also severely wounded in the shooting. A hearing in Antwerp Court will be held later on Tuesday to extend his remand detention on charges of double murder and one count of attempted murder. Defence lawyer Bart Herman visited his client in the Antwerp Stuivenberg Hospital on Monday and said Van Themsche regrets his actions. "He knows he must pay for what he did and will accept his punishment." As questions around the murder remain, Van Themsche has claimed he decided to kill immigrants after being bullied by a foreigner at school in Antwerp when he was 13. His family claims he is a gifted young man, who had social difficulties and was a very private child, newspaper 'De Standaard' reported on Tuesday. He is said to have improved while at the Roeselare boarding school where he studied animal care, but was about to be expelled for smoking shortly before the shootings were carried out. There are also indications Van Themsche was re-enacting scenes from the violent computer game Grand Theft Auto (GTA), in which the player has to buy a gun, commit car jackings and kill Spanish-speaking immigrants. It has also been confirmed that Van Themsche liked violent computer games, including GTA.
© Expatica News

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FLEMISH INTEREST FACES BAN AS RAGE OVER SHOOTING GROWS(Belgium)

15/5/2006- A political row has erupted over whether the extreme-right Flemish Interest can be held accountable for last week's Antwerp racist shooting. In the Sunday televised political debates, politicians and judicial experts were highly critical of the Flemish Interest, claiming the party created a racist climate that partly led to last week's double murder. "People become more racist because they breathe that in every day," criminal lawyer Jef Vermassen said in the television programme 'De Zevende Dag'. Judicial psychologist Geert De Bruecker said the murders would not have been possible without the climate that the Flemish Interest had created.

Liberal
VLD chairman Bart Somers was critical about the tone the Flemish Interest uses to talk about immigrants, urging for a more positive message. But Left-wing Spirit MP Fouad Ahidar went a step further, calling for an inquiry to determine whether the Flemish Interest can be banned. Spirit chairman Geert Lambert said it is not the intention that one party can ban another. "But in Germany, the Constitutional Court examines whether political parties can participate in elections. In Belgium, that Arbitration Court could play that role". But the Flemish Interest defended itself at a party congress in Mechelen, claiming it was also a victim of the brutal shooting. It held a minute's silence for the victims. And the party rounded sharply on Liberal VLD Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who had pointed an accusing finger at the Flemish Interest after Thursday's murders. "You have not behaved as statesman but as a pyromaniac," it said, adding that Verhofstadt was a "pathetic vulture". Party chairman Frank Vanhecke stressed that the Flemish Interest could not be blamed for the shooting, but was instead being singled out for political reasons. But Flemish Interest leader Filip Dewinter also said the party distanced itself from "hooligans, skinheads, neo-Nazis and other parasites who want to misuse our movement". Dewinter's statement came after Flemish Interest MP Jurgen Verstrepen had urged the party to give a clear signal rejecting extremists. But besides the political debates on Flemish television, debates held on French-speaking programmes also indicated consensus across the linguistic divide on the issue of taking public funding away from the Flemish Interest. And some 2,000 people demonstrated on Sunday on the Madou Square in Brussels, where the headquarters of the Flemish Interest is located. They were protesting against what they said were the dangerous policies of extreme rights. The suspect of the Antwerp shooting, 18-year-old Hans Van Themsche, had close family ties with the Flemish Interest.
© Expatica News

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FAMILY REJECTS FLEMISH INTEREST'S SYMPATHY

15/5/2006- The parents of the toddler killed in last week's Antwerp double-murder are shocked by the message of sympathy offered by the extreme-right Flemish Interest. Flemish Interest leader Filip Dewinter called for a minute's silence for the victims of the shooting at a party congress in Mechelen on Sunday. But the parents were shocked by the message of sympathy, and the grandmother wrote a letter to regional Antwerp TV broadcaster ATV stressing the family does not want any condolences from the Flemish Interest. The two-year-old Luna Drowart will be buried on Wednesday after a funeral service in the Sint-Paulus Church. The family has requested a private ceremony and has asked to be left in peace. The funeral was announced in the weekend newspaper with the message 'This is really happening'. The family is not religious, but chose a church funeral because they said the building can rise above differences. "I have met in the parents of Luna two strong people with a lot of raw pain," Pastor Paul Scheelen, who will officiate at the funeral service, has said. "The family does not need a story about a star or cloud on which Luna is sitting, even less so white balloons and great speeches. In the ceremony, we are going to as much as possible give expression to something that cannot be expressed. "I have talked for three hours with them. They have unimaginable raw pain. Their child was shot down, it has no future now." Meanwhile, the Malinese au-pair, Oulemata Niangadou, 24, who was also killed last Thursday, will be buried in her homeland Mali. The city of Antwerp will pay the costs of repatriation because her family cannot afford them. The condition of the third victim, Turkish woman Sonhul Koç, 46, worsened on Saturday, but she appeared to be improving on Sunday.
© Expatica News

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IMMIGRANT BULLYING 'LED TO RACIST MURDERS'

15/5/2006- The arrested suspect in the alleged racist double-murder last week was bullied by immigrants while at school in Antwerp five years ago. Hans Van Themsche, 18, claims that's why he deliberately targeted foreigners in the Antwerp shooting on Thursday. A Turkish woman was shot and injured in the rampage, while a Malian woman and a Belgian two-year-old toddler were killed. The public prosecution office said the suspect chose his victims randomly. Van Themsche said the victims were the first immigrants he saw during his "punitive expedition" through the city centre. Turkish woman Sonhul Koç 46, who was wearing a headscarf and reading a book on bench, was shot in the back from 6m. She was severely wounded. The suspect then crossed the path of Malian au-pair Oulemata Niangado, 24, who was out walking with Luna, 2.5, the Flemish toddler she was looking after. Van Themsche did not look them in eye either. He walked past them, turned around and shot them both once in the back from a distance of 1m. The two of them were killed instantly. The prosecution said the girl was "in the wrong place at the wrong time". The shootings lasted four minutes, from 11.49am to 11.53am, at which point a policeman rushed to the scene. "Shoot me dead," the culprit urged. The police officer remained calm and shot the suspect in the stomach. Van Themsche was then taken to hospital and placed under police guard. The public prosecution office said the suspect was planning to kill more victims if the police officer had not intervened.
© Expatica News

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AYAAN HIRSI ALI: HERO OR PHONY?(Netherlands)

18/5/2006- Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk claims to be decisive and consistent; she "steers a straight course through the sea". She says her immigration and asylum policies are strict but fair. Perhaps then the Liberal Party (VVD) minister could tell us the difference between Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Taida Pasic? Somali-born Hirsi Ali lied when she was 22 in order to get asylum in the Netherlands and improve her life. Kosovar Taida Pasic, 18, effectively lied to get a tourist visa to re-enter the Netherlands in 2005 to complete the Dutch education she was receiving before her family was refused asylum here. Verdonk took a personal interest in ensuring Pasic, whom she publicly branded a liar, was deported from the country before she could take her final exams here. She has to do that in Sarajevo, Bosnia. How decisive and consistent. Verdonk does not like liars, she says, and liars don't get past her immigration officials. Well not now, anyway. Hirsi Ali is a different story. Verdonk says Hirsi Ali would not have got in to the Netherlands had she been minister at the time. However Hirsi Ali has nothing to fear now despite the porkies she told 14 years ago.

News programme Zembla reported on 11 May that Hirsi Ali hid her actual name, Hirsi Magan, and her age when she sought asylum here in 1992. Immigration officials might otherwise have established she was under the care of the UNHCR in Kenya. She was granted asylum here in a record five weeks. How come? She told a heart-rending story about having to flee Somalia to escape an arranged marriage, went to a refugee camp in Kenya, and from there got to the Netherlands. Once here, she faced the constant fear of retribution from her angry family. The right story for an asylum seeker. And she has made good in the intervening years. A member of parliament for the VVD, she has not flinched from her criticism of aspects of Islam and Muslim immigration despite numerous death threats. She is accompanied by bodyguards everywhere she goes because of the threats and the murder of director Theo van Gogh. They collaborated on the short film Submission. She has impressed the world - and annoyed many people too - by her forthright support of freedom of speech during the Danish cartoon controversy. Her ability to draw on her own experiences of the ill treatment of women and female circumcision lend great weight to her campaigning for emancipation of Muslim women. It is disconcerting therefore to hear how cavalier Hirsi Ali can be when faced with questions about contradictions in her past. She admitted them on Zembla. She doesn't think this is a big deal. Hirsi Ali was living in Kenya for over 10 years before coming here and didn't experience five civil wars in Somalia as prominent VVD member and current EU commissioner Neelie Kroes claimed in 2002.

Hirsi Ali said, and the VVD confirms, she told them back then she had lied to the immigration service. Why then did the VVD present Hirsi Ali as a person who survived the turmoil in Somalia? And if Hirsi Ali was so afraid of retribution from her family why did she contact a Dutch-based family member on arrival. Why did she appear in a documentary made by the Dutch Muslim broadcaster within a year? Why did she maintain contact with her father? And why did members of her family tell Zembla that Hirsi Ali was present and happy at her wedding when she maintained she was neither. There are some anomalies here but it is important to keep this in perspective. As she said herself: asylum seekers tend to gild the lily to ensure they get residence permits. Who among us would not have told a few white lies to ensure a better life? Hirsi Ali has bettered her life, and has championed causes that need determined champions. But one nagging question remains. Why is this former asylum seeker a member of the same party as Verdonk? This is the minister who wants to deport gays and Christian converts back to Iran. This is the minister who has vowed to keep economic migrants masquerading as refugees from getting into the country. Why is it OK for Hirsi Ali to lie to make a better life for herself in the Netherlands, but Pasic can't even be allowed to stay a few weeks extra to finish her exams?
© Expatica News

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HIRSI ALI: EMERGENCY DEBATE IN PARLIAMENT(Netherlands)

16/5/2006- The Dutch parliament hastily arranged an emergency debate for Tuesday afternoon to cast light on the decision by Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk that MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali was never a Dutch citizen. The debate at 4.30pm was sought by the green-left party GroenLinks, but MPs of all parties had a list of questions for Verdonk. Verdonk announced on Monday that Hirsi Ali, who has become famous as a critic of Islam, never attained the status of a naturalised Dutch citizen in 1997 because she had lied to get asylum five years before. Both Verdonk and Hirsi Ali are members of the Liberal Party (VVD). Criticism of Verdonk, even within the VVD, mounted on Tuesday as anger was expressed at the way Hirsi Ali had been treated. VVD parliamentary party leader Willibrord van Beek tried not to be drawn into attacking Verdonk's decision directly, but he said all the VVD MPs "stand behind" Hirsi Ali. Frits Wester, the political commentator for RTL News, speculated on the possibility disaffected Liberal MPs might support, or at least not vote against, a motion of no confidence in Verdonk, should one be tabled.
© Expatica News

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VERDONK TAKES HEAT FOR NATURALISATION RULING(Netherlands)

16/5/2006- The way Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk has decided her Liberal party colleague Ayaan Hirsi Ali was never a Dutch citizen has drawn the ire of several political allies. Bibi de Vries, an MP for the Dutch Liberal Party (VVD), furiously laid into Verdonk before the parliamentary party's weekly meeting on Tuesday. "I am fuming with Rita Verdonk that she has hunted Hirsi Ali like wild game. And if anything happens to Hirsi Ali, there will be people within the VVD who have blood on their hands," De Vries said. Senior party officials rushed to defend Verdonk, pointing out she was only following the letter of the law. Verdonk announced on Monday evening that Hirsi Ali, who was born in Somalia, is not a Dutch citizen. Her naturalisation in 1997 was based on false information she gave to get her asylum in 1992. The VVD is one of the three parties in the centre-right coalition government. It has consistently supported Verdonk's approach of expelling asylum seekers for giving false information. This has not some members of the party taking a different view in Hirsi Ali's case. Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, an MEP for the Dutch Liberal Party (VVD), described Verdonk's actions as "disgusting". She also criticised the party leadership's handling of the crisis. Verdonk is hoping to lead the VVD into the general election next year. Hirsi Ali is an outspoken critic of Islam and collaborated with film director Theo van Gogh on the short film Submission. Van Gogh was killed shortly by a Muslim extremist after the film was first aired. Hennis-Plasschaert said the Netherlands was becoming an international laughing stock for the way it is treating Hirsi Ali. "Naturally, rules are there to be adapted. At the same time it is self-evident to long further than your nose is long." "Is it not Ayaan who has led an impossible life for three years? Is it not Ayaan who recently heard that she has to leave her home because her neighbours didn't want her there?" the MEP asked. Director Patrick van Schie of the Telders foundation, the VVD's think tank, told broadcaster VPRO that Verdonk should be disqualified from the race to become the party's next political leader. Speaking to VPRO  And Conservative MP Geert Wilders, who quit the VVD in 2004, accused his former party of "scandalous opportunism" in the way it has treated Hirsi Ali. Wilders said it was "beyond all bounds" that Verdonk could first say Hirsi Ali had nothing to fear, and then to launch an investigation and announce she was not a Dutch citizen. He accused Verdonk of abusing Hirsi Ali's file in the race for leadership of the VVD. Both Wilders and Hirsi Ali had to go into hiding for several weeks due to death threats following the murder of Van Gogh.
© Expatica News

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DUTCH MP TO QUIT AMID ASYLUM ROW

16/5/2006- Controversial Somali-born Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali has said she will resign after admitting lying on her asylum application.
Ms Ali said she will quit after the country's immigration minister said the MP's citizenship might be invalid. A fierce critic of conservative Islam, Ms Ali rose to prominence in 2004 after a film-maker colleague, Theo van Gogh, was murdered by a Muslim extremist. She has since had police protection, amid threats from Islamic extremists. Ms Ali wrote the script for Van Gogh's TV film Submission, which angered many Muslims. Ms Ali announced her decision at a news conference in the Hague. "Today I resign as a member of parliament," she was quoted by AFP news agency as saying. "I will leave the Netherlands, saddened but also relieved. I will pack my bags. I will go on." Ms Ali came under pressure to resign after a Dutch television programme broadcast details of her falsified, 1992 asylum application. Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk said in the light of the programme other facts, Ms Ali's citizenship was unlikely to be valid. Dutch media has reported that Ms Ali will go to work for the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, in Washington.
© BBC News

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MP MAY BE DEPORTED OVER CLAIMS SHE LIED TO WIN ASYLUM (Netherlands)

15/5/2006- The political career of the Netherlands' most prominent MP was thrown into doubt as an investigation was launched into explosive allegations that she lied about her past in order to gain residence status and Dutch nationality. Ayann Hirsi Ali, who has won an array of international awards for bravery and free speech, has been accused of making up a story to immigration officers in which she claimed she had fled from a forced, arranged marriage and that she faced persecution in her native Somalia. A Dutch television documentary, aired last week, featured interviews with Ms Hirsi Ali's family in which her claims of an arranged marriage were denied. The programme also alleged that, contrary to her claims of having fled a war zone in Somalia, the MP had lived in comfortable upper middle-class circumstances safely in Kenya for at least 12 years before she sought refugee status in the Netherlands in 1992. Her family home - which is large and comfortable by Kenyan standards - was shown in the programme. Rita Verdonk, the Minister for Immigration and a member of Ms Hirsi Ali's own VVD right-wing liberal party, announced a full investigation into the furore last night, insisting that "laws and rules are valid for everyone".

Ms Hirsi Ali, 36, became internationally known when a film she wrote provoked the murder of its controversial director, Theo van Gogh, by an Islamic radical in 2004. With her own life under threat, she went into hiding and still lives under 24-hour protection. She has never, however, strayed far from the international spotlight and has won a string of awards for her battle to raise awareness of the plight of many Muslim women. When interviewed by the highly-respected Zembla TV programme, Ms Hirsi Ali's family members denied she had been forced into marriage against her will to her former husband, a Somalian man who now lives in Canada, or that she had not been present at the wedding ceremony, as she had previously claimed. The couple are said to have parted amicably and her family denied that she had fled a marriage she did not want. When questioned by the documentary makers, the MP stuck by her denial of being present at her own wedding. Her brother Mahad Hirsi Magan, who first claimed that his sister did attend her own wedding, has since changed his story. But Kees Driehuis of Zembla said: "We stick by the content. We spoke to different members of her family and we know that Hirsi Ali has been in touch with her brother since the programme went out. Perhaps that has something to do with it." Asked whether she had falsified her asylum application, she told the programme: "I lied", but said this had been public knowledge in 2002 when the VVD chose her as a candidate. Ms Hirsi Ali, whose real name is Hirsi Magan, pretended she had come to the Netherlands from Somalia, rather than via Kenya and Germany. Refugees are usually required to apply for asylum in the first safe country they reach after fleeing.

Ms Hirsi Ali, who said yesterday that she was "puzzled by the uproar," accused her rivals of a co- ordinated political vendetta against her. "Have they all gone mad?" she asked. Political opponents want her stripped of her Dutch citizenship and deported. Others say she should be expelled from parliament. The issue is particularly sensitive for the VVD as the party has taken a hard line on immigration, introducing tough new citizenship tests and leading a drive to expel 26,000 failed asylum- seekers. It has said that any foreigner found to have lied about their circumstances should be prohibited from having Dutch citizenship. Ms Hirsi Ali rose to fame after the murder of Van Gogh in November 2004. Defiant as ever, Ms Hirsi Ali is working on a sequel to the film she made with Van Gogh on Islam's treatment of homosexuality called Submission 2.
© Independent Digital

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ISLAM CONFERENCE FIZZLES(Denmark)

A weekend conference with the goal of building a bridge between the Muslim world and the West was more of a one way street, according to a number of participants

15/5/2006- After being the focus of Muslim anger earlier this year, Copenhagen was again the centre of Muslim attention this weekend. This time, however, the mesage was one of improved understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims. British television station The Islam Channel hoped to capitalise on the infamy brought upon the city after the publication of the Mohammed cartoons by holding the international conference 'Islamophobia: a dilemma in the West' as a way to create a dialogue and debunk myths. 'Fear of and prejudices about Islam have always been there, but we need to have the courage to talk about things,' said Mohamed Ali, president of the Islam Channel. Despite being billed as an international conference, and the largest of its kind since the row over the Mohammed cartoons exploded this winter, the majority of those participating were Muslim. Organisers had invited a broad spectrum of Danish politicians, members of the press and other public figures, but only a handful of ethnic Danes were to be found amongst the 900 people in attendance. 'We had hoped to see more Danes take part in the debate. We invited the prime minister to open the conference and all Danish ministers to participate. We invited political parties, even the Danish People's Party, the mayor of Copenhagen - and the Queen,' Ali said. Former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke was one of the conference's major draws. He said that dialogue could help to stamp out misunderstandings on both sides of the religious divide. 'Most Muslims are peace-loving people who want to live in a constructive dialogue with others. But it is the words and horrible acts of the extremists that capture our attention.' While western panel members such as Tøger Seidenfaden, editor-in-chief of Politiken newspaper, nodded in agreement with the call for dialogue, some Muslims on the floor were concerned that Muslims from the Middle East were stealing the show.

'This conference is spectacular, but I don't think it contains anything we can use in our daily lives,' said Aziz Fall, the president of an association of Senegalese Muslims in Denmark. 'There are millions of Muslims in Africa, but you don't see them represented here at the conference or in the debate.' Foreign conference participants said they were shocked to see the conditions Muslims in Denmark were forced to accept. 'I thought Denmark was a free and open country, but that's not so,' said Yvonne Ridley, a British woman who converted to Islam after being held hostage by the Taleban. Ridley, now the political editor for the Islam Channel, said Denmark's Muslims were made to feel like outsiders. 'Just the fact that Denmark doesn't have a single mosque built as a mosque - it doesn't even have a Muslim cemetary.' Ridley added that she and other Muslims were tired of being held responsible for terrorist acts committed in their religion's name. 'I don't demonise all Danes because of the Mohammed cartoons. And you shouldn't demonise all Muslims on account of al-Qaeda.'
© The Copenhagen Post

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MUSLIM HARDSHIP UNDER SPOTLIGHT (uk)

14/5/2006- Many Muslims in England face bleak employment prospects and endure poor standards of housing, a government-backed study has found. The report revealed Muslims were more likely than any other faith group to be jobless and living in poor conditions. It said 14% of Muslims aged over 25 were unemployed, compared with the national unemployment rate of 4%. University researchers in Birmingham, Derby, Oxford and Warwick also found Muslims had poorer levels of education. The study, commissioned to review the prospects of faith communities in England, also said Muslims were more vulnerable to long-term illness. And one in three lived in the most deprived areas of England. "Taking the Muslim population as a whole, they face some of the most acute conditions of multiple deprivation," the report said. John Prescott's former department, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM), commissioned the academics to review data on the Hindu, Sikh and Muslim communities. As well as highlighting the disadvantages suffered, the report found members of these communities were likely to remain concentrated in the same areas. This was because families wanted to stay close together and many prefer to live near to their places of worship. Researchers reviewed a variety of data, including information from the 2001 national census. The government will use the study in its work to encourage equal opportunities for members of all religious communities, a spokeswoman said.
© BBC News

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BRITAIN'S HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD ATTACKED IN EU REPORT

19/5/2006- Britain's human rights record has been heavily criticised in an EU report which calls on the government to sign key international conventions before lecturing other nations on their failings. Tony Blair's government is singled out for not falling into line with international commitments on efforts to curb human trafficking, on the protection of migrant workers and concerning child soldiers. The timing of the European Parliament's annual review of human rights is sensitive, after Mr Blair's public hints that the Human Rights Act should be amended in view of the threats from terrorism and organised crime. Richard Howitt, the Labour MEP and author of the European Parliament's report on human rights, said the debate in Britain could undermine criticism of foreign regimes practising torture and oppression. He said: "It is time to say that threats may change, but rights are inviolable." The Government has yet to implement the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. This gives victims of trafficking a minimum of 30 days to recover and escape from the influence of criminal gangs, providing them with a breathing space when they can decide whether to co-operate with the authorities. Though the UK has signed up to the United Nations optional protocol to the convention on the rights of the child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, it has entered one key reservation. This concerns recruitment of soldiers from the age of 16, although it says that normally no one below the age of 18 will be sent into battle. And people in Britain are not protected by the UN's international convention on the protection of the rights of all migrant workers and members of their families. That gives basic rights when working abroad. The European Parliament report says: "To have credibility on the international stage, EU member states need to be firm in setting dates for the ratification of all key human rights conventions and their optional protocols." It adds: "Many agencies suggest that EU policies to address illegal migration have moved so far as to curtail the ability of asylum seekers to exercise their human rights". The document praises the stand taken by the UK over the death penalty during its six-month presidency of the EU last year. But it says that the Government failed to push that agenda on child soldiers. "The attitude of the presidency that, 'It is not its role to tell its partners what to do' was worrying."

Overall, the EU is, it says, "better at issuing statements than in following them up". A British official said: "The UK takes human rights very seriously in the European Union and is proud of the achievements in this area during the UK presidency. The report gives credit to the UK as well as highlighting some concerns. When we sign up to a convention we implement and aim to instigate a rights culture. We do not simply sign up to agreement and then put them on the shelf to gather dust." The European Parliament targets the EU's timid stance on human rights abuses in Chechnya, and suggests "that the EU has one rule for small countries and applies a different one for large countries". The report criticises the bloc's failure to put human rights dialogue at the heart of bilateral trade and political contacts. It pointed out that, on the insistence of Beijing, officials meeting in the EU-China human rights dialogue did not have simultaneous interpretation, and had to read statements to each other. The document calls for a unified EU human rights report identifying an annual list of countries of concern. It also wants a sliding scale of sanctions against countries that abuse human rights, agreed without national vetoes. Speaking in the European Parliament, where the report won the backing of 522 MEPs, Mr Howitt said: "Those responsible for terrorism, violent crime and child abuse may have committed morally repugnant acts, but our own morality is questioned unless we accord them a fair trial, proper conditions of imprisonment and protection on release."  He went on: "Let me refer to the debate raging in my own country this week, on how human rights can be reconciled given the changed threats of terrorism, people trafficking and organised crime. It is time to say that threats may change, but rights are inviolable."

What UK has not signed up to
The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings
This entitles victims of trafficking to medical treatment, counselling and information as well as appropriate accommodation. They have at least 30 days to recover and escape from the influence of the traffickers and to decide whether to co-operate with the authorities. A renewable residence permit may be granted if their circumstances merit or if they need to stay so they can co-operate in a criminal investigation.

The United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict
Countries must take all "feasible measures" to ensure that those under 18 do not take a direct part in hostilities. Nations that recruit those below the age of 18 must lay down a series of limited safeguards including the informed consent of the person's parents or legal guardians

UN's International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families
This spells out the basic rights of all workers including equal pay rights and that they "shall not be held in slavery or servitude". It also obliges the host country to apply basic standards if criminal charges are levied against a migrant worker. These include the right to be informed in a language they understand of the charge against them; to have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defence; to be tried without undue delay; and to be tried in their presence and to defend themselves in person or through legal assistance of their own choosing.
© Independent Digital

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RESPECT OUR FELLOW TRAVELLERS (uk)

16/5/2006- Trevor Phillips has called for more 'understanding' of the gypsy community and said people's fears of criminality was overblown. The chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality called on local councils to provide enough land to house gypsies and traveller families. Mr Phillips wants to end the damaging racial tensions flaring up in the UK's rural communities. Speaking at a press conference to launch a report into the issue, entitled 'Common Ground', Mr Phillips stressed that the CRE had support for its stance from 'virtually every other stakeholder' including travellers' organisations, the police and local authorities. The issues around gypsies and travellers would only be resolved if everyone involved both understood the fundamental, underlying problems and was willing to try to find solutions to them, he added.

Respectable
He claimed the issue had been 'bedevilled by misunderstanding, prejudice and to some extent misrepresentation'. Resolving the issues around gypsies was important for social cohesion. 'Gypsies and travellers still represent a group in our society which it still seems respectable to treat as outsiders and second-class citizens,' he said, pointing to the continued existence of 'no traveller' signs and other discriminatory practices. He admitted that people's fears about gypsies and travellers were 'exacerbated' by criminal behaviour on the part of some gypsies, but insisted those offenders were very much in the minority. It was 'both unfair and not very useful' to take those individuals as representative of a wider gypsy and traveller community. The underlying problem was the lack of enough sites being made available to gypsies, the CRE head insisted, adding that housing provision for gypsies should be made as part of overall housing provision, not as a special service. Resolving the issues around gypsies was not 'rocket science', he said. 'It is not the biggest of deals for us to solve these problems.'

Anonymity
Only 500 acres across the whole of the UK would be needed to create the 2,500-4,000 pitches needed to provide homes for gypsies and travellers. Sarah Spencer, a CRE commissioner and chair of the report's advisory committee, said the CRE had not named the local authorities who were failing to provide land for gypsies and travellers. She had promised anonymity to the councils taking part in the research to encourage them to be open about the problems they were facing. The research would not be used as an excuse to target poorly performing councils. The CRE would use 'normal' mechanisms - such as complaints from the public - to take action against councils, he said, but that would be a 'separate' process from the research. Smaller issues councils had often shown themselves unwilling to deal with the problems, however the fact that some councils had shown leadership and face the issues head on the showed they could be resolved.

Mainstream
Asked whether there should be a statutory duty on councils to provide sites for travellers and gypsies, Ms Spencer said the Government had effectively introduced a statutory duty on councils but had done so through 'mainstream' planning law. 'We are confident that the new process in the planning and housing system actually delivers the sites, and that probably means there is no longer a need for a statutory duty,' she said. Ms Spencer said increasing the number of sites made available was the top priority. Asked whether the CRE was confident that councils would accept the recommendations, she said the Local Government Association was ï`%' behind the report. Mr Phillips added that if the issues surrounding gypsies and travellers were to be resolved, the underlying causes of those problems - such as a lack of sites and suspicion of outsiders - must be given priority ahead of tackling the symptoms. If that could be achieved, there would no longer be 'cheap votes' to be won in attacking gypsies and travellers. One of the major problems at present was that councils were afraid of taking steps in isolation, because they could be flooded with gypsies if they made sites available and neighbouring councils did not. Ms Spencer said it was worrying that only one council in five provided advice to gypsies and travellers about purchasing surplus private land. And, even more worryingly, not one council had assessed the impact of its policies on race relations as the law required them to do.
© Black Information Link

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ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS WORKED FOR HOME OFFICE(uk)

18/5/2006- Five illegal immigrants have been arrested under the immigration act while working in the Home Office, it was revealed tonight. The five Nigerians were working as cleaners in an office of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate - the Home Office department responsible for the removal of illegal immigrants from the UK. Channel 4 News reported that the five people being held in custody were hired by a contract cleaning company to clean offices at Beckett House, near London Bridge in central London. The offices are used by IND staff on the frontline of the battle to target and remove illegal immigrants from Britain. A Home Office spokesman said: "We can confirm that five illegal immigrants were arrested last night at Beckett House following checks on their immigration status. These individuals were the employees of a firm contracted to provide cleaning services. "It is policy that all employees and contracted employees working in Immigration and Nationality Directorate buildings have security and employment checks carried out which include checks on their immigration status. "Of course, we will investigate further and appropriate action will be taken as necessary." The shadow home secretary, David Davis, said: "This has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous when the home office's ability to catch illegal immigrants is so bad that they even manage to employ them as cleaners, presumably without realising." The IND's director of enforcement and removals, Dave Roberts, sparked furore earlier this week by telling MPs that he did not have "the faintest idea" how many illegal immigrants were in Britain. In evidence to the House of Commons home affairs committee, Mr Roberts said those who overstayed illegally were not pursued as "individuals". Instead the strategy was to target larger numbers of failed asylum seekers working for the same employer. New laws coming into force later this year will make companies liable to fines of up to £2,000 per employee if they knowingly give work to illegal immigrants. Checking on individuals was "not an effective strategy", said Mr Roberts, adding: "We are making huge efforts to remove them but not at the basis of tracing individuals." The home secretary, John Reid, later admitted he had no precise figures for the number of illegal immigrants in the country, but insisted the government had met targets to deport more failed asylum seekers.
© The Guardian

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ARSONISTS ATTACK JOURNALIST ON SAME NIGHT NORMAN LOWELL ORGANISES BBQ (Malta)

14/5/2006- While neo-Nazi Norman Lowell was hosting a barbeque for his right-wing supporters at Dwejra, a kilometre and a half away from Bidnija, arsonists attempted to burn down the private residence of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. This is the second attack on the Caruana Galizia residence, the first having taken place in 1994. The arson attack happened in the early hours of Saturday when Caruana Galizia and her family were sleeping inside the house. Nobody was injured in the incident, described by one of the investigating officers as a ‘military style’ operation. Lowell posted a message on the Viva Malta web site at 4am. Some time later another Lowell follower wrote: “Yes, indeed I have drunk to the dregs and toasted the heroes in my own incorrigible way.”
Family members managed to douse the flames after one of Caruana Galizia’s sons spotted the fire soon after reaching home at around 3am. The arsonists attacked soon after the last lights went out in the house. One of Caruana Galizia’s sons was still working in his room until 2.30am.

The torching of the residence happened on the same night that Norman Lowell’s far-right movement advertised on an extremist Maltese web site that a barbecue at Dwejra for ardent followers would be held. The meetings are renowned for extremists who publicly express anti-immigrant and racist sentiments. The police who appear not to monitor these sites did not raid the Dwejra party. It took the Commissioner of Police ten hours to visit the Bidnija site and no police officers were present to monitor the area and continue with the search after 9 am. Informed sources told MaltaToday that the Prime Minister expressed his concerns to the Commissioner of Police that more needed to be done to catch the culprits. Journalists yesterday condemned the attack but expressed the view that the police were incompetent and incapable of protecting journalists and hunting down the culprits. It was only because Caruana Galizia’s back door is made of fire retardant material that the flames did not spread into the house’s interior. Had the fire or fuel reached indoors it could have led to a major disaster since the floor is covered by carpets. The fire was put out by Peter Caruana Galizia and his three sons together with the help of his wife Daphne. The attack continues to undermine the Police Commissioner’s credibility and comes only a week and a half after an attack on the residence of MaltaToday editor Saviour Balzan. Balzan’s residence is situated in front of the Naxxar police station. The only access to the back garden of Caruana Galizia’s residence, situated in Bidnija, is through Rihan valley. The arsonists trudged all the way up the valley through terraced fields, climbing rubble walls and avoiding the irrigation wells in the area, covering a total distance of over 300m.

Five tyres were set alight outside the backdoor of the residence. The number of tyres and the laborious task to reach the back garden is a clear indication that more than two persons were involved in the crime and that the individuals involved had the physical stamina to perpetuate the act. Curiously enough, the family’s pet dog went missing some three weeks ago and only one week ago an unidentified young man drove down the residence’s private road only to swerve quickly and speed back out when spotted by Caruana Galizia. At the time, both incidents seemed to be accidental. Evidence collected by the police from the scene of the crime shows that the tyres were set alight after being doused with fuel. The amount of fuel used in the attack even had one of the investigating officers remark that in 25 years of investigating arson attacks, he had “never seen such a great supply of fuel used in a single act of arson.” During a search of the valley conducted by one of Caruana Galizia’s sons at around 12pm yesterday, a jerry can and other bottles containing fuel were discovered in one of the underlying fields. Caruana Galizia and her family are the latest victims of a spate of arson attacks, mostly targeted against journalists and individuals who have been vocal supporters of the immigrants’ cause.
In a press statement issued yesterday afternoon, Caruana Galizia expressed her conviction that the persons who committed the violent act against her home and family “are connected with the nascent fascist movement and with neo-Nazism in this country.”
“The attack is part of a systematic attempt at creating a reign of terror, and it is linked, in my view, to the other attacks on the Jesuit Refugee Service, and on my fellow journalist Saviour Balzan,” Caruana Galizia said. “It is not immigration that threatens our culture now, but nascent fascism and neo-Nazism, with the violence and intimidation that are associated with those political creeds…
“Perhaps my fellow Maltese will one day realise that it is far better to live freely in a country where there are many immigrants, than to live in a country where there are no immigrants, but where one is too afraid to speak or to be different for fear of being attacked,” she said.

The attack on Caruana Galizia’s residence was condemned by the Institute of Journalists and the newly-formed Journalists’ Committee. While condemning the latest attack on a fellow journalist, journalists will today at noon present a letter to Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi at Castille calling for the protection of journalists and freedom of expression. The journalists will be presenting a letter to Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi calling for the immediate protection of journalists and their families. All journalists and friends are invited to be present for the presentation. “These attacks have reached shocking levels and confirm a systematic campaign targeting members of the press and outspoken critics of racism, while hate speech keeps being aired publicly undeterred,” the Journalists’ Committee said. The Prime Minister also issued a statement condemning the arson attack, pledging the full commitment of the police force to solve the recent spate of attacks. “Government reiterates its commitment to build a society based on the values of respect for every individual and his rights, tolerance and solidarity,” Gonzi added. Alternattiva Demokratika chairperson Harry Vassallo also condemned the arson attack calling it an “additional menace” since it targets members of the press. “If the press is not free, none of us are free,” Vassallo said. “It is correct of the police to assign such cases to its anti-terrorism unit since such actions are aimed at suppressing the free expressions of opinions which the arsonists do not share. This is terrorism and it should be dealt with accordingly,” Vassallo insisted. Vassallo described the attack as an “act of defiance against all law enforcement agencies” having come soon after the Police Commissioner had said that investigations into the arson attacks were at a delicate stage.
© Malta Today

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EUROPE'S IMMIGRANT CRISIS(Opinion)

By Martin Walker

18/5/2006- President George W. Bush's decision to come out fighting for his controversial immigration policy this week opens one battle of a very much larger crisis that has seen three dramatic developments in Europe this week. In France, the National Assembly has just passed by 367 votes to 164 a tough new law that broadly allows immigration only on French terms, largely restricted to educated and "desirable" workers, and requires them to learn French, respect the French way of life, and ends the old automatic right to French citizenship after ten years. It also sharply restricts the right of legal immigrants to bring family members to France to join them. In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair was left battered after a confrontation in parliament with his increasingly effective Conservative opponent, David Cameron, who charged that the government was "rattled and paralyzed" after losing control of illegal immigration. And in Holland, the country's best-known immigrant and an elected member of parliament has been stripped of her citizenship overnight by a minister of her own party, for using only part of her long Somali name on her application for asylum ten years ago. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an outspoken critic of Islamic extremism and Muslim attitudes to women, has repeatedly explained in public that she did not give her married name on her application for fear of reprisals from her husband's family, but "Iron Rita" Verdonk, the former prison wardress who is now the Dutch minister of immigration, decided this was grounds to make her fellow party member a woman without a country.

The issue of immigration has been approaching boiling point in Europe for some years. The anti-immigration extreme right Jean-Marie Le Pen came second in France's Presidential elections four years ago, and looks likely to get a much bigger vote next time. The murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a radical Muslim led to firebomb attacks on mosques. In Belgium, the anti-immigrant Flemish party now dominates the politics of the great port of Antwerp. And in Britain, last year's London bombings by Islamic extremists were followed by this month's surge in votes for the anti-immigrant British National Party. By American standards, the demographics of European immigration are relatively modest, with some 15 million Muslim and perhaps 10 million black immigrants in a population of close to 500 million. But over the last year, some kind of tipping point in European opinion seems to have been reached, and a major factor in this has been the way that governments appear to be losing control -- as France last November seemed helpless in the face of the month-long riots and car-burnings by immigrant youths that swept over 300 towns and cities. The problem in Britain became critical this week after a senior immigration official admitted that he did "not have the faintest idea" how many illegal immigrants were in Britain, and that he saw no point in point hunting down individuals who overstayed their tourist visas. Nor did he know how many people had been ordered by the Home Office to leave the country. Amid a media outcry, the Conservative opposition said the situation "beggared belief," and Labor MPs savaged their own government over this "mockery of the immigration control system." It came after an earlier row last month, when it was found that hundreds of immigrants in prison for serious crimes, including rape and murder, had simply been allowed to go free rather than deported. That led to Home Secretary Charles Clark being sacked from Blair's Cabinet. And now Blair is proposing to change the law to make the deportation of immigrants convicted of crimes virtually automatic, once they have served their prison sentences. "In the vast bulk of cases, there will be an automatic presumption now to deport -- and the vast bulk of those people will be deported," Blair told parliament Wednesday. "Those people, in my view, should be deported irrespective of any claim that they have that the country to which they are going back may not be safe." The problem is that such a draconian step may not be legal under international conventions and under the Human Rights law of the European Union.

And in France, human rights groups have joined the opposition Socialist party in fighting the tough new immigration law, and pledged to challenge the limits on family reunions in the European Court of Human Rights. The Council of Christian Churches has opposed the new law, and Marielou Jampolski of the anti-racism group SOS Racism claims "it tries to kill every liberty and every right of the French immigrants, and I believe it is very dangerous for the nation in general." Equally, a legal challenge is now likely against the decision of "Iron Rita" to deport Ayaan Hirsi Ali, which has aroused a great storm of protest in Holland, with claims that the government is trampling on the country's humanist traditions. Deputy Prime Minister Gerrit Zalm is standing by the young Somali-born member of parliament and questioning his own government on the decision. But Hirsi Ali has decided to move on. Despite traditional European jeers at the United States as a racist and illiberal society, she is planning to move across the Atlantic, to take up a post at Washington think-tank the American Enterprise Institute. This is both a pungent comment on the current mood of Europe and a striking testimony to both the attractions of America and the strength of its tradition as a nation of immigrants who are welcomed to make good, and benefit themselves and the new adopted country.
© World Peace Herald

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BODIES OF AFRICAN IMMIGRANTS PILE UP AROUND SUNBATHERS

This article is from the (RED) edition of The Independent, guest-edited for 16 May 2006 by Bono. Half the revenue from the edition will be donated to the Global Fund to Fight Aids.

16/5/2006- Five hundred illegal immigrants have arrived on Lampedusa in the past week, under the eyes of Italians taking an early summer break on the island's sandy beaches. Like tens of thousands before them, they made their European landfall here after long journeys through Africa: sneaking across closely guarded borders, hiding in dunes in the Sahara, passed from one gang of people-traffickers to another like merchandise, robbed of what little they had at the start of the journey. Most have spent all the money they had on the trip, and often their families' savings too. If they have made it this far they are lucky: more than 2,000 have died trying to get into Europe this way in the past 15 years. Lampedusa is the southernmost point of Italy, halfway between Malta and Tunisia. You wouldn't come to Lampedusa for the scenery, which is rocks and scrub and yucca plants and poorly concealed rubbish tips. Little that says "Italy" has made it to this speck in the Mediterranean, little that says la dolce vita. But if sun, sand and aquamarine water are your thing, you could do worse. Hundreds of Italians, Milanese especially, pile off flights from the mainland every summer weekend. Every summer, the island experiences this dual invasion: thousands of sun-seekers, and thousands of migrants trying to get away from countries where their lives are at risk, or to start a new life where there is hope for a decent future. The tourists disembark from their planes in view of the migrants' reception centre. One of the popular beaches is in full view of the dock where the immigrant boats are towed in. There is no contact.

If you leave the coast of Libya and sail north, Lampedusa is the first place you make landfall. Today, as many times every year, the reception centre next to the airport is full to bursting. It is equipped to accommodate only 190 people. There are only eight toilets, and they don't work well. There is nowhere for fresh arrivals to sleep. A state of emergency has been declared. The latest arrivals have been fortunate: the weather has been fine and the sea flat. But in the recent past, coast guards have described ghastly scenes. In October 2003 they boarded a dilapidated wooden fishing boat in mid-ocean where the dead and the still-just-alive were all mixed up together, the survivors wailing for help. When the corpses had been removed, one young woman, unconscious and barely breathing but still alive, was found trapped underneath them. Fifteen survived and 13 died, but survivors said about another 70 had alrdady been tossed overboard. Earlier that year, in June 2003, more than 200 died when their grossly overloaded vessel sank. Yet Italy has hardened its heart to the clandestini. Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League, Silvio Berlusconi's closest ally, said of the 200 dead: "They died while travelling, like many people on the roads." Earlier in the year he said of the immigrant boats: "I want to hear the roar of cannon! The immigrants must be hunted down, for better or worse. At the second or third warning - "Boom! Fire the cannons at them! Otherwise this will never stop."

If you sit on the quay in Lampedusa long enough you can see the haves and have-nots processing into the dock: the pleasure boats with their cargoes of toasting trippers, puttering home from a day on the water; then the word goes up, "Another one's arrived!" and the coastguard's ship comes into view, towing the latest heavily laden migrant vessel behind it. Coastguards wearing rubber gloves and surgical masks march them up the gangplank and give them a bottle of water and sit them in tight formation on the dock where a doctor gives them a look-over. Thirsty and suffering from exposure their faces are grey; lips tremble uncontrollably. Almost identical scenes occur hundreds of miles away in the Canary Islands, where nearly 1,000 immigrants have arrived by sea in the past week. On Fuerteventura, the island that is a night and a day's sail from the African coast, the villas of British and German holidaymakers have a front-row view of the frequent arrivals. This is often the last thing they want to see or think about on holiday. On Lampedusa, a man painting his boat said: "This is not Lampedusa's problem. It's Italy's problem, it's Europe's problem. We don't even see them. We have nothing to do with them."
© Independent Digital

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MIGRANT INFLUX WORRIES CANARIES

15/5/2006- Senior Spanish ministers have been discussing the illegal immigration crisis facing the Canary Islands after a mass landing of immigrants. Nearly 1,000 people arrived in boats from Africa over the weekend - the largest number this year. Officials on the islands say at least 5,000 immigrants have made the journey this year and urged Madrid to give the issue greater priority. The Spanish government says it will step up action to tackle the problem. Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said increasing numbers of illegal immigrants would be repatriated and joint patrols by Spanish and Mauritanian forces start on Monday to guard against illegal people trafficking to the Canaries. Since Friday, 974 illegal migrants on boats heading for the Canary Islands have been intercepted by Spanish authorities. Thousands try to reach Europe through Spanish waters every year - most packed into narrow, open boats from north Africa that sometimes take weeks to arrive. Many destroy their identity papers before reaching Spain to hinder repatriation. Hundreds of would-be illegal immigrants have died on route.
© BBC News

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FRENCH MPS SHELVE 'GENOCIDE' VOTE

18/5/2006- The French parliament has postponed debate on a bill that would make it a crime to deny that the mass killing of Armenians in 1915 was "genocide". Turkish officials and businesses had lobbied French MPs to shelve the bill, which relates to a thorny issue still plaguing Turkish-Armenian relations. Turkey rejects Armenia's claim that the Ottoman Turks killed 1.5m Armenians. The French Socialist opposition wanted a new law to impose fines in line with those for Holocaust deniers. Anyone denying that six million Jews were killed by the Nazis in World War II can be fined up to 39,064 euros (£26,500) and be jailed for five years in France. Armenia says up to 1.5 million Armenians were deported and died at the hands of the Ottoman rulers in World War I. Turkey says a few hundred thousand died in a war which also left many Turks dead. Ahead of the debate, Turkish MPs had been lobbying their French counterparts, warning of irreparable damage if the bill passed into law. It was set to be a free vote for French MPs, but President Jacques Chirac said that passing the bill would be a mistake. Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy agreed, telling the National Assembly: "The Armenian cause is just and should be defended and respected. But the bill you have submitted today would, if passed, be considered as an unfriendly gesture by a large majority of Turks, whether you want this or not." As the session ran out of time for a vote to take place, there were reportedly angry scenes as MPs and Armenian groups in the public gallery shouted: "Vote! Vote!" There are some 400,000 people of Armenian descent in France, and the Socialists have been accused of trying to win their favour ahead of next year's presidential election. Some European Union countries have passed bills recognising the killings as genocide and the European Parliament has backed a non-binding resolution saying Turkey must recognise it as such before it can join the EU. The French bill will now be shelved until October at the earliest.
© BBC News

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MPS BACK FRENCH IMMIGRATION BILL

18/5/2006- The French parliament has given strong backing to a controversial immigration bill that will make it more difficult for the unskilled to settle in France. The bill offers residence permits to highly qualified newcomers from outside the European Union. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who drafted the bill, says it will bring France into line with other countries but critics say it is racist. Mr Sarkozy is on a visit to West Africa, where he is facing protests. Ahead of his arrival in Mali - the homeland of many immigrants living in France - hundreds staged a march against the legislation in the capital, Bamako. The proposed law also requires immigrants from outside the European Union to sign a contract agreeing to learn French and to respect the principles of the French Republic, and makes it more difficult for them to bring their families over to join them. Deputies in the National Assembly approved the bill by 367 votes to 164 on Wednesday. It must also be passed by the Senate, which will start debating it next month. Mr Sarkozy has argued that riots by youths in immigrant suburbs across France last November showed the system of immigration and integration was failing. He says France, like a number of other Western countries, needs to do choose the immigrants it needs. "It's selective immigration," he said.

Son of immigrants
During the debate the interior minister has faced criticism from the opposition centre and left. Socialist MP Serge Blisko said the bill amounted to "the organised pillaging of brains", according to the Associated Press. Wednesday's vote came as Mr Sarkozy flew to West Africa for a two-day trip designed to discuss immigration issues. Most immigrants living in France come from its former African colonies. The proposed law has been criticised by many in the region, including President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal. Mr Sarkozy, who is the son of a Hungarian immigrant, has since praised the contribution of skilled migrants to France but insists those who entered illegally must be sent back. The council of Christian Churches wrote to the government expressing its concern. Marielou Jampolski, of the French anti-racism organisation SOS Racisme, said it was completely opposed to the bill. "We think that it tries to kill every liberty and every right of the French immigrants, and I think it's very dangerous for the country."

Proposed new rules
=Only the qualified get "skills and talents" residency permit
=Foreigners only allowed in to work, not live off benefits
=Foreign spouses to wait longer for residence cards
=Migrants must agree to learn French
=Migrants must sign 'contract' respecting French way of life
=Scraps law on workers getting citizenship after 10 years
© BBC News

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THOUSANDS PROTEST AGAINST FRANCE'S NEW IMMIGRATION BILL

13/5/2006- Around 11,200 people according to police and 35,000 according to organisers demonstrated on Saturday in Paris against a new immigration bill presented by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarokozy. The bill promotes the idea of "selected immigration" and makes it harder for people without specific qualifications to obtain residence papers for France, and easier for the authorities to deport illegal immigrants. Parliament is to vote on the proposed legislation on Wednesday. Protesters, led by a number of prominent left-wing politicians, carried banners and wore stickers denouncing what they describe as "disposable immigration". Yet a poll released on Tuesday suggested that a majority of French people back Sarkozy's bill. Seventy-six percent of those questioned in the survey by the BVA firm, carried out for Le Figaro newspaper and LCI Television, said they approved of clauses such as a requirement that immigrants learn French and take civics lessons. Nearly as many -- 73 percent -- supported a demand in the bill that would allow only legal immigrants who could prove they were financially independent to bring in family members from abroad to join them. Sixty percent of the respondents said they thought current immigration policy in France was not working properly, compared to 28 percent who thought it was, and 12 percent who did not give their opinion.
© The Tocqueville Connection

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L'OREAL EXECS ON TRIAL FOR 'RACIST' HIRING TACTICS (France)

18/5/2006- Three executives from the French cosmetics group L'Oréal and the temporary employment giant Adecco went on trial on Thursday in Paris, accused of applying racist hiring policies. The executives — who work for Garnier, one of L'Oréal's top brands, Adecco and its subsidiary Districom — are accused of using ethnic profiling to filter out non-white candidates for a Garnier promotional campaign in 2001. They are charged, along with their employers, of "discrimination based on origin, nationality or ethnic background", in a case brought by the rights group SOS Racism. According to the prosecution, a fax sent by Districom specified that Garnier wanted only "BBR" or 'Bleu-Blanc-Rouge' hostesses — meaning red, white and blue, the colours of the French flag — for its campaign. The defendants deny the accusation, saying the "BBR" tag simply meant that candidates should have a good command of the French language. France has stepped up its efforts to combat racism following last year's riots in high-immigration suburbs, and the number of complaints filed with the HALDE anti-discrimination body has jumped from 150 to 270 per month. Anti-racism groups say discrimination is widespread in the French job market but that offenders are rarely made to face trial. According to the vice-president of SOS Racism, Samuel Thomas, large French companies — and particularly recruitment specialists — commonly use a system of codes to refer to the ethnic profiles of candidates. Among a number of cases being investigated, he said, one Paris recruitment firm was found to use a scale running from "PR1" for white candidates, to "PR4" for candidates of African origin. "We want to dismantle the entire system underlying the discriminations," said Thomas, whose group pioneered the practice of undercover testing to expose racist offenders in France — from nightclubs to job agencies.
© Expatica News

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UN PANS TOKYO'S 'RACIST' NEW LAW(Japan)

19/5/2006- Top UN race-discrimination investigator Doudou Diene has denounced a new Japanese law for compulsory fingerprinting of foreigners as evidence of a worldwide trend towards "criminalising" outsiders. Mr Diene, the UN High Commission on Human Rights special rapporteur on racial discrimination, said yesterday that the Japanese legislation illustrated a "worrisome development" of creating laws to set foreigners apart, on the pretext of combating terrorism. These laws undermined the international agreements to curb racial discrimination and had infiltrated an "extreme Right" agenda into democratic governments. "Especially since 9/11, there has been a process of criminalisation of foreigners, as foreigners - of asylum-seekers, migrant workers, migrants," Mr Diene said. "(The Japanese law) is an illustration of a very worrisome development of racism in the world; it is what I call the 'banalisation' of discrimination, of racism." Mr Diene produced a report earlier this year on racial discrimination in Japan, which many Japanese deny exists in their country because of its assumed racial homogeneity. However, Mr Diene found widespread discrimination, at official and private levels, against indigenous Ainu on northern Hokkaido, Okinawans in the south, and Korean and Chinese residents. About 800,000 Koreans are the largest group among an estimated two million foreigners living in Japan. Though the Diene report was avoided by domestic news outlets, it caused a major stir in government and non-government organisations. The Government has yet to respond to Mr Diene's recommendations, including an official statement of recognition that racism and xenophobia exist in Japan, a national law banning race discrimination and a national anti-discrimination authority. Mr Diene said he expected Japan to respond next month at the first session of the new UN Human Rights Council, a beefed-up replacement of the UNHCR, or the following one in September. The immigration control law passed the upper house on Wednesday. Intended to prevent terrorists arriving under false identities, it calls for foreign visitors older than 16 to be fingerprinted and photographed, and it foreshadows gathering other biometric data. The law excludes ethnic Korean residents and others with special permanent residence status.
© The Australian

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Headlines 12 May, 2006

SHOOTINGS IN BELGIUM RAISE RACIAL CONCERNS

12/5/2006- First, the gunman shot and wounded a woman of Turkish descent. Then he turned his rifle on a black woman from Mali and the 2-year-old white girl in her care, killing both. The assailant, police say, was a teenager who shot anyone whose skin color he didn't like in a spree that sparked nationwide concern about growing racist violence in Belgium. Hundreds of protesters filed silently through the northern port city of Antwerp early Friday, a day after the black-clad 18-year-old with a shaved head and armed with a newly bought rifle walked through the narrow, cobblestone streets and opened fire. Police shot and wounded the gunman. "Africans have gone through enough. Now they are shot simply because they are dark," said Ngounda Demba, a relative of the slain baby sitter who was among the demonstrators on Friday. The gunman was arrested and charged with murder and attempted murder on Friday while recovering in hospital. He was interrogated there by police. "If he hadn't been stopped, there would have been more victims," said Dominique Reyniers of the Antwerp prosecutor's office. "The suspect said that after buying a hunting rifle and ammunition, he purposely sought out people of foreign origin with the purpose to shoot them down," Reyniers said. Members of the assailant's family belonged to a right-wing party with an anti-foreigner platform. He had been evicted from his boarding school days earlier for smoking, and had written a farewell letter there. Suzanne Goverder described what she witnessed Thursday seconds after she heard a shot. "I heard a child twice asking 'What's happening?'. Then she started crying and she yelled 'mama' and then a second shot. And at that moment I realized that something was very wrong," Goverder said. Violence against non-Caucasians has been on the rise in Belgium since a white youth was slain last month for an MP3 player. The killers were at first said to be North Africans before police arrested two Polish suspects.

Since that killing, incidents with racist undertones have been highlighted in the media. Closed-circuit television pictures showed a black man being kicked and beaten outside a gasoline station in Brussels because he was slow to move his car away from the gas pump. The victim was left partly blind and paralyzed. A man of African descent was beaten into a coma outside a bar frequented by the extreme right, and three skinheads were arrested in connection with the attack. There was also a suspicious fire at a home where people of African descent live. "Everyone in our country has to realize what a climate of intolerance can lead to," Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said. Antwerp, some 30 miles from Brussels, has long been a hotbed of the extreme right. The Flemish Interest party, which has an anti-foreigner program, has become the largest party in the city over the past decade. Party spokesman Philippe Van der Sander said some of the teenage gunman's family are party members. "But (he) himself had never attended any meeting of the party, was never a member," he said. The party condemned the killings. "It cannot get any worse," Antwerp's socialist Mayor Patrick Janssens said. "It cannot be fathomed that this happens in clear daylight in Antwerp." The killings in a municipal election year turned the focus on Antwerp, where the Flemish Interest party is seeking to gain power in October. Anti-racism groups were already trying to link the attacks to the election and called for a special march to remember the victims. "These crimes show, as if it was still necessary, that racist ideas still kill in Belgium. A few month from the elections, let us show that the extreme right will be stopped," said Gilbert Chabrillat of the Jewish Student Union. European Parliament president Josep Borrell said the succession of attacks "shows that the step from xenophobic talk to crime is, unfortunately, possible."
© Associated Press

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SKINHEAD RAMPAGE HIGHLIGHTS BELGIUM'S RACE ANXIETY

Tolerance is under pressure as the son of an anti-immigrant politician murders two innocent foreigners

12/5/2006- Acts of racist violence can and do happen anywhere. But the ominous context of a deadly rampage this week in Antwerp has left Belgians anxious about the state of ethnic relations in their prosperous but heterogeneous country. On Thursday, 18-year-old Hans Van Themsche donned a long black leather coat, purchased a hunting rifle, and then, in broad daylight, started stalking identifiable foreigners in Belgium's second city. First, he shot and wounded a woman of Turkish descent who had been sitting on a public bench, reading a book. Then Van Themsche killed a pregnant Malian babysitter and the native Belgian two-year-old for whom she was caring. His hunt for further victims was stopped only when a police officer shot him in the stomach after he refused to drop his weapon. Van Themsche had shaved his head just days before his shooting spree. But a note later recovered from his home by police suggests that his racist politics was more deeply rooted. His father had been a founding member of the Vlaams Blok, the anti-immigration, Flemish separatist party renamed Vlaams Belang, or Flemish Interest, in 2004 in a bid to broaden its appeal. His aunt, Frieda Van Themsche, is a VB member of the Belgian parliament. And VB is no fringe party: it got 24% of the Flemish vote in 2004 regional elections, making it the largest party in Flanders, Belgium's biggest and most prosperous region.  The Vlaams Belang immediately condemned the murders, demanding "the heaviest possible punishment for the murderer" and declaring that "such disturbed criminals ought to have no place in our community." But other politicians and commentators were quick to connect the murders to VB's xenophobic policies. "These horrible and cowardly crimes are a form of extreme racism," said Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt. "No one can ignore what the far right can lead to." Whether such charges will erode the VB's appeal, or give it a new underdog allure, is still not clear.

The murders come just days after three skinheads beat up a French citizen of African origin in the Flemish city of Bruges. Racial tensions were also evident last month when the whole country was transfixed by the murder of 17-year-old Joe van Holsbeeck, killed in Brussels' central train station by two assailants who were after his MP3 player. For days, witnesses told the media that the perpetrators had been youths of North African origin. But after ten days, police fingered two Poles for the murder, one of whom has fled to Poland and awaits extradition. "It's intellectually unfair to blame the act of a lunatic on a political party, whatever his family ties to the Vlaams Belang," says Carl Devos, a political scientist at the University of Ghent. "But the VB is responsible for creating an atmosphere and popularizing the theme of racial tension." He worries that such racially-charged crimes are eroding tolerance in a country that can't exist without it. "It's not like we're living in Beirut," he says. "But we are losing control."
© Time Magazine

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STREET KILLINGS WERE 'WELL PREPARED' (Belgium)

12/5/2006- A house raid has indicated that the 18-year-old man who shot and killed a black woman and a two-year-old child on Thursday carefully planned his killing spree. In the bedroom of 18-year-old Hans Van Themsche, police found plans indicating he wanted to kill multiple victims. He was not known to judicial authorities, but had extreme-right tendencies. The public prosecution office initially said the killings appeared to be racially-motivated, but has since been more reticent in describing the shooting as racism-driven. It stressed that the suspect has not yet been questioned. The 18-year-old skinhead had walked to the Kleine Goddaard, near the Great Market, in Antwerp on Thursday morning with hunting weapon he had just bought. He then found his first victim: a 47-year-old Turkish woman who was reading a book on a street bench in front of a language centre where immigrants can learn Dutch. She was shot in the chest, but is not in a life threatening condition. She underwent an operation on Thursday night. The single woman, who has two sons aged 24 and 29, lives in the suburb of Luchtbal and was in the city centre by coincidence. The killer than walked to the Zwartzustersstraat where he found his next two victims, a black woman and a native Flemish child on her tricycle. They died almost immediately at the scene after being shot. The woman has been identified as an immigrant from Mali. She was pregnant and had only lived in Belgium for a year. She was taking care of the girl, aged two-and-a-half.

The shooter remained cool-headed and appeared as though he wanted to continue his rampage in the city centre, but a police officer who was in the vicinity by chance rushed to the scene. He asked the suspect three times to remove the rifle from his shoulder and lay it on the ground. The man refused each time and when he made a sudden move, the police officer shot him in the stomach. The suspect t was taken to hospital for treatment. According to witnesses, the man appeared very determined and reacted with cold-bloodedness. "It looked just like the man had stepped out of the film 'The Matrix'. Completely dressed in black. When I saw the weapon, I joked that it was not a fun fair," a witness said. "Suddenly, he fired two shots and we immediately jumped behind a corner because he pointed his weapon at us. You expect something like that in New York or on television. But not in Antwerp right before your eyes."
© Expatica News

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IMMIGRANTS HONOUR VICTIMS OF ANTWERP STREET SHOOTING

12/5/2006- Various immigrant groups were to hold a commemorative service at 11am on Friday to honour the victims of Thursday's racist murder in Antwerp. The Union of Turkish Associations, the Afrikaans Platform, the Antwerp Urban Consultation Council, the Federation of Moroccan Associations, Voem and the Pakistan Community have urged the immigrant community to gather at the Antwerp cathedral. They will then march to the Zwartezustersstraat and the Minderbroederstrui. Flowers will then be placed at the scene of the shootings by various immigrant communities. The representatives of each group will then speak with the media. However, the immigrant communities have already condemned the murders in the press release that announced the commemorative march. "This cowardly murder may not drive the population groups in Antwerp apart," the associations said. "The governments (local, Flemish and federal) must now wage a policy of zero tolerance against all forms of racism and against extreme-rights."  The organisation 'Antwerpen aan 't woord' (Antwerp Speaks) said it will stage a protest meeting at midday at the Great Market in the city centre. Antwerp Speaks is a consultation group for residents, residents groups, social organisations, politicians and public administrations. It hopes that talks can resolve urban problems.
© Expatica News

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RACIST SHOOTING RAMPAGE SHOCKS ANTWERP(Belgium)

12/5/2006- The 18-year-old man who killed a black woman and injured a Turkish woman during an apparent racist shooting in Antwerp on Thursday has an extreme-rightwing back ground. After shooting and severely injuring the 47-year-old Turkish woman, Hans Van Themsche, 18, then shot and killed a pregnant Malinese woman, before killing a two-year-old native Flemish girl. His rampage ended when a police officer shot Van Themsche in the stomach. He will now undergo police questioning in hospital on Friday. Van Themsche has since been identified as the nephew of Flemish Interest MP Frieda van Themsche. His father was also a member of the party. The extreme-right party  is the successor of the Flemish Block which was convicted of racism in 2004. A shocked Frieda Van Themsche described her brother's son as "someone who grew up in an atmosphere of anti-violence". She said he was not even given a toy gun, but also admitted he had been out of sorts in recent times. The young man comes from Wilrijk, near Antwerp, but was studying animal care at an agricultural boarding school in the West Flemish town of Roeselare. Police have found plans indicating he wanted to kill multiple victims. Van Themsche disappeared on Thursday morning without saying a word to anyone and bought a weapon in Antwerp. "Hans is a ready-to-laugh boy who was not conspicuous. He was in the school council and performed theatre at school," school director Luc Deprez said. Nevertheless, the teenager was meant to be expelled from school on Thursday after being caught smoking and drinking on Wednesday night. He then walked away from school in anger on Thursday, saying he was going to shoot people. The Antwerp public prosecution office has also described the suspect as an 18-year-old skinhead with extreme-right sympathies. Witnesses said he was dressed in black and looked like had stepped out of the film 'The Matrix'. He also had combat shoes and army pants.

The immigrant community was quick to condemn the killings and staged a commemorative march and service in the city centre on Friday morning. Candles and flowers have already been placed at the scene of the murders and a silent vigil was held at the scene on Thursday night. A silent march is planned in Antwerp on Friday 26 May to further honour the victims. Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said society must not become involved in a round of spiraling violence. He said the shootings were "horrible, cowardly murders and a form of extreme racism". "It must now be clear for everyone what extreme-rights can lead to," the Liberal VLD leader said. The Flemish Interest was quick to declare that it is not linked to the murders in any way. Party chairman Frank Vanhecke said the suspect was not a member of the party and condemned the killings. Antwerp Mayor Patrick Janssens is amazed that an 18-year-old could legally buy a weapon so easily. However, legislative plans in Belgium will in future impose a waiting time before a gun can be supplied to members of the public. King Albert has indicated he will send a letter of condolences to the family of the three victims.
© Expatica News

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GUNMAN IN BELGIUM KILLS WOMAN AND CHILD

12/5/2006- A black woman and a white child were shot and killed in the historic center of this Belgian port city on Thursday in what the government and the police said was a racist attack. The assailant, an 18-year-old man, also shot and seriously wounded a woman of Turkish origin before he was shot in the stomach by a police officer. The suspect was under guard in a hospital. "These horrible and cowardly crimes are a form of extreme racism," Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said in a statement. "Nobody can ignore what the far right can lead to." He appealed to all communities in Belgium to react cautiously to the crimes. "We have to avoid our society being sucked into a spiral of violence," Verhofstadt said. "The police and the judicial system will do all that is needed for justice to be done. Ours is a tolerant society and that is how it must stay." The authorities did not identify the gunman Thursday night, but they said they suspected that he had far-right sympathies. "He looked like a skinhead," Dominique Reyniers, a spokeswoman for the Antwerp prosecutor's office, said on VRT television. Witnesses cited by Belgian news organizations said the man, dressed in black, gunned down the black woman around noon along with a young white girl she was babysitting near Antwerp's central square. Both died on the spot. The man first shot a woman of Turkish origin, the police said. The woman's wounds were described as serious but not life threatening. The police said the man was armed with "a heavy caliber rifle." A police officer confronted the gunman and three times ordered him to put the rifle on the ground, Reyniers said. When he refused and made a sudden move, the officer shot him in the stomach, she said. He was taken to a hospital and will be questioned later. Police officials said the man had no police record or any connection to his victims. They described the shootings as racist. "I'm deeply shocked," said the mayor of Antwerp, Patrick Janssens. "This is terrifying and intolerable." The killings followed a skinhead attack in Bruges on Saturday in which a black Frenchman was beaten and left in critical condition. His white Belgian friend was also badly beaten. Antwerp is a stronghold of the anti- immigration party Flemish Interest, which moved quickly to condemn the killings. "Our party is shocked by these events, which no excuse can justify," the party's chairman, Frank Vanhecke, said in a statement. "Flemish Interest calls for the strongest punishment for the murderer." The party, previously known as the Flemish Bloc, won about one-third of the vote in Antwerp's regional elections in 2004.
© Associated Press

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WOMAN, CHILD MURDERED IN 'RACIST' ANTWERP SHOOTING(Belgium)

11/5/2006- Racism appears to be the motive of a street shooting in Antwerp in which a man shot and killed a black woman and a child on Thursday, the public prosecution office said. A second woman, of Turkish origin, was critically injured in the shooting and a responding police officer shot and injured the fleeing culprit. The woman who was killed was working as an au-pair. She was taking care of a Caucasian child, who was also killed in the shooting. Both died at the scene. The Antwerp public prosecution office later said the shooting appeared to be racially-motivated. The arrested suspect was described by authorities as an 18-year-old skinhead with extreme-right sympathies. The man had no links with the victims and had no criminal record. A witness told news agency Belga that the culprit was dressed in black and had long hair, which was shaved off at the side. The man also had a "heavy calibre" rifle with him. At about 11am, the witness was talking with a friend in the Lange Koepoortstraat when another man approached them. The man passed between the witness and his friend and continued walking. The black woman and a child were walking along the street some 10m further along. The culprit than opened fire on the woman and then the child. The witness said there was absolutely no reason for the shooting. The culprit casually kept walking, but then turn around to the witness and his friend, who ducked for cover behind a corner. The shooter was then shot in the stomach by a police officer who is in the area by chance and is being treated in hospital. He is under police guard and will undergo questioning. Police also told the witness during his statement that the culprit had already shot another woman before shooting the woman and child. The first victim was reading on a street bench on the Pottenbrug, a small city square. She suffered a collapsed lung and is in a critical condition. She is not in a life threatening condition, however.
© Expatica News

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FRANCE REMEMBERS SLAVERY VICTIMS

10/5/2006- A French envoy has said her country did profit from slavery as it officially commemorates the victims of the trade for the first time. "It profited from the commerce in human beings... ripped from the African homeland," Junior Co-operation Minister Brigitte Girardin said in Senegal. She was visiting a notorious slave island off the coast of Senegal. In Paris, President Jacques Chirac said facing up to the colonial past was a "key to national cohesion". He opened an art exhibition in Paris's Luxembourg Gardens while other cities and venues around France held their own ceremonies for Slavery Remembrance Day - the first such event in an EU state. Wednesday's day of commemoration was ordered by Mr Chirac, on the fifth anniversary of the passing of a law by the French Senate recognising slavery as a crime against humanity. Hundreds of thousands of slaves were taken by French ships from Africa to plantations in the Caribbean before France banned the practice in 1848. It was, Mr Chirac said, an "indelible stain on history".

Paying homage
Ms Girardin visited Goree Island along with Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade. African slaves were shipped to the Caribbean from Senegal, a former French colony. "Coming to Goree Island is paying homage to the long succession of anonymous victims who, over the centuries, suffered slavery and struggled for its abolition," said Ms Girardin. "The greatness of a nation resides in its capacity to bear full responsibility for the darkest periods of its history," she added. President Wade rejected the idea of compensation for victims of slavery. "There are some things that have no price," he said. "You could give me the Bank of France and contents of the United States' Fort Knox but that would not undo what we have endured."

'Marginalised'
President Chirac said he was committed to fighting modern forms of slavery, allowing companies that knowingly use forced labour anywhere in the world to be prosecuted in French courts. "This first commemoration isn't the end, it's a beginning," he said. "It's the necessary affirmation of the memory of slavery shared by all French people, whatever their origin." The city of Nantes on the Atlantic coast, where many of France's slave ships originated, held a minute's silence. Museums and libraries in Paris opened special events showing off contemporary manuscripts and artefacts. "It was imperative that slavery be given a place in our collective memory," said Marcel Dorigny, a history professor who helped institute Slavery Remembrance Day. "French people who are the descendants of slaves have felt marginalised - forgotten by history." But some critics said the commemoration was not enough, and that the government's current policies were still alienating racial minorities. French MPs were on Wednesday examining tough new immigration legislation limiting entry to foreigners.

French slave trade
=France mainly used slaves, taken from Africa, in its Caribbean colonies
=France estimated to have shipped 1,250,000 slaves
=France was Europe's first country to abolish slavery, in 1794
=But it was revived by Napoleon in 1802, and only banned for good in 1848
© BBC News

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SLAVERY: IS IT TIME FOR AN APOLOGY?(uk)

Bristol got rich on the back of the slave trade as its fleet transported 500,000, chained in appalling conditions. Last night, 200 years after abolition, the city debated whether to admit its part in the 'African holocaust'.

11/5/2006- The manifest states the ship was laden with five cases of clay beads, 410 rolls of cloth, 640 muskets, two tons of lead bars, 14 tons of iron and 1,000 copper bars. It set sail down the Bristol Channel on an unspecified date in 1730 bound for the Niger delta. In return for its cargo of 18th- century bric-a-brac, the captain bought 250 humans. In the words of the merchant who sent the consignment, they were to be "Bonny Negroes". Each life was worth 1.6 rolls of cloth, two-and-a-half guns, 72kg of metal and a handful of beads. When the broad-hulled ship returned to the frenetic quays of 18th-century Bristol, probably about 12 months after setting sail, it would have been laden with sugar, tobacco and rum from the Caribbean, paid for with the proceeds of the sale of the African slaves to plantation owners. Life on board the Bristol slave ships was unremittingly, ruthlessly cheap. It is estimated that the return on the outgoing cargo for the city's merchants would have been between five and 10 times their original investment. The likely deaths of about 20 per cent of the human "stock" on the voyage across the Atlantic, wallowing in their sweat, vomit and excrement in locked holds, did not seriously dent the Bristol investors' handsome return. The ship was one of a fleet based in the West Country hub of 18th-century Britain's maritime economy which, between 1728 and 1732 alone, transported 100,000 slaves from ports in West Africa to the Americas, netting a vast profit for the burghers of Bristol. As one of the city's foremost slave owners, John Pinney, put it: "It's as impossible for a man to make sugar without slaves, without the assistance of Negroes, as to make bricks without straw."

By the time slavery was abolished in Britain in 1807, more than 60 per cent of the Bristol economy was reliant on the brutal commoditisation of human life that was the slave trade. As a result, the gold and silver made from the Blackbirds, as the slave ships were known, is sown throughout the city lauded for the grace of its Georgian frontages, fine public buildings and the endowments of its mercantile benefactors. From the Theatre Royal, built with donations from patrons heavily implicated in the slave trade, to the bells of St Mary Redcliffe, where the bells rang out in celebration of the defeat of an attempt to ban slavery in 1791, much of Bristol's glorious present is built on its bloody, ignominious past of buying and selling human life. A statue in the city centre to Edward Colston, one of Bristol's most prominent slavers, praises him as a "virtuous and wise son". Little surprise, therefore, that feelings were running high last night as a debate was held - appropriately in Bristol's British Empire and Commonwealth Museum - on whether the city should apologise for its role in the transatlantic slave trade. The apology debate has divided opinion in the city and beyond over the issuing of a mea culpa for events up to 400 years ago (classified as an "African holocaust" by one prominent Bristol campaigner), and how it could be made meaningful. Despite the passing of two centuries since the last slave ship set sail from Bristol, the issue remains contentious in a city which has steadfastly refused to follow the example of Liverpool, which apologised in 1994 for its part in slavery. Paul Stephenson, a veteran civil rights activist in Bristol, said: "The whole concept of racism as we understand it has its roots in slavery. The way it demeaned the black man as less of a human being is where the concept of inferiority of black-skinned people came from and it was supported by people and powerful sections of society. "There should be an apology and it shouldn't stop there. Reparations should be made for the city to amend for that side of Bristol's history. Bristol is a very rich city and those riches came from slavery."

Sensitivity to the source of the city's wealth was brought to the fore once more last month when the developers of a new £500m shopping centre withdrew a proposal to name it Merchants Quarter after complaints that it was offensive to Bristol's Afro-Caribbean population. But the extent and nature of Bristol's "enterprise" in following the example of 17th-century Spanish and Portuguese merchants in exploiting a slave trade "triangle" often goes unnoticed in popular history. The Bristol Society of Merchant Venturers petitioned successfully in 1698 for London's monopoly on slaving - at the time a relatively undeveloped "industry" - to be ended with a new "0 per cent" tariff on "black Africans". Between 1698 and 1807, some 2,108 ships, ranging from 27 tons to 420 tons, left the quays of Bristol for West Africa laden with trading goods from across Britain, including brass cooking pots made by the Bristol Brass & Copper Company. The items were then traded at fortified traded posts for men, women and children captured across western and central Africa. Cargo holds that held the cooking pots were filled with humans, made to lie flat with just 50cm of vertical space as the vessels made the "Middle Passage" across the Atlantic to ports in the Caribbean, the southern United States and Brazil. The average death rate from these voyages of 5 per cent (it reached more than 30 per cent on some ships) belies the misery inflicted on the enslaved, who were chained together on a central iron pole running along the deck. It is estimated that 500,000 slaves were transported by the Bristol-based fleet, reaching a peak of 50 voyages a year in the 1730s. From the Americas, the Bristol vessels returned to their home port laden with the bounty of the New World, making the city the prime entry point for sugar and tobacco. Prior to the ending of the monopoly on the slave trade owned by the London-based Royal African Company in 1698, Bristol had 150 importers of sugar. By the 1700s the city had 379 importers and by 1750 it had 20 sugar refineries.

Dr Gareth Griffiths, director of the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, which is planning an extensive slavery exhibition next year to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery by Parliament, said: "Bristol was the first British port to engage with the slave trade in terms of equipping and sending ships out to West Africa with trading items to buy captive people. "The system that developed involved most people in Bristol one way or another. Bristolians supplied the labour and the provisions for the vessels, they helped to create the goods that paid for the slaves and they bought and traded the spoils that came back." Contrary to popular belief, virtually none of the slaves that made Bristol rich ever arrived there. The Redcliffe Caves, where legend has it that captive Africans were incarcerated, never held slaves. The few slaves or their direct descendants who came to the city were servants of their owners, brought to Britain as a status symbol. But the legacy of the era remains dotted throughout the city. Queen Square, Bristol's most prized public space, was completed at the height of the slave trade in 1727 and was home to Nathaniel Day, the mayor who petitioned vigorously against a tax on slavery in 1737. Several roads, schools and buildings bear the name of Edward Colston, who endowed a plethora of public institutions late in life with a fortune made from planning and financing slaving ventures.

But demands for an apology from a city perceived as brushing its slavery past under the carpet fall wide of the mark, according to some of its senior figures. John Savage, chairman of Business West, a leading business body in the city, dismissed the request as "balderdash". He said: "It would be an empty gesture. It would be like asking the Italians to apologise on behalf of the Romans for killing Boudicca." Others, including A C Grayling, the philosophy professor at London's Birkbeck College who chaired last night's debate, suggest the issue is a self-serving distraction from the more pressing problem of modern slavery. Indeed, the city which was designated a Fairtrade zone last year, has already provided a formal recognition of the roots of its prosperity by attaching a plaque to a quayside which reads: "In memory of the countless African men, women and children who brought so much prosperity to Bristol through the African slave trade." In Westminster, the Government has formed an advisory committee on how the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery - the culmination of the mass movement led by William Wilberforce - should be marked, and experts argue that it is not only in Bristol that there is a collective amnesia about Britain's exploitation of the slave triangle. Stuart Hall, a historian, said: "There is a case for an apology, but it must be accompanied by informing people about the true nature of what took place. There is nothing to be gained from guilt- tripping people, just as we should not only celebrate Britain's role in achieving abolition."
© Belfast Telegraph

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CITY AGONISES OVER SLAVERY APOLOGY(uk)

Passions are running high in Bristol over whether it should say sorry for its past

7/5/2006- For generations Bristolians have gloried in the beauty of their city, with its graceful Georgian terraces, grand public buildings and honey-coloured churches. But this week they face a decision that has split the city - whether to apologise for the cruel trade that paid for so much that makes it beautiful. The front page headline in the Evening Post, Bristol's local newspaper, was in no doubt. 'It's time the city said sorry' it shouted last week. But there is no consensus on the issue; on the contrary, the debate is stirring up anger and upset. 'Bristol was one of the main ports involved in the trading of slaves taken from West Africa to British colonies in the Caribbean during the 17th and 18th centuries, and most Bristolians were involved in the slave trade in one way or other,' said Dr Gareth Griffiths, director of the city's British Empire and Commonwealth Museum. 'Local people supplied the labour and provisions for the slaving ships; they created the goods that paid for the slaves and they bought the spoils from the ships when they returned.' Griffiths is the inspiration behind this week's Apology Debate, at which leading historians, politicians and other public figures will argue whether the city should apologise. It will then be thrown open to a vote. 'The issue is particularly resonant in the lead-up to next year's 200th anniversary of Britain's abolition of the slave trade but emotions run particularly high in Bristol,' Griffiths said. The extent of Bristol's involvement in the slave trade resonates in practically every civil and religious city landmark: from Merchants Wharf to the Redcliffe Caves, where slaves are said to have been incarcerated, to Queen Square, the city's most serene public space, completed at the height of Bristol's involvement in the trade and where mayor Nathaniel Day petitioned against a tax on slaves.

The pretty courtyard housing the Merchant Venturers' Almshouse harks back to the powerful 18th-century pro-slavery lobby, while the bells of Bristol's loveliest church, St Mary Redcliffe, were triumphantly set ringing when William Wilberforce's Bill to abolish slavery was defeated in 1791. But it is not only historical landmarks that pay tribute to the trade: just last month, the choice of 'Merchants Quarter' as the name for the new city centre shopping area was deemed so offensive that the developers were forced to come up with other ideas. No official representative for Bristol has ever formally apologised for the fact that, from 1698 to 1807, when trading in slaves from Africa was outlawed, 2,114 ships set sail from Bristol to Africa and then on to plantations in the Americas, carrying over half a million slaves. Bristol's record was only exceeded by Liverpool, which made a public apology for its role back in 1994. Bristol, on the other hand, has only recently focused attention on its part in the trade; in 1996 its Festival Of The Sea failed to make any mention of slavery. Two years later, however, the Pero's Bridge, named after a slave, was built in the city and a Slave Trail, showing how the city's fortunes were created by merchants, was created. For many, however, this is still not enough: just last year, 18-year-old Juggy Singh asked teachers at the Colston Collegiate School about the link between the school's founder, Edward Colston, and the slave trade. 'They never told me properly,' he said. 'I was so disappointed in them.' Kofi Mawuli Klu, chair of the Pan-Afrikan Taskforce for Internationalist Dialogue, agrees that Bristol has failed to honestly come to terms with its role in the trade. 'The story of enslaved African peoples must be remembered, retold and reinterpreted. Only then can we come to terms with the fact that, although the trade ceased 200 years ago, the descendants of the slave trade in Bristol still live in mansions while the descendants of slaves remain in poverty,' he said.

Toyin Agbetu, of Ligali, a non-profit voluntary organisation dedicated to challenging negative representations of the African British community, said that an apology by Bristol would encourage honest engagement with the past. 'An apology is just a beginning,' he said. 'As well as an apology, there should be re-education, reparation and a rewriting of history.' Bristol City Council is refusing to be drawn on whether it is likely to deliver the apology but Professor AC Grayling, who will be chairing the debate on Wednesday, hopes they will not. 'An apology like this is futile gesture politics and a navel-gazing distraction from the much more important issue of how much slavery goes on, unrecognised and unheeded, across the world today,' he said. The issue of who should do the apologising, and to whom, is a contentious one. 'Morally this is an incredibly complicated issue,' said Richard Dowden, director of the Royal African Society. 'Africa itself was the main perpetrator of slavery; the continent is deeply implicated as a buyer, catcher and seller of slaves. What is really important is the lasting damage done to the psychologies of black people.' That, he believes, is the issue at the core of a lot of Africa's problems today. 'What needs to happen is something much deeper than an apology,' he said. 'There needs to be a coming together of all the countries involved in slavery and its global legacy needs to be discussed.' All of those in the debate, however, agree on one point; it is when a people no longer feel the need to ask for an apology that their wounds can be judged to be healed and their self-confidence restored. 'That is the point we need to move towards now,' said Dowden. 'And if an apology is the first step on that road, then it should be made without delay.'
© The Observer

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POLICE FACE ACTION OVER CLIP OF BLACK MAN'S DECAPITATION(uk)

11/5/2006- Up to 140 police officers and staff could face tough disciplinary action over the circulation of a horrific video clip showing a black man being decapitated while running from police. Hertfordshire police launched an internal inquiry after IT monitoring caught the email with the graphic clip attached being sent round the force with comments such as "Look what happens when you run from police" allegedly added. The images, thought to originate in the United States, show the man leaping off a bridge to escape officers, and being impaled on railings and decapitated. A Hertfordshire police spokeswoman said about 300 people had received the email but the investigation was concentrating on about 140 officers and civilian staff thought to have forwarded it. Deputy Chief Constable Simon Ash said: "This email contravenes our organisational values and standards and there is absolutely no room in this constabulary for this type of communication. There are a number of individuals who have allegedly forwarded this message to others and it is those officers and staff who are the main focus of our attention." The video clip is the same as one that was the subject of a similar investigation within Merseyside police a couple of months ago, where 10 uniformed officers and three civilian staff were disciplined. Hertfordshire police chiefs referred the matter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which is supervising the internal inquiry team. Representatives of the Black Police Association, the Police Federation and trade union Unison have also been consulted. Keith Jarrett, national president of the BPA, said he was deeply disturbed at reports that supervisors had forwarded the email to junior staff. He was also worried that officers involved would not be adequately punished. The disciplinary action in Merseyside amounted to written warnings and fines, the largest of which was three days' pay - about £360. "I hope senior officers in Hertfordshire have the guts to take a much tougher line," said Mr Jarrett. "I'm not saying people should be sacked, but certainly they should be demoted. Racism in the police has not gone away and the problem will never be solved if we have supervising officers perpetuating this type of behaviour."
© The Guardian

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POLICE CHIEF ADMITS FORCE IS SEEN AS ‘TOO WHITE’(uk)

7/5/2006- A senior police officer has admitted that the service is seen as too white and must do more to gain the trust of ethnic minorities in Scotland. Andrew Cameron, chief constable of Central Scotland Police, said that “considerable progress” was still needed before the service reflected the population it served. He acknowledged that, although progress had been made, the service continued to suffer from a perception among some black and minority ethnic (BME) communities that policing was not a desirable career. Cameron, the lead officer for recruitment for the police in Scotland, said: “We recognise that we have got considerable progess to make around having a workforce in Scotland that reflects the communities that we actually serve. “In essence we have about 1% of our workforce that is from a black or ethnic minority background. It should be around 2% if it is to reflect the number of people who live in Scotland who are from an ethnic minority background.” He said the police had made “huge” progress by increasing BME officers from 70 to 184 up to the end of 2005. He added: “That’s a significant increase, but it’s not enough. We recognise it’s not enough.” This week, the Scottish police service is to sign a groundbreaking pact with BME staff to drive up numbers of ethnic minority officers within the ranks of the force.

At the annual general meeting of Semper Scotland, an organisation for black and ethnic minority officers, the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (Acpos) will sign a memorandum of understanding that will commit the police to a recruitment drive among black and ethnic minority communities. Proposals have also been put to Acpos for a range of programmes that will encourage more BME recruits. The suggestions, which are to be discussed by Acpos next month, include plans to train officers from an ethnic minority background to become mentors to BME recruits. The idea will be to provide a conduit for those in the junior ranks to air problems that they may face. Other plans on the table include targeting youths specifically from black and ethnic communities to invite them into police stations for visits or to have them shadow officers. Chief constables and other senior officers would also go into ethnic minority communities to hold so-called “meet-the-youths” nights. Cameron said there had to be a re-branding of the police to make a career in the service appeal to all communities. He admitted that recent factors, such as the BBC’s Secret Policeman exposé about racism in the police and the high-profile Stephen Lawrence inquiry, had impacted on the public’s perception of the service in Scotland. Cameron added: “It’s very often the case among the BME population that policing is not attractive to them. There is a tendency to try to push children towards a medical or legal career. We need to communicate the attractiveness of policing to those communities.” The commitment follows a series of investigations last year by the Sunday Herald revealing that from a total force strength of 15,963 officers in Scotland, only 118 were recorded as black or Asian in 2004. All but 11 were of constable rank. Sandra Deslandes-Clark, executive director of Semper Scotland, said: “We are looking forward to working with Acpos. We need to market the police to BME communities to make it attractive to them. The police service needs re-branded to make it sexy to people.”
© The Sunday Herald

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PROMINENT IMAM TO LEAVE DENMARK AFTER CARICATURES CRISIS

11/5/2006- Denmark's most prominent Muslim leader, who led criticism of a Danish newspaper that published drawings of the Prophet Muhammad, has decided to leave the country, the daily reported Thursday. Imam Ahmed Abu Laban said he has felt humiliated in the aftermath of the cartoon controversy, which led to riots around the world, and that he would leave Denmark to return to Gaza with his family, the Jyllands-Posten newspaper wrote. "I have recently felt that I am being viewed as a simple terrorist. No human being can accept that. It is an extreme humiliation," Abu Laban was quoted as saying. "I have taken the decision to leave Denmark." Abu Laban, who settled in Denmark as a Palestinian refugee in the 1980s, has repeatedly accused Denmark of being disrespectful of Islam and Muslim immigrants. "I believe that the Islamic cause has been a test for the Western democracies. I believe it has been proven that the Western democracies have no room for human rights," he was quoted as saying. The report gave no other details of Abu Laban's emigration plans. He was not immediately available for comment. The 12 drawings published in the Jyllands-Posten in September prompted angry mobs to attack Western embassies in Muslim countries, including Lebanon, Iran and Indonesia. The cartoons were reprinted in several European countries. Abu Laban is the leading figure of the Copenhagen-based Islamic Faith Community, representing about 10 percent of Denmark's 200,000 Muslims. The community is part of a network of 27 Danish Islamic organizations which filed a defamation lawsuit against Jyllands-Posten in March, after Denmark's top prosecutor declined to press criminal charges, saying the drawings did not violate laws against racism or blasphemy. In December and January, Muslim leaders living in Denmark traveled abroad to seek international support for their campaign against the Danish newspaper. Abu Laban has been widely criticized for defending those trips. Jyllands-Posten has apologized for offending Muslims, but stood by its decision to print the drawings, citing freedom of speech. Muslim leaders in Denmark and abroad have condemned the drawings, one of which shows Muhammad wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse. Islamic tradition bars any depiction of the prophet out of concern such images could lead to idolatry. In January, police questioned Abu Laban over secretly taped comments that appeared to allude to terrorism. No charges were made.
© Associated Press

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REPORT ON ROUNDTABLE MEETING REPRESENTATION OF MUSLIMS IN PUBLIC DISCOURSE

Report by Ioana Dragos, “Never Again” Association

9/5/2006- The roundtable meeting organized by the Tolerance and non-Discrimination program (TnD) of the OSCE - ODIHR has explored the various manifestations of intolerance in public discourse; has assessed the impact of such discourse on Muslim communities and on public perceptions and attitudes, as well as the implications for the public policies, especially in relation to immigration and integration, multiculturalism and security measures.

The roundtable brought together representatives of Muslim communities, relevant international organizations, media specialists, academics and policy makers. The one day roundtable event was divided into four working sections, each one with two speakers and a moderator.

First working section was dedicated to Examining Representations of Muslim Communities in Public Discourse.
-Dr. Anas al-Shaikh Ali (Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism) discussed Islamophobia in popular discourse, stressing the manipulative power of prejudices and stereotypes, and the fact that discourse is shaping the image. Further on, he argued for the need for strategies that could fight terrorism and violence through education and respect.

- Mr. Jean Yves Camus (Institut de Relations Internationales et Strategique) examined the use of xenophobic arguments in political rhetoric, outlining that the xenophobic discourse is no longer a tool just for the extreme-right parties, but also it is used by the mainstream political parties throughout Europe. In consequence, the public discourse is supporting Islamophobia. In this context, Mr. Tarafa Bhagajati (Initiative Muslimischer Osterreicherlnnen) argued that solutions for the European problems cannot be imported from the Middle East. On the other hand, Mr. Frank Williams (Nederlandse Moslim Omroep) claimed that the proper term in relation to minorities is participation (citizenship) instead of integration.

Second section of the meeting: The Implications of Anti-Muslim Public Discourse
-Dr. Tahir Abbas (Centre for study of Ethnicity and Culture, University of Birmingham) analyzed the discourse on migration, integration and multiculturalism, with a special focus upon the British situation. The present British policy focused on the cultural differences between minorities, and the social and economic disadvantages for the Muslim communities are obvious. After the 9/11, 7/7 events, the old concept of multiculturalism seems to be in danger.

- Dr. James Zogby (Arab American Institute) concentrated on the discourse in the context of war and terrorism, arguing that USA and Europe interact differently with the Muslim world. Moreover, the speaker presented the similarities between the Nazi cartoons of the Jews and the anti-Muslim cartoons. The session concluded that there is an absolute need for communities to be empowered.

Third section: Media as a Positive Agent: how can media promote understanding and respect for diversity.
-Ms. Milica Pesic (Media Diversity Institute) analyzed the mobilizing power of media, and how media shapes our experiences and understanding of social diversity. The relevance of media training, the need for a fair, accurate, in-depth journalism, self-regulating of the media were all specifically outlined. On the other hand, it came out that the Muslim communities have to be active, promoting positive images in the media.

- Ms. Nuzhat Jafri (Canadian Council of Muslim Women) elaborated on mobilizing civil society through media relations. In this context Mr. Tarafa Bhagajati (Austria) made several recommendations meant to improve the Muslim related issues coverage, such as more information and less emotions, more Muslim journalists in the European countries, the women participation.

Fourth section: Improving the Representation of Muslim Communities in Political Discourse.
-Dr. Talip Kucukhan (SETAV, Turkey) discussed the role of political leadership, touching upon the secularization and the migration issue, the cultural boundaries that minorities have to face in the ‘guest’ countries, concluding with a stress on the need for efficient educational strategies that must be launched.

-Mr. Salam Al-Marayati (Muslim Public Affairs Council) presented the issue of civic engagement, as a promoting factor of the government-Muslim Dialogue, with a special focus on the North-American realities.

During the closing section, the ODIHR representatives presented a brief summary of the recommendations made by the roundtable participants, recommendations which will be part of an OSCE Report Recommendation:
- the need for a clear definition of the term of ‘integration’
- the need for mobilization of the Muslim communities both locally and nationally in order to be able to influence the public discourse
- the need for different minorities to meet and cooperate
- the promotion of education that underlies shared values, respect, and not only tolerance, that would be effective in combating anti-Islamic stereotypes
- communities should collaborate with the media, through press releases, talking points prepared by the NGOs
- the responsible usage of language
- immigration policies from the governmental structures in order to promote civic engagement
- sustained dialogue between civil society and government.

The participants at the roundtable focused upon the identification of practical recommendations and examples of best practices.
Ms. Jo-Anne Bishop (Tolerance and non-Discrimination ODIHR) said that it is likely that there will be a third roundtable in relation to Muslim communities in Europe.
© I CARE News

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MODERATES REJECT COOPERATION WITH FAR-RIGHT PARTY (Sweden)

9/5/2006- The Moderate Party has said it would not accept support from the nationalist Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna) in order to form a majority in the Skåne region after the election. Sven Otto Littorin, Moderate party secretary, said even a partnership with the Social Democrats was preferable than ruling with the far-right grouping. "Our first priority is naturally not to jump into bed with the Social Democrats. But everything depends on whether we can reach an agreement on a sensible programme," Littorin told TT. Signals of cooperation were not immediately forthcoming from Social Democrat headquarters. Littorin's Social Democrat counterpart, Marita Ulvskog, made it clear that her first priority was getting votes for her own party, followed by getting votes for her party's political allies. In this context, the Moderates and Social Democrats are arch-enemies. "We've got to be very clear that there's a left and a right in Swedish politics, and that's where the line is drawn," she said. Ulvskog would not be drawn into speculating on potential partnerships to shut out the Sweden Democrats. "I think that would be counter-productive," she said. In the last election in 2002, the Sweden Democrats were the largest party not to win any seats in the Riksdag, the national parliament, and they won council seats in 69 local authorities. This autumn they have ambitions to enter the Riksdag and win seats in county councils. They are seen as having the greatest chance in Skåne, where they could find themselves in a decisive role if neither the left nor right wing blocks wins an outright majority.

Malmö newspaper Sydsvenskan quoted a number of leading Moderates in the region saying that they would even cooperate with Social Democrats to break the deadlock. Jerker Swanstein, leader of Skåne's Moderates, has ruled out the centre-right parties forming an administration reliant on the support of extremists, as they did in 1998-2002. But Swanstein was anxious to play down talk of partnership with the Social Democrats. "That is as unlikely as the Moderates ruling with the Left Party," he said. Social Democrat regional commissioner Uno Aldegren did not rule out partnership with the centre-right, but said that in that case the Moderates would not be his partners of choice. Littorin said he does not believe that the Sweden Democrats will be elected to the Riksdag, but did not discount the possibility that the party might do better than in the last election. The Moderates say they are prepared to meet the party in pre-election debates. Ulvskog, however, is doubtful about the prospect. "We don't want to create new arenas for the Sweden Democrats," she said. Jimmie Åkesson, the leader of the Sweden Demcorats, said his party would could only benefit from the major parties competing to keep them out. "It shows clearly that we are the only alternative in Swedish politics," he said.
© The Local

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IN GERMANY, VEILED STUDENTS STIR UP UNIFORM DEBATE

8/5/2006- A debate over whether to mandate school uniforms in Germany broke out after two Muslim girls were suspended from school in Bonn for coming veiled from head to toe in a traditional opaque garb known as a burka. Over the weekend, German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries spoke out in favor of introducing school uniforms, unleashing a storm of opinion from commentators and politicians across the country. The debate broke out anew after two 18-year-old Muslim girls came to their high school in Bonn dressed in traditional burkas -- veils that covered them entirely, except for a small mesh slit at the eyes. The girls' actions were generally read as a political statement, and the pair was suspended from school. The burka became well known in the West after it became mandatory garb for Afghan women under the reactionary Taliban regime. In an interview with the Welt on Sonntag newspaper about whether veiled pupils should be allowed to attend class in German high schools, Zypries said "a simple solution to end the conflict would be having all students, male or female, wear uniforms to school. That would not only get rid of burkas, but also clear up problems of social inequality" that get lived out through clothing. Zypries warned about increasing resentment against foreigners in the schools, in part on religious grounds. But a cry of opposition went out almost immediately. The president of the German Teachers' Association, Josef Kraus, called Zypries "incredibly naive" to think religious and social discrimination could be reduced by introducing uniforms. Moreover, Germany has a "problematic tradition" when it comes to school uniforms, Kraus told Netzeitung Internet portal.
Uniforms in public institutions still call up the group mentality of the Nazi era in Germany. Despite this, there have been occasional, though relatively isolated, attempts to introduce uniforms in German schools. Recently, two schools in the Berlin district of Spandau considered switching to school uniforms. Advocates say uniforms do away with "brand envy" and reduce the chances of children from poorer families being ostracized because they cannot afford the latest fashions. And, they say, uniforms foster the feeling of being part of a group, and can help students identify with and even have pride in their school. But up to now, the conference of education ministers that decide on national school policies, called the KMK, has come out against school uniforms. They, too, cite historical reasons dating back to WWII, with the memories of uniforms worn by the Hitler Youth still too fresh in the public mind. On top of that, the conference has said, any general uniform rule would raise questions about how far the government can encroach on the personal liberties of students and parents.

Green opposition
Zypries' remarks also met with strong criticism from Germany's Green party, which has long championed a multicultural German society. Krista Sager, a senior Green party member, said the introduction of school uniforms would be an unacceptable interference by the state in religious affairs. "We certainly don't need solutions imposed by the government. What we need are individual solutions by the schools themselves that respect the situation on the ground and notably the religious freedom of pupils. The introduction of school uniforms is generally no longer up to date and would be rejected by current generations of school students." In Europe, Great Britain is known as the nation that continues to impose uniforms on students. But a spokesperson for Zypries said the minister made it clear she was not talking introducing British-style uniforms in Germany. It would be more of a case of students wearing unified pants, T-shirts, and sweatshirts. Ulrich Stahnke, headmaster of the school in Bonn where the outcry began, called the debate about the introduction of school uniforms counterproductive. "It's important to understand that solutions can only be found in cooperation with immigrant communities. Decisions made by religious outsiders like us are not accepted by Muslims. But at my school it's now important to make clear to them that we cannot accept the burka."
© Deutsche Welle

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GERMAN MEMORIAL TO PAY HOMAGE TO SINTI AND ROMA

9/5/2006- The German government and the Central Council of Sinti and Roma have agreed on designs for a memorial. Debate over quotes comparing the genocide of the Jews and of the Sinti and Roma had stalled construction. The government will finance the 2 million euro ($2.5 million) memorial, which is to be built between the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate in central Berlin. Federal Culture Secretary Bernd Neumann announced to journalists on Monday that construction would begin quickly, pending agreement from the Social Democrats. Romani Rose, head of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, said the agreement is an "important step" toward officially recognizing the genocide committed on the minority group. He said he was "very happy" about the agreement. Debate about a central inscription on the memorial has raged for years, hampering the memorial's construction. Now, the various sides agreed that the memorial, which will be designed by artist Dani Karavan and shaped like a fountain, will not contain an inscription. Instead, the names of the Nazi concentration camps Auschwitz, Treblinka and Buchenwald will be chiseled into the slabs leading up to the memorial. An additional tablet will display the sentence "We commemorate all the Roma who were victims of the systematic genocide in Nazi-occupied Europe."

Schmidt recognized genocide
Information panels will display a chronology of the exclusion, persecution and annihilation of the Sinti and Roma. The murder of hundreds of thousands of Sinti and Roma is considered the second-largest act of genocide carried out by Nazis in Europe, following the killing of millions of Jews. The final information panel is to contain quotes by former German President Roman Herzog and former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. The Central Council has long insisted that the quote from Herzog be used in which he drew parallels between the annihilation of the Sinti and Roma and the Holocaust of the Jews. Schmidt deemed the killing of the Sinti and Roma genocide in 1982. Another association of Sinti, called the "Sinti Alliance," has been at odds with the Central Council. The group would like to see other "Gypsy ethnic groups" mentioned as victims of Nazi violence.
© Deutsche Welle

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APPEAL FOR ACTION IN SUPPORT OF ASYLUM SEEKERS (Cyprus)

On Monday, 8 May 2006, a protest march to the Presidential Palace was held at the initiative of KISA – Action for Equality, Support, Antiracism, in collaboration with some 300 asylum seekers and Cypriot activists. The main claims of the march were as follows:

1. To ensure the effective and free access to the asylum procedure for all persons requesting protection;
2. To put an end to the policy of deportation of asylum seekers, at times illegal, before they are able to exhaust all available procedures for full exercise of their rights as this is provided for in the Law;
3. To put an end to all arbitrary actions, arrests, mistreatment and abusive practices of the competent authorities and the police;
4. To ensure their right to just and effective handling of their claims, with the provision of effective legal aid, to ensure the presence of trusted interpreters, not connected to the embassies of their countries of origin etc:
5. To ensure the right to work in professions according to the skills and training of the asylum seekers,
6. To ensure the right to decent housing through a housing policy geered to their needs,
7. To ensure the right to free medical care by the provision of a medical card, without any restrictions, e.g. the delay in granting residence permit by the authorities,
8. The provision of public assistance and support for as long as the asylum seekers do not work;
9. To develop and apply an integration policy for asylum seekers and refugees;
10. To apply measures to combat xenophobia, islamaphobia and racism in the Cypriot society.

Concerning the asylum seekers who are in detention because they do not possess travel documents or whose applications are being rejected and cannot therefore be repatriated, KISA demands the following:

• Their immediate release;
• To grant them at least the status of temporary residence on humanitarian grounds;
• To put an end to the pressure and various tricks used as means to persuade asylum seekers to consent to their deportation;
• To re-examine those asylum applications that even after the negative decision, the applicants continue to claim that there is ground for concern about possible persecution in their country of origin and hence they refuse to return;

The Vice-Minister Mr. Pashardes , on behalf of the President, declared the readiness of the Government to study the demands, but gave no specific assurance for the solution of the problems.

The protest continued in Eleftheria Square. Approximately 300 asylum seekers, mainly Kurds from Syria who live in Paphos, accompanied by their families including young children, decided to set camp using tents in Eleftheria Square, until they receive adequate assurances for a solution to their problems.

Through the active solidarity of tens of sensitised people, tents, blankets, food and financial donations were collected in support of the protestors.

KISA calls on the asylum seekers from all communities, as well as on cypriot anti-racists who support the rights of asylum seekers, to show actively their solidarity to the protestors in every possible means, and more specifically:

• By providing tents, blankets, clothing, food and financial donations to support the continuation of the protests.
• By being present at Eleftheria Square.
• By participating in the Concert for Asylum on Tuesday 7:00 p.m. at Eleftheria Square..
• By expressing their solidarity in every way, including the mobilisation of people, so that protest action continues to develop in numbers and support.

The determination of the victims of the tragic fate of the asylum seekers as a result of the unacceptable government policy, leaves no room for turning back. This is demonstrated by the uprising in Block 10 by the Iranian detainees and the decision of 200 Syrian Kurds to camp in Eleftheria Square indefinitely, and face all the dire consequences. Protest action must continue and build up in strength and mass participation, so that every pressure is used to ensure, at least the termination of indefinite detention and abuse by the Authorities and the Police, the granting of the right to work, housing and healthcare or alternatively public assistance to stop the famine of these people, the mothers and their children.

The asylum seekers are not criminals!
The real criminals are those who condemn them to insecurity, hunger and humiliation, in violation of the Constitution, the Law and international conventions!!
What asylum seekers rightfully demand is the sacred right for asylum protection, which has been recognised since ancient times by all societies.

KISA – Action for Equality, Support, Antiracism
© email source KISA – Action for Equality, Support, Antiracism

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STUDY TO BE PRESENTED ON ATTITUDES TO GAYS IN CYPRUS

8/5/2006- The Ombudsman’s Office and the Anti-racism and Discrimination Authority will today present the findings of a study on how Cypriots perceive homosexuality. The event will take place at the Bank of Cyprus Events Hall in Strovolos at 6.30pm and will include addresses by Thessalonica Aristotelian University Professor Theofano Papazisi, Ombudsperson Eliana Nicholaou and Cypriot Gay Liberation Movement founder and Chairman, Alecos Modinos. Speaking to The Cyprus Weekly yesterday, Modinos said that he welcomed the initiative, the findings of which he had already examined. "That this event is taking place is a very positive thing, said Modinos, who was instrumental in changing the law in Cyprus. He added that it was the first of its kind in Cyprus, although studies on discrimination against other groups of society have already been undertaken. He continued that he hoped the study would assist society in understanding its fears in connection to homosexuality and how these can be overcome. "The Church in Cyprus is very powerful and has been fighting against changes, even though the law was altered three years ago, following two failed attempts in 1998 and 2000," Modinos noted. He continued that the study’s findings had been very interesting, but did not go into further details, pending today’s event.

Social problem
"The main difficulty faced by homosexual men and lesbian women in Cyprus is not our sexual orientation. Our problem is that society does not accept us and ostracises us. Our families, friends and colleagues also suffer with us. Our problem becomes a social problem and the state is responsible for solving it," Modinos said. Modinos in 1993 won his case against the Republic of Cyprus at the European Court of Human Rights. The Court’s findings ruled that Cyprus’ laws prohibiting homosexuality violated his right to a private life. However, it was not until 1998 - when Cyprus stood to lose its still pending membership in the European Union - that homosexual relations between two consenting adults in private were decriminalised. However, the age of consent for homosexual conduct was set at eighteen, while the age of consent for heterosexual contact stood at sixteen. Aside from the unequal age of consent, the new criminal amendments also included, amongst other things, discrimination against homosexuals in terms of freedom of speech, expression, assembly and the press. The law also addressed both male and female homosexuality for the first time. In 2000 these provisions were liberalised, but the unequal age of consent remained in place until 2002, when a new universal age of consent was established at seventeen

Prison
Sexual conduct that occurs in public or with a minor is subject to a prison term of five years. However, the Cyprus military still bars homosexuals from National Guard Service, under the grounds that homosexuality is considered to be a "mental illness," and gay sexual conduct can be a crime under military law. In 2004, with Cyprus’ entry to the European Union, a law was voted in, protecting minorities independently of their religious or other beliefs, their belonging to an ethnic minority, their being disabled, their age or their sexual orientation.
© Cyprus Weekly

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YOUNG ROMANIES FROM OSTRAVA APPEAL STRASBOURG COURT VERDICT(Czech Rep.)

8/5/2006- The group of young Romanies from the Ostrava area, north Moravia, have appealed the February verdict of the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg that turned down their complaint about the Czech Republic´s alleged discrimination against them in terms of education. The complainants want the case to be discussed by the Strasbourg court´s big senate, the Budapest-based European Romany Rights Centre (ERRC) has told CTK. The case involves 18 young Romanies, aged between 15 and 21, whom Czech authorities in the past placed in special elementary schools for children with learning difficulties. In their complaint, lodged with the Strasbourg court, they said that Romany children in Czech schools are treated differently from other kids. They said that it is impossible to explain the high portion of Romany children in special schools, and that some international organisations, too, have confirmed that Romanies have been discriminated against in the Czech Republic. The court, however, in February concluded that the Czech Republic had not breached the European human rights convention or the articles in the related protocol that concern discrimination and the right to education. The court recognised that the complaint is based on certain serious arguments, but said it cannot assess the general social context but only individual complaints. The court came to the conclusion that the rules for admitting children to Czech special schools have not racial subtext and that the Czech government had proved that these schools do not admit Romany children only.  In their appeal, the complainants say the original verdict´s view of discrimination is restrictive, not in harmony with the broad protection European laws provide against discrimination. If the verdict remained valid, it would mean that the convention´s Article 14 (one concerning discrimination) is illusory rather than practical and effective, the Romanies write in the appeal.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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HAVEL: NEO-FASCISM THREATENS IN POST-COMMUNIST WORLD (Czech Rep.)

A new phenomenon, Neo-fascism or creeping fascism, threatens in the post-communist world, ex-president Vaclav Havel said today, adding he realised this in connection with the police´s probably inappropriate crack down on a woman protesting against a Neo-nazi demonstration on May 1.

7/5/2006- During the demonstration, a police officer intervened against Katerina Jacques, the Government Office human rights section head and the Green Party´s election candidate, who was among the protesters opposed to the demonstration. Havel condemned the police attack. However, he also said that Czech politicians with their statements often enhance the atmosphere favourable to the development of Neo-nazism.  "It seems to me that some of our politicians with their statements unwittingly, without wanting to, contribute to this, to the atmosphere nourishing such moods," Havel said in Czech Television´s Sunday discussion programme. As examples of such controversial statements, Havel gave those about the wartime concentration camp for Romanies in Lety, south Bohemia, about the use of cage beds in psychiatric hospitals and about homosexuals´ rights. "For example, when they say that the little concentration camp of ours was not as bad as the foreign ones, that it is not up to foreigners to determine whether our disabled patients should be kept in cages, and when they make it clear that it is inappropriate for a sexually differently oriented minority to push for its interests," Havel said. Similar words hide a patriotic ideal of ethnic purity, which is very dangerous, Havel added. He said that Neo-nazi movements do exist in the Czech Republic, are organised and have their own media. "It has seemed for a long time that the police have been more indulgent towards them than to the young enthusiasts with flying hair, who protest against it [Neo-nazism]," Havel said, adding that this arouses certain concern. Politicians should point to these developments and warn against them. "It may start quite inconspicuously, but may have far reaching consequences," Havel said. Jacques, along with several colleagues from the Green Party, was protesting against a demonstration of Neo-nazis in Prague on May 1, when, she says, a police officer attacked her and beat up without any reason. The Interior Minister´s inspection has proposed that the officer involved be punished. Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek said he expects personnel changes to be made and he initiated a postponement of the planned promotion of Police President Vladislav Husak from the rank of colonel to general.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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AUSTRIAN FPO DELEGATE USES HITLER GREETING

7/5/2006- A delegate on the outer fringes of Austria's far-right party on Sunday took his leave from the party's convention with "heil" — the greeting associated with Adolf Hitler. The head of the party said he had no problem with the word. "I'd like to end my short address with a greeting that really is our old greeting ... I greet all of you with a heartfelt 'heil,"' Walter Sucher told a meeting of the Vienna chapter of the FPO party. He received strong applause. FPO head Heinz-Christian Strache said he saw nothing wrong with the greeting.  "I travel a lot in the western (Austrian) provinces, and wherever I go I am met with this word," the Austria Press Agency quoted him as saying.  While the FPO met in the Austrian capital, thousands of people — including Austrian President Heinz Fischer and other government dignitaries — gathered in Mauthausen in Upper Austria province to commemorate the 61st anniversary of the concentration camp's liberation from the Nazis. About half of the more than 200,000 people held at Mauthausen and its subsidiary camps died. Many prisoners were killed by gassing, shooting, hanging or beating, but Nazi guards mostly worked inmates to death in an adjacent quarry. It was the last big Nazi death camp still operating when the U.S. Third Army's 11th Armored Division arrived in early May 1945. While "heil" still is sometimes used by clubs or sports gatherings — as in "hunter's heil," or "skier's heil," it is usually avoided — particularly used alone — because it is most commonly associated with "Heil Hitler," the greeting demanded by the Nazi leader. The FPO, which runs its election campaigns on a strong anti-foreigner platform, has the support of Austria's far-right voter fringe, including some linked to anti-Semitic sentiments.  It has turned more radical since Joerg Haider, who led it into government after it finished second in 1999 federal elections, left the party last year and took with him its more moderate members to form a new party. While government leaders now regularly acknowledge Austria's leading role in Hitler's atrocities, latent sympathies for that time still linger, particularly among older Austrians. A 2004 poll showed that more than a third of Austrians believe the Nazi era was in some ways positive. Just last month, a former Austrian politician was sentenced to probation for breaking a law that bans attempts to diminish, deny or justify the Holocaust. John Gudenus pleaded not guilty to charges that he broke the law by questioning the existence of gas chambers.
© Associated Press

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RUSSIA'S NAZIS LAUNCH WAVE OF RACIST ATTACKS

7/5/2006- Wearing camouflage and firing pellets from imitation AK-47 assault rifles, the Russians acting out battle scenes in the woods last week could have been mistaken for weekenders taking part in a game of paintball. But the secret military training exercise 70 miles southeast of Moscow was far more sinister. The three-day gathering was attended by 50 hardline neo-Nazis who worship Adolf Hitler and believe that dark-skinned immigrants living in Russia should be killed. The boot camp, which had taken months to organise, was planned to train them in combat skills and extremist ideology. Those taking part either support or have helped carry out a string of vicious racist attacks that have shocked Russia. The “delegates” stayed in tents beneath the red and black swastika-like flag of the Nationalist Socialist Society. They fired mock firearms and trained with knives and clubs. At night, flanked by torches, they gathered around a bonfire exchanging Nazi salutes, chanting slogans celebrating Hitler and making speeches about a “super-race” made up of ethnic Russians. “We need to kill all dark-skinned immigrants,” explained a young man renowned as one of Moscow’s most radical skinheads who introduced himself as Tesak, Russian slang for “hatchet”. Weighing 17 stone, shaven-headed and wearing a black bomber jacket, Tesak, 21, an unemployed building engineer, is respected by fellow neo- Nazis for his brutal attacks on non-whites. His hands are covered in deep knife wounds from a recent bloody clash with an armed man from Tajikistan. He walks the streets with a 10in hunting knife strapped to his side and boasts of having beaten immigrants “to a pulp”.

Tesak recently launched his own neo-Nazi website, named in Hitler’s honour, on which footage of attacks on immigrants is posted. He claimed his violent message was becoming so popular that he was asked for his autograph on the Moscow metro. “We shouldn’t just kill adults. We must get rid of their children too,” he said. “When you squash cockroaches to death, you don’t just kill the big ones. You go for the little ones too.” The Soviet Union lost about 20m people in the second world war and in Russia — which prides itself as the nation that did most to defeat Hitler — the views of young men such as Tesak could be dismissed until recently as an aberration. No longer. Fuelled by rampant nationalism, racist attacks have become tragically common. Last month alone saw a record nine racial murders and 24 assaults, including the near-fatal stabbing of a nine-year-old girl. According to Sova, a non-governmental organisation that monitors the crimes, there were 28 racist murders in Russia last year. However, Amnesty International believes the true figure is much higher: the police play down the attacks by recording many of them as mere “hooliganism”. Last week Amnesty warned that racism in Russian cities was spinning “out of control” and attacked the Kremlin for failing to act. President Vladimir Putin, whose elder brother died as an infant in the siege of Leningrad, has condemned racist attacks, but experts say the authorities are failing to crack down. “No one wants to admit that the country which defeated fascism could possibly be a breeding ground for fascists,” said Galina Kozhevnikova, of Sova.

For all the media coverage that some racist murders have received in Russia, the young men — and four young women — who gathered at the camp last week said they were untroubled by the authorities. On the contrary, Dimitri Rumyantsev, a 40-year-old computer programmer, said many Russian police officers shared his prejudices. Rumyantsev, who gave a night-time speech greeted by his supporters with chants of “Sieg Heil”, said the neo-Nazis were planning a coup that would be supported by Russia’s security forces. “Killing immigrants is all very well; it’s good to keep the adrenaline flowing among young skinheads and keeps morale up, but it changes nothing,” he said. “We must seize power. Only then will we be able to get rid of them all.” Recruits armed with imitation guns split into two groups and attacked one another to learn guerrilla tactics which, they said, would be needed in the coup. The winning side was led by a tattooed ultra-racist who said he had fought as a volunteer against Muslim forces during the war in Bosnia. After a rancid meal of buckwheat porridge and canned meat around a camp fire, they honed their combat skills. Later, several neo-Nazis practised stabbing as an instructor demonstrated how to target a victim’s neck and stomach. “Go for the swine’s legs first. That way he can’t run away. Then you finish him off,” he said. That same cold-blooded hatred led to the death of Khursheda Sultanova, to date the neo-Nazis’ youngest victim. The nine-year-old Tajik girl bled to death two years ago on the outskirts of St Petersburg after being stabbed repeatedly by a gang of skinheads chanting “Russia is for Russians” as she returned home with her family from an evening’s ice skating. The killers were arrested and a jury found them guilty, but only of hooliganism. They were sentenced to a maximum of 5 years in jail. “It’s unbelievable. Killing my little daughter is only an act of hooliganism according to Russia’s authorities,” said Yunus Sultanov, 37, Khursheda’s father. “They gave these murdering thugs a green light to keep killing us just because we are a different colour. They went out of their way to defend a bunch of killers just because I am Tajik. That’s the truth.”

A Month's Killings
April 6 Voronezh: Vietnamese man beaten to death
April 7 St Petersburg: Senegalese student shot dead
April 8 Moscow: girl of 19 with Asian features bludgeoned to death
April 8 Moscow region: Tajik worker thrown from train
April 13 Volgograd: two gypsies beaten to death
April 16 Moscow: 19-year-old anti-fascist activist knifed
April 22 Moscow: Tajik builder stabbed
April 22 Moscow: Armenian student stabbed
Source: Sova
© The Times Online

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POLISH HOOLIGAN ARMY TO INVADE WORLD CUP

6/5/2006- A hard core of violent Polish fans led by neo-Nazis is emerging as the biggest hooligan threat to the World Cup, displacing the traditional troublemakers from England and the Netherlands. “It will be the battle for Berlin,” Andrzej said, with a crooked, toothy grin. Clasping a can of beer and singing obscene anthems, he is one of the estimated 250,000 Polish supporters who will be travelling to Germany next month, with or without a ticket. We met the 38-year-old mechanic outside the Lech Poznan Stadium before a low-key encounter with Dyskobolia, a local rival, but the talk was of war, blood and the settling of scores on an international level. Poland play Germany on June 14 and whatever the outcome on the pitch, passions will be stirred among the two largest hooligan contingents at the tournament. To our surprise, Andrzej disappeared to the gentler side of the stadium and squeezed among the younger supporters. There were tougher fans than him at the game, who were shepherded into a huge metal cage: a couple of hundred baying skinheads. As in every Polish game, ritualised chants echoed across the stadium but there was anger too, waiting to be exported across the border to Germany. “Don’t want no education,” bellowed the crowd in a warm-up song borrowed from Pink Floyd. “Don’t want no thought control.” Police calculate that there are between 2,000 and 2,500 potentially violent Polish hooligans. But the figure is guesswork. Each region has its own figures. There is no central list, little monitoring and no clear overview. “Only about 5 per cent of the fan community are really hooligans,” Jaroslaw Kilinski, head of Wiara Lech, the Poznan supporters club, said. “The Germans are exaggerating the problem.” But 5 per cent of 250,000 adds up to more than 12,000 thugs, enough to change the balance of the hooligan problem during the World Cup. By comparison, 100,000 England fans are expected, with more than 3,000 forced to stay at home under banning orders.

The dynamics of Polish hooliganism could be observed in the Poznan cage. About six organisers, none of them wearing fan regalia, slipped through the barred entrance — resembling the exercise yard of a high-security prison — and controlled the mood of the terraces. Using mobile phones to co-ordinate with other parts of the stadium, they whipped up or calmed the fans. After the match, they disappeared into the crowd. According to Marcin Kornak, the head of the fan-monitoring agency Never Again, they were almost certainly linked to far-right groups. “The hooligan scene has become a prime penetration target for organised neo-Nazis,” he said. The far-right group Blood and Honour has infiltrated the fan clubs of Wroclaw, Gdansk and Lodz. Each club in Poland, according to Filip Janczak, of the Poznan Supporters Association, has a hooligan cell, often just a handful of young men. “They have their own web of communication — with mobile phones and the internet,” he said. Grudge matches bring them out. “The arithmetic is complicated,” Jacek Purski, of Never Again, said. “Legia Warsaw has 70 hardcore violent fans who can be spotted at most matches. When Legia plays away, that can swell to 400.” Now the hooligan cells are co-ordinating their actions ready for the World Cup. Hooligans act on unspoken rituals rather than on explicit orders: that is what makes them so difficult to monitor. Sociologists compare the hooligan structure with the Mafia,Indeed, it is extremely violent. Six people have died in clashes between supporters of Wisla Cracow and their rival Cracovia. Training video clips on the art of kicking to cripple have been put on the internet. In lock-up garages, hooligans have gathered arsenals of axes, knives and chainsaws. There are many border crossing points between Poland and Germany and the police know the identity of only a few offenders. Last November 100 Polish fans fought Germans in the forests of Brandenburg outside Berlin. Many were Poznan supporters and have been put on a list of undesirables. There is no sure way of stopping even these fans coming to the World Cup.

Gerd Neubeck, the deputy president of the Berlin police, calculates that many Poles will not have enough money to travel to Dortmund, in the far west, for the match against Germany. He expects that they will make the short trip to Berlin and watch it on giant screens. Trouble is likely. Among the German fans in Berlin there are at least 1,000 classified as potentially or actively violent. It could, indeed, become the Battle of Berlin.
© The Times Online

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RACISM AND EXTREME VIOLENCE IN FOOTBALL(MCI Spain)

May 2006- For many years, every time the League’s season begins, violence returns to the stadiums, and its surroundings , violence and other demonstrations of racism always caused by the same fanatics in the margin of the sport dynamic. Jewish philosopher, Walter Benjamin, said that it was essential “to know the tree by its fruit” and, in effect, only by interpreting the nature of that violence, of that intolerance, knowing who generates it and why, will we be able to knows its origins, preventing and avoiding its future development. Tragedies such as those of the Heysel stadium (29.5.85) in Brussels that caused 40 deaths during the final of the European Cup, or in the Hillsborough (15.4.89) in Liverpool, where the number deaths reached 96 people, could not be explained without pointing out the real protagonists, extreme groups that unleashed those tragedies.

Without reaching those levels of brutality, we can not ignore that in Spain we have not been exempt from terrible events either. Murders have been committed on the part of extremists like Spanish fan, Frederic Rouquier, the enthusiast from “la Real Sociedad”, Aitor Zabaleta and the “Deportivo de la Coruña”, Manuel Riós. However, violence and other demonstrations of intolerance and racism, led by extreme groups has had for many years a constant presence. There is aggression towards the fans of rival teams, the players, particularly black players, such as Fredy Rincón, the police and the security guards that watch over the stadiums and the peace. After repeated vandalism in different stadiums, meaning the persistence in the suburbs of Bernabau and the appearance of fascist symbols, racist insults to players, serious hostility towards photographers, serious altercations such as in Cibeles in Madrid; including shots towards police vans, brutality in games like Sevilla-Betis, Barcelona-Español, Madrid-Atlético . . . the appearance of switchblades and various conflicts, the situation has not been resolved.

The institutions of the moment and the previous government talked about adopting measures, remembering that the “compromise against violence in sports” would allow to toughen sanctions since the beginning of 2004. However, the change demanded by the true supporters, to end the violence and other demonstrations of racism and intolerance in the stadiums for once and for all, was not produced. And it was not produced because the Clubs would not want to close the doors to the extremists that are the origin of the problem of violence and racism. This whole time, since the aforementioned “compromise” was signed, not a single director, save the president Laporta of Barcelona, who furthermore was assaulted, has announced the finalization of support more that evident that grants determined Clubs to their respective extremists. Nobody wants to get rid of them and bet, with little sense, to tame the monster despite the cost of civility that involves for all of society. However, in order to put a stop to this harmful behaviour it is necessary to go to its root. If space exists for extreme fanatics, true breeding grounds of intolerance, where the culture of stands feeds the compulsive hate of the rival, permits insults and xenophobic aggression, antidemocratic symbols, acceptance of violence and racism as a factor of self-affirmation and identity, anonymity and certain impunity; if there still are those who provide tickets and financial support for those groups to travel, granting them the role of “iron fist” in defence of the team colours; and if furthermore is permitted the conversion and activity of neonazis, violent or totalitarian groups that are allowed to stay comfortably in the extremist environment, the fear is that there are to be no real and efficient measures, the problem is not eradicated.

However, it is no accident that the stands are where extreme fanatic groups chose to incite racism and totalitarianism. The compulsively vivid identities, that reject each other, the overcrowding and anonymity that the stands make possible, the possibility of constructing a social reference that even is projected on television, together with the permissiveness of Clubs and institutions, supposes an attraction for antiestablishment groups where they nest and recruit followers, converting them into breeding grounds against a democratic coexistence. Meanwhile, society keeps suffering their vandalism, paying with its taxes the million-euro bills of their damage or the costs of security that they generate and, on many occasions, suffering terrible aggressions, including the irreparable disgrace of the loss of a life at the hands of a fanatic criminal. In the long history of football, the excitement of the sport brought by the clubs of true fans, that is to those one must support, never needed to resort to such conduct that dirties our sport. To the directors of the Clubs, besides their responsibility, one must point out to them the enormous moral debt that they have to their fans and to Spanish society especially.

In Order to Interpret the Problem
The presence and violence featured by the neonazis groups in Spain goes back almost two decades, although a lot of time had to pass for institutions to be able to identify its nature, football being one of the places where it has nested since the beginning. It is the in the middle of the eighties when this new nazism invades Spain, that is the main culprit of the aggressions toward young immigrants, the destitute, punks, homosexuals, prostitutes, leftists, Jews, Muslims, protestants, . . . and to all that they can consider their objective in their particular crusade of social and ethnic cleansing. In the world of football, there is political conflict with the fans of the rival team as well. The cities of Madrid, Barcelona, Zaragoza & Valencia are the main urban focal points. The ULTRA sites of the football field, present in practically all the stadiums of national category, continue being the most important breeding grounds for the gathering and grouping of the groups that promote hate and intolerance, indicating with alarm the labour of recruitment of youth, often MINORS OF AGE, whom they push to exercise of violence against persons of different communities, especially immigrants. The majority group comes from neonazis. Configured in multiple factions, they proclaim in their ideology the superiority of the white race and the gangs that configure it practice violence, declare themselves racists, dedicate themselves to anti-Semitism and attack mixed races, reducing to a simplified subject the discourse and the orthodox national socialist doctrine, they affirm the Holocaust, glorify Hitler and their program is reduced to spread that they are going to raise a new Reich.

On various occasions police arrests have showed the existence of those groups, as was the case of Bastión, the perpetrator of the attack of the followers of the Real Sociedad in a game with Atlético de Madrid, or the Hammerskin that operate in the spaces of Ultrassur and the Brigada Blanquiazules. They are generally recognized by their “shaved heads” or very short hair, tattoos, use of nazi symbols (runes, Celtic crosses, swastikas, KKK and Afrikaners) their constant presence, in groups of 10-12 people, the majority males. Also, as uniforms, they wear Doc Martens combat boots with white shoelaces (reflecting the supremacy of whites over other races), jean shorts, straps and bomber jackets, and, furthermore the boots and belts with iron buckles and other habitual weapons that they often bear switchblades, brass knuckles, ¿xiriquetes?, truncheons or small baseball bats and self-defence sprays. Nevertheless this image is being modified in those cities and countries where the institutional reaction and the citizenry are obliging them to be less visible and go underground with their actions, being presented as “accidents”.

The adhesion to neo-nazism is distributed internationally across the music Ol!, ‘skinzines’, the Internet and, especially, in the “extremes” of the football stadiums, as well as in the meetings at international levels of their leading teams, as denounced by the Antidefamation League, a Jewish organisation for the defence of the human rights, in whose information from 1995 already denounced the presence of this racist and neo-nazi scene in 35 countries of various continents. Their members are fairly young and are situated at an age between 15 and 30 years. They tend to belong to the middle class and working class. Also, the tend to swindle in the black market of synthetic drugs, associating with groups of pill-pushers, “bakalas”, “canis” . . are intense consumers of beer and alcohol feeds vilent incidents. As an element of identity they invoke the image of the Vikings constructing a vision of themselves as racial warriors. The chain that generates the sensation of power, belonging and destiny, is the basis for the call making the SKIN movement very attractive and useful for the recruit of discontent youth in search of identity. With the goal of reinforcing and assuring their future, they began the recruitment of women and teenagers. It is stated an increase in number of websites with the goal of gaining women and children in order to enter the movement of white supremacy.

As for the victims, they are people chosen at random for their membership in a stigmatised social group, as in the case of football of fans of other teams that they especially hate, not only suffer the aggression generally done by a very large group that attacks suddenly, and like a pack of hounds, but also the panic and subsequent shock that they provoke affects and accompanies them for a long time, without being able to receive psychic treatment and adequate reparation, among other reasons for the lack of interpretation of the nature of these aggressions. They apply a hunt of the different, that already were experimented with terrifying success of the 30 years through the regime of Hitler, against Jews, foreigners and democrats among others, and nowadays, these violent groups recuperate a large part of the terror experience that was perpetrated by the known SA and SS, used with elevated mimicry their techniques of street violence.

The SKIN violence differs little between one country and another. When they to the street, they look for persons belonging to social groups that they hate and they attack them. The vandalism is another SKIN specialty: racists paintings, profanities in cemeteries and Jewish synagogues, attacks on the memory of the Holocaust, denying it and insulting it. In some countries, they attack with explosives and firearms. They base their behaviour in developing systematic violence against their “scapegoats” or towards whatever person that crosses their path and, according to them, “looks at them bad”. The cult of violence that the boss of a SKIN group before the media clearly defined “…with violence one becomes a person and through causing fear in others, one confirms their existence…”
This violence, obviously without rules, is carried out in mass numbers by means of rapid, unforeseeable attacks, in strong accordance with Hitler’s doctrine of sudden, surprise attack, ready to wound or kill, with sadistic pleasure and in mobs; violence whose diffuse projection and latent presence generate collective terror among social groups that they afflict, generate helplessness in the matter of citizen security and discredit under the society of the institutions incapable of stopping it. They tend to justify their criminal violence saying that they want to cleanse society, that they are against the democracy because “it is governed by capitalism”, against the police for being “bought by the system”, against the immigrants, punks, blacks, muslims, homosexuals, reds… because they are “trash”. They consider themselves “soldiers”.

Behind their apparent blind, anonymous and gratuitous violence, rigorous intentions are hidden, such that continuous training ensures a strong knowledge of the use of hand weapons and arms prohibited in Spain (in other countries, firearms and explosives), observing that in their crimes and offences a great ability to attack with a high level of efficiency. In general these violent groups, fed by Nazi ideology, give rise to a type of youth with feelings of superiority, that glorify Hitler and aspire to create their vision of a white world, an Aryan union. They are dangerous people that believe in what they do and do what they believe, storm-trooping groups of fanatics, racists and intolerants that proclaim hate, spread xenophobia and consider their criminal assaults heroic acts. In their challenge to democratic society, to multiethnic and multicultural coexistence, their strategies look to provoke divisions within society and the democratic institutions showing the inability of the state of law to defend the citizenry and guarantee their liberty and security. It is their strategy to begin with the weakest links and attack youth, socially discriminated and minority groups, an apparent blind nihilism that is stimulated by the conscience of power and the impunity of his actions, always feeding the permissiveness and social indifference. In the case of the football shootings, the Real Madrid-Osasuna game produced in short minutes close to 40 attacks, as proved by the report with hidden camera in a Diary of a Skin.

The weekends are the time that gather the main part of the aggressions in all countries, aggressions that ACNUR reflected in a report where it was announced that in Europe a neonazi, racist or xenophobic act of violence was produced every 3 minutes, signalling the dangerous growth in the East of Europe. There are political formations of fanatics or the extreme right that see the existence of skin gangs as positive and even utilize them in functions of security of some of their activities. European Parliament estimates that in the Union there are some 1,300 neonazi groups and calculates that about 500 aggressions happen daily in Europe. The Commission of Investigation of Racism and Xenophobia of the European Parliament, coordinated by the British labour member Glyn Ford, in his report over the conclusions revealed that “the event most worrying, by far, that has been produced in the non-parliamentarian environment has been the development of the Skinhead movement”, and situated in the United Kingdom the origin and diffusion of this racist and violent subculture propaganda especially across the extremist world of football.

The Investigation of the Map of Hate
The Movement against intolerance in its investigation calculates that in Spain more that 4000 aggressions are produced a year, perpetrated by neonazi and racist groups directed especially against immigrants (blacks, Maghribians, and Latin-Americans in the majority), the impoverished, homosexuals, prostitutes and youth of various appearances (punks, leftists, hippies…etc). Many of these aggressions are produced in the environment of extreme football. A figure similar or higher to the number of aggressions that have been officially recognized in Sweden (3,000), and less than those officially recognized in Germany and Great Britain. However, in Spain, Official Data does not exist. The research, gathered in part in the Raxen Reports, has detected these aggressions and the presence of these racist fanatic groups in more than 90 Spanish cities with urban dimensions very different, from big cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Zaragoza or Malaga to smaller locations such as Parla, Tarrasa, El Ejido or Guardamar de Segura or Orihuela, signifying a raised and worrisome occurrence in the Autonomous Communities of Madrid, Catalonia, Andalusia and of the progressive growth in Valencia, Aragon, Murcia and the Canary Islands such as the extension of the problem to ALL the Autonomous Communities of Spain. Remember that in our country in the last ten years more than 60 murders have been committed, perpetrated by subjects motivated by the xenophobic, racial and neonazis hate, sufficiently accredited, although it does not rule out that the figure could be higher. In the same manner one would have to point out hundreds of grave casualties produced in the last years.
The existence of this universe of more than 70 neonazi and racist groups that operate in Spain and that are ingrained in the fanatical scene of football, is not something sporadic or passing, reaching an active base that places the number of subjects involved with the ideology of hate in figures, between 11,000 (according to the Ministry of the Interior, 1995) and 15,000 (reflected in neonazis web “The Censorship of Democracy”).

Research has detected that in Spain 94 xenophobic and racist music groups were created, self-proclaimed “patriots”, half of them probably active, between the groups that stand out such as Odal, Reconquista, Centuria, Centuria Hispánica, Klan, Batallón de Castigo,…that have concerts or performances relatively clandestine and bring out CDs where they distribute among youth racist, anti-Semitic, neonazis and antidemocratic ideas. Furthermore they use radio stations on the internet, such as Radio Hispania, Radio Nacionalsocialista, Radio Islam… and a line of distribution of materials of propaganda, clothing, books and more, published with an economic consumer base of all this “merchandising” that can exceed 12 million euros (2 billion pesetas). Neonazi “fanzines” are distributed in the environs of football stadiums, on the days of games. Furthermore, research detected the rapid growth of neonazis websites, which can be accessed from websites of fanatic football groups, that exceed a hundred, whose contents are dedicated to propagate racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and other related forma of intolerance. Websites of national scope like NuevOrden, Fuerza Aria or Anillo Nacional Socialista..., of autonomous scale like Cataluña NS or Euskalherria NS, that at the same time maintain links with neonazis and racist websites at the global level, like the Klu Klux Klan, Combat18, Hammer skin, Stormfront, Blood & Honour, National Socialist Resístanse, ..etc and that reach figures indicated by the United Nations of more that 4,000 websites (of which 500 are in Spanish, of various Latin countries). Especially insidious are the forums and chatrooms where hate is propagated not only from these pages but rather from many others that are used for this spread of intolerance as we will see in this Report.

Esteban Ibarra
President Movement Against Intolerance
© Movmiento Contra la Intolerancia

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VATICAN BACKS CHURCH SIT-INS AS ASYLUMS BATTLE CONTINUES(Belgium)

10/5/2006- The Vatican's diplomatic representative in Belgium has backed the involvement of Catholic Church bishops in mounting protests against the federal government's asylum policy. "The church has always chosen the side of the weakest. This problem deserves a political solution," the papal nuncio said via his secretary. It is extremely exceptional for the nuncio to make a public statement, newspaper 'De Morgen' reported on Wednesday. Church sit-in protests are being staged across much of country at present as illegal immigrants demonstrate against the government's immigration policies and demand official residency. Interior Minister Dewael has refused to grant an amnesty, however, claiming that many of the protestors have either failed to lodge an official request for residency or have previously had their applications turned down. But as protests across the country continue, the papal nuncio has said the actions are "humane" and that "a solution must come from the politicians". The nuncio said because the church sit-in protests do not represent a conflict between Church and State (or the Holy See and Belgium), he did not wish to comment further. The spokesman for Belgian Cardinal Danneels, Hans Geybels, said the support from the papal nuncio was a "positive signal". But bishops also realise that the deadlock between the government and protestors cannot continue. "The solution cannot only come from the Belgian Church," Geybels said. The church sit-ins will be high on the agenda at a conference of Belgian bishops on Thursday. Meanwhile, the Antwerp social security office OCMW has proposed ending the financial subsidies paid to the Sint-Egidius community monastery if it continues to support the protests. OCMW council member Marco Laenens had been rounding up political support in recent days in a bid to withdraw the EUR 50,000 allocated to the Sint-Egidius community last year. He abandoned his efforts when it was revealed the money had already been paid, but believes the monastery does not deserve any more funding. Sint-Egidius community spokesman Jan De Volder said the monastery requested government support last year for the first time in its 11-year existence. He said this was because the OCMW office was directing social security recipients to the monastery's charitable restaurant. Between 350 and 400 homeless and disadvantaged people eat at the restaurant twice per week. De Volder said Laenens actions were blackmail and that the monastery's restaurant, Kamiano, was not involved in any of the church sit-in protests.
© Expatica News

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DEADLOCK OVER ASYLUM LAW AS PROTESTS ESCALATE (Belgium)

8/5/2006- Interior Minister Patrick Dewael has refused to give ground despite the escalating protests by illegal immigrants demanding official residency in Belgium. The protests involve a demonstration in La Louvière, a church sit-in protest in Kortrijk and a hunger strike at the asylum seeker centre Klein Kasteeltje or Petit-Château in Brussels. "We don't want the law to change, but want it applied more efficiently and quicker so that people without [official] papers don't have to live for years in uncertainty," Ghent bishop Luc Van Looy said on Sunday. The Sint-Antonius church in Ghent is one of three Flemish churches that are being occupied by illegal immigrants. The others are the Sint-Michiels church in Kortrijk and the Egidius community monastery in Antwerpen. In Ghent, the names of 4,363 illegal immigrants who are demanding official residency have been recorded. Church sit-ins are also being staged in Wallonia and Brussels, where hunger strikers have also at times stopped drinking as concerns for the health of protestors grew. But Interior Minister Patrick Dewael has refused to yield ground. In fact, in an interview on current affairs show 'De Zevende Dag' on Sunday, he appeared to harden his stance. He said the majority of foreigners currently staging protests cannot expect to gain official residency. "Most of them simply don't come into consideration for asylum or regularisation. Often, they have not lodged an application, initiated no procedure or were a given negative assessment years ago," the Liberal VLD minister said. Dewael also stressed that a hunger strike is unacceptable black mail, newspaper 'De Standaard' reported on Monday. A spokesman from the Egidius community Jan De Volder said in mid-February: "I understand the desperation of the hunger strikers, but we don’t allow that sort of protest in our church". But De Volder — who is also involved in the Hope for Papers protest group — has since said Dewael must also be consistent. He said the minister recently gave ground to some hunger strikers, giving the impression that those who protest the hardest will have their demands met. "All politicians must take their responsibility and show political courage. In two weeks time, the new asylums law will be debated in the Parliament. We think the tightening and acceleration of the [asylums] procedure is good," De Volder said. If the new legislation is introduced hand-in-hand with a flexible measure to give residency for people who have lived for years and are already integrated, De Volder said the nation can start with a clean slate and improved procedures. However, Christian Democrat CD&V parliamentary leader Pieter De Crem was critical of both the minister and churches. De Crem said the church sit-ins were the outpouring of criticism against the government for its ineffective repatriation policy in the past five years. "But every institute in this country, also the church, must know that there is a law that regulates residency in Belgium and that must be applied," he said.
© Expatica News

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PLAN TO ABOLISH FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR ASYLUM SEEKERS (Belgium)

9/5/2006- The Belgian government wants to only give asylum seekers material support in future rather than the financial support a large number of them currently receive. The proposal is part of plans being drawn up by Social Integration Minister Christian Dupont aimed at reforming the way in which asylum seekers are cared for in Belgium. A request for asylum currently occurs in two phases. A request must first be declared admissible and then a definitive decision must be made whether to declare the asylum seeker a political refugee. So long as a request for asylum is not declared non-admissible, the asylum seekers are given material support and accommodation in open refugee shelters. When their request is declared admissible and subjected to a more thorough investigation, the asylum seekers are given financial support. They are registered with the social security office OCMW, which pays them a minimum wage. But that financial support will become a thing of the past under Minister Dupont's plans. The Socialist PS minister only wants to give material support to asylum seekers, irrespective of which phase of the asylum procedure they are in. The aim of the reform is to ease the burden on large cities, which have complained for years that OMCW offices simply dump asylum seekers on them. Legislation aimed at improving the spread of asylum seekers around the country has failed to stop them moving to the nation's larger cities. Dupont's reform plan is part of the new asylums procedure legislation drawn up by Interior Minister Patrick Dewael. That legislation stipulates that a decision must be made on an asylum request within one year. But church sit-in protests or hunger strikes by illegal immigrants demanding official residency are being staged at 25 locations across the country. The protestors are also demanding clearer criteria for asylum procedures.
© Expatica News

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SKINHEAD CAFE CLOSES AFTER 'RACIST' BASHING(Belgium)

11/5/2006- The Brugge mayor has ordered the 'skinhead' café De Kastelein to shut down following a suspected racist bashing last weekend. Mayor Patrick Moenaert took the decision after consulting with police and the owner of the café, located on the Maalsesteenweg. Two men were assaulted on Saturday night in the vicinity of the De Kastelein. One of the victims, a 50-year-old black Frenchman, is still in a coma. His 37-year-old friend suffered broken bones and memory loss. He claims the attack was racially motivated because the culprits did not steal the EUR 200 the victims were jointly carrying at the time. "Those skinheads didn't want money. They wanted to get us because my friend has the wrong colour," he said. Five suspects were later arrested inside the café, a popular haunt for skinheads, three of whom have since been remanded in custody. And after returning from holiday, Moenaert entered into talks with the café owner on Wednesday. The mayor's spokesman said the owner agreed to close the café until the end of May to maintain public order. New discussions will be held at the end of May between the owner, mayor and police. A decision on the possible re-opening of the café will be made at that time.
© Expatica News

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SKINHEADS TO FACE COURT OVER 'RACIST BASHING' (Belgium)

8/5/2006- Three men from Lubbeek, Huldenberg and Brugge have been remanded in custody for the assault and battery of two men in what is suspected to have been a racially-motivated crime. The men were arrested on Sunday and ordered on Monday to appear in Brugge Court on Friday on charges of assault, the public prosecution office said. One of the two victims from the Saturday night bashing in Brugge is still in a coma. He has been described as a Frenchman with dreadlocks hair. The other victim has multiple broken bones and has suffered memory loss. Brugge public prosecutor Jean-Marie Berkvens said the motive for the attack remains unknown. Five suspects were arrested on Sunday, three of whom were remanded in custody on Monday. They are aged 22, 23 and 26. The victim who is not in a coma is 38 years-old. The age of the immigrant victim is not yet known. Both victims had lost their way on Saturday night and were waiting for friends on the Maalsesteenweg about 200m from the café De Kastelein, where a large number of 'skinheads' gather. The victims were trying to get to the suburb of Sint-Jozef when they were attacked. Police immediately the attack to the café due to previous troubles. It is suspected the attack was racially motivated.
© Expatica News

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VIENNA DECLARATION ON STRENGTHENING AND BUILDING MEDIA IN THE SOUTH EAST EUROPE REGION

10/5/2006- We, the editors, media executives and journalists assembled on 6 May 2006 at the SEEMO Dialogue Meeting in Vienna, having discussed the media situation in countries of transition in the region of South East Europe (SEE) and the standards for EU membership, appeal and urge the governments and authorities in the region, as well as all involved, including relevant international
institutions, to:

- Not undermine in any way the very means of dissemination of information. Ensure that citizens in the emerging democracies in SEE have access to free and independent media. There is also a need for strengthening and building independent media, both old and new ones, in these countries.

- Respect the social need for diverse voices, including those of minorities and ethnic communities, in private, public and state media, as well as anti-monopoly laws applicable to all businesses.

- Eliminate all government influence on media, as in the recent case of RTV Kosovo when a law was passed that seriously endangers financial and editorial independence, as well as state support to some media - giving some media a monopoly position or a stronger financial position than the private media.

- Grant the licences for terrestrial radio and television stations after open and transparent competition with clear criteria. The recent case in Serbia is one example where the frequency allocation was not carried out in a transparent and unbiased manner.

- Issue multiple-entry visas for journalists free of charge. It is essential that every journalist, who has a regular press card, can receive a visa in a timely and unbureaucratic manner and without the burden of producing variety of documents.

- Conduct investigations into cases of attacked, injured and killed journalists, as well as to end impunity by bringing to trial the killers of journalists in the region.

- Change the laws dealing with defamation in accordance with international standards. Journalists should not be punished under criminal law. Actions against journalists for defamation should be heard in the civil courts. All damages should be proportionate and in scale with the economic realities of the country, as well as the individual and company concerned.

- Ensure free access to information and respond to media requests without delay. All governments must respect freedom of information laws enacted to protect the fundamental right to seek, receive and impart information. Where necessary governments should advertise how and where to use these laws.

- Tax print media in the countries of the region, especially those aspiring to become EU members, at a reduced rate, or even at a zero-point rate.

- Respect the right of journalists to protect his or her source of information in each situation, even during legal proceedings.

SEEMO and the Association of Private News Agencies (APNA) welcome the will of the government of the Republic of Macedonia - FYROM expressed by its decision to transform the news agency MIA from a state financed entity into a regular joint stock company as part of a free market. However, SEEMO in its declaration stresses that a joint stock company in the media market is obliged to respect the legal framework of a free market, to implement all relevant principles defined by the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia - FYROM and the Resolution of the Council of Europe, which calls governments not to use state budget funds at the expense of independent media outlets.
© South East Europe Media Organisation

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OSCE AT “CRITICAL POINT” IN FIGHT AGAINST ANTI-SEMITISM

Helsinki Commission Briefing Details OSCE Initiatives to Combat Anti-Semitism and Other Forms of Intolerance

11/5/2006-  On May 9, 2006, the Helsinki Commission held a briefing on Holocaust education tools and law enforcement training programs undertaken by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The briefing titled “Tools for Combating Anti-Semitism: Police Training and Holocaust Education” was chaired by Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). Co-Chairman Smith cited the vicious murder of Ilan Halimi as a reminder of the need to redouble efforts to combat anti-Semitism and to speak out when manifestations of related hatred occur. A French Jew, Halimi was kidnapped and gruesomely tortured to death earlier this year because of his faith. “His tragedy made brutally clear that Jews are still attacked because they are Jews, and that our work to eradicate all forms of anti-Semitism in all its ugly forms and manifestations is far from done,” said Smith. Because of incidents like this, Rep. Smith cited his request for approximately $200,000 in appropriations to support OSCE anti-Semitism activities.

The Helsinki Commission leadership has worked to build a bipartisan coalition of Members of Congress to launch a series of initiatives at home and abroad. The efforts to bring attention to troubling trends of rising anti-Semitism and related violence in the OSCE region have been the catalyst elevating the issue of anti-Semitism on the agenda of the 55-nation organization. The ongoing work of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the focus of the Capitol Hill briefing, is part of a broader plan to address anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance, including hatred aimed at Muslims, Christians, and others. The briefing highlighted specific programs which promote awareness of the Holocaust and provide law enforcement professionals with the tools to investigate and prosecute hate-inspired crimes. “Communities within the OSCE region have turned from tranquil to chaotic in an instant . . . by a single hate crime,” noted Paul Goldenberg, a Special Advisor to ODIHR who designed the law enforcement training program which assists police to recognize and respond to hate crimes. Goldenberg stressed that law enforcement professionals must be recognized as an integral part of the solution. ODIHR and Goldenberg have successfully implemented the program in Spain, Hungary, Croatia and Ukraine, and hope to conduct additional trainings if resources permit. ODIHR also issued a report on “Combating Hate Crimes in the OSCE Region: An Overview of Statistics, Legislation, and National Initiatives,” based on information submitted by participating States about statistics, legislation, and national initiatives to combat hate crimes.

Dr. Kathrin Meyer, ODIHR Advisor on Anti-Semitism Issues, presented ODIHR developed documents for Holocaust education, such as “Education on the Holocaust and on Anti-Semitism: An Overview and Analysis of Educational Approaches.” The book provides an overview of current teaching on the Holocaust in the OSCE region, highlighting good practices and recommending areas to improve. It also addresses the challenges presented by contemporary forms of anti-Semitism and highlights ways to address the subject in the classroom. “The ODIHR was tasked to disseminate best practices and to assist the states to implement these commitments,” said Dr. Meyer. These guidelines will assist OSCE participating States in meeting their commitment “to promote educational programs to combat anti-Semitism, to promote the remembrance of and education on the Holocaust, and to promote respect for all ethnic and religious groups.”

On the second panel, Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs at the American Jewish Committee, praised the serious and substantive work of the OSCE. “There has been a remarkable set of achievements in getting the OSCE to address [anti-Semitism,] and to address it seriously and substantively.” However, Baker warned that “right now we are in a really critical point, a point where we may be in danger of losing these gains.” He urged Commissioners to ensure that the OSCE remains vigorously engaged in combating anti-Semitism, and called for the formal OSCE acceptance of Romania’s offer to host a major conference on anti-Semitism in 2007. Stacy Burdett, Associate Director of Government and National Affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, stressed the particular responsibility of OSCE countries to implement their commitments to undertake the concrete steps they have promised in recent years. “One of the strengths of the ministerial decisions in OSCE, the declarations and the conferences is that they highlight that the primary responsibility for implementing commitments for addressing acts of intolerance rests with participating States,” said Burdett, “Putting those commitments into action has been a challenge…what is lacking, not just funding, is really political will.” Liebe Geft, Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, expressed alarm over exploitation and perversion of justifiable complaints over anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice to undermine support for educating new generations about Hitler’s crimes. “Learning about Europe’s historic persecution, culminating in the Holocaust of its archetypal minority, the Jews, can educate other minorities, including today’s Muslim immigrant communities in Europe, about the dynamics of prejudice and discrimination against which they seek to empower themselves.”

A full transcript of the hearing as well as the official statements from each of the witnesses is available here.
© The US Helsinki Commission

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PREJUDICE FORMS A NEW LINE BETWEEN EAST AND WEST(EUrope)

As gay people get greater rights in parts of EU, other countries entrench bigotry

8/5/2006- Tourists and young couples ambling through the historic centre of Krakow on a warm spring afternoon were stopped in their tracks by a sight reminiscent of the era of martial law. As drinks flowed in the open-air cafes of Poland's ancient royal capital, a phalanx of armed police in full riot gear inched its way slowly through the medieval city. But unlike the 1980s when authorities crushed dissent, today's black-clad police officers were protecting the right to free speech of hundreds of gay and lesbian marchers holding their annual parade in Krakow. The precautions were wise: within 30 minutes stone-throwing far-right skinheads stormed the protesters from a side street. "Faggots", the skinheads screamed as they were beaten back by police charging with batons. "Tolerance", the gay and lesbian marchers shouted back, as the far right were joined by smartly dressed protesters from a deeply conservative Polish youth movement. "Homosexuals are deviants," said 19-year-old Liliane Sobczak, a leader of the Mlodziez Wszechpolska group whose members travelled from across Poland to "protect the family". The scenes in Krakow provided a telling illustration of a new dividing line between parts of eastern Europe and the western half of the continent. While gay people in western Europe are increasingly treated as equals in the eye of the law, those in much of the east face discrimination and intolerance.

Days after the violence in Krakow, egg-throwing skinheads and elderly Orthodox women disrupted a gay night at a Moscow nightclub. Gay clubbers, who endured homophobic taunts as they were evacuated from La Guardia club under police escort, complain of persistent discrimination in the Russian capital. Yuri Luzhkov, the populist mayor of Moscow, has become a focus of their anger after he pledged to ban the first gay rights march due to take place later this month "to protect the feelings of Muscovites". This experience is shared in other parts of eastern Europe, though not on the same scale. Zsolt Semjen, the leader of Hungary's Christian Democratic People's party, declared in the recent election campaign: "We have had enough of the deviances." But Mr Semjen's attempt to court conservative voters backfired as the right lost the election. Latvia, another recent entrant to the EU, amended its constitution last year to ban gay marriages. Gay rights groups are most concerned about the climate in Poland, particularly after the highly conservative League of Polish Families joined the coalition government last week. The league, whose youth group took part in the anti-gay march in Krakow, is even more socially conservative than the president, Lech Kaczynski, who banned gay marches as mayor of Warsaw, or Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, the prime minister. Mr Marcinkiewicz summed up the thinking in the coalition's main Law and Justice party when he told the Polish edition of Newsweek: "If [a] person tries to infect others with their homosexuality, the state must intervene in this violation of freedom."

The assumption that gay people want to spread a diseased lifestyle encourages Catholic groups who have long targeted homosexuality. Thousands of headteachers have received a 29-page booklet from the fundamentalist Piotr Skarga Catholic association, named after a 16th-century Polish Jesuit, which issues instructions on how to ensure youngsters do not become gay. Entitled Taboos about Homosexuality, the pamphlet uses graphic language to scare young people . "Around 75% of homosexuals admit they put their tongue into their partner's anus which means they eat lots of faeces," the booklet tells teachers. "Homosexuals crawling in faeces and eating it suffer bad health." The booklet attempts to depict gay people as blood suckers. In a section on oral sex, it says: "Sperm has bacteria which is transferred from blood. So homosexuals almost drink blood." To round off its attack, the booklet declares that homosexuals die young and end up as killers after "research" found that murderers are invariably gay when their sexual orientation is determined. Such homophobia is alarming gay and lesbian Poles. "I like this country but this intolerance is very sad," said Anna Zawadzka, 33, who lost her job as a special needs teacher at a rural school outside Warsaw after appearing on television to discuss her life as a lesbian. "A parent who saw me complained to the local priest. He went to the headteacher and said that the school cannot employ a lesbian. The school then refused to renew my contract even though they had recently written me a letter saying how good I was." A law was introduced by the previous Polish government banning discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, but Ms Zawadzka does not believe this would have made any difference. She said she was not given a reason for her contract being terminated."Most of the intolerance is indirect," she said.

Her view is shared by Krystian Legierski, who lost a two-year battle to run a gay nightclub in Warsaw in March when police closed down the premises. The city authorities, who own the building, were careful not to object to the club on the grounds that it was used by gay people. "The city, which was then led by Lech Kaczynski, just devised lots of administrative ways to close us down," said Mr Legierski, 28. "First they tried to stop us selling alcohol. Then they tried to claim we were not paying rent." A lengthy legal process ended when police officers marched into Le Madame club to enforce a court order by removing supporters. Mr Legierski said the officers seemed to be embarrassed. "The police said: 'We're sorry but we have to do this,'" Mr Legierski said in his new club, which is based in a building outside the city's control. In western Europe, same-sex couples can now register their partnerships in several countries including Britain. Even Catholic Spain has legalised gay marriage as part of a series of revolutionary changes by the Socialist government. Christine Loudes of the European branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association said there were divisions across Europe, though she believed it was simplistic to talk of a clear east-west split. The Czech Republic has recently legalised same-sex partnerships, while a minister in Silvio Berlusconi's outgoing Italian government described a recent gay rights parade as "really nauseating". "There is a division," Ms Loudes said. "But attitudes depend on whether a conservative or a progressive government is in power." With the hard right at the heart of the Polish government, traditionalists will enjoy the upper hand for some time. Waving a red-and-white Polish flag at the Krakow march with fellow protesters from the Catholic Mlodziez Wszechpolska youth group, Krzysztof Bosak said: "Violence is bad but there is no way you can protest against this abnormality without violence."
© The Guardian

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ISLAM & FEMINISM: ARE THEY POLES APART?(Opinion)

By Dr Mona Siddiqui, Senior Lecturer in Islamic Studies at Glasgow University

7/5/2006- Have women’s rights activists in the West failed to engage with the oppression of females in Islamic countries? This is the view of American feminist Phyllis Chesler, author of a book provocatively titled The Death Of Feminism . She criticises contemporary feminists for hiding behind notions of multicultural relativism in their refusal to speak out against some of the more oppressive, even barbaric, practices in Muslim countries. “Because feminist academics and journalists are now so heavily influenced by left ways of thinking,” she wrote recently, “many now believe that speaking out against headscarves, face veils, the chador, arranged marriages, polygamy, forced pregnancies or female genital mutilation is either imperialist or crusadist.” In a recent Guardian interview, she spoke of a kind of politically correct hierarchy of sins, “an intellectual culture in which racism trumps gender concerns”. Chesler is right to a point. Can we continue to make exceptions to holding absolute standards on human rights and freedoms, for fear of upsetting the Muslim world? My concern about her critique is that, notwithstanding the reality of misery and oppression which many women face in some Muslim contexts, the underlying charge is that Muslim women are generally powerless victims in a male-dominated society because of the Islamic faith itself. Cultural diversity and lifestyles are ignored, as are the many voices that are speaking out, taking action and empowering women across much of the Muslim world.

For two decades, female writers and activists in the East and West have been calling for women’s participation at cultural, religious and political levels. They have been prominent in highlighting the plight of Muslim women, who are so often the victims of a gendered reading of the Koran, in which male dominance is at times simply a reflection of the crude tribalism of seventh century Arabia. The first problematic implication here is that Western feminism has bolstered Western women in their struggle for equality and respect , whereas the Muslim world is still drowning in primitive attitudes . The reality is that Western feminism has given women a voice, albeit a sometimes muffled one, that has allowed them to call for changes . Secondly, feminism emerged largely through the concerns of Western women who used their own texts and contexts to make their arguments for equality. Despite many successes, contemporary feminist approaches are reviewing the whole notion of gender relations in a quest to explore the weaknesses and strengths of the various women’s rights movements of the past century. Similarly, if feminism in all its guises is to succeed within Muslim societies, it must do so through organic growth, a consciousness and struggle that stems from the theological, sociological and political contexts of these landscapes. But the real problem lies in viewing feminism as the main champion of human rights. If female genital mutilation, killing or incarceration of women, all in the name of honour or family pride, are still practised in some countries as a strong basis for a moral society, their acceptance, even tenuously, as part of “Islamic culture”, immediately legitimises these actions. These practices should be condemned unequivocally by men and women, and no cultural or religious apologetics should get in the way of outlawing them.

The biggest obstacle is that it is often women’s own silent approval of such customs that allows them to continue. Unless both halves of society have the education, the courage and the will to speak out against all violations of human dignity, change will be a very slow process. The heterogeneity of the Muslim world, the different voices, moralities and lifestyles, are completely lost in many of the generalisations made about women and Islam. An immense amount of work is being done by academics, activists and ordinary women across the Islamic world to raise consciousness of many of the issues to which Chesler rightly refers. Importantly, however, most of these women are not rejecting the Muslim faith in their struggle for better societies. Most, like Pakistani-born feminist, Riffat Hasan, are revisiting the scriptural traditions in the claim that the Koranic worldview is essentially egalitarian in spirit and that society has failed to translate this world into any meaningful reality. It would be naive to suggest that true religion lies only in the unadulterated pages of a text. Religion has always been expressed within cultural contexts. The fact women are demanding more agency in their lives is itself reflective of the changing cultural expectations in many Muslim societies. But in many social systems, economics, education and kinship rules are central factors in keeping women in lower positions to men. Women often lack the opportunity to work outside the home and acquire professional skills; and too often, marriage within family structures imposes pressures on their lives. The value of promoting education lies not only in helping women gain qualifications, but in encouraging thinking outside traditions that carry the mask of religious truths.

Most feminist struggles in the Muslim world are about protecting women against certain practices, and then the empowerment of women. This process requires the vision to make them understand that they are free. Freedom is a scary word for many women who are psychologically, emotionally and physically tied in structures that at times, barely allow them to breathe, but from which the possibility of escaping is even scarier. This has long been an issue , and many parts of the Muslim world are still grappling with the social instability that often accompanies female emancipation. The illusion that such societies have created is that such autonomy is un-Islamic. Feminism is still a very revolutionary idea. It demands that women’s rights to make choices are recognised but also, more importantly, that the choices they make hold real value within our societies. For many Muslim women, the real struggle is in reconciling their faith, their cultural tradition and their immediate familial contexts with the overarching impetus of feminism which is driven on the right to self- autonomy. This means at times taking risks, going against community expectations; for some it can be the biggest jihad of their lives. Feminism is about acting to improve the quality of people’s lives, rather than perpetually contesting theoretical paradigms. Recog nising cultural differences is not the same as accepting them and voices should speak out against the dehumanisation of women, not simply social inequalities. We musn’t lose ourselves in ideological debates about “whose feminism” – Islamic or Western? The first step towards achieving a truly civilised society is getting men on board. This involves looking critically at their own roles in the family and moving away from the bigotry of being moral arbiters whenever it suits them. For example, the increasingly strict segregation in many Muslim communities, combined with the fear of dishonouring the family, often tempts young people to engage in relationships, sexual and otherwise, in secret. If young people don’t want arranged marriages, how will the family respect that right while still retaining healthy communication between parents and children? Issues concerning personal freedoms are the most contentious, and the most urgent.

We need productive debates between men and women, about how Muslim societies can deal with the many challenges posed to youth in the absence of such debates in scriptural traditions. This is not a gender question, it’s about the very dialectic of society where men and women need to discuss together without fear of any reprisals or social backlash. Many Muslims in the West live multiple identities – this can also mean multiple and competing moralities. We need honesty and integrity around these debates, rooted in the reality of people’s lives; what we don’t need is the constant use of women as reflections of liberal or conservative societies.
© The Sunday Herald

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Headlines 5 May, 2006

MAKING EUROPEAN MUSLIMS (Bosnia)

Could Bosnia’s century-old model hold a few how-to clues to addressing the problem of the continent’s marginalized Muslim populations?
By Sarah Grausz, an American journalist who lives in Sarajevo and Seattle. 

4/5/2006- Europe’s oldest and largest college of Islamic studies outside Turkey ascends in Moorish-styled arches and tiers of salmon and white-colored stone above the historic quarter of Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo. The carved wooden doors of the Faculty of Islamic Studies open into ornately decorated classrooms, offices, a mosque, a café, and two open courtyards. Here, some 300 students pursue a progressive combination of instruction in religion, language, the humanities, and social sciences; 30 foreign students are enrolled in the faculty's English-language Islamic studies program. Despite the college’s Islamic credo and appearance, Bosnia has the Austro-Hungarian rather than the Ottoman empire to thank for the unique education and architecture of the university. After acquiring Bosnia from the retreating Turks in 1878, the Austrians commissioned a university where Muslim judges from the former system could be educated in European secularism while holding on to their Islamic beliefs. This commission, says Fikret Karcic, a professor of the history of Islamic law at the college, “was the first expression of religious modernism” to come to Bosnia – today a secular country with a Muslim plurality. Besides a college, the Bosnian Islamic Community runs thousands of mosques under its own constitution; funding comes from charitable foundations, or vakufs. Locally-educated muftis (spiritual leaders) are overseen by an elected grand mufti, who represents Bosnia on the highest religious councils in both the East and West and is known locally as the Bosnian reis-ul-ulema, or chair of the council of scholars. Perhaps more important than its institutions is the community’s shared identity. One religious and cultural identity prevails among Muslims in many parts of the former Yugoslavia, as well as in diaspora: that of “Bosniak,” or Bosnian Muslim. That identity is also exhorted in the passage from the Koran that opens the community’s constitution: “And hold fast all together by the rope which Allah [stretches out for you] and be not divided among yourselves.”

The milestones in the development of modern Bosnian Islam were not the gift of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The ability to develop modern and integrated religious institutions and a religious identity are the products of a hundred years of dialectical debate between European modernity and Islamic tradition, Karcic says. “What does ‘Europe’ mean? What is the relevance of Islam in this context? … These were all topics debated in Bosnia for the last century,” he says. “Bosnia has developed a model for cooperation between state and religious authorities. … Now, this [model] is very important for Muslim immigrant communities in Europe.”  Bosnia’s grand mufti, Mustafa Ceric, agrees that European Muslims – suffering under “the stigma of Islamic terrorism” – can stand to learn a lot from Bosnian Muslims, their institutions, and particularly their experience of surviving the brutal aggression against them as Yugoslavia tore apart in the 1990s. “Being born a Bosnian has been the greatest asset,” he told London reporter Nadeem Azam in March 2005. “We Bosnians have had to grow old overnight.” That experience, Ceric believes, implies an obligation for Bosniaks “to help European Muslims to find their place in Europe, the right place in Europe … we must tell them that they cannot take their freedom for granted.”

A grand declaration
Ceric has been promoting this Bosnian model for some time now, doing so on the strength of his international reputation as a mediator and a moderate. Educated at prestigious universities in Egypt and the United States, Ceric has been head of the Islamic Community in Bosnia since 1993. In February 2005, he outlined to a London conference of Muslim leaders what this model stood for: a commitment to “the European constitution, the rule of law, the principles of tolerance and to the values of democracy and human rights.” He exhorted Europe’s Muslims to draft a declaration that they were “unequivocally committed” to these values. It is “not enough that Europe recognize the presence of Islam on its land,” he said. European Muslims “deserve their presence [to] be legalized through the creation of a political and economic climate in which [they] can represent themselves through institutions that have both governmental support and public acceptance.” The grand mufti then went ahead and drafted just such a declaration, which was initially published in the Islamic Community’s yearbook and then adopted as an official document of the community. Ceric’s initiative became an international campaign, and the declaration made its way across the desks of Europe’s intellectual and religious elites. Ceric had his work cut out for him: the campaign coincided with the row over a set of cartoons printed in a Danish newspaper and seen as defamatory by many Muslims. The cartoons provoked violent protests across the Middle East and South Asia.

The declaration calls on Muslims to “do more to persuade European public opinion that their faith is worthy of respect and that their stay in Europe is welcome.” In an interview with TOL conducted via e-mail, Ceric said, “Europe must accept the fact that the European Muslims are here to stay and so their spiritual, cultural, economic, and political needs must be met sooner rather than later. And the Muslims must understand the difference between [being] a citizen and a tourist in Europe.” Ceric suggests in the declaration that “Islamic schools capable to educate European born Muslims for new challenges of the multicultural societies” should be set up. Locally-trained graduates could then replace the foreign-educated, often more militant imams currently operating in Europe. “I know that this is not easy to be achieved,” Ceric told TOL when asked about the feasibility of organizing Europe’s Muslims, “but I believe that it is achievable in a process that is necessary both for the Muslims and Europe because this confusion about the representation of Islam and Muslims in Europe is unbearable.”

A Westphalian dialogue
Unlike Roman Catholicism, which elects a pope, the Muslim faith is not hierarchical, relying instead on the text of the Koran and Islamic scholars to give spiritual guidance to worshippers. Councils of jurisprudence serve some Islamic communities by issuing fatwa, or explanatory religious edicts. Yet, according to Ahmet Alibasic, a professor at the Islamic Faculty in Sarajevo who has traveled with Ceric on behalf of the Bosnian Islamic Community, the idea of a centralized Muslim voice in Europe has mass appeal among many believers, especially second- and third-generation immigrants feeling hard-pressed to choose between their faith and acceptance by society. Ceric is able to speak to those who want to reconcile “Islam’s message with everyday life in Europe,” Alibasic says. “He has the garb, the position, and the function. He can speak to them and then go to the Muslim World League and sit on the Council in Mecca.” Since the founder of modern Turkey, Ataturk, scrapped the caliphate in 1924, no Islamic religious institution of this stature has existed in Europe. Some small-scale attempts at consolidation have been made, such as the French government’s establishment in 2003 of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, a representative body for France’s five million Muslims, the largest concentration in Europe. The body remains politically factious, torn between hard-line and moderate voices in its midst. However, members did speak together in 2004, when hostage-takers in Iraq demanded that France repeal its ban on Islamic headscarves in state schools. A statement was issued by the council telling the kidnappers that the headscarf ban was purely a domestic matter.

Some Islamic scholars are predicting that the declaration’s calls for unification could carry weight at a time when Muslims living in Europe remain statistically poorer and less educated than the rest of the population, from which they’re often isolated. According to Ifet Mustafic, a member of Ceric’s cabinet and his former assistant for international and inter-religious relations, the declaration is both “a blueprint for future discussions” as well as motivation for rekindling a “new Westphalian dialogue” about relations between Muslim and Christian civilizations. “The point of all this is [that] Muslims in Europe [should have] the same rights and [be] recognized as having the same status as native Europeans,” Mustafic told TOL. The question remains whether Europe’s various communities, Muslim and non-Muslim, will have the heart to take up the discussion. Coming in the wake of the cartoon controversy, Ceric’s declaration has met with enthusiastic reactions from many sides. The European Commission welcomed it, as did Turkey and a religious conference in Indonesia. “People are very happy about it,” says Erdin Kadunic, a representative of the European Muslim Union, a multinational group that has adopted the declaration. “They’re expecting a lot, but they’re very positive. We hope this will lead Muslims to form a network in Europe, and to support and participate in Muslim works, such as the media and schools."

Religious politics
But the pan-European aspirations of the declaration have prompted some of Ceric’s critics to denounce the document as a political maneuver. They accuse the reis-ul-ulema of aspiring to become the grand mufti of all Europe’s Muslims. A cover story in the Bosnian newsweekly Dani likened Ceric to the Grand Inquisitor and accused him of crossing the line between spiritual and political leader. Elsewhere in Bosnia, some intellectuals are bristling at the declaration for reasons that are less partisan. Esad Durakovic, a professor of Arabic language and literature at the University of Sarajevo, recently published an editorial in the Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje opposing the declaration as pretentious and offensive towards Muslims. The institutionalization of religion, he wrote, would only prevent Muslims from integrating into the mainstream. Given the number of phone calls he’s received thanking him for the editorial, he believes that “the majority of Bosnian intellectuals” agree. “Muslims don’t need anything special in Europe,” Durakovic says. “They should be [ordinary] citizens ... I don’t need to say I’m European by wrapping myself in this declaration.” However, Senada Menzil, a student at the Islamic Faculty and president of its student association, insists that any effort to improve the poor image of Muslims in the West is worthwhile. She points out that opportunities to promote Islam – for example, the many successful career women in Bosnia who wear headscarves – go unnoticed because of Muslims’ lack of shared aims. Ceric’s supporters admit that the goals of the declaration will take many years to achieve. Learning to identify as “European Muslims,” Karcic believes, will be as painstaking as the development of a pan-European identity has been. “The declaration will only become real when leaders accept it as such. For the time being, it is only intended to be a declaration of European Muslims … but we’re not there yet,” Karcic says.
© Transitions Online

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DUTCH MAYOR URGES LISBON TO APPROVE GAY MARRIAGES (Portugal)

5/5/2006- As more European Union member states give the green light to same-sex marriages Portugal is coming under pressure to do likewise. In particular, Lisbon is being targeted by pro-gay campaigners to allow homosexual and lesbian couples to legally tie the knot and enjoy the same inheritance benefits as married heterosexual couples. The mayor of Amsterdam last week added his weight to the pro-gay campaign by writing to his counterpart in Lisbon. In a two-page letter Job Cohen urged Carmona Rodrigues to allow gay people to marry and also to hold public demonstrations in defence of their human rights and to encourage covert gays to publicly express their sexual orientation. As reported by The Portugal News last month, a lesbian couple recently had their request for a marriage licence turned down by the Lisbon authorities. In his letter, Cohen said the fifth anniversary of same-sex marriages in the Netherlands was an “appropriate occasion” to ask for gay rights to be upheld in Lisbon and other capital cities across the European Union. Cohen’s letter was also des patched to seven other capital cities in the EU as well as to the European Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini. As well as Lisbon, he called on the mayors of Dublin, Prague, Riga, Tallinn, Vienna, Vilnius and Warsaw to respect the rights of gay people. Poland’s President Lech Kaczynski was singled out for special mention by Cohen for banning all homosexual demonstrations during his time as mayor of Warsaw. Cohen urged the mayors and Commissioner Frattini to “adhere to the universal declaration of human rights, and to do everything in your political power to open up marriage for samesex couples and safeguard the right of public demonstrations in your city”. He said he was “concerned” by measures taken in some cities to ban gay demonstrations. “We are particularly concerned by the news that homophobic attitude and behaviour is propagated by measures and policies of local authorities in some of the new European Union member states,” he added. Official statistics show that more than 8,000 same-sex marriages have been celebrated in the Netherlands since they were legalised by the state.
© The Portugal News

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MINISTER WANTS ANSWERS ON JOBLESS MIGRANTS(Belgium)

5/5/2006- Flemish Employment Minister Frank Vandenbroucke is working on a new method to finally get an exact oversight of the number of unemployed immigrants. Current statistics are unreliable and Vandenbroucke said "effectual policy is only possible if you can measure the results", newspaper 'De Morgen' reported on Friday. The high unemployment rate among immigrants has sparked community-wide concern, but it remains unclear exactly how many immigrants are out of work in Flanders. Foreign residents, newcomers and generational migrants cannot be accurately included together to form one statistic and Vandenbroucke now wants to change statistical methods. The Socialist SP.A minister will enter into consultations this month to draw up a new measuring method.
But Vandenbroucke also admits it is a "delicate matter" because talk of racism can quickly enter the debate. "We don't want to go to the Anglo-Saxon method in which people need to fill in what their skin colour or ethnicity is in all sorts of papers," he said. A group of academics will start consultations on 10 May. Based on their suggestions, the minister will then consult the large players in the labour market, such as the jobs agency VDAB, the temping sector and immigrants. Vandenbroucke expects that the debate will lead to an acceptable definition of who exactly can be referred to as an immigrant. It is also important, however, that data gathering will not turn into an administrative disaster.
© Expatica News

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DUTCH INTEGRATION LAW 'EQUALS PESTERING PEOPLE'

3/5/2006- Minorities lobby group LOM began collecting signatures in Utrecht on Wednesday for a nationwide petition against the government's plan to introduce an integration course for immigrants living in the Netherlands. LOM says the new course will be compulsory, while the cost and quality of the education remains unclear, as are the consequences of failing the exam. "You are just pestering people when you do it in this way," Agnes Jongerius, leader of the FNV trade union federation said. The FNV is concerned migrants will not be given a fair chance in the Netherlands, mainly because the course may prove to be too expensive for people with little money. It has posted a message on its website calling on people to support LOM's action. LOM is an umbrella body for eight organisations representing minority groups. The law on the integration course and exam is due to come into operation in 2007. Newcomers and established migrants up to the age of 65 with less than eight years of education at a Dutch school will be obliged to take the course. People who pass the exam will receive a certificate or diploma. "They want to force a 62-year-old mother, living here for years and who has a Dutch passport, to learn the Dutch language. Say she doesn't succeed; will she receive a temporary residence permit? Will she have to leave the country?" Mustafa Ayranci of the Turkish Contact Group asked. Ayranci is coordinator of LOM's campaign. Jongerius said it was "nothing more than normal" to ask people who want to live here to learn Dutch, but only of the government ensured there are sufficient affordable courses with a quality guarantee. An integration course and exam for would-be immigrants is already in operation. While expats from most developed countries are exempted from taking the overseas exam, Immigration and Integration Ministry spokesperson Maud Bredero said on Wednesday that citizens from non-EU countries who want to live in the Netherlands on a permanent basis will have to take the integration course in the Netherlands.
© Expatica News

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CHURCHES LASH 'INHUMANE TREATMENT' OF REFUGEES(Netherlands)

2/5/2006- Asylum seekers and refugees in the Netherlands are increasingly facing "inhumane treatment", the Dutch Council of Churches warned on Tuesday. The organisation sounded the alarm in a letter to the parliamentary commission on Justice and Alien Affairs on Tuesday. It based its stinging criticism on accounts from church members who do volunteer work with asylum seekers. "We could perhaps suggest a few years ago that it involved isolated incidents, but now we have established that inhumane situations and reports about such things have taken on a structural character," Ineke Bakker, the general secretary of the Church Council. The Council expressed acute concern about putting asylum seekers with serious illnesses, including psychiatric patients, on the street, and the treatment of underage asylum seekers. Some of the children, the Council said, are locked up in deportation centres. There is also an increase in the number of children disappearing from asylum centres and reports of suicide. The Council called for an investigation into its allegations. A spokesperson for the Justice Ministry declined to comment in detail about the Council's charges as the individual cases mentioned have to be investigated first.
© Expatica News

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FINNISH ATTITUDES TOWARDS IMMIGRANTS MORE POSITIVE

5/5/2006- Finnish attitudes towards immigrants as a whole have become more positive than before. "The native Finnish population's attitudes towards various nationalities, however, vary greatly", points out the Finnish League for Human Rights annual report Racism and Ethnic Discrimination in Finland 2005, edited by Annamari Salonen. For example, attitudes towards the Swedes or the Ingrian returning migrants are generally positive, whereas those towards the Russians or the Somalis are mainly negative. The most reserved with their attitudes are young men and pensioners. According to the report by the Finnish League for Human Rights, one out of four Finnish youngsters consider themselves racist, or at least in some way give their support to activities directed against immigrants.
Somalian Sahra Abdillah feels the attitudes towards the Somalis have toughened. "I don't know why. Many of us work, study, and make an effort to integrate, but it seems there are always problems when people talk about us."  "I believe it may be because the Finns have learned to recognise us. It is more difficult to pick a quarrel if you don't even know the nationality of the person", reckons upper secondary school student Shirwae Qasim. The report pays special attention to violence and discrimination against female immigrants.
In relation to the size of population, the number of immigrant women inhabiting shelter homes for women is manifold compared with women of Finnish origin. It has also been pointed out that the immigrant women often face problems when seeking advice or support services. This is mainly because of the language barrier and lack of information. According to the Finnish League for Human Rights project manager Annamari Salonen, the fear of deportation without a permanent resident status can also force many women to remain in an abusive relationship.
© Helsingin Sanomat

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CALMY-REY ATTACKS FOREIGNER AND ASYLUM LAWS(Switzerland)

The Swiss foreign minister has warned that tougher legislation on foreigners and asylum threatens to undermine Switzerland's reputation abroad.

30/4/2006- Speaking in Geneva on Saturday, Micheline Calmy-Rey also defended the country's "active neutrality" which came under fire last week after the Swiss president criticised a boycott of the Hamas-led Palestinian government. During a wide-ranging speech at the Museum of the Swiss Abroad, Calmy-Rey cautioned that the country's standing abroad was in danger of being damaged by events back home. Tough new laws on foreigners and asylum, which were approved by parliament last year, are to be challenged in a nationwide vote scheduled for September. Calmy-Rey's party, the centre-left Social Democrats, is opposing their introduction. "Switzerland is seen as a country whose residents enjoy freedoms and rights guaranteed by its laws and by international conventions," she said. "I cannot conceal my fears regarding recent developments on the laws on foreigners and asylum, and their consequences both domestically and for our credibility and image abroad." This was a view shared by Cornelio Sommaruga, former president of the Swiss-run International Committee of the Red Cross, who said the country's humanitarian image was judged both by achievements abroad and by what went on at home. The Swiss foreign minister also took a dig at critics on the political right who would prefer the country to take a back seat when it comes to foreign affairs and a foreign minister who simply knew how "to be quiet in the four national languages". "In a globalised world like ours, seemingly far-away conflicts can have direct repercussions in Switzerland," she said. "Poverty, environmental destruction, social injustice, terrorism or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are all potential causes of distress and violence, and they know no boundaries. We can only live in peace and security if peace reigns around us."


Fight against poverty
Calmy-Rey said the best way to achieve this was to push for the adoption and respect of international standards and to be active in mediation, peace promotion and the fight against poverty. She stressed that Switzerland was no lightweight on the international stage, possessing what was known as "soft power" thanks to its long-standing democratic and humanitarian values. She pointed to the country's active role in United Nations, highlighting Swiss efforts to secure the creation of the Human Rights Council, which is due to sit for the first time in Geneva on June 19. Switzerland is seeking a seat on the new body. Sergei Ordzhonikidze, director-general of the UN in Geneva, who attended Saturday's round-table discussions on "The Image of Switzerland in the World", praised the country's "leadership role" within the world body. "Switzerland's role is growing in its importance," he said. "Neutrality does not mean the absence of a political position on problems of peace, security, development and human rights."

CONTEXT
Earlier this month a coalition of more than 30 organisations, backed by the Social Democrats and the Green Party, forced a nationwide vote on tough new laws on foreigners and asylum. The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) last year voiced "serious concerns" about moves to introduce a more restrictive asylum law. It said some of the measures would make Swiss legislation among the most severe in Europe. Swiss president Moritz Leuenberger came under fire from Israel and Swiss Jewish groups this week for speaking out against a boycott of Hamas. He told the Arab news channel, Al-Jazeera, that it would have been more "reasonable" to grant Hamas a probationary period to prove itself.
© Swissinfo

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YOUNG FOREIGNERS NEED BETTER INTEGRATION(Switzerland)

2/5/2006- Integration of young foreigners can be improved in schools, according to a report released by Switzerland's Federal Migration Office. While the office gave a generally positive evaluation of integration in the country, it warned that some youngsters could face poverty and exclusion if not helped. The report, released on Tuesday, stated that the most important factor for successful integration was access to jobs, but that many people had trouble finding work. Integration should be therefore promoted during vocational training, within companies and the job market. Official figures show that around 50,000 young foreigners attend special classes, a form of education the report's authors consider inadequate to ensure a successful move into proper employment. Approximately one fifth of foreign youngsters never finish an apprenticeship or vocational training, increasing the likelihood they will be unemployed and become dependent on social aid. Unemployment among foreigners is twice as high as among Swiss nationals, which stands at 3.6 per cent of the working population. People of foreign extraction are also more likely to live under the poverty line. The office said that measures would have to be taken at the local, cantonal and national levels to improve integration, but added that these efforts would require coordination. Improvements would also require involvement from the Federal Office for Professional Education and Technology as well as the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco), which would oversee the implementation phase.

Citizenship
The migration office also released another report on naturalisation, which comes 18 months after Swiss citizens turned down two federal proposals to ease citizenship requirements for second and third generation foreigners in Switzerland. The first sought to speed up the naturalisation procedure for people aged 14 to 24 born abroad. The second wanted to grant automatic citizenship to children born in Switzerland of foreign parents. Given the political climate, the study warns it would be unreasonable to expect citizens to change their minds any time soon. However, its authors admit that procedures for becoming Swiss should be simplified for young foreigners in the longer term. The migration office suggests that cantons, which can set their own guidelines within the limits of federal law, apply the rules for second-generation foreigners rejected in 2004. This would benefit youngsters who had spent at least five years at school in Switzerland. Giving citizenship to third-generation children as proposed in 2004 remains out of the question, however. But the report does suggests that procedures for citizenship be eased for youngsters older than 11 years of age.

CONTEXT
=The Swiss government considers better integration of foreign residents one of its most important challenges.
=Integration is understood as a mutual process. This process requires both the foreign nationals' readiness to be integrated and openness on the part of the Swiss population.
=It aims to offer equal opportunity regarding access to social and economic resources.
=Federal law sets the government's financial contribution towards the promotion of integration.
=For 2004-2007 period, SFr14 million per year has been earmarked by the federal authorities.

KEY FACTS
=There are 1.5 million foreigners living in Switzerland, just over one fifth of the total population.
=Just over two thirds have permanent resident status.
=In 2005, just under 40,000 foreigners became Swiss, the largest group of new citizens coming from Serbia-Montenegro.
© Swissinfo

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CONFERENCE ON RACISM IN FOOTBALL (Germany)

5/5/2006- The British embassy in Berlin is hosting a conference on racism in football, comparing the situation in Britain and Germany.
The conference comes after a racist attack on a German man of African origin raised concerns about the safety of black fans during the World Cup. Former Spurs striker Garth Crooks and the ex-Ghanaian international Anthony Baffoe will attend the conference. There will also be a game between Muslim imams and Christian ministers. The embassy says the aim of the conference is to examine how football can be a force to overcome cultural barriers. German and British representatives from professional and amateur clubs, anti-racism campaigners, fan organisations and politicians are also due to attend the conference on Friday. It comes at a time of some soul-searching in Germany following the attack on a man of African origin last month which left him in a coma. Human rights groups subsequently warned that black football fans coming to the World Cup should avoid large swathes of the former East Germany for their own safety. Racism in the lower German football divisions has been widely documented and far-right groups have threatened to hold marches at some World Cup matches.
© BBC News

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HOW DO I BECOME GERMAN? MINISTERS HAVE THE ANSWER

After months of political wrangling, interior ministers of Germany's 16 federal states have agreed on common standards governing language and citizenship courses for migrants applying for a German passport.

5/5/2006- A two-day conference of state interior ministers in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, southern Germany, ended Friday with a breakthrough on the tricky question of what criteria a migrant needs to fulfill in order to qualify for German citizenship. The issue has stirred hot debate across the country in recent months. Günther Beckstein, interior minister of Bavaria and chairman of the conference, said on Friday that all applicants in future will have to attend citizenship classes. They will include learning about the basic values and fundaments of the German constitution and state.

Mandatory citizenship classes
The German Federal Office for Migrants and Refugees will be entrusted with developing the content and concept of the citizenship courses. Applicants will have to pay for the courses themselves. Beckstein stressed that migrants had to sincerely attend the citizenship class in order to get a German passport. "There has to be successful participation," Beckstein said, adding that merely furnishing proof of attendance wouldn't suffice. Beckstein also said that participants wouldn't necessarily have to sit a formal test at the end of the course, but rather that their acquired knowledge would be tested in other ways. He didn't specify what form that could take. The introduction of standardized citizenship courses effectively scratches out a controversial nationwide knowledge test as proposed by the states of Hesse and Baden-Württemberg. The tests in the two states, both ruled by the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), had triggered widespread protest for questioning immigrants about their stance on homosexuality and women and a 100-question quiz on random German history and politics, among other things.

Migrants must learn German
Immigration ministers on Friday also agreed on introducing common language tests for prospective Germans. "If you live in Germany, you have to be able to understand and speak German," Beckstein said. He added that naturalization would be strengthened through an official ceremony and "through an oath or a ceremonial avowal." But it will be up to individual states to decide whether the current declaration of loyalty to the constitution will suffice. In addition, the two-day conference also reached agreement on tightening one aspect of the criteria by making it tougher for applicants with a criminal record to become German. "Exceptions are possible, particularly in the case of driving offences, but we don't want criminals taking on German citizenship," Beckstein said. Most agree that the compromise is a fair one. "I'm very happy with the result. Successful integration will now be crowned with citizenship," Ralf Stegner, interior minister of Schleswig-Holstein and a Social Democrat said. The CDU's domestic policy expert told a German new channel that the agreement was "good news." Around 130,000 foreigners became German citizens last year.
© Deutsche Welle

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ILLEGALS IN GERMANY FACE SIMILAR PROBLEMS AS THOSE IN US

With the status and protests of illegal immigrants in the United States making the headlines over the past days and weeks, the same question can be posed for Germany: How do illegal immigrants fare in this country?

2/5/2006- Many illegal immigrants in Germany come from Africa, Eastern Europe or Latin America. Most of them start off with a tourist visa and end up hiding out here illegally. According to estimates by aid organizations, around one million foreigners live in German without proper resident permits or visas. They are reluctant to speak about their often catastrophic situation for fear of being deported. Frida is one example. She's African and, five years ago, was living in slave-like conditions in her home country: she was not permitted to leave the house and had no money of her own. She fled and came to Germany to stay with her aunt. Once here, she met her now fiancé -- it was love at first sight. That is still the only way illegal immigrants can gain citizenship here -- to marry a German. Another option -- for women -- is to have a child with a German man.

Illegal immigrants face deportation
If they do not have proper papers, illegal immigrants will be deported since they are committing a criminal offense by staying in the country. Only so-called "deportation barriers" can protract them, said Reinhard Marx, an immigration lawyer. "Legal deportation barriers include protection for internally displaced persons or asylum-seekers or protection from threats to immigrants' lives, such as torture, should they face it in their home countries," Marx said. "On the other hand, there are the rules governing the situation here: such as when an immigrant is sick or pregnant, making it inadvisable to deport that person due to health reasons." Illegal immigrants whose identities are not confirmed or who cannot reach their home countries due to disrupted transportation routes, and therefore cannot leave the country, are given a temporary stay permit. Many of the illegal immigrants who come to Germany have followed relatives who are now living legally in the country. The largest group of illegal aliens are Turkish people, said Ute Koch of an organization called "Living Illegally." "There are children and older people who want to live with their relatives residing in Germany, but due to strict regulations illegal immigration is often the only thing left open to them," she said. "The possibilities for legal migration are very limited."

Lose-lose situation
Once in the country, illegal aliens keep a low profile. They cannot protest if they are paid too little or not at all for their work, as they risk deportation. Employers often take advantage of the dilemma. When ill, illegal immigrants are forced to find a doctor who will treat them anonymously and who expects private payment, which most immigrants cannot afford. They therefore often wait until it is almost too late to receive proper treatment. That was the case with Frida. She had stomach pains for a long time and just took pain killers. She collapsed one day in the city; an ambulance took her to the hospital. Doctors discovered that she had gall stones. She left the hospital after two days, for which she had to pay 500 euros ($630), and still had not had an operation. She continued to live with the pain until an aid organization arranged for surgery. Her gall bladder was already perforated; had she let any more time pass, she would have died. Not only had she not been able to pay for the operation -- Frida also feared police would track her down in the hospital. Though Frida has just married and has a legal residence permit, she is still scared to talk. The years of living illegally have made their mark. Public kindergartens and schools are also required to notify police of children or families without proper resident permits. The result: illegal immigrant children do not receive education, and are forced to stay inside out of fear of drawing attention to themselves by not being in school as required for minors.

Restricting illegal immigration harms the economy
One would think the easiest solution would be to crack down on illegal aliens even more. But like in the United States, the demand for them is great. Illegal immigrants provide cheap labor and do the work most Germans avoid, Thomas Straubhaar of the Hamburg Institute of International Economics, said. "Even if it sounds odd, it's true that -- given the current regulations -- Germany is dependent on illegal employment of foreign laborers," Straubhaar said.
© Deutsche Welle

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NORWAY'S IMMIGRANTS WELL EDUCATED

Norway has one of the highest percentages of well educated immigrants in the world, and a lack of expertise is no excuse for their poor employment rate in the country.

1/5/2006- Four out of ten immigrants to Norway have received higher education, and their inability to find work cannot be explained by a lack of credentials according to new OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development) statistics, NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting) reports. Gender Equality and Discrimination commissioner Beate Gangås is surprised by the figures. "Most people believe that immigrants do not have an education. This is a good example of the opposite," Gangås said. The 40 percent with college or university education includes both western and non-western immigrant. Three of four Norwegian immigrants are from non-western countries, the high education rate cannot be explained by Europeans, NRK reports. The OECD report has focused on Europe and the USA. Only Great Britain and Ireland beat Norway in terms of highly educated immigrants. The employment problem facing immigrants is widespread, and no OECD country employed foreign academics as fully as highly educated nationals. Minister of Labor and Social Inclusion Bjarne Håkon Hanssen admitted that better results in employing immigrants were necessary, and that it was an important task. "I have already had in all directors of state companies and both imposed measures and urged efforts to tackle the challenges linked to integration in the workplace," Hanssen told NRK. "This is clearly one of the tools that must be used, so we will see how much effect it has. But it is completely clear that we must do a lot on many fronts to solve this situation," said Gangås.
© Aftenpost

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SECOND GENERATION POLES IN FRANCE SUPPORT LE PEN

In some regions of France, second generation Polish immigrants constitute even up to a third of the members of the anti-immigration, extreme right-wing National Front party. A senior ideologist of the front, Bruno Gollnisch, sees nothing strange in this.
Report by Gabriel Stille 

4/5/2006-  The French National Front party has a firm stance against immigrants and a solid "Frenchmen first"-policy. But in some regions, for instance in the Nord department bordering Belgium, one third of the members are of Polish origin. When asked about this state of affairs by the Polish press, National Front senior ideologist Bruno Gollnisch saw nothing strange in this. He said the Polish immigrants, who arrived in the 1940 or earlier, were hard-working and loyal to their new homeland. Dominique Slabolepszy, a National Front representative from the Nord-Pays de Calais-region and son of a Polish immigrant, said to the Polish daily newspaper Rzeczpospolita that he joined the Front 20 years ago. His family had been supporters of President Charles De Gaulle's party, but he believed that its ideas had been betrayed by its subsequent leaders, such as Jacques Chirac, the current president of France. The National Front, which surprisingly brought its candidate Jean Marie Le Pen to the second round of the 2002 French presidential election, is mainly targeting Muslim immigrants from North Africa. But following the EU enlargement in 2004, when Poland joined, the notion of the "Polish Plumber" has been recurring in the debate, as a symbol of the fear of labour migration. How is it that the children of immigrants support an anti-immigration Party? Sociologist Rafal Pankowski, member of the editorial board of the "Never Again" anti-racism magazine:

I think people who are migrants themselves are often in a weak position in the society where they arrived, they don't have the best jobs, they don't have the best education that would prepare them for living in the French society. And they psychologically, maybe subconsciously, look for something that makes them somehow better than the other migrants, lets say from Africa, which is often in a very similar situation.

Even if there is differences as well as similarities between countries and time periods, in some ways, Rafal Pankowski can see similarities in how French and Polish societies views people from different cultures:

We have a problem here. Despite the Polish history, which is very special with the World Wars and the Holocaust and so on, we still haven't really dealt with it properly and realised, what this history applies for today. And of course if we are serious with respecting our Polish history, then we must also be serious about rejecting racism.

From a French political point of view, National Front ideologist Bruno Gollnisch's statement can also be seen as a way of securing a voter group in the volatile French electorate. Francois Bafoil, director of research at the Center for International Studies and Affairs in Paris. We are living now in a moment in France where everybody speaks about immigration and the central question is not the Polish question but the immigration. A lot of populist arguments, particularly from the right, the problem is that the left says nothing, but in the right there is a huge concurrence between the centre-right, the minister Nicolas Sarkozy who is trying to draw the voices of the electorate that is against immigration, and those, for instance Front National but not only Front National, also Philippe de Villiers on the extreme right, who want to keep their electorate. And I think that what said Gollnisch takes place in this frame. It seems that despite the spectre of the Polish Plumber, a naturalized immigrant group such as second generation immigrant Poles in France can be accepted in an anti-immigration party, and themselves accept such policies towards other immigrant groups.

NOTE: Despite numerous efforts, Bruno Gollnisch of the National Front has not been available for comment.
© Polskie Radio

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FRANCE REVIEWS IMMIGRATION RULES

2/5/2006- The French parliament is to discuss whether to approve a new immigration bill which would make it harder for foreigners to work in France. The proposals, drawn up by French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, demand that newcomers learn the French language and culture. They also favour highly skilled workers over those who are less qualified. The draft law would make it harder for immigrants' families to settle in France and restrict residence permits. Mr Sarkozy says his policies are fair and aim to meet public concern about an influx of foreigners. He sees the bill as "a safeguard against racism". Church organisations argue the bill discriminates against the poor and is fundamentally "un-Christian". Opponents view it as xenophobic and at the weekend, more than 5,000 protesters took to the streets of Paris demanding the proposals be softened. Mr Sarkozy insists that after last year's riots in largely immigrant suburbs, it is time for France to get tough and to make sure it is attracting people who want to integrate. The bill would end the automatic right of immigrants' families to a long-term residence permit after living 10 years in France. Father Stephane Julain, a Catholic priest who works with migrants, attacked the bill, saying "human beings are more than what they can produce in the economy and in society". "To come with a new law which hardened more what was already hard, it's really unacceptable." Opposition politicians claim by introducing such a tough bill, Mr Sarkozy is trying to court far-right votes ahead of next year's presidential elections. He rejects such charges, saying the new laws would improve race relations in France.
© BBC News

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FRENCH PROTEST TOUGH-LINE IMMIGRATION BILL

30/4/2006- More than 5,000 people marched through Paris yesterday to protest a tough immigration bill that critics say will favour only skilled immigrants. France’s top Catholic official, who met Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, said the bill the government may soften when the parliamentary debate on it starts on Tuesday. “There is a balance to be found between irresponsible laxism and a nearly xenophobic firmness,” said Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard after a meeting with Villepin that was also attended by the head of France’s Protestants, Jean-Arnold de Clermont. In their meeting with the prime minister, the two church leaders “expressed a certain number of our questions on precise points", and Villepin “stressed that some of the remarks could be taken into account” during the debate, Ricard said. “I think some amendments will be filed during the debate.” Meanwhile, some 5,200 people marched through Paris to protest the bill which, notably, proposes that France choose its immigrants – those with particular skills – and toughens conditions under which immigrants can bring their families to France. About four dozen illegal immigrants occupied the Sainte-Chapelle, a chapel famed for its stained glass windows on the grounds of the Palais de Justice, before being evacuated by police. Ricard said he was given assurances that, should a political asylum request be refused, the time limit to file an appeal could be extended from the 15 days currently in the bill. He made no mention of critics’ primary concern with the bill, that it would allow France to hand-pick its immigrants, particularly the highly qualified. The bill, tabled by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, has raised concerns of human rights campaigners, religious leaders and others. Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox leaders wrote last Tuesday to Villepin to express their “serious concerns.” Sarkozy, as well as President Jacques Chirac, have met with religious leaders on the bill. Many on the left accuse Sarkozy of courting far-right voters. However, the interior minister responded on Thursday by saying that hand-picking immigrants will help fight racism, and the far right, by ensuring that immigrants are better integrated.
© The Evening Echo

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SOCCER BIGOTS WORSEN FRENCH RACE RELATIONS

30/4/2006- Warming up on the touchline, a black player jogs toward fans at the Parc des Princes soccer stadium. As he gets closer, a barrage of monkey chants explodes — “OOOH! OOOH! OOOH!”— and racist insults fill the air. Such scenes are increasingly common at the home stadium of Paris Saint-Germain, or PSG, one of France’s top soccer teams, and are finding expression in elite soccer leagues across Europe, raising fears that a global sport that calls itself “the Beautiful Game” is getting uglier. Many of the fans yelling insults are members of hooligan gangs that prowl the stadium grounds on match day, looking for a rumble with black and Arab members of a multiethnic rival gang. Yet interviews with gang members and repeated visits to PSG games found that racist hooligans operate openly and with almost total impunity at the 43,000-seat ground on the western outskirts of the French capital. Soccer, with its many black stars, ought to be a showcase of multiracial harmony, especially in France, which draws heavily on talent from its former African colonies. Instead, the brawling soccer fans have emerged as the extreme fringe of a deeply troubled France — one that is grappling with stiffening resistance to immigration, protests linked to youth unemployment and the perceived threat of globalization.

More menacing
Now, after the riots that engulfed immigrant-filled French suburbs last fall, beer-fueled racism in soccer has taken on an even more menacing tinge. Unlike soccer hooliganism elsewhere, in which the antagonists are fans of rival teams, the clashes outside Parc des Princes are largely between fans rooting for the same team — PSG. On the bleachers of Parc des Princes, PSG supporters divide along racial lines in two opposing sections of stands — the Kop of Boulogne behind one goal and the Tribune d’Auteuil behind the other. Boulogne is nearly entirely Caucasian; Auteuil is multiracial and includes whites. Two all-white groups — the Independents and the Casual Firm — have fought with increasing ferocity in recent months with multiracial Tigris Mystic. (The English-language names reflect the influence English soccer hooliganism has had over Europe.)

Fighting back
The race issue comes out clearly in interviews with gang members on both sides, none of whom agree to be identified by name because they have records and fear more trouble with police. One leading member of the Independents said his gang was out to rid the suburbs of blacks and Arabs. A high-ranking Tigris Mystic man said his group is fighting back against such “fascist” views. “We’ve had enough of being knocked around,” said the 23-year-old man of North African descent. Tigris Mystic is based in the Paris suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, one of the centers of last fall’s riots. Casual Firm hooligans wielding iron bars vandalized its headquarters in October, just days before the violence broke out. On Feb. 25 Tigris Mystic members, some allegedly armed with machetes and nail-studded planks of wood, ambushed 20 Independents at a highway gas station on their way back from a match. Five people were injured.

Blatant symbols
PSG, where black players George Weah of Liberia and Ronaldinho of Brazil once displayed their magic, is not alone in suffering from racist outrages. In Spain, Barcelona’s Cameroon striker Samuel Eto’o threatened to walk off the field after Zaragoza fans subjected him to monkey chants in February. In Italy, right-wing fans have displayed Nazi and fascist symbols and anti-Semitic banners at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico. But some black players say the atmosphere at Parc des Princes is becoming intolerable. “I’d have to think twice before setting foot there again,” Senegal-born Patrick Vieira, a midfielder for the French national team, told The Associated Press.

‘Can't judge’
PSG insists that racists are a minority among its fans and that its powers to combat them are limited — even with 102 cameras inside its stadium. “Understand one thing: PSG has no police authority or lawmaking power,” the club’s director of communications, Jean-Philippe d’Halliville, said in an interview. “You can’t ask PSG to arrest and judge people. Things don’t work that way in France.” Yet former hooligans have been hired as stadium ushers, and at a recent match, some of them were on first-name terms with known troublemakers and were letting them in without tickets or a search. When told of this, D’Halliville appeared surprised and said only that he would “make some calls.” However, he did not condemn the presence of former hooligans acting as ushers. “Even if there are former hooligans who work in the security services, are you not allowed a second chance?” he said. “Should they bear a cross all their lives?”

Campaign
“That’s just passing the buck,” said Piara Power, director of the British-based Kick It Out anti-racism campaign. “Denial is a big thing among football administrators. Unfortunately turning the other cheek is easier.” Ushers did just that before a PSG game against Sochaux on Jan. 4. Two Arab youths were punched and kicked by white fans outside the entrance to the Kop de Boulogne. Ushers, all white, stood chatting and did not intervene. Interior Minister and presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy has promised to rid PSG of troublesome fans. He wants them banned from matches and championed anti-terrorism legislation that will boost video surveillance in sports grounds. On March 7, a Paris court convicted three PSG supporters of unfurling a racist banner at a February 2005 match held in support of an anti-racism campaign. The court banned the supporters from the stadium for three years, ordering them to report to police during matches, and fined them up to $1,200. But these are minor successes. And now a fresh cloud looms — this summer’s World Cup tournament in Germany, the pinnacle of the soccer world, which many fear will be a magnet for hooligans.
© Associated Press

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POLAND’S THUGS PLAN HOOLIGAN LEAGUE

30/4/2006- POLISH football fans intent on disrupting this summer’s World Cup with organised fights are planning to establish a “hooligan league” which will be headed by the most violent thugs. The Polish fans, many of whom will be armed with knives, axes and 3ft truncheons, are preparing for battles with fans from rival countries, including England, throughout the five weeks of the tournament in Germany. They say they will be seeking “pre-arranged fights” with travelling England fans because of their reputation as “the best of the worst”. One group of Polish hooligans has warned that if the English “ignore invitations to fight, they will be attacked anyway”. The extent of the violence — often with fascist overtones — now commonplace in Polish football is understood by both German and British police. But little is known about the identities of many of the eastern European gangs who talk of turning Germany into a “battleground”. The rise in football violence follows a wave of extreme right-wing and vehemently anti-semitic political discourse in the former communist country. Within the Polish parliament there are politicians who openly praise fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Hard-core fascist and anti-semitic publications are sold on newsstands.

Rafal Pankowski, who organises Never Again, a Warsaw-based human rights group, said: “The level of violence and its links to fascist and racist groups is a great concern to us. We are very worried this will be exported to Germany for the World Cup.” Polish hooligans interviewed about their plans boast that they will be able to slip across the border into Germany without being detected. They talk of night-time raids on the campsites where many of England’s 80,000 to 100,000 travelling supporters expect to stay. Although few of the 2,000-2,500 hard-core Polish hooligans have tickets for matches, they plan to organise fights away from stadiums where they will not be monitored by CCTV and a huge German police operation. The shocking level of violence at Polish football matches is far worse than that seen during the dark days of the 1980s in Britain. Virtually every professional club has developed a fan base rooted in hooliganism. In Krakow eight fans have been stabbed to death in the past 12 months. At a clash in Warsaw between Polonia and Legia a fortnight ago, more than 1,300 riot police armed with backpacks of CS gas and carrying rifles loaded with rubber bullets failed to contain a crowd of 3,000 fans. Instead of keeping rival supporters apart after the game, the police shepherded them away from the football ground and into the city centre, where running battles followed.

Grzegorz Piatkowski, 29, a former trainee priest, fought alongside his fellow Legia Warsaw fans. “After every game there is fighting,” he explained. “It is part of the game, it is something we enjoy. It makes us all feel closer. We stand beside one another and we fight with our friends because it makes us stronger.” Alongside Piatkowski was Marek, 29, a father of a year-old child. “We will come together for our national cause,” he said of the World Cup. “We think only of beating the ‘hools’ from Germany first — because we hate them — and the ones from England because they have the reputation of being the best hools, because they invented it. If we beat them we will be considered the best.” He added: “If the English do not want to fight we will go looking for them and steal their flags, their scarves and their colours. And then we will burn them.” The ritual of ambushing rival fans, beating them and stealing their flags and scarves has become a common feature of Polish games. The stolen memorabilia are tied to railings around a pitch and set alight. After a game involving Wisla Krakow earlier this month, fans of the rival club Cracovia waited to fight in darkened alleyways near the city centre. “It is what I live for,” said Lukasz Pawlik. “I just want to fight the Wisla fans. To say I hate them is not enough.” Pawlik, 26, who, like many young Poles on the hooligan scene, is unemployed, said he has been involved in hundreds of fights in the decade he has followed Cracovia. Dressed entirely in black and ready to put on a black balaclava, he carried what he called his “equipment” — a knife shaped like a miniature axe. He pulled it out from his belt and smiled. “This equipment is now a part of how I fight and it will taste the blood of a Wisla dog tonight,” he said. The shaven-headed Pawlik sat in a bar beneath portraits of former Cracovia players and the late Pope John Paul II. “He also was a Cracovia fan,” Pawlik said.

A second hooligan who carried a knife with a 5in blade and a rubber hosepipe filled with sand warned: “Tell the English fans we are coming to Germany to hunt them down. “We will come for them silently and quickly. We hate the Germans and we will fight with them. We admire the English because of their reputation. That’s why we will fight with them. We want to take their reputation as the best fighters.” Polish police admit they have a severe problem with such hooligans. But unlike their counterparts in England, Germany and Holland, they appear ill-prepared to deal with their fans this summer. Privately, they speak of a lack of political will. Inspector Zbigniew Matwiej, of the Warsaw police, said there was a hard core of 500 highly aggressive hooligans and up to 2,000 more he described as “really bad”. “We hope the German border police refuse entry to our bad ones. But there are many crossing places between our two countries so it will be difficult to watch them all. We are watching the ring-leaders but it is difficult because they know we are watching and they are clever. “At the moment there’s nothing we can do. This is not for the police, it is for the government and a matter of justice.” The Polish authorities appear to believe that violence is almost inevitable. England fans facing direct threats from Polish thugs may feel they deserve better protection.
© The Times Online

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NEO-NAZIS POSE GROWING THREAT TO NATIONAL SECURITY(Portugal)

According to a report by Portugal’s intelligence services, which was made public on Wednesday, skinhead and neo-Nazi numbers have in recent times grown to such an extent they are now posing an effective risk to national security.

29/4/2006- The declassified report, unveiled in Wednesday’s edition of Correio da Manhã, states that while these right wingers do not constitute a threat to the country’s democracy, they have transformed themselves “into a factor of effective risk to national security through their incitement and promotion of political and racial violence”. As revealed a fort night ago in The Portugal News, secret police are attempting to infiltrate skinhead groups, believing that they are aiming to disrupt matches involving African teams at the World Cup in Germany, including the Portugal-Angola group fixture. Secret services also report an increase in acts of violence against ethnic minorities in Lisbon and Oporto, with groups of neo-Nazis often combining to attack communities living in poorer areas of these cities. It is further revealed that Portuguese skinheads have been building strong relations with their counterparts across the world. A number of Portuguese extremists are said to have joined up with the US group, Hammerskin Nation, known for its white supremacy ideals and the promotion of violence against other race groups. The Portuguese Hammerskins are said by the secret services to be an “independent and clandestine group, constantly training with weaponry to attain their ideal of racial supremacy”. Meanwhile, the leader of the National Front, considered less of a threat, when compared with the Hammerskins, told the Correio da Manhã thatmembership to this group has skyrocketted by 400 percent over the past 18 months. According to Mário Machado, new members come from all walks of life, and are not necessarily skinheads. He added that 49 percent of all members are younger than 21. The National Front leader argues that this high proportion of youths belonging to his organisation is indicative of the “insecurity experienced at schools, where youths are victims of ethnic minorities who are fast becoming the majority".
© The Portugal News

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DARK-SKINNED FOREIGNERS IN RUSSIA BLIGHTED

5/5/2006- As a black man in Russia, life for Gabriel Anicet Kochotfa means always being home by 9 p.m., never using public transit and hearing abusive remarks when he goes out in public with his white wife. Still, his experience has been milder than that of many blacks, Asians and dark-skinned Caucasians in Russia — he hasn‘t been killed, maimed or even attacked. Race-based attacks are rising sharply in Russia, a reflection of the xenophobia that was under the surface in Soviet times. In 2005 alone, 31 murders and 382 assaults were race-connected, according to the Moscow-based Sova human rights center. The attacks hit especially hard at natives of Third World countries who have come to Russia to study, because of the country‘s comparatively low tuition costs or because they are blocked from studying in the West by stringent visa regimes. But Etoumbia, 28, was determined to follow through with studies that he hopes will lead to a career as a diplomat. Although he said he‘s never been attacked, he‘s lost count of the insults tossed at him. Once, traveling on the Moscow subway, he lost his grip and brushed the hand of a fellow-passenger — who demonstratively took out a handkerchief and wiped his hand clean. Kochotfa came in 1981 and says at that time, dark-skinned foreigners could go out day or night in perfect safety. Now a professor at the Gubkin Oil and Gas Institute, he laments the post-Soviet rise of nationalist politicians who openly spread xenophobic views. He suggests that certain "forces" have a vested interest in the proliferation of racial attacks. "Our political leaders have an interest in this issue remaining prominent in the run-up to the election campaign," said Alexander Brod, head of the Moscow Bureau of Human Rights. President Vladimir Putin has acknowledged that xenophobia is a problem and the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi has lent its support to the anti-racism campaign.

The racist climate in Russia is deterring foreigners who want to come here for their education, according to Kochotfa. Some have gone home, and the number of foreign students from outside the former Soviet Union today is 60,000 — less than half the number in 1991, partly because Russian government scholarships are much scarcer. Still, with university fees at $3,000-4,000 a year, Russia remains the only viable option for many foreigners. Mustafa Mohamed ElHassan from Sudan, who is to complete a doctorate in civil engineering this year after 10 years in Russia, is profoundly grateful for his education. But he says he is impatient to leave, not least because of the rampant racism. "Life now is tough. It‘s not like 10 years ago," he said. The head of the Arab student association at People‘s Friendship, ElHassan advises people to go out only in groups and never late at night, but like many others he must leave the relative safety of the campus every day to travel long distances by subway to faculties elsewhere in Moscow. Etoumbia, the aspiring diplomat from Gabon, regrets the rise in violence because it undermines the melting-pot experience at People‘s Friendship University. "We have 132 countries represented here, it‘s like a mini United Nations . If you are willing to study here, you can get a first-class education," he said.
© Associated Press

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RACISM AND XENOPHOBIA RIFE IN RUSSIAN SOCIETY(Press release)

"We are not considered to be people. We’re like a completely separate state"
A man from a Roma settlement near St Petersburg.


"I didn’t go to the police because I’ve been hearing more cases that … even people that go to the police to make a report … in the end it goes against them..."
Roni Kumi from Ghana was attacked by four men in a Moscow street.


4/5/2006- Racially-motivated killings, beatings and discrimination are on the increase in the Russian Federation, according to a new report published today. The government of the country, currently chairing the Group of the eight most-industrialized countries (G8 Group) and about to chair the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe for the next six months, is failing to sufficiently challenge xenophobia and intolerance. Amnesty International's latest report Russian Federation: Violent racism out of control examines cases of assaults, some of them fatal, against foreign students, asylum-seekers and refugees from Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America; members of ethnic groups and migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia; as well as members of the Jewish community and Roma. It reveals the failure of the authorities to prevent racially-motivated attacks through adequate policing, and to investigate and prosecute the vast majority of such attacks effectively. "Russia's record on racism is incompatible with the country's place on the international stage and undermines its standing in the world. As a Council of Europe member about to take its chair, and head of the G8, Russia must comply with its obligations under international human rights law," said Irene Khan, Amnesty International's Secretary General. "The state has a responsibility to protect the human rights of all people on its territory -- regardless of the colour of their skin. They must challenge and bring to justice those who violate them. It is time for the Russian authorities to address the country's deteriorating human rights record and live up to their international obligations if they seek to be international players."

According to a Russian information centre (the Sova Information Analytical Centre), in 2005 alone 28 people were murdered and 366 assaulted on racial grounds. The actual figure, however, could be much higher as many racially motivated crimes are either not reported at all or not registered as such. Rather, police and prosecution authorities frequently prefer to classify them as so-called “hooliganism”. The perpetrators of racist attacks often come from well-organized groups professing a racist, neo-fascist and violent ideology. According to official figures, there are about 150 "extremist groups" with over 5000 members in Russia, while non-governmental organizations put the membership at 50,000. At the same time, organizations and people researching and campaigning against racism face real threats to their lives. "These violent attacks are one of the most visible manifestations of deep-seated intolerance and xenophobia in many parts of Russian society. Yet turning a blind eye to race hate crimes has encouraged the growth of extreme xenophobia and neo-facism in the country," said Ms Khan. Following large-scale violent attacks against civilians attributed to Chechen armed opposition groups, Chechens and members of other North Caucasian ethnic groups have been subjected to persecution. As members of a minority group, which may be visibly distinct from ethnic Russians, they are also particularly vulnerable to on the spot document checks, as part of so-called “counter-terrorist” measures or for the purposes of extortion by police. A monitoring project by a human rights organization in 2005 found that people of non-Slavic appearance are on average 21 times more likely to be stopped and asked for their documents than individuals of Slavic appearance, when travelling on the Moscow metro. "Racism is an attack on the very notion of the universality of human rights. It systematically denies certain people the enjoyment of their full human rights because of their colour, race, ethnicity, descent or national origin. Under international human rights law, Russia must fight discrimination in all of its forms," said Ms Khan. "Some regional authorities have taken initiatives to address racism, but they are woefully inadequate and isolated. The time has come for the federal government to put into action a comprehensive national plan to give the fight against racism the high priority it deserves."

See:
Russian Federation: Violent racism out of control
Documenty! Discrimination on grounds of race in the Russian Federation
© Amnesty International

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THE CRUELEST MONTH (Russia)

April saw a rash of particularly ugly attacks against minorities, as fascism finds fertile soil in Russia.
By Nickolai Butkevich, research and advocacy director for the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union.

4/5/2006- On 20 April, neo-Nazis around the world celebrated the 117th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s birth. Nowhere was the date marked with more violence than in Russia, a country that, paradoxically, lost tens of millions of its citizens in the struggle against Nazism six decades ago. When it comes to racist violence, April 2006 will go on record as the bloodiest month in recent Russian history, with at least seven murders and more than a dozen assaults blamed on neo-Nazi groups. Since the late 1990s, Russia’s homegrown fascists have spent the days surrounding 20 April stepping up their year-round campaign of violence against dark-skinned ethnic minorities, foreign students (predominantly from developing countries), and Jews. This disgusting annual spectacle is presumably deeply embarrassing to President Vladimir Putin, who has publicly condemned racism and anti-Semitism. Yet despite the mobilization of thousands of extra police officers in Moscow and other cities every April, Russian authorities seem helpless to stem the tide of violence. Nowhere is the situation worse than in Russia’s beautiful “northern capital,” St. Petersburg. On 7 April, skinheads in that city shot dead an African student. Lamzar Samba, a 28-year-old Senegalese national, became the ninth African killed there over the past year, according to a local African student group. Police discovered a swastika engraved on a shotgun near the scene and briefly arrested a suspect before releasing him. Several racist assaults also occurred in St. Petersburg last month – a Chinese student was attacked outside her apartment, a Ghanaian man was savagely beaten in the city’s suburbs, a mob of soccer fans assaulted two Mongolian students on a metro train, and an Indian medical student was stabbed. Local neo-Nazi web sites brazenly called for more violence against non-Russians to mark Hitler’s birthday and even posted a how-to manual with advice on how to evade arrest afterward.

Unfortunately, St. Petersburg is not the only Russian city where violent racists are running amok. On 8 April, a Moscow paper reported that skinheads beat two Tajik men on a suburban Moscow train before throwing them off, killing one of their victims. No arrests were reported in connection with that murder. Even ethnic Russian youths are not safe in Moscow if they belong to an anti-fascist youth group. On 16 April, skinheads stabbed to death an anti-fascist punk rock fan in what his friends termed a coordinated attack. One suspect has been detained. On 13 April, a group of young men armed with iron bars and wooden clubs attacked a Romani camp in Volzhsky, killing two and seriously injuring an 80-year-old woman and a 14-year-old girl. Police detained nine teenage suspects, some of whom admitted that their attack was motivated by ethnic hatred. Other racist murders committed during the month include the killing of a 50-year-old Vietnamese man in Ostrogozhsk, in the Voronezh region; the stabbing death of a Tajik man in Moscow (his friend was seriously injured); and the murder of an Armenian student by skinheads on the Moscow metro. Other non-fatal attacks were reported last month in Ryazan (where four youths were charged with a hate crime after beating up an Indian student); Chita (where a dozen youths shouting racist slogans attacked a group of Chinese construction workers, leading to six arrests on charges of “minor hooliganism”); Nizhny Novgorod (where a Malaysian student was hospitalized after an assailant hit him on the head and fled and two Syrian students were beaten up in a nightclub); and Surgut (where, in separate incidents, a group of skinheads attacked an ethnic Kazakh youth and an ethnic Lezgin, leading to hate-crimes charges). The leader of the Jewish community of Izhevsk narrowly avoided a similar fate on the second evening of Passover, when he and another member of the community ducked into a hotel lobby to avoid a mob of youths parading down the street shouting “Sieg Heil!” and other anti-Semitic slurs. A similar incident took place in Rybinsk, in Yaroslavl region.

Half measures
While racist violence has become a daily feature of Russian life, it should be noted that there have been some improvements in the way the government deals with hate crimes. Starting in 2002, the number of arrests of skinheads increased. To their credit, police this year prevented similar crimes by quickly rounding up skinheads in Bryansk and Novosibirsk before they could strike. Unfortunately, police chiefs in St. Petersburg and Voronezh – the cities with the worst reputation for racist violence in the country – minimized the extent of the problem by blaming a supposed media conspiracy against local officials. The Voronezh chief of police even went so far as to state that the number of murders in his region (four in recent years) was “not that many.” Given the multiethnic nature of the country, xenophobic violence has clear implications for future political and economic stability if it is allowed to spin out of control. In combination with a greater emphasis on promoting tolerance among the nation’s youth, federal and regional authorities must systematically crack down on skinhead gangs, and the media need to have regular access to hate-crimes trials in order to discourage judges from giving neo-Nazi thugs lighter sentences than ordinary criminals. Most importantly, Kremlin political advisers should never again create and support openly racist parties like Motherland, which was put together before the last parliamentary elections in order to drain votes away from the nationalist opposition. Only then will it be possible to imagine a time when 20 April returns to being just another ordinary spring day in Russia.
© Transitions Online

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FROM RUSSIA WITH HATE

Angry young men are joining a growing legion of skinheads, and the police are doing little to halt their violence

3/5/2006- Before the street battles, before the killings, before watching his best friend bleed to death from a knife wound in the neck, Timur Kazantsef's career as a skinhead started with a shopping trip to buy slippers for his grandmother. The heavyset 16-year-old accompanied his mother on the errand, which took them into the jostling, noisy open-air markets of Krasnoyarsk, an industrial centre in Siberia about 4,200 kilometres east of Moscow. His mother selected a pair of slippers and tried to haggle with the dark-skinned vendors. The starting price was 50 rubles, or about $2. Mr. Kazantsef's mother got a 10-ruble discount, but she wanted another 10 rubles knocked off the price. One of the vendors scoffed at them and whispered a profanity. Mr. Kazantsef punched the man in the face, pushed him down and kicked his head. "I broke his skull," Mr. Kazantsef said proudly as he toyed with his butterfly knife.

For a growing cadre of young skinheads in Russia, the streets are battlegrounds in a war to defend their country's honour. Mr. Kazantsef started by defending his family pride in the marketplace but didn't stop there, continuing to wage a bloody campaign against the dark-skinned migrants he views as a threat to the essence of Russia. He's part of a trend that's gaining momentum across the country, according to a recent report by the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights. "The skinhead movement is growing," the report says. "It now numbers up to 50,000 people and is spreading from major regional centres into small towns and villages." That is an enormous increase from the skinheads' first appearance in Russia around 1992, when a handful of young punks in Moscow and St. Petersburg started copying European neo-Nazis. One expert says Russia is now home to half of the world's skinheads. These violent punks might be only a fringe element in Russian society, but they're symptomatic of a growing concern about demographics. A broad majority of ethnic Russians feel uncomfortable about the fact that their numbers are shrinking, while they watch their non-Slavic neighbours flourishing.

Nationalist politicians are increasingly vocal in their calls for a clampdown on immigration, and skinheads such as Mr. Kazantsef openly boast about their brutality against the newcomers. Even more troubling, observers say, is the tendency of law-enforcement and other authorities to tolerate the skinheads. Police rarely name racism as the motive for an attack. In the few cases where an offender is prosecuted, the charge is usually "hooliganism," which carries mild penalties. This official reluctance makes it difficult to classify racial killings. Rights groups estimate that 67 people died in racially motivated attacks in the last two years, but those numbers make Mr. Kazantsef laugh. "They never write it up," he said. "Nobody wants the people to know what we're doing." Mr. Kazantsef flaunts the fact that he's unlikely to get a harsh punishment. The vendor whose skull he cracked had serious injuries, he said, but he got only a conditional sentence. He says many police officers sympathize with his cause. A 19-year-old friend of Mr. Kazantsef said part of his reason for joining the skinheads involved the sexual politics of sharing the city with newcomers. "I was rejected by three different girls because they preferred foreign guys," said the tall teenager with ugly scars on his shaven head. "They said to me, 'Those guys are better because they have nice cars, earn more money, and they're nicer than Russians.' "

Mr. Kazantsef and his friend may have slightly different reasons for their anger, but its outlet is the same. In separate interviews, the pair of skinheads told identical stories about joining a so-called brigade led by Mr. Kazantsef's best friend Genia to attack a market. It was the end of a cold day in November, around 7 p.m., when the group of 15 teenagers walked into the Krastats market near the outskirts of Krasnoyarsk. They wore black bomber jackets, black jeans with rolled cuffs, and steel-toed combat boots. They had shrugged their suspenders off their shoulders so the black straps hung down from their belts, Mr. Kazantsef said, as a symbol of their readiness for battle. The market should have been an abandoned warren of steel shipping containers at that time of day, an hour after closing time. The skinheads' scout, a 13-year-old boy, had reported that conditions were ripe to ambush a dozen vendors as they packed up. But the skinheads were surprised to find a bigger group, perhaps 40 dark-skinned traders finishing their day's work. Genia, the 16-year-old leader, threw the first punch and hit a fortysomething vendor. Almost immediately, another middle-aged vendor pulled out a four-inch blade and stuck it into Genia's throat. The knife must have hit an artery, Mr. Kazantsef said, because blood spurted everywhere. "All of our brigade attacked that man," Mr. Kazantsef said. "First we killed him, then we took on the others."

Skinheads occasionally arm themselves with metal rods, belts, chains or other basic weapons. Genia's brigade chose fists and boots. Usually a fight lasts half a minute, Mr. Kazantsef said, as the skinheads inflict their damage and escape. This time the fight dragged on for four or five painful minutes. "There were too many of them," Mr. Kazantsef said. The skinheads finally ran away, leaving the ground covered with blood and their fallen leader behind. They sprinted 50 metres together, then scattered in predetermined directions. Mr. Kazantsef unrolled the cuffs on his jeans, pulled up his suspenders, put a cap over his shaven head, and disappeared into the city. Soon after getting confirmation of his friend's death, Mr. Kazantsef became the new leader of his brigade. A spokesman for the Krasnoyarsk police said the force has no record of the incident.

Population non grata
Moscow correspondent Graeme Smith spent six weeks travelling across Russia to explore the causes and effects of Russia's plummeting population. Today he writes from Krasnoyarsk in Siberia, where a group of skinheads boasts of its attacks on foreigners. A survey conducted last summer revealed the level of intolerance toward non-Russians and tolerance of skinheads. Respondents were asked for their opinion of the following statements.

"Deport all migrants, legal and illegal, and their children"
Under 25 years of age*
Undecided: 9%
Totally disagree: 21%
Mostly disagree: 33%
Mostly agree: 9%
Totally agree: 27%

Over 40 years of age*
Undecided: 9%
Totally disagree: 17%
Mostly disagree: 31%
Mostly agree: 21%
Totally agree: 22%

"Skinheads are not a threat to ethnic relations"
Under 25 years of age*
Undecided: 16%
Totally disagree: 28%
Mostly disagree: 30%
Mostly agree: 15%
Totally agree: 10%

Over 40 years of age*
Undecided: 23%
Totally disagree: 33%
Mostly disagree: 29%
Mostly agree: 11%
Totally agree: 5%

*Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding
Source: San Diego State University
© Globe and Mail

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RACIST MURDERS DEAL FURTHER BLOW TO RUSSIA'S STANDING IN ARMENIA

2/5/2006- The latest upsurge in murders of dark-skinned immigrants living in Russia has not only reinforced the country's image as a hotbed of xenophobic extremism, it also has negative implications for the future of its relations with one of its most loyal allies. The April 22 fatal stabbing of an ethnic Armenian youth in Moscow has caused an uproar in Armenia that is likely to add to the ongoing erosion of the traditionally strong pro-Russian sentiment in the South Caucasus nation. The 17-year-old Vigen Abramiants was killed on a Moscow subway platform in full view of other riders. The next day a well-known Armenian film director, Mikael Dovlatian, was attacked and seriously injured by a group of neo-Nazi skinheads as he entered the same underground system where the police presence is unusually strong. Similar individuals are believed to have stabbed to death a Tajik immigrant, also in the Russian capital, on April 24. A 23-year-old Indian student and a 36-year-old Turkish man living in St. Petersburg were more fortunate, surviving separate racist attacks reported on April 22. The violence followed what has become a familiar pattern in Russia, where hardly a week goes by without reports of rampaging youths indiscriminately wounding or killing people from the Caucasus, Central Asia, Africa, and even Latin America. The Russian anti-racism watchdog group Sova has registered more than a hundred racist attacks since January, saying that at least 14 people have already been murdered in Russia this year because of their non-Slavic looks. Sova puts the death toll from such incidents reported last year at 28.

The latest spate of killings is widely linked to Adolf Hitler's birthday -- April 20. The founder of Nazi Germany may be responsible for the deaths of millions of Russians during World War II, but he seems exceedingly (and shockingly) popular with scores of young people in modern-day Russia. According to Russian media estimates, in St. Petersburg alone (a city that saw at least one million of its residents starve to death during the infamous German blockade of 1941-44) there are some 15,000 adherents of Russian neo-Nazi organizations. With neo-Nazi and other extremist literature and propaganda widely available on the streets and especially on the Internet, Russian law-enforcement authorities and courts have been remarkably lenient towards hate groups, routinely portraying racially motivated crimes as mere acts of "hooliganism." A case in point is the trial in St. Petersburg of seven teenagers who were convicted of collectively stabbing to death a 9-year-old Tajik girl but were sentenced to only between 18 months and five years in prison last February. A jury found that they were hooligans, rather than racists. The Moscow police were likewise quick to suggest that the Abramiants murder resulted from a dispute over a teenage girl allegedly offended by the Armenian. This official theory infuriated leaders and many members of the large Armenian community in Russia. Even the Kremlin-connected chairman of the Union of Armenians of Russia, Ara Abramian, accused the authorities of "connivance" in the young man's violent death. Speaking in Moscow on April 27, Abramian said the failure to prosecute the perpetrators of the vast majority of racist crimes only encourages more such attacks. Abramiants is the sixth Armenian murdered in Russia this year, he added.

The furor sparked a week-long outburst of anti-Russian rhetoric by Armenia's electronic and, especially, print media that regularly carry reports on the desecration of Armenian churches and cemeteries in southern Russia. "In no other country of the world except Armenia's supposed ally Russia, do Armenians get killed in the street because of being Armenian," the Yerevan daily Haykakan Zhamanak observed on April 29. "It is evident that the Russian authorities are secretly encouraging activities of those [neo-Nazi] groups," charged another newspaper, 168 Zham. "Russia has stepped onto a path leading to its transformation into a fascist state," agreed Vartan Harutiunian, a human-rights campaigner and Soviet-era dissident, in an interview with the daily Aravot. Many Russians, he claimed, see nothing wrong in "the murder of a few Armenians, Azerbaijanis, or Tajiks." Newspapers also lashed out at Armenia's government for its continuing unwillingness to officially protest to Moscow, with Aravot condemning the stance as "odd and outrageous." "The Armenian authorities are subservient [to Russia] to such an extent that they are even scared of defending the interests and rights of their citizens and compatriots in the territory of our purported ally," wrote Chorrord Ishkhanutiun. "How many more Armenians need to be killed in Russia in order to prompt a reaction [from official Yerevan?]," asked Taregir, another paper critical of the government. Such comments cannot fail to have an impact on public opinion in Armenia, which has traditionally been sympathetic to Russia and formed a key building block of the close Russian-Armenian political, military, and economic relations. But it has clearly undergone important changes in recent years, with opinion polls suggesting that a rising number of Armenians see their country's future in NATO and the European Union. This trend may only accelerate as a result of a growing sense that the Russians look down on even the most loyal of their dark-skinned neighbors. Golos Armenii, a Russian-language newspaper critical of the West, summed up the changing public mood in Armenia on April 27 when it suggested that violent xenophobia is becoming a key feature of Russian society. "Even those who are very sympathetic to Russia understand that that country has no future," it wrote.

(Haykakan Zhamanak, April 29; Aravot, April 28; 168 Zham, April 27-28; Golos Armenii, Azg, April 27; Novye izvestiya, April 26.)
© Eurasia Daily Monitor

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MOSCOW'S ANTI-GAY PROTESTERS HELD(Russia)

2/5/2006- Thirty nine people have been arrested in Moscow after protesting outside a gay nightclub on Monday. Riot police were brought in to control a mixture of right-wing and religious activists, who picketed the club and shouted insults at people leaving it. For two nights in a row, Russia's gay and lesbian clubs have been targeted. A leading gay rights activist said the rallies were the result of homophobic remarks by the city government and religious leaders. Most of the 39 arrested were charged with minor public order offences. The demonstrators were an unlikely alliance of young men, from a Russian nationalist group, and Orthodox Christians, many of them elderly women. On Monday night, a crowd of about 100 of them tried to prevent people entering Moscow's best-known gay club. The right-wing activists shouted homophobic abuse, while the Christian groups, waving crosses and icons, chanted "God is with us". They smashed windows on two cars and earlier eggs, fruit and plastic bottles had been thrown at people leaving another club. The groups say homosexuality is a sin and is damaging Russia. Russia's gay community is planning its first ever public gay pride march for later this month. Moscow's mayor has said he will ban the march because he believes homosexuality is not natural and because the event would cause outrage in society. Nikolai Alekseyev, one of Russia's most high profile gay rights campaigners, blamed the mayor's comments for inspiring fanatics and nationalists and for provoking them to violence.
© BBC News

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PROTESTS CANCEL MOSCOW GAY PARTY (Russia)

1/5/2006- Protesters shouting homophobic slogans and hurling eggs and bottles have forced a Moscow night club to cancel a mass gay and lesbian party. Police kept back the crowd of at least 100 skinheads, nationalists and elderly religious protesters. No serious injuries were reported but revellers had to be turned away and police escorted those inside to safety. The incident comes weeks before Moscow authorities are due to rule on allowing the city's first Gay Pride parade. Organisers had been hoping to attract about 1,000 people to the "Open Party" at the Renaissance Event Club on Ordzhonikidze Street in the south of the Russian capital. However, just before 2200 (1800 GMT) on Sunday, as the final preparations were being made inside, protesters began gathering in the street. They included skinheads and elderly women carrying Russian Orthodox icons and crosses. Demonstrators chanted "Down with pederasts" and "No perverts here". An AFP correspondent reports that at least one party-goer was beaten by protesters before being rescued by police but there were no official reports of injuries.

'Intimidation'
Party organisers say police numbers outside increased only gradually and there was anxiety inside as messages arrived by mobile phone about missiles being thrown at revellers trying to approach the club. However, the officers were praised by gay rights campaigners for preventing any serious violence. Special buses laid on took people from inside the club into Moscow city centre. Nikolai Alexeyev, one of the chief organisers of the Moscow Gay Pride, noted that the protest had caught the city authorities unawares, coming on the eve of the May Day holiday. It was, he said, a "mass, coordinated action aimed at intimidating Russian gays and lesbians". Igor Artyomov, a leader of the Nationalist RONS party, told AFP outside the club that the demonstration was a "peaceful" protest against "sin". Moscow's authorities have said they will ban the Pride parade, scheduled for 27 May, because of the public disorder it might provoke. A formal decision is not due until the middle of the month when the organisers submit their application for permission.

Being gay in Russia
Homosexual acts in Russia were punishable by prison terms of up to five years until 1993 In Russian slang, a gay man is "blue" (goluboy) and a gay woman "pink" (rozovaya)
© BBC News

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PUBLIC TELEVISION HIT BY BIAS CLAIMS(Azerbaijan)

Critics say that Azerbaijan’s new public television channel is serving the government, not the public.
By Sevinj Telmanqizi in Baku

4/5/2006- Azerbaijan’s first public television station, launched with high hopes, is drawing criticism for accusations of pro-government bias. Former parliamentarian Ismail Omarov, appointed in April last year, to be the general director of ITV (as the channel is known in Azeri) has been fiercely criticised not only by the opposition and non-governmental organisations, but also by international experts. Last year, Azerbaijan was the last of the three countries of the South Caucasus to create a public television station in line with recommendations by the Council of Europe on media freedom. The channel was launched last August and broadcasts for 12 hours a day. The station still relies on government funding but in theory has a degree of autonomy and run by an independent management. However, media experts say ITV is virtually distinguishable from its state rivals. “It’s a great pity that we have not seen any difference between this television channel and the others,” said Zeinal Mamedli, a lecturer in the journalism faculty of Baku State University. “Society has not seen a reflection of itself in this television channel.”  Although Azerbaijan is both bigger and wealthier than its neighbours Armenia and Georgia, it lags behind the other two for choice of television viewing. According to figures published by the international media development organisation Internews, in 2005 Georgia had 68 regional television stations, Armenia 28 and Azerbaijan just eleven. Baku is now served by one state channel, the public television channel and four private ones. Government figures argue that ITV has become an important addition to the media market.

“The staff of ITV have proved that it’s possible in a short space of time to create a new professional television station loved by viewers,” said Ali Hasanov, head of the socio-political department of the presidential administration. “ITV not only meets the cultural needs of society but also has high-quality news programmes.”  However, media experts say that ITV is operating within the same restricted environment as the rest of the Azerbaijani media in which stations that offend the presidential administration risk being shut down, as has happened with two former channels, BMTI and Sara. Opposition politicians have been strongly critical of ITV. At rallies of the opposition alliance Azadlyq last year, there were calls for the dismissal of Omarov, the channel’s director. Former prime minister Panah Huseyn, elected to parliament with Azadlyq, said, “We all expected that public television would first of all reflect the existing pluralism of opinion in society and periodically give air time to different political organisations. But the most they do is invite an opposition politician on to their discussion programmes. “Even some private pro-government channels are braver than ITV. Unfortunately, public television has become another kind of state television.” Research last year by Azerbaijan’s National Council on Broadcasting determined that only one per cent of airtime was taken up with advertising and that almost a quarter was filled with films. A monitoring study carried out by the Council of Europe identified a pro-government bias in the channel’s news coverage. Another study by the Najaf Najafov Foundation from last September to this January, covering the period of Azerbaijan’s divisive parliamentary elections in which the opposition alleged mass fraud by the government, said most of ITV’s positive coverage was for government parties. Sardar Jalaloglu, secretary general of the opposition Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, blamed the channel for unfairly influencing voters. “They have no idea what balance is,” he said. “They gave one or two minutes to our speeches and a whole hour to slander and attacks by YAP (New Azerbaijan Party) functionaries on us.”

In its recently published annual report on media freedom, the international organisation Freedom House placed Azerbaijan 161st in the world, behind Georgia, Armenia and Russia. On public television it concluded, “The ITV’s coverage of the election campaign was indistinguishable from other pro-government channels; an OSCE monitoring report suggested that the ITV devoted 68 per cent of prime-time news coverage to [president Ilham] Aliev, the government, and the ruling party, while Azadliq received 23 per cent of the airtime, of which 53 per cent was assessed as negative and one per cent positive.” Ismail Omarov rejected these criticisms. “Public television was created not to create the impression of political balance and please the critics who are never satisfied,” he told IWPR. “Our channel is very remote from politics. Currently ITV works as an democratic institution in Azerbaijan and this democratic institution was created personally by me.” Omarov said that his channel had a code of ethics and “we do not give air time to appearances by primitive and mediocre singers because we do not take bribes”. Omarov called the monitoring research into ITV biased and comparisons with public television stations in other countries misplaced, saying Georgian public television was 12-13 million dollars in debt. Public television in Armenia and Georgia has also disappointed expectations. The Armenian channel is closely linked to the government. Boris Navarsadian, head of the Yerevan Press Club, told IWPR, “The station has not emerged as a public television station. Only a small part of its public functions are being fulfilled. On rough estimates public television carries out 10-12 per cent of the functions entrusted to it.”

Georgia’s public television station was founded at the beginning of 2005 and has also been criticised for being too close to the government. Its supposedly independent board is mainly composed of non-governmental figures, who played an active part in the “Rose Revolution” that brought current president Mikheil Saakashvili to power in 2003. The channel has low ratings and a high staff turnover. This year it has tried to change its profile, launching a new political talkshow called Argument in March. Experts say many of the channel’s problems stem from the general under-funding of media in Georgia and the poor salaries for television employees. Despite the criticism in Azerbaijan, Omarov said he had plans to launch a second public television channel, “By law we have the right to open two television and three radio channels and we will gradually aim to do that.” Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE’s Representative on Freedom of the Media, visited Azerbaijan last July and was critical of Omarov’s role as head of ITV. “Omarov is a journalist who when he worked in state television was famous for his strong attacks on the opposition, so the OSCE has doubts about his appointment,” said Haraszti. Omarov still has the support of Azerbaijan’s Broadcasting Board, who appointed him. Its chairman Jahangir Mamedli said that the board “highly esteemed” Omarov’s work. Rafik Husseinov, a former employee of state television, was more pessimistic. “I didn’t expect anything from this channel and unfortunately my forecasts were borne out,” he said. “Public television died before it was born as serious mistakes were made when it was founded.”
© Institute for War & Peace Reporting

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MEDIA FRENZY LEGITIMISING RACISM (uk)

5/5/2006- The past fortnight has seen much debate over British Home Secretary Charles Clarke’s responsibility for the failure to deport over a thousand foreign criminals released back into society once they had served their terms. Since the news broke, Britons have been bombarded with strident headlines about the foreign criminals roaming their streets. Indeed, the story couldn’t have been better scripted: the list included murderers, rapists, paedophiles and violent drug dealers, bringing together rising concerns about violent crime with public discomfort over the ‘plague of asylum seekers at the gates’. The Home Secretary’s woes were compounded this week by the revelation that one of the men released was since wanted in connection with the murder of a Woman Police Constable recently gunned down in a bungled robbery. Yet the debate has raised a disturbing undertone of xenophobia, a gleeful release for news editors finally able to juxtapose the words ‘foreign’ and ‘criminal’ without being hauled up before the press complaints commission. The coverage has fed the perception that ‘asylum seeker = criminal’, that the barriers should go up and that those already in the country should be kicked out at the first possible opportunity. Are there more foreign criminals than British ones? No. Are they more likely to re-offend? No. The issue raised such a storm simply because foreign criminals can be stripped of their residency under certain conditions. If Australia still existed as a penal colony, you can be sure the public would be clamouring for the deportation of British criminals too. This case does raise a number of issues, but not those trumpeted by the right-wing press. The main questions are whether sentences fit the crime and why so many criminals go on to re-offend after their release. It is these facts which are undermining public confidence in the justice system, feeding scepticism about the concept that someone who has served their term is entitled to return to society as an equal citizen. The government can deport every foreigner issued a parking ticket if it wants, but that will not make Britain a safer place. What it needs to do is to ensure that people are not leaving the penal system more dangerous than they were when they went in. That is what is happening at the moment, and it is not a problem confined to the foreign prison population. In the meantime, the frenzy over foreign convicts is forcing a right-wing agenda into the political mainstream, with Tony Blair unveiling plans for automatic deportation of foreign criminals in a move reminiscent of a controversial initiative by French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. As for the genuine asylum seekers, the current climate will again raise further obstacles to their legitimate claim for refuge.
© Cyprus Mail

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'WE'RE SCARED BUT IT'S BUSINESS AS USUAL'(uk)

5/5/2006- Asian shopkeepers told of their shock after it emerged an attack on a South Norwood store may have been linked to a firebombing campaign that has left two dead. Three shops in South London were targeted with bottles of petrol flung through their doors. In the latest attack on April 27 Khizar Hayat, the owner of a convenience store in Kennington, was unable to escape and burned to death inside his shop. Co-worker Hamidi Hamidullah, 31, also suffered severe burns and died later in hospital. Their deaths came a week after a shop in Portland Road, South Norwood, was hit leaving the owner with serious burns to his arms. The South Norwood attack came just days after an attack on a newsagents in Tulse Hill hitting a customer and setting fire to his legs. Yesterday (Thursday) Robert Torto, 32, of Stockwell Park Road, was charged with two charges of murder and three counts of arson with intent to endanger life in connection with the raids. He was due to appear in Greenwich Magistrates' Court yesterday (Thursday). Newsagents not involved in the attacks said the bombings had exposed the vulnerability of small shops. Hemant Patel, of Star News in South Norwood High Street, said: "There's not much you can do. The door is open. If someone throws something in - that's it. "I've been here 22 years and racism has been quite rare. I'm carrying on business as usual. "I have told my staff we are keeping a look out but that's all we can do. I'm more concerned for our tenants who live upstairs." Dhirendra Patel, of nearby Krupa News, added: "I am scared. "This is not good news for the small businesses and convenience stores. "I'm afraid for all shop owners. I've not really had any racist problems over the 15 years I have been here but the last couple of years I've felt it has been going downhill generally.

"The laws just are not protecting us."
Mukilan Mahedavn, of Norwood News, said: "We were really worried after hearing about the other shop being firebombed. "We always have two people here all the time but some small newsagents have only one so it's more dangerous."
© ic Croydon

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'OUR EYES HAVE BEEN OPENED BY THE ABUSE'(uk)

London's top hotels built their reputations on high standards and excellent service. But some have been accused by their migrant workers of poor conditions, low wages and bullying. Hsiao-Hung Pai investigates

29/4/2006- 'So, you're here. London is a big city with lots of choices. It's brimming with hotels. Respectable money and comfortable work make jobs in the hotel industry a good bet for newcomers," so says a London jobs guide. Britain's hotels are wholeheartedly recruiting migrant workers, currently around 60% of the industry's workforce. Migrant workers bring with them excellent skills; many were in hospitality before coming to work in Britain. They're promised good wages and a chance of promotion and success. This five-star hotel is a "home away from home. We are one big family," so its induction tells its migrant workers. But this widely advertised hotel's "way" doesn't feel like home to the migrants working in its restaurant section and stewarding department. Inside its magnificent, 19th-century building, constant bullying, harassment and verbal racism is the workers' daily experience. "You fuckers!" screams one line manager. "Don't be stupid like the Poles!""It's like working in a country within a country," says one sacked worker. "Our eyes have been opened by the abuse."  Another central London five-star hotel is refusing to compensate its abused waiters. One of them, Ahmet (not his real name) from Morocco, was overworked, bullied and racially harassed as the management uses local chefs as line managers to keep newcomers intimidated. Ahmet became ill after being shouted and screamed at, and spoken to with fingers pointed at his head for six long months. He burst into tears at work, and had to go on medication and seek counselling. His colleagues also suffer from racial bullying, one of them physically abused by long-time customers the hotel is keen to keep. "These are the top luxury hotels. Just imagine the rest of them," says Julio Haro, race equality officer of GMB's hotel and catering branch. Unfortunately, he adds, mistreatment and poor working conditions are not the exception but the norm in the hotel sector.

It's all about cutting costs, says Salah Kerim, a former employee of several four- and five-star hotels and the ex-chair of the TGWU's hotel branch. Kerim came to London from Egypt 30 years ago to work as a waiter. "The cost-cutting drive is spreading like a disease and workers are finding it hard to cope." The hotel trade has long been dogged by its slave-labour reputation, with wage levels below even that of farm labourers. The TGWU says 80% of Britain's hotels are not paying their workers more than the national minimum wage. Some employers use tips to bring wages up to the minimum. For waiters, it means a weekly pay packet of around £160. Half of the hotels - from three-star hotels to B&Bs - are paying workers less than the minimum. Migrant workers' hourly rate is, on average, £1 lower than that of British workers. Long working hours are common in hotels. Many workers have to work double shifts and overtime goes unpaid or underpaid. Other common abuses include: the absence of employment contracts, no sick pay, no holiday pay or distorted forms of holiday pay (such as holiday pay being incorporated into wages), delayed payment of wages, no breaks, line-management bullying and unfair dismissal.

Migrant workers are at the sharp end of these chronically abusive practices. Their unfamiliarity with life in Britain makes them doubly vulnerable. Jan Mokrzycki, chair of the Federation of Poles, whose members comprise 100 Polish organisations in the UK, says that the abuse of employment rights is so prevalent that it is illegalising the Polish workers. He explains: "In the hospitality sector, they're expected to overwork beyond their capacity - such as working 14 hours a day - and not get overtime pay. Most of them are employed by agencies who pay them much lower than the normal rate, some below the minimum. In such cases, agencies do not give payslips or register the workers, therefore forcing them to become illegal." Raj Gill, secretary of GMB's hotel and catering branch - with a membership of 1,500 hospitality workers of Portuguese, Spanish, Turkish, West Indian and British nationalities - says that the exploitation by Britain's intermediaries (usually registered, legitimate employment agencies) has been a huge problem that the union is seeking to address. "The outsourcing of hotel staff, mostly housekeeping staff, has created a two-tier system where migrant workers are on worse terms," he says. Kensington Close Hotel was sold by Six Continents to the privately owned group, Cola Hotel Group. Cola outsourced its permanent housekeeping staff to employment agency Calibre International under transfer of undertaking regulations last September. The TGWU says that the hotel tried to prevent the union from being part of the consultations and that it had to threaten employment tribunal proceedings to allow union representation. The hotel's resident manager, Sven Lippinghof, refutes this allegation, saying that no staff member was denied representation either by a colleague or union during the consultation. The transferred workers are being paid £11,500 a year, according to two employees (one of whom has now left Calibre). "There's no question of a pay rise," says the ex-worker.

According to the TGWU, the 40 or so newly recruited agency maids - Polish, Lithuanian, Romanian and Mongolian workers - were being paid a piece rate of £2.08 per room, but in the past two weeks this has fallen to £1.40-£1.60 per room. As a result, some of them can end up earning less than they would on the minimum wage. Others are earning just £20 a day, while trainee maids worked up to three days "training" without pay. Hugh O'Shea, secretary of the TGWU's hotel branch, says Calibre managing director Louise O'Mahony told him: "The workers don't know their jobs, so they don't need the minimum wage". He says the agency workers enjoy few rights. One of them took her case to O'Shea, who informed O'Mahony that by law the company had to pay workers the minimum even during the training period. The worker was able to get her wages paid, but O'Shea says the payment of trainee maids has not improved. "Our members who work for Calibre have had no wage rises for nearly five years," says O'Shea. "When the minimum wage was increased last October, four of our members, one of whom has worked for the hotel for over 20 years, did not receive the new rate until I raised the matter in January 2006. They [Calibre] have instituted a policy of not paying any wages at all for induction training. The union believes that Calibre's actions reflect some hotels' policies of getting rid of higher-paid long-term workers and replacing them with cheaper agency and casual workers."  Calibre International denies the allegations. "All our staff are paid the national minimum wage or above," says O'Mahony. "Some of our staff wish to undertake one or two days' introduction to the Kensington Close Hotel before their commitment to working there, and we recognise employees' statutory rights to join a trade union under the Trade Union and Labour Relations Consolidation Act 1992 and, therefore, would not discourage any member of staff from joining if they wish to. We value our staff as they are our biggest assets and ensure that they are happy at work."

Kensington Close Hotel's Sven Lippinghof says: "All agencies we deal with, including Calibre International, have to comply with employment legislations. All employees of the Kensington Close Hotel are treated with respect and are paid in compliance with employment legislations." Catherine Howarth, community organiser of London Citizens - an alliance of community campaigners - says that agency housekeepers and chambermaids are the worst off among hotel workers. "Some of the larger agencies operate with no sign of respect for their workforce ... particularly when staff raise concerns or stick up for one another." Hugh O'Shea adds: "Some hotels and agencies simply don't care, because they know there is a steady supply of migrant workers. 'If the Polish workers are all gone, there will be the new workers from Bulgaria in future.' That's the thinking. They can just continue to recruit new workers. "As a union we should be able to enforce employment law and call in inspection on hotels. But we haven't been able to do so in Britain. When we demanded inspection, the Inland Revenue told us they were interested only in illegal immigration, not the minimum wage." Many migrant workers simply quit their jobs as the conditions became unbearable. The culture of intimidation of union members means that leaving the workplace seems much easier than trying to change it.

Historically, this is an industry with very low union penetration, with membership running at no more than 10 to 15%. It's a vicious circle: poor working conditions lead to high turnover of the workforce, which in turn keeps poor working conditions intact. "There's a strong anti-union culture maintained by a regime of fear," says GMB's Julio Haro, who deals with cases of union members alleging victimisation by hotels. In this environment, joining a union can end in dismissal. Jan Mokrzycki says this is the main barrier to unionising Polish workers. Haro says that hotel employers also use agency workers as replacement labour - a "divide and rule" tactic against unionsation. But there's also a long tradition of migrant workers taking up the fight, despite the risks to their livelihood. The TGWU's international branch was formed in the 1970s by Portuguese refugees who came to Britain during Portugal's military dictatorship and worked in the hotel and restaurant trade. Workers from the Philippines, Nigeria, Middle East and eastern Europe were also keen to change conditions and have collectively built the branch. And some of today's migrant workers are not prepared to remain victims of exploitation. "Boycott them!" one worker demands. The workers are getting support from the TGWU, GMB and London Citizens to fight for their rights. GMB's Raj Gill says his union is "campaigning to bring hospitality wages up to a minimum of £6.70 per hour as part of the living wage campaign, and to unionise agency workers". TGWU activist Pat Boyle says that taking hotels to tribunals simply isn't enough; the key is to build workers' organisation. Some believe that the trade union freedom bill is the way forward. The bill will top the agenda on Monday's May Day march and rally. Hugh O'Shea says: "It promises to provide protection for striking workers, restrict the use of injunction by employers, conditionally allow solidarity action, and prevent the use of replacement labour during strikes. And it will enable the unions to represent migrant workers better."

'I know well I've been classified a troublemaker'
Bernard (not his real name) is from Ghana and this is his story:

"I have been working in a five-star hotel in London for 13 years. It was my first job in Britain and I started my time here working in the laundry department. I asked to move to work in the bar as a waiter but the bar manager said I was too old - I was 28 then. I reported this to the hotel's general manager who eventually agreed that I could work in the bar. "There, for nine years, I was working 10-12 hours a day, and paid £9,000 per annum for four years before I managed to get a small pay rise to £10,000. It was extremely difficult to survive on that wage in London. The permanent workers - around 100 African, Eastern European and Indian workers - don't usually ask for pay rises, for fear of losing their jobs. They can't even question basic rights such as sick pay or holiday pay written in their contract, which is practically waste paper, because the management simply doesn't follow it. The agency workers certainly aren't getting a good deal. I know the hotel is paying their agency £7.30 per hour per employee but the workers are only getting £5 of that. "In the bar I had to work alone most of the time, dealing with more than 100 customers during my 11pm-7am shift. I also had to work overtime, often unpaid. I found that I couldn't cope with all this work on my own, so I reported it to the management. I was shouted at by the manager. "Later on, I was moved to room service, taking care of more than 600 rooms in this hotel. I wanted to do better in my job, but the company has prevented me from promotion. I know well I've been classified as a troublemaker. Now I'm being paid £13,000 to be a supervisor, even though the vacancy was advertised with a salary of £16,000. "My friend took me to the GMB two years ago and I joined. There are only two GMB members at the moment in this hotel. The only reason is that the hotel doesn't like it and will dismiss union members. Things need to change. I'm now talking to London Citizens and with their support, we can fight for a living wage for hotel workers. A workers' association is to be launched on May Day, and many of its members will be hotel workers. "My advice to those working in hotels? Join the union, work with campaign groups, and fight for your rights."

London Citizens, which campaigned successfully for a living wage for Olympic Games workers, says it is planning a pressure campaign against the large hotel chain that employs Bernard.
© The Guardian

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TRANSSEXUAL WINS PENSION BATTLE IN EU COURT(uk)

1/5/2006- The EU's highest court has ruled that a British law defining pension rights based on birth gender violated fundamental human rights. The Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice on Thursday (27 April) ruled in favour of a transsexual woman's right to cash in her pension money, against British claims that member states have their own right to set pension rules. 60 year-old Sarah Margaret Richards, who was a man until 2001, was told by UK authorities she had to wait until the age of 65 to receive pension money, the age when all British men get their pensions. In the UK, women are entitled to cash in their pension funds at 60 years of age. Under UK law at the time - 2002 - the sex of a person stated on his or her birth certificate was decisive for pension rights, and a birth certificate could only be changed to rectify clerical or factual errors, not to reflect sexual identity. A new Gender Recognition act however came into force in the UK last year, allowing gender recognition certificates for transsexuals, but without retroactive effect, which is why Ms Richard's appeal to a UK court failed. In its judgement, the ECJ observes that the right not to be discriminated against on grounds of sex is one of the fundamental human rights, to which all EU member states have signed up to. "Where a full gender recognition certificate is issued to a person, the person's gender becomes for all purposes the acquired gender," the court's judgment states. "If the acquired gender is the male gender, the person's sex becomes that of a man, and if it is the female gender, the person's sex becomes that of a woman," it continues. The case will now be referred back to UK social security commissioners for a domestic decision.

Human rights for all
The ECJ ruling comes as other voices have been raised demanding equal rights for all persons, despite sexual orientation. Earlier this week, the mayor of Amsterdam sent letters to his counterparts in eight European cities warning that gay intolerance was increasing in Europe. Mr Cohen said he was "particularly concerned by the news that homophobic attitude and behaviour is propagated by measures and policies of local authorities in some of the new EU member states". When he was mayor, Polish president Lech Kaczynski tried to block a gay pride march in Warsaw in June while Portugal recently turned down a lesbian couple's request for a marriage licence. Recently the Latvian and Lithuanian parliaments decided to table amendments to their constitutions prohibiting same-sex marriage. Mr Cohen's letter was sent to mayors in Warsaw, Prague, Lisbon, Dublin, Vienna and in the Baltic capitals of Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius, as well as to EU justice commissioner Franco Frattini. Mr Frattini's spokesperson told the EUobserver that the commissioner had received the letter, but said that the matter does not fall under EU competence.
© EUobserver

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MUSLIM COUNCIL: NO SUPPORT FOR 'SPECIAL LAWS'(Sweden)

29/4/2006- The Muslim Council of Sweden has added its voice to the criticism of the suggestion that the country should have separate laws for Muslims. The idea was expressed in an open letter to the Swedish political parties by Mahmoud Aldebe, the chairman of the Swedish Muslim Association. Aldebe suggested allowing imams into state (public) schools to give Muslim children separate lessons in Islam and their parents' native languages. The letter also said that boys and girls should have separate swimming lessons and that divorces between Muslims should be approved by an imam. It provoked an swift and fierce response across the political spectrum and was described as 'completely unacceptable' by Minister for Integration and Equality Jens Orback. Now other Muslim organisations, including the umbrella organisation, the Muslim Council of Sweden, have distanced themselves from the letter. "This has absolutely no support in any of our organisations," said Mehmet Kaplan, the council's spokesman, to Svenska Dagbladet. "It's a non-issue for us. I have also spoken to the vice-chairman of the Swedish Muslim Association and he didn't know anything about it either." At a crisis meeting on Friday, other Muslim organisations confirmed that they did not support the controversial proposals. "This is sad. There are other important issues which are now being obscured," said Kaplan. Speaking to Swedish Radio on Friday, Mahmoud Aldebe said that the furore following his letter was the result of a misunderstanding. "I'm not demanding parallel laws, I'm not demanding special legislation for Muslims. I just want to adapt our laws so that the Muslim minority feels safe in society," Aldebe told SR.
© The Local

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REPORT: ROMA GROSSLY DISADVANTAGED IN EDUCATION (Press release)

New EUMC Report on “Roma and Travellers in Public Education”

4/5/2006- The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) today released an overview report on the situation of Roma and Travellers in education across the EU. The new EUMC Report gives evidence that Roma and Traveller pupils are subject to direct and systemic discrimination and exclusion in education. “Our report shows that education systems across the EU are failing Roma pupils”, said Beate Winkler, Director of the EUMC. “As a result, Roma pupils tend to leave education early, which deprives them of the qualifications that would enable them to compete later in the labour market.” She continued: “Much remains to be done, particularly regarding segregation, which, in all its forms, remains the major obstacle for Roma and Traveller children in the education system. While the necessary legal and policy instruments are now in place, we need action on the ground, particularly at local level, to apply measures more efficiently.”

The EUMC report finds that segregation in the education of Roma and Traveller pupils still persists in many EU countries - sometimes as the unintended effect of policies and practices, and sometimes as a result of residential segregation. Wrongful assignment and hence over-representation of Roma pupils in special education for mentally handicapped remains particularly common in some Member States. Albeit enrolment and attendance rates of Roma pupils have somewhat improved, they remain low. In most countries transition to secondary education is particularly poor. To improve the situation, the EUMC calls for comprehensive strategies designed and implemented with the involvement of Roma representatives. These should among others include removing administrative requirements for enrolling, providing truly free access to education for Roma pupils, establishing parent-teacher programmes, reducing adult illiteracy, and focusing on pre-school programmes. Where segregation of Roma and Traveller children exists, the authorities should deploy desegregation strategies. The assignment of Roma to special education must be closely monitored. Intercultural education should be integrated into national education programmes and curricula. Such measures could include mother tongue teaching in the Romani language, the inclusion of Roma and Traveller history and culture in textbooks, hiring more Roma teachers, and specific inter-cultural training for teachers. Finally, an official system of data collection in line with standards on data protection to document the implementation of policies on Roma must be put in place.

The report lists a variety of innovative projects implemented in several Member States, often with the support of EU education programmes, such as Comenius or Leonardo. Also the PHARE programme was successfully used for Roma projects during the accession phase of the ten “new” Member States. Beate Winkler concluded: “The educational situation of Roma and Traveller pupils shows how critical it is that the EU and the Member States accelerate efforts to address the discrimination faced by Roma. Poor educational attainment directly relates to precarious conditions of life, high unemployment, substandard housing conditions and poor access to health services. We need more vigorous implementation and adequately resourced policies so that Roma will finally obtain equal opportunities in Europe.”
© The EUropean Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia

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CONFERENCE PARTICIPANTS ISSUE RECOMMENDATIONS TO IMPROVE ROMA ACCESS TO EDUCATION(Press release)

3/5/2006- At the end of a well-attended and constructive international conference organised jointly by the European Network against Racism (ENAR) and the European Roma Information Office (ERIO) on 28-29 April 2006 in Brussels, a list of concrete proposals and suggestions where made to improve access to quality education for Roma, Sinti and Travellers in Europe. More than 120 participants from all over Europe came together to discuss the ongoing problems facing Roma in the field of education in a conference entitled “Roma and Equal Access to Education: From Segregation to Integrated Schooling”. Many of the recommendations formulated reflect the specific and acute challenges facing the Roma community, while others seek to promote inclusive education strategies that will enhance the quality of education for everyone living in the European Union.

The conference recommendations promote inclusive education in an overall recommendations framework around five principles, aiming to:
1. End all forms of education segregation of Roma, Sinti and Traveller Children
2. Combat racism and discrimination in education and broader society
3. Promote accommodation of diversity in all forms of education provision
4. Put in place inclusive quality education systems
5. Ensure effective monitoring and evaluation of inclusive education strategies

They then go on to making specific recommendations as to how the European Union can contribute to the realisation of this framework. Building on existing strategies and competencies, EU institutions should take specific action to ensure the existing activities effectively mainstream concerns relation to access to education for Roma, Sinti and Travellers in the following fields: anti-discrimination and equal opportunities; education and training policy; social inclusion and social protection; and growth and jobs.

Concretely, it was suggested that:
• The EU should make a financial contribution to the Roma Education Fund, as the only multi-national instrument promoting equal access to quality education for Roma. This would provide a mechanism for enlarging the geographical scope of the fund.
• The Education Council of Ministers should call on the Commission to develop common basic principles on desegregation and standard indicators for inclusive education.
• The Commission should establish an liaison group which would bring together officials from DG Education and Culture and DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, with relevant NGO stakeholders to examine European strategies for promoting inclusive education, and place a detailed analysis of education in the context of the broader concept of social inclusion within the EU.
The full list of recommendations can be downloaded from ENAR’s website
The agenda of the Conference as well as a number of the presentations given here 
A summary of conference proceedings will be available in the coming weeks.

Conference participants also adopted a Resolution which calls on the Danish Red Cross and the Danish Authorities to ensure that Roma children in refugee camps receive proper education.
© EUropean Network Against Racism

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IMMIGRANTS TO STAGE BOYCOTT IN US

1/5/2006- Immigrant workers in the United States are urging supporters to boycott their jobs on Monday in another nationwide protest over immigration reform. Millions are expected to stay away from work and school, and avoid spending money, in an effort to show how much immigrants matter to the economy. Called A Day Without Immigrants, the protest comes as Congress wrestles with reform of immigration laws. About 11.5m illegal immigrants live in the US, many entering via Mexico. Some commentators say the emerging immigrant movement - the force of which was evident at nationwide demonstrations last month - can be compared with the civil rights protests of the 1960s and 70s. Yet Latino leaders are saying that the scale of what will happen on Monday is hard to predict. Some will work but buy nothing. Others will protest at lunch breaks, school walkouts or at rallies after work. There are planned church services, candlelight vigils, picnics and human chains. But there are fears the action may trigger a backlash and some are questioning how many people will actually participate in the boycott. The protest is also expected to spread to Mexico and other Latin American countries, where people have been urged to boycott US products for the day.

'Great American boycott'
Giev Kashkooli, from the United Farm Workers' Union, told the BBC: "They are people who are working, who share the values that other Americans share. They're farm workers who are feeding the nation. "They are construction workers who are building buildings but also helping build communities. They are workers in the hotels and the restaurants. "On 1 May there's no question that people will be expressing themselves politically."  In California, which has more undocumented workers than any other state, the State Senate has endorsed the planned day of action. Lawmakers approved what they called "the great American boycott of 2006", describing it as an attempt to educate Americans about "the tremendous contribution immigrants make on a daily basis to our society and economy". In New York, supporters intend to form human chains. In New Mexico, restaurants are donating meals to protesters, and around the country Latino-owned businesses are simply shutting up for the day. The protest has had a mixed response from non-Latino sectors of society. In Gainsville, Georgia, school administrators sent a letter home to parents saying absences would not be tolerated. But the owner of a beer company in Utah said he had been happy to make the day a company holiday after several of his employees had asked for the day off. Tyson Foods, the world's largest meat producer, will shut nine of its 15 plants.

Immigration debate
The protest comes with the US Congress caught up in the divisive business of reforming immigration laws. Right-wingers believe too much emphasis has been placed on plans for illegal immigrants to gain citizenship and not enough on enforcing current laws. A bipartisan bill currently stalled in the Senate would bolster border security, but also provide illegal immigrants a path toward citizenship and a guest-worker programme long favoured by President George W Bush. The BBC's Sarah Morris, in Washington, says it seems likely the economic impact of the protest will be noticed. But softening the views of anti-immigration groups who say the government should do more to stem the tide of people crossing from Mexico may prove harder to achieve, she adds.
© BBC News

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GRIM OUTLOOK FOR MAKEUP OF NEW UN RIGHTS COUNCIL

4/5/2006- Almost half of the members of the United Nation's new Human Rights Council will be countries with poor records in holding free elections and respecting civil liberties. Hopes that the new body will be a significant improvement on the one it replaces will be put to the test on Tuesday when the HRC's 47 members are elected. Despite built-in mechanisms meant to ensure the best membership possible, among them will be some of the regimes that brought the HRC's predecessor, the outgoing U.N. Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR), into disrepute. In particular, human rights campaigners worry that they could include China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and Russia, all of which are in the running.

Of the 68 U.N. member states that have put forward their candidacies for the 47 HRC seats, only 32 (47 percent) are "free," according to the U.S.-based independent democracy watchdog, Freedom House. Of the remainder, 24 are "partly free" and 12 "not free." Freedom House carries out annual assessments of countries' political rights and civil liberties. Twenty-five issues are examined and scores tallied, with states then designated "free," "partly free" or "not free."  The U.N. resolution that set up the HRC asks member states, when voting, to take into consideration candidate countries' contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights. The aim is to make it less likely that rights-violating countries can get onboard. Even so, once geographical representation is taken into account, the highest possible number of "free" countries that will make it onto the Geneva-based HRC from the current batch of candidates is 27. Even under the best possible scenario, therefore, 43 percent of the council's initial membership will comprise countries that score poorly on the Freedom House rankings.

In Africa, only five out of 16 candidates running for 13 seats earmarked for that region are designated "free" by Freedom House. Even if all five -- Ghana, Mali, Mauritius, Senegal and South Africa -- are successful, 62 percent of the African members of the council will be countries where political rights and civil liberties are curtailed. Similarly, in Asia, only four of the 18 contenders for 13 seats are considered "free" -- India, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea. If all four are elected, 69 percent of the Asian group will be made up of countries whose rights records are frequently criticized. In Eastern Europe, human rights campaigners say the situation looks more positive, as eight of 13 candidates for the region's six seats are "free." At the same time, one of the others, "unfree" Russia, is almost certain to be elected. A permanent member of the Security Council, Russia held a seat on the UNCHR every year since its inception in 1947 until its shutdown this year. Latin America's 12 candidates, competing for eight slots, include six "free" countries. The others include Cuba, which despite its often criticized human rights record was a member of the UNCHR continuously from 1976 to 1984 and again from 1989 to 2006. The final group, Western Europe and Others, has nine countries - Canada and eight European nations -- contending for seven seats, and all nine are rated "free" by Freedom House. The U.S., one of just four countries to vote against the resolution creating the HRC, decided not to stand in the inaugural election.

'New standards more important than old loyalties'
The council's initial membership will be elected by the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday. Candidates will need 96 votes, or an absolute majority of the total membership of 191 states, to be successful. The U.S. government earlier argued for a two-thirds threshold, or 128 countries, but the General Assembly demurred. U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based non-governmental organization (NGO), was this week able to endorse only 40 of the 68 candidates -- and in 11 cases only on condition the countries concerned committed themselves to a "positive voting approach" in the future. U.N. Watch said these were countries that, while generally designated "free," had a negative or mixed record when it came to past votes on U.N. human rights issues. For example, India and South Africa, despite having committed themselves to promote democratic values at the U.N., both voted last year against a move to consider the human rights situation in Darfur, Sudan, choosing instead to go along with the mostly non-democratic Africa group. "These countries tend to base their U.N. votes on regional or developing world loyalty rather than on their democratic values, and as a result too often ally with non-democracies to protect egregious rights violators," the NGO said. "The new standards for [HRC] membership require members to put the promotion and protection of human rights before U.N. politics." U.N. Watch also said it could not endorse any of the candidate countries designated "not free" by Freedom House. In some cases, it said, such candidates had "poisoned" the UNCHR and posed a real threat to its replacement. "If egregious and systematic human rights violators like China, Cuba, Iran, Russia or Saudi Arabia win election to the council, it will be an ominous sign that the council is - as some of us had worried - nothing more than the commission by another name," said U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer. Urging democracies to "band together" during next week's election, he called on member states to reject countries that abuse human rights and that would use their seats "to continue voting at the U.N. against resolutions for victims in Darfur or elsewhere." "Otherwise, the council is doomed to repeat the glaring hypocrisies of its predecessor ... and meet the same humiliating fate."

Periodic reviews
Human Rights Watch was one of a number of NGOs that supported the resolution creating the HRC despite having concerns about some aspects. Lawrence C. Moss, an international lawyer and special counsel for U.N. reform at the New York-based rights group, wrote recently that the new system of voting was very different from the old one. With the UNCHR, the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) usually selected the 53 members "by merely rubber-stamping closed regional slates, slates that had been proposed by the five regional groups within the U.N. and that included only as many countries as there were seats."  This time, individual candidates have to obtain sufficient support -- 96 votes -- to be successful. "A regional group cannot therefore alone dictate the choice of members from its region," Moss said in an article written for an American University Washington College of Law publication. "This gives supporters of human rights a much greater opportunity to build a coalition of states that will decline to support the election of inappropriate candidates." He also noted that for the first time all member states will have their own rights record reviewed periodically, and states that commit gross rights violations during their term of membership can be suspended. Critics have pointed out, however, that suspension requires a two-thirds majority vote, making it more difficult to be ejected from the council than winning a seat in the first place.
© Cybercast News Service

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Council Elections in the UK

ACT NOW OR THE BNP WILL CREATE A SOCIETY RIVEN BY FEAR AND CONFLICT(Comment)

By Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality

7/5/2006- The BNP gained 11 seats in east London, and picked up enough elsewhere to hold 46, more than doubling its previous drain on the public purse. It follows dramatic 2002 local election successes in the North; a narrowly missed London Assembly bid; and a 4.9 per cent showing in the Euro elections in 2004. It took 7 per cent of votes cast in the 2005 London mayoral elections. For the first time, an openly racist party has sustained the support of more than one in 20 British voters over several contests. The BNP's share of the vote was 0.19 per cent in the 2001 general election. This is not the same old fascist threat that we have beaten before. Like many on the left, it was the far right that brought me into politics. In 1973, as the only non-white author of the most controversial policy ever adopted by the student movement, the (in)famous 'No Platform for Racists', I was persuaded to lead the campaign. In those days it made sense to focus our fight - literally - in urban streets. But today the BNP has decamped to the suburbs; and stealthily it has scrubbed away the stench of the political pariah. Pollsters used to have to adjust their figures because so few people would confess support for extremists. Now, even in supposedly 'multi-culti' London, a quarter of voters are no longer ashamed to admit that they might cast a vote for bigotry.

The blame game has already started. Did Margaret Hodge boost the BNP? Unlikely. The facts suggest that, if anything, she got out anti-racist Labour voters who stayed at home last year. Did the Tories give the BNP a free run? No. Our early assessment suggests that David Cameron responded to pressure from Searchlight and the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) by fighting several unwinnable seats where the Tory presence helped to blunt the far-right threat. Did the media sensationalise the BNP? Yes, but virtually every newspaper, including the red-tops, advised their readers against voting for the BNP. To our frustration, the CRE is legally banned from speaking out during the election, gagged at the moment it matters most. It is bizarre that the key organisation set up by Parliament to combat racism cannot denounce racists as long as they hide behind a rosette. Ministers and opposition may now want to reconsider this restriction. The danger is all too clear from what we see elsewhere in Europe, where racist parties have steadily worked themselves into the fabric of national politics, posing as the champions of the ordinary, forgotten working man and woman. Who would have thought that the Dutch would be prey to the lure of the far right? Yet today the country's most popular politician is Immigration Minister 'Iron Rita' Verdonk. She looks a fair bet to win her party's leadership with racial policies that would make even Nick Griffin think twice - including a ban on the use of any language other than Dutch in the streets. And she belongs to the Liberal party!

But in Britain we already know how to defeat these new racists. In the aftermath of the 2001 riots, Oldham became a favoured hunting ground for far-right vultures. But they encountered a resolute, painstaking campaign led by the council, the local MPs, voluntary groups, businesses, local media and, crucially, the local Race Equality Council, OREP. For the past three years Oldham's people have been reminded each and every day how much they have in common, whatever their race or faith. Last week the BNP mustered three candidates in Oldham. None was elected. The BNP sneers that conventional politics is the problem. Oldham shows that community politics, in the widest sense, is the answer. That's why the CRE has campaigned since the autumn for a new government-backed body to focus on the challenge of social integration and community cohesion. As often with Tony Blair, you need to beware what you wish for. You may get it, only several times as big. In Friday's reshuffle he brought together the main features of the CRE's integration agenda with the government's massive programme of neighbourhood and civic renewal in Ruth Kelly's new Department for Communities. If we are to prevent the descent into a society riven by fear and conflict, we have to act now. This is a great start.
© The Observer

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WILL BNP ELECTION GAINS LAST?

The British National Party has more than doubled its number of council seats in England from 20 to 44.

5/5/2006- But, historically, gains by far-right parties in UK elections have tended to be short-lived. Oswald Mosley's New Party, formed in 1931, panicked the political mainstream when its candidates gained 16% of the vote, but it never came close to winning a seat at Westminster and was later subsumed into the British Union of Fascists. In the 1970s, the National Front saw its popularity increase on the back of concern about immigration and working class voters' growing disenchantment with Labour. In 1973, the party gained 16% of the vote in a West Bromwich by-election, but it averaged just 3% nationally at the next general election, where it fielded 54 candidates. In the 1977 Greater London Council elections the National Front fielded 91 candidates - and the smaller National Party 22 - gaining a combined total of more than 100,000 votes.

Sporadic success
In 10 constituencies the far right vote was above 10% of the total cast. In the two seats of Bethnal Green & Bow and Hackney South & Shoreditch it was 19%. But by the 1981 GLC elections, the extreme right vote had slumped to 30,006, with just 462 votes per candidate, compared with 1,127 in 1977.  Since breaking away from the National Front in the early 1980s, the BNP has had sporadic success in local elections, particularly in its East London heartlands and, more recently, West Yorkshire. The party's Derek Beacon won a 1993 by-election in the Millwall ward of Tower Hamlets but in the full borough elections the following May Labour won it back - on an extraordinarily high turnout, for a local election, of 66.5%. Before Thursday's poll, the party had just 20 local councillors out of Britain's 22,000 council seats, all gained since 2002. And although it fielded a record 363 candidates this time, it is still a long way from being able to put up a full slate of candidates across the country - either in local or general elections.

Retained deposits
Nevertheless, there is growing concern among mainstream parties, who accuse the BNP of peddling hate and division, that it is learning to hold on to its gains. It has steadily improved its performance in general elections, although its share of the vote in the 2005 poll was still minuscule, at 0.7%. A handful of constituencies bucked this trend, with the BNP gaining 17% of the vote in Barking, beating the Liberal Democrats into fourth place. It gained 9.2% of the vote in Keighley, where chairman Nick Griffin was standing, and 13.1% in Dewsbury. The party picked up nearly 200,000 votes in the 120 constituencies it contested and retained its deposit in 40 of the seats.

Fragile support?
But the BNP's high water mark, before Thursday, came in 2004 when it was able to capitalise on racial tension in Blackburn and Burnley. It gained more than 800,000 votes in that year's European elections - 4.9% of the vote, although it missed out on a seat in the Brussels parliament. One opinion poll taken before this week's local elections suggested nearly one in four UK electors have seriously considered backing the BNP. But there are also signs its support at the ballot box remains fragile. It won 14% of the vote across Oldham's two parliamentary seats in the 2001 general election but fell back to just 6% in 2005. Earlier this year in Keighley, it lost a seat on Bradford council, when Labour won by 503 votes. Only time will tell whether the seats gained on Thursday are a sign of things to come or another flash in the pan.

RECENT PERFORMANCE
1997 General election:
Votes: 35,832
Share: 0.1%
Seats: 0
2001 General election:
Votes: 47,129
Share: 0.18%
Seats: 0
2004 London assembly:
Votes: 90,365
Share: 4.8%
Seats: 0
2004 European elections:
Votes: 808.200
Share: 4.9%
Seats: 0
2005 General election:
Votes: 192,850
Share: 0.7%
Seats: 0
© BBC News

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WELCOME TO BARKING - NEW FAR RIGHT CAPITAL OF BRITAIN

As the BNP celebrates, local people face up to the area's new notoriety

6/5/2006- Patricia Thomas remembered the precise moment when she realised the British National party were poised for a breakthrough in Barking. A neighbour, an elderly white woman, sidled up to her clutching a BNP leaflet. "She told me that she was going to vote for them but that I shouldn't worry," Ms Thomas said yesterday. "She said they told her that they had no problem with black people and that it was the eastern Europeans - the Poles and the Kosovans - that they were against. She gave me the leaflet. The headline was something like Keep Britain White. I realised then that they were going to have a lot of people fooled." Barking went to bed on Thursday night as just another deprived London suburb struggling to come to terms with the population shifts of the 21st century. It woke yesterday to find itself the subject of national notoriety, a new power centre for the BNP. On a sunny afternoon in the town centre, the realisation struck people in different ways. A middle-aged woman ambled towards a television crew filming black, Asian and white people shopping in Victoria Road. She drew level, grinned and punched the air with a cry of "BNP". A few yards away, an older white woman told of her hatred of east Europeans. "Isn't that racist?" she was asked. "I am a racist," she replied sweetly. A man with a red face and wispy white hair watched a multiracial group sitting on the market's bandstand. "They should bring the army back from Iraq to sort these foreigners out," he said as he moved away. He kept his distance from people like Abdul Garuba, 38, a black man with sunglasses, a bucket hat and an easy smile who had been watching through the opened window of his sports car. "From no councillors to 11," he said slowly, as if for emphasis.

"That is a serious thing. The problem is that some of the white people here do not have the knowledge to do the jobs at the top and they are not willing to do the jobs at the bottom that migrants do. But they are happy to blame them for everything and to claim that everyone is getting benefits." He noted that where the BNP gains a foothold, racial attacks invariably follow. "But they better think about that," he said. "Here you have got a lot of people who have come from war zones like Somalia and Kosovo. They are not going to put up with that." Though resigned to losing seats, Labour politicians in Barking and Dagenham were taken aback by the scale of the BNP gains. Some councillors gained more support than in 1992 but were beaten anyway. Terry Wade, the deputy leader of the council, was one of the local luminaries who lost his seat. Jeffrey Porter was another. Less than a year ago, he was the Circle line tube driver who stopped his train when the terrorist bomb exploded at Edgware Road station and led hundreds of passengers to safety. He was a national and local hero. But as the BNP intensified its campaign in his Goresbrook ward, his achievements and past contributions to the area were simply swept away. "The whole Home Office and Charles Clarke thing was very, very damaging. It was a gift for the BNP. "People were determined to give Labour a good kicking. You can't fight a tsunami." The repercussions from Thursday's vote will unfold in coming days. Yesterday it looked likely that the BNP would pick up a 12th seat because of a recount. It gained an additonal seat in Burnley, where the party now has seven councillors. But it looked likely to lose a seat in Birmingham where the returning officer revealed that an error had been made. He plans to rectify the matter in court.

In Barking, Labour's inquest has begun to focus on Margaret Hodge, the local MP, whom many activists accuse of boosting the far right with by saying that eight out of 10 of her constituents were thinking of voting BNP. Other activists are focused on the racist party itself. There are questions about whether three of the addresses submitted by elected BNP candidates were genuine. If not, there could be a legal challenge. Yuri and Tammy Garraway, a mixed-race couple said the worst thing to do was panic. "They got a lot of votes but nothing like the majority," Yuri said. "The BNP are the old days."
© The Guardian

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VOTERS BOOT BNP OUT OF TOWN

5/5/2006- The British National Party's bid to get a political foothold in the south west has been soundly beaten by voters in Swindon.
Heading into yesterday's election, the far right party had been buoyed by reports that they were gaining support. But part-time cleaner Reg Bates, pictured, was beaten into third place after attempting to take the Gorse Hill and Pinehurst seat on the borough council. The seat was won by Labour, whose leader Kevin Small said: "Congratulations to the people of Gorse Hill for not being duped by the BNP.'' The election saw the Tories gain five seats to increase their majority on the 59-member council to 40. Nationally it was a bad night for Prime Minister Tony Blair as Labour lost more than 100 seats.

BNP vows to return
Labour held off the BNP in Gorse Hill and Pinehurst but the extreme right-wing party said they would be back. Labour candidate Maurice Fanning picked up 825 votes, followed by Conservative Rex Barnett with 421. The BNP's Reg Bates came in third with 319 votes, followed by the Liberal Democrats' David Pajak on 169, independent Clive Hunt (154) and Socialist Unity candidate Roy North (109). Mr Bates said the campaign had showed the people of Swindon supported the BNP. He said the party regarded the campaign as a success and would be back. "I'm pleased that we beat the Liberal Democrats and Socialist Unity," Mr Bates said. "That's a total victory for commonsense. I will definitely look at standing again." Both Mr Bates and Wiltshire BNP spokesman Robert Baggs rejected criticism contained in anti-BNP pamphlets that the party had connections to paedophiles, Nazis and nail bombers. "I would just say it's speculation," Mr Bates said. He said the BNP has strict rules on who could stand for the party at elections. "I was told by the BNP executive that I could not stand if I had a criminal record," said Mr Bates. Mr Baggs said the "new BNP" was a democratic party that should be allowed to join the political debate. "People bring up all sorts of things tenuously linked to the BNP of the past," Mr Baggs said. "We would actually like to debate with the other parties." Labour winner and sitting councillor Maurice Fanning was ill and did not attend the count at the Oasis leisure centre. Accepting the victory for him, Labour leader Kevin Small said the win was a very good result but it was "sad that the BNP got as many votes as they did". "Congratulations to the people of Gorse Hill for not being duped by the BNP," said Coun Small. He hoped the defeat showed Swindon rejected the BNP and they would not return.

Conservative leader Mike Bawden said the 319 votes for the BNP showed there was concern about immigration. He said the major parties had a responsibility to tackle the issue and deny the BNP a platform. "I'm pleased they didn't win," Coun Bawden said. "I don't think that would have been in the best interests of Swindon. "The main parties have to realise there is a considerable concern about immigration. "The present Government has not controlled adequately people coming in to the United Kingdom. "It's playing in to the hands of organisations like theirs." Coun Small called Coun Bawden's criticism a "cheap jibe". "We in this council have always said we would fight united against fascism," he said. The bitter campaign for the traditionally Labour ward began with the announcement by Mr Bates, a 53-year-old part time cleaner who has lived in Swindon most of his life, that he was standing for the BNP against over-development. His opponents said he was standing for hatred, racism and bigotry. In a flyer passed around the ward just days before the election, Swindon Against Facism accused the BNP of "paedophile shame" and being Nazis. Mr Bates said there was no need to talk about the BNP's anti-immigration and asylum stance everybody knows where they stand. "It's just to restore some common sense to local government and to get some autonomy," Mr Bates said ahead of the election. He said the BNP has separate planning and development policies, but all the policies on the party's website hark back to overdevelopment being caused by too many immigrants and asylum seekers. The party wants immigrants repatriated, National Service reintroduced and favourable treatment for British-born people ahead of ethnic groups it claims receive unfair advantages. The BNP attracted condemnation early in the campaign with Labour Government minister Phil Woolas coming to Swindon to tell residents to "vote for anyone ahead of the BNP". "You want the BNP in Swindon like you want a hole in the head," Mr Woolas said. He urged residents not to believe the rumours unleashed by the BNP in the lead up to the vote.

Swindon Against Fascism (SAF) took its anti-BNP campaign to the streets with two days of action ahead of the election. Supporters of the coalition split in to small groups delivering their anti-BNP message through a series of leaflets. SAF coordinator and union organiser Hugh Kirkbride called on the voters of Gorse Hill and Pinehurst to boycott the party.
© The Swindon advertiser

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FURY AS BNP WINS VOTES IN FOUR SHEFFIELD SUBURBS

5/5/2006- There was anger last night as the British National Party secured thousands of votes after candidates stood in four Sheffield suburbs. Chants of "BNP, Nazi scum," greeted visitors to the count at Ponds Forge International Sports Centre with a demonstration by campaigners from Sheffield Unite Against Fascism and Love Music Hate Racism. As the results flooded in, it emerged the BNP had won more than 2.6 per cent of the overall number of votes, with a total of 2,906. BNP supporters from Shiregreen and Brightside showed the highest turn-out making up more than 26 per cent of votes for the ward. The party's candidate Christopher Hartigan came runner-up behind Labour's Peter Rippon who secured a majority 48 per cent. The BNP also put forward candidates in the Beauchief and Greenhill, Beighton and Southey wards. David Wright finished second in the race for Southey with 665 votes. However he was way behind winning Labour candidate Gill Furniss who secured the seat with 1,602 votes. John Campbell, chair of Sheffield Unite Against Racism, who organised the protest, said: "Yorkshire is one of the BNP's key target areas. We wanted to get across to people that the BNP are not an ordinary party, they are a fascist organisation masquerading as a normal party. "Our message was to encourage voters to turn-out to stop the BNP. The only way they make progress is through a small turn-out. If people sit at home and don't vote the danger is the BNP get in through the back door." Sheffield Council leader Coun Jan Wilson said: "The number of votes secured by the BNP is a matter of great worry. Clearly we need to address this problem by getting out into those communities and listening to people's concerns."
© Sheffield Today

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BNP: WE'RE ON OUR WAY

5/5/2006- Supporters of the far-right BNP claimed the party was "on its way" after picking up extra council seats across England. The British National Party's gains were most dramatic in Barking and Dagenham in east London where it became the second biggest party, seizing 11 of the 13 seats it fought with one ward still to declare. Barking and Dagenham is the first council in the country to have the BNP as the second biggest party. Richard Barnbrook, the BNP's London organiser, who gained one of the seats on the council, said voters had decided the time was right to choose the BNP. "People now are no longer standing back saying we may think about voting or we dare not say BNP because it is a dirty word," he said. "They are now standing up and saying now is the time to change. We are voting for the BNP." Last month Barking Labour MP - and Employment Minister - Margaret Hodge had warned that eight out of 10 white families in her constituency were " tempted" to vote BNP. Today Labour Party chiefs in the area were considering disciplinary action against her, claiming her comments helped the BNP. At least one defeated Labour candidate also blamed the Government's recent troubles, including the foreign prisoners controversy and news of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's affair, for boosting the BNP.
Away from east London, the BNP's gains were less spectacular. The party picked up three seats in Stoke-on-Trent, where Labour lost overall control, and three more in Sandwell in the Black Country. Two of the Sandwell seats were won in the Tipton area, which has a large ethnic minority community and is also home to three Britons who were held at Guantanamo Bay. BNP members cheered and taunted Labour opponents as the results were announced.

Jubilant winning BNP candidate Simon Smith said: "I am pleased to have won in Tipton because it is a very Anglo-Saxon and traditional area." Fellow BNP victor Russell Green added: "After tonight's results we can all see that the BNP is on its way. "It is plain to see that the vast majority of us are sick and tired of the dishonest and self-interested politicians that are ruining our communities and our country." The BNP claimed a shock win from Labour in Solihull when it won the Chelmsley Wood ward by 19 votes, securing its first seat on the council. Speaking after the vote, which saw the Conservatives retain control, winning BNP candidate George Morgan said it was a victory for the ordinary working man. The 55-year-old construction worker, who said he had campaigned on issues of local vandalism and drug abuse, conceded that Labour's problems over the past two weeks had not harmed his cause but stressed that the victory was the result of more than just a protest vote. Mr Morgan said: "This is Labour's third term and they've done nothing for the country. People are sick and tired of all the lies. We are offering people a choice." His Labour opponent Nicholas Stephens, who has won seven local elections since he first stood for the party in 1983, laid the blame squarely at the Government's door. The 48-year-old said: "It's a very disappointing result but the BNP were quite close two years ago so it's not surprising, what with the events going on nationally over the past two weeks. "You don't have to be a genius to work out why some Labour voters either stayed at home or switched to other parties."

Anti-Fascist campaigners expressed alarm at the BNP's gains. Holocaust survivor Henry Guterman said: "The BNP have made these gains simply by peddling racist lies which must be challenged and exposed." He added: "The BNP is a racist organisation which targets Muslims and Jews and all minority communities. "These results are an insult to all those who perished under the Nazis. "The decent majority of people must support democracy and see that this does not happen again." Sabby Dhalu, joint secretary of the Unite Against Fascism campaign group, said: "This result is a disaster for democracy. A neo-nazi organisation has become the official opposition on Barking and Dagenham council and have made several gains around the country. "Where they have been elected previously, racist violence has soared."
© Independent Digital

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BNP THANKS LABOUR MINISTER FOR PUBLICITY

5/5/2006- The British National party last night thanked Margaret Hodge for giving them publicity, enabling them to gain seats in east London, as furious Labour officials considered disciplining the Barking MP. Employment minister Mrs Hodge said last month that as many as eight out of 10 voters in her constituency were contemplating voting for the BNP. The BNP put forward 13 candidates in Barking and Dagenham, winning 11 seats. One ward will not declare its result until later today - which could leave the far-right party with a total of 12 seats. Richard Barnbrook, the BNP's London spokesman, fuelled Labour recriminations against Mrs Hodge when he commented: "If I had paid her a million pounds I couldn't have asked her to do more." Val Rush, a Labour councillor and a member of the Barking Labour party, said: "I will now be asking ruling party members whether we should look at some form of disciplinary action against Mrs Hodge. "We cannot have our local MP stepping out of line. The MP is there to represent us and a lot of people are very unhappy about what she has said." Labour has controlled Barking and Dagenham Council for decades and had no fear of losing power. It remains in control with 36 seats. The Tories are third with one seat. Liam Smith, who was standing for re-election as a Labour candidate in the borough, said Mrs Hodge had given the BNP the "oxygen of publicity".  He said: "Since she said that eight out of 10 families might vote BNP, we have never seen so many reporters and cameramen around here. She has raised their profile and put them in the limelight." Asked what he felt of Mrs Hodge's comments, Dagenham Labour MP Jonathan Cruddas said: "I know a lot of people are saying that she has given them publicity but I don't want to comment on that. I don't know where those figures she quoted came from."

The Guardian has learned that angry members of the local Labour party have privately begun discussing the possibility of a move to try to deselect the Blairite minister. Party organisers say the comments were ill-judged and disastrously timed. "They were little more than an advertisement for the BNP," one told the Guardian. "If I were Nick Griffin and I had a baby girl, I would be calling it Margaret." Even before the result was known, a senior official publicly broke ranks to castigate the MP. Liam Smith, the Labour agent for Barking and Dagenham, said: "She has given the BNP the best PR they have had in years. They were in fact running quite a limited campaign but she said what she said and the BNP campaign took off. There were reports from polling stations of voters writing the letters BNP on ballot forms where no BNP candidate was listed. Some apparently screwed up their ballot papers in disgust. Mr Smith said a key issue distorted and exploited by the BNP was housing. "Social housing is a huge issue across London and a huge issue here and we simply have to address it. There are huge social issues we have to deal with and housing is the main one. That is what the BNP are tapping into." Across the country the far-right party also made gains, including three in Stoke-on-Trent, where Labour lost overall control. In Sandwell in the Black Country, one of the West Midlands' most deprived boroughs, three more BNP councillors were elected in addition to one already on the council from the previous elections. All three gains were at the expense of Labour. Two of the seats were won in the Tipton area, which has a large ethnic minority community and is also home to three Britons who were held at Guantanamo Bay. The local elections in Birmingham ended in farce after the returning officer overturned an official declaration that the BNP had won its first ever seat in the city. The controversy centred around the BNP's candidate in the Kingstanding ward, Sharon Ebanks, who was told at the count at Stockland Green leisure centre that she had been elected to office. But shortly after Ms Ebanks arrived at the city's Council House to celebrate, she was confronted with a statement issued by returning officer Stephen Hughes claiming that two Labour candidates had beaten her into third place.
© The Guardian

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BAD NIGHT FOR BLACK REPRESENTATION

Black communities turned out to vote in the local election but Black representation may have fallen.

5/5/2006- Labour’s poll setback has coincided with the party finally selecting a greater number of Black council candidates. Many Black hopefuls were defeated at the ballot box as a result of the pounding Labour suffered in last night’s local election. The racist British National Party (BNP) made gains across the country. They won eleven seats in Barking and Dagenham, becoming the official opposition.

Hatred
They were condemned by Jeanette Arnold, a Greater London Authority member, who said she had been racially abused while canvassing in the east London borough. She said: ‘I’ve been spat at and called ‘black coon’, and people say they are doing this because they are voting for the BNP. The core of their message is hatred, ignorance and fear.’ Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, added: ‘They are a racist loathsome party, and even the people who vote for them think they’re an unpleasant party.’  The neo-Nazis also picked up new councillors in Pendle, Solihull, Stoke on Trent, Redbridge, Sandwell and Epping Forest, but failed to make a breakthrough in their target areas of Thurrock and Oldham.

Disadvantage
Local Labour chiefs in Barking and Dagenham are considering disciplining their MP Margaret Hodge over comments she made before the poll by suggesting that 8 out of 10 voters were considering voting for the BNP. Activists are furious that Ms Hodge gave the oxygen of publicity to the BNP which may have inadvertently encouraged residents to vote for Nick Griffin’s party. Arts minister David Lammy said the ethnic minority vote had come out ‘quite strongly’ for Labour, but his party had been hit by a predominately middle-class protest vote. Government supporters believe the fall of Labour councils will disadvantage poorer sections of the electorate more than affluent voters who wanted to kick Labour. Labour were given a drubbing in the capital, where they lost control of Lewisham, Camden, Hammersmith & Fulham and Ealing. They held onto Haringey but with a loss of eleven seats. The extent of anti-Labour feeling was more pronounced in London and the south east compared to other parts of Britain. Ironically it was in London that Labour had made most progress in selecting a greater proportion of Black candidates.
© Black Information Link

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BNP HEADING FOR RECORD NUMBER OF COUNCIL SEATS

5/5/2006- The British National Party was heading towards winning a record number of local councillors. In several of its target areas, such as Stoke-on-Trent, Essex, Lancashire and the Black Country, the far-right party was making significant gains. It was also on course to gain a block of councillors in the east London borough of Barking and Dagenham. The BNP appeared to be capitalising on disillusionment with Labour among white working-class voters, particularly those close to areas with large ethnic minority populations. In Stoke, once dominated by Labour, it won three more seats to take its tally of councillors to five. It played on Islamophobia in the city, campaigning against the building of a mosque. The BNP gained three seats in the West Midlands council of Sandwell, where it now has four councillors. It won its first seat on the councils in Redditch, Worcestershire, and Pendle, Lancashire. The party polled strongly in the suburban Essex council of Epping Forest, on the fringes of east London, where it doubled its representation to six. The BNP's top target in the south of England was Barking and Dagenham, where it fielded 13 candidates, exploiting hostility to an influx of ethnic minorities over the previous decade. Labour and the unions attempted to rally support, particularly in wards with large ethnic minority support. Last month Margaret Hodge, the Work minister and the Barking MP, warned that eight out of ten people in the area were prepared to vote for the far-right party. Many Labour activists were aghast at her comments, believing she had inadvertently talked up the BNP's prospects. Liam Smith, the candidate for the River ward and agent for the party, said her comments had "pushed them into the limelight". Mr Smith said: "The comments obviously spurred the BNP on and encouraged people to vote for them in my eyes. They were pushed into the public eye." As counting took place amid high tension at the Castle Green centre in Dagenham, dozens of police officers in stab vests lined the entrances and flanked the rows of counting tables. Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, said the Barking and Dagenham results reflected concerns over the pace of change in London. "This is a failure of politics, it's not a desire to support a racist party," he said. Counting in other BNP target boroughs will take place later today. They include Burnley, Calderdale and Kirklees. The BNP began the night with 23 councillors and was aiming to increase the total between 30 and 40. It fielded more than 350 councillors, its highest ever total, although less than the 600 it had originally planned.
© Independent Digital

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BNP REARS ITS HEAD AS LABOUR LOSES HEARTLAND SEATS

Tories and Liberals make solid gains nationally. Councillors accuse Hodge of raising far-right profile

5/5/2006- Labour council seats in London and several heartland areas in England fell last night, with the far-right British National party making big gains in areas it targeted. Results bore out defence secretary John Reid's prediction of a "very bad night for us", with Labour hurt by the revived popularity of the Conservatives under David Cameron and 10 days of dismal headlines over foreign prisoners, rebellious nurses and John Prescott's affair with his secretary. "In the last fortnight we have seen a lot of good campaigning damaged pretty badly," Mr Reid said.  Labour lost control of Bolton, Derby, Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme. In Stoke, the defeated council leader, Mick Salih, said he would leave the Labour party because it had become "a Tory party in disguise". Conservative and Liberal Democrat gains were solid, though seldom spectacular. The Lib Dems said the Tories were failing to make inroads in the north. The Conservatives yet again won no council seats in Newcastle, Liverpool - where Mr Cameron sent the whole shadow cabinet - or Manchester, where he had held a glitzy spring conference. That will disappoint the modernisers who believe Mr Cameron can reach the parts other leaders could not. The party remained without any seats in Oxford, either. But the Conservatives achieved their ambition of winning control of Coventry - not to do so would have been a disaster - and took control of Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire and Crawley in West Sussex, both for the first time. They also won Hastings in Kent. In Ipswich, the Conservatives became the largest party with 19 seats, but its gain of three seats was less dramatic than it would have hoped.  But the Conservatives were counterattacking by picking off seats from the Lib Dems in several boroughs in the south. They picked up five seats from the Lib Dems in David Cameron's home district of West Oxfordshire. The Tories also took six seats from the Lib Dems in Brentwood to strengthen their dominance there, and won two in Colchester.

The BNP had made 15 gains by 2.30am, including three in Stoke-on-Trent, three in Sandwell, one in Solihull, and four in two wards in Barking and Dagenham. Labour activists accused the employment minister, Margaret Hodge, MP for Barking, of generating hundreds of extra votes for the BNP with her "naive" public comments about the popularity of the far-right party. The Guardian has learned that angry members of the local Labour party have privately begun discussing the possibility of a move to try to deselect the Blairite minister.  They are furious about her comments last month claiming that eight out of 10 voters in her constituency were thinking of voting BNP. Party organisers say the comments were ill-judged and disastrously timed. "They were little more than an advertisement for the BNP," said one. "If I were Nick Griffin and I had a baby girl, I would be calling it Margaret."  Even before the result was known, a senior official publicly broke ranks to castigate the MP. Liam Smith, the Labour agent for Barking and Dagenham, said: "She has given the BNP the best PR they have had in years. They were in fact running quite a limited campaign but she said what she said and the BNP campaign took off. "As someone who is a minister and comes from a local government background she should have known better. There have got to be questions asked and the people responsible must be held to account." The divisions were exacerbated by comments from the BNP itself. Richard Barnbrook, one of the far-right candidates and the BNP's London spokesman, said: "If I had paid her a million pounds I couldn't have asked her to do more." There were reports from polling stations of voters writing the letters BNP on ballot forms where no BNP candidate was listed. Some apparently screwed up their ballot papers in disgust. Mr Smith said a key issue distorted and exploited by the BNP was housing. "Social housing is a huge issue across London and a huge issue here and we simply have to address it. There are huge social issues we have to deal with and housing is the main one. That is what the BNP are tapping into."
© The Guardian

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BNP GAINS SEATS IN COUNCILS POLL (3.42 CET)

The British National Party has so far gained twelve council seats as counting continues in the local elections. 7 or 8 seats in Barking.
It fielded more than 350 candidates as it seeks to increase its tally of 20 out of 22,000 council seats in Britain.

5/5/2006- Labour minister Margaret Hodge has said the BNP could win council seats in Barking, where it has been predicted it could win five to eight seats. BNP leader Nick Griffin was initially refused entry to the Stoke count because he did not have accreditation. The Labour leader there, Michael Salih, lost his seat to an Independent and the party lost the council to no overall control. Among the gains were three seats for the BNP and one for the Tories.  The BNP has been focusing its election efforts on parts of the North East and West, West Midlands and London. It won one seat in Pendle, Lancashire, and three in Sandwell - bringing its total number of representatives on the West Midlands council to four. It also took three seats in Epping Forest, giving it six councillors in the area. The party claims to be the "only real opposition", but has refused to make any prediction about the results. It came third in the General Election in 2005 in Barking with 17% of the vote. It has 13 candidates standing for election to Barking and Dagenham council, which has a total of 51 seats up for grabs. Labour councillor - and mayor elect - Dorothy Hunt conceded the BNP had a chance of gaining seats. "It's going to be very tight in my ward," she said on Thursday evening. "I'm praying we've done enough to stop the BNP. We've worked very hard. But it will be close."
© BBC News

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THE PEOPLE vs THE RACISTS IN A POLLING STATION NEAR YOU

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© Black Information Link
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VOTING UNDER WAY IN LOCAL POLLS

4/5/2006- Voting is under way in elections for 4,360 council seats, including 144 English authorities and all 32 of London's boroughs.
Some 36 Metropolitan authorities and 20 Unitary authorities will elect a third of their councils. Eighty-eight districts will also have polls - most choosing a third of their members. Watford, Hackney, Newham and Lewisham will hold mayoral elections. More than half the electorate - 23m - is eligible to take part in the vote. The weather forecast for parts of England is for hot weather - a factor that usually heralds higher turnouts. Parts of the country could experience the hottest day of the year so far, with the South East expected to reach 26C.

Police deployed
Polls will be open between 0700 and 2200 BST - a change from previous local elections - to bring them into line with the opening hours of polling stations at general elections. Police officers are being deployed at several inner-city polling stations to protect against vote-rigging. West Midlands Police said officers would be sent to Bordesley Green in Birmingham, where specialist electoral fraud investigators have uncovered alleged irregularities relating to 190 postal votes. A referendum is taking place in Crewe on whether the people there want an elected mayor. Broadland Council, a district in Norfolk, has successfully applied to have elections for all members starting next year - and therefore no elections will be held this year. In the metropolitan councils Labour has the most candidates with 821. The Conservatives have 772, Liberal Democrats 708 and others 875. In the shire districts the Conservatives are fielding 1,326 candidates, Labour 1,172, the Liberal Democrats 1,052 and others 782. The others include 1,251 Green candidates, 363 from the BNP, 319 from UKIP and 162 from Respect - the Unity Coalition.
© BBC News

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FOES OF FOREIGNERS GROW VOCAL IN BRITAIN

4/5/2006- Paula Mitchell, cutting fresh flowers in the Gale Street Florist shop in east London, said she's voting for candidates of the British National Party in local elections on Thursday -- but she hopes they lose. "If they got in, I'd be absolutely horrified," said Mitchell, 38, who described her planned ballot for the vehemently anti-immigration BNP as a protest against what she sees as out-of-control immigration to Britain. "We're against people coming in and taking our jobs, taking our school places, getting priority in housing," said Mitchell. "Everyone is fed up, and we want to make our feelings known." The BNP declares itself "wholly opposed to any form of racial integration between British and non-European peoples." It seeks to restore the overwhelmingly white makeup of Britain before 1948; its leader has called Islam a "wicked, vicious faith." Support from people like Mitchell, a white mother of three whose political views otherwise appear generally mainstream, illustrates rising anti-immigration sentiment in Britain and across Europe. Parties long dismissed by many as the racist fringe have become increasingly popular as governments that once freely accepted immigrants question how many more their nations can take. "It should be a worry for all Western democracies," said Nick Lowles of Searchlight, an anti-racist group that publishes a magazine in Britain. Lowles said many voters were turning to extremist parties to vent anger at their political leaders. "People are shouting out," he said, "and they want to be heard."

In France, a public opinion poll last month showed that more than a third of respondents believed the anti-immigrant National Front, led by the outspoken Jean-Marie Le Pen, was in line with "the concerns of French people." Numbers like that could make the party a power in presidential elections next year. The anti-immigration Danish People's Party in Denmark and Progress Party in Norway, meanwhile, both reached record levels of the vote -- 13 and 22 percent, respectively -- in elections last year. A British study this month concluded that up to a fourth of British voters were considering supporting the BNP. Their country now has an estimated 7 million people of various minority groups. "The BNP's message is simple and seductive," Lowles said. "It's always nice to be able to blame someone else for your problems." The BNP's appeal "stems not so much from crude racism, but from disillusionment with the government," said Vernon Bogdanor, a professor of government at Oxford University. He and other analysts said immigrants are often blamed for tough economic times, and many voters fault the Labor Party government of Prime Minister Tony Blair for not doing enough to control immigration. Blair's government has been rocked by scandals recently, including the disclosure that more than 1,000 foreigners convicted of crimes including murder and rape had been released from prison instead of being deported, and many are still unaccounted for. On Wednesday, Blair told Parliament that he was drafting a plan to automatically deport foreigners convicted of serious crimes. Public anger over the scandal deepened Wednesday when the government disclosed that the prime suspect in November's shooting death of a female police officer was a Somali immigrant who had not been deported despite multiple criminal convictions and prison terms in Britain.

"The BNP have become the protest vote for people who don't like the government for any number of reasons," Bogdanor said. Despite that "combustible" anger, Bogdanor said, mainstream voters still might not back the BNP, which has never won a seat in Parliament and holds only 21 local offices. Opinion polls published last weekend showed the party had only about 4 or 5 percent support nationally, but 30 percent or more in some urban areas. Jon Cruddas, a Labor Party member of Parliament who represents the working-class east London borough where Mitchell's flower shop is located, said the BNP had made "a conscious strategy to work into areas of white working-class disillusionment," such as his district. The party is fielding a record 357 candidates out of 4,000 total candidates nationally, including 13 in Cruddas's district of 180,000 people, where unemployment is rampant. The area, which was 85 percent white in the 2001 census, has some of the city's least-expensive housing and has been a magnet for immigrants, with the black African population growing by 3 to 4 percent a year, Cruddas said. In recent interviews with people on the street and in shops in the neighborhood, nearly every person expressed agreement with the BNP's arguments about immigration, and several said they planned to vote for the party. "The issue in this city is immigration," said Jackie Odger, who works in Toddy's Unisex Hair Salon. "People don't like it when people come here and claim benefits they're not entitled to." Odger said she was concerned about the BNP's "racist side," but added that she feels she "might vote for them and not tell anyone."

The neighborhood has drawn attention recently because the government employment minister, Margaret Hodge, a Labor Party member of Parliament who represents the area, said publicly that 80 percent of the voters she met in the borough were considering voting for the BNP. Richard Barnbrook, a BNP candidate for the local council, was so delighted, he said, that he sent Hodge 10 flowers, including eight white lilies pointedly representing BNP voters. Barnbrook, 45, a special-needs teacher, ran against Hodge in the most recent election, finishing with about 4,950 votes to her 14,000. He said he's tired of "P.C., wishy-washy subjects" taught in schools -- world history instead of British history, for example. He said he favors chemical castration for pedophiles and serial rapists and wants more government support for the "indigenous peoples" of Britain. Dressed in a tan suit, Barnbrook walked around the neighborhood, slipping copies of a BNP publication promoting the party as "the voice of the silent majority" through front-door mail slots. Featured on the cover is a photo taken in 1953 on the day of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation, showing a large group of white women and girls attending a party. Below are two more-recent photos of the neighborhood, showing black men and Muslim women in head scarves and veils. Large bold letters ask, "Is this what you really want?" Barnbrook said the flier simply shows the area's "traditional identity" and how it has changed over the years. " 'Racist' is the right word to use," said Sunday Ogunyemi, 31, a Nigerian immigrant who has lived in the borough for six years. "Their views do not represent what most British people say. Britain is a country that welcomes people from other countries."
© The Washington Post

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BNP MESSAGE CHIMES WITH DISAFFECTED OF BARKING

3/5/2006- The preponderance of St George’s flags trailing from cars and hanging from house windows in Barking, east London, has more to do with the World Cup than local elections. But this is an area plainly keen to proclaim its national identity. “I’m voting BNP,” states 32-year-old single mother Deborah Pitts proudly. “There are too many immigrants now.” Barking and Dagenham is solid Labour territory, where the party has controlled the council since before the second world war. Labour is not about to lose it now – it is not even facing Conservative opposition in some wards – but disaffection with the party is being exploited by the British National party, which hopes for an electoral breakthrough there. As Margaret Hodge, MP for the constituency, commented last month, a significant number of people in Barking no longer appear ashamed to support publicly the far-right party. Richard Barnbrook, the 45-year-old former teacher who is co-ordinating the BNP’s 13 candidates in the borough, was greeted by a number of affectionate pledges of support, comments of “best of luck to you, mate” from passers-by and honking car horns as he completed his last-minute campaigning on Wednesday supported by Nick Griffin, the party’s leader. Perspiring, but smart in a light brown corduroy suit and matching tie, St George’s cross cufflinks and walking boots to save his blisters, he delivered individually addressed letters to houses where voters had expressed firm intentions of support. He appeared to be stopping at one in every three or four houses in a target street.

Mr Barnbrook achieved 17 per cent of the vote in Barking at the general election but claims the support this time is even better. “This response has never happened before. It is overwhelmingly positive. Out of 100 houses, we’ll only get one or two ‘screamers’ now,” he said. Nevertheless, he and Mr Griffin, who was accompanied by two burly minders, were soon accosted by a black woman protesting about the BNP’s race policies. Its hardline anti-immigration message seems to have tapped into the resentment many people in the area feel over a lack of housing, with plenty of residents referring to the BNP’s misleading “Africans for Essex” slogan, claiming immigrants were being given grants of up to £50,000 to buy houses in the borough. Ken Livingstone, London’s mayor, who was also in Barking on Wednesday, faced confrontation from some residents who told him they were deserting Labour for the BNP because immigrants were “pushing us out”. In a sign of the cross-party concern over the apparent support for the BNP, Mr Livingstone visited the borough with Steve Norris and Simon Hughes, his Conservative and Liberal Democrat rivals in the 2004 mayoral race, to urge voters not to be seduced by BNP propaganda. The paucity of Tory candidates standing in the borough has been seen as a boost to the BNP but most of the support it is receiving comes from alienated, white, traditional Labour voters. Many point to the rapid increase in immigration in the area, although the borough does not have a particularly large foreign-born community, with immigrants accounting for about 14 per cent of the population. On the streets of Goresbrook ward, which Mr Barnbrook is contesting, John Harris, 62, said he was considering voting BNP: “They might be a bit right-wing and racist but that’s their view.” But Mabel Arnold, 90, who was a Labour councillor for 27 years, is “depressed” at the prospect of BNP seats on the council.
© The Financial Times

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BRITAIN TO GAUGE NATIONALIST VOTE IN LONDON SUBURB

2/5/2006- To nods of approval from his mostly white elderly customers, Frank, a market trader of 40 years, explains why the London suburb of Barking has become a chapter in the story of Britain's race relations. With its rows of seemingly-identical houses and tower blocks, the borough of Barking and Dagenham represented just 2.5 percent of London's population in 2001 and rarely attracts the media spotlight. But the far-right British National Party has targeted the eastern suburb for local authority elections on May 4, campaigning on a fiercely anti-immigrant agenda -- and the mainstream parties are watching cautiously. "A few years ago, you wouldn't have seen a black face around here," Frank told Reuters, without wishing to give his last name. "But now the area has changed so quickly. I hear the local people talking and they feel they've been pushed aside." The BNP is the biggest far-right party in Britain but does not hold any seats in parliament. Britain's first-past-the-post voting system makes it difficult for fringe parties to win. But the BNP came third in Barking in the 2005 general election with 17 percent of the vote, its best showing in Britain, and hopes to advance on that in the local polls. Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour party has moved from the left to the centre ground, leaving many traditional working-class voters feeling disillusioned. The opposition Conservatives under new leader David Cameron have moved from the right to the centre and have alienated some of their traditional right-wing supporters, potentially benefiting the BNP. The inner-city east London has long been home to thousands of immigrants who arrive in the capital every year. But Barking and neighbouring Dagenham are further east of the capital with a previously white, working-class profile. According to 2001 figures, ethnic minorities made up 14.8 percent of the population, one of the lowest in London, but more than double 10 years earlier. Minorities in schools had reached 24.9 percent by 2003 with Black Africans the biggest group. "There are so many immigrants in the area I just think local people feel left out and let down by Labour which was supposed to be the party of the working class," said Vincent Waterman, 44, who sells clothes on a local market stall in Barking. "Unfortunately, it's just a powder keg waiting to explode."

Out of touch
Earlier this month, Barking's Labour Member of Parliament, Employment Minister Margaret Hodge, warned that eight out of 10 people in the area were considering voting BNP. Local elections are often used in Britain as a protest vote, a way of registering anger with the government of the day. The main issue in Barking is housing. Local people say their children can no longer afford to buy homes or obtain state-funded housing in the area. "We hear that these people are given grants from other councils to move here and buy our houses," says Sue Glanville, 53. "Our young people can't get on the housing ladder around here any more." The BNP is fielding 356 candidates in the 4,360 council seats being contested in England on May 4. The party says it is not racist, just highlighting the problems of what it describes as uncontrolled immigration. BNP's leader Nick Griffin is a law graduate from the elite Cambridge University who has dubbed Britain a "multi-racial hellhole". He was cleared of inciting racial hatred in February but faces a retrial on May 15. Most people Reuters spoke to were keen to stress they did not have a problem with immigrants themselves, but with the system and mainstream politicians who they say are out of touch. "The problem with modern politicians is that they don't genuinely care about the people at the bottom," said Carl, 50, a former fireman, who also didn't want to give his last name. "If it does happen, if the BNP do well, the politicians will say it's criminal and turn the finger at us. But they don't live where we do and they don't see the daily tensions."
© Reuters

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IN BRITAIN, A FAR-RIGHT PUSH THREATENS TONY BLAIR

Thursday's vote for local councils will gauge views on Labour Party's government and immigration policy.

3/5/2006- When it comes to local elections in Britain, most people usually look the other way. Town hall votes are often low-key affairs, thrilling only to political junkies and voters passionate about speed limits, garbage collection, and street lights. Not so this year. Thursday's vote has taken on far broader significance than usual because of two major developments: the deepening woes of Tony Blair's Labour government and the sudden emergence of the far-right British National Party (BNP) threatening an electoral breakthrough. The results of votes for more than 4,000 councillors in 176 districts will be scrutinized more closely than usual. Will voters, dismayed at a sequence ofgovernment blunders, desert Labour en masse, putting pressure on Mr. Blair to advance his long-promised retirement? Will the new Conservative leader, David Cameron, make his mark in his first election at the helm? And will the BNP, like other anti-immigration parties elsewhere in Europe, achieve a historically high vote? "I can't see there being a good result for us on Thursday night," says Ian Gibson, a Labour member of parliament (MP). "People are very edgy about the whole thing, about minority parties like the BNP winning votes." "Local elections are regarded as a test of the popularity of the major parties, and this time the government has struggled to spin its way out of its troubles," adds John Curtice, a politics professor at Strathclyde University.
Those troubles have involved charges of incompetence and scandal that have stalked Blair's government in recent weeks. After a row over allegations that his party rewarded its donors with seats in the House of Lords, Blair's government is now struggling to explain why, despite talking tough on law and order, it allowed more than 1,000 foreign criminals to remain on Britain's streets, instead of deporting them after they were released from prison. The admission has threatened to cost Home Secretary Charles Clarke his job. A second senior minister, John Prescott, is also under fire for conducting an extra-marital affair on government premises. "If Labour does worse than it did in 2004, when it had its worst local elections in living memory, then that is a sign of trouble," says Mr. Curtice. One party hoping to cash in on the disarray is the BNP. One Labour MP from east London, Margaret Hodge, admitted recently that the party was making big inroads in her constituency, where it won 17 percent in last year's general election. "When I knock on doors I say to people, 'are you tempted to vote BNP?' and many, many, many - 8 out of 10 of the white families - say 'yes,' " she told The Daily Telegraph. "The BNP is now doing far better than any previous far-right party," says Stuart Weir, co-author of a recent report "The BNP: The Roots Of Its Appeal." "The idea that Britons are inoculated against far-right parties by some sort of tolerance gene is very complacent."

Across Europe similar parties have achieved widespread electoral success by appealing to working class concerns, winning votes for calling for more affordable housing, castigating the European Union, and playing on fears of growing extremism among Europe's ever-expanding Muslim populations. "The problem for right-wing parties is that it's very easy for their opponents to paint them as 'the next Hitler,' " says Paul Whiteley, a professor of government at the University of Essex. "But at the same time for the younger generation 1930s fascism is now ancient history." Richard Barnbrook, the BNP's London election coordinator, said voters were now no longer embarrassed about declaring their allegiance. "Three to four years ago voters didn't like to say that they might vote BNP," he says. "But now people are happy to say they vote BNP and they don't care who knows it." Political analysts caution that it will take more than a good result in Thursday's vote to confirm the BNP's ascendancy. "The far-right has always been a minor player in the UK so what's happening is a historic change," says Mr. Whiteley. "But the question is whether these new BNP supporters will become regular, long-term supporters of the party or is this just a one-off protest vote?" It's the protest vote that Blair is wary of as well. Two years ago, local polls produced the poorest showing for Labour - barely a quarter of the vote - and notably led to Blair having a "wobble" about whether to stay in office. Four months later he announced he would step down after another term. He has since admitted this pre-announcement of his retirement was a mistake, as it has resulted in febrile speculation as to when exactly he will step aside. Some Labour MPs feel that he should go sooner rather than later to give his successor, presumed to be finance chief Gordon Brown, plenty of time to prepare for the next general election in 2009.

Dr. Gibson says a poor result Thursday will multiply calls for a speedy handover. "There will be many people [who] will be pressing for a date to be finalized, a program of succession to the throne," says Gibson. "Depending on [the] result there could be some very harsh words. I'd like the handover date to be this September. We need a rebranding of the party in things like health, education, and pensions before the next election." But John Rentoul, a biographer of Tony Blair and political commentator, cautioned that many MPs, however disgruntled, see little point in changing horses. "It's not the same as 1990, when Margaret Thatcher has some bad local election results and was out of office within months, because she was patently leading her party to defeat in a general election. That's not the case with Blair. "I don't think the government has lost the will to live," he adds. "Blair is still very energetic and irrepressible." That was certainly the case in parliament Wednesday when Blair fended off attacks about the prisoner scandal and defended his record by listing his achievements over nine years: a solid economy, low unemployment and inflation, a minimum wage, and higher benefits for pensioners and poor families. "Many people in this country are grateful for the progress that has been made," he said. Just how grateful remains to be seen.
© The Christian Science Monitor

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UK FACES ELECTORAL THREAT FROM FAR RIGHT

3/5/2006- The far-right British National Party (BNP) has long been spurned as a group clinging to the lunatic fringes, the exclusive preserve of the few remaining white supremacists in an otherwise multicultural and tolerant Britain. But as voters across England prepare to cast their ballots in Thursday’s local elections, mainstream political parties are looking anew at the threat posed by the BNP, following reports that almost 25 per cent of the electorate is considering voting for the extremist faction. Ask an average member of the British public to describe a traditional BNP supporter and terms such as “racist” or “Nazi” would probably figure in the answer. But according to several prominent politicians and analysts, deprivation and resentment among the white working classes is breeding fresh support for the party’s hardline stance on immigration, raising the specter of a dramatic upset when voters head to the polls. Employment Minister Margaret Hodge made headlines in April when she claimed that eight out of ten white voters in her east London constituency of Barking were threatening to vote for the BNP. Angered by the lack of affordable housing, which they blame on mass immigration and government favoritism of ethnic minorities, many are deserting their traditional Labor roots and flocking to the far right party, she said. "They can't get a home for their children, they see black and ethnic minority communities moving in and they are angry," Hodge told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper on 16 April. "When I knock on doors I say to people, 'are you tempted to vote BNP?' and many, many, many - eight out of ten of the white families - say 'yes'.” "That's something we have never seen before, in all my years. Even when people voted BNP, they used to be ashamed to vote BNP. Now they are not." Hodge said white working class families were frightened by the pace of demographic change in her area, and denied such sentiments were rooted in racism. "It is a fear of change. It is gobsmacking change."

The influx of asylum seekers had not been accompanied by a proportionate rise in public funding, which meant local services often had insufficient resources to cope with both the existing and immigrant populations, she said. The minister, a close ally of Prime Minister Tony Blair, blamed the phenomenon on a “lack of leadership” in the Labor Party and an unwillingness of the political classes to address race and immigration issues. “Part of the reason they switch to the BNP is they feel no one else is listening to them," she said. Hodge described the issue as “incredibly serious”, warning: "If we are not careful and we don't respond and learn the lessons from Barking and Dagenham we could see that same fear of change trickle out elsewhere." Her comments were reinforced by a study by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust published on 17 April, which indicated that 24 per cent of voters in London and one in six nationwide would consider voting for the BNP. This figure was echoed by a YouGov poll for the Telegraph on 21 April, which found that 7 per cent of voters were preparing to back the far right party, with a total of 24 per cent contemplating doing so. The Joseph Rowntree report cited feelings of "powerlessness and frustration" in white working class areas as one of the key reasons for the shift, alongside BNP attempts to exploit such sentiments by disseminating lies about the benefits afforded to immigrants. Jon Cruddas, Labor member of parliament for Dagenham and one of the report’s authors, said the BNP was “on the verge of a major political breakthrough”. The government had neglected traditionally Labor-voting, working class groups, he said, focusing instead on middle class swing voters who decided national elections. This had led to a feeling of “disenfranchisement” in areas such as Dagenham, where residents were concerned about local issues such as the availability of affordable housing. "The cornerstone of New Labor has been the assumption that working class voters in communities like mine have nowhere else to go, as they would never vote Tory [Conservative]," he wrote. "Yet this mixture of population movement and policy failure alongside the national discussion around race has meant that many are now developing a class allegiance with the far right," he concluded.

The report lists a number of myths propagated by the BNP in order to exploit feelings of frustration in poor white neighborhoods. In the 2005 general election, the party distributed leaflets in Barking and Dagenham claiming that African immigrants were secretly being given US$88,000-grants to buy houses in the area, a claim that has since proved to be entirely untrue. It eventually took 16.9 per cent of the vote in Barking - this was in fact less than expected, partly due to a strong counter-campaign by the anti-fascist organization Searchlight. The BNP’s strategy for the 2006 local elections is vehemently anti-Islamic - after having sought to capitalize on the 7 July bombings in London last year with a leaflet entitled: “If only they had listened to the BNP.” The party is campaigning in Birmingham with a warning that the city could have Islamic law imposed within ten years. The initial reaction to such allegations from mainstream political parties was that to answer them would give the BNP the oxygen of publicity, the report noted. However, by failing to combat the claims, mainstream politicians allowed them to become fact, it said. However, a YouGov poll published by the Telegraph newspaper on 21 April suggested it was in fact from the Conservative Party, rather than Labor, that the BNP was leaching most support. Those findings were backed by political experts from the London School of Economics, who told a press briefing last week that as the Conservative Party moved towards the center ground under recently elected leader David Cameron, the BNP and other nationalist parties such as the UK Independence Party were siphoning off votes on the right.

Tony Travers, director of the LSE’s Greater London Group, said it was relatively uncommon for Labor to lose support to the BNP, partly because the trade unions and the rest of the Labor movement would unite behind the party in the face of a BNP threat. In fact, in urban areas where Labor had neglected its base, voters tended to turn to the Liberal Democrats, he said. Asked by ISN Security Watch why some Labor parliamentarians were making so much of the threat from the BNP, Travers said it could be seen as an attempt to “excuse in advance” potential losses to the party in their particular constituencies. Travers predicted that because the BNP was only standing 336 candidates - across a total of 4,360 seats - the local elections would not see a huge surge in the actual number of votes for the party, but there could be a significant impact in the number of seats won. The BNP was targeting areas with large white working class populations and a high number of recent immigrants, particularly Muslims, he said. In Birmingham - a city where some 30 per cent of the population comes from ethnic minority groups - the party was fielding candidates in every ward, while northern towns were being similarly targeted, he noted. There was a significant, and rising, far right presence in Britain, he said, noting that in the local elections two years ago, the BNP and UKIP had between them garnered 23 per cent of the national vote. Travers also attributed the rise of the BNP to its relative success in toning down its “racist, Nazi” image. While Party Leader Nick Griffin was currently facing a retrial on race hate charges, he noted, he was generally a more "telegenic" figure than previous BNP leaders and had a comparatively well developed ideology.

Patrick Dunleavy, professor of government at LSE, said asylum and immigration would no doubt be a central issue in the elections, because of “more or less disguised ethnic tensions”. The government’s admission last week that over 1,000 foreign prisoners who should have been considered for deportation had been accidentally released since 1999 - and that some have since committed serious crimes - played directly into the hands of the BNP, he added. The Conservatives had failed to capitalize on this because Cameron had in general avoided getting drawn into immigration and race issues, Dunleavy continued, and had recently denounced the BNP in a very forthright manner. Newly devised policies such as fielding a higher proportion of ethnic minority candidates than existed in the population would also anger Conservatives on the right wing of the party, he said. The mounting public concern about immigration is underlined by a YouGov poll for Sky News last week, which indicated that 59 per cent of voters supported the idea of halting all further immigration to Britain - when they were not told it was a BNP policy. That support wavered somewhat when the policy was associated with the party but still remained startlingly high - when told the idea came from the BNP, 48 per cent said they agreed with it. But James Hulme of the New Local Government Network, a London-based think-tank, played down the BNP’s prospects, saying there was a big difference between considering voting for the party and actually doing it. “It is a concern, and I think it is now recognized by all the major political parties that there is a threat from the BNP that needs to be countered,” he told ISN Security Watch. “Whether that will materialize into lots of council seats, I don’t think it will.”

Hulme said the BNP was finding support both in poor areas and more affluent neighborhoods, wherever residents felt they had no influence on local or national affairs. “The majority of people who vote BNP … do not necessarily do it for racist reasons but because of disenchantment with the political process,” he said. “There’s a wider question about political legitimacy.” He also agreed that the Conservatives’ move towards the center ground was partly responsible for the phenomenon, pointing to an increasing “fragmentation” of Britain’s political parties. But while Hulme acknowledged that there had been a “very worrying” rise in support for BNP policies over the last ten years, he said that in past elections where there had been a perceived threat from the party, people had voted tactically to keep it out. “If there is a BNP threat in a local area, it will increase turnout and actually help Labor and Liberal Democrat turnout,” he added. James Graham of London-based think tank the New Politics Network, agreed it was vital that local government was seen to be addressing residents’ concerns. “We do see it essentially as a protest vote, an indication of disenfranchisement,” he told ISN Security Watch. His organization expected the BNP to make modest gains in some areas at the May elections, he said; however, from past experience, it was likely they would not be able to sustain these increases as they “tended to fall apart” once in local government. “People learn the lesson the hard way that voting BNP tends to get you fairly inadequate local government representation,” he said. “It’s a means of expression, but a fairly high-risk strategy.” Graham recommended that local authorities be given the tools to ensure they could address specific concerns. “We need stronger local government, a more democratic and more open local system … That will have the effect that people won’t use local government as a protest vote.” With just one day left to campaign before voters head to the polls, there is little any political party can now do to prevent potential losses to the BNP. All that is left is to watch, and, if the predictions prove correct, work to prevent a repeat of the phenomenon at the 2009 general elections, at which BNP gains could have far more damaging repercussions.
© ISN Security Watch

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FANNING THE FLAMES OF WHITE DISSATISFACTION (uk)

By exaggerating the BNP threat, national politicians have gifted the far-right party a publicity windfall

2/5/2006- Last week was a big one for racists in Britain. News channels and the mainstream media couldn't seem to get enough of the British National Party (BNP). Television interviews and online polls ensured that the BNP and Nick Griffin's smug face dominated the news agenda, all this just days before the local government elections in England. Political pundits have argued that the surge in media coverage of the BNP is largely down to comments made by employment minister Margaret Hodge and findings from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. In a survey the charity found that up to 25 per cent of voters said that they "might vote" for the far-right party. The Trust asked focus groups about their voting views and looked at a series of opinion polls that asked people which party they might consider voting for. One of the report's authors, Professor Peter John of Manchester University, said: "This is a very hypothetical question. It is not what party you will vote for, but who you might vote for." The flames were further fanned by Margaret Hodge who said that many white working-class voters in her east London constituency of Barking had said they would consider voting for the BNP. Hodge told the Sunday Telegraph: "When I knock on doors I say to people 'are you tempted to vote BNP?' and many, many, many ...say 'yes'. Even when people voted BNP, they used to be ashamed to vote BNP. Now they are not."

Legitimacy
Her comments were quickly shot down by Labour party ministers who felt that it added unnecessary legitimacy to the far-right group. Home Office minister Andy Burnham said: "I am worried that if we give them too much coverage, it can back up the notion that they are a potent protest vote." Milena Buyum, vice-chair of the National Assembly Against Racism, says that the level of coverage is utterly unjustified. "The amount of publicity that the BNP is getting is completely disproportionate to their actual [strength] in society," she says. "This is not an ordinary mainstream political party. Many of their leaders have got criminal convictions ranging from racist attacks to sending explosives to particular people's addresses, fraud, and paedophilia. "There is no other political party with such a record of membership and leadership. I agree with the point that Diane Abbott made in The Voice that to link the problems around housing to changes in demography in a place like Barking, would have the simple result that the BNP could announce that eight out of 10 people could vote for them. "We are concerned that the [labelling of the BNP as a protest vote party] only helps to legitimise an illegitimate political organisation. Its not at all helpful to refer to them as a protest vote - they are a racist vote!" Karen Chouhan, former director of the 1990 Trust and now a race equality adviser, echoes Buyum's comments: "There's been far too much coverage given to the BNP. It all started with this question of 'would you consider voting for the BNP?' That was the wrong question. It's a leading question. Had people been asked 'would you vote for these parties', it would have been much better." She adds that too much attention is being paid to the possible inroads that the BNP could make, rather than on the racist hatred that they are peddling. "The analysis we've seen is about disaffected white people - not about the Islamic hate that they are peddling," she says. "There seems to be a huge gap in the analysis without talking about the effects on black people. We've seen this before around Stephen Lawrence. Have we so quickly forgotten that race analysis?"

Investiation
Unite Against Fascism has asked the police to investigate comments by the BNP press officer Phill Edwards, for incitement to racial hatred, after comments he made were reported on Sky News last week. Edwards said amongst other things: "Black kids are going to grow up dysfunctional, with low IQs, as low achievers that drain our welfare benefits and the prison system and probably go and mug you." The comments can be viewed on the Sky News website. Lee Jasper, on behalf of Unite Against Fascism, said: "The BNP's mask has once again slipped revealing its ever-present racist character. Despite its claims not to be a racist organisation, here is clear evidence that they remain a nasty, racist and fascist organisation. "These comments are worthy of Hitler and represent a crude articulation of his racist ideology of the superiority of the white race. "We have decided to refer these comments to the CRE as we believe the BNP are promoting and inciting racial hatred. We have also made an official complaint to the police on the contents of these comments. "We call on all those who oppose the BNP to respond by voting in massive numbers in the local elections to ensure that the BNP are roundly defeated and the politics of racial hatred are rejected." Much of the media interest has been around poor working class communities, disillusioned over high unemployment and exploited into believing that the problem lies with immigrant communities. When the BNP stated recently that non-whites in Britain were only British in the "civic sense", the Liberal Democrats were quick to condemn them. Former Liberal Democrat president Lord (Navnit) Dholakia said, "The BNP has shown its true colours. It is a racist organisation which does not subscribe to equality of opportunity for all British citizens. Over 70 per cent of UK ethnic minorities were born in the United Kingdom and are proud to be British. They make a substantial contribution towards the social, political and economic life of this country."

Lib Dem MEP Saj Karim added: "To claim that only those of English, Scots, Irish or Welsh background are truly British has once again shown the BNP to be what they truly are - fundamentally racist. Do the BNP believe that the Olympic gold medals won by Kelly Holmes and Amir Khan were not won by real British people?"  Anti-racist campaigners have come out in force over the past few weeks to ensure that black and minority ethnic communities turn out and vote on 4 May. Groups such as Unite Against Fascism have held campaigns in places such as Barking, Bexley, Greenwich and Burnley, to remind communities of the threat. The National Assembly Against Racism's Buyum says: "The message to black people everywhere that the BNP are targeting - and they are standing in every seat in Birmingham, and in places like Leeds [which have] growing black communities - [is that] everybody has a responsibility to go out to vote. "Whoever they vote for, it is quite important that BNP support is minimised because they represent a very serious danger in local areas where they stand. "It's been known that local attacks increase in areas where they stand. They create an atmosphere where our communities become targets. "We must absolutely make sure they do not get the support." But has too much focus been on the black community and not enough on reminding the white community of their role? Woolley disagrees and points out that the political power lies within the hands of the black community. "You have to bear in mind that in places Dagenham and Barking, the black vote can destroy the BNP," he says. "Our safety and security cannot be dependent on the white vote. We must take responsibility for resoundingly defeating these rabid racists. Tackling the BNP is just one part of the story. The more subtle forms of racism permeate too many of our local authorities. [The practice of] nearly all white local authorities [having] policies that pay scant regard to the concerns of black people must end.

"Overall control of local authorities such as Islington, Haringey Lambeth and Southwark are on a knife's edge. We've got to make them all accountable to BME concerns. The black vote will decide who controls about half of all London authorities. "The only question to be asked is 'will we exercise that franchise and demand justice?'" The local government elections hold the greatest opportunity for voters to make changes within their communities. Local councils decide on council tax, education, housing, and refuse collection - all basic services that affect all of our lives. Yet the black community has been traditionally hesitant to turn out to vote or stand as candidates. "These local authorities have million of pounds of our money - are we really suggesting that we don't want to say how it is spent?" asks Woolley. "These are the issues that affect our day-to-day life - are we saying we don't want a voice around those tables, upon which our children's future depends? Whichever way you dress this up, black people have too much at stake not to vote."
© The Voice-Online

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FAR-RIGHT BNP WILL FIGHT ALL 40 SEATS(uk)

24/4/2006- If the British National party wins even a single council seat in Birmingham it would be a propaganda coup but would leave it as far as ever from achieving any real power there. That is set to remain firmly in the hands of a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition. The far-right party is for the first time contesting all 40 seats up for re-election in the UK's second largest city. It hopes to exploit nervousness among poor whites over predictions that Birmingham will become a majority non-white city in 10 years or so. The inherent problem for a party that accepts only whites as members is that the demographic trend it opposes means its support will dwindle over the long term. About a third of Brummies are non-white, with Asian Muslims the largest minority. Simon Darby, West Midlands organiser for the BNP, says: "Previously we did not have the strength or infrastructure to contest the whole of Birmingham but we have built up support since the 2004 Euro elections when I came close to becoming an MEP." The party, which hashistoric connections with a racist branch of the skinhead youth cult, is most likely to win votes in poor white estates on the fringes of the city. The BNP already has one councillor in Sandwell, over the border in the Black Country, and two more in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire. It is on a hiding to nothing in central Birminghamdistricts such as Small Heath, which is predominantly Asian, and in areas where divisions between blacks and whites are increasingly blurred by mixed race relationships. Sir Albert Bore, long-standing Labour group leader, says the 40 BNPcandidates "will raise the temperature but I do not think they will winany seats. The Labour party has learnt its lesson from Sandwell."
© The Financial Times

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A SURGE OF FAR-RIGHT SUPPORT IS NOTHING NEW - AND NEVER LASTS(opinion, uk)

By Peter Kellner, chairman of YouGov.

23/4/2006- Mainstream politicians tend to make two errors about the far right. The first is to panic in the face of short-lived bursts of its electoral popularity. The second is to fail to address the concerns that provoke these surges. The lessons from the past are consistent. When Oswald Mosley created his New Party in 1931, he believed it would thrive in times of economic depression. An early opportunity came with a byelection in Ashton under Lyne. When its candidate scored 16 per cent, the main parties fretted that this would lead to greater success. Instead, the party's support quickly fell back. It never came anywhere near winning a seat at Westminster and was subsumed into the British Union of Fascists. Fast forward to 1973 when the National Front won 16 per cent of the vote in a West Bromwich byelection. The party fielded 54 candidates at the following general election but averaged just 3 per cent. Even in West Bromwich its support halved. A greater scare occurred in September 1993, when Derek Beackon was elected as a BNP councillor for Millwall. But he lost his seat eight months later. The BNP's recent record has given more cause for concern. Since 2002, it has won more than 20 council seats. Last year it achieved its highest vote in a parliamentary seat: 17 per cent in Barking, where Labour's MP, Margaret Hodge, last weekend expressed fears of a BNP breakthrough in next week's borough elections. Yet even now there are signs the BNP's support remains fragile. In the 2001 general election, the party won 14 per cent across Oldham's two constituencies. Last year its support fell to 6 per cent. Last month, in Keighley, the BNP lost a seat on Bradford Council when Labour won by a comfortable 603 votes. Even in Hodge's home turf, the party, having won a seat on Barking Council in September 2004, lost it again last June.

However, could the present surge in BNP support prove to be more lasting? According to YouGov's latest survey for the Daily Telegraph BNP support now stands at 7 per cent. Almost one elector in four says they have seriously considered voting BNP in the past or would do so now. Part of this surge is a response to last week's publicity about the BNP. But YouGov polls suggest there is a fundamental range of concerns that the BNP is able to tap. It is not, in the main, crude racism. The proportion of Britons offended by the notion of Asian newsagents and black footballers is no more than 5 per cent. There is, though, a deeper set of cultural fears. Of all the BNP's messages, the one that has the greatest resonance is that Britain these days 'almost seems like a foreign country'. This is caused by a combination of insecurity, nostalgia for an idealised past, the collapse of traditional class and party allegiances, and immigration of all types (a generalised fear of outsiders rather than an objection to skin colour). When the tinder of local social problems, such as housing, is added and the BNP lights the match, we should not be surprised when fire erupts. Until the conditions and sentiments that feed their bursts of popularity are tackled, BNP popularity will always be liable to revive.
© The Observer

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THE DANGEROUS DISAFFECTION THAT SUCCOURS THE BNP (leader, uk)

23/4/2006- What consolation is there for the 2,300 people who face redundancy when Peugeot's Ryton factory in Coventry closes later this year? Perhaps they will take heart from the Prime Minister's assertion that they are the victims of a higher power or from the fact that some Frenchmen are also getting the sack. 'It is inevitable that there will be job losses from time to time,' Mr Blair told the Commons. 'Peugeot has also taken out two shifts at its French plant, resulting in the loss of about 1,500 ... I suspect that this is to do with the global market.' Mr Blair believes that a flexible labour market makes Britain more attractive for investment which creates more jobs than are lost when old-fashioned industries go to the wall. Gordon Brown and David Cameron agree. In fact, everyone with a claim to represent the centre of British politics touts the superiority of the easy hire-and-fire approach to work over more rigid continental models. Our unemployment rate, the lowest in the G8, supports this view. The Prime Minister is right that there is no long-term gain in protecting jobs once global competition has made them obsolete. But he is wrong if he thinks a flexible labour market insulates Britain from the social side-effects of unemployment.

The Ryton jobs did not move to a more dynamic corner of the UK, but to Slovakia. Meanwhile, at Longbridge, the West Midlands car plant that was shut down last year, ex-Rover employees found work that was, on average, significantly worse paid - by around £3,500 per year - than their old jobs. Former Longbridge workers report high levels of job dissatisfaction, anxiety and other health problems associated with mass redundancy. Insecurity about the future is not limited to the manufacturing sector. The fear of losing out to better-skilled, younger or foreign workers is a necessary part of competition. It is built into the globalised economic model. This insecurity does not show up on the national balance sheet, but it can have unintended consequences in politics. For example, among those currently fearing for their jobs are Labour councillors. The party is braced for a beating in local elections in May. Traditionally, voters use the local polls as a midterm exercise in punishing the government. But this year, disaffection has acquired a nasty hue since it seems, on poll evidence, to be benefiting the far-right British National Party. The BNP is fielding more candidates than ever before. One estimate puts them within reach of 70 council seats.

The electoral prospects of these skinheads in suits should not be overstated. Such threats have come and gone in the past. Once elected, far-right candidates are soon exposed as incompetent chancers and removed at the next poll. They get more publicity from panicky mainstream politicians than they could ever generate for themselves. But it is not sufficient to belittle the BNP's support or to assume that it will go away if denied the oxygen of publicity. The BNP does not get votes because it is especially gifted at articulating the fears of white, working class and lower middle class Britons; it gets them because it is the only party that specifically targets that group. The fact that it stokes their concerns about social housing or welfare allocations with malicious rumour and xenophobia does not make those concerns less real. The three main political parties, meanwhile, are all scrambling for the same terrain in the liberal centre, which they see as the key to success at Westminster. They need affluent, middle class support and to avoid expressing sympathy with the grievances of poor whites because those grievances so often have a racial component. It is hard to disentangle the bewilderment of a white family that cannot get a council house or find work (legitimate political complaints) from the view that asylum seekers must necessarily be to blame (a racist falsehood). Since there are no obvious policies to assuage the feelings of those who say they no longer 'feel at home in their own country', and since there are not enough of these people to swing a national poll, they are abandoned to the BNP or told they should be ashamed of their views, which amounts to the same thing.

MPs are right not to court hardcore BNP supporters. Racist bigots should not be appeased. But wider BNP sympathy is the accidental product of failings that lie elsewhere - in the mainstream of politics. The current centrist consensus is, as it happens, the right one. Liberal markets delivering global competitiveness are our best hope for national prosperity. But we must accept that there is a connection between the big three parties' cosy agreement on that point and the bubbling up of nationalism on the fringes. Insecurity in the face of global forces breeds fear and reaction. The far right may never be eliminated from British politics, but it can be neutralised if the parties that have a history of representing the white working class - Labour and the Tories - find a way to re-engage with them. They must find the language that will address genuine grievances in a way that is more convincing than either Mr Blair's glib market dogma or the BNP's grubby racism.
© The Observer

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EXPOSED: BNP'S CAMPAIGN OF LIES(uk)

Lies, half-truths and propaganda: how the BNP fuels racial tension
By Ian Herbert and Emily Dugan


22/4/2006- The British National Party's pursuit of seats in next month's local elections is built on false claims designed to create racial prejudice and irrational fears among voters, according to anti-BNP activists. At a time of mounting alarm over the BNP's prospects of making gains in the elections, a dossier of the party's locally targeted literature has prompted fears that the claims being spread by the party are being accepted as fact by some voters. Concern over the party's potential success in the local elections were triggered this week by Margaret Hodge, the employment minister, who claimed that eight out of 10 people in her east London constituency of Barking were threatening to vote for the party. The BNP dossier includes bogus claims that a 15-year-old was raped by an immigrant; that an "Africans for Essex" scheme has been handing out £50,000 for Africans to move into the county; and that one council had a secret deal with one of its neighbours to transfer 3,000 asylum-seekers to the area. Searchlight, which has collected much of the literature, is engaged in its strongest campaign yet to attempt to ensure that the BNP does not make gains in the approximately 60 council wards where they appear to have the best chance of success. Searchlight has been at work for weeks putting together list a database of 33,000 constituents in 42 target wards, including voters of ethnic minority extraction, whom it believes will be prepared to vote to keep out the BNP.

Since February, telephone canvassers have been at work encouraging these individuals to cast a vote and prevent the BNP slipping into seats because of poor voter turnout on 4 May. The main areas of threat include Kirklees and Calderdale in West Yorkshire, Barking and Dagenham in London and the West Midlands, especially Birmingham, where the BNP is fielding a full slate of candidates and has invested considerable resources. "In some seats, 100 votes either way could help the BNP get in and in these areas, turnout is everything," said Nick Lowles of Searchlight. " Our job in the last two weeks has been turning those voters out and we have activists all over the country ready to work in the vital last 72 hours." Some anti-BNP groups have not found Mrs Hodge's comments useful, since they convey the mistaken impression that the threat of the far right has not been anticipated and prepared for. A report by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust said in a report this week that up to 25 per cent of voters indicated they "might" vote for the party. The BNP's campaign strategy is consistent: create anxiety and rumour about immigrants in constituencies, with locally targeted literature. Much of this is disseminated in mock local newspapers, such as the Dagenham Patriot, the Tipton Patriot and the Huddersfield Crusader. In Calderdale, West Yorkshire, where eight BNP candidates are standing, many voters seem to believe that a former factory is to be converted into luxury flats for asylum seekers - though this allegation has not been found anywhere in published form - and that the area is in line for 1,000 extra asylum seekers.

"The BNP will sometimes take half a fact and build on it. The stuff is very cleverly worded," said Tim Swift, a local Labour councillor who has been campaigning this week. "As a result, people are coming up to us who are extremely concerned about issues which do not exist." Searchlight has counteracted the BNP's local "newspapers" with a print-run of 420,000 "newspapers" of its own. The Attorney General's decision to bring race-hate charges against BNP leader Nick Griffin, resulting in his acquittal and attendant publicity on the same day that protests were staged in London over the cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed, has clearly helped the BNP. "There is no doubt that they have played on that," said Mr Lowles. "There's also been the recent Abu Hamza trial. They have been able to play on a perception that Islam is an intolerant religion." The BNP denied that it was making up facts. "No political party is spot on. It's not a precise science but this is not falsification," said BNP press officer Phil Edwards. "Of course councils will challenge some of these facts but they are not going to tell you much, are they?"

How the far-right's claims fall far short of the truth

Dagenham
THE CLAIM: An "Africans for Essex" scheme offers "up to £50,000 together with a 75 per cent mortgage, which allows immigrants to buy houses here in Dagenham".
THE REALITY: There is not and never has been such a scheme to help immigrants acquire homes in Dagenham

Amber Valley
THE CLAIM: The rape of a 15-year-old white girl was committed by an immigrant.
THE REALITY: A British-born white man was convicted of the attack.

Huddersfield
THE CLAIM: Native British children are being disadvantaged by being denied tuberculosis vaccinations which are being given to children of high-risk immigrant groups whose parents were born abroad.
THE REALITY: British children have less than a one in 100,000 risk of contracting TB and are at higher risk from the vaccination, which can cause adverse reactions, than from the disease.

Halifax
THE CLAIM: A mill on the local Nestlé factory site, now empty, was to be converted into luxury flats for asylum-seekers.
THE REALITY: Work has not even started on the site, so there is no clear idea that the flats are to be luxury, let alone who is to live in them.

Thurrock
THE CLAIM: The local council had a secret deal with one of its neighbouring authorities to transfer 3,000 asylum-seekers to the area.
THE REALITY: There is absolutely no evidence of this supposed transfer.

Tipton
THE CLAIM: The local library is to be turned into a mosque.
THE REALITY: The plan was for a community youth centre that would be available to all.

Wibsey
THE CLAIM: "Ethnic minority areas" receive disproportionately more council funds.
THE REALITY: Totally unfounded.

Dudley
THE CLAIM: A planning application had been made for a mosque, which would become a reality if locals did not vote for the BNP.
THE REALITY: Completely false. The local Labour Party has taken up the issue with the council's legal department.

Stoke
THE CLAIM: The local council bought land "with a commercial value of hundreds of thousands of pounds ... with the express intent" of giving it to a religious group to build a £1.5m mosque in the town. Council policies give priority to "ethnic minorities, refugees and outsiders" while the elderly non-immigrants lose handouts.
THE REALITY: The land was derelict and the council had struggled to sell it, despite putting it on the market twice. There is no documentary evidence of the disparity in council policies.

Calder Valley
THE CLAIM: "Hundreds of local workers have been made redundant and replaced by asylum-seekers, many from eastern Europe, who are given their jobs simply because employers can pay them less than they could local people. "
THE REALITY: There is no evidence of this. If employers attempted it, they could be pursued under employment law by those laid off. Nestlé has employed eastern Europeans on seasonal contracts because local employment agencies have not been able to find enough workers to fill jobs.
© Independent Digital

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