NEWS - Archive March 2007

Headlines 30 March, 2007

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International Action Week Against Racism 2007

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INTERNATIONAL WOMEN\'S DAY 2007

Headlines 2 March, 2007

Headlines 30 March, 2007

INSTRUMENTS USED FOR ARBITRARY RESTRICTION FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOMS (Russia)

Anti-extremist legislation and enforcement as instruments used for arbitrary restriction of fundamental freedoms in Russia. 
On March 29, 2007 in Vienna, at the
OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Freedom of Assembly, Association and Expression, the SOVA Center organized a briefing dedicated to the situation with these basic freedoms in Russia. Alexander Verkhovsky, the director of SOVA Center, presented his report at the briefing. We are publishing the report.

30/3/2007- At the beginning of this decade, the Russian society associated extremism primarily with the ultra-nationalists and their illegal activities. There was an ongoing debate around the allegedly inadequate legal framework for counteracting hate crime and hate speech. As a result of these debates and government decisions, the theme of extremism has substantially expanded, while the legislation in this sphere has toughened. We should admit that while the effectiveness of counteracting hate crime and hate speech has improved, it has not improved in a major way. On the other hand, threats to fundamental freedoms are very real.

The Federal Law on Counteracting Extremist Activity was adopted in the summer of 2002 and updated in June 2006. It defines extremist activity (synonymous to extremism, as set out by this law) through a long list of acts of a fairly broad spectrum in terms of their public danger. The definition (see appendix) fails to establish shared characteristics of an extremist activity, so the list can be easily modified as needed - as we witnessed last July. The definition of extremism includes "terrorism" (defined in the relevant law), attempts to seize power, and other extremely dangerous acts, but on the other hand, it includes acts which are less dangerous, and even those which do not need to be regulated by any law - let alone a specialized, very tough law: for example, affirmation of religious superiority – natural for very many believers - may be qualified as "extremism"; similarly, any act (or even threat) of violence against any representative of public authority, regardless of motivation, seriousness of violence or threat, context of the situation – falls under the definition of "extremism."

Any - even merely technical - assistance to extremist acts is also qualified as extremism, as is public justification or excuse of such actions, radically placing the freedom of expression under threat. So the single term "extremism" describes a mixture of very different actions, enabling arbitrary and selective enforcement, and even making such enforcement inevitable, because it is impossible to prosecute the so-called extremism in all instances mentioned in the anti-extremist law. This excessively broad definition is combined with excessively tough sanctions against organizations and media outlets (it is important to remember that the law targets primarily groups, rather than individuals). Any organization may be closed by court, even without prior warning, and its further activity banned in any form, just for one incident of "extremism" (while there is also a procedure for issuing warnings). The same applies to media - even though you are almost certain to find something which can be labeled as "extremist" among hundreds of articles published by a typical newspaper. Organizations are supposed to publicly denounce the activity of their leader if such activity is found to be extremist. Organizations can be suspended for up to six months in an out-of-court procedure if they are as much as suspected of extremism. Should a suspended group continue its operation, administrative liability may apply; should a banned organization carry on, its members face up to two and its leaders up to three years of prison under art 282-2 of the Criminal Code.

In contrast, an individual cannot be accused of extremism per se; s/he may face charges for certain elements of extremism, including the Criminal Code article 282 (incitement to hatred based on ethnic, religious or other group identity). Art. 280 of the Criminal Code - which before 2002 punished for "appeals to a forceful overthrow of power" - has been reduced to "public appeals to extremist activity" punishable by up to 3 years of prison or up to 5 years if mass media are used. Incidentally, the type of extremist activity encouraged by the defendant does not need to be a crime, because the definition of "extremism" is broader and goes beyond crimes listed in the Criminal Code. Over the past year, the notion of extremism has been increasingly used in the Russian legislation. It was referenced, in particular, in early 2006 as part of the restrictive amendments of the NGO legislation: someone convicted for extremism cannot participate in NGO activities. The reform of electoral legislation in the autumn of 2006 also made a reference to the concept of "extremism." It goes without saying that extremist activity may cause a candidate to be banned from elections. But a candidate may be banned even for something s/he did in the past (for a period equal to his/her prospective term in office, if elected) in case such acts are found extremist now (art.76 p. 9 (g) of the framework law on elections).

When people argue for such draft laws, they usually highlight the most dangerous aspects in the definition of extremism, such as terrorism, but the enforcement is based on the legal definition in its entirety, so the liberty guaranteed to citizens continuously – and rapidly – shrinks. One could assume that the dangerous features of anti-extremist legislation outlined above are due to the lawmakers’ errors, and the enforcement will make necessary adjustments; however, the enforcement increasingly proves that critics of the anti-extremist laws were right in their concerns. So far, the Law on Counteracting Extremist Activity and pursuant Criminal Code provisions have rarely been enforced, even against the progressively active neo-Nazi and other extremist groups in Russia (this law was only used to close a few ultra-nationalist papers and organizations). Apparently, it can be explained by the inertia of the law enforcement system. In the last couple of years we have observed a growing intensity of enforcement. Unfortunately, we have observed a simultaneous increase in the number of cases where enforcement of anti-extremist legislation is used for unlawful restriction of fundamental freedoms. Moreover, in the latter cases the enforcement is often tougher than in cases of suppressing really criminal gangs, such as neo-Nazi.

The following are a few brief examples of enforcement.
The best known is the unlawful conviction under art. 282 of the Criminal Code of human rights defender Stanislav Dmitrievsky in February 2006. He was convicted (and sentenced to a probational term) for a publication of statements made by Chechen separatist leaders Aslan Maskhadov and Akhmed Zakayev. The prosecution was triggered by the names, rather than the texts of their statements, which, however critical they were with regard to the Russian government, did not seek to incite any ethnic or religions hatred. In October, the organization led by Dmitrievsky was liquidated, because members refused to disown their leader and did not oust him from the governing bodies. We note that these legal provisions had never been used before, e.g. not a single neo-Nazi group was liquidated in this manner.

The toughest sentence ever since articles 280 and 282 were first applied - five years of prison under both articles combined - were meted out in November 2006 to active propagandist for the Chechen independence Boris Stomakhin. We believe that he was, indeed, guilty under both articles. But it should also be admitted that the punishment for his publications on a rarely visited website and in a newsletter with a tiny print-run was disproportionally tough (the case has not been heard by the appeal court yet). The most blatant neo-Nazi or similar agitators have never been sentenced to such a tough punishment (in absence of other offenses).

The most prominent example of large-scale anti-extremist enforcement in Russia is the suppression of actual or assumed members of the radical Islamic Hizb ut-Tahrir Party and members of other independent Moslem groups. In some cases, Hizb ut-Tahrir theoretically justifies violence and even terror, and engages in rather aggressive Islamist propaganda – therefore an investigation of their activity in Russia could potentially produce sufficient evidence for a prosecution of this group as extremist. It is known that Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned in a number of West European countries. But the Russian authorities, unfortunately, chose a different approach.

On 14 February 2003, the Russian Supreme Court found 15 organizations, including Hizb ut-Tahrir, to be terrorist - even though it is known that Hizb ut-Tahrir, as a matter of principle, is resolved not to use violence, and it is exactly what makes them different from similar radical Islamist groups. As long as Hizb ut-Tahrir has been found to be a terrorist organization, it is also considered extremist. As long as it is banned, being a member of this organization is a crime under art. 282-2 of the Criminal Code. This charge was envoked to prosecute many people who were actually involved in Hizb ut-Tahrir, assumed to be involved, or had nothing to do with the group. In fact, the law enforcement authorities could not resist the temptation of fighting terror in a "quick and easy" manner, which produced a real conveyor of arbitrariness.

Anti-extremist legislation is constructed in such a way that a single finding of an individual, group or text to be extremist entails more findings of this type through the mechanisms of "assistance" or "justification" or "excuse."

For example, one of Russian Muftis Nafigulla Ashirov, while he was not a supporter of Hizb ut-Tahrir, wrote an opinion denying any presence of incitement to violence or hatred in the four main brochures produced by the group (these brochures are commonly used as evidence in criminal proceedings against them). It is possible that Mufti Ashirov was not entirely correct, but he certainly had the right to disagree with the above judgment of the Supreme Court in this particular format. Nevertheless, he was officially warned against extremist activity after publishing the opinion, even though, contrary to what the prosecutor said, Ashirov did not even quote from the materials of the banned group. Moreover, the Memorial Human Rights Society received the same warning for publishing Ashirov’s opinion on their website, even though it was obvious that Memorial did not disseminate Hizb ut-Tahrir’ ideas. As of the end-2006, courts of two instances denied Ashirov and Memorial their appeals of these warnings.

Anti-extremist legislation is designed, among other things, to uphold the public value of tolerance. Understandably, it is always difficult to regulate and to establish legal boundaries of the freedom of expression. Even a well-designed law subsequently requires a lot of work to ensure its appropriate enforcement. In Russia, legislation often fails to deter or suppress even the most outrageous promoters of hatred. For example, prosecutors refused to open criminal investigations into public threats of death voiced by neo-Nazi against certain human rights defenders. On the other hand, excessive restrictions of the freedom of expression result from attempts to promote tolerance. It applies in particular to protecting religious sentiments. The re-printing of the Danish cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammad did not only result in warnings of closure issued to a number of newspapers, but also in a criminal prosecution against an editor-in-chief of a paper New region + (Vologda region) under art. 282 of the Criminal Code - she was acquitted only after cassation of the original sentence.

Zyryanskaya Zhizn, a paper published in the Komi Republic, was warned against extremist activity in 2006 just for neutral reporting of nationalist meetings. The warning led to financial difficulties, and the paper is now published on the Internet only. At the moment, a request of its liquidation is pending before a court. The paper came under attack for quoting a politically incorrect pronouncement of a local official, in response to the interviewing journalist's question about politically incorrect lyrics of some songs.

On 25 December 2006, priest of ethnic Mari heathen faith Victor Tanakov was sentenced to compulsory labor under the art. 282 for publishing a brochure where he asserted supremacy of his faith over all others. He was found guilty of incitement to religious and ethnic hatred, although the text of the brochure contained no evidence of incitement to hatred against people of different faith or ethnicity. He was also found guilty of incitement to hatred against a specific social group – the court defined the targeted group as "the government of Marii El Republic." On 21 March 2007, the Supreme Court of the Republic upheld this unlawful verdict.

The anti-extremist enforcement practice, as noted above, is very limited. However, the quoted examples reveal that this practice has been evolving towards arbitrary restriction of fundamental freedoms, in contravention of the Russian Constitution and relevant international treaties that Russia is party to. We have reasons to believe that abuse of anti-extremist legislation due to defects in the legal provisions as well as the growing case-law may present a serious threat to fundamental freedoms in Russia.


Appendix.

The Federal Law on Counteracting Extremist Activity. Article 1. Main Definitions
For the purposes of the present Federal Law the following basic concepts are used:

1) extremist activity (extremism):
a) activity of public and religious associations or any other organizations, or of mass media, or natural persons to plan, organize, prepare and perform acts aimed at:

- forcible change of the foundations of the constitutional system and violation of integrity of the Russian Federation;
- undermining security of the Russian Federation;
- seizure or usurpation of power;
- establishment of illegal armed formations;
- exercise of terrorist activity or public justification of terrorism;
- incitement to racial, ethnic or religious hatred, and also social hatred associated with violence or with calls to violence;
- debasement of ethnic dignity;
- exercise of massive disturbances, hooliganism and vandalism motivated by ideological, political, racial, ethnic or religious hatred or animosity, and also motivated by hatred or animosity towards any social group;
- propaganda of exclusiveness, supremacy or inferiority of individuals based on their attitude to religious, social, racial, ethnic, religious or linguistic identity;
- preventing legitimate activities of government authorities, election commissions, and also legitimate activities of officials affiliated with the above authorities and commissions, combined with violence or threats to use violence;
- public slander targeting a person holding an official position in the Russian Federation, or in a subject of the Russian Federation, while on official duty or in connection with his/her official duties, combined with accusing such official of actions listed in this article, provided that the fact of slander has been determined in judicial proceedings;
- use of violence against a representative of government authority, or threats to use violence against a representative of government authority or his family in connection with his exercise of official duties;
- attempt at the life of a government official or public figure, with the purpose of terminating this person's official or political activity, or as revenge for such activity;
- violation of human rights and civil liberties, affliction of harm on health and property of citizens in connection with their convictions, racial or ethnic origin, faith, social status or social origin;
- production and/or dissemination of print, audio, audiovisual and other materials (products) designed for public use and containing at least one characteristic listed in this article;

b) propaganda and public demonstration of Nazi attributes or symbols, or attributes and symbols similar to Nazi attributes and symbols to the point of confusion;

c) public calls to exercise of the above activity, and also public calls and pronouncements encouraging the above activity, justifying or supporting the exercise of activities listed in this article;

d) financing the above activity or any other support with planning, organization, preparation or exercise of the above actions, e.g. by providing finance, real estate, education, printing facilities, logistics, phone, fax and other means of communication, information services, and other material and technical means;

2) an extremist organization is a public [non-governmental] or religious association or other organization effectively liquidated or banned by court for extremist activity, based on grounds provided in this Federal Law;

3) extremist materials are documents designed for publication or information on other carriers which call to extremist activity, justify or support the need for such activity, including works by leaders of the National-Social Working Party of Germany, the Fascist Party of Italy, and publications, justifying or supporting ethnic and/or racial supremacy, or justifying the practice of military and other crimes aimed at complete or partial extermination of a certain ethnic, social, racial, national or religious group.
© SOVA Center for Information and Analysis

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BITS FROM RUSSIA

More Attacks on Foreign Students in St. Petersburg 
29/3/2007- Police arrested two neo-Nazis in St. Petersburg in the wake of an attack on a Moroccan and British citizen, according to a March 19, 2007 report by the Russian anti-fascist web site antifa.ru. The attack took place in the downtown area on Nevsky Prospekt. Screaming racist slogans, the 19 and 20-year-old neo-Nazis attacked the foreign students, but were quickly spotted by a passing police patrol. Antifa.ru added that during the same weekend as this attack, a citizen of Turkey was beaten and robbed in St. Petersburg and a Moroccan student was stabbed. Both victims were hospitalized and police are investigating the incidents.

Omsk Neo-Nazi Gets 11 Years for Racist Murder
28/3/2007- A neo-Nazi was sentenced to 11 years in prison for manslaughter motivated by ethnic hatred, according to a March 24, 2007 report by the Russian anti-fascist web site antifa.ru. The Omsk regional court found the defendant guilty under a rarely applied hate crimes law. The defendant, identified in the report only by his last name Proskurin, is a student at the Omsk Pedagogical College. The court found that he and three friends got drunk one night near the Circus trolleybus stop and started screaming racist slogans. They came across an Asian-looking man and attacked him. During the assault, Mr. Proskurin reportedly screamed "Non-Russians have no place here, they need to be killed!" as he stabbed his victim, a trolleybus driver, six times. The driver later died in the hospital. Police discovered extremist literature in Mr. Proskurin's apartment; reportedly he also has a neo-Nazi tattoo on his arm, though he claimed in court that he left the movement some time ago.  

Neo-Nazis Attack Korean Students in Zelenograd 
28/3/2007- Neo-Nazis attacked a group of Korean students after a rock concert in Zelenograd, Russia (Moscow region), according to a March 27, 2007 report by the news web site Newsru.com. The March 27 attack involved around 30 neo-Nazis and resulted in eight people being injured. One of the foreign students was hit by a car as he tried to flee his assailants; he was taken to the emergency room. Police are investigating the incident.

Youths Attack Malaysian Student in Nizhny Novgorod
28/3/2007- A group of youths attacked a Malaysian student in Nizhny Novgorod, according to a March 22, 2007 report by the Interfax news agency. Police told the news agency that around ten youths attacked the 18-year-old student at the local State Architecture Academy. The student did not require hospitalization. Police are investigating the incident.
© FSU Monitor

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FRENCH TEACHERS MARCH AGAINST IMMIGRANT DEPORTATIONS

Migrants are free to enroll their children in a French school regardless of their legal status, and the government argues such a measure would create a new channel for immigration.

30/3/2007- Hundreds of striking French schoolteachers and parents marched through Paris Friday in protest at the deportation of illegal immigrant families and their school-age children. Teaching unions called the strike in response to the arrest last week of a headmistress who was protesting against the detention of a Chinese illegal immigrant as he collected his grandson from primary school. Valerie Boukobza was released without charge, but her detention sparked a wave of anger among teachers and parents.
"Teachers under pressure, families in detention, police state -- we don't want this society," chanted the protestors, estimated at more than 2,000 people by unions, who are demanding the enforcement of guidelines banning police from detaining illegal immigrants in the vicinity of schools. "It starts outside schools, then police will start hunting immigrants inside our classrooms, why not in hospitals... We are sliding towards a dictatorship," said one young teacher, who gave her name as Elise. Right-wing presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy oversaw a toughening of immigration policy during his time as interior minister, more than doubling the number of deportations of illegal immigrants to 25,000 last year. A high-profile protest movement by teachers and parents last summer led Sarkozy to grant an amnesty to around 7,000 families with children enrolled in French schools who were facing deportation. But the government says an automatic amnesty for all such families is impossible. Migrants are free to enroll their children in a French school regardless of their legal status, and the government argues such a measure would create a new channel for immigration. None of the main presidential candidates back a blanket amnesty for France's estimated 200,000 to 400,000 illegal immigrants, but the Socialist Segolene Royal and centrist Francois Bayrou have indicated they would take a lenient line towards families long settled in the country.
© The Tocqueville Connection

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EXTREME RIGHT LOOMS OVER FRANCE

28/3/2007- Suddenly, France's presidential campaign is seized by a subject long monopolized by the extreme right: how best to be French. The conservative candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, wants to create a ministry of "immigration and national identity" that will require newcomers to embrace the secular values of the republican state. The Socialist candidate, Ségolène Royal, wants every French citizen to memorize the national anthem the Marseillaise and keep a French flag in the cupboard for public display on Bastille Day. The far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen chortles that his rivals in the two main parties have stolen, and therefore validated, his message of "France for the French." If politicians everywhere are compelled to show off their patriotism at election time, this campaign has stirred alarm by summoning unpleasant ghosts of the past. Some political commentators have accused Sarkozy of ugly demagoguery reminiscent of the darkest period in modern French history: the collaborationist Vichy government during the Nazi occupation of France. Royal is being attacked both by her rivals and inside her own camp for manipulating symbols that historically have been the domain of the far right. As the first round of voting approaches, on April 22, an ideological battle over the French identity has overtaken discussion of more practical issues, like reducing unemployment and making France more competitive. The shift is aimed in part at luring the right-wing vote away from Le Pen, who shocked France in 2002 when he came in second in the first round and who, at 78, is seen by many of his supporters as too old to be president. It is also an attempt to reassure jittery voters that France will remain an important power protecting its national identity at a time when it is both losing power in a globalized world and struggling with a disaffected Muslim and ethnic Arab and African population.

"Resolving the identity crisis in France is a very serious problem, but both Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal have trivialized it in this election," said Eric Dupin, a political scientist who has written a number of books. "Both of them are playing on the fears and the base emotions of the people. We don't need demagoguery."  François Bayrou, the centrist candidate who heads the tiny Union for French Democracy party, has denounced the "nationalistic obsession" that had infiltrated the campaign. "Every time in our past that we have wanted to go back to external signs, it has led to periods that are unhappy," he said. As interior minister, a post he quit Monday, Sarkozy tightened immigration laws and ordered the expulsion of thousands of foreigners who did not register with the state. His pledge in late 2005 to cleanse France's troubled ethnic Arab and Muslim suburbs of "thugs" contributed to a three-week orgy of violence. In a scene reminiscent of those events, roving bands of young people fought the police, smashed store windows and damaged property for several hours at a train station in Paris on Tuesday. Police shut down the subway and commuter train system at the Gare du Nord and used tear gas before restoring order after midnight. Thirteen people were arrested. Sarkozy, who largely has avoided the suburbs during his campaign, has criticized immigrants and their offspring who resist the French model of integration, saying it is unacceptable to want to live here without respecting and loving the country or learning the language. But when he announced his proposal on television this month, it was met with a firestorm of criticism. Royal called the plan "disgraceful," adding, "Foreign workers have never threatened French identity." "Indecent," was the reaction of Azouz Begag, the minister for equal opportunities. "I'm not stupid, and neither are the French," he said. "It's a hook to go and look for the lost sheep of the National Front," Le Pen's party.

Simone Veil, a beloved former minister and a Holocaust survivor, found herself denouncing Sarkozy's idea shortly after she endorsed him for president. "I didn't at all like this very ambiguous formula," she told the magazine Marianne. She said that a ministry for immigration and "integration" would be a better idea. But Sarkozy is convinced he is right. When asked about Veil's reaction, for example, he replied tartly, "Everyone has the right to his or her own opinion." Sarkozy's proposal has revived bad memories of the Vichy era. The idea of a national identity ministry has been compared to the General Commissariat of Jewish Affairs, which was created with ministerial rank under Vichy in March 1941. "Only Vichy developed administrative structures in their efficient way to defend a certain concept of 'national identity,' " the columnist Philippe Bernard wrote in Le Monde last week. He said that the commissariat, "even before being a tool in the service of the policy of extermination, responded to the objective of purification of the French nation." Some politically conservative Jewish voters, who were planning to vote for Sarkozy because of his staunch support of Israel, say they now are considering shifting to Bayrou. But an OpinionWay Internet poll for Le Figaro that was splashed on its front page this month indicated that 55 percent of French voters approved of Sarkozy's proposal. Sixty-five percent agreed with his explanation that the "immigrants who join us must sign up to the national identity." Although the poll was done on a representative sample via the Internet, not by more reliable telephone surveys, it was widely cited as evidence that the French want a more restrictive immigration policy and more demands that its Muslims conform to secular French customs.

Despite Royal's criticism of Sarkozy's approach, she followed his lead by wrapping herself tightly in her own mantle of nationalism. She started by encouraging her supporters to sing the Marseillaise, the traditional rallying cry of the right, at the end of her rallies. In a swing late last week through southern France, which historically votes right and extreme-right, she called for a "reconquest of the symbols of the nation" from the right. She said that all French citizens should have the tricolor French flag at home, adding, "In other countries, they put the flag in the windows on their national holiday." And she promised that if elected, she would "insure that the French know the Marseillaise." Her partner, François Hollande, said they had a flag in their kitchen. In the end, both camps acknowledge that they are trying to appeal to voters on the right. "Ségolène Royal is taking back the terrain too often abandoned by the left for ages to the right and the extreme right," said a former defense and interior minister, Jean-Pierre Chevenement, who supports her candidacy. Sarkozy was more explicit. "Since 1983, we have the strongest far right in Europe," he said this month. "We must not proceed as if it does not exist. I want to talk to those who have moved toward the far right because they are suffering." During a two-day campaign swing through the Caribbean last weekend, Sarkozy boasted that since he made his proposal about his immigration and national identity ministry, his standing in the polls had jumped.
© International Herald Tribune

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EXTREMIST REPORTED FOR DEATH THREATS (Norway)

A man linked to neo-Nazi groups and charged with death threats to Minister of Justice Knut Storberget has now been reported for similarly menacing an anti-racism activist.

28/3/2007- Øyvind Heian, 26, has been reported by SOS-Rasisme for death threats to the group's national board member Anders Eckermann Eikeland, who is depicted on a Heian web site with a pistol pointed to his head. Heian has been linked to the neo-Nazi organization Vigrid and has also started his own group, Norgespatriotene (Norway's Patriots), which has a clear racist and anti-immigrant profile. "This is more explicit than a gung pointed at Anders' head. Heian is a central person in Vigrid. He is very active in those circles and has been jailed and convicted for threatening the Justice Minister last year. This hasn't stopped him," said SOS Rasisme board member Ola Melbye Pettersen. Heian was convicted in a Sandefjord court to six months in prison for death threats to Justice Minister Storberget but the verdict was reversed after two of the lay judges were revealed to be related to each other. The case will be retried in June this year. Heian told Aftenposten.no that Norgespatriotene is a non-violent organization that wants to discuss immigration problems. He claims that he is being persecuted by SOS-Rasisme, and that they have reported his party's web site to police three times in two weeks in an attempt to curb his right of free speech. Heian also stressed that the did not have plans to kill Eikeland. "There are no death threats in the text. They are going from the picture of the gun pointed at the picture of Eikeland's head. Both pictures have their own text. But one might say it is a bit unlucky that these two pictures are next to each other," Heian said. Heian admitted that his methods were on the edge. "I believe that I am within the boundaries of what I call legal," Heian said. Heian has said that he has told his psychologist that he had considered killing Storberget and has also published a flyer on his web site where he indicates that Storberget would be executed if the Norgespatriotene ever come to power in Norway. Melbye Pettersen at SOS-Rasisme argues that Heian's threats against Eikeland should cause concern even if Heian has no real plans to physically harm him, because the threats are posted in a place visited by many right-wing extremists. "Such statements can direct other right-wing extremists. The police should do something about the web site," Melbye Pettersen said.
© Aftenpost

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STOP SINGLING OUT ROMA FOR BIRTH CONTROL, ERTF SAYS(Slovakia)

28/3/2007- On the occasion of the organisation by the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) of an international conference called “Sharing best practices and tools in addressing the sexual and reproductive rights of the Roma” in Bratislava, the president of the European Roma and Travellers Forum, Rudko Kawczynski expressed concerns about the Federation’s plans and motives. “I am utmost disgusted that IPPF had to choose Slovakia for the implementation of one of their pilot projects and as a place for today’s venue,” Rudko Kawczynski said reminding that Slovakia had just been under attacks over alleged forced sterilisations of Romani women and that the cases have still not been sufficiently clarified. “Choosing Slovakia as a place for this conference and not even mentioning the irremediable damage done to Romani women and communities comes as an implicit approval of these policies,” Kawczynski said. While specifying that he was not opposed to sexual education and family planning the president of the European Roma and Travellers Forum said that this should take place in the context of mainstreaming such as information about contraceptives being provided at schools. “The racist character of this initiative becomes immediately apparent if you replace the word ‘Roma’ by ‘Jews’ or any other group. A programme aimed towards improving the access to contraceptives for the Hungarian minority in Slovakia would immediately provoke an outcry. If the same is done for Romani people almost everyone agrees that something needs to be done about their ‘uncontrolled’ growth,” Kawczynski said.

The aim of the conference was described by the organisers as “to define mechanisms, share experiences and best practices from different initiatives which could provide a basis for policymakers and civil society to address the needs and to promote the rights of Roma people.” More specifically, the organisers wanted to share the experiences of two pilot projects carried out in Slovakia and Hungary in the context of IPPF “Roma project” aimed “at providing accessible and high quality sexual and reproductive health services and sexuality education for Roma and other marginalized groups.” The projects seem to receive funding from the European Commission. The International Planned Parenthood Federation has been criticised for its close ties with the international eugenic movement. In 1939, the founder of the organisation, Margaret Sanger launched two “demonstration programs” in America’s south aimed to promote family planning among the black population. Sanger described the aims of the “Negro project” as follows: “We believe birth control knowledge brought to this group, is the most direct, constructive aid that can be given them to improve their immediate situation.” (Margaret Sanger, July 1939) Spoločnosť pre plánované rodičovstvo, the Slovak partner of IPPF and implementing agency of the project, describes its rational as follows: „The so-called Roma problem in Slovakia has a historical, cultural and social background extending beyond territorial boundaries of Slovakia. … According to the analyses made at the meetings mentioned above, the high natality is one of the reasons why the existing situation is deteriorated. The high birthrate and multiparity result in children not being provided with health care, not obtaining adequate education and later in their lives, they are not able to acquit themselves well on the increasingly demanding labour market. A vicious circle arises, which continues to expand and brings about growing tension in the society.“ In the same way as the “Negro project”, IPPF’s Roma projects rely on the active support of so-called community leaders.

Kawcynski called on the EU Commission not to finance projects which single out Roma for birth control. “It is an irony that at a time where everyone is concerned about Europe’s declining population, Roma are singled out for programmes of population control. Instead of eliminating poverty these programmes seek to eliminate the poor, in particular, Roma.” “Common wisdom teaches us that there is a close link between the material situation of a family and the number of children they have. If people increase their material well-being they tend to have fewer children. Roma are not any different from this,” the president of the European Roma and Travellers Forum said urging policy-makers to take resolute action to improve the living conditions of Roma. The European Roma and Travellers Forum is the international Romani interest representation which gathers Europe’s main international Roma organisations and more than 1,500 member organisations from most of the Council of Europe member states. In December 2004, the Forum signed a partnership agreement with the Council of Europe which provides for special relations between both organisations.
© European Roma and Travellers Forum

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CZECH ROMANY ACTIVIST INSISTS ON ILLEGALITY OF EVICTION

27/3/2007- The statement by ombusdman Otakar Motejl that the demolition of a house inhabited by Romanies and their removal to a new one was legal is incorrect, Czech Romany activist Jan Rac told CTK today.  A few days ago, Rac sent a comprehensive report on the course of the Romanies' eviction from the dilapidated house to Motejl. Rac says that the houses in the Vsetin neighbourhood Poschla, to which some families have been removed, are going mildewy and are not consistent with sanitary regulations. Rac had also a detailed study on the eviction of unadapted families in Vsetin drafted. "I have sent it to the ombudsman. We will certainly change his mind. The eviction from the dilapidated house also related to the families that regularly paid the rent. This amounts to violation of human rights. No one has the right to do this," Rac told CTK. Rac said that it was not true that the houses to which the Romanies had been moved fulfilled the conditions of the construction law. According to the paper Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD), Motejl said that the relocation was consistent with the construction law. Rac said that the flats were going mildewy. The Vsetin town hall started the demolition of the ramshackle house last October. It ejected the local rent-defaulters, mostly of Romany origin, to other houses, some of them outside the town. At that time, the town hall was led by current Christian Democrat leader Jiri Cunek. Thirteen criminal complaints have been lodged against Cunek over the case.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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POLICE TO GET 'MANUAL' OF EXTREMIST SYMBOLS (Czech Rep.)

In the course of the last decade the Czech police force has increasingly been confronted with various forms of extremism and street violence. And more often than not it has been criticized for either failing to take action or over-reacting. The Interior Ministry says it is training officers to deal with such situations and has now issued a manual to help them recognize various extremist symbols.

30/3/2007- The manual - 15,000 copies of which have been printed - is something like a pocket dictionary of extremist signs and symbols. Interior Ministry spokesman Petr Vorlicek says it should help officers to make better on-the-spot decisions when dealing with demonstrators or confiscating extremist paraphernalia.
"The manual is pocket size and should help officers in the field to determine what they are dealing with - what the given symbols relate to and whether they can be viewed as promoting an extremist ideology."

The eighty-page manual covers all forms of extremism - there are neo-Nazi symbols, communist symbols, anarchist symbols and even symbols relating to environmental and Islamic extremism. There's a neo-Nazi calendar of significant names, dates and places - which often appear on tattoos and clothes and Czech related "anniversaries" such as the jailing of a young neo-Nazi for murder. These manuals are now being sent to police stations around the country. But will they help to improve the performance of the police? Commentator Jan Urban thinks any additional training is a step in the right direction.
"Definitely we do not have enough experience in dealing with political extremism. One must remember that the absolute majority of top posts in the police force are still held by older police officers trained in the communist years who simply do not have the flexibility, do not have the knowledge, do not have the international know-how and their hesitance and uncertainty is reflected in not giving clear enough orders to their staff and members of police."

Well some would also suggest that many young men who join the police are inclined to sympathize with some of these extremist groupings. What would you say to that?
"I definitely would agree. We can see the same thing happening all over Europe but more experienced police forces in more experienced West European countries have a long tradition in training and working against this -excuse the expression - "natural tendency" based on the fact that these young guys simply want to help us to keep law and order in the streets."
© Radio Prague

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ONE IN TEN SWISS IS ANTI-SEMITIC

30/3/2007- Around ten per cent of the Swiss population are anti-Semitic, according to a wide-ranging study of anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli attitudes published on Friday. The survey also found that more than a quarter of the population had a tendency to agree with anti-Jewish stereotypes. Reacting to the study, Jewish organisations said that more needed to be done to raise awareness. The Federal Commission against Racism said that every percentage was "too much". The survey, which questioned 1,030 people across the country in February, was carried out by the gfs polling institute in Bern for the Federal Commission against Racism, in cooperation with the Jewish weekly magazine Tachles. It found that ten per cent of the Swiss population had "systematic anti-Semitic attitudes". This group was overrepresented in the Italian-speaking part of the country, in the lower socio-economic strata, on the right end of the political spectrum, in rural areas and among those with no Jewish acquaintances. Another 28 per cent held selective anti-Semitic views and 15 per cent felt resentment and disappointment due to Israel's policies, but did not have particularly negative attitudes towards the Jewish population. A generally positive attitude towards Jews was observed among 37 per cent of the population. Ten per cent of answers were unclassified.

Swiss Jewish community
In all 55 per cent regarded the Jewish minority in Switzerland - there are an estimated 20,000 Jews in the country ? with respect. But a strong minority of this percentage was critical of the perceived self-imposed segregation of the Jewish community. Almost half of those asked rejected the notion that Jewish people had too much influence on world politics, with 72 per cent holding the same view for Swiss politics. In terms of the debate over the Swiss position in the Second World War regarding Jews - its refugee policy, and the money deposited in Switzerland by Nazi victims - the report said that the Swiss no longer considered themselves as victims of Jewish pressure to make amends. However, the report found that the Swiss were generally critical of Israel. Fifty-four per cent believe Israel is governed by religious fanatics and 50 per cent think Israel is carrying out what the report terms a "war of extermination" against the occupied territories. The authors pointed out that although this "emotional resentment" against Israel's foreign policy was applied to Jews in general, the criticism did not amount to an anti-Semitic attitude.

Community reactions
For Alfred Donath, president of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities, the ten per cent was "worrying". But he said it had remained constant in recent years. Donath said that anti-Semites usually did not know any Jews personally. "We have to make Judaism and Jewish thinking better known," he told the Swiss news agency. This view was shared by William Wyler, the head of the David Centre, which campaigns against anti-Semitism in Switzerland. He believes that the percentage of hardcore anti-Semites is roughly equivalent to that of other countries. The Federal Commission against Racism said the ten per cent was too big, but noted that it would be hard to target this group. "We are interested in the 28 per cent who have anti-Semitic tendencies," said its president Georg Kreis. He added that similar wide-ranging studies were necessary regarding society's attitude towards Muslims and travellers.

The Bergier Report
In the 1990s uncomfortable revelations surfaced about Swiss banks handling assets looted by the Nazis and refusing to release details of dormant accounts held by Holocaust victims. The scandals prompted the government commission a report, led by Jean-Franâ¿s Bergier, to investigate Switzerland's wartime past. The final report, published in 2002, shattered many myths about the country's wartime history. Bergier's commission found that government and industry had cooperated with the Nazis, and that Switzerland had turned away thousands of Jewish refugees at its borders.

Key facts
* The survey is entitled "Anti-Jewish and Anti-Israel Attitudes in Switzerland".
* The data was collected from a representative sample of 1,030 residents.
* They were questioned between February 5-15 this year.

Related sites
* Report management summary in English 
* Report press release in English 
* gfs Bern polling and research institute 
* Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities 
* Federal Commission against Racism
© Swissinfo

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SWITZERLAND ANSWERS RACISM CHARGES

Switzerland has distanced itself from a hard-hitting report by Doudou Diène, the United Nations special rapporteur on racism, which accuses it of racist tendencies.

27/3/2007- The government said it would seriously examine the report on racism in Switzerland, which was presented at the Human Rights Council on Tuesday, and would step up efforts to combat racism and discrimination. But it rejected Diene's use of "individual incidents to draw conclusions about the general dynamism of racism and xenophobia in the country as a whole". In his full report, Diene maintains that "Switzerland has competent mechanisms and motivated officials with mandates to combat racism, but at the national level this reality is not recognised". He accuses the authorities of a lack of any "coherent and resolute political and legal strategy against racism and xenophobia". For the Senegalese UN envoy this is caused by "deep-rooted cultural resistance within Swiss society to multiculturalism...especially where persons of southeastern European and non:European origin are concerned". He adds that racism has become an instrument in political debate. In reaction, the government said it agreed that racism was a problem, "deploring the incidents mentioned by Mr Diène" and added that it was aware that more had to be done at the federal, cantonal and communal levels. But it said the high percentage of foreigners living in Switzerland and the generally successful integration of foreign residents were signs of the country's openness. It recalled that it was the Swiss public that had adopted the new asylum law, criticised by Diène, by a large majority. "The government is convinced that the implementation of this law will in no way lead to discrimination," it added.

Anti-racism commission
The Federal Commission against Racism called on the government and the cantons to heed the report's recommendations, saying the UN envoy had touched on several burning issues. Among his proposals, Diène had called for "a national programme of action against racism and xenophobia comprising national legislation...and a cultural and ethical strategy for the long:term construction of a multicultural society". The commission is urging the government to set up a roundtable with the country's cantonal authorities every time such a report is published in order to follow up and properly implement recommendations. In a seperate development, sixteen Swiss human rights organisations also announced on Tuesday the launch of an anti-racism network to better coordinate activities to fight xenophobia, discrimination and racism.
© Swissinfo

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ITALY BISHOPS FACE GAY RIGHTS ROW

29/3/2007- Italy's interior minister has accused Roman Catholic bishops of trying to weaken the government by opposing new rights for unmarried and gay couples. Giuliano Amato said the Church was meddling when it issued a directive at a bishops' conference calling a new bill "unacceptable and dangerous". Recent polls show most of Italy's Catholics are in favour of changes to the law, despite Church opposition. About 500,000 unmarried Italian couples are without shared rights or benefits. They miss out on social benefits, property or inheritance, a situation that is now at odds with many countries in Europe. When Prime Minister Romano Prodi came to power last year he promised his supporters that the government would bring in new laws to protect cohabiting couples. But with only a razor-thin majority in the Senate, Mr Prodi needs the full support of all sides of his coalition, including the Catholic MPs in the centre, and that looks increasingly unlikely, says the BBC's Rome correspondent Christian Fraser. A defeat on this controversial bill will divide his coalition and could ultimately lead to the collapse of the government, our correspondent says.

Political divide
Mr Amato spoke out after the Italian bishops' conference issued a statement saying that legal recognition of unwed couples was "unacceptable as a principle and dangerous on a social and educational level". Legalising unions between people of the same sex, it added, was an even more serious problem. "This is something that happens in societies we criticise as Islamised," Mr Amato said. He was supported by Piero Fassino, the leader of Italy's largest left-wing party, the Democratic Left. But Catholics on both sides of the political divide applauded the bishops' statement. Opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi said the Church had a right to speak out on the issue. Justice Minister Clemente Mastella who leads a Catholic party in Mr Prodi's coalition, said: "Now we are not alone." Recent polls showed that most Catholics in Italy are in favour of changes to the legislation despite Church opposition.
© BBC News

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CALL FOR NEW INQUEST ON JEWISH STUDENT LINKED TO FAR-RIGHT 'CULT'(Germany/UK)

28/3/2007- A British student who attended a right-wing anti-Iraq war conference in Germany was murdered after delegates found out that he was Jewish, his family claim. Jeremiah Duggan, 22, died from catastrophic head injuries after apparently running into the path of two cars on a motor-way in Wiesbaden in March 2003. But new evidence suggests that the car crash was a set-up, his family say, and that he was battered to death first with a blunt instrument, or possibly a fist or boot. Campaigners including the Labour peer Lord Janner of Braunstone called on the Attorney-General yesterday to order a new inquest into the death of Mr Duggan, a student at the Sorbonne in Paris who was from Golders Green, northwest London. According to German police, he threw himself in front of the speeding vehicles because he had “psychological problems”. But his family do not accept that he committed suicide. Before his death, Mr Duggan had become involved in an extremist political movement, and on the night that he died he rang his mother at home in London to say that he was in “deep trouble” and “wanted out”. He missed his father’s 60th birthday to travel to a conference in Germany to hear more about antiwar solutions put forward by the Schilling Institute, an extreme right-wing political group. The student was passionately opposed to the war in Iraq and became interested in the group because of its strong antiwar stance. At the British inquest, which dismissed the German investigation’s finding that he had killed himself, the Duggan family called the institute a “dangerous and political cult with strong anti-Semitic tendencies, known to have a history of intimidation and terror tactics”. The family said that it had emerged at the rally that their son was a British Jew.

Although an initial examination of the scene did point to a road traffic accident, a closer analysis found no traces of skin, hair, blood or clothing on either vehicle, and there was no blood or clothing left on the road, Frances Swaine, their solicitor, said. Experts had also detected “defence wounds” to his hands and forearms, and wounds to his head excluded any possibility that the injuries were caused when his body was hit or dragged along the road. Ms Swaine said that a pathology report showed a great deal of fresh blood in Mr Duggan’s lungs, suggesting that he had been injured some time before he died. “In all my years of work I have never seen one case where the grounds for a full and frank inquiry into a suspicious death were so compelling,” she said. The family and their legal team gathered yesterday at Portcullis House in London to disclose the evidence. Erica Duggan, his mother, said: “Today it is four years since the terrible phone call that I got at 4.24 in the morning. There was no doubt in my mind that my son was asking me to help him, to rescue him. “It has been very hard that, as a mother, I should be left to investigate the death of my own son. Now that we have obtained evidence from independent forensic pathologists, I am hoping that the German and the British authorities will conduct a full inquiry.” She was joined by Rudi Vis, the Finchley and Golders Green Labour MP, and Lord Janner, in calling on the Attor-ney-General to order a new inquest. Dr Vis said that there was enough evidence to indicate that Mr Duggan was thrown into the road after he was killed. A spokesman for Lord Goldsmith, QC, the Attorney-General, said that his office had not been contacted by campaigners calling for a new inquiry into the death. However, he added: “We will carefully consider the case once we have been contacted and decide if there is a case to ask the High Court to open a fresh inquest.” The Attorney-General can only make a request to the High Court to open a fresh inquest. He has no power to open one himself or to quash the original inquest finding.
© The Times Online

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NEW LAW GIVES ASYLUM REJECTS CHANCE TO STAY IN GERMANY

29/3/2007- Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet on Wednesday approved a reform of Germany's immigration laws, giving failed asylum-seekers a chance to remain in the country on a legal basis. The compromise reached between Merkel's Christian Democrats and her Social Democrat coalition partner is designed to end the legal limbo of people whose asylum applications have been rejected but who cannot be deported for humanitarian reasons. Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said up to 100,000 of the 170,000 foreigners "tolerated" in Germany could benefit from the new measures, providing they meet certain criteria. Most of them come from Afghanistan, Iraq or Kosovo. Although not deported, they were denied residence permits which would have allowed them to study or find employment. Under the new law, tolerated foreigners can obtain legal residence provided they find jobs by the end of 2009 and have lived in Germany for at least eight years, or six for families with children. Another condition is that applicants do not have a criminal record and do not place a burden on local authorities by seeking additional welfare payments once they have found employment. The new law also allows for general access to the labour market by tolerated foreigners who have lived in Germany for four years, although they will still have to wait for a residence permit.

Schaeuble described the reforms as a major step towards a European harmonization of asylum laws and said they would benefit the German labour market while easing pressure on the welfare system. The nearly 500-page draft law also contains provisions for fingerprinting applicants for visas of more than three months and cutting welfare payments to foreigners who refuse to take part in integration courses. Another section sets a minimum age of 18 years for foreign spouses to join their partners in Germany, provided the partner is also 18 or older. The newcomer is also required to have a basic knowledge of German. Officials said the move was intended to counter forced or arranged marriages. However, exceptions can be made in the cases of highly- qualified personnel and people who set up companies in Germany. Refugee organizations criticized the draft law as insufficient, pointing out that people who failed to obtain work by the deadline still faced deportation. Particularly affected were the old and the handicapped, they said. A spokeswoman for the DGB Trade Union Federation said the new regulations "are not a solution to better integration, but only deal with old cases which only benefit a minority." The new measures have to be approved by both the lower and upper houses of parliament before they can come into force by the target date of July 15, this year.
© Expatica News

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TRIAL OPENS AGAINST GERMAN POLICEMEN OVER REFUGEE'S DEATH

27/3/2007- Two German police officers are being charged with the death of a refugee from Sierra Leone, who was found burnt to death in his prison cell. The officers claim the man committed suicide. The trial opened on Tuesday. Oury Jalloh, a refugee from Sierra Leone, was found burnt to death in his prison cell in the eastern German city of Dessau over two years ago. From Tuesday, two policemen face charges over his death at the city's district court. One officer is charged with manslaughter for overseeing a lighter during Jalloh's body search. The 21-year-old Jalloh, who was tied to his cot with bound hands and feet, is assumed to have used it to light himself on fire on Jan. 7, 2005. But the second, more senior supervising police officer faces a more serious charge. According to the district court's spokesman Frank Straube, the public prosecutor has accused him of bodily harm with fatal consequences. "It is charging him with disregarding the alarm signals and thus causing the death of Oury Jalloh," Straube said. The court will hear evidence that the 46-year-old senior officer apparently ignored calls for help. He apparently also mistook the sounds made by the fire for running water. Dessau's senior prosecutor Folker Bittmann said the fire alarm and the communication system connected to the prison cell in which Jalloh died had been turned off. "We are horrified to think of the incredible pain the man must have suffered during the fire," Bittmann said. "This should never have happened." The trial is expected to last six days, with a verdict expected sometime in April.

"I am scared, deep down"
There are many rumors about what exactly happened that day -- ranging from suicide theories, through to simply bad luck and murder conspiracies. Moktar Bahr from Guinea was a close friend of Jalloh. He said he is skeptical. "Oury, of all people, wasn't exactly the type who would just go and burn himself," Bahr said. "I am scared, deep down." Many foreigners in Dessau are feeling uneasy. Razak Minhel, who is from Iraq and works in the local multicultural center, said many question why it has taken so long for the case to go to trial. "It has taken too long to bring this case to trial," Minhel said. "That has given everyone plenty of time to develop their own theories as to what happened. I think that has caused not just damage to the reputation of the police, but damaged us as well."

Police can train their grasp of human rights
According to the German Institute for Human Rights in Berlin, some police do disregard the protection needs of citizens. But this can be counteracted. The institute began offering voluntary seminars for police officers in 2003 on human rights. "We noticed (in the seminars) that both the knowledge about human rights, as well as the awareness about values such as dignity, freedom and equality were not particularly highly developed," said Claudia Lohrenscheit, head of this division at the institute. In a subsequent study, the institute found that cop culture within a police unit played a role in an officer's behavior. "Certain practices prevail there," Lohrenscheit said. "There are certain values, which differ very much from official police culture you read about in police principles." Lohrenscheit said hierarchies played a key role. The head of an individual unit was respected and trusted in the group, she said. If a culture, which orientated itself to human rights, developed within a unit, it was very likely that the entire force would comply with this, she said.

Police in Dessau on high alert
In Dessau, Jalloh's mother is appearing as a joint plaintiff in the case. She has traveled from Guinea to Dessau to attend the trial. Donors paid for her journey to Germany. In addition, protestors, mostly foreigners, are expected take part in vigils. The police are on high alert: rallies were already held this year on the second anniversary of Jalloh's death. In addition, late last year there were a number of arson attacks including an attack on the home of one of the police officers on trial.
© Deutsche Welle

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WHAT'S EATING GEERT WILDERS? (Netherlands, opinion)

Ciarán ONéill tries to understand where Geert Wilders, "the latest hero of the depressingly durable reveille of the right in Holland" is going, and why.

30/3/2007- Since his departure from the Liberal Party (VVD) in 2004, precipitated by, among other things, disagreement on Turkey's EU-candidacy, Geert Wilders has become steadily more radical in word and deed, claiming all the while only to be interested in freedom; in November 2005 for instance, he called for the burqa to be banned from the street because it was such an offensive symbol of the oppression of women. I live in Amsterdam West among the flotsam and jetsam of the "Tsunami of Islamisation" that Wilders so fears (Oct 2006) and it is indeed very unsettling to see a woman in burqa or niqab. However, to raise but one objection to the blunt means Wilders prefers for achieving his ostensibly honourable ends, many of these women (who represent a tiny minority of Amsterdam Muslims) may simply no longer be allowed to leave the house if they can’t don the burqa to do so.

By now Wilders has successfully cast himself as the latest hero of the depressingly durable reveille of the right in Holland. The conspicuously coiffured Southerner's newly founded party, the ironically named Freedom Party (PvV), won nine seats at the last election (Nov 2006) and is therefore a force to be reckoned with. Despite the fact that the Freedom Party's slogan reads "Lower taxes, better schools, immigration stop", Wilders is not a xenophobe as he, and his party, keep on telling us. He couldn't be; he’s married to a Hungarian. Whatever, he is at the very least a rabid sectarian, as if that was somehow ok. His religion is "The Enlightenment", the religion he hates, Islam.

In an interview in February of this year Wilders informed the Muslims of The Netherlands that they would need to "tear out half of the Koran" to integrate successfully in Holland. According to the Limburger, this is necessary because there is so much of the Koran (which Wilders afterwards had to admit that he had never read) which is in conflict with Dutch values, which, according to Wilders, are the values of "The Enlightenment". It does not seem to bother him however that the very same could be said of the bible, despite the fact that the vast majority of believers in Holland are Christian. Maybe he hasn’t read that book either. In the same interview, Wilders, conveniently forgetting that the French Revolution, and its immediate aftermath, the Reign of Terror, represent the bloody dawn of "The Enlightenment", describes Islam as a violent religion. He also states that he would have Mohammed "tarred and feathered as an extremist and deported if he were in Holland today". Why does Wilders feel moved to speak in this fashion while ignoring say, the very violent history of the Roman Catholic Church? Could it be because many of his supporters are members of same? Or is Wilders really only interested in Muslim-bashing?

On 4 March, in the same week that he publicly invited all Muslims to leave The Netherlands, Wilders entered a motion of no-confidence in two of the Labour Party (PvdA) secretaries of state appointed to the new cabinet as they hold double nationality. Nebahat Albayrak (Secretary of State for Justice) who holds a Turkish passport, and greatly respected former Amsterdam alderman, Ahmed Aboutaleb (Secretary of State for Social Affairs) who holds the Moroccan nationality (which he cannot renounce), survived the motion. In fact only Wilders' own party voted in favour. Wilders perpetually lectures Holland's Muslims that it is their duty to integrate, but, in defending his motion of no-confidence, steadfastly refused to recognise either the obviously successful integration of the two Dutch Muslims in question or the opportunities for improving integration that their membership of the executive (secretaries of state are in not in fact members of the cabinet) may offer, preferring instead to expand on hypothetical conflicts of interest and/or loyalty.
Wilders is not a stupid man. Though not exactly eloquent he is a capable speaker and undeniably exudes a certain charisma, which he has used, in tandem with his vitriolic populism, to successfully harness the social discontent first identified and exploited by the late Pim Fortuyn. Like Fortuyn, Wilders is a narcissist. His divisive and destructive prattle is utterly self-serving, the more radically outspoken his intolerance, the more attention he generates. For the narcissist, attention is highly addictive and like the drug addict, the narcissist will go to greater and greater lengths to get his fix, becoming ever more destructive along the way. Ultimately, addiction's primary victim is often the addict themselves; we can only hope that this will be the case with Wilders' evermore reckless sating of his steadily burgeoning appetite for attention.
© Expatica News

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PARLIAMENT WANTS BAN ON BLOOD & HONOUR (Netherlands)

30/3/2007- A majority in Parliament, including the Christian democrat CDA, the Socialist SP and the Freedom party PVV, wants a ban on the extreme right-wing organisation Blood & Honour. CDA MP Mirjam Sterk announced to Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin that her party would be submitting a motion for a ban. "As far as we are concerned it is an extremely dangerous organisation that must be banned," she said on the current affairs programme EénVandaag. The SP supports the call for a ban but first wants to examine the legal possibilities for banning the group. Blood & Honour is an international organisation of right-wing extremists. Blood & Honour is thought to have about 200 members in the Netherlands. The group organises white power concerts and neo-Nazi demonstrations. Germany was the first to prohibit the organisation in 2000 and Spanish authorities followed suit in 2006. Recent Belgian attempts to have the group banned have not yielded success so far.
© Expatica News

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VOGELAAR TO INVESTIGATE INTEGRATION(Netherlands)

29/3/2007- The integration project started by the previous government is not producing results. Minister Ella Vogelaar (Living, Neighbourhoods and Integration) is therefore going to investigate why this is the case and what is needed to improve the quality. She announced this in Parliament today. More than half the participants in assimilation courses failed to reach the required language level in 2005. Many even failed to make any progress after following language courses. "We act as if people are assimilating. But 65 percent of those who took the tests did not receive a satisfactory mark," Vogelaar said. She wants to find out where the "leak in quality" is before taking action. Coalition parties Christian democrat CDA, Labour PvdA and ChristenUnie have agreed that a "delta plan" will be introduced to help older and newer immigrants catch up. The cabinet wants to work away all the waiting lists for assimilation and language courses in the coming years and raise the level of the assimilation course so that those who complete it are ready to take part on the labour market. Vogelaar tempered this ambition somewhat. The PvdA minister hoped her comments on the failure of the integration project thus far would impress upon the coalition parties that the situation is a very problematic one. The plan is to eventually increase the number of participants in the integration project. But Vogelaar warned that an examination of the quality of the project could lead to a change in priority. PvdA MP Staf Depla lamented this "first setback" and wondered whether all the money spent has been wasted, now that it turns out that people cannot speak proper Dutch after the language course. Freedom party PVV MP Barry Madlener pointed out that the integration project has given rise to an enormous industry. "And one that produces nothing," he added. Green-left GroenLinks MP Tofik Dibi called the situation an "integration tragedy."
© Expatica News

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WIFE OF DUTCH NAZI COLLABORATOR DIES

Wife of prominent Dutch Nazi collaborator, known as the 'black widow,' dies at 92

25/3/2007- The wife of one of the most prominent Dutch collaborator during the German occupation of Netherlands in World War II has died, her son said in a statement Saturday. She was 92. Florrie Rost van Tonningen was a supporter of the Nazi party in the Netherlands during the 1930s, and her husband Meinoud the second highest-ranking member of the Dutch Nazi Party ran the Netherlands' national bank during the occupation. He was killed or committed suicide in jail while awaiting trial after the war. Florrie soon earned the epithet 'the black widow' due to her continued adherence to Nazi ideology and involvement in Dutch white supremacist circles after the war. She was convicted several times for spreading Nazi literature, made anti-Semitic remarks in her memoirs and held meetings for neo-Nazis in her home. As recently as 2000 she discussed the value of having "white skin" in a television interview. She is survived by three sons, who reject her ideology. "My mother, whose courage, dedication and perseverance could not be denied, alas, always remained loyal to her national-socialist ideology," her son, Grimbert, wrote on his Web site. "Surrounded by a small group of followers, she continued to cling stubbornly to the idea that Hitler and his supporters were right. In that sense, she caused much pain to the Dutch people, Jews, and many others, as well as her own family."
© Associated Press

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RACE HATE CAMPAIGN FEATURES SWASTIKA STICKERS (uk)

30/3/2007- Police have launched an investigation over claims that a neo-nazi gang has launched a campaign of hate in Shawclough. It comes after the Observer was alerted to several fluorescent stickers said to originate from extremist group Combat 18 were posted on lampposts across Heights Lane. Depicting a masked man holding a gun and a swastika logo, the notices warn that the group which has links to violence and arson attacks is ‘in the area’. Ward Councillor Elwyn Watkins visited the alleged crime scene after he was notified by a concerned friend, who had swiftly removed a number of the offensive stickers. He said: “This is a nice area where everyone gets on with everyone. We do not want these racist thugs here. “While areas like Burnley and Oldham have been subject to race riots, Rochdale has not. We want it to stay that way.” He added: “I have heard of other cases where stickers such as these have been removed only to find razorblades tucked away underneath. I would urge anyone who sees one of these stickers not to remove them but contact the council’s environmental management department.” Muslim campaigners at the Ramadhan Foundation are also calling for a zero-tolerance approach. Spokesman Mohammed Shafiq said: “We are absolutely appalled by this sort of behaviour. The vast majority of people will not tolerate will not tolerate these thugs, bigots and criminals in Rochdale. “I urge the public to stay calm.” The stickers will now be examined by forensic experts, while Rochdale north Inspector Stuart Hey is also asking anyone with information to come forward. He said: “We are taking this matter very seriously.”
© The Asian News

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EXECUTIVE SLAVE TRADE BOOKLET SPARKS CRITICISM FROM ANTI-RACISM GROUP (uk)

Two researchers sacked over controversial project

24/3/2007- Schoolchildren are to learn about Scotland's involvement in the slave trade industry in a new booklet launched today. The Scottish Executive will send 10,000 copies to primary and secondary schools to mark 200 years since Westminster passed the act to abolish the slave trade in the British empire. Rhona Brankin, communities minister, launched the booklet, entitled Scotland And The Slave Trade, in Musselburgh on a walk that follows the footsteps taken by anti-slavery activist Robert Wedderburn and his mother Rosana, a slave maid. Brankin said Scots "cannot hide from what was a shameful period in our history which we all deeply regret". She added: "The new booklet to mark the anniversary raises awareness of the role some Scots played in the slave trade and also provides a record of the effort made by Scots to consign it to history." Paula Kitching, the booklet's main author, hopes it will help young people learn about a part of history not widely taught in schools. She said: "Slave trade history has tended to look at London, Liverpool and Bristol, but this booklet shows that's not the only story. The slave trade rippled across the country." Throughout its eight chapters, prominent figures in the slave trade are highlighted, including the Glasgow-based merchants John Glassford and Andrew Buchanan, both of whom have city streets named after them. One of the wealthiest merchants was Richard Oswald, who owned a 100,000 acre estate in Auchincruive, Ayrshire, where he built Oswald Hall. On his death he left £500,000 - equivalent to £40m in today's money. School pupils will also learn about the conditions in which enslaved people had to work and live, as well as the development of the abolitionist movement in Scotland in the 18th century.

However, the Sunday Herald has learned that two researchers who were awarded the original contract to write the 50-page booklet which cost £25,000 to produce, were sacked by the Executive before it was finished. The Rev Iain Whyte and Eric Graham were withdrawn from the project after a disagreement over the content and style of the booklet. Whyte said: "In my view, they wanted a particular slant that was not historical. I felt that they wanted certain stories that weren't possible to produce, to change the text in certain ways. I wasn't prepared to do that. "The government always has a certain agenda and they felt that what we were producing wasn't what they wanted." Whyte went on to say: "They made various comments and I disagreed. I don't know what they've put together because they terminated the contract." Whyte and Graham are, however, acknowledged for their research in the booklet, and both welcome the introduction of a publication which will help inform young people of Scotland's involvement in slavery. Graham said: "It's something that the slave trade should be taught in schools. It's one of those great moral vehicles we have to teach our children about what's right and wrong. Slavery is one of the great crimes of humanity." During the slave trade, British ships carried more than 3.4 million Africans to slavery in the Caribbean and America. Scottish ports such as Greenock and Glasgow were heavily involved in the shipping of goods, including tobacco and cotton, which were produced on the plantations where slaves worked. Businesses, particularly those around Glasgow, flourished, and by 1720 the city imported half of all American slave-grown tobacco. The booklet also details the architectural reminders of Scotland's involvement in the trading of sugar produced by enslaved labour, such as giant sugar warehouses in Greenock. In Glasgow, as well as street names, buildings such as the Tobacco Merchants House are still standing.

Anti-racism groups have criticised the publication for not going far enough to discuss the current issues effecting black communities in Scotland. Jatin Haria, director of Glasgow Anti-Racist Alliance (Gara), said: "What struck me was the chapter on the legacy of slavery, which is really only one page. I was appalled when it mentioned listening to African-inspired music and how we eat fruits from around the world." Gara has also called for "an unreserved apology" for Scotland's involvement in the slave trade and its continued effects on the country's black communities. Whether politicians should apologise has been a contentious issue. The prime minister, Tony Blair, was criticised in November for stopping short of a full apology after he said he felt "deep sorrow" for Britain's role in the slave trade. Fiona Hyslop, SNP education spokeswoman, said an apology should have been given at the time and not 200 years afterwards. "Can a politician of today really apologise for the actions of a politician of the past? What is important is that we start talking about Scotland's involvement and learn from it." She added: "I think it's essential that Scotland's pupils learn about their culture, heritage and history. It's important they know where Scotland's wealth comes from."
© The Sunday Herald

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BISHOPS CALL FOR BLAIR SLAVERY APOLOGY (uk)

Expressing Britain's 'profound regret' is not enough, Archbishop of the West Indies says

25/3/2007- Senior Clergymen last night urged Tony Blair to make a full apology for Britain's role in the slave trade, instead of only expressing sorrow for the suffering caused. The Archbishop of the West Indies, who joined the Archbishops of Canterbury and York at a prayer service in London yesterday commemorating the abolition of the slave trade in the UK, said the Prime Minister would be the 'appropriate person' to deliver an apology, which, he insisted, would prevent human rights abuses in future. Campaigners say the failure to apologise could overshadow plans for an annual day commemorating abolition. Blair will use a pre-recorded message to the British Council's commemorative event in Ghana today to express his deep regret at the inhumanity and degradation caused by what he has described as a crime against humanity. Lady Amos, the Leader of the Lords and herself descended from slaves, will describe it as 'one of the most shameful and uncomfortable chapters in British history'. The Prime Minister told a press conference with the Ghanaian President earlier this month that he was 'sorry' about what had happened, but will stop short of the formal apology that Ken Livingstone, London's mayor, is making this week. The Archbishop of the West Indies, Drexel Gomez, said that while there might appear to be only a 'technical difference' between regret and a full apology, it was important. 'An apology is in order because we have to acknowledge our past if we are to build our future,' he told the Today programme.

Downing Street's position reflects concern that it is difficult for the current generation to apologise for wrongs done centuries ago by distant forebears, while apologies may also open the question of liability for reparation. Amos, attending the event in Ghana, will tackle criticism that the celebrations have focused too much on the role of one white man - William Wilberforce, the Tory MP who led the parliamentary anti-slavery movement - and not enough on the black resistance movement. The bicentenary of the 1807 legislation abolishing the slave trade has sparked comparisons with the maltreatment of ethnic minorities in modern Britain. Yesterday, the Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, drew a parallel between the exploitation of Africans and the murder of teenager Anthony Walker, killed with an axe as he ran away from racist thugs in the city. Jones told a congregation at Liverpool Cathedral that the more he studied history, 'the more I believe that our racism is rooted in the dehumanising treatment of black people by white people'. He read out an account by John Newton, the former slave ship commander turned abolitionist, describing the practice of 'jointing' - hacking slaves to death with an axe and throwing their body parts to other slaves. Yesterday the Archbishops of Canterbury and York led a walk of witness through London, meeting the March of the Abolitionists - a group who have walked from Hull, Wilberforce's birthplace, to London wearing chains to symbolise shame at Britain's role. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, declared: 'The easiest thing in the world is to look back ... and say we wouldn't have made those mistakes. 'A part of what we're doing today is recognising that the people who worked in the slave trade, people who kept going a system of inhumanity, were people like you and me.
© The Observer

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MANDELA BOYCOTTS BRISTOL'S SLAVERY COMMEMORATION(uk)

25/3/2007- Nelson Mandela has boycotted plans to commemorate the bicentennial of the Act abolishing the slave trade in Bristol after hearing of bitter divisions within the community and accusations of racism and intolerance. Mr Mandela had been invited to Bristol, once one of the busiest slave ports in Britain, by the Lord Mayor, councillor Peter Abraham, for a service of remembrance due to take place today. But South Africa's former president declined the invitation after local black organisations contacted him to say his presence would be seen as condoning an overwhelmingly white city council which is accused of riding roughshod over the wishes of the city's black population. The Consortium of Black Groups, which sent the message, plans to hold demonstrations outside the service. Spokeswoman Hilary Banks said: "We pointed out to Mr Mandela that Bristol is not quite the liberal, multi-racial place it pretends to be. We said that if you do come to Bristol, we'd like your visit to change the position of the black people in the city. We did not tell him not to come; that was obviously his own decision. "We are going to hold a protest at the service because the venue is wrong for something like this. The church in Bristol had traditionally justified slavery and benefited from it." St Mary's Radcliffe is one of the landmarks of the city. Pointing at the spire, Ms Banks continued: "Slaves were kept in dungeons under the church and there were tunnels to the dockside. That is how the church used to treat slaves." Another famous landmark is Colston Hall, named after Edward Colston, a merchant who made his money out of slavery. The Bristol band Massive Attack has always refused to play there. Black groups say a fitting way for the city to acknowledge a part of its shameful history would be to change the name, which the council has refused to do. The "name blame", as it has become known, is a symptom of deep resentments. Despite 8 per cent of the city's population being from ethnic minorities, the 70-strong council has only two non-white councillors. "But there is also a lot of anger and dissatisfaction among the white working class, and this row has brought some pretty ugly stuff to the surface," said Marvin Rees of the Black Development Association. "The level has degenerated to 'go back to Africa' standard. I don't think the council will change the name of Colston Hall; there are no votes in it."
© Independent Digital

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MURDER RACISM 'SAME AS SLAVERY' (uk)

24/3/2007- The murder of black teenager Anthony Walker was caused by the same racism which led to slavery, the Bishop of Liverpool has said. Rt Rev James Jones was speaking at a service marking the 200th anniversary of the decision to abolish slavery. He told a 400-strong congregation at Liverpool Cathedral that racism "destroys and dehumanises". Anthony Walker, 18, was killed with an ice axe in McGoldrick Park in Huyton, Merseyside, in July 2005. Cousins Michael Barton, 17, and Paul Taylor, 20, were convicted of Anthony's murder in November 2005. Bishop Jones said: "As I have immersed myself in the history of slavery, the more I believe that our racism is rooted in the dehumanising treatment of black people by white people during the slave trade." He read out an account about "jointing" - in which slaves were slowly hacked to death with an axe and their body parts thrown into the midst of other captives as a warning. Bishop Jones added: "In this very cathedral 18 months ago we gathered to bid farewell to Anthony Walker, whose murder, also with an axe, was driven by the same brutal racism. "That's why we need to repent and to keep on repenting, setting our faces against the racism that both destroys and dehumanises other people." Saturday's service included prayers of penitence, in which leaders of various faiths stood in a triangle to apologise to God for sins including "our incapacity to feel the sufferings of others" and "our readiness to exploit and abuse". It was followed by a procession to Liverpool's Albert Dock, from where cargo slaves would have been transported. Liverpool was regarded as the principal slave port in Europe by the 1740s and the trade contributed much of the city's wealth during the 18th century. Marking the 200th anniversary of Britain's abolition of the slave trade.
© BBC News

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RACE-HATE LETTER LINK TO HOAX BRIDGE BOMB (uk)

24/3/2007- Police are linking a hoax bomb found strapped to a bridge by Nazis and race-hate letters sent to schools. Traffic ground to a halt last month as bomb disposal experts exploded a suspect package on the A27. Detectives found a swastika nearby while a pro-Nazi group is believed to be behind the stunt. Now it is thought the same culprits are responsible for sending hate letters to faith schools in the area. Police have refused to reveal which schools have been sent the letters on request of the headteachers. Hampshire police spokesman Neil Miller said: 'I can't say which schools have had letters delivered, but they are all in the Havant area.
'On the content of the letters, at this time all we can say is that the motive of the content is to provoke racial tension or hatred.
'It is a very sensitive issue and police investigations are being thoroughly conducted. 'We will deal with those responsible in a robust manner.' The A27, near Havant, was brought to a standstill on February 7 after all three lanes were closed in both directions. A member of the public reported a suspect package on the bridge alongside a 3ft by 2ft cardboard sign with a red swastika on it. Below the Nazi sign was the website address of the far-right extremist American group, the National Socialist Movement. Police say there is a definite link between the bomb and the letters. Havant's district commander, Chief Inspector Gary Cooper, said: 'We have had a hate crime reported in the form of letters. Some of the same details left with the hoax bomb also appear on the letters. Some kind of pro-Nazi extremist organisation is behind the letters, which are forming part of the investigation into the fake bomb.'  Investigating officer Detective Constable Rob Lowe, from Waterlooville CID, added: 'We are treating it very seriously. 'These letters have been getting our full attention.'
© Portsmouth Today

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ANTI-SEMITISM RULES COME IN AT UNIVERSITIES (uk)

25/3/2007- Measures to tackle antisemitism in British universities will be unveiled this week amid concern about rising discrimination. The government will warn vice-chancellors they must not ignore antiJewish activity on campuses and must prevent prejudiced lecturers, guest speakers and extremist political organisations stirring up hatred against Israel. A recent Commons report highlighted attacks on undergraduates, a lack of respect by lecturers and tutors for the needs of observant Jewish students and a growing tolerance of extreme language against Israel during student debates on the Middle East. There is particular concern about so-called “Islamic” antisemitism, with radical Muslim clerics, or their followers, being allowed to preach antiJewish hatred in universities. Phil Woolas, the communities minister, labelled the findings of the all-party parliamentary report on antisemitism “very worrying” and warned that the government was ready to take radical action. Woolas said: “Our response will be far tougher than anticipated. We are very worried about Islamic antisemitism on campuses. In this country we tend to see it as something of the past. It is not.” Although the government will not announce legislation this week Woolas said it had not been ruled out. Detailed measures to tackle antisemitism were agreed last week after a meeting with the prime minister. Police forces must now keep records of antisemitic attacks, the Foreign Office will be required to raise the issue with Arab countries such as Egypt and Jordan, which produce some of the most extreme antisemitic material, and a taskforce will be set up to combat antisemitism.

Guidelines for universities are expected to say that campus authorities should record all complaints of antisemitism made by students, including statements or speeches. University vice-chancellors are also expected to be warned not to tolerate academics whose critical views of Israel “cross the line” from personal interest or activism to abuse of power. The government is also expected to criticise the boycotting of contact with academics working in Israel by some university departments and say lecturers who oppose boycotts must be supported. Denis MacShane, a former Europe minister, who chaired the parliamentary inquiry, presented to Blair last autumn, said: “During our evidence sessions we heard of Jewish students having antisemitic graffiti scrawled on their doors, and of extremist Muslim groups being invited to speak on campuses. “There are also attempts to ban people from putting forward Israel’s case in debates on the Middle East. Furthermore, the British National party is increasingly active on campuses.” His report found that Jewish students felt “isolated and unsupported,” and that pro-Palestine debates were being used as a “vehicle for antiJewish language”. It also noted that casual antiJewish “banter” was becoming increasingly socially acceptable. At least 268,000 people in England and Wales classify themselves as Jews. Two-thirds live in London and surrounding counties and 10% in Manchester, with the remainder concentrated in other big cities.
© The Times Online

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CANADIAN ANTI-SEMITISM AT 25-YEAR HIGH

Anti-Semitic activities in Canada have risen to their highest level in 25 years, according to a new report.

25/3/2007- Anti-Semitic activities in Canada have risen to their highest level in 25 years, according to a new report. B’nai Brith Canada’s 2006 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents indicates that 935 incidents were reported to the organization’s League of Human Rights last year. Almost two-thirds were categorized as harassment, one-third as vandalism, and about 3 percent as violence. Incidents include physical assaults, threatening phone calls, Internet hate-mongering, synagogue vandalism, Holocaust denial and a school firebombing in Montreal. The overall number is about 13 percent higher than in 2005, double the tally of five years ago and four times higher than it was 10 years ago. The incidents also are becoming more personally threatening, said Frank Dimant, B’nai Brith Canada’s executive vice president, who concludes that more members of Canada’s 375,000-strong Jewish community feel targeted than ever before. “The acts of harassment and violence are increasing. It’s going beyond ordinary vandalism,” he said. “That means that more individuals are feeling personally threatened, and that’s a frightening experience.” The figures show that 49 cases involved a workplace setting, 118 involved private homes and 54 involved school settings across Canada. Nearly half of the reported events occurred in Toronto, which is home to nearly half of the country’s Jews. Another 25 percent occurred in Montreal. But there were incidents in almost every Canadian region in 2006.

In the Atlantic provinces, for example, white supremacist flyers were surreptitiously placed into a traveling Anne Frank memorial exhibit, and a violent anti-Semitic computer game was played at a public high school. In Manitoba, Nazi-themed graffiti was spray-painted across a 50-foot stretch on a public walkway. In one case mixing road rage with racism, a Jewish motorist in Toronto was assaulted by a driver who shouted that “a pig-nose Jew should not be driving,” and threatened to kill him. In another case, a Toronto woman who was being harassed in an anti-Semitic way in a park called B’nai Brith’s 24-hour “anti-hate hotline” on her cellphone. The person who answered notified police and stayed on the phone with her until she was safely out of the park. Reported incidents like these represent only about 10 percent of such activity, B’nai Brith officials contend. The report also documents a dramatic upsurge of anti-Semitic activity around Israel’s war with Hezbollah last summer. Events in the Middle East are a “global trigger phenomenon” for acts of anti-Jewish hate in Canada and elsewhere, the authors conclude. According to the B’nai Brith statistics, the largest known group of perpetrators — who claimed responsibility for 56 incidents — were persons identifying themselves as being of Arab or Muslim descent. For Dimant, one of the most troubling episodes involved a malicious whisper and e-mail campaign against Bob Rae, a candidate in last year’s federal Liberal leadership convention, urging delegates not to vote for him because his wife is Jewish. “Bob Rae’s team said there was a constant anti-Semitic campaign. The e-mail was just the tip of the iceberg,” Dimant said. “When that kind of anti-Semitism enters into a legitimate political arena, there’s no guarantee that it won’t happen within other political parties” and target other groups of people.

While the Canadian Jewish Congress does not release statistics on anti-Semitic activities, it carefully monitors such behavior. “There is no question that 2006 saw a marked increase in anti-Semitic activities in Canada,” Congress CEO Bernie Farber said. “We’ve also seen an increase in what I would describe as suspicious behavior, such as making probing phone calls and the photographing of Jewish facilities,” Farber said, adding that harassment in the workplace and threats against Jewish leadership and institutions — involving bomb hoaxes and similar warnings — also increased in 2006. In response to the numbers, B’nai Brith’s League for Human Rights has penned a Victim’s Bill of Rights that stipulates that victims of hate-motivated acts should be treated with compassion and dignity, and not be punished for speaking out. Among other measures, the organization is urging more consistent sentencing guidelines for hate crimes and more speedy and efficient handling of such trials. Dimant said he also would like mainstream media to do a better job of reporting on the rise of anti-Semitic intolerance in Canadian society. It’s become very “chic” for the media to report on Islamophobia while virtually ignoring the much larger phenomenon of anti-Semitism, he said. “When a student says, ‘I decided not to wear my Star of David on campus,’ that’s like saying, ‘I decided to become invisible on campus,’ and that’s a horrible development,” Dimant said. “In a multicultural country like Canada, it’s frightening that a Jew decides to become invisible because he’s afraid of the anti-Semitism in the hallways and in the lecture halls.”
© JTA News

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THE EUROPEAN WEEK AGAINST HOMOPHOBIA STARTED IN RUSSIA

26/3/2007- From March 26 till 31, 2007 the Russian Week against Homophobia will take place for the first time. Actions in the framework of the week will be carried out in many cities of Russia (Moscow, St. Petersburg, Rostov-on-Don, Voronezh, Krasnodar, etc.). It will become a peculiar continuation of the European Week against Homophobia in the framework of the "All Different ¨C All Equal" campaign, the central events of which were held in Warsaw in March 3¨C5. The Movement in defense of the rights of LGBT "LGBT-rights", the Youth Network against Racism and Intolerance (YNRI) and the Movement of civil actions "GROZA" acted as the initiators of the Week against Homophobia in Russia with the support of the Russian LGBT-Network and a number of regional and inter-regional organizations and groups. The problem of homophobia (intolerance towards the LGBT citizens: lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals) in Russia, as well as in a number of other European countries, is more than critical, being fuelled by the speeches of some politicians, religious leaders and other public figures, who speculate on this topic for their own goals. This leads to a systematic violation of the rights of the LGBT persons and their discrimination. "The week against homophobia is a peculiar (concentrated in time) effort to attract public attention to the problem of homophobia and its danger for the entire society. It's an opportunity to answer the homophobic rhetoric by creating the space without discrimination and hatred towards people. An important feature of this Week is the fact that it's for the first time that not only the LGBT-organizations speak out against homophobia, but also the anti-fascist, human rights and other civil organizations do so", ¨C says the Week against Homophobia coordinator ¨C Tatyana Serpukhova.

The main elements of the Week will be the enlightenment actions (discussions, roundtables, video-shows, presentations, information actions, seminars, etc.), and also the collection of signatures under the "Manifest against Homophobia". "The threat for the modern society may be only the hatred and violence towards everything unlike and different, but not Love¡­ Only the solidary actions of a great number of people may influence the preservation and prevalence of the values of Dignity of each Human being and his rights and freedoms in any society" ¨C reads the Manifest. One can get acquainted with the "Manifest" and join it at the official site of the European Week against Homophobia in Russia: www.ewaho.lgbtrights.ru .
© email source

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UN RIGHTS COUNCIL ADOPTS GLOBAL RELIGIOUS DEFAMATION ACT

30/3/2007- Islamic countries pushed through a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council on Friday urging a global prohibition on the public defamation of religion, a response largely to the furor last year over caricatures published in a Danish newspaper of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. The statement proposed by the Organization of Islamic Conference addressed what it called a "campaign" against Muslim minorities and the Islamic religion around the world since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. The resolution, which was opposed by European and a number of other non-Muslim countries, "expresses deep concern at attempts to identify Islam with terrorism, violence and human rights violations."

It makes no mention of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism or any other religion besides Islam, but urges countries "to take resolute action to prohibit the dissemination of racist and xenophobic ideas and material aimed at any religion or its followers that constitute incitement and religious hatred, hostility, or violence." Iran, whose President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for Israel to be "wiped off the map," belongs to the 57-member Islamic conference. The resolution was adopted by a 24-14 vote with nine abstentions. Canada, Japan and South Korea joined European countries in opposition, primarily citing its excessive focus on Islam and incompatibility with fundamental rights such as the freedoms of speech and thought. "The problem of religious intolerance is worldwide and not limited to certain religions," said Brigitta Maria Siefker-Eberle of Germany," speaking on behalf of the 27-nation European Union.

Ghana, India, Nigeria, Zambia and some of the council's Latin American countries abstained. There are 17 Muslim countries in the 47-nation human rights council. Their alliance with China, Cuba, Russia and most of the African members means they can almost always achieve a majority. Human Rights Watch said the resolution could endanger the basic rights of individuals. The document "focuses on protection of religions themselves, particularly Islam, rather than the rights of individuals, including members of religious minorities," the New York-based rights group said in a statement.
© Associated Press

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Headlines 23 March, 2007

PUTIN BLAMED IN POLITKOVSKAYA'S DIARIES(Russia)

23/3/2007- Slain journalist Anna Politkovskaya's diaries, published in English this week, paint a damning picture of a Russia where democracy is stifled, fascism is on the rise and ethnic minorities are brutally repressed. For her, one man is to blame -- President Vladimir Putin. Politkovskaya's hard-hitting account of Russian news and politics over two years, including the State Duma elections in 2003 and the Beslan school siege in 2004, was completed shortly before she was murdered in Moscow in October. She was 48. The 300-page collection of reportage and reflection, unpublished in Russia, is a reminder of why Politkovskaya was such a thorn in the Kremlin's side. In the first of three sections, Politkovskaya describes the creation and success of the "phantom" United Russia party in the 2003 elections, which eased Putin's passage to re-election in 2004. "Were we seeing a crisis of Russian parliamentary democracy in the Putin era?" she said. "No, we were witnessing its death." Politkovskaya, her appeals unheeded in her lifetime by the majority that sees Putin as a bulwark of stability, accuses those in power of undermining the opposition through intimidation. She also voices her frustration at the opposition itself -- saying it concentrated on courting the wealthy while ignoring those below the poverty line -- and at Russia as a whole. "The Russian people gave their consent. The electorate took it lying down and agreed to live ... without democracy," she wrote on Dec. 8, 2003. "They agreed to be treated like idiots."  Putin declines the totalitarian label but says democracy must be adapted to Russian conditions and culture. Among the political reflections, Politkovskaya highlights the gap between Russia's rich and poor, allegations of arbitrary kidnappings and killings in southern Russia and of the torture and murder of a soldier by fellow recruits.

Several times in her memoirs she argues that by resorting to what she calls brutality and lawlessness in Chechnya, the authorities under Putin were driving young people to take up arms against them. "In the Chechen town of Urus-Martan, three boys have gone off to fight for the resistance," she said in 2005. "They left notes for their relatives explaining that they could ... see no other way to get back at the failure to punish evildoers." Politkovskaya's sister Yelena Kudimova said investigators had narrowed the search for her killers to a few possibilities, but she could not predict whether or when charges would be brought. "She had quite a lot of enemies. There could potentially be a number of people who might have killed her," she said in an interview. Kudimova added that Politkovskaya would speak again from beyond the grave with a new book to be published this year. Politkovskaya started the book about Chechnya in 2006, and Kudimova said it contained "explosive" material. Kudimova will complete it with a chapter about her sister. "She was very feminine, not just a warrior," Kudimova said.
© Reuters

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POLICE DETAIN EXTREMISTS OVER MCDONALD’S BLAST (Russia)

23/3/2007- Six far-right activists were detained in St. Petersburg in connection with a bomb blast at a McDonald’s restaurant, Interfax news agency reported Thursday. The first suspects were detained at the beginning of this week, Interfax quoted a police source as saying. “In the case of some of the detainees, who pleaded guilty, the court yesterday made a decision to take them into custody,” the source said, adding that a decision about the rest of the group was due to be made later Thursday. The police suspect the detained group of carrying out the February 18 attack which injured six people, including two children and a 38-year-old German tourist. A bomb went off under a table in a McDonald’s on the corner of Nevsky Prospekt and Ulitsa Rubinshteina. According to the police source, all the detainees are members of an extremist group that formed after Dmitry Borobikov, one of the leaders of another extremist group was killed by the police while being arrested last year. “After this event, several people who support the ideas of the supremacy of the white race united in the memory of their dead friend,” the source told Interfax. The police source said the group could be responsible for a series of explosions including the bombing of a flower stall near Vladimirskaya metro station. That incident also occurred in February. At least one home-made bomb amd extremist symbols and literature were discovered during police searches that took place in the detainees’ apartments, Fontanka.ru reported Thursday, quoting the police. The police said that footage from a surveillance camera in the McDonald’s assisted them in catching the suspects, Fontanka reported. According to the camera footage, the six detainees visited the restaurant 30 minutes before the explosion. The camera also showed the bomb being put under one of the tables, Fontanka reported.
© The St. Petersburg Times

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SWITZERLAND FACES RACISM ALLEGATIONS (Interview)

Doudou Diène, the United Nations special rapporteur on racism, has told swissinfo Switzerland urgently needs to debate racism and confront xenophobic tendencies.

22/3/2007- The Senegalese UN envoy's full report on racism in Switzerland will be presented at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday. Six months ago Diène provoked often hostile reactions after reiterating criticism of Switzerland for what he said were discriminatory tendencies. He further maintained that racism had become an instrument in political debate. Diène had made similar comments in January 2006 when he visited Switzerland to gather information for his report into racism in ten countries. After visiting Brazil and Japan, he chose Switzerland as it was a multicultural society that had seen numerous votes affecting foreigners.

swissinfo: Your report paints a disturbing picture of Switzerland. Is this country really more blighted by racism and xenophobia than its neighbours?
Doudou Diène: In principle I avoid making comparisons because each country has its own specific demographics, culture and politics. I have however identified certain common tendencies, such as the tension between the traditional national identity and the new multicultural dynamics caused by immigration from outside Europe. Now this tension is subject to a political instrumentalisation of racism which is rightly based on a defence of the national identity.

swissinfo: But Switzerland is very proud of its multiculturalism. Is this just a new myth that is breaking down?
D.D.: It's not a myth. As I say in my report, it is a trump card played by Switzerland to cope with this new tension concerning identity, which follows from the recent immigration of non-Europeans and Muslims. The powerful resistance that it provokes is instrumentalised politically.

swissinfo: Your report also asserts that immigration in Switzerland is essentially treated from an economic angle. But the country also has a humanitarian tradition of welcoming refugees.
D.D.: This tradition is indeed part of Swiss culture and history. But the Swiss identity is also constructed like a ghetto. The neutrality which Switzerland has always laid as a foundation of its national politics has been subject to an ethnic and racial interpretation by certain groups and people. From this point of view I strongly criticise the treatment of immigration and asylum, which is no longer carried out according to the international treaties signed by Switzerland but according to considerations concerning identity and security. That succeeds in criminalising immigrants and asylum-seekers.

swissinfo: Those who support tightening immigration laws claim that fighting foreign criminals will ease the integration of migrants. What do you make of that argument?
D.D.: I think it is false. It rests on an ambiguous political discourse which paints a reprehensible global picture of foreigners as a threat and a risk. And the idea that you don't necessarily have to throw the baby out with the bath water hasn't entered the debates I've heard or read. Having said that, there is evidence that there are differences of analysis and opinion within Swiss politics, as seen in the creation of the Service for Combating Racism, the Federal Commission against Racism and the Federal Commission for Foreigners. Meeting various ministers, I have noticed a diversity of opinions regarding these questions – and that is positive.

swissinfo-interview: Frédéric Burnand in Geneva
© Swissinfo

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FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL FRONTRUNNER SEDUCING FAR-RIGHT

20/3/2007- Presidential front-runner Nicolas Sarkozy appealed for brotherhood in multicultural France while keeping alive his proposal for a ministry to guard the national identity - and conceding he was fishing for far-rght votes. Less than two weeks after proposing to create a ministry of immigration and national identity, Sarkozy, a conservative, sought to win over youth. Evoking US civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I have a dream" speech in an address Sunday to a crowd of some 8,000 young people from his governing party, the Union for a Popular Movement, he asked them to dream of "fraternity" in France. "I dream that one day all the children whose families have been French for generations ... all the children of immigrants, all the grandchildren of Italians, Portuguese and Spanish Republicans, all Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim children can sit together at the table of French fraternity," Sarkozy said. The word "fraternity" is part of the French national motto, "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," born out of the French Revolution. However, Sarkozy, France's tough interior minister, has waded into sensitive questions around immigration, a theme usually dominated by Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the extreme-right National Front, and has brought them into the presidential debate. Ten days ago, he proposed creating a ministry of immigration and national identity. Denouncing the proposal has become a rare point of agreement among other candidates of all political stripes. Socialist candidate Segolene Royal, Sarkozy's main rival, on Saturday said it was "intolerable that one can think that normal immigration is a risk for the national identity." The current No. 3 candidate, Francois Bayrou, who occupies the political middle ground, has also denounced the proposal. But in a rare show of frankness, Sarkozy conceded Sunday night on France 3 television that "bringing back to the camp of the republic voters who have gone to the National Front is also my job."

In each presidential election, mainstream candidates make efforts to seduce extreme-right voters. However, the stunning performance of Le Pen in the 2002 presidential vote, when he reached the runoff to face incumbent President Jacques Chirac, has made the subject particularly sensitive in the current election. Le Pen, who blames immigration for all French ills, suffered a massive defeat in a rare show of left-right unity in the second round. At least 11 candidates will vie in the April 22 first round of the election. The number who have met the qualification criteria is to be made official Monday. The runoff will be held May 6. "I'm not afraid to defend the identity of France, of the Republic, of the nation," Sarkozy said Sunday. The interior minister, expected to resign from his government post by the end of March, lags some 12 points behind Royal among youths aged 18 to 21, according to a study by Cevipof, a think tank of the Institute for Political Science. Sarkozy's image is tattered in the housing projects of France after calling some delinquent youths "scum," a remark that many contend fanned 2005 riots in the poor, suburban neighborhoods, mainly home to immigrants and French of immigrant origin. The proposal for a ministry of national identity distanced Sarkozy from some within his own political family, including Equal Rights Minister Azouz Begag, of Algerian descent, and, notably, the respected former Health Minister Simone Veil. She had recently decided to support Sarkozy's presidential bid, but publicly regretted that the candidate had mixed immigration issues with national identity. However, Sarkozy held firm Sunday. "If we don't talk about France how can we be surprised that what separates us ends up being bigger than what unites us," he said, "that those who join us cannot manage to integrate into a country that no longer takes the time to talk to them." Youth at the rally defended Sarkozy's ideas. "We're here to support him," said 16-year-old Timothee Mali. "He dares to say things that others only think." Meanwhile, Royal, the Socialist candidate, ended a rally of party faithful Sunday to the tune of the French national anthem, "La Marseillaise" - a first for her.
© Associated Press

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HOLOCAUST DENIER DAVID IRVING DRAWS A FRIENDLY CROWD IN BUDAPEST (Hungary)

19/3/2007- Discredited British author David Irving spoke in front of some 250 people at a small theatre on Szabadság tér last Monday. He was warmly greeted by the kind of rhythmic clapping that is one step short of a standing ovation in Hungary. Irving was released from jail in Vienna only last December, having served 13 months of a three-year sentence imposed on him for breaking an Austrian law that makes it a criminal offence to deny the magnitude of the crimes committed by the National Socialists during the Second World War. A warrant for his arrest was issued following a speech and an interview given in 1989, in which he denied the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz. He was picked up by police in November 2005 while driving to give a speech to a far-right student group in Vienna and sentenced the following February. When the sentence was passed, the US academic Deborah Lipstadt, whom Irving had previously unsuccessfully sued for libel, said “I am uncomfortable with imprisoning people for speech. Let him go and let him fade from everyone’s radar screens.” She warned that the far right would find a martyr if he went to jail.

Irving, who will be 69 on 24 March, was in Hungary to promote his latest Hungarian-language publication, which deals with the 1945-1946 International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. He was also a guest of the nationalist Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIÉP). At the Szabó Dezsõ Theatre, he began with a joke about the similarities between his own country and Hungary, as both are being run by liars. This was enthusiastically received, as were all of his comments and gags. The English interpreter failed to turn up, so Irving spoke chiefly in fluent German. He said that while in prison, he wrote 2,000 pages for a book on Himmler, and 2,000 pages of his memoir. “I can recommend prison to writers,” he quipped. The audience consisted mostly of middle-aged men and women, with some pensioners and twenty-somethings mixed in. There were no stereotypical extreme right supporters: no skinheads, no swastikas. In Hungary, the far right parties, especially MIÉP, tend to draw crowds of moustachioed men in leather jerkins and stern-looking housewives. After admitting that he has been in Hungary, where he has a number of “good, special friends”, for the past month - “and no one knew I was here, I’m glad to say” - he went on to rail against what he sees as a growing curtailment of freedom of speech in Europe. “I have to behave myself,” he said, bitterly. He added that the war was fought for freedom but now “some are more free than others”. He told his audience how the criticism of his work started when “things I uncovered during my research did not conform” to the opinions of conventional historians. He has no formal training as a historian, and used to hanker after acceptance from the academic community. He reportedly said during the Lipstadt libel case that drove the last nails into the coffin of his reputation that he has “no academic qualifications whatsoever”.

Irving is now widely regarded as a crank, but is an almost iconic figure in the world of extreme-right fringe politics. He campaigns for what he calls “Real History” and is in demand as a speaker. Having no serious publishing deal, he has put his works online for free download. His connection with Hungary goes back to the 1970s, when he was researching his 1981 book Uprising! about the 1956 revolution. That book has been criticised for implying that rebels were chiefly motivated by anti-Semitism and for ignoring events that took place in the years immediately preceding the 1956 revolution. Irving said Austrian authorities would only allow him to see his twelve-year-old daughter for 15 minutes through a reinforced glass screen while in prison. The Hungarian audience applauded him warmly in sympathy. Many warned that imprisoning him would only heighten his importance to those sympathetic to his marginal, extremist views. To the small audience that came to hear him talk in a subterranean theatre in Budapest, people who like to think of themselves as victims living in a police state, David Irving was, at least for one night, a hero.
© The Budapest Times

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INQUIRY LOOKS AT CONDITIONS OF TOP RUSSIAN SCHOOL

21/3/2007- The administration of Moscow State University, one of Russia's most prestigious schools, has opened an investigation into student allegations of severely eroded teaching standards and living conditions in an academic department, according to a group of students and a dean. The investigation, into the conditions in the Sociology Department, will be conducted by a special commission of the faculty and administrators that was formed last week. It followed a rare and remarkable burst of defiance and student activism on a Russian campus, and marked a case of grass-root organization and civil society development that nongovernment organizations and critics of the Kremlin have said has been in decline in recent years. The allegations, many of them circulated by a small group of students to Western universities in a campaign for support, also strongly suggested that official anti-Western attitudes and a creeping Russian nationalism were undermining the quality of the teaching. Among the students' allegations, for example, were claims that extremist views had become institutionalized, and that anti-Semitism and the teaching of global conspiracy theories have infiltrated the teaching as well. "The dean's office has distributed a brochure to all students which approvingly quotes the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion,' blames Freemasons and Zionists for the world wars, and claims that they control U.S. and British policy and the global financial system," the students wrote, in one of their public appeals. "Studying conditions at the department are unbearable."

Vladimir Dobrenkov, dean of the Sociology Department, dismissed the complaints about the curriculum outright in a telephone interview, saying the student claims "are full of hints, rumors and half-truths" and said that no anti-Semitism has been taught or tolerated on campus. He conceded only that the living conditions were poor, and said that they would be improved. Students have said that ventilation is inadequate and that the cafeteria serving them has been outrageously overpriced — a suggestion of profiteering by university insiders. "We should have a constructive dialogue with the students," the dean said. Dobrenkov said that the complaining students represented a small fraction of the 2,000-member student body, and that there influence was exaggerated. On this point the student's disagreed, saying they had a nucleus of more than 20 core members, and had signatures of support of nearly 10 percent of the student body — a remarkable number, they said, given a climate of surveillance and worries of retaliation. Russian universities are typically highly centralized organizations. Student activism, common in the West, is much less common here. The students also said that qualified teachers have been chased away by the administrators and talented visiting professors discouraged from teaching, and that a servile student organization has been used by the administration to report on student activists.
© International Herald Tribune

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HR ACTIVISTS URGE MOSCOW AUTHORITIES TO ALLOW GAY PRIDE PARADE

20/3/2007- The Moscow authorities should give the go-ahead to gay pride parades, Alison Gil the head the Moscow office of the Human Rights Watch group, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying on Tuesday. “The parade must be authorized. I see no reasons for banning it in Moscow,” a ban would be a human rights abuse, she said. “It is against the law to ban marches. The law forbids the authorities from banning marches. A different venue can be offered only after convincing arguments are provided,” head of Moscow’s Helsinki Group Lyudmila Alexeyeva told Interfax. “Russian law protects the rights of sexual minorities, but in fact sexual minorities are opposed not only by the authorities, but also by the public. Life is not easy for these people in this country, as their rights are abused,” Alexeyeva said. Earlier on Tuesday, the Russian Orthodox Church urged the authorities to ban a gay pride parade in Moscow. It was announced on Monday that an organizing committee had been set up for a gay pride parade set to be held in Moscow on May 27 to mark the 14th anniversary of the annulment of the criminal prosecution of homosexuality.
© MosNews

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INQUIRY GIVES GREEN LIGHT TO GAY MARRIAGE(Sweden)

21/3/2007- Sweden should allow same-sex couples to marry, an official inquiry has concluded. But gay rights campaigners are angry that the proposals would allow priests to refuse to perform gay weddings, while many religious groups argue that marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman. Presenting his report on Wednesday, Hans Regner, formerly Sweden's most senior government lawyer, said that gay couples should be able to wed and to be legally regarded as spouses. The current law permitting registered partnerships for same-sex couples should be revoked, he said. Regner argued that the arguments in favour of changing the law outweighed the arguments against. "We have to a large extent abolished discrimination against homosexuals. This is the last bastion," Regner told a press conference in Stockholm on Wednesday afternoon. Regner said a new law should retain the word marriage (‘äktenskap’) rather than replacing it with a term such as partnership. Marriage has been the normal term for many centuries, and replacing it would be seen as unnecessary by many, he argued. Churches and other faith groups should retain their right to conduct marriages, but the Church of Sweden will should no longer have the right as a matter of course. "People attach great importance to the fact that their weddings have certain ceremonies, and that they are festive," he said.

In future, individual priests in the Church of Sweden should be forced to apply for the right to marry parishoners, just as is already the case for their counterparts in other churches and non-Christian religions in Sweden. There would be no obligation under the proposals for priests to officiate at the weddings of gay couples. The report said that a requirement to do so would lead to many priests and other religious leaders giving up their right to conduct marriages. Such a development would lead in practice to a situation in which most weddings were conducted in civil ceremonies. Regner admitted that the lack of an obligation on the part of religious groups to marry gay couples could lead to problems. But. he said, "it is possible that certain priests and religious groups will marry homosexuals," he said, pointing to the Jewish Board of Deputies, which according to Regner sees no problem in carrying out gay marriages for members of the Jewish community. The Church of Sweden has said that it intends to carry out legally binding ceremonies for gay couples, but that individual priests would be allowed to refuse to officiate. However, Archbishop Anders Wejryd said on Wednesday that the church could issue a blanket refusal to carry out the ceremonies if a new law referred to the partnerships as marriage (äktenskap in Swedish). Wejryd said that discussions within the church were still ongoing, but that the current line was that the word ‘marriage’ should be reserved for heterosexual partnerships. Regner responded to the church's line by saying that "they can call things what they like. All this is about is what is said in the wedding ceremony," he said. Unsurprisingly, the Roman Catholic Church in Sweden has said it will not wed gay couples, claiming that marriage should be between a man and a woman. The church's Per Samuelsson wrote in a memorandum that the definition of marriage as a union of a man and a woman is shared by all major world cultures and belongs to "humanity's cultural inheritance." He added that marriage is a sacrament in the Catholic tradition. Representatives of the Church of Sweden and the Swedish Mission Covenant Church had said in their submissions to the inquiry that the marriage act was not a sacrament in their traditions, although added that it has certain elements that resemble a sacrament.

Swedish gay rights organization RFSL slammed the proposal that priests could refuse to marry gay couples. “They are proposing that it should be possible to discriminate. Churches and religious groups are to be allowed to refuse, and we are critical of that,” said chairman Sören Andersson. “You can’t pick and choose from Swedish law,” he said. The Left Party, Green Party and the youth wing of the Social Democratic Party agreed, saying that people licensed to officiate at weddings should have a duty to marry any couple legally allowed to wed, including gay couples.
© The Local

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MEPS KEEN TO INVESTIGATE POLISH ANTI-GAY LAW

21/3/2007- The European Parliament is poised to investigate the legality of draft restrictions against discussion of homosexuality in Polish schools, if a bill is formally proposed. But a leading NGO has already expressed concern over civil liberties in Poland. Warsaw is planning to ban discussions on homosexuality in schools and educational institutions across the deeply orthodox Roman Catholic country, with teachers set to be fired, fined or imprisoned if they violate the rules. Openly gay teachers would also be in line to lose their jobs. The European Parliament's committee on civil liberties discussed the Polish ideas on Tuesday (20 March) and decided to launch a study into the compatibility of such legislation with EU rules, if the bill is ever officially submitted to the Polish lower house. "The disturbing proposals to outlaw discussion of homosexuality raise serious concerns about the commitment to fundamental rights in Poland," said Dutch green MEP Kathalijne Buitenweg in a statement after the meeting. "It is shocking that the government of a modern European country would even consider such draconian legislation. The promotion of gay hatred is the antithesis of EU anti-discrimination rules and the Polish government must publicly reject this approach," she added. The committee would like the EU parliament's legal services to probe any Polish bill on two grounds, firstly to see if it is compatible with European anti-discrimination norms and secondly to see if it violates European norms on freedom of expression. Ms Buitenweg and other MEPs are also preparing oral questions to the European Commission and the German EU presidency for the 10-11 April plenary session in Strasbourg.

The Polish proposal
Poland's education minister Roman Giertych - the leader of the League of Polish Families party which originated the proposal - said last week the measures would aim to "prohibit the promotion of homosexuality and other deviance."  "One must limit homosexual propaganda, so that children won't have an improper view of the family," he added, according to press reports, even sketching out hopes to roll out a similar ban across the EU in future. His proposal has been fast-tracked and could become law by the end of the month. The rightist League of Polish Families is a fringe party which joined the government team together with the Kaczynski twins' Law and Justice party largely as an accident of opportunistic coalition-building following inconclusive elections in late 2005. But president Lech Kaczynski and prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, while trumpeting about Poland's liberal traditions during visits to Brussels, are also devout Roman Catholics and have a keen eye for populist moves designed to please conservative voters at home. "There is no discrimination against homosexuals in Poland," government spokesman Jan Dziedziczak told Polish daily Rzeczpospolita on Tuesday. "But promotion of homosexuality in schools is another matter. There is no mandate for that," he added.

'Dark undercurrent'
The green Dutch MEP, Ms Buitenweg - herself an antithesis to the current Polish government - went on to say that "there is a dark undercurrent in Polish politics and society at present, which seeks to promote discrimination of minorities and the disregard of civil rights" touching upon wider concerns over Poland's political drift. A similar note was struck by a recent open letter from US activists Human Rights Watch which stated that the law "would violate freedom of speech and impede free access to information" putting youngsters at risk of HIV infection through ignorance. "Schools should be training grounds for tolerance, not bastions of repression and discrimination," the strongly-worded letter added. Last month, the League of Polish Families also gave voice to anti-Semitic tendencies in its ranks, with party member and MEP Maciej Giertych - who also happens to be Roman Giertych's father - publishing a booklet saying Jews are biologically different from gentiles and create their own ghettos. Neither his son nor the Polish government made any effort to distance themselves from his views, despite an outcry in Brussels. The Polish education minister also has wildly unrealistic views on abortion, proposing in recent weeks that Poland should push for abortion to be made illegal across the EU in a statement that went too far even for prime minister Kaczynski, who made him publicly retract his words. Abortion is illegal in Poland except on medical grounds, but even this is hard to secure: the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg awarded €25,000 damages on Tuesday to Polish woman Alicja Tysiac, who was declined a legal abortion even though the birth made her all-but-lose her eyesight.
© EUobserver

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POLISH TEACHERS MARCH IN WARSAW

17/3/2007- More than 10,000 teachers have marched through the Polish capital to demand pay rises and demonstrate against the government's education policy. Gay rights groups joined to protest against plans to dismiss teachers who promote homosexual behaviour. Ministers have said they are preparing a bill to ban what they called "homosexual propaganda" from schools. The teachers were demanding both improved retirement benefits and the dismissal of the education minister. They accuse Roman Giertych of ignoring teachers' groups and increasing intolerance. The 36-year-old minister heads the small, right-wing and ultra-Catholic League of Polish Families party, which has been accused of being homophobic. Mr Giertych and his deputy minister want to pass a law which would enable them to sack openly gay teachers or anyone who promotes homosexuality. Teacher's union representative, Kalina Grzelak, said she was opposed the plan. "We are going to use all the means to protect the freedom and to protect the tolerance in Poland because what we can see is simply intolerance and violation of human rights," she said. Robert Biedron, who heads the Campaign Against Homophobia group, said the government's comments were worsening an already difficult climate for gays in Poland. "The gay and lesbian community is isolated in Polish society, it is hated," Mr Biedron said. "More and more gay people are victims of physical abuse so I'm very much concerned that Poland will become the Cuba or North Korea of Europe," he said. Homophobia is common in this deeply Catholic country. But Mr Giertych's views are seen by many here as radical and they have already got him into trouble in Brussels. He can expect more of the same if the new law is considered to be discriminatory.
© BBC News

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THE LEFT WING, THE FAR RIGHT AND THE KACZYNSKIS (Poland)

The power of the Kaczynski twins in Poland rests on a coalition of left-wing populists and right-wing nationalists. It's an arrangement that is increasingly difficult to maintain.

19/3/2007- Father Tadeusz Rydzyk rarely goes public. Indeed, the 61-year-old founder of the national Catholic media conglomerate that controls Poland's Radio Maryja only takes to the airwaves himself on especially important occasions. As was the case a few weeks ago. "This is a scandal," the clergyman sniffed. "We will not call it anything else. We will never refer to a cesspool as a perfumery." The "cesspool" Rydzyk was talking about was a meeting of 50 women journalists with Maria Kaczynska, the wife of the Polish President Lech Kaczynski. To mark International Women's Day, the Polish first lady and her guests had signed a statement to protest a tightening of the country's already extremely strict abortion laws. Rydzyk's tone is nothing new. The Polish clergyman over the years has never shied away from launching vigorous verbal onslaughts against those who don't see eye to eye with him. The target of his most recent outburst, though, is something of a novelty. Radio Maryja has been a consistent supporter of Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother, Prime Minster Jaroslaw Kaczynski, in the past. The two owe much of their political success to the station.

Tight lid on right-wing nationalism
Which makes the surprise attack from the right all the more interesting. So far, the twins have managed to keep a tight lid on their right-wing nationalist and populist partners. But now, it seems, the right is fearful it could be forced into political insignificance -- and has chosen to launch a counterattack. It is an assault from within. In the wake of its double victory in the parliamentary and presidential elections in the fall of 2005, the Kaczynskis' Law and Justice party (PiS) entered into a risky alliance: with the populist left-wingers surrounding Andrzej Lepper and the right-wing nationalist League of Polish Families (LPF), under its party leader Roman Giertych. It didn't take long for the Kaczynskis to wrap themselves in the rhetoric of the two parties. To ingratiate themselves with the former, they have complained loudly about a supposedly overpowering and egotistical Germany. To seek the approval of the latter they have made bold social promises. But in neither case were they forced to make any political concessions. Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski are strict nationalists and harbor a deep-seated mistrust of Poland's neighbor to the West. Their campaign has apparently been successful. According to opinion polls, Lepper's farmers' alliance, after entering the parliament last year as Poland's third-strongest political force, currently enjoys the support of only 6 percent of voters. Giertych's LPF, for its part, would not make it into parliament today. "The twins managed to integrate the political fringe and then weaken it. But they also want to appeal to urban, liberal-conservative voters," says Kai-Olaf Lang, a Poland specialist with the Berlin-based Foundation of Science and Politics. "They want to turn their party into a right-leaning, socially-minded populist party." In Polish cities, many object to the brothers' aggressive stance toward Germany and Europe. But it is precisely here that the twins have shown some flexibility in recent weeks. Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga cautiously signalled a willingness to discuss the EU constitution. The once-cantankerous Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski made a visible effort to be affable when German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Poland on Friday for a weekend visit.

Safe sex brochures
But arch-nationalist Roman Giertych isn't letting himself be pushed aside that easily. Indeed, he has recently managed to create some political distance between himself and the brothers. The 36-year-old LPF leader -- who is currently the minister of education -- demanded that abortions be banned even if the life of the expectant mother is at risk, and even if she is the victim of rape or if the newborn child is likely to be severely disabled. He also demanded that teachers face prison sentences or fines for "propagating homosexuality." In other words, if Giertych has his way an educator who allows a gay organization to distribute safe sex brochures could face the possibility of prison time. There is hardly a political group in any of Europe's parliaments further to the right than the LPF, which Roman and his father Maciej Giertych run like a family business. The patriarch, a member of the European parliament, was officially reprimanded only last week when he published a brochure discussing what he called "biological differences" between Jews and others. He recently called for Darwin's theory of evolution to be removed from schoolbooks. Giertych, a professor of biology, believes that God created the world in seven days and that the Poles are descendants of Adam and Eve. The fact that President Lech Kaczynski dispatched his wife to rebuff the proposed tightening of abortion legislation highlights the brothers' dilemma. They are disinclined to scare away liberal party supporters, and yet they want the proponents of radical, right-wing positions to feel that they too have a place in the ruling coalition. But the Polish president is just as miffed about the Radio Maryja attacks as he once was over a German newspaper's labelling him "Poland's new potato." "My wife was insulted," the president said. But his brother has already sent his emissaries to meet with the powerful clergyman and settle the quarrel.
© Spiegel Online

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GAY ADOPTION LAW GIVEN RUBBER STAMP (uk)

20/3/2007- The Government was accused of "an abuse of parliamentary democracy" yesterday after regulations were passed by MPs making it illegal for publicly funded adoption agencies to discriminate against gay couples. The ruling was among new regulations that MPs were asked to rubber stamp on a quiet day when many had not returned from their constituencies. Commons rules barred them from debating the regulation or trying to change the wording. With feelings running high over what church leaders regard as a matter of conscience, government whips have privately warned that they risk defeat when the regulations are laid before the House of Lords tomorrow. The regulation was debated last week by MPs. "It is, surely, an abuse of parliamentary democracy that these regulations are being considered by Parliament only through a hurriedly arranged and very brief meeting of 16 appointed MPs, and a short debate in the House of Lords," Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said. The main Catholic adoption agencies have threatened to close down rather than abide by the regulation, which would require them to say in their publicity material that they will not discriminate against gay couples. More than 40 members of the General Synod have sent an open letter to the 26 Church of England bishops in the House of Lords urging them to oppose the measure. Julian Brazier, who heads the all-party group on adoption, said few gay couples would approach a Catholic agency. He said: "It's very sad, and not just that it went through without debate. This is going to take out of the picture the best adoption organisation, the organisation that is best at finding homes for the most damaged children, at a time when the numbers of successful adoptions are on the way down."
© Independent Digital

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MIGRANT WORKERS FACE NEW SLAVERY (uk)

19/3/2007- The modern day incarnation of slavery - which sees unscrupulous gangmasters exploiting migrant workers with threats of violence - is alive and well in 21st Century Britain. Despite the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA), set up after 21 Chinese cockle pickers died at Morecambe Bay in Lancashire in 2005, some gangmasters continue to make money from the misery of migrant workers, BBC News has found. Petr Torak knows only too well the difficulties faced by migrants coming to a new country. Mr Torak, who became a police community support officer with Cambridgeshire Police in December last year, came from the Czech Republic to the UK as a migrant worker in 1999. As the UK marks the 200th anniversary of the Parliamentary Act to abolish the slave trade, Mr Toarak said that every day he comes across cases of the exploitation of migrant workers in the Peterborough and Wisbech areas.

'Took passports away'
"The gangmasters from Eastern Europe go to the cities in the Czech Republic and get homeless people from the streets and offer them a roof over their heads and a decent job if they come to the UK," he said. "They take their passports away. They work them six or seven days a week in the food processing industry. They get a room in a house and there's normally four to a room. "They get a few cans of beans to eat and some cheap bread and are paid £5 a week. Of the £250 the gangmasters get per person, the most they spend on them is £50. "People are definitely scared of talking. Sometimes they just run away. "If people say they want more money [from the gangmaster] they are kicked out of their accommodation. "They are obligated to work. This is slavery." Oonagh Tucker, who investigates cases for the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, said she has come across cases where gangmasters had threatened workers with violence if they did not continue to work for them. "Other workers have been told they have to pay them [the gangmasters] to leave their employment," she said. She said the behaviour of some gangmasters continued to intimidate workers even after they had registered with GLA. "It is registered slavery," added Mrs Tucker. Linda Hutchinson, bureau manager of the Fenland CAB in Cambridgeshire, said many Latvians and Lithuanians were brought over to the East of England by gangmasters. She said that while some gangmasters in the region treat workers well and responsibly, others "are just breaching all sorts of agreements and legislation. They dismiss people without notice". She has concerns about the GLA which she believed was "more concerned about getting them licensed than worrying about what they do once they are licensed". A CAB report for the Fenland area, which has been submitted to the East of England Development Agency (EEDA), says: "Certain gangmasters receive several complaints each week, often where violence has been threatened against workers.

'Violence threatened'
"Some gangmasters insist on all employees renting accommodation through them, evicting them without notice if sick or pregnant." The report says violence is threatened if the workers resist or complain. It says that while most gangmasters have registered with the GLA, the unscrupulous gangsters "continue to breach license conditions and flout employment laws on a regular basis". "Complaints against gangmasters are increasing, not decreasing as we hoped they would with licence enforcement." Film producer Jez Lewis, who co-wrote the new Nick Broomfield film Ghosts about the deaths at Morecambe Bay, said his research for the movie suggests unscrupulous gangmasters are still operating despite the GLA. "The problem with it is that it is pretty toothless," said Mr Lewis, who lives near Diss, which is on the Norfolk/Suffolk border. Pc Ashley Grant, minorities and ethnic liaison officer with Norfolk Police, said it was vital to "highlight the plight of people entering this country who are taken advantage of from unscrupulous companies". He has dealt with a whole host of cases where gangmasters have infringed employment regulations.

'Exploited workers'
One example is a case of a group of migrant workers who travelled from Poland after each paid a gangmaster £300. The treated received by the men and women, who worked in the food processing industry in south Norfolk, included:
# Having £10 deducted from the wages of all the employees after two other employees damaged some equipment
# Having £20 deducted from their salary each week for transport to the place of work, even if they did not use it
# Men and woman who did not know each other having to share the same bedroom accommodation.
Klara Skrivankova, a people trafficking researcher with Anti-Slavery International, said the GLA was in its early days and she was waiting to see "action on enforcement" to stop unscrupulous gangmasters. A spokesman for the GLA said the organisation does have teeth with "severe" penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment for unlicensed gangmasters. He added: "The GLA is about to pass its first three cases for prosecution to lawyers... and last month it revoked 13 licenses." "The GLA will only make a difference through effective enforcement - through cautions, arrests, revocations and loss or disruption of business."
© BBC News

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TISO FAITHFUL FLOCK TO HERO'S GRAVE (Slovakia)

Another year's memorial to the Slovak state goes off without incident

19/3/2007- Some 150 supporters of Slovakia's Nazi-puppet Second World War state gathered to celebrate the 68th anniversary of its founding at the grave of its president, the priest Jozef Tiso, in Bratislava on March 14. In a traditional display of far-right sympathies, the mostly young and shaven-headed men sang nationalist songs and listened to nationalist speeches, while a few threw Nazi salutes, all under the gaze of plainclothes policemen. Young skinheads began arriving at the Martinský cemetery in Bratislava at around 11:00, and were frisked by uniformed policemen. Most wore black or camouflage gear with hoods over their heads. Some stopped by the grave of Vojtech Tuka, the prime minister of the wartime state and a strong supporter of the Final Solution for Slovakia's Jews, to light candles in holders bearing the emblem of the far-right Slovenská Pospolitosť (Slovak Togetherness) civic organization. Tiso's grave, on the other hand, was surrounded by retirees, Slovenská Pospolitosť members and teenaged skinheads. There they heard a speech from the new leader of Slovenská Pospolitosť, Ivan Sýkora, who called Tiso's execution after the war at the hands of the allies "the shameful murder of a national hero, whose name many dirty today". Sýkora called on those of his listeners who has pro-Slovak feelings to unite, let the world know about them, and not to fear the consequences. "I'm either for the nation or against the nation," Sýkora said. The assembly then heard a speech from Stanislav Pánis, the head of the Slovak National Unity (SNJ) party. Pánis called on his young listeners to "fight against those casting shame on our history and our nation". He also criticized the dozen journalists monitoring the gathering, calling them "uneducated" and saying they "write about things they absolutely don't understand," to applause from his listeners.

Asked what he thought about the wartime Slovak state, an elderly man standing at the back of the crowd said: "Slovakia at the time was an asylum for Jews from surrounding countries. It's not true that Tiso was against the Jews." Historians have calculated that under Tiso, about 70,000 Slovak Jews were sent to concentration camps in two waves in 1942 and 1944. Pánis called on the crowd several times to sing and pray together. He was supported by about 15 pensioners, but his younger listeners did not know the words to the prayers or the songs. They joined in only with the singing of the nationalist classic Hej, Slováci. Among those present was MP Jozef Rydlo, a member of the Slovak National Party (SNS). "Why shouldn't I be here? It's not my shame, but the shame of those who don't know how to honour a memorial day for Slovakia," Rydlo said. The MP added that the founding of the first Slovak Republic on March 14, 1939 was the most important moment for the Slovak nation in the 20th century. "For the first time, Slovakia got its own state. Without the first Slovak Republic there would have been no first Slovak Socialist Republic [1948-1989], or any second Slovak Republic," Rydlo said. After Pánis dismissed the crowd at Tiso's grave, a few individuals lingered by the site. One of them, a tall shaven-headed man, began to throw Nazi salutes and shout at the journalists who remained. He appeared to be heavily under the influence of alcohol. He was eventually pacified by a member of Slovenská Pospolitosť. "You're spoiling the memorial," the pacifier whispered. The young man then moved off to Tuka's grave. The ceremony was attended by dozens of young people in their early teens. The boys had shaved heads, the girls thick dark make-up. None wanted to speak with the media. Asked what they knew of the Slovak state, one answered: "What are you asking us for? Look it up in a book."
© The Slovak Spectator

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NO HEADSCARVES IN CRČCHES (Belgium)

23/3/2007- The headscarf continues to cause a commotion in Antwerp. The ban on religious symbols seemed at first only aimed at front office employees, but Christian government workers' union ACV has already received 'dozens' of complaints from Muslim women who are having to take off their headscarves at crèches and other city services. Two weeks ago the Antwerp city secretary sent a memo on the new dress code to all superintendents and department heads. The code elaborates on the administrative agreement which states that all outward signs of religious beliefs may not be visible in direct contact with customers. This passage caused much fuss at the time. Although the city council stressed the fact that all religious symbols would be banned from now on, including crosses and skullcaps, the Muslim community interpreted the directive mainly as a ban on headscarves. The storm about the dress code has now flared up again. Over the past several days the city and Christian government workers' union ACV have received complaints from Muslim workers who are being prompted, and sometimes even intimidated, to remove their headscarves. That mainly happens in the crèches, but also in semi-autonomous government agencies, like the Centre for Information and Society (CISO). "The city executive always made out as if the dress code would only apply for front office staff," says union secretary Skender Baleci. "But now it turns out that more and more Muslim women are being targeted. Any department head can order his subordinates to remove their headscarves. The situation is cynical when you think about the fact that the city itself made efforts to attract Muslim women for jobs as children's day care assistants."

The Platform for Minority Women, which led the protest against the headscarf ban, was already worried about an escalation. "We knew that this code would not remain limited to the front offices," says Saida El Fekri. "It is painful. We have put so much work over the past years into convincing Muslim women to find jobs. And now the city is sending them back to the home." Alderwoman for youth affairs Leen Verbist (SP.A), in charge of the day care facilities, has also received various complaints over the past few days. She is looking for a practical solution and brought up the case of the former OCMW hospitals. "The headscarf is banned there as well, but the staff are allowed to wear a sort of cap if they choose," a spokesperson for Verbist said. "Not a religious symbol, but the hair is covered." Various minority advocacy organisations are considering legal steps against the ban on religious symbols. The ACV wants the dress code revoked.
© Expatica News

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FUROR IN GERMANY OVER COURT DECISION ON MUSLIMS

Judge cites the Koran in rejecting divorce

23/3/2007- A German judge has stirred a storm of protest here by citing the Koran in turning down a German Muslim wife's request for a fast-track divorce on the ground that her husband beat her. In a remarkable ruling that underlines the tension between Muslim customs and European laws, the judge, Christa Datz-Winter, said the couple came from a Moroccan cultural milieu in which it is common for husbands to beat their wives. The Koran, she wrote, sanctions such physical abuse. News of the ruling brought swift and sharp condemnation from politicians, legal experts and Muslim leaders in this country, many of whom said they were confounded that a German judge would put seventh-century Islamic religious teaching ahead of German law in deciding a case of domestic violence. The court in Frankfurt abruptly removed Datz-Winter from the case on Wednesday, saying it could not justify her reasoning. The Moroccan woman's lawyer, Barbara Becker-Rojczyk, said she decided to publicize the ruling, which was issued in January, after the court refused her request for a new judge. "It was terrible for my client," Becker-Rojczyk said. "This man beat her seriously from the beginning of their marriage. After they separated, he called her and threatened to kill her."

While legal experts said the ruling was a judicial misstep rather than evidence of a broader trend, it comes at a time of rising tension in Germany and elsewhere in Europe as authorities in many fields struggle to reconcile Western values with their burgeoning Muslim minorities. Last fall, a Berlin opera house canceled performances of a modified Mozart opera because of security fears stirred by an added scene that depicted the severed head of the Prophet Muhammad. Stung by charges that it had surrendered its artistic freedom, it staged the opera three months later without incident. To some here, the ruling reflects a similar compromising of basic values in the name of cultural sensitivity. "A judge in Germany has to refer to the constitutional law, which says that human rights are not to be violated," said Günter Meyer, director of the Center for Research on the Arab World at the University of Mainz. "It's not her task to interpret the Koran. It was an attempt at multicultural understanding, but in completely the wrong context." Reaction to the decision has been almost as sulfurous as it was to the cancellation of the opera. "When the Koran is put above the German Constitution, I can only say, 'Good night, Germany,'" Ronald Pofalla, general secretary of the Christian Democratic Union, told the newspaper Bild. Dieter Wiefelspütz, a Social Democratic member of Parliament, said in an interview that he could not recall a court ruling in years that had aroused so much indignation.

Muslim leaders agreed that Muslims living here must be judged by the German legal code. But they were just as offended by what they characterized as the judge's misinterpretation of a much- debated passage in the Koran governing relations between husbands and wives. While the verse cited by the judge does say husbands may beat their wives for being disobedient — an interpretation embraced by Wahhabi and some other fundamentalist Islamic groups — mainstream Muslims have long rejected wife-beating as a relic of the medieval era. "Our Prophet never struck a woman, and he is our example," Ayyub Axel Köhler, the head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, said. The 26-year-old woman in this case was not so fortunate. Born in Germany to a Moroccan family, the woman, whose name has not been disclosed, was married in Morocco in 2001, according to Becker-Rojczyk, her lawyer. The couple settled in Germany and had two children. In May 2006, the police were summoned after a particularly violent incident. At that time, the judge ordered the husband to move out and stay at least 50 meters, or 164 feet, away from the couple's home. In the months that followed, her lawyer said, the man threatened to kill his wife. Terrified, the woman filed for divorce in October and requested that it be granted without the usual year of separation because of her husband's threats and beatings.
© International Herald Tribune

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GERMAN JUDGE'S KORAN CALL CAUSES AN UPROAR

22/3/2007- Politicians, lawyers and migrants' groups in Germany were incensed over a German judge's decision to reject a divorce case, saying the Koran permits husbands to beat their wives. A German court on Wednesday upheld a complaint against a judge who refused to allow a Moroccan-born German woman to file for divorce, on the grounds that the Koran permits wife beating. A spokesman for the regional court in Frankfurt said it had backed a complaint of bias against the judge by lawyer Barbara Becker-Rojczyk on behalf of her 26-year-old client, a mother of two. Another judge will now hear her case. According to a police report filed in May, the husband, also of Moroccan origin, regularly brutalized his wife and threatened to kill her. She filed for an immediate divorce in October on the grounds that although they were separated, he still posed a threat to her.

Controversial decision
But a female judge at the Frankfurt regional court made clear in a letter that the wife's bid had little chance of approval because, according to her, Sharia, or Islamic law, allowed a man to strike his wife. "It is not unusual that a man exercises his right to punish his wife" among Arab married couples, the judge wrote in a letter to the plaintiff's lawyer, adding that the couple had married in 2001 "according to the laws of the Koran." The judge cited Koran verses which she said gave a man the right to claim his honor has been compromised if his wife is unchaste.

Decision 'beyond the pale'

She suggested the plaintiff wait until she had been separated from her husband for a year -- in May -- and then apply for a divorce, as is normally required under German law. "Apparently the judge considers my client to be unchaste for adopting a Western lifestyle," Becker-Rojczyk told the online edition of news weekly Der Spiegel. The managing director of women's rights organization Terre des Femmes in Germany, Christa Stolle, said she was shocked by the judge's stance. "It is unbelievable that a judge in Germany is basing her decisions on the Koran," she told Spiegel Online. "It is beyond the pale." Stolle said German judges were occasionally known to take a softer stance on crimes within a marriage, particularly if the couple came from a more "traditional" culture. She noted that so-called "honor killings" were at times treated with more discretion than other murders. But she said the German justice system largely rejected the use of cultural traditions as an excuse to break the law. "I hope the case in Frankfurt is an exception," she said. The chairwoman of the Central Council of Ex-Muslims, Mina Ahadi, called the judge's behavior "scandalous."

'Infuriating' relativity
"The practice of the Islamification of our society is dangerous and racist," she told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper. Even people who come from other cultures need to honor universal human rights, she said. "This cultural relativity is infuriating," Ahadi said, noting that honor killings are often punished less severely than other murders. The president of Germany's Society of Women Judges, Jutta Wagner, had harsh criticism for the justice in question. "It is an appalling case, especially since we work so hard to achieve greater acceptance of our rules among migrants," she told the Berliner Zeitung.
© Deutsche Welle

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GERMAN POLICE TRAINEES ACCUSED OF ANTI-SEMITISM

20/3/2007- The Berlin Police President has ordered an investigation into reports of anti-Semitism at a police training school in the German capital. "If these accusations prove correct, there will be consequences," warned Dieter Glietsch, who was said to be angry he was never directly informed of the recent incidences at the Berlin police training school. The police president called for an immediate and extensive investigation into the case and met Monday with the school's directors and teachers. The sudden flurry of media reports pointing to latent anti-Semitism among police trainees was sparked in late February, when budding officers apparently responded to a compulsory class on the Third Reich by saying they were bored of being constantly reminded of the Holocaust and that Jews were known to be wealthy. Classes on xenophobia and Germany's Nazi past are part of the school's curriculum and trainees are obliged to attend the lectures, which regularly feature eyewitness accounts. For over twenty years, 83-year-old Holocaust survivor Isaak Behar has been giving talks at schools, the German Armed Forces and the Berlin Police School on his experiences in Auschwitz, earning both a Berlin Order of Merit and a Bundeswehr Gold Cross of Honor for his work. He told the daily Berliner Zeitung that the alleged anti-Semitic comments his talk in February elicited were not the first he has heard on the lecture circuit, but was not willing to go into detail. "I am satisfied with the way the school's teachers and director responded, and in particular by the police president's reaction," he told the newspaper. Berlin Rabbi Andreas Nachama told the Berliner Zeitung that the incident is symptomatic of a wider trend in German society. "A rise in anti-Semitism is apparent everywhere," he said. "This is both regrettable and disturbing." But in fact, official statistics show that anti-Semitic offenses have fallen off in recent years, with the figure dropping from 326 incidents in 2005 to 274 in 2006.
© Deutsche Welle

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GERMAN LAWYER FOR FAR-RIGHT ACTIVIST ZUNDEL CHARGED WITH DENYING HOLOCAUST

20/3/2007- German prosecutors on Tuesday charged the former lawyer for a far-right activist with incitement, accusing her of denying the Holocaust and ending one of her legal filings with ``Heil Hitler.'' Sylvia Stolz represented Ernst Zundel in his first trial, which collapsed after Stolz was banned from proceedings on grounds she was trying to sabotage the proceedings. Zundel's second trial at the Mannheim state court ended last month with his conviction for incitement for denying the Holocaust. The 67-year-old, who was deported from Canada in 2005 and also once lived in Tennessee, was sentenced to the maximum five years in prison.  Mannheim prosecutors said in a statement that Stolz herself has now been charged with incitement, attempting to thwart a prosecution and using symbols of a banned organization. During Zundel's trial, Stolz repeatedly disputed the Nazis' mass murder of Jews, called for hatred of the Jewish population and ended a legal document with the words ``Heil Hitler,'' the statement said. The document was freely accessible on the Internet, it added. Stolz does not deny making the statements or writing ``Heil Hitler'' on the document. However, she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that while she anticipated she might be charged, it was part of her fight against what she considers an illegitimate government built upon the postwar allied occupation of Germany. ``We are under foreign occupation, and this foreign occupation has portrayed Adolf Hitler as a devil for 60 years, but that is not true,'' she said. ``But the real truth can only be told when someone attempts to break this taboo.''  Stolz is also accused of trying to ``force an end to the proceedings'' with constant interventions and ``provocations'' that disturbed the conduct of the trial. The presiding judge halted Zundel's trial last March to ask for Stolz's removal after she denounced the court as a ``tool of foreign domination'' and described the Jews as an ``enemy people.'' In April, she was carried out of the court room, shouting ``Resistance! The German people are rising up,'' after defying an order for her removal. Prosecutors said they are seeking a ban on Stolz working as a lawyer.
© Associated Press

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HISTORY TO ORDER (Serbia, commentary)

History teaching in Serbia’s public schools has been repeatedly abused by politics.
by Dubravka Stojanovic

20/3/2007- Serbian politicians still view history teaching in public schools as an instrument for shaping historical memory and national consciousness in order to fit pre-determined national goals and purposes. This is why history textbooks remain one of the most reliable sources for study and analysis of dominant political concepts in Serbia. History textbooks have been revised twice in Serbia since the beginning of the wars in former Yugoslavia. It first happened during the rule of Slobodan Milosevic, in 1993, at the height of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It happened for the second time after Milosevic’s downfall in 2000. In both cases, changing history textbooks was politically motivated. The first time it was dictated by the need to adjust past history to fit the one currently unfolding. The regime sought to place the ongoing war in a historical context, intended as a justification of sorts. The textbooks changed a second time as a result of a hit-or-miss search for a new democratic identity, believed to be attainable primarily through a complete rejection of all preceding paradigms that, in the lingo of the day, were linked to an "anti-people regime," and thereby becoming "obsolete history." Serbia is among the few Balkan countries that have retained the state's monopoly over the publication of history textbooks. The government still does not operate open contests for writing them. Textbook writers' interpretations of two turning points in 20th-century Yugoslav history – the two world wars and the Yugoslav states that were created after each war – are like a litmus test for ideological changes in Serbia. An eager search by Serbian political and intellectual elites for new ways of defining themselves is reflected through changes in the way they have been interpreted over the past 15 years.

The first casualty of all those revisions was the concept of Yugoslavia. The most important task of Milosevic’s textbook writers was to depict the history of the Yugoslav peoples as a history of conflict. If conflict was the natural state of affairs in the Balkans, any notion of togetherness was bound to be viewed as a negation of that concept. Instances of inter-ethnic cooperation were thus purged from the newly written history textbooks. Being a part of Yugoslavia had to be represented as something that virtually had nothing to do “with us.” An eighth-grade history textbook from 1993 states: “The Yugoslav idea was not widespread in Serbia at the beginning of the 20th century" – because Serbs' victories against Ottoman Turkey in the two Serbian Uprisings nearly a century before "had created conditions for an independent political and cultural development.” This manner of eliminating something from history just because it did not fit the current agenda amounted to the fabrication of one’s own past. Representing Yugoslavia as a product of chance and somebody else’s decisions further disabled Serbian public opinion from being capable of rationally confronting recent Serbian history, the causes of the collapse that took place at the close of the 20th century in particular. Nevertheless, if the creation of Yugoslavia in 1918 was stripped of its historical context, under Milosevic the interpretation of the first World War itself and the creation of Yugoslavia remained basically unchanged. Milosevic’s ambivalent propaganda, vacillating between interpreting his policies as a defense of Yugoslavia, on one hand, and representing them as a struggle for a state in which “all the Serbs would live,” on the other, did not go as far as renouncing the very ideal of Yugoslavia.

Yugoslavia out of context
The textbooks that came about after Milosevic’s fall introduced even broader changes in the interpretation of World War I and the creation of Yugoslavia. For example, in the 12th-grade text, these two historic events are completely separated from each other. A number of issues, such as the very Proclamation of Unification, on 1 December 1918, found their place in the book only after all the lessons dealing with international developments between the two world wars, including the Balkan pact of 1934, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, or the advent of abstract art. The creation of Yugoslavia is taken out of the context of World War I. This cannot be justified and it is likely that it was done in order to disassociate Serbian military victories, somewhat mythologized by the pathos with which they are depicted in the book, from their end result – the creation of a common Yugoslav state – which is nowadays deemed unfortunate by the ruling Serbian elite. A more recent eighth-grade text, published in 2005, goes a step further. The interpretation of the unification in this book boils down to ideas and rhetoric that even Serbian leaders who took part in the creation of Yugoslavia had, in spite of accusations of standing for Serbian hegemonic aspirations, never explicitly formulated, and which Serbian historians, even those critical of the unification, never treated as the only view of Yugoslavia held in Serbia. In other words, the authors of today’s school history manuals have written a program of Serbian unitary hegemonic rule in a language more open and bold than that of any historical document on the subject of unification.

The unification is referred to, in this textbook, as “annexation of southern Slav regions of Austria-Hungary by the Serbian state.” It states further that “to the politicians in Serbia ‘unification’ meant primarily ‘the unification of all the Serbs.' ” The origin of the common state of southern Slavs is seen in this way: “It was thought that the only means of completely resolving the Serbian national question was the Yugoslav program. Namely, the future larger state was going to be a state of the Serbian people in which they would live together with the Croats and the Slovenians.” Furthermore, overstepping their bounds as textbook authors, the writers openly favor a solution known as Greater Serbia. As a historical foundation for this position they have introduced a myth according to which a secret agreement, signed in London in April 1915 between the powers of the Entente and Italy, offered Serbia the so called Greater Serbia, whose territory, according to that agreement, would have spread out to the Adriatic littoral south of Zadar. In spite of the fact that the London agreement contains no such thing, this myth is occasionally brought up in public, most often in the guise of a missed opportunity. In the 12th-grade text one can read the following: “In the second year of the world conflict, a chance for Serbian unification through the creation of Greater Serbia presented itself […] The allies were offering Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slavonia, Srem, Backa, Southern Dalmatia, and Northern Albania.” After a public outcry caused by this outline of a greater Serbia, never mentioned in the London agreement, a new eighth-grade history textbook still stated with regret that “even though the London agreement represented a danger to the Yugoslav agenda, it did offer a good solution of the Serbian question.”

Ideological confusion
The alterations in the interpretation of World War II are even more drastic. The history textbooks of the '90s reflected the reigning ideological confusion during the Milosevic era. In the interpretation of the communist partisan and the nationalist Chetnik movements, a curious ambivalent amalgamation took place between the old communist and the new nationalist ideology that came into its own in the early '90s. The spotless image of Tito’s partisan movement became mechanically coupled with a virtually ideal image of Draza Mihailovic’s Chetniks, both movements being put on an equal footing as antifascist. The drama of our civil war within the world war was completely sidestepped by the above operation, the two sides’ problems, goals, and agendas remaining unexplained for the purpose of establishing a superficial balance. The only instance of collaboration with the occupying Germans cited in the 12th grade textbook features the partisans negotiating with the occupiers, while no instances of Chetnik collaboration are mentioned. During the communist era, the Chetniks were portrayed as an entirely collaborationist movement. In a more recent text for the eighth grade, reacting to the criticisms leveled at the text, Chetnik collaboration is admitted, but only with Italian forces. Moreover, that collaboration was justified: “The Italian occupation was the best ’wartime solution,’ ensuring the bare survival of the Serbs, especially in Lika, northern Dalmatia, and Herzegovina, while the Italian soldiers were the least of all the evils the Chetniks had to cope with.“  Mihailovic is portrayed, in a brief biographic vignette, as a man who was educated in France and who loved French literature, while Tito is equally briefly introduced as “a notorious agent of the Comintern."

Writing about war crimes against civilians, the authors claim the partisans "imprisoned, tortured, and put before firing squads, not only those suspected of having collaborated with the occupiers, but also those of whom they thought as potential class enemies," while the Chetniks were only sporadically involved in the “merciless civil war.” Their crimes against non-Serb populations in Croatia and Bosnia are not mentioned. Of the collaborationist government of Milan Nedic in Belgrade the authors say that its main goal was to ensure "the very biological survival of the Serbian people" and praise Nedic’s assistance to Serb refugees from the pro-Nazi Independent State of Croatia. Intent on preserving an essentially positive image of this regime, the authors do not mention prison camps such as Sajmiste and Banjica in Belgrade through which approximately 60,000 people passed. Nor do they mentioned that over 90 percent of Serbian Jews were arrested under Nedic, and that as early as 1942, Belgrade was declared Judenfrei. As for the units commanded by the militia leader Dimitrije Ljotic, which contributed to the high level of efficiency set by Nedic’s armed forces, the Gestapo, and the Waffen SS by carrying out most of the arrests, the new textbook says only that "their ideological fanaticism was greater than that of the communists," without even mentioning their collaboration with the Germans.

“It's textbook stuff”
This drastic altering, not only of an interpretation of the past but of the historical facts, goes to show that history teaching in Serbian schools is a political activity par excellence. The Milosevic regime's ideological ambivalence helped keep its perspective on the historical past hovering somewhere between the communist and the nationalist interpretations, often mixing the two together. Post-Milosevic power holders have, in spite of their democratic rhetoric, kept history as a foundation of their own legitimacy. It can, of course, be argued that every transition seeks its own historical foundation, and that the teaching of history has been a victim of ideological soul searching in the majority of post-communist countries. What is particularly worrisome in the case of Serbia is identification with antidemocratic forces in the past, and, particularly in the case of World War II, with those that were on the defeated side. The logic which changes an anti-Yugoslav stance and anticommunism into anti-antifascism is all too clear, and can be a dangerous addition to the ideological and political peregrinations of Serbia. More worrisome yet is the concern that history instruction may continue to be vulnerable to manipulation, and that history textbooks may begin to function as a kind of ideological vanguard. Tellingly, the re-interpretations of the creation of Yugoslavia and of World War II mentioned above defied the normal route by finding their way into schoolbooks before ever being considered by professional historians. Ultimately, the history textbooks seem to have become guideposts to policymaking in Serbia. When the Serbian parliament passed a law in 2005 giving equal veterans' rights to former Chetniks and partisans alike, a journalist asked one well-respected member of parliament from the ruling coalition what known historical facts the law was based on. The politician replied that it could all be read in schoolbooks.

Dubravka Stojanovic is a professor of history at the University of Belgrade. She is a vice-president of the history education committee of the Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeast Europe (CDRSEE) and the editor of four workbooks published by CDRSEE in 2006 that present Balkan controversies from a variety of perspectives.
© Transitions Online

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FIGHTING RACISM IN EUROPE: CRIMINALIZING HOLOCAUST DENIAL ?

20/3/2007- The issue of Holocaust denial featured prominently at a public hearing Monday in the European parliament on how to combat racism and xenophobia in Europe. MEPs discussed a German proposal to push through new rules that would make Holocaust denial a crime in the whole European Union. While unanimous in their condemnation of those who deny the Holocaust, EU leaders are split over whether to criminalize such acts. Two years ago, Luxembourg tried to use its EU presidency to push through legislation to unify legal standards for Holocaust denial but was blocked by Italy, Britain and Denmark on the grounds that the proposed rules breached freedom of speech and civil liberties. Such legislation requires unanimity among the 27 EU member states.

As soon as possible
Citing its particular historic responsibility due to its Nazi past, Germany, which holds the six-month EU rotating presidency, has said it wants EU member states to adopt the proposed legislation as soon as possible. Against a backdrop of increasing racist attacks in Europe, a German blueprint, says that racist declarations or Holocaust denial would not be prosecuted if they were expressed in a way that did not incite hatred against an individual or group of people. At the hearing in Brussels, Martine Roure, a French Socialist MEP, spoke of the "necessity of including negationism" in the EU text. She said that she understood the need to respect each member state’s history and traditions, adding:"Recent events, including in our own institution with Maciej Giertych’s publication suggesting that the Third Reich did no more than shut Jews into the ghettos they had themselves created, show that we must redouble our efforts to ban this type of historical minimisation which is a veiled form of anti-Semitism." It would be, however, for each Member State to decide how to punish such acts. Laws criminalizing Holocaust denial already exist in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and Spain.

Freedom of speech
Stavros Lambrinidis, a Socialist Greek MEP said, on the other hand, that "freedom of speech is most important to be protected. “There is no question that the Nazi genocide started with words and incitement to hatred but I wonder if sending some people to jail for their words would have saved us from the Holocaust or rather would have transformed them into heroes,” he added. “There should be a clear line to define what should be punished. In democracy, freedom of speech should always be protected, in any circumstances. I come from a country which suffered a dictatorship and I consider it very dangerous to allow anybody to judge what can be said and what cannot". In January, Justice European Commissioner Franco Frattini and German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries have urged stronger EU-wide efforts against racism and xenophobia. A report by the EU Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia in Vienna shows that’s the number of racist acts increased in 2006 by between 20 and 45 per cent depending on the member state. “These alarming figures show the urgency of achieving a minimum of harmonisation in Europe, to include a common definition of racist and xenophobic behaviour to be subject to criminal penalties which are effective, proportionate and have a deterrent effect,” Roure said.
© EJP

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EU SHOULD POINT TO HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION MORE OPENLY, SAYS HAVEL

20/3/2007- The European Union should comment on human rights violations in the world more courageously, former Czech president Vaclav Havel said at conference on the EU history, present and future held in the Czech Senate today. The conference on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of signing of the Treaties of Rome establishing the European Community was organised by the French and German embassies in Prague along with foundations and associations in the Czech Republic, France and Germany. Havel said that apart from economic aspects, spiritual dimensions of European integration must be discussed, too. Nevertheless, Europe often comments on the cases of human rights violations, for instance in Cuba, Burma, Chechnya and other countries, too cautiously, Havel pointed out. "I have noticed that Europe has the reputation of a fence straddler," said Havel. He said he thinks that Europe faces the risk of turning from "the inventor of human rights" into "the inventor of appeasement."  Havel stressed that Europe bears responsibility for the current situation in the world. The conference in the Senate focused on some important challenges the present EU faces. The participants talked about common agriculture policy, energy security in Europe and environmental issues as well as the European constitution and welfare state principles. Havel, 70, former dissident and playwright, occupied the post of Czechoslovak president after the collapse of Communism, from December 1989 to 1992, and after Czechoslovakia's split in 1993 he became Czech President (in office 1993-2003).
© Prague Daily Monitor

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International Action Week Against Racism 2007

INTERNATIONAL ACTION WEEK AGAINST RACISM 2007

Europe: All Different - All Equal 17 - 25 March 2007 Co-ordinated by UNITED for Intercultural Action

All Different -
On our beautiful world there are still people that have to suffer because they look, feel, behave and believe different than other people. Difference and variety are enrichments for our lives and stimulate to broaden our mind. Still generalisation, prejudices and fixation in the public or personal opinion lead to scapegoating, hatred, discrimination and racism. It's unbelievable but ordinary citizens start to attack and injure people. No matter if it there is blind ignorance or open violence: Racism is not acceptable! We have to take care because phobia against religion, culture or ethnicity creates divides in our society. Fluently negative news about Islam connected with terror and fundamentalism leads to assumptions that the whole Muslim society is dangerous. Consequently Muslims have to fear to be stigmatised as terrorist or fundamentalist just because they wear a head scarf or go to the mosque!

All Different All Equal Rights
We are confronted with a lot of contrasts between reality and the law. This campaign aims to show that even though we are all different we need to fight for equal rights. Hopefully we can be part of a vivid movement contributing to peaceful inter-community relations by showing a lot of strength through constructive dialogues of cultures and religions. We have to be aware that the worth of diversity gets lost in racism that can be seen in exclusion, discrimination, prejudices and verbal or physical violence. Let's also spread hope into the hearts of young people. We have to offer them opportunities to grow with their opinions and their visions by participating in the decision-making process and collecting experience. Join the fight for participation and access to all social and cultural resources! We are all different and we need all equal rights- and that is one of the most important considerations of this years Antiracism Week! All Different- All Equal Rights.

LIST OF ACTIVITIES

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Canada(Quebec,Montreal region): The workplace: A Racism-free Zone 15-25 March 2007 Co-ordinated by AWAR
View the Action week promotional clip on YouTube

For several years now, Quebec has been faced with the difficult task of establishing a discrimination-free labour market. Such an environment would make the most of the full range of human resources represented by its citizens, with the aim of ensuring social cohesion and greater productivity. Yet given the very high unemployment rates among ethnocultural groups, we must question whether Quebec society has mustered all the tools it needs to create workplaces that are free of racism and discrimination. What role can be played by private enterprise, the leading employment provider? How can companies positively value ethnocultural diversity in their organizational structures? What role is advisable for the various levels of government? Are they successfully implementing policies that allow for the emergence and consolidation of workplaces that are free of racism and xenophobia?

Racism in the workplace is a chameleon: it takes on the colour of its environment. At times, it may erupt into the open, violently and without warning. Fortunately, such manifestations of racism are extremely rare. Much more widespread in all work environments is latent racism, more palpable and at the same time more insidious. Whether it be prejudice, attitudes of rejection or exclusion, or degrading comments, these manifestations result in psychological suffering and sometimes tension between employees. Clearly, they have adverse effects on the way organizations function and ultimately, the economy. In addition, the “ethnicization” of certain jobs has a harmful impact that contaminates work environments.

All these attitudes must be unequivocally controlled, denounced and eliminated.When organizations and companies are active in the management of cultural diversity and propose concrete measures to avoid potential conflicts, they create, through their actions, racism-free workplaces. With the immigrant population increasing in both cities and the regions, equitable access to employment and the right to a racism-free and discrimination-free workplace are essential goals. The struggle is first and foremost one of awareness building, and it aims to instil an attitude of open-mindedness. The 8th edition of Action Week Against Racism is part of that struggle.

LIST OF ACTIVITIES

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ICARE plans to bring you audio reports in English, French and Spanish from around Europe on the events that take place. Just like we did last year. Are you organising something? Would you like to report on it by phone as the event takes place? Mail us the place, date and time of your event and what it is you're organising and most important the phone number we can reach you!
© I CARE News

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40 MEASURES FOR COMBATING RACISM AT SCHOOL(Press release, Council of Europe)

Statement on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 

21/3/2007-  “Across Europe, racist incidents among young people are on the rise. School is the place to make or break our efforts to stop this trend. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) of the Council of Europe has today published a Recommendation comprising a list of measures which are specific and simple to implement, and I encourage governments to take immediate action” said Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of Europe. The Recommendation on combating racism and racial discrimination in and through school education asks governments to review the situation of children from minority groups in the school system, and put in place policies to deal with the problems these children face. The Recommendation also proposes to establish a system to monitor and sanction racist incidents and raise awareness about the issue. Teaching staff should be trained to work in a multicultural environment and respond adequately to the needs of pupils from different backgrounds. “Quality education, which is compulsory and equally accessible to all, is the key to combating racism and racial discrimination in our societies” said the Chair of ECRI, Eva Smith Asmussen.
© Council of Europe

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INT. DAY AGAINST RACISM: TIME TO MAKE PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT THEIR RIGHTS! (Press release ENAR)

21/3/2007- Today the world celebrates “International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination”, a few days ahead of the celebrations for the EU’s 50th birthday. The purpose of this Day is to raise awareness of the issue of racism and mobilise public opinion so as to promote tolerance, equal rights and diversity. There are certainly many achievements to celebrate on the occasion of the EU’s 50th anniversary, notably in the area of equal rights. But despite far-reaching European legislation to fight discrimination based on ethnic origin or religion, many people in Europe do not know about their rights; and there is little point in having legislation in place if people do not know about it. According to a recent Eurobarometer survey on ‘discrimination in the European Union’, there is little awareness of anti-discrimination law and rights: 39% of respondents did not know that racial discrimination in hiring new employees is illegal. ENAR is very disappointed that despite the fact that the Racial Equality Directive obliges member states to inform citizens of the provisions contained in the Directive, member states have so far failed to take appropriate action to make their citizens aware of their rights. The European Commission has also revealed in its five-year report on the Racial Equality Directive that it did not receive sufficient information from member states about the way in which they have fulfilled this obligation. This year, International Day against Racism coincides with the 2007 European Year of Equal Opportunities for All, a chance to make real the promise of Europe’s anti-discrimination protection, as one of the Year’s main objectives is make people aware of their rights. Civil society also has an important role to play in raising awareness of anti-racism and anti-discrimination, and several ENAR members are undertaking activities around International Day Against Racism. More information 
ENAR therefore calls for a stronger commitment from member states, by increasing national budgets for awareness-raising activities and by providing more support to civil society. “EU member states underestimate the pervasive nature of discrimination”, said Bashy Quraishy, ENAR President, adding that “the fight against racism and discrimination requires consistent and ongoing commitment from all EU governments to respond to the challenge of disseminating knowledge about the right to equal treatment. All the more so as we are celebrating both the Year of Equal Opportunities for All and the EU’s 50th anniversary.”
© EUropean Network Against Racism

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A CALL FOR ACTION AGAINST RACISM (Press release, FRA)

21/3/2007- “As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the European Union, nobody can remain neutral in the fight against racism”, said Beate Winkler, interim Director of the newly established European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), speaking from Rome on the occasion of International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (21 March). “The European project was founded on peace and reconciliation, in the aftermath of our darkest period related to racism, the Shoah and mass murder of Roma in the Nazi death camps. We should not have to repeat this message in 50 years’ time”. “Our reports document how racism, discrimination, entrenched disadvantage, racist violence and harassment are a fact of life for many individuals in Europe. As the EU has designated 2007 as the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All, we call on governments to intensify their efforts and to engage society at large to turn principles into reality.” Beate Winkler commented: “The European Year can create an environment where society as a whole will engage in addressing discrimination, prevent it from occurring, and encourage victims to use the remedies which are in place at the national level. This is about creating the sort of Europe we can be proud of and share equally in.” “Tolerating inequality means denying people one of their fundamental rights - their right to a life free from discrimination! The protection from racism and other forms of discrimination is enshrined in European and international law. It forms part of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Yet, it is not enough to pass laws against discrimination. Racist behaviour and attitudes must be combated actively. This needs decisive government action and the support of NGOs, employers, trade unions and the general public.” Scheduled to participate, on 21 March, at an EU conference in Rome on ‘Equal Opportunities for All in Education and Employment’, Beate Winkler will stress the need to change perspectives, seeing diversity as a benefit rather than a threat to society. “The most prosperous societies are those that provide equal opportunities for all. The success of these societies is based on ‘three Ts’: (1) technology, (2) talents, and (3) tolerance. The recognition of diversity is the very basis for making use of all talents in society. Europe cannot afford to waste talents if it wants to prosper.”

For background: 
+ A large proportion of Europeans are of the opinion that discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin is widespread in their country (64%), says a recent Eurobarometer survey . However, only one third of EU citizens claim to know their rights, should they be victims of discrimination. Four out of ten Europeans are unaware that discrimination is prohibited by law. 
+ Over nine million people (3% of all inhabitants in the 18 EU countries covered by a large-scale survey) experienced racist crime in 2004. The figure is an extrapolation by the Fundamental Rights Agency from the European Crime and Safety Survey (February 2007).
+ According to EUROSTAT data from 2006, the unemployment rate for non-EU citizens is significantly higher than those of EU citizens in 14 of the 16 EU countries which provide such data. In four Member States, immigrants from outside the EU-25 were more than three times as likely to be unemployed than EU citizens. While statistics of higher unemployment rates for immigrants do not in themselves represent evidence of discrimination, they are an indicator of existing labour market inequalities.
+ A recent OECD analysis indicates that students from immigrant parents often report stronger learning dispositions and a more positive attitude towards schooling than their native peers. Nevertheless, they generally leave school with lower educational success. + Disparities in housing between migrants and nationals are pervasive across Europe. These differences relate to housing standards, occupancy rates, quality of facilities and concentration levels in poorer housing areas. There is also evidence of outright discrimination in the housing market.

The designation of 21 March as International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination refers back to events in 1960. On 21 March 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people in Sharpeville, South Africa, at a peaceful demonstration against apartheid. Proclaiming the Day in 1966, the UN’s General Assembly called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.
© European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights

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High Commissioner for HR: 'DISCRIMINATION NEGATES CONTRIBUTION OF WHOLE PARTS OF SOCIETY'

Message of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour on the Occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

21/3/2007- Forty seven years after the massacre of dozens of peaceful demonstrators in Sharpeville, South Africa, the world comes together to remember, once again, the worst excesses of a brutal racist regime, and to take stock of the ravages that racial discrimination continues to inflict everywhere. Racial discrimination is wrong and harmful in itself. It is a denial of human rights, an affront to human dignity and a direct assault on the foundation of the human rights edifice – the principle of equality. Discrimination and bias also have a direct impact on a society's development. A society that tolerates discrimination holds itself back, foregoing the contribution of whole parts of its population, and potentially sowing the seeds of violent conflict. An overwhelming majority of States has accepted the legal obligation to fight racial discrimination. But a reality check demonstrates that formal commitments are not enough. This International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is the occasion to mobilize public opinion, as well as to remind governments of their duty to combat racial discrimination in all its forms and thereby help ensure the full development of all members of our communities now and for generations to come.
© UN office of High Commissioner for Human Rights

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REFLECTING ON TOLERANCE AND EQUAL RIGHTS

Research Europe-wide shows that discrimination and racism is a growing problem. Marking the annual Europe-wide Action Week Against Racism, from 17 - 25 March, Madeleine McCormack takes a look at the full picture.

15/3/2007- Marking the annual Europe-wide Action Week Against Racism from 17 to 25 March, organisers are calling for all Europeans to reflect on issues such as tolerance and equal rights. The campaign, co-ordinated by United For Intercultural Action, aims to spotlight the issue of racism and discrimination from a non-governmental perspective. "Discrimination and racism are dangerously growing today in different forms all over Europe," says Paola of United. This is demonstrated by EUMC figures showing that immigrants, especially Muslims, are over-represented in low-paying sectors of the economy. Immigrants also tend to be disproportionately represented in areas with poorer housing conditions, and often fail to meet educational standards. Their unemployment rates are higher than average. "Roma are a particular target for racist violence and crime...Members of the Jewish community continue to experience anti-Semitic incidents. Rising 'Islamophobia' is an issue of particular concern. In effect, in spite of some heartening examples of good practice, I stand here today unable to say that there has been a substantial improvement with regard to racism and xenophobia in the EU Member States," said Anastasia Crickley, Chairperson of the EUMC Management Board.

Housing
Housing has become an area of particular concern for antidiscrimination advocates as more and more advertisements are explicitly rejecting foreigners. Expressions such as "no foreigners" or "no immigrants accepted" have been found in newspapers in Spain, Italy and France. Although this is punishable by law, it does not appear to have acted as a deterrent. In Germany, some housing companies attempt to find the right “mixture” between Germans and immigrants. They have introduced a threshold of no more than 20 percent of foreigners by each apartment complex. "Trying to find the 'right mixture' implies, apparently, to be particularly cautious with people from Islamic countries as well as with non-ethnic Germans," said an EU report on racism and xenophobia in 2006.

Employment
In 2005, The Centre of Equal Opportunity and Opposition to Racism in Belgium recorded 1,022 reports of racism compared with 994 in 2004. It said 15 percent of reports involved racism at the workplace; the highest figure in 15 years. According to the study 'Employment and Labour Market' by the Federal General Management, in June 2004, 23.2 percent of all 'active'(15-64 years) foreigners were unemployed compared to 10.3 percent of the active native Belgian population. The average unemployment rate of EU nationals in the Belgian labour market is 16 percent, whereas Turkish and Moroccan nationals have the highest unemployment rates with 45 percent. In France, two studies derived from the 1999 census have shown that immigrants are confronted with a much higher unemployment rate than those born in France, and is notably higher for those of North and West African origins. Research has shown that even when education levels are equal, immigrants of non-EU backgrounds experience higher unemployment rates. The Netherlands is further proof that foreign workers are disadvantaged in the labour market due to stereotyping and discrimination. Many employers said that they did not employ foreigners "to avoid risks". Employment agencies and banks reported that customers would sometimes make it known in advance that they did not want employees from ethnic minorities.

Education
Education has a decisive impact on person's future employment opportunities. Inequality in this sector leaves many immigrants and minorities behind and unable to break out of the lower economic echelons. Migrants and minorities tend to enrol in schools with lower academic demands. They are over represented in vocationally oriented tracks and special education. They finish school earlier and have higher drop-out rates. Most schools are now introducing second language courses and a more diverse teacher body as well as more multicultural curricula. These programmes vary in quality and extent and their practical significance is often not evaluated. EUMC studies on "perceived discrimination" show that many migrants and minorities have been subjected to harassment, discrimination, and prejudice, including some extreme right-wing xenophobic incidences in schools.

Racist violence
Racist violence can take a variety of forms including verbal abuse, graffiti, harassment, arson, vandalism and physical assault, and remains a persistent problem throughout Europe. It is very difficult to compare statistical data from each country as only two EU countries (France and the UK) are keeping thorough records of incidents of racial violence. In most EU countries, attacks on ethnic minorities are not recorded as racially motivated. Many countries, such as Spain, Italy and Portugal, have no official records at all. However, that is not to say that racist violence is not an issue. "Most Member States still lack the necessary data to monitor how social and economic policies affect their ethnic communities…As a result, some ethnic minority groups may experience discrimination without adequate response from the state," said Beate Winkler, Director of the EUMC.

Is it all bad?
There are many examples of good practice with some governments and NGOs working toward creating greater public awareness on racism and improving their recording of racially motivated crime. However, further steps need to be taken. Improving educational achievement, granting equal treatment in employment, guaranteeing equal access to housing and promoting involvement in public life are further fundamental issues to be confronted. More information on the action week.
© Expatica News

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ALLIANCE IN EASTERN GERMANY TRIES TO TACKLE RACISM

21/3/2007- To mark Wednesday as the International Day for the Elimination of Racism, an alliance in eastern Germany is trying to fight the rise of right-wing extremism and neo-Nazi violence, particularly when it targets foreigners. Right-wing extremists have adapted their strategy in recent years. By swapping bomber jackets for suits and ties, their leaders join local clubs and associations to advance their nationalist and racist agendas in the community. Police and the Germany's Office for the Protection of the Constitutional have recently said right-wing extremism and neo-Nazi violence are growing problems in eastern Germany. The town of Mittweida in Saxony is an example of how far-right extremists have become less conspicuous. Many of the town's 16,000 citizens were shocked when an extremist party gained 9 percent of the vote during the last state election. That's why they decided to form a community alliance to highlight the dangers of right-wing extremism and raise awareness about attacks against foreigners. Several neo-Nazi gangs operate in and around Mittweida, threatening and assaulting foreigners, and disrupting the meetings of left-leaning youth groups.

Living in fear
Christoph, a 25-year-old with dreadlocks, is outspoken about his leftist political views. He said he knows he's a typical target for right-wing skinheads on the streets of Mittweida. "Sure I'm scared," he said, "but I know exactly where I should and shouldn't go at certain times." Loren, 20, said living in fear in her hometown is unacceptable. She's complained to local authorities about the extremists, but to no avail. "I wrote a letter to the city council because I think the situation here is critical," Loren said. "I'm worried that the neo-Nazis are getting too strong and too well-organized." The council responded to Loren's letter by saying she should direct her concerns to the police.

Forming alliances
Frustrated by what she said is the local politicians' inability to deal with right-wing violence, Loren said she hoped that a citizens' action group, the "Alliance for Human Dignity Against Right-Wing Extremism," will be more effective. About 150 citizens from the town and surrounding areas turned up for the alliance's first meeting. The crowd was mixed, with local priests and pensioners mingling with young punks and artists. They had all come to form a united front against the right-wing extremists in Mittweida. To support the group in their efforts, the city has now made space available for meetings. Meanwhile, district authorities have signaled that they may be able to provide 100,000 euros ($133,000) of funding each year. That is welcome news for Björn Redman, one of the alliance's founders. "No youth group or school has the financial and human resources to take on right-wing extremism alone," Redman said. "There's no alternative but to form an alliance, to get as many groups together as possible to launch anti-Nazi activities." Sixty-five people pledged their support straight away. Next weekend, they'll go around town and paint over swastikas and neo-Nazi graffiti still on walls. Later in the summer, the alliance plans to hold a discussion forum at the town's market square. Foreigners will be invited to share their experiences of living in Germany, followed by a concert by a local band. The aim is to inform, show a presence and win back territory lost to right-wing community groups in recent years.
© Deutsche Welle

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ANTI-RACISM DAY EXPERIENCES A COMEBACK (Netherlands)

Racism and discrimination are on the increase in Europe says Amnesty International on International Anti-Racism Day. They are also occuring more and more in the Netherlands.

21/3/2007- n addition to suffering more verbal and physical violence, an increasing number of people are unable to live a normal life, find a job or apartment or are even unable to go out in public, according to human rights organisation Amnesty International. Simply because they are the 'wrong' colour or from the 'wrong' ethnic background.

Spring
The public generally associates March 21st with the first day of spring, not anti-racism day, but Amnesty's findings are familiar. "I think that almost every day should be anti-racism day here in the Netherlands," says a Turkish greengrocer in Amsterdam: "Because racism goes on all the time in the Netherlands. If you apply for a job, they don't look at your CV, they just look at your face: 'Oh, you don't suit the profile we are looking for'. That is why I think it shouldn't be just one day, but 365 days per year." Nowadays, when people discuss the increase of racism, the name of populist politician Geert Wilders soon falls. Mr Wilders won nine parliamentary seats in the elections of November 2006 with his anti-Islamic views.

Line crossed
In response, Miriyam Aouragh of the Together Against Racism Committee is organising a debate with the theme: 'What is the answer to Geert Wilders?'. She thinks the leader of the Freedom Party has crossed a new line in politics with comments like "Muslims should rip out half of the pages of the Koran if they want to stay in the Netherlands," and his attacks on politicians with dual nationality. Geert Wilders says he is only repeating what people in the Netherlands feel. However, Ms Aouragh says he is doing more than that: he is channelling feelings of dissatisfaction and bitterness among people with extreme right sentiments. "Wilders says: 'I am not claiming anything, I am just saying what people think.' But that is not true," says Ms Aouragh.

"I think he is stirring up racism. On one hand, there are people with certain feelings of resentment, but he is providing them with an answer in the form of a scapegoat."

Questions in parliament
Mr Wilders is annoyed that he has been portrayed as a racist by the debate's organisers. He has even asked questions about the matter in parliament. Isn't it going a bit too far to lay the whole problem of racism on this MP's shoulders? If he didn't say the things he did, surely someone else would? Miriyam Aouragh does not agree:

"It does matter, whether Jonny and Anita are watching TV and see a person like Geert Wilders providing an answer to what they are feeling, or whether they see his arguments contested by someone with good reasoning."

She does not think that everyone who voted for the Freedom Party is a racist:

"That is why we want this debate with the title 'What is the answer to Geert Wilders?'. What are the feelings of dissatisfaction and anger out there, and what is the right response? The reason we are holding the debate is to say together, as Dutch people and migrants, Wilders is not the answer. He is only aggravating the problem."

In a letter to the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament, Amnesty says that concrete measures should be taken quickly:

"We have seen what racism has done in Europe in the past, and we have a historic responsibility to resolve this problem, which affects millions of people, as quickly as possible."
© Radio Netherlands

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PRESIDENT ISSUES ANTI:RACISM APPEAL(Switzerland)

21/3/2007- Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey has acknowledged that racism is still a problem in Switzerland, despite the constitution forbidding such discrimination. Calmy-Rey made her comments to mark Wednesday's International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. "Let's be honest: we cannot easily dismiss the existence of racism in our country," this year's president and foreign minister said in a statement. "People with a different skin colour are [sometimes] vilified and regarded as hostile," Calmy-Rey added. "This reality saddens me because it is diametrically opposed to principles in our constitution such as solidarity, equal rights and equal opportunities." She said human rights and equality were not exclusively reserved for Swiss citizens but for everyone in the country, regardless of their nationality or skin colour. Calmy-Rey reminded the Swiss that a Geneva:based committee was responsible for ensuring that states respected the international convention against racism. She said Switzerland took its obligations seriously and remained in contact with all international bodies to combat racism. The Geneva-based Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is organising a high-level panel discussion on Wednesday to discuss this year's theme: Racism and Discrimination - Obstacles to Development. The discussion will touch on a number of issues, notably the inter relationships between racism and other forms of discrimination, development, poverty, economic growth, good governance and conflicts.

Job discrimination
The Swiss Trade Union Federation is using the event to highlight discrimination against immigrants. Unions have agreed to fight for equal pay, access to the job market and professional training for non-Swiss workers. The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on March 21, the day in 1960 when South African police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful anti-apartheid demonstration in Sharpeville. Proclaiming the Day in 1966, the United Nations General Assembly called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination. "Racist practices hurt their victims, but they also limit the promise of entire societies where they are tolerated," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on this year's occasion. "They prevent individuals from realising their potential and stop them from contributing fully to national progress. Where unaddressed, they can cause social unrest and conflict, undermining stability and economic growth."
© Swissinfo

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BELGIANS TO 'WED AGAINST RACISM'

21/3/2007- More than 500 Belgian couples are to symbolically wed in a Flemish town where three couples had refused to let a black official marry them. Deputy Mayor Wouter Van Bellingen was the first black councillor elected in St-Niklaas in northern Belgium. In response to the snub, Mr Van Bellingen decided to organise the anti-racism protest to coincide with the International Day against Racism. The mass ceremony will consist mainly of vow renewals. Wednesday's events will kick off with hundreds of people joining in a "mass cuddle" before exchanging or renewing vows to be overseen by Mr Van Bellingen. There will then be a huge wedding photo, a "multicultural dessert buffet" and a wedding dance. One of the couples renewing their vow in St-Niklaas, Ian Coots, who is originally from Liverpool, and his wife MJ de Richter, want to show solidarity with the councillor. "I thought it was really nasty how the couples refused to get married because he was black - that's really racist, if you're not going to get married because of that, where are your priorities?" Ms de Richter told the BBC.

Daily racism
The Rwandan-born councillor was adopted by a Flemish family at birth. He was elected councillor in the town of some 70,000, 50km (30 miles) north of Brussels, in local elections in October last year. At the same elections, the anti-immigration Vlaams Belang got 26% of the vote. "It was the most primitive form of racism. Nothing but the colour of my skin," Mr Van Bellingen said of February's incident, in which three couples insisted on all-white weddings. "Like all coloured people, I live this on an almost daily basis," he told the Associated Press news agency. At least 2,000 letters and emails have poured in since the incident in February, the AFP news agency reports. Thousands of people marched last year following the killing of a woman of African origin and the two-year-old girl she was a nanny for in Antwerp. "We have to take away the fear of the unknown. If you are unknown, you are unloved," Mr Van Bellingen said.
© BBC News

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FILM FESTIVAL TO TACKLE RACISM (Russia)

20/3/2007- Scenes of institutionalized xenophobia, violent hate crimes and genocide are depicted in four movies and a photo exhibition exposing a Russian-European-African triangle of intolerance to be displayed at Dom Kino starting Wednesday, to coincide with the UN’s World Day Against Racism. The five-day Open Your Eyes! Movie Festival Against Racism and Xenophobia, organized by the St. Petersburg-based Russian-German Exchange in collaboration with the city’s inter-regional Social Democratic Youth Union, is the first in a series of cultural events to be held in the city as part of a public awareness campaign promoting tolerance, Astrid Schorn, the organization’s executive director, said. Entrance will be free. The film progam includes Roman Khavronsky’s film, “Mirnoye Vremya” (2006) in which writer Alla Gerber, president of the Holocaust Foundation, quotes familiar anti-Semitic slurs that she hears in Russia. The film, showing on Friday, also depicts a white supremacist rally in Moscow and CCTV footage showing convicted anti-Semite Alexander Kopsov storming a synagogue to stab worshipers. President Vladimir Putin is shown voicing rhetoric of condemnation. The festival opens on Wednesday with Terry George’s “Hotel Rwanda” (2004), set during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Although the film won praise from Western critics for its depiction of the genocide, Valens Maniragena, head of St. Petersburg’s Rwandan asylum seekers and charity organization, Ichumbi, who witnessed the events said that the film is exaggerated and distorted, “It s not about the Hutus butchering the Tutsis as portrayed in the film; it’s about civil war involving guns and military arsenals with victims from both sides,” Maniragena said. Kenny Glenaan’s “Yasmin” (2004), showing on Thursday, is a British-German production depicting a British young woman of Pakistani origin suffering discrimination as a result of Islamophobia in the wake of September 11 terror attacks on the U.S. In Ulf Malmros’ “We Can Be Heroes” (2002), two immigrant children are rejected by their Swedish classmates and in conflict with their parents over their future. Ten-year-old Marcello from Italy finds consolation from his female peer Fatima from Lebanon, who is also at odds with her conservative family over cultural values in a secular Swedish society. The film festival, which ends Saturday, is also part of a European Week Against Racism, an offshoot 
© The St. Petersburg Times

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ANTI-RACISM FESTIVAL BEGINS IN ATHENS (Greece)

17/3/2007- A three-day festival against racism kicked off at the Syntagma Square metro station in central Athens on Friday, organised by the National Council for Youth. The scheduled events include demonstrations of image theatre, body painting, international cuisines, performances by percussion musicians, screenings of documentary films and short films, art exhibitions and other events. The programme forms part of a campaign underway in 41 countries under the banner "All Different, All Equal", which the National Council for Youth has undertaken to organise in Greece with the support of the General Secretariat for the Younger Generation. Next week, events are scheduled to continue in Thessaloniki.
© ANA - MPA

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RACISM AND HOLOCAUST DENIAL DEBATED AT PARLIAMENTARY HEARING

Racism and holocaust denial were at the centre of a hearing Monday in Parliament. The German Presidency of the EU has made the fight against racism a priority and has pledged to revive a stalled European "Framework Decision" on racism and xenophobia. One of the Presidency's proposals is to make denial of the Jewish holocaust a crime - a move that has prompted a fierce debate.

20/3/2007- According to the latest figures by the EU's fundamental rights agency, racist acts went up between 20% and 45% last year depending on the country. At present all EU members have legislation outlawing racist conduct or incitement to racial hatred. However, the scope varies from country to country and a recent "Eurobarometer" survey indicated that 4 out of 10 Europeans were unaware such legislation even existed. The lack of a uniform definition of racism is troubling to some. French Socialist Martine Roure, the rapporteur on the issue, said a "common definition of racist and xenophobic behaviour" is urgently needed. This would make it easier to prosecute offences and measure how often they occur.

Holocaust denial: a crime or hurtful freedom of speech?
The German Presidency is clear that they would like to see denial of the Jewish holocaust made a criminal offence. At present the proposed framework decision doesn't go that far (it would not outlaw Swastikas for example). Last month the UN passed a resolution rejecting any denial of the Holocaust. Some EU states already have laws making either denial of the holocaust or the showing of Nazi regalia a crime. In Austria last year right wing British historian David Irving was released from jail after serving part of a sentence for denying the holocaust took place. The issue has real potency as it will impact just how the historical debate but also how national governments deal with neo-Nazi movements. These organisations target not just Jews but any minority group they deem somehow "foreign". Martine Roure favours making holocaust denial a crime although at the hearing Stavros Lambrinidis MEP disputed this saying; "I wonder if sending some people to jail for their words would have saved us from the holocaust." The European Parliament had a taste of the debate close to home recently when controversial Polish MEP Maciej Giertych published a history booklet that was denounced as anti-Semitic and xenophobic. Contrary to the rules he had used Parliament's logo on the cover and this and the content of the book led to Parliament's President delivering a public rebuke to Mr Giertych in the Chamber.

Framework Decision stalled since 2005
The Framework Decision was first proposed in 2001 and aims to ensure that all racist and xenophobic acts are punished. In its original form it envisaged the extradition and surrender of those suspected of such acts. It also aims to encourage judicial cooperation across the EU. The text of the Decision has been frozen in the Council of Ministers since 2005. The European Agency for Fundamental Rights was founded in Vienna at the start of this month. It takes over from the racism monitoring centre that had existed before. Its role is to monitor and combat racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism and other related acts. It supports the introduction of the Framework Decision. March 21 marks "International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination" in honour of the Sharpeville massacre of black South Africans by the Apartheid government in 1960.
© European Parliament

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ACTION WEEK AGAINST RACISM - MONTRÉAL STILL PLAYING AN ACTIVE ROLE (press release)

16/3/2007- Mr. Marcel Tremblay, member of the executive committee responsible for intercultural relations and citizen relations, today took part in the launching of Action Week Against Racism. Attending the ceremony were the Minister of Immigration and Cultural Communities, Lise Thériault, officials of the Office franco-québécois pour la jeunesse, Agence Québec-Wallonie Bruxelles pour la jeunesse, Conseil des relations interculturelles, Tolerance Foundation, Images interculturelles and several other Montréal organizations. The 8th edition of Action Week Against Racism is held from March 15 to 25, 2007, with "The Workplace: A Racism-Free Zone" as a theme. "Montréal is a city that is committed to fighting racism. Montrealers and members of civil society must become involved in Action Week Against Racism, to raise public awareness of the issue of discrimination. Finding solutions to eliminate discrimination and racism is up to Montrealers as a community. That is why it is so important that we take part in the city's democratic life," said Mr. Tremblay. Montréal is a cosmopolitan city and a city that is proud of its cultural mosaic. Montréal is also a fine example of diversity in Québec, but faces many challenges to ensure harmony among citizens of all ethnic backgrounds. Montréal is home to 1.6 million people, more than 25% of whom were born outside the country. The city administration has been a supporter of Action Week against
Racism for eight years, and has injected $10,000 in this year's event. Last September, as part of a government draft policy, Montréal became a major partner in the fight against racism and discrimination. The city administration uses an action-oriented approach and prioritizes employment, housing, inclusion for young people and a better living environment. Over the past few years, Montréal chose a framework for its actions against racism and discrimination, including the 2004-2009 action plan as part of the equal opportunity employment program, the Montréal Declaration for Cultural Diversity and Inclusion (2004), Montréal Charter of Rights and Responsibilities (2006). Also, last October, it joined the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities against Racism and Discrimination and the International Coalition of Cities against Racism, under the aegis of UNESCO.
© CNW Group

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EDUCATION IS KEY TO RACIAL HARMONY(Fiji)

21/3/2007- Education is the key to eliminating racial discrimination, says Merewalesi Dakua, the headgirl of Ratu Sukuna Memorial High School (RSMS). She said it was important to educate the children on their rights and that of the others and they should respect it. Ms Dakua was speaking at a joint RSMS and Mahatma Gandhi Memorial School (MGM) celebration to mark the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination yesterday. She also called on the interim Government to invest in the education sector to ensure that people learn more about their rights and those of the others. The celebration was hosted by MGM. MGM head girl Prayna Maharaj said people must not be judged on the basis of their colour, race of religion but an open mind should be kept because everyone was different. She said acceptance came from within a person and thus racial harmony could be achieved if people were able to accept each other despite their differences. Chief guest and Fiji Human Rights Commission chairman Rodney Acraman said the commission was working on a questionnaire requested by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. "The questionnaire is based on views and comments the Fiji Human Rights Commission may have regarding gaps in the existing international instruments, to combat racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance," Mr Acraman said.
© The Fiji Times

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Headlines 16 March, 2007

END OF MACHO SPAIN WITH NEW SEX EQAULITY LAW?

16/3/2007- Spain ushered in a new era with a new sex equality bill which will enforce quotas for women in companies and on electoral lists. The gender equality bill includes parity on the electoral lists and stipulates that by 2015, women should occupy 40 percent of the seats on the boards of the country's biggest corporations. The measure passed by a vote of 192 in favor but with the abstention of the main opposition conservative Popular Party, whose leader, Mariano Rajoy, said that "they can't impose quotas on anyone" to achieve equality. The law includes measures such as 15 days of paternity leave, which will be expanded to one month once an employee has six years in the job and, in the case of the births of premature babies, maternity leave will be increased to start at the moment when the infant leaves the hospital. In addition, it includes the right to a reduction in the length of the workday, it increases unpaid leave to care for a sick relative from one year to two, and it sets forth that sexual harassment is any verbal or physical behavior that attacks a person's dignity. Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero addressed Parliament to emphasize that the law is designed to "do justice for women."  Zapatero said the new law was one of the "most important ... (and) happiest (days) in the legislature," which he dedicated to all women, and he emphasized that their incorporation into the boards of firms "will result - without any doubt - in the improved functioning of our large business corporations." Rajoy justified the PP's abstention by saying that the party's members do not believe in "quotas" but rather in "equality of opportunity" among men and women. The PP's Susana Camarero said that the premier is "an armchair feminist" who doesn't listen to women and that the law's text is based on an "outdated" policy of parity.

Speaking for the United Left coalition, Carme Garcia acknowledged that the law was "too short" and did not resolve "all" problems but added that it moved forward with modifying the country's social, economic and judicial structures that had made possible discrimination against women in the first place. Spain's biggest labor federations, the CCOO and UGT, view the measure as positive for society and called it a very useful tool within the context of collective bargaining to correct situations of discrimination against women in the labor market. One provision of the law deals with the communications media, mandating that the state radio and television broadcaster, RTVE, and Spain's international news agency, Efe, promote the incorporation of women into positions of managerial and professional responsibility. They will also have to adequately reflect the presence of women in all areas of social life and not use sexist language. In addition, they will also have to collaborate with institutional campaigns directed at fostering equality among men and women and erradicating sexual violence. Zapatero, meanwhile, was acclaimed by a group of Socialist lawmakers and representatives of women's associations, who shouted all together "Ista, ista, ista, Zapatero feminista!" and had photographs taken with the premier on the main steps of Parliament. The prime minister said on 8 March, on International Women's Day, that he was "a totally convinced feminist" and harboured the "certainty" that when injustice occurs "there are no winners or losers; all human beings lose." "I'm a lucky political leader. In my government there are just as many women as men and I've been even luckier for the past few days because the board of the (Socialist) party I lead has more women than men," he said on that occasion.
© Expatica News

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FAMILY OF SEVEN STILL SEARCH FOR PEACE AFTER FIVE YEARS OF RACE HATE (uk)

15/3/2007- Eight-year-old Khalid Mohamed was helping his parents move into their new home when some older boys on bikes started chasing his family and shouting racist abuse. As the bewildered Somali family tried to settle into their new house in north London, adult neighbours joined in the heckling. "Fuck off Pakis. We don't want you here," they yelled. "We will burn the house down." Since that day five years ago, the Mohamed family - who fled war-torn Mogadishu before Khalid was born - has barely gone 48 hours without enduring abuse. Stones are thrown at their house at night; lit cigarettes pushed through their letterbox. Khalid's father, Abdalla, 46, has been grabbed around the throat in front of his severely disabled daughter and terrified wife. His car has been vandalised on three occasions. His wife, Asha, is called a "baldy Paki" because she wears a scarf. Two men were arrested on separate occasions, one of whom was found to be carrying a knife. Both were released without charge and continue to live close by. The family lives trapped inside, fearfully awaiting the next attack and convinced that one day their tormentors will fulfil their promise to torch their home. The five children, the youngest of whom is seven, cannot even play in the garden. As his parents can speak little English Khalid, now 13, has grown used to being called out of class at school so that he can telephone the police to report the latest attack. "We are petrified. We don't sleep at night because we are scared something is going to happen. It happens on a daily basis and all night. My mum cries every day. She believes them when they say they are going to burn down the house. They look like they could do it," he explained. Today, the sombre-faced youngster will speak at a conference to highlight an alarming rise in hate crimes across Europe and the launch of Coalition Europe, a new human rights network. Alongside an impressive array of leading politicians and campaigners from 13 different nations gathered at the House of Commons, the nervous, slightly built boy will talk of the terror and abuse his family has endured.

In Britain, 48,000 racist incidents are reported to the police each year - almost 14,000 in the London area alone - and the figures are rising steadily. The rest of Europe has seen an even more dramatic rise, even though they do not record cases as stringently as Britain has since the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. Suresh Grover, of The Monitoring Group, which supports victims of racism, said: "These violent acts range from desecrations, damage to property and physical assaults and murder. The racist killing of Dr Nithesh Kumar in St Petersburg last September was a shocking reminder of the growth of racial violence aimed at any 'dark skinned' individuals living in Russia. The country has recorded 84 racist murders in the past four years, 54 in 2006 alone, with a 17 per cent rise in racist incidents to 537." Similarly, the growth in hate crimes has been a major problem in Germany since unification in 1990. It is estimated that over 100 people have been killed by neo-Nazi groups since then. Last year the German government recorded 958 hate crimes, a 10 per cent rise. But campaigners believe that - as these countries do not have the same comprehensive recording procedure as Britain - most attacks go unreported. Donatella Linguiti, the Italian undersecretary of state for equal rights, will join the prominent human rights lawyers Peter Herbert and Imran Khan and other figures from across Europe to call for a more stringent examination of the problem so that far more can be done to tackle it. Mr Grover said: "Over the last few years the police have recorded an average of just over 45,000 racially motivated attacks annually, now up to 48,000. Community groups across Britain have witnessed an alarming growth of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racism since 11 September. This unique pan-European initiative will demand action from all European governments and that they bury their inertia on this issue."

For Khalid and his family, the drive to combat racist abuse is painfully close to home. The attacks have become so frequent that Mr Mohamed has set up CCTV on his house to try to gather evidence as the police have repeatedly refused to prosecute. He has multiple locks and an alarm. His children all carry mobile telephones in case of attack. At night he watches and waits for the groups of men who stand outside his house hurling rocks and abuse, terrifying his youngest children in particular. "Even though my dad stays awake all night, there are five locks on the door. He just sits there waiting for something to happen," explained Khalid. The family of seven has begged the housing association to move them, but to no avail. "We are seriously scared. We are always telling the police this is really serious but they don't treat it as serious. They treat it as if we are lying," said Khalid, who wants to be a mechanical engineer, but says he now has problems concentrating on school work and maintaining good grades. "Since all this started, I don't get as much chance to learn. We are all so scared. We just want to move away. Dad pleaded with the housing association. He said we would all live in a one-bedroom flat but they said that would be illegal," he said. Last night, London and Quadrant Housing Association said: "We confirm that Mr Mohamed has made a number of allegations of racial harassment against residents. We have investigated all these but neither we nor the police have been able to obtain sufficient evidence to support the allegations at present."
© Independent Digital

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NINE HURT IN IMMIGRATION CENTRE DISTURBANCE (uk)

14/3/2007- Nine people were taken to hospital after suffering smoke inhalation during a disturbance at an immigration detention centre today. A Home Office spokeswoman said the continuing incident at Campsfield House immigration removal centre in Kidlington, Oxfordshire, began at 6.30am. Seven immigration staff at the centre, which is run by private company GEO UK Ltd, and two detainees have been taken to hospital, she added. "Police, fire and ambulance teams are on the scene and a number of Tornado units from the Prison Service have been deployed to the centre," said the spokeswoman. Tornado teams are highly-trained prison officers equipped to deal with riots. The centre, which opened in 1993, holds 200 adult male detainees, including failed asylum seekers and immigration offenders awaiting deportation. In September last year, GEO began a three year contract to run Campsfield. It was the first British contract secured by the US-owned firm, whose world headquarters is in Boca Raton, Florida. The last report on the centre by the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, in 2004, gave Campsfield a largely clean bill of health. However, it was unclear how significantly the regime had changed following the beginning of the new operating contract. Ms Owers described how the centre had three residential units - the yellow, pink and blue blocks. Pink was the induction unit with 26 beds, yellow had 48 including a small isolation unit and blue contained 110 beds. There was also a prefabricated unit with two segregation cells.

The disturbance comes just over five years after a riot destroyed half of the Government's flagship detention centre at Yarl's Wood in Bedfordshire. The incident caused millions of pounds of damage and the 900-place complex had to temporarily close, just weeks after its official opening. At the time, firefighters said much of the damage caused on February 14, 2002, could have been avoided if water sprinklers had been fitted in the building. Up to 25 asylum seekers were at large after a mass break-out following the Yarl's Wood riot, although most were later re-captured. A Thames Valley Police spokesman said all three emergency services were called to the centre, to the north of Oxford, at 6.50am. He said 30 firefighters were at the scene to deal with the fire although the main issue was smoke damage. "No serious injuries have been reported and the fire has now been put out," he said. "Police on the scene and the fire service are investigating the cause but it's likely to be suspicious, set alight by someone inside."
© Independent Digital

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BRITISH ISLAMIC LEADER ATTEMPTS TO THAW RELATIONS WITH JEWS

One of Britain’s most senior Islamic leaders has called on Muslim communities not to tolerate “casual anti-Semitism” within their ranks.

16/3/2007-  In statements being seen as an attempt to thaw the ice-cold relationship between UK Jewry and Islam, the assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) Inayat Bunglawala also said he accepted that the decision by his organisation to shun the British Holocaust Memorial Day had caused “distress” among UK Jews, and revealed it was being reviewed. Bunglawala’s comments came a day after a conference scheduled for Leeds University on Islamic anti-Semitism was cancelled, apparently because of fears that the speaker, the academic Dr Matthias Kuntzel, could be attacked. Speaking to the Jewish Chronicle Bunglawala, whose organisation has in the past come under intense UK Government and media pressure to do more to combat extremism within the British Islamic community, said Muslim and Jewish communities had much in common, in particular the support for faith schools. “As some secular groups are increasingly advocating the abolishment of faith based schools, it makes sense for Muslims and Jews to work together to uphold the right of parents to send their children to such schools, and make sure they are properly resourced,” he said.

Need to do more
However, admitting that the UK Islamic community must do more to stop legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies turning into racist discrimination, or anti-Semitism, against Jews, he said: “Muslim communities must take more responsibility to ensure that criticism of Israel’s policies does not slide into casual anti-Semitism. “The best way to encourage this is to ensure that grass-roots ties prosper between our communities.” Adding that the decision by the MCB not to recognize Holocaust Memorial Day had damaged trust between the faiths, Bunglawala said: “I accept that some actions, including the MCB’s absence from the Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony – it has asked that the name be changed to a more inclusive Genocide Memorial Day – have caused some misgivings and even distress among British Jews. “The MCB has decided to undertake a consultation of British Muslims about the issue, and the position is currently under review.” Bunglawala also said that, while most British Jews and Muslims are unlikely to agree on the reasons for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “a failure to agree on this issue is used as an excuse to stop talking about other areas in which we could cooperate, to our mutual benefit”.
© EJP

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EIGHT INJURED INJURED IN HUNGARY STREET VIOLENCE, 56 DETAINED

16/3/2007- Eight people were injured, including seven policemen, and 56 rioters were detained late Thursday after police clashed with violent far-right demonstrators in Budapest, national police chief Laszlo Bene told a press conference on Friday, cited by AFP.
"Seven policemen were injured, of whom one suffered serious injuries and six were lightly injured. One civilian, who took an active part in the riots, was also injured," Bene said. He said 56 rioters were detained on various charges. Bened added that authorities were not expecting new disturbances in the coming days. Police used tear gas and water cannons against radicals who erected and set fire to barricades, smashed car windows and threw stones and bottles at police. Some protestors waved the Hungarian Arpad flag that has become a symbol of the far-right since the country's pro-Nazi regime used a similar one during World War II. Others raised their arms in Nazi-like salutes.

The late evening violence ended hopes that the national day -- marking the country's 1848 revolution against Habsburg rule and a traditional day of rallies -- could end peacefully. There had been warnings that violence could erupt, after intelligence services said last week extremists were stocking up on weapons and planning coordinated attacks. Security was tight as police aimed to prevent a repetition of the riots that rocked Budapest in September and October. Those riots were triggered by the leak of an audio tape in which Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany said he knowingly misled voters on the economy to win in parliamentary elections.
Authorities in particular feared a repeat of October 23, when violent far-right protestors tried to join a peaceful rally by the opposition right-wing Fidesz party on the 50th anniversary of a failed anti-Soviet uprising. But although far-right supporters also joined a Fidesz rally on Thursday, that gathering ended peacefully, drawing an estimated 200,000 altogether. Fidesz leader Viktor Orban, who lost his second consecutive parliamentary election last April, reiterated demands that the government resign because it backtracked on campaign promises of tax cuts to push through an austerity package.
© FOCUS News Agency

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HUNGARIAN PROTESTS TURN VIOLENT

There have been violent clashes between police and far-right protesters on the streets of Budapest.

16/3/2007- The trouble began when nationalist leader György Budaházy, who has been wanted by the police since disturbances began last September, was detained. Police decided to clear the city centre using tear gas and water cannon as the crowd of demonstrators swelled. Earlier thousands of supporters of the main opposition party held a peaceful mass rally to mark National Day. There has been tight security, amid fears of a repetition of last October's clashes that marred the 50th anniversary of the anti-Soviet uprising. The unrest followed Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány's admission that he had lied during the electoral campaign about the state of Hungary's finances.

The far-right rally began peacefully, with speeches from, among others, British historian David Irving, who was imprisoned until recently in Austria for Holocaust denial. The rioting began in the early evening after police identified and arrested Budaházy, who is wanted in connection with the siege of a public TV station during last September's disturbances. As the crowd grew to around 1,000, people converged on the centre of the city, with some clearly looking for a fight with police, others just curious, correspondents say. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries, although eyewitnesses mentioned that some demonstrators had attacked journalists. Police drove down the city's main boulevard firing water cannon and tear gas canisters in an attempt to break up the protest, which they consider illegal. Protesters responded by throwing bottles and stones, and built and set fire to barricades to obstruct the police.

At official ceremonies for the holiday, which marks Hungary's brief independence from Habsburg rule in 1848, Gyurcsány was booed by a few hundred protesters, who shouted "Go, Gyurcsány, go!" Later, Budapest Mayor Gábor Demszky, an ally of Gyurcsány, had to be protected with an umbrella against eggs thrown by protesters during his speech. The main conservative opposition party, Fidesz, held its own rally on Thursday afternoon, attended by tens of thousands of supporters. Fidesz made it clear it had nothing to do with the far-right protesters. Organizers asked participants at the Fidesz rally to carry only the official flag and not the traditional Hungarian Árpád flag, a modified version of which was used by the pro-Nazi government of 1944-1945. Yet some participants still carried the Árpád flag and sang songs lamenting the demise of Greater Hungary after World War I. Fidesz has been accused in the past of not dissociating itself from far-right elements. The party is in the main centre-right group in the European Union - the European Popular Party - and has vehemently denied that it harbors xenophobic or anti-Semitic views.

Hungarian police expect to make 100 arrests after officers in riot gear clashed with anti-government protesters last night as violence erupted on a national holiday. Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse rioters who erected burning barricades along main thoroughfares in central Budapest. „We were quick and successful,” Lajos Németh, a spokesman for the national police said by telephone late yesterday. „It is now calm.” He said 30 arrests had already been made, while four officers were injured, the most serious a broken arm. „People here are not used to living in an atmosphere of permanent violence,” said Katalin Gönczöl, who chaired a commission that investigated the protests. „People are tired, they want to disassociate themselves from the violence.”
© BBJ

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GEERT WILDERS' MCCARTHYISM (Netherlands)

Nativism rears its head in dual nationality row. Lesley Thomas, of American-Dutch dual nationality, takes a long, hard look at the issue.

16/3/2007- US Senator Joseph R. McCarthy's aim was to purge the United States of "un-American" citizens and communists. Loyalty to the United States in the 1950's was a big issue then. Whereas McCarthy was bent on hunting down communists, leader of the Freedom party (PVV) Geert Wilders' obsession is in damning politicians who have an Islamic background and have dual nationality. During the McCarthy era of the 1950's many careers and lives of innocent victims were destroyed. Little evidence was necessary when it came to making accusations and in finding someone guilty. The “dual nationality” hysteria Wilders has created around State Secretaries Ahmed Aboutaleb, Nebahat Albayrak and Labour MP Khadija Arib is damaging to these politicians’ careers. They have been accused of being potentially disloyal and their reputations have suffered. In Wilders' column in NieuwNieuws, he states that with the addition of the two new state secretaries Ahmed Aboutaleb and Nebahat Albayrak to the Dutch cabinet, the Moroccan and Turkish governments have infiltrated the heart of the Dutch power centre. Instead of the red scare, in Wilders’ eyes we are dealing with an Islamic one. Wilders' wild man act in the House of Chambers is entertaining and receives public attention but is it politically moral or even correct considering the personal abuse inflicted? What happened to civility in the Chamber? Are there no limits?  And what about the voice of the large coalition parties? Of course it was said that the politicians discredited by the PVV, are exemplary symbols of integration and Arib will probably be allowed to continue her advisory work for the Human Rights Council in Morocco. But why hasn't Premier Balkenende and/or his party spoken up about the coalition’s position on this topic? What is with the silence? Do the coalition partners secretly fear that their grassroots support quietly agrees with Wilders?

No wonder Aboutaleb made the comment on provincial Election Day that he had never felt so unsafe in the Netherlands as in the past days. In reply to Geert Wilders' motion of no-confidence, he referred to the "undercurrent in Dutch society that does not want me here."  Considering the poll taken by Maurice de Hond, you cannot just wave away Wilders and his nativist agenda. He is supported by an increasing larger group in the Netherlands. As Expatica mentioned earlier, the electorate seems to be rewarding Wilders for the commotion he has stirred up. A poll from Maurice de Hond estimated that if the Freedom Party had participated in the provincial elections, it would have received 14 seats, five more than it actually holds in Parliament at the moment. PvdA Publicist and Professor Paul Scheffer of the University of Amsterdam (www. elsevier.nl), describes Wilders' insinuation that dual nationality and loyalty to the Netherlands are not compatible, as "fatally confusing". Maybe this is what you get when you have a party (PVV) which is not backed by professors. In a recent Volkskrant article, liberal conservative Bart-Jan Spuyt, the founder of the conservative think tank Edmund Burke Stichting, says that Wilders’ approach "dirties the Islam debate which is a crying shame". Wilders "prefers to be surrounded by flunkeys instead of heavyweights," according to Spuy. Scheffer does plead for a rational debate around the issue of having dual nationality and holding a high political position. The whole debate around dual nationality is a real 'can of worms'. You can’t exactly allow some nationalities dual citizenship and others not. Also some countries, such as Morocco, don’t allow their citizens to relinquish their nationality, making dual nationality inevitable.

As a reader of Expatica, Mark Kallmeyer, pointed out, the United States (a country where massive immigration takes place) might frown upon dual nationality but the US Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional to enforce such a law. The Center for Immigration Studies, a US think tank, explains that the US "does not formally recognise dual citizenship, but neither does it take any stand - politically or legally — against it. No American citizen can lose his or her citizenship by undertaking the responsibilities of citizenship in one or more other countries." And this includes "…running for office, and if successful, serving. Informed constitutional judgment suggests Congress could legislatively address any of these or other issues arising out of these multiple, perhaps conflicting, responsibilities. Yet, to date, it has chosen not to do so."  So why does the Netherlands choose to rack its brains over dual nationality? What does this say about Dutch democracy? Is Holland stumbling over an era of nativism? McCarthy's popularity and influence came to an end in the mid-1950's. McCarthy went down in history as a buffoon and the word McCarthyism is now regarded as a dirty word. Something maybe Wilders and the PVV should take note of.
© Expatica News

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PASSPORT DEBATE UNFORTUNATE FOR WORKERS(Netherlands)

13/3/2007- The debate on dual nationality is being wrongly linked with questions about loyalty and should be ended as soon as possible. The leadership of trade union confederation CNV unanimously agreed on this on Monday. "We have noticed that this discussion is causing commotion precisely in those professions where you need to be able to trust your colleagues blindly," Gerrit van de Kamp, chairman of the police personnel union ACP said. "Soldiers feel that if the loyalty of state secretaries is being questioned today, the integrity of Muslim soldiers could be up for discussion tomorrow," said Jan Kleian, chairman of the military union ACOM. There are also many employees with dual nationality in the education sector. Marleen Barth, chairperson of CNV Education, thinks it outright insulting that people with dual nationality are now being found unsuitable for all sorts of jobs because they are presumed to have divided loyalties. Chairman Dirk Swagerman of the CNV Services union referred to a reaction from a CNV member who is working abroad. "He asked us not too long ago whether we could do something about those crazy statements from Wilders. He is also putting Dutch abroad in danger with his comments." CNV chairman Rene Paas is pulling the emergency break on behalf of all colleagues throughout the CNV. "What is happening now is that a large group of Dutch are being pushed into a particular corner and made to feel different. We must not make this suggestion any longer. Everyone has the right to their own identity, no matter where they come from or what religion they follow. That should be the case for someone from Limburg or from Morocco, for an atheist and for a Muslim. These matters have nothing to do with someone's loyalty in our society. The link between nationality and loyalty is a very dangerous one."
© Expatica News

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INTEGRATION - SLOW BUT STEADY(Denmark)

A government think tank has concluded that progress is being made to integrate immigrants into Danish society, but it finds the process is taking too long

13/3/2007- While ethnic Danes and immigrants hold the same ground when it comes to questions of democracy and freedom of speech, the two groups are still worlds apart on issues such as homosexuality and gender equality, according to a government survey released Monday. The survey, conducted by the Integration Ministry's Think Tank, found a number of positive signs that efforts to integrate immigrants had succeeded, including equal support between ethnic Danes and non-ethnic Danes for democratic principles. It also found that eight out of ten immigrants felt that accepting payment under the table or not paying taxes was wrong. But when it came to culturally based questions, such as gender equality, the survey confirmed that the two groups had vastly different points of view. When asked about their views of homosexuality, 76 percent of Danish men and 89 percent of Danish women said it was 'acceptable'. Amongst immigrant groups, 59 percent of Iranian men and 52 percent of Iranian women agreed. For Danish with a Turkish heritage, 8 percent of men and 10 percent of women said it was acceptable. The responses varied only slightly for the children of immigrants, leading Erik Bonnerup, the leader of the Think Tank, to suggest that simply assuming that the group would integrate itself had been misguided. He said the figures revealed the need for a new approach. 'We need to speak more openly about whether there are some fundamental values and norms that prevent integration in the workplace,' Bonnerup told public service broadcaster DR. Bonnerup said that even though there had been little difference in the responses of immigrants and the children of immigrants, there were still major differences between the two groups. Children of immigrants tended to be more religious than their parents, but the report said that was often a reaction to Danish youth culture, which young non-ethnic Danes often felt was filled with parties, alcohol and sex. Despite their differences from ethnic Danish youth, young first and second generation Danes said they rarely felt discriminated against because of their ethnicity. Their responses also showed that compared with the attitudes in their homelands, they had made a significant migration towards accepting Danish culture. In all 4500 people participated in the survey. The results are similar to a report released by the British think tank the Policy Exchange earlier this year.
© The Copenhagen Post

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GIVE ME MY DOG BACK OR I'LL LET IN THE NEO-NAZIS (Germany)

A German village is fighting to keep out far-right extremists after getting into a dispute with a businessman over his dog. He has rented out a building to the far-right NPD, but says he may change his mind if he gets back his Giant Schnauzer, confined to a dogs' home after biting some residents.

12/3/2007- A businessman seeking revenge against the local council that confiscated his dog has rented out a building to the far-right National Democratic Party, triggering a desperate quest by villagers to reverse the decision and save its reputation. Peter Landwehrmann bought the former community center and school in the village of Gonzerath, southwestern Germany, in 2001 and used it as the headquarters for his auto painting equipment business. But he fell out with the local authority over his Giant Schnauzer called Anne, which was taken from him and put into an animal home six months ago after it bit several villagers. Landwehrmann decided to leave Gonzerath and has rented the building out to the NPD party until 2011, much to the dismay of the 1,200 villagers, virtually all of whom joined a demonstration of around 2,000 people against the NPD outside the building on March 3. Reports say the NPD wants to use the building as a training center. "If they stay here it would be disastrous," Gonzerath mayor Dietmar Thömmes told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "We don't want to be labelled as far-right and we'll do everything we can to stop it happening." Thömmes said 10 NPD members had used the building on Sunday "for some kind of training course." Neither the NPD nor Landwehrmann could immediately be reached for comment. Landwehrmann was quoted in Die Welt newspaper as saying: "I'm no Nazi. If I get Anne back I'll negotiate. I want to harass the community that took my dog away." Mayor Thömmes says the council is examining Landwehrmann's 2001 purchase contract to see whether it has any room for manoeuvre. "He seems very attached to the dog. If he just took his dog and the NPD and got out we'd welcome that very much."  The council is now believed to be considering returning the dog to Landwehrmann if he agrees to sell the building to the council at a fair price.

Gonzerath is among a growing number of German communities that have tried to stop far-right investors from buying properties. Last year, the northern town of Delmenhorst prevented an NPD member from buying a hotel he wanted to turn into a venue for rallies, conferences and training seminars. In the end the city bought the hotel for €3 million, more than twice its estimated value. A third of the money was raised by town's 80,000 inhabitants. The NPD, which calls for the forced repatriation of foreigners and says Germany should stop atoning for the Holocaust, is marginalized on a nationwide level but has had some electoral success in the economically depressed east, where it is now represented in two federal states. Some real estate sellers see a bid by the NPD as a sure way to up the sale price, because it usually prompts the local community to launch a counter-offer to prevent the sale to the NPD and save its image. The NPD, often thwarted by citizens' initiatives and bureaucratic hurdles, resorted to subterfuge on Sunday in an attempt to find a meeting place. It booked a restaurant in the northern village of Burhave claiming to be the Social Democratic party, police said. When the restaurant owner realized their true identity he barred them from entering and called the police.
© Spiegel Online

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LE PEN SUBMITS JUST ENOUGH SIGNATURES(France)

14/3/2007- Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of France's far-right National Front, officially registered Wednesday as a candidate for president, adding new uncertainty to an already volatile campaign. A candidate in four previous presidential contests, Le Pen deposited the signatures of 535 elected officials to the Constitutional Council, which vets French laws and validates elections. The 78-year-old politician stunned France when he edged out Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, the Socialist candidate, in the first round of the presidential election in 2002. But Le Pen was trounced by the incumbent President Jacques Chirac in the runoff. Le Pen's candidacy could suck some support in the first electoral round next month from the conservative candidate, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who is leading in the polls, and from François Bayrou, head of the slightly more centrist Union for French Democracy Party. But neither the polls nor political analysts are predicting that Le Pen will make it to the second round this time. The image of a far-right candidate winning 17 percent of the popular vote in 2002 still haunts politics here. In addition, many of Le Pen's themes have been echoed by Sarkozy, who is quite likely to secure votes from a portion of Le Pen's supporters in the second round.

Sarkozy, for example, has taken up a version of the Le Pen message of "France for the French," telling immigrants and their children that if they do not love the values and traditions of France, they should leave. Sarkozy's proposal to create a ministry of immigration and national identity has been criticized by the opposition Socialists as a ploy to curry favor with nationalists on the right. Le Pen has accused Sarkozy of stealing his thunder, calling the phenomenon the "Le Penization of Mr. Sarkozy." But his candidacy will help to frame the electoral debate. According to an Ipsos poll released Wednesday, Le Pen would receive 13 percent of the first- round vote on April 22. His views continue to shock. Last month, he dismissed the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States as "an incident," calling the loss of life in the attacks less dramatic than others, such as the Allied bombing of Dresden at the end of World War II. In an interview with a Catholic daily newspaper, La Croix, Le Pen said: "Three thousand dead. That's the death toll in one month in Iraq; it's much less than the bombings of Marseille or Dresden at the end of World War II, which were also terrorist acts since they expressly targeted civilian populations to get the military to surrender." After Chirac announced Sunday that he would not seek a third term, Le Pen called him the worst president in the history of the French republic. In 1987, Le Pen called the Nazi gas chambers a "detail" in the history of World War II and was convicted of Holocaust denial. He repeated the remarks 10 years later. Le Pen's strong showing in 2002 was in part a reflection of a lack of enthusiasm for Chirac on the right and Jospin on the left and a large field of candidates the split the vote. Le Pen's anti-immigrant and anti-crime platform also helped his popularity. But Le Pen had to struggle to secure the necessary signatures from at least 500 elected officials. And some think he is too old to run again.
© International Herald Tribune

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FOREIGNERS FACE NEW BARRIERS TO CITIZENSHIP(Slovakia)

Government wants more time to judge applicants' "moral fitness"

12/3/2007- Acquiring Slovak citizenship will take longer and be more difficult under the terms of a proposed amendment to the State Citizenship Act scheduled to be approved this summer. On March 6, the cabinet body responsible for legislation recommended that the government approve the law as of July 1, 2007. The changes mean that foreigners will have to live in Slovakia on permanent residence permits for eight years before being eligible to apply for Slovak citizenship, rather than the current five. Refugees who are granted asylum in Slovakia can currently apply immediately for citizenship, but under the new law will have to live in Slovakia for four years before being eligible to become Slovak citizens. People of Slovak descent living abroad will have their wait time increased as well, from two years of uninterrupted permanent residency in Slovakia to three, before they can apply for citizenship. The amendment will also introduce a Slovak language test and will tighten "moral suitability" criteria, although details of the last change were not available at press time. Peter Kresák, the head of the Bratislava office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said he could not understand why the government wanted to make citizenship conditions stricter, and claimed that in doing so Slovakia would be violating its international commitments. According to Kresák, "Slovakia is a party to various conventions that requires it to ease access to state citizenship as much as possible." Kresák said that even under the current legislation, few asylum seekers ever receive citizenship. In 2006 the figure was only five from over 2,000 asylum applicants, while the year before it was only two.

The explanatory report accompanying the government amendment said the time extensions were necessary because "we need more time to examine citizenship applicants in depth given the rising danger of international terrorism and organized crime." Asked if he could see a connection between those threats and allowing permanent residents to become citizens, the chairman of the parliamentary Human Rights Committee, László Nagy, said: "I am not aware that Slovakia is in danger of general infiltration by terrorists. Such people would never receive citizenship under any circumstances." However, Ján Slota, the head of the ruling coalition far-right Slovak National Party, welcomed the changes. "We don't want to end up like in Kosovo, and allow Slovakia to be turned into the Albanian Republic where we will all be running around with turbans on our heads in 20 or 50 years," he said. Former Interior Minister Vladimír Palko of the opposition Christian Democrats also approved of the new rules, and said Slovakia should also start differentiating between citizenship applicants by country of origin. "We should have the right to say that we prefer Ukrainians or Russians over people from Muslim countries who come from completely different cultures," he said.
© The Slovak Spectator

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U.N. COMMITTEE CRITICISES CZECHREP FOR APPROACH TO ROMANIES

15/3/2007- The Czech Republic should take measures to prevent the re-location of Romanies from towns and villages and placing Romany children in special schools as well as staging neo-Nazi concerts, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recommended to Czech authorities after a debate on its annual report on the Czech Republic. The conclusions have been released on the Internet. The committee also criticised the Czech stance on the cases of forced sterilisation of Romany women and reiterated that the Czech Republic should adopt the anti-discrimination law as soon as possible and establish an institution to monitor its observance and help victims of discrimination. The committee expressed a serious concern about the prevailing negative approach of Czech society to Romanies and prejudices about them. The committee criticised the relocation of Czech Romanies against their will and their segregation and said that the Czech Republic has not taken any measures to prevent it and that it does not support the construction of social housing either. The committee calls on the Czech Republic to secure equal access to housing without discrimination. Jiri Cunek, Mayor of Vsetin, north Moravia, and current deputy PM, faces criticism for having relocated Romanies, allegedly rent-defaulters, from a dilapidated house in the town centre to a new house made of tin container-like houses on the town's outskirts last autumn. Further Romany families were sent away from Vsetin and resettled elsewhere in Moravia. The U.N. committee also mentioned the "racial segregation" of Romany pupils, citing a high number of them in special schools for problem children.

The committee recommended that the state prepare efficient education programmes for Romany children with respect for their culture background. The committee pointed out that a number of Romany children are taken from their families and end up in institutional care. The committee also focused on forced sterilisations of Romany women. It appreciated that the Czech ombudsman dealt with the cases, but reproached the Czech authorities for not having recognised responsibility for them and secured compensation for possible victims. The committee called on the Czech Republic to set up clear rules for patients' consent with surgery after being sufficiently informed about its course and consequences. The committee pointed out that there is no independent body in the Czech Republic to investigate the police work. While Czech Romanies complain about policemen's discriminatory treatment, the Interior Minister's Inspection, investigating crimes committed by police, did not register a single case of policemen's racially motivated acts last year, the U.N. report adds. The committee said that the Czech police fail to recruit more Romanies. The committee also pointed to a rising number of neo-Nazi concerts in the Czech Republic. The staging of such concerts and participation in them should be prosecuted and punished. The state institutions and primarily the police should take active and resolute steps in this respect to prevent similar concerts as well as their promotion in the future, the U.N.committee noted in its report.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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STERILISED ROMA ACCUSE CZECHS

"I was sterilised when I was 21", says Elena Gorolova, an ethnic Roma (Gypsy) woman living in Ostrava in the east of the Czech Republic.

12/3/2007- She is one of 80 Roma women in this pretty and quiet Czech town who claim they were coerced into sterilisation in the Czech health system. Elegant and articulate, 37-year-old Elena describes how her stay in the maternity ward 16 years ago left her emotionally and physically scarred for life. She had just delivered a boy and joked to the doctor: "I won't bother to take the baby home, because I wanted a girl". The doctor's answer still reverberates in her ears: "You'd better take it, because you will not have any more children. We have sterilised you." For years these women stayed silent, and some were even ashamed to tell their own husbands. Only a few years ago did the shocking details start to emerge. There are allegations that coercive sterilisation was used to curb the traditionally high fertility rate among the Roma. Many were offered money, though that was not official policy. Similar cases have been reported in neighbouring Slovakia. The practice officially ended in 1990 after the collapse of communist Czechoslovakia, but a number of doctors are said to have continued the operations on their own initiative.  The complaints sparked an official inquiry. The Czech ombudsman - Public Defender of Rights Otakar Motejl - investigated the cases and issued a report in December 2005. "The problem of sexual sterilisation carried out in the Czech Republic, either with improper motivation or illegally, exists," he said, recommending state compensation for women affected between 1973 and 1991. During that period social services had offered some Roma women financial incentives to undergo sterilisation "even though the state issued no instruction," he concluded. The communist authorities had practised an assimilation policy towards Roma which "included efforts by social services to control the birth rate in the Romani community," he said.

Pressure for action
But human rights groups say the last recorded case happened as late as 2003. "Sterilisation was used as a means of birth control," says Kumar Vishwanathan, head of Life Together, an Ostrava-based NGO for Roma rights. Like many other Roma women, Elena Gorolova signed a consent form without realising what the operation entailed. Some women say they had been administered drugs, others simply did not understand what the word "sterilisation" meant. Czech doctors disagree. "Sterilisation is conducted on purely medical grounds," says Richard Spousta, head of the gynaecological unit at an Ostrava hospital. "We don't keep any statistics on Roma and non-Roma sterilised women. I don't know why you are making such claims." An investigation by a Czech health ministry advisory committee concluded that procedural mistakes had been made in a number of cases. But the Czech embassy in London told the BBC that "sterilisation is in no way a national policy targeted on a specific ethnic or any other group in the Czech Republic". "We've suggested to the government that it issue an apology to the victims," says Ceslaw Walek, director of the Roma Community Affairs Council, which advises the government on Roma-related policies. "But I cannot see this happening." Earlier this year the Czech high court did uphold a lower court's decision obliging an Ostrava hospital to apologise to one of the victims, Helena Ferencikova, sterilised in 2001. "This is the first decision of its kind in Central and Eastern Europe," says Lucie Fremlova from the Life Together NGO. The hospital has not yet complied with the court's decision. Helena Ferencikova is still waiting.
© BBC News

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CZECH HOSPITAL APOLOGISE TO ROMANY WOMAN FOR STERILISATION

12/3/2007- The management of the Czech Vitkovicka hospital today apologised to Helena Ferencikova, a Romany woman aged 24, who had sued it for unwanted sterilisation, local coordinator of Romany affairs Kumar Vishwanathan told CTK. The hospital management has not been available for comment. In January, the High Court in Olomouc, north Moravia, dealt with the first complaint about involuntary sterilisation. It ruled that the Vitkovicka hospital should apologise to Ferencikova who was sterilised six years ago without her explicit consent. However, the court did not recognise her right to financial compensation since her case fell under the statute of limitations. Ombudsman Otakar Motejl whose office has received about 80 complaints from Romany women by the end of 2005 alone has also proposed that women be compensated for involuntary sterilisation. Six years ago, doctors sterilised Ferencikova, then aged 19, after the delivery of her second baby. They said that they had proceeded on behalf of the patients' health as she had had the second delivery through the caesarean section. The hospital officials claimed that she had agreed with the treatment and her signature on her consent was in the relevant files. However, Ferencikova says that she did not know exactly what she was signing as she had pains after the delivery. She said that she had not wished sterilisation and had not given valid consent to it. The European Roma Centre was the first to openly raise the suspicions of involuntary sterilisation of Romanies in 2004. According to its report, there were cases in the Czech Republic in which Romany women did not give their consent to sterilisation or gave it under the threat of being stripped of welfare benefits.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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MECHELEN: INCIDENT OUTSIDE NEO-NAZI GIG (Belgium)

11/3/2007- Five hundred neo-Nazis converged on the Antwerp town of Mechelen last night for a gig and party involving several bands popular on the far-right party circuit. A group of skinheads clashed with members of the ethnic minorities outside the gig. Two Dutch girls were hurt, but were released from hospital after receiving treatment. The party was organised by the far right organisation Blood and Honour and attracted neo-Nazis from Germany, the Netherlands and Poland. The party itself passed without incident, but afterwards a number of skinheads brawled with youngsters belonging to the ethnic minorities. Local police commissioner Jean Schouben told the VRT that some of the Blood & Honour neo Nazis had gone in search of a bite to eat. In doing so they came across a group of immigrant youngsters. The police were soon at the scene and separated the two groups. Earlier in the day a group of skinheads had gathered at war graves in Lommel (Limburg) to honour a number of members of the SS, the security and military organisation of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party.

Bart Somers: "I was powerless"
The Mechelen burgomaster and leader of the Flemish liberal party Bart Somers told news men that he didn't know the party was going to be staged in his home city. He was only informed after it had started. Mr Somers insisted that legally speaking he was powerless to prevent the party. The liberal leader added that he shared the views of several Belgian parliamentarians who felt that organisations and events that celebrate Nazism were beyond the pale. Interior Minister Dewael (Flemish liberal) has asked MPs to take an initiative and a bill outlawing similar events as well as neo-Nazi organisations is on the cards soon.
© Flanders News

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FAR RIGHT SKINHEADS COMMEMORATE SS (Belgium)

10/3/2007- Far right skinheads from across Europe were expected in Belgium on Saturday for SS Memorial Day. The skinheads are linked to the far right Blood and Honour organisation. The skinheads want to pay tribute to members of the SS, the German Nazi party's security and military organisation, who died in the Second World War. The ceremony is being followed by a concert involving a number of bands well known on the far right skinhead scene. The Blood and Honour organisation is staging the event in the greatest secrecy. The Belgian anti-fascist organisation Blokwatch said that right wing skinheads would congregate at two meeting points where they would be told the exact location of the ceremony. On Saturday afternoon a spokesman for the Belgian Interior Ministry said that freedom of speech and freedom of association meant such events could not be banned beforehand. Belgian security services will be monitoring what goes on, but can only intervene when public order is under threat.
© Flanders News

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ITALY PROTESTERS BACK GAY RIGHTS

10/3/2006- Thousands of protesters have streamed into a piazza in central Rome to show their support for government proposals to grant rights to gay couples. Waving rainbow coloured-flags, the 50,000-strong crowd voiced support for a bill giving gay couples legal status. "Wake up, it's time for our rights!" some shouted. Others donned bishop's mitres with anti-Vatican slogans. The bill was approved by Italy's cabinet last week but faces a tough battle through parliament. Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who promised legal rights for de facto couples in his 2006 election campaign, approved the proposals on 8 February. The highly controversial move came after months of heated debate in the broad, ruling coalition and fierce opposition from the Vatican.

'Attack'
But correspondents say that opposition from an already fractured coalition, may mean the proposal does not become law. Leftist coalition members including the Communist and Green parties have been campaigning in favour of the proposals but they are opposed by some Christian Democrats. Pope Benedict XVI has also spoken out against what the Vatican sees as an attack on the traditional family. "It's a demonstration to unite and not to divide, and it's the biggest rally ever held in Italy to demand a law on civil unions," activist Alessandro Zan told the crowd. Two ministers spoke at the rally and centre-left deputy Franco Grillini, also a gay rights campaigner, said that the proposed law paled beside those of other European countries. "None of the countries has seen the apocalyptic forecasts about the fate of the traditional family come true," Mr Grillini said. If parliament passes the package, unmarried couples will get greater health and social welfare benefits. But partners will enjoy inheritance rights only if they have been living together for at least nine years.
© BBC News

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MY DAD WAS CALLED A 'BLACK BASTARD' TOO (uk, comment)

Nirpal Dhaliwal's father served in the army and knows that racial abuse hurts far more than insults about the colour of your hair
By Nirpal Dhaliwal, journalist and novelist

11/3/2007- Patrick Mercer was dismissed from his post as shadow home affairs spokesman last week, following his offhand dismissal of racism in the armed forces. The MP, a former colonel, suggested that racist abuse was a normal occurrence in military life and that being called a 'black bastard' was no worse than being baited for being fat or red-haired. My father, Harnek Singh Dhaliwal, was a soldier in the British army in the late Sixties and early Seventies. 'Harry', as he came to be called, served in an era when racism wasn't discussed, let alone dealt with. He will never forget his commanding officer calling him a 'black bastard' in front of the entire platoon. My dad had mistakenly stepped on a trailer while trying to climb into the back of a lorry. 'I was gutted,' he told me. 'I expected to hear that sort of thing from the regular soldiers, but not from an officer.' The officer had grossly insulted him and legitimised such insults among the men my father had to serve with.

My dad came to Britain, from India, as a nine-year-old. Aged 17, he joined the Gloucestershire Regiment in 1967. Having left school at 15 with no qualifications, the army was his only way to escape the factory work that everyone else he grew up with was destined for. Only 5ft 6ins tall, he was a slightly built Asian lad who wanted to see something of the world. He'd been the only Asian child at his school and had suffered racial abuse and beatings. He now entered the hyper-macho arena of the army in which his colour made him stick out like a sore thumb. Coming from London made him even more of an oddity. When he first joined the West Country regiment, other soldiers would appear at his billet to gawp at the brown-skinned boy who spoke with a cockney accent. But people's responses weren't always so benign. The word 'Paki' wasn't then a common part of racist parlance, so the bullies used the words 'wog', 'nigger' and 'coon' to his face instead. He shared a room with one who habitually called him a 'black enamelled bastard'. He was also attacked. One long-serving soldier, a heavyweight boxer several years older than him, picked a fight with him in a pub, spuriously accusing my dad of badmouthing him behind his back. He took my father outside, shouted the routine insult of 'You black bastard!' and butted him.
Racism affected his love life, too. He started dating a young woman he'd met at a dance in Tavistock. She took him home for a cup of tea and while he sat in the kitchen, he overheard her talking to her mother in the front room. 'I'm not having him in this house,' the mother said. When the girl returned to the kitchen, she didn't have to say a word. My dad just got up, gave her a hug and a kiss goodbye and left. It took 18 months for him to learn how to cope with things. He took heart from those who stuck up for him. When one squaddie lunged across a bar room table to assault him, a hard and seasoned soldier called Pete Mosley, intervened, saying: 'He's one of us. You take him, you take me.'

My dad learnt to box and fought in inter-company competitions. While training for one contest, he found himself sparring with a soldier who belonged to a clique which liked to push him around. But in the ring, one-on-one, it was a different story. 'I gave him a good hiding,' said my dad. After that, those boys showed him a lot more respect. The turning point came when he met a new recruit called Curly. Curly was an east Londoner and the two cockney lads became best mates. Curly was also a bovver-booted and braces-wearing skinhead. They became the unlikeliest of double acts. Curly invited him to stay with his folks one weekend. When my dad walked into the local pub, Curly's skinhead mates stopped mid-conversation to stare at him. He could feel their hostility, but Curly cut in, saying: 'Hold it, guys. He's with me. He's my mate.' They all got blind drunk together, while bewildered onlookers watched the Asian kid having a rowdy night out with a gang of skins.

Their friendship brought my dad out of his shell and enabled him to enjoy himself. 'We could take the piss out of anything,' he said. 'Nothing demoralised us. It didn't matter how tired or hungry we were on manoeuvres, we could always have a laugh.' My dad also started giving as good as he got. He responded to racist banter with lippy comments of his own and the racism became less malicious. It became more of a clumsy, affectionate sort of ribbing instead. When my dad met his old army pals at a reunion last year, they told him: 'We gave you a hard time, but you were always one of us. We always loved you.' His colour occasionally came in handy. Drinking at a nightclub in Northern Ireland, his friends looked on in amazement as a tall, shapely, Irish blonde introduced herself to their table and asked my father to dance. 'She was gorgeous,' said my dad. 'Absolutely gorgeous.' He was sure it was his brown skin that drew her to him, but he wasn't going to turn her away. 'I loved the Irish,' he said. Even in the midst of a riot, they never picked on his colour.

My dad's experiences in the army profoundly influenced the way he raised me. He taught me to ignore whether my face fitted in any situation, and to do whatever I wanted with my life. He taught me that backing away from your problems does not make them disappear. Patrick Mercer may have been a decent officer, and many black men who served under him have defended him for his fairness and willingness to promote them. But there are plenty of soldiers who lack his integrity, who will regard his words as a licence for their racism. His statement proves how aloof he is from what many black and Asian soldiers have endured in the British army. When men and women sign up to fight for this country, their sense of Britishness should never be degraded. My father came under fire in Northern Ireland. He had courage and patriotism. For soldiers like him to be routinely called a 'black bastard' is unforgivable.
© The Observer

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NEW UN HUMAN RIGHTS AGENCY; SAME OLD PROBLEMS

10/3/2007- The United Nations Human Rights Council will begin a three-week session in Geneva on Monday amid expressions of frustration from rights advocates at its early performance and alarm over proposals that might weaken it further. "So far it's been enormously disappointing, and the opponents of human rights enforcement are running circles around the proponents," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. The council was created in an overwhelming vote — 170 to 4 — of the General Assembly a year ago to replace the Human Rights Commission, which had been widely discredited for allowing participation by countries like Sudan, Libya and Zimbabwe, which used membership to prevent scrutiny of their own human rights records. The commission was long a major embarrassment to the United Nations. The former secretary general, Kofi Annan, who first proposed its replacement in 2005, said that it had "cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole." When the 47 members of the new council were elected last March, tighter entry requirements succeeded in keeping the most notorious rights abusers off the panel, and there was some hope of less politicized behavior. But countries from Africa and the Organization of the Islamic Conference have dashed those hopes by voting as a bloc to stymie Western efforts to focus serious attention on situations like the killings, rapes and pillage in the Darfur region of Sudan, which the United Nations has declared the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Most notably, as happened with the commission, the council has focused the panel's condemnation almost exclusively on Israel. The council has already passed eight resolutions against Israel, and the Islamic group is planning four more in the current session. No other country has been cited for human rights violations.

The United States voted against creation of the council last year, saying it would not be a sufficient improvement over the commission. In the past week, it decided for the second straight year not to seek membership on the panel, and R. Nicholas Burns, under secretary of state for political affairs, linked that decision to the council's stance on Israel. "It spent the entire year slamming Israel," Burns told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday. He noted that the council had held formal hearings against Israel "but not against Burma and not against Zimbabwe and not against North Korea and not against Iran." Annan's successor, Ban Ki Moon, told a human rights gathering in December that he was "worried by its disproportionate focus on violations by Israel." The council, he said, "has clearly not justified all the hopes that so many of us placed on it."  The new session is the fourth this year, and an immediate issue attracting attention as a measure of the council's purposefulness is what it will do about an assessment mission to Darfur that was barred from entering Sudan last month. The options are to publish a factual report, to publish a report with recommendations or to take no action. "What they do with the Sudan mission will be a bellwether for the future of the council," said Peter Splinter, the Amnesty International representative in Geneva. He indicated he was not optimistic. "Sudan took the floor last week and said they rejected the mission entirely, and they are going to have the backing of the Organization of the Islamic Conference," Splinter said. "If the council ducks the situation in Darfur, that's not going to speak highly to its credibility." The Islamic group is expected to point out that Israel barred entry of an assessment mission to the Gaza Strip in December and that the mission's leader, Desmond Tutu, the former South African archbishop and anti-apartheid campaigner, decided not to make a formal recommendation.

"It was a mistake for that mission not to write a report, but if you allow governments to prevent a report by simply not admitting a mission, then you're giving them a way of silencing the council," Roth said. In another potential blow to the council's effectiveness, a proposal is circulating that would do away with many of the council's 41 rapporteurs — experts who produce sometimes graphic reports of abuses in individual countries. The proposal specifically exempts the mission that monitors the Palestinian territories. Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, an organization based in Geneva that follows UN human rights activities, said, "The situation is grim, and one example is that the one aspect that has always been thought of as a bright spot — the experts — may be eliminated."  Despite the disappointment with the council's early performance, Splinter said that it was premature to give up on the panel because it was still setting up its rules and procedures. It is supposed to resolve these institutional matters by mid-June.
© International Herald Tribune

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THREE IMMIGRANTS DIE IN CANOE OFF CANARYS (Spain)

9/3/2007- Three illegal immigrants died on a boat bound for the Canary Islands. Of the 49 on board, two others are seriously ill and the remaining 44 are en route to port aboard a rescue vessel, authorities said on Friday. Coast guard officials told Efe that the canoe, known as a cayuco, was spotted 35 miles south of Tenerife by the cutter Conde de Gondomar on Thursday. They said the two ailing migrants were taken by helicopter for treatment at hospitals. The Canary Islands have become a favoured destination for African emigrants seeking to make it to Europe to look for work. Illegal immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa have increasingly opted for the sea route to the Canary Islands in the past two years, especially since Madrid tightened security around two Spanish enclaves in North Africa that were being used as a bridge into Europe. The sea separating Africa from the Canary Islands has long been the scene of attempted crossings - some successful and others not - of people from African countries hoping to reach the coast of Spain in an effort to stay in that country or continue on to another European destination. To make the trip, illegal immigrants crowd into small boats that take to the sea - almost always at night - and not infrequently sink due to the excess weight on board. In 2006, 30,259 illegal immigrants arrived in the Canary Islands by sea, according to Spanish government figures. The figure dwarfed that for the previous year.
© Expatica News

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Headlines 9 March, 2007

'WILDERS MAINTAINS DOUBLE STANDARD' (Netherlands)

8/3/2007- Geert Wilders, faction leader of the Freedom Party PVV, maintains a "double standard" if he accuses Labour PvdA MP Khadija Arib of doing something wrong by holding a position on a committee that advises the Moroccan government, while he says nothing about the paid advisory work that Liberal VVD MP Hans van Baalen performs for the Taiwanese government. Faction leader of Green-left GroenLinks Femke Halsema said this on Thursday during the emergency debate in Parliament on Arib's advisory work in Morocco. During the debate the Christian democrat CDA and Democrat D66 also accused Wilders of targeting Arib, but at the same time failing to be open about his faction member Dion Graus, who reportedly abused his ex-girlfriends. Wilders claimed he did not know about Van Baalen's work. The accusations against Graus he said are neither here nor there. Wilders still refuses to disclose the findings of an investigation that he himself had ordered into the Graus situation. During the debate Wilders said it was a "serious problem that an MP was working for a foreign government." He not only had problems with Arib's activities on a committee in Morocco, but also was displeased at comments she had made in interviews. Wilders said it was "a scandal" that Arib said on the radio that she is "not loyal" to the Netherlands or Morocco. Wilders also thought it "scandalous" that Arib said she was glad she had two passports, so that she would still be able to leave the country if people like Wilders were to come into power here. The PVV faction leader said he was "not making a personal attack." He would also be unhappy to hear if an MP from any other party were advising the Finnish government, for instance, on agriculture or any other topic. For the rest it looks as if a majority in Parliament has no objection to Arib's advisory work. The debate continues this afternoon. The PvdA said it was proud of Arib. Her committee does not answer to the Moroccan king, said her party colleague Jeroen Dijsselbloem. Nor did most of the other parties have any objections. The PVV and VVD would have liked the prime minister to attend the debate but he is in Brussels at the moment.

Aboutaleb lashes out at Wilders
Ahmed Aboutaleb (Labour PvdA) lashed out at Geert Wilders on election day yesterday. In an emotional speech on Wednesday the new state secretary for social affairs took the occasion of election evening to say that the motion of no-confidence that Wilders levelled at him and fellow PvdA member Nebahat Albayrak was a "sign that you don't want to have confidence in people."  Aboutaleb said he had never felt so unsafe in the Netherlands as in the past days. He was not referring to any danger of attack on his person but rather to the "undercurrent in Dutch society that does not want me here." Aboutaleb's outburst was remarkable since he has been nothing but cool, and sometimes even laconic, in response to the discussion that Wilders has incited. "But I have been thinking about it the past few days and getting increasingly angry about it."
© Expatica News

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DUTCH POLICE HUNTS DOWN STORMFRONT MODERATORS

7/3/2007- Yesterday Dutch police has searched the homes of several moderators of the Dutch-language part of the neo-Nazi webforum Stormfront.org. During the search a number of personal computers were seized. Stormfront, hosted in the United States and owned by the notorious Don Black is one of the biggest extreme-right wing websites in the World. The Dutch Complaints Bureau for Discrimination on the Internet (MDI)filed charges against Stormfront some time ago and was one of the parties instrumental in providing information which led to the police investigation. The MDI is hopeful that tangible results will follow.
© I CARE News

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SENIOR MEMBER OF GERMAN FAR-RIGHT PARTY ACQUITTED AT INCITEMENT TRIAL

7/3/2007- A senior member of a German far-right party was acquitted of incitement Wednesday following a trial centering on CDs that prosecutors said encouraged violence against foreigners. A state court in Dresden said it found no evidence of criminal behavior on the part of Jens Puehse, 35, a member of the national leadership council of the National Democratic Party, or NPD. The charges stemmed from his activities as manager of a publishing house, Deutsche Stimme Verlag, which police raided in 2003. Prosecutors accused Puehse of producing and distributing some 2,500 CDs between 2000 and 2003 that called for hatred and violence against foreigners and left-wingers. They had called for Puehse to be fined. Puehse rejected the incitement charges, although he said when his trial opened last month that he regretted a CD titled "Der Untermensch" ("The Subhuman") had been produced. Presiding judge Martin Schultze-Griebler said that the contents of at least one of the CDs in question did not legally constitute incitement. Over the past three years, the NPD has won seats in the regional legislatures of two states in economically depressed eastern Germany — including Saxony, where Puehse's publishing house is based and the trial took place. That has prompted discussion of whether the government should launch a new drive to ban the party. Officials are wary, however, after Germany's highest court in 2003 blocked a previous attempt to ban the NPD. It refused to hear the case because the government cited statements by party members who turned out to be paid informers for state authorities.
© International Herald Tribune

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FORMER KOSOVAN PM GOES ON TRIAL FOR KLA'S ETHNIC CLEANSING CRIMES

6/3/2007- The former prime minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, went on trial yesterday for war crimes committed when he was a regional leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in its war against Serbianine years ago. Mr Haradinaj stands accused of 37 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity directed against Serbs, Roma and ethnic Albanians which the KLA believed were collaborating with Belgrade during the war in Kosovo from 1998-99. Mr Haradinaj's uncle, Lahi Brahimaj, and Idriz Balaj, the commanderof a special KLA unit, are also on trial. The trial before The Hague-based war crimes tribunal is particularly controversial because Mr Haradinaj, the highest-ranking ethnic Albanian ever to be indicted, is considered to be a hero by many in Kosovo. More than €7m has been raised for the former guerrilla leader's defence by groups of sympathisers in Kosovo and abroad, according to the local media. His trial also comes at a time of high tension in the area as the UN negotiator, Martti Ahtisaari, is expected to announce the final outlines for the future status of a breakaway Serbian province on Saturday. "I am not here to make a political address," the chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, said in her opening address. "This is a criminal trial for violent crimes committed out of the sight of international observers or monitors. My intention is to show that this warlord and his two lieutenants have blood on their hands," Ms Del Ponte added. The indictment says that forces under the command of Mr Haradinaj and his co-accused committed murder, rape, torture, persecution and evictions in western Kosovo in 1998 and that the three men were part of a "joint criminal enterprise" which resulted in the brutal killings of at least 39 people. Mr Haradinaj faces life in prison if he is found guilty. All three accused have pleaded innocent. The controversy surrounding Mr Haradinaj's trial arises from the fact that he quickly swapped the guerrilla uniform and guns for politics once the United Nations administration took over Kosovo after 11 weeks of Nato bombing of Serbia in 1999. In late 2004 Mr Haradinaj, a former nightclub bouncer in Switzerland, was appointed prime minister of Kosovo but was forced to resign after just 100 days once the details of the UN indictment became public. He then voluntarily surrendered to the tribunal and was provisionally released three months later to prepare his defence. Unusually, the court also allowed Mr Haradinaj to continue his political activities, albeit in a limited way. But his presence at home has led to a number of prosecution witnesses allegedly now refraining from taking to the stand, and one witness died recently in a mysterious car accident. Meanwhile, some of the international intelligence agencies have also accused Mr Haradinaj of being involved in clandestine smuggling operations as well as cocaine trafficking.
© Independent Digital

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GERMAN LAWMAKER COMPARES POLISH GOVERNING PARTIES WITH FAR RIGHT AT HOME

6/3/2007- The head of an organization representing Germans expelled from eastern Europe after World War II was quoted Tuesday as comparing Poland's governing parties with far-right German groups — a comparision swiftly rejected by fellow lawmakers in Berlin. Erika Steinbach, who heads the Federation of Expellees and is also a lawmaker for Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, has long been criticized in Poland. Mindful of a brutal Nazi occupation, many Poles view efforts to draw attention to the expelled Germans' plight with suspicion. Those efforts, and attempts by a small group of Germans — opposed by Steinbach — to claim compensation for property lost when borders were moved westward after the war have weighed on relations between Berlin and Poland's conservative nationalist government. "On the Polish side, there apparently is little interest at present in taking the tension out of relations with Germany," Steinbach was quoted as telling the Passauer Neue Presse daily. "The parties that govern Poland are comparable with the German Republicans, DVU and NPD," she added, the paper reported — a reference to three fringe far-right parties. "We can't expect too much." The CDU's general secretary, Ronald Pofalla, said that "this does not correspond with the German CDU's opinion." Markus Meckel, a lawmaker with the party's coalition partner, the center-left Social Democrats, urged Steinbach to apologize immediately to the Polish government. After meeting in Berlin with his German counterpart, Polish Parliament President Marek Jurek said Steinbach's comment was "not an appropriate statement." Steinbach has advocated a Berlin-based "Center against Expulsions" to remember millions of ethnic Germans who, often viewed as enemies or traitors, were expelled from or fled Poland, then-Czechoslovakia and elsewhere when the Third Reich collapsed and borders were moved westward. Poland, in particular, has opposed that idea, suggesting that it would serve to minimize the suffering of countries brutally occupied by the Nazis.
© International Herald Tribune

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REVERSING EARLIER CALL, COURT ALLOWS ANTI-NAZI SYMBOL SALE (Germany)

8/3/2007- Reversing another judge's decision, a German court has allowed a mail order salesman of anti-Nazi symbols to continue peddling images of a crossed-out swastika. A German high court overruled an earlier verdict of a minor court, which fined the seller of anti-Nazi symbols for using the infamous swastika symbol on his products. In September last year, the minor court in Stuttgart ruled that the crossed-out swastika used by the mail order company for its anti-Nazi badges would make the Nazi symbol acceptable again in Germany. But a High Court judge on Wendesday said such fears are unfounded -- and handed down a ruling that saved the small company.

Shaken faith
Jürgen Kamm, a staunch anti-Nazi activist, believes more Germans should take a public stand against the rise of Germany’s far-right political parties. His mail order company in southern Germany, "Nix Gut" (No Good) specializes in selling anti-Nazi T-Shirts, badges and lapel pins. One of his logos -- a swastika with a thick red line through it -- is a popular image among leftist campaigners in Germany. In September last year, Kamm’s belief in German democracy was badly shaken when a court in Stuttgart slapped a hefty fine of 3,500 euros ($4,600) on him and banned the distribution of the crossed-out swastika.

Unique symbol
After Thursday’s ruling by the German High Court though, Kamm said he regained confidence in state authorities. "For me it’s important that I can use this symbol again," Kamm said. "There is no other that shows so precisely that the person wearing it is against Nazism. I cannot imagine what the judge was thinking when he banned the symbol -- one that was even used by the World Football Association in its fight against racism and intolerance." High Court Judge Gerhardt Altvater supported Kamm’s view. In his ruling, he said the defendant clearly rejected Nazi ideology and didn’t intend to foster it. He also said that the public use of the swastika in Germany can only go unpunished when it denounces Hitler’s regime in an unmistakable fashion. Under German law, the use of the swastika, as well as raising the arm in a Hitler salute and wearing a Nazi uniform, is punishable with a fine or up to three years in prison.

Good news for staff
Bernhard Häusler, the prosecutor in Stuttgart, still believes Kamm’s mail order business is breaking this taboo. "What happened under this Nazi symbol was simply too horrific to allow the swastika to be used in the present-day political debate," he said. "That is why I’m convinced that the swastika should remain banned from mass market distribution." The High Court ruling is also good news for eight disabled people who make up about half of the staff of Jürgen Kamm’s mail order service, as well as for some 40 partly prominent Germans who used his crossed-out swastika symbol in public and were subsequently charged by the Stuttgart prosecutor with displaying unconstitutional symbols. They include Green Party leader Claudia Roth, who turned herself in to police in protest at the original ruling, and German trade union boss Michael Sommer, who wore such a badge during a union demonstration. At the time, protests against the verdict were heard from across the political spectrum in a bid to urge the court to stop criminalizing people who were courageously fighting right-wing extremism.
© Deutsche Welle

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GERMAN MUSLIMS WANT UNIFIED VOICE

Muslim leaders in Germany plan to form an umbrella organization to represent them. The new group would give a united voice to the more than three million Muslims living in Germany.

5/3/2007- Muslim leaders want to form a new organization that can act as an advocate for all Muslims living in Germany, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper reported in its Sunday edition. Currently, only a small number of the more than 3.2 million Muslims in Germany belong to an organized advocacy group. "Everyone is interested in having this get going as quickly as possible," Ali Kizilkaya, chair of the group Islamrat, Germany's largest Muslim organization, told the newspaper. "But we still need a little more time."

Planning underway
Organizers want to form the new organization in the upcoming months. But they still have to agree on basics such as a name and how the organization will be structured. Muslims make up more than four percent of Germany's population but unlike, say, Germany's Jewish community, they have no one organization which speaks for the majority. Divisions according to country of origin and theological differences have hindered past considerations about joining forces. Muslims realize they would benefit from having one voice and are determined to develop an organization that would provide united representation, Bekir Alboga, leader of a Turkish religious organization, told the newspaper. In September, German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble hosted a "Conference on Islam." It was the first time federal authorities had launched a dialogue with the country's Muslim minority. At that conference, Schäuble mentioned the idea of an umbrella organization. The German government would like a negotiating partner who they could turn to for advice on issues such as Islamic religion classes, ways to better integrate Muslim immigrants into German society, and ideas for limiting the influence of Islamist extremists.
© Deutsche Welle

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ANTI-ALBANIAN SINGING OF GREEK SOLDIERS CONDEMNED

5/3/2007- The Albanian government on Monday urged Athens to address anti-Albanian prejudice among its military ranks, after Greek soldiers were shown in an Internet video allegedly singing a song with derogatory words about Albanians. The video, which surfaced late last week, shows troops in training singing a song with anti-Albanian comments. It prompted condemnation in Albanian media and official responses from both the Greek and Albanian defense ministries. The Greek Defense Ministry criticized the alleged troop conduct, and said Monday it was investigating the video's authenticity. "We resolutely condemn such phenomena," Greek General Staff Spokesman Stephanos Gikas said. "Such actions, if they indeed occurred, clearly do not reflect the feelings of Greek people toward our neighbor and friendly country (Albania)." Albanian Vice Defense Minister Petrit Karabina called the alleged incident "unacceptable, condemnable and scandalous" for a NATO-member country. "We would ask the Greek Defense Ministry to take all the necessary measures to uproot these expressions of aggressive nationalism against Albanians in their armed forces," Karabina said. The Albanian parliament was to debate the issue later Monday. Several Albanians on Sunday burned a Greek flag in Fier, 100 kilometers (62 miles) southwest of the capital, Tirana, out of anger over the alleged incident. Relations between Greece and Albania have been strained periodically since the 1990 fall of communism in the tiny Balkan country because of perceptions of racism and xenophobia in Greece, and over the status and treatment of hundreds of thousands of Albanian immigrants there.
© Serbianna

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SLOVAK NEO-NAZIS ATTACK MEXICAN STUDENTS, ACTIVISTS SAY

6/3/2007- Slovak neo-Nazi supporters attacked four students, three from Mexico and one from Spain, during the weekend in Bratislava, Maria Candrakova from the People against racism association told CTK today. Skin-headed young men allegedly hit and kicked one of the students and aimed a pistol at another one. Candrakova said that the foreign students left Slovakia for a week-long study trip. She said that they wanted to report the attack to the Slovak police after their return. The students wrote one of their teacher they they plan to inform the organisers of the exchange programme within which they study at Bratislava's university that similar attacks occur from time to time. They said this had not been the first attack against them, Candrakova said. In 2006, Slovak police registered 188 racially motivated attacks. However, Candrakova says that many other victims have not reported the incidents. She said that the number and popularity of neo-Nazis are growing in Slovakia.
© Romano vodi

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PROJECT BOOSTS CZECH SELF-RULES' COOPERATION WITH NGOS, ROMANIES

6/3/2007- The Romany Integration Programme, a four-year international project prepared by the Partners Czechs NGO, has helped establish cooperation between self-rule bodies, NGOs and local Romanies in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, the organisers said at the close of the project today. In some places the programme also helped improve the coexistence between Romanies and the majority population, the organisers told CTK. In the Czech Republic, it focused on the towns Chomutov, north Bohemia, Bruntal, north Moravia, and Pardubice, east Bohemia. Seminars and training sessions were also attended by representatives of Romanies, authorities, and NGOs from other areas of the Czech Republic. "It cannot be said that everything has improved everywhere. However, initiative has been launched. People started to solve their problems using their own forces," Partners Czech director Dana Rabinakova told CTK. She said some NGOs started field work in Romany ghettos. The programme's coordinator Tomas Habart said that arbitration councils have been established. People now know how to settle discords, which has markedly lowered tension, said Rabinakova. The programme also included a campaign against prejudices. A spot in which a tram passenger unjustly accuses a Romany of stealing his wallet has been broadcast by TV and screened in cinemas. A group of Romanies who wish to work in the media have completed a special training including study stays in television, newspaper and radio offices. The whole programme was covered by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which spent more than 60 million crowns on it in the three countries. The Czech organisers received 13.9 million they used to finance 29 projects implemented by 19 organisations in the three towns. Experts estimate that up to 80,000 in the 10 million Czech Republic live in underprivileged blocks of flats and neighbourhoods of which there are more than 300 in the country. Most of their inhabitants are Romanies. Adult inhabitants of the "ghettos" are usually unemployed and the families live on social benefits. Children usually end up in special schools for less talented pupils. Activists say the local self-rule bodies are often unable to cope with the problem and try to resettle the Romanies on towns' outskirts.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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CHILDREN OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS MAY SOON ATTEND CZECH SCHOOLS

5/3/2007- Children of foreigners who stay in the Czech Republic illegally should soon have a chance to attend Czech schools without problems, according to a prepared amendment to the school law, Pavla Burdova-Hradecna from an advisory centre for refugees has told CTK. Under the current law, schools are obliged to demand that children submit evidence about their legal stay in the Czech Republic. Organisations aiding refugees have pointed out that the Czech law prevents some foreign children from attending schools and thereby violates their right to education, which is at variance with international conventions, such as the Convention on Children's Rights, binding on the Czech Republic. "Children have the right to education no matter if they live legally or illegally in the country," Burdova-Hradecna stressed. The new law on schools took effect in January 2005. The previous legislation did not regulate the education of foreigners staying in the Czech Republic illegally, and primary schools could admit a child without a residence permit. At present, only foreigners with a permanent residence permit or with long-term or short term-visas, asylum seekers and persons guaranteed temporary protection have the right to education in the Czech Republic. The advisory centre for refugees addressed 230 schools in Prague and only 12 of them said they would accept children of illegal immigrants. Burdova-Hradecna said that the reasons given by some schools reflected xenophobia. She stressed that children's interests should be preferred to state interests in combatting illegal migration. Activists also point out that current illegal immigrants can be later granted a residence permit, and Czech education would then help their children integrate into Czech society.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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ACTIVISTS WANT TO COMPENSATE MORE CZECH ROMANY HOLOCAUST VICTIMS

4/3/2007- Ten Romany activists want to re-open the issue of compensation to Czech Romanies who were persecuted during WW2 on racial grounds and had to hide, since the state has not compensated all of them, Cenek Ruzicka, head of the Committee for Compensating the Romany Holocaust Victims, told CTK today. The Romanies have sent their statement to Czech PM Mirek Topolanek, the chairmen of the parliamentary parties and the Government Council for Romany Issues. Ten renowned Romany activists, who met in Karlovy Vary, west Bohemia, on Saturday, say in their statement that the government does not promote Romany integration, and that Romanies themselves want to help improve the situation of their minority. The text was signed, among others, by Ruzicka, Karel Holomek from the Romanies' Association in Moravia, Ladislav Bily from the Board of Romany Regional Representatives and Ondrej Gina who represents Czech Romanies in the European Roma Forum. The statement also mentions the pig farm on the premises of the wartime internment camps for Czech Romanies in Lety, south Bohemia. According to historical documents, some 1,308 Romanies were deported to Lety during WW2, while 326 people perished there and more than 500 of its inmates ended up in the extermination camp in Oswiecim (Auschwitz). A similar internment was also in Hodonin u Kunstatu, south Moravia, where 207 prisoners died and 800 were sent to Auschwitz. At present there is a recreational facility at the same place. "The Romany Holocaust is unfortunately not perceived properly in society, the state and governmental institutions, and consequently concrete steps to redress the wrongs have not been taken," says the statement.

According to activists, the law enabling compensation to Romany Holocaust victims determines too strict criteria. Romanies must for instance prove that they were in hiding for at least three months during WW2, Ruzicka said, adding that the law does not reckon with the fact that a number of elderly Romanies are illiterate. A couple of years ago some 8,000 Romanies asked for compensation for wartime sufferings, but only some 300 received it, Ruzicka recalled. "If the proceedings were just, some 30 percent of the applicants should have been compensated," Ruzicka claims. Romany activists have also agreed on concrete steps to improve the situation of the Romany community in the Czech Republic. They insist of Romany representatives working in a new agency to prevent the existence of Romany ghettos. According to an analysis, there are some 300 such deprived localities with predominant Romany population where up to 80,000 people live in the Czech Republic. According to official estimates, there are 200,000 Romanies in the 10-million Czech Republic, however Czech Romanies put the total number of Romanies in the country at about 300,000. Nevertheless during the latest census in 2001, only 11,746 inhabitants claimed to have Romany nationality.
© Romano vodi

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JOBS FOR IMMIGRANTS: DON'T BLAME DISCRIMINATION (Sweden, opinion)

5/3/2007- Immigrants' average earnings are well below those of native Swedes. But the differences have less to do with discrimination than with over-regulation, high taxes and high welfare, says Nima Sanandaji of think-tank Captus. Is it more difficult to get a job in Sweden if you have a foreign name? A recently published report “Beyond ethnicity” (Swedish title: “Bortom etnicitet”), published by the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, suggests that ethnicity does not play as big a role in the Swedish labour market as many assume. For many years it has been an uncontested truth that the failure of Swedish society to integrate immigrants is due to employers discriminating against workers with foreign names. But according to figures presented by the report's author, Farbod Rezania, ethnicity does not play an important part when selecting people for jobs. Age, the level of education and the time spent in Sweden are factors that to a much greater extent influence the situation of immigrants in the labour market. Rezania points to the fact that the number of immigrants with jobs has increased from 319,000 in 1993 to 436,000 in 2006. During this period the number of people working in Sweden increased by around 342,000, which means that a third of this increase was amongst immigrants. Interestingly, the number of immigrants from other Nordic countries active in the Swedish labour market decreased during the period, which means that fully 40 percent of the net creation of employment benefited non-Nordic immigrants. Rezania's report supports the assertion that immigrants are being better integrated into society and the job market than they were before. It also shows that the problems that remain cannot be blamed entirely on prejudiced employers– the statistics simply do not support this simplistic view. But still, the problems of failed integration in Sweden remain.

A report from the researchers Ekberg and Hammarstedt from 2002 shows that those with a foreign citizenship in 1968 had a 22 percent higher yearly income from work compared to native Swedes. In 1999 the corresponding figure was 45 percent lower – a decrease of totally 67 percentage points. Whilst racism has decreased dramatically as time has passed, the situation of those born abroad has worsened. Another relevant statistic is that people born abroad in 2001 on average received more than seven times as much welfare support than those born in Sweden. Between 1993 and 2000, 37 percent of immigrants in Sweden with origins in the Middle East were part of households that had received welfare support, compared to only 3 percent of those born in Sweden and 5 percent of those born in other Nordic countries. But if prejudiced employers are not the problem, what is? The failure of Swedish society to integrate immigrants is a part of major political developments that have occurred during the past four decades. The expansion of Swedish welfare state since the 1960s has created a situation where the incentives to work have been reduced whilst the incentives to live off government handouts have increased. At the same time, a heavily regulated working market creates a situation where it is very difficult for immigrants to enter the labour market. Employers are not to blame for the failed integration policies of Sweden, the problem has a more political nature. For Swedish integration to work we need to strive towards a free labour market, less generous welfare benefits and less punishing tax rates. Such reforms might not be popular, but are needed nonetheless.
© The Local

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TURKISH POLITICIAN FINED OVER GENOCIDE DENIAL(Switzerland)

9/3/2007- A Swiss district court has found a Turkish politician, Dođu Perinçek, guilty of racial discrimination for denying the 1915 Armenian massacre was genocide. The court in Lausanne agreed with the prosecutor's demand and handed Perinçek a suspended fine of SFr9,000 ($7,336) as well as a one-time financial penalty of SFr3,000. The court also ruled that Perinçek would have to pay SFr1,000 to the Swiss-Armenian association as a symbolic gesture. The head of the left-wing Turkish Workers' Party was brought to court after calling the genocide "an international lie" during a public speech in Lausanne in July 2005. Under the Swiss penal code any act of denying, belittling or justifying genocide is a violation of the country's anti-racism legislation. And Lausanne is the capital of canton Vaud, one of two Swiss cantons along with Geneva where the parliaments have voted in recent years to recognise the Armenian massacre as genocide. Perinçek's lawyers have called into question the authority of the district court to hear such a case. The Turkish politician said he would appeal the verdict, which he called "racist and imperialist". He admitted in court earlier in the week that there had been massacres but said there could be no talk of genocide. "I have not denied genocide because there was no genocide," he argued. Armenians maintain the mass killings in 1915 were genocide, a charge Turkey disputes.

Swiss-Turkish relations
The court case is set to test the already shaky relations between Bern and Ankara. Tensions between Bern and Ankara were high in 2005 after Turkey criticised the Swiss authorities' decision to investigate Perinçek. It also later cancelled an official trip to Turkey by the then economics minister, Joseph Deiss. And a meeting between Swiss Justice Minister Christoph Blocher – who opposes the anti-racism law - and his Turkish counterpart Cemil Cicek in Bern last weekend raised eyebrows. Blocher came in for criticism by the media and some politicians over the timing of the meeting with his Turkish counterpart at the weekend. According to the justice ministry, bilateral issues – and not the trial – were discussed. Blocher visited Turkey last October during which he announced that the legislation was incompatible with freedom of expression. The comments were welcomed by Ankara but caused a storm of protest in Switzerland.

Genocide or massacre?
The Armenians say Ottoman Turks slaughtered up to 1.8 million Armenians in a planned genocide between 1915 and 1918. Turkey denies the mass killings were genocide, saying the death toll is inflated. So far most historians, the Council of Europe, the French parliament and the Swiss House of Representatives – along with cantons Vaud and Geneva – have all recognised the events as genocide. The Swiss government does not officially speak of genocide.
© Swissinfo

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GENOCIDE DENIAL TRIAL RAISES MANY QUESTIONS(Switzerland)

5/3/2007- The trial of Turkish politician Dođu Perinçek, who made comments in Switzerland denying the 1915 Armenian massacre was genocide, opens in Lausanne on Tuesday. The court case, which is centred on Swiss anti-racism legislation, is set to test the already shaky relations between Bern and Ankara. A meeting between Swiss Justice Minister Christoph Blocher - an opponent of the law - and his Turkish counterpart Cemil Cicek in Bern at the weekend has also raised eyebrows. Perinçek, the head of the Turkish Workers' Party, stands accused of racial discrimination after he called the genocide "an international lie" during a public speech in the city of Lausanne in July 2005. Under the Swiss penal code any act of denying, belittling or justifying genocide is a violation of the country's anti-racism legislation. Armenians maintain the mass killings in 1915 were genocide, a charge Turkey disputes. Experts say the presiding judge at the district court in Lausanne will have to negotiate some tricky waters concerning both the law and Swiss-Turkish relations. Tensions between Bern and Ankara were high in 2005 after Turkey criticised the Swiss authorities' decision to investigate Perinçek. It also later cancelled an official trip to Turkey by the then economics minister, Joseph Deiss.

Law debate
The law itself has been the subject of debate after Blocher announced during a visit to Turkey last October that the legislation was incompatible with freedom of expression. The comments were welcomed by Ankara but caused a storm of protest in Switzerland. Blocher has again come in for criticism by the media and some politicians over the timing of the meeting with his Turkish counterpart at the weekend. According to the justice ministry bilateral issues – and not the trial – were discussed. Legal experts have also raised questions about the law – albeit in a different context. "The lawmakers wanted to assimilate the negation of a historical reality to a racist proclamation. This is controversial, because it is about two different things," said Robert Roth, dean of the faculty of law at Geneva University. Roth believes, however, the central question of the trial will be another one – who should make a judgement on historical events?

Genocide or massacre?
The Armenians say Ottoman Turks slaughtered up to 1.8 million Armenians in a planned genocide between 1915 and 1918. Turkey denies the mass killings were genocide, saying the death toll is inflated. So far most historians, the Council of Europe, the French parliament and the Swiss House of Representatives – plus two cantonal parliaments in Switzerland – have all recognised the events as genocide. The Swiss government does not officially speak of genocide. Francesco Bertossa, who was part of the defence team in another Turkish genocide denial trial in 2001in Bern, believes the definition question should not influence the verdict. "The anti-racism law does not only punish genocide denial but also any crime against humanity," he said.

Swiss-Armenians
For its part, the Swiss-Armenian Association, the private party associated with the public prosecutor in the trial, welcomes the case. "We will finally know if denigrating our people and tarnishing our memory is a crime in Switzerland," said co-president Sarkis Shahinian. Prosecutor-general Eric Cottier has been quoted as saying that unless shown to be otherwise, the Armenian genocide was "sufficiently recognised to be defined as such". But Perinçek remains defiant. Arriving in Switzerland at the weekend he reiterated his call for the law to be abolished and said he could prove that genocide did not take place. A verdict in the trial is expected on Friday.
© Swissinfo

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GAYS AND LESBIANS SEEK RECOGNITION (Slovakia)

Political scene is unsympathetic to homosexual cause

5/3/2007- A publicity campaign has been launched by Slovakia's homosexual umbrella group Inakosť (Otherness) to help raise awareness of the country's gay and lesbian community. The project, which will run for the whole of this year as a part of the European 'Year of Equal Opportunities for All', a designation that was set in 2005 by the European Commission as a concentrated effort to promote equality and non-discrimination in the EU. Slovak gays and lesbians want to make use of this opportunity to raise public awareness of their community. Their campaign, entitled 'We are here - the days of otherness', was launched on February 21. "Our project's main aim is to make Slovak gays and lesbians more visible as an equal part of society. Together with other minorities in Slovakia, they contribute to the development of society in the Slovak Republic just as much as anybody else," said Inakosť's Július Kolenič at a press conference held on February 22. Inakosť announced that the campaign will consist of various media events, seminars, and the promotion of the establishment of a help line at the Slovak National Centre for Human Rights. "We are not asking for anything out of the ordinary. All we want is for our human rights to be respected," said Kolenič. Homosexuals complain that they still encounter numerous problems in everyday life. One example is their difficulty when trying to obtain information about their partners' health condition, which Slovak doctors only provide to family members. "Last year my partner died and when I contacted the authorities I repeatedly ran up against the argument of the 'rights of the bereaved family', in which I was not included," said Marián Vojtek, who is one of Inakosť's founding members.

The strongest ruling party Smer, which describes itself as being social democratic, is generally expected to be sympathetic to the homosexual cause as this is a normal part of the agenda of other social democratic parties around Europe. Smer's Monika Flašíková-Beňová, who is also one of Slovakia's MEPs, even suggested that it was up to Smer's chairman, PM Robert Fico, to promote this cause within the ruling coalition. "I am convinced that a social democratic party, which Smer undoubtedly is, would have moves supporting this agenda prepared, but I can't say just now what the time frame for the agenda's submission to parliament will be," said Flašíková-Beňová in an interview with the TA3 news channel. Given the composition of the ruling coalition, however, there is good reason to believe that registered partnerships for homosexuals in Slovakia will remain a wish for the future rather than a possibility that will be realised any time soon. Smer's ruling partners, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia and the Slovak National Party (SNS), are both known for their sometimes extreme political and social stances. SNS leader Ján Slota in particular is known for his controversial opinions on Slovakia's minorities, national, racial, and sexual. Before the June 2006 elections, Slota encouraged voters to support him in the polls if they wanted to "help prevent perversities such as homosexual marriages". Supporting homosexuality is obviously not on the SNS' agenda, but most of the party's members hold to the standards of political correctness when commenting on the possibility of the government recognising homosexual partnerships. "As far as I know, this issue is not a part of the government's programme, so I'd say it's irrelevant," said Rafael Rafaj, the head of the SNS parliamentary caucus. Homosexuals do not find much support among the opposition parties either. MP Peter Gabura of the opposition Christian Democratic Movement recently angered the homosexual community when he described them as "deviant and sick people" who should go in for professional help. Inakosť responded by submitting a complaint against Gabura's attacks. "These are just the kind of statements that encourage discrimination," said Kolenič.
© The Slovak Spectator

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SPECTRE OF FASCISM GROWS AS NEO-NAZIS GO ON TRIAL FOR BURNING ANNE FRANK’S DIARY (Germany)

3/3/2007- Germany's growing neo-Nazi threat hit home last week when suspected radical right-wingers went on trial for burning a copy of Anne Frank's diary and an American flag. Seven men, aged between 24 and 29, are accused of inciting racial hatred, denying the Holocaust and glorifying the Nazis. If found guilty, they face five years behind bars, a sentence that director of the Anne Frank Centre in Berlin, Thomas Heppner, believes should be meted out in full. He said: "I felt ill during the case: the way five of the accused remained silent and Lars Konrad admitted burning the famous book. But I just felt so ill when he claimed that he did it to free himself of the burden of Germany's past'." Heppner asked: "If that were the case, then why didn't they burn Hitler's Mein Kampf?" In its statement, the state prosecutors' office said that "by using clear-cut neo-Nazi and Nazi terminology, the men had not just mocked Anne Frank, who died in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945 at the age of 16, but also all the other millions of Nazi victims". The book-burning took place in Pretzien, a picturesque little town in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt. Its mayor, Friedrich Harwig, says his community has been torn apart by the the trial. Last June a summer solstice party in the town turned ugly when the accused men allegedly threw the flag and then the book into the ceremonial bonfire while shouting chants reminiscent of the 1933 Nazi book-burnings, which were organised across the country to rid the Third Reich of all "degenerate books" As a key witness, Harwig gave his evidence on Wednesday. He was at the party along with around 100 townsfolk. Following allegations from his Social Democratic Party (SPD) that the burnings were an "assault on human culture" and that Harwig should have attempted to stop them, he resigned from the SPD. He says he will stand for mayor again next year as an independent. "It was an awful night, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone to experience something of that kind. The answer is to speak openly about things: without dialogue, we can't hope for an improvement in the radical right-wing situation," he said.

But this incident is just "the tip of an iceberg", argues Bernd Wagner from Exit-Germany, the organisation which works at rehabilitating right-wingers so they can get back into "normal" society. Wagner works closely on grassroots projects with a number of people from Pretzien, together with the mayor and community groups to find a "democratic way out of the mess". The problem, according to Wagner, is that there is a slow but growing trend towards radicalism. The perpetrators are not always unemployed, socially marginalised individuals. "Many in Pretzien have good, well-paid jobs," he added. Many Germans believe such cases serve only to throw small insignificant groupings into the limelight. Wagner said: "If one tries to use community service as punishment, this is also a problem, because many of the neo-Nazis are fantastic with their social involvement - whether it's organising a festival or being the first to be on hand to assist during the flooding of the Elbe. Social help just gives them another way of propagating their Nazi beliefs." Thomas Heppner argues that while the law can't change society, he hopes that the publicity will help Germans to see what's allowed and what's not. "Families and teachers must realise the threat of the neo-Nazis," he said. The case, presided over by Judge Hans-EIke Bruns, is due to end by mid-March. State prosecutor Uwe Hornburg, who has been in his job for 20 years, said he has never been so shocked by a case, despite the state of Brandenburg, which borders Saxony-Anhalt, having the highest rate of right-wing radicalism in Germany. Last week's publication of Germany's constitutional protection report for 2006 showed that the number of crimes with right-wing backgrounds has grown over the past year to a total of 1399.
© The Sunday Herald

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RACIST MURDER IN ORENBURG (Russia)

9/3/2007- On February 17, 2007, in Orenburg (Southern Urals), a group of youngsters attacked, in broad daylight, a 21-year-old Uzbekistan citizen who had legally worked as a shoemaker. He was hospitalized with multiple stab wounds and died a few days later, on March 2. On March 3, four teenagers were arrested and charged in connection with the attack. According to the local Prosecutor's Office, they have been charged with premeditated murder committed by a group with a motive of hooliganism and ethnic enmity. The attack was filmed, perhaps with an intention to post it on the Internet. If their participation in the crime is proven, the arrested teenagers will face up to 12 years in jail. It is very unoften that the Prosecutor's Office qualifies such attacks as hate crimes, thus the fact that this murder was categorized as racist in the earliest stages of the case means that the racist motive was evident. It is the first racist murder case we know of to take place in a relatively quiet city of Orenburg. However, according to a survey dating back to 2005, 40% of Orenburg Region population were not against participating in interethnic clashes (8% said they would certainly take part in it, 10% would rather take part than not, and 22% did not express open readiness, but said that they did not exclude doing so in certain circumstances). Last year, on April 20 a group of teenagers celebrated Hitler's birthday with a pogrom at a local synagogue, and on 18 February this year, Orenburg supporters of the Eurasian Youth Union of Alexander Dugin, a right-wing theoretician and leader, attacked a local office of Russian Family Planning Association in protest at "propaganda for sterilization, abortion and homosexuality".

© SOVA Center for Information and Analysis

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NATIONAL BOLSHEVIKS HOLD ANTI-CHINESE RALLY (Russia)

3/3/2007- Around 20 members of the National Bolshevik Party held an anti-Chinese demonstration in Irkutsk, Russia, according to a February 19, 2007 report by the Sova Information-Analytical Center. The activists held signs reading "Let us stop Chinese expansion" and "Russia is not Chinatown!" outside the building of the regional office of the Federal Migration Service. The National Bolsheviks demanded tougher immigration policies directed against Chinese migrants and the firing of migration officials. Not mentioned in the Sova report is the fact that the National Bolshevik Party, which began as an extremist nationalist group, has of late achieved a measure of respectability in some liberal political circles for its uncompromising stance against the Putin administration, which has put many of its members on trial in recent years, some on what appear to be trumped up charges. It is not clear to what extent this regional action was a genuine reflection of views within the party on a whole, or some kind of provocation aimed at discrediting the party's national leadership.
© FSU Monitor

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JEWISH AGENCY: NEO-NAZI ACTIVITIES RISING IN RUSSIAN FAR EAST

5/3/2007- Friday's vandalism of Vladivostok's only synagogue reflects a growing trend of xenophobia and neo-Nazi association in the region, according to Rafael Heltzer, Jewish Agency emissary to the Russian Far East. "There's a lot of neo-Nazi activity in the suburbs," Heltzer told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. While he doesn't believe it is well organized, "all sorts of youth and teenagers are drawn to it. There's a lot of xenophobia also directed at Chinese residents." Swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans were painted on the walls of the building. "Jews should go to Israel" read the graffiti scrawled on the building's side and on the door. On January 19, journalist and Jewish Agency activist Konstantin Borovko was beaten to death by unknown assailants outside a pub in Vladivostok. While local police initially said the attack appeared to be a robbery gone awry, the investigation gave strong evidence that it was a hate crime targeting those the assailants believed to be homosexuals, with the attackers reportedly sporting neo-Nazi tatoos. An Israeli citizen and a journalist at one of the city's largest television stations, Borovko, 25, ran several projects for the Jewish Agency and was a well-known figure in the Jewish community. In September, a synagogue in Khazarov, the capital of the Russian Far East, was attacked with stones and Molotov cocktails and was also defaced with neo-Nazi graffiti. "[Neo-Nazi] graffiti is very widespread in Khazarov," remarked Heltzer, "even though the region's Jewish community is almost nonexistent." Despite the Friday attack, Purim festivities reportedly went on as planned in the synagogue, and a larger Purim celebration was held at a downtown theater on Sunday. The synagogue is housed in a historically Jewish building confiscated by Soviet authorities in the 1930s. A year and a half ago, the building, at the time a chocolate factory, was reclaimed by the local Jewish community. Rabbi Yisroel Silberstein of Chabad, the synagogue's rabbi, has been working to rebuild Jewish life in the city with a Jewish community numbering - by optimistic estimates - around 3,000.
© Jerusalem Post

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3-0! THREE KEY COUNCIL BY-ELECTIONS, THREE BNP DEFEATS (uk)

Three key by-elections in successive weeks last month could have provided the BNP with an excellent platform from which to launch its local election campaign for May. However, through hard grassroots campaigning, which included tackling the BNP head-on, the fascists failed to win any of them. This was all the more remarkable given that in one ward the BNP already had two councillors and in another it had previously had a councillor and came within fewer than 30 votes of winning last May. Any political party considering how to deal with the BNP threat in its area could do no better than look at the lessons from these three by-elections.

March 2007- For several years council by-elections have been tailor-made for the British National Party. The racist party can concentrate its resources, tap into local resentment and a protest vote and catch the main parties napping. Many of its council successes originated from a by-election victory. Success has dried up in recent times as the political parties have become better prepared to take on the BNP, and anti-fascist groups more sophisticated in their campaigning. In fact the last council by-election the BNP won was in September 2004. Between then and last month there have been scores of contests but the BNP has not even come close. This looked like changing last month when three by-elections were called in successive weeks, including two in areas where the BNP had already had councillors elected. With the May 2007 local elections only weeks away the stage was set for a major BNP push.

The by-elections were in Bede (Nuneaton and Bedworth), Brunshaw (Burnley) and Illingworth and Mixenden (Calderdale). The BNP divided up its national operation with activists from the Midlands, the South West and even London and Essex concentrating on Bede. The North West focused on Brunshaw and Yorkshire on the Calderdale seat. In all three wards the BNP set about running model campaigns. Not only would a victory act as a wonderful launching pad for its local election campaign but the elections also provided activists with an opportunity to practise their own campaigning skills. The BNP had never contested Bede before, but a profile of the ward illustrated its potential clearly. Solidly white and working class, the area had once been the site of a mine, long since closed, and more recently home to many car workers who had also seen their jobs disappear. It bordered Nuneaton with its substantial Asian population and there was a general feeling that Bedworth was losing out. In the 2004 European elections the BNP picked up 9% of the vote across the borough with no local campaigning.

The BNP hit the ground running, delivering several leaflets in the first week of the campaign. Under the stewardship of Wayne McDermott, the party’s East Midlands election officer, and with the guidance of two national officers, Eddy Butler and Sadie Graham, the BNP set about canvassing the entire ward. The Labour Party was slow to respond. Surprised by the BNP effort, they initially thought that the BNP was best ignored but of course this policy had to change as the fascist threat became apparent. The unions were mobilised and two sent letters to their members in the ward while others sent activists in to help the Labour campaign.

The local TUC obtained some Searchlight postcards and circulated them around the ward. The following week 26 people, including both Searchlight and UAF activists, distributed two more leaflets and it is clear they had an impact. The week before polling day saw the arrests in Birmingham over an alleged kidnap plot. Given the media hysteria surrounding the raids Searchlight felt it had to deal with the politics of hate head on. Polling day, 8 February, was hit by atrocious weather but there was still a 36% turnout. Labour won the seat by 112 votes, but the BNP came second with a respectable 31% and more votes than the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats combined. Analysis of the results by polling district suggested that Labour’s vote held up while a chunk of the Conservative vote slipped away to the BNP. As usual, the BNP also picked up many people who had previously stopped voting.

Speaking after the election the Labour agent told Searchlight that the presence of the BNP had galvanised local members. “In a strange way they actually did us a favour,” he said. “It was certainly the hardest campaign that I’ve ever had to face. We are very grateful to the work of Searchlight.” Amusingly, the BNP was vitriolic in its rage at Searchlight. Simon Darby, the regional organiser, even told a local journalist that they had lost because of our intervention. While this is overstating the case and ignores the hard fought campaign from the Labour Party, our leaflets certainly did have an impact.

Previously held
A week later on 15 February came the Brunshaw by-election. A traditional Labour seat which the BNP won in 2003, only to lose it after a year when its councillor Maureen Stowe walked out of the party, it was now a three-way marginal. In last May’s elections, where two seats were vacant because of Stowe’s resignation from the council, Labour and the Liberal Democrats took one each, with the BNP only 29 votes behind. The BNP distributed a total of 12 leaflets during the campaign, including a full-colour postcard and a mail-merge letter to identified supporters. In addition, they canvassed the whole ward, a first for Burnley BNP. Everyone agreed that it was by far the most professional campaign the BNP had ever fought in the North West. The Liberal Democrats matched the BNP leaflet for leaflet. Their campaign focused on the unpopularity of local planning decisions while simultan-eously squeezing the Labour vote by presenting themselves as the only party that could beat the BNP.

With a week to go, Searchlight’s own telephone poll, coupled with insider information, showed it was neck and neck between the Liberal Democrats and the BNP, with Labour trailing some way behind. Searchlight produced two leaflets for the campaign, the first focusing on the appalling track record of the BNP councillors in Burnley over the years. The final few days of the campaign were overshadowed by the trial of Robert Cottage and David Jackson at Manchester Crown Court. Just in case the residents of Brunshaw had not read the papers or watched television, Searchlight produced a hard-hitting leaflet, which was probably equalled in its ferocity only by the Oldham gang rape leaflet in 2002. Headlined “BNP candidate pleads guilty to possession of explosives”, it also drew on a source from within Burnley BNP who told us that Cottage had been to a branch meeting only weeks before his arrest.

The BNP was so furious with our leaflet that its local organiser, David Shapcott, threatened to put a local activist “six feet under”. On its website the BNP called it “the dirtiest campaign ever” and condemned the Searchlight campaign as “those underhand efforts, and the outrageous interference in the democratic process by Labour’s Stalinist Searchlight allies …”. The BNP clearly believed that the controversy surrounding the trial was a key factor in its defeat. “This media onslaught clearly roused anti-BNP voters to a frenzy, and produced the wave of tactical voting which saw the Lib Dems take the seat comfortably.”  The Liberal Democrats are less convinced and point instead to localised campaigning on their part coupled with a consistent anti-BNP line coming out throughout the campaign.

The truth is probably somewhere in between. The BNP had identified 1,000 potential voters through its canvassing but despite a large “whipping in” operation only half turned out. Even given the duplicity of people when canvassed, it is clear that several hundred potential BNP voters had changed their mind. Reflecting on the result, one leading Liberal Democrat in the North West told Searchlight that it was important to carry the anti-BNP message throughout the year and not just at elections. “We are still not getting across an adequate message about the BNP between elections. We have all said we need to mount a policy/ideological/issues attack on them, not just pointing out the failings of their leaders and candidates etc. We are not yet doing it.”  While the BNP was well behind in Brunshaw, there is little room for complacency. With the BNP defending four wards in Burnley in May, and another three at risk, it is clear that the BNP remains a serious threat to all the major parties across the town.

BNP heartland
The Illingworth and Mixenden by-election was always going to be a lot harder. The ward already had two BNP councillors and was one of the party’s safest in the country. The BNP worked it hard, delivering at least nine leaflets, conducting a full canvass and issuing its increasingly standard mail-merge letter, with localised pledges for every street, individually addressed to voters. The BNP thought it had won by a mile. Even before the polls closed the party’s supporters were taunting the Labour candidate that it was “already in the bag”. But the BNP had not expected one of the best Labour campaigns to date. Localised campaigning and canvassing were complemented by a strong anti-BNP campaign co-ordinated by Hope not Hate Yorkshire. While the BNP vote held firm from last May, Labour found several hundred new voters. “It was a model campaign,” said Hope not Hate’s Paul Meszaros. “This proves that there is nowhere in the country where we can’t beat the BNP.”
© Searchlight Magazine

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YOUNG GYPSY TRAVELLERS SPEAK OUT(uk)

9/3/2007- When Tommy was younger the other school children wouldn't let him play basketball with them because they were scared they would "get germs".They called him names and left him feeling alone, hurt and angry, just because he was a gypsy traveller. Now Tommy, 14, is one a group of young Scots gypsy travellers who have decided to speak out against the discrimination and exclusion they so often face. Working with charity Save the Children they have compiled a website, packed with information about their culture, which they hope will help break down the hurtful stereotypes. Called Time Travellers, the site was part funded by Heritage Lottery money and was launched at Edinburgh's Dynamic Earth by the Princess Royal, Save the Children's president. Donna Lawrie, youth development worker for the charity, explained: "We're hopeful that this initiative will go some way to promoting a positive self-image for young gypsy travellers. "The young people have worked so hard putting this resource together to promote the history and cultural traditions of an ethnic group who have been discriminated against for centuries." Their long history dates back the to the 12th Century. Some believe they can trace their roots to pre-Celtic populations, others to the Roman slaves brought to Britain as armourers. Today the Scottish Executive estimates there are between 1,628 and 2,077 people but this excludes the thousands who live in houses for all or part of the year. Others do not want to identity their ethnic origin because they fear discrimination.

Culture and history
Consequently gypsy travellers themselves estimate their community to include about 15,000 people. The site - developed as part of an ongoing youth project - explores gypsy traveller life both past and present. One section looks at gypsy traveller homes, from the bow tents and ornate wagons of the 19th Century to the modern caravans and permanent trailers in council-run sites where some travellers live today. Traditional culture is also explored, from the origins of fortune telling and traditional fairs to gypsy traveller superstitions, such as the belief that it's unlucky to cut your hair or your nails on a Sunday. Otherwise "there will be blood shed on Monday," goes the saying. Some of the boys in the group have investigated traveller boxing traditions, and have uploaded footage of recent matches. There is an explanation of the Cant language, which many travellers use mixed with English, and a look at traditional occupations through the centuries including berry and daffodil picking, hawking, pearl fishing and collecting scrap metal and tin.

The young people have also confronted racism, still a reality of all too many of them. Tommy, who lives in a trailer in the summer and a house in winter, was inspired to "make a difference" to his own community by Rachel Hilton, a Scottish campaigner for gypsy traveller rights who died last May. "There's a lot of misunderstanding about gypsy travellers," he said. "In Iraq there might be some people who want to bomb the country, but that doesn't mean they are all bad. "That's how it is with the gypsies too. One does a bad thing and then it seems like all of us get blamed for it." It was not just in playground basketball games that Tommy felt discriminated against. "The minute you tell people you're a gypsy their attitude completely changes," he said. "They start being really cheeky and don't want to touch you or even go near you."  As a result Tommy left secondary school, attends a gypsy traveller education project three days a week and goes out hawking with his dad on the other days.

Chantelle, 20, also faced racism at school. "That's why the site is important," she explained. "We don't want people to judge us. "There's some bad travellers out there, and when people hear about things that they've done, they blame every other traveller. We get accused of stealing. They just think, well, you're a traveller so you must steal." She left secondary school after just six months, and though she too went to a gypsy traveller education project she does feel she was disadvantaged. "I did miss out on a lot of things the kids at the high school do," she admits. "I didn't get my standard grades so I'm hoping to go back to college and get qualifications." Brother and sister George, 14, and Justine, 16, who live on a council site in the Highlands, are happy with their schooling arrangements - one-to-one tuition at the local secondary school to help them catch up on what they missed when they were travelling. But they would still like people to see past the differences and accept them more readily.

Lack of knowledge
"My culture is important to me and it makes me different in some ways," says Justine, who wants to be a journalist when she is older. "But in others I'm just like everyone else." George, who speaks Cant and has a theory that it used to be widely spoken across Scotland, agrees. "Most bad opinions of travellers are based on fears or a lack of knowledge. But if people know more than maybe they will change their opinion." The site is also an attempt to give other young Scots the information about gypsy traveller culture that will help them make up their own minds. There are some aspects of gypsy traveller life that all the young people find hard - the lack of decent site facilities and chilly winter caravans feature amongst complaints. But most feel lucky to have been born into such a rich tradition which is still passed down the generations. As Tommy says: "Living in a trailer is good because you get to travel about a lot, you're not tied down. "In fact, I think if people knew more about the gypsy traveller lifestyle they might even be a little bit jealous."
© BBC News

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'RACIAL ABUSE WAS PART AND PARCEL OF ARMY LIFE' (uk)

Tories in furious racism row

8/3/2007- The Tories ARE embroiled in a furious row over racism after a member of David Cameron's frontbench team suggested racial abuse was part and parcel of Army life. Mr Cameron moved swiftly to sack Patrick Mercer as homeland security spokesman after he claimed in an online interview it was normal for an ethnic minority soldier to be called a "black b*****d". The MP for Newark, a former colonel in the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters, apologised for his comments saying he "deeply regretted" any offence they had caused. But Labour and the Liberal Democrats said his remarks showed the Conservatives had not changed under Mr Cameron's leadership, despite his concerted efforts to make it more inclusive. In a terse statement issued by Conservative Party headquarters, Mr Cameron said Mr Mercer's comments were "completely unacceptable" and he regretted they had been made. "We should not tolerate racism in the Army or in any walk of life. Patrick Mercer is no longer a shadow minister," he said. A spokesman said Mr Cameron had asked Mr Mercer to resign and he agreed to go. However the row was fuelled by the reported initial response of a Tory spokesman that his comments were a "private matter". Mr Mercer, the son of a former Bishop of Exeter who served with the Army in Northern Ireland and Bosnia, made his comments in response to the disclosure that Commonwealth soldiers were forming their own trade union amid complaints of racism and abuse. In the interview, Mr Mercer said: "I came across a lot of ethnic minority soldiers who were idle and useless, but who used racism as cover for their misdemeanours. "I remember one guy from St Anne's (Nottingham) who was constantly absent and who had a lot of girlfriends. When he came back one day I asked him why, and he would say: 'I was racially abused'. And we'd say: 'No you weren't, you were off with your girlfriends again'." Mr Mercer said it was commonplace for troops to be given a hard time over their ethnicity, the colour of their hair, or because they were overweight. "I had five company sergeant majors who were all black. They were without exception UK-born, Nottingham-born men who were English - as English as you and me," he said. "They prospered inside my regiment, but if you'd said to them: 'Have you ever been called a nigger?' they would have said: 'Yes'. But equally, a chap with red hair, for example, would also get a hard time - a far harder time than a black man, in fact. "But that's the way it is in the Army. If someone is slow on the assault course, you'd get people shouting: 'Come on you fat b*****d, come on you ginger b*****d, come on you black b*****d'."
© The Guardian

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ASYLUM SEEKERS TARGETED BY GANGS(uk)

5/3/2007- Clad in the youth uniform of shellsuits, baseball caps and trainers, the teenagers swig from half empty MD 20/20 bottles. The scene in the shadow of a decaying tower block is played out in towns and cities across the UK by bored youngsters hanging around on street corners. But this is Scotland's largest city and these youths are part of a worrying new trend - self-styled street gangs which increasingly target asylum seekers and refugees. Some of those now terrorising housing schemes in Glasgow have allegedly formed tentative links with Nazi groups and display a fevered determination to attack refugees and asylum seekers. Glasgow's gangs are nothing new. They have a long and violent history dating back to fearsome battles fought over long-forgotten streets during the 18th century. As the city positions itself as a post-industrial success story, many would rather forget the city's notorious street gangs and their appetite for Clockwork Orange-style "recreational violence". But this new breed of (predominantly) teenage thugs has been quick to capitalise on the sinister opportunities offered by the internet. Gang websites and online forums proliferate with links to extremist groups such as Combat 18 and loyalist paramilitaries. Notorious gangs such as the Toryglen Nazi Circus, the Young Toryglen Toi and the Bowery Wee Mob have websites daubed with Nazi insignia and links to far-right discussion forums. In the south side of Glasgow, one gang member, who asked not to be named, said: "Why shouldn't we give them a hard time? "They (asylum seekers) are dropped in here from all over the place and end up with the best houses in the scheme. "We just give them grief and it can get a bit mental." Groups, such as the BNP, have already used recent flashpoints such as the Kriss Donald murder trial to fuel racial hatred. The case, one of Scotland's most high profile racially motivated murders, became a cause celebre for gang members who use message boards to discuss attacks on asylum seekers and refugees. Several gang web pages, complete with pictures of gang members in various states of intoxication, are linked to another series of websites billing themselves as a forum for "national socialists worldwide". An entry from Glasgow used a number of racial epithets and issued an ominous warning about the Kriss Donald murder. It said: "It's a disgrace. Imagine if it was an ethnic child who was snatched off the street, tortured and killed. "Gone but never forgotten, wee man, justice is coming."

Gang signs
Some of these gangs have a fearsome reputation for violence and are quick to defend their territory against "outsiders". It would appear for many of them, that asylum seekers and refugees have formed an easily identifiable target. One area in Glasgow has more than 300 asylum seeker and refugee families. While some members of the community have welcomed asylum seekers with open arms, gangs of youths have also tried to make their lives a misery. The area is dotted with aging multi-storey flats and run-down shop fronts. Most of them are emblazoned with gang signs and racially offensive graffiti. One local community activist said: "There were some real problems and at one time we thought the asylum seekers would have to get bussed in and out. "It's a youth problem. These kids have nothing to do and they are fiercely territorial. Drink is often involved too. "Then when you add a group of asylum seekers or refugees who in some cases look different or have a different cultural background, these gangs can react. "You do get swastikas daubed on shop fronts and that type of thing and it is totally unacceptable. "Whether that is part of youthful bravado and an attempt to look tough or of something more sinister remains to be seen. It is very worrying." Fears of a growing politicisation of gangs and the specific targeting of ethnic minorities comes at a time when there is already a massive exodus among asylum seekers. Nearly all of Scotland's asylum seekers are based in Glasgow, but research has shown two-thirds leave the city once the Home Office has approved their claims. A Scottish Executive study labelled the levels of racial harassment "shocking". Dr Susan Batchelor, a leading criminologist at the University of Glasgow, said asylum seekers and refugees were an easy target for young gang members. She said: "These gangs are very territorial. Some of them are quick to chase out anyone who enters their patch and asylum seekers would fall into that category. "As a group, asylum seekers and refugees are easily 'othered'. They perhaps speak a different language or have a different culture and it is very easy for them to be singled out. "I have met some of the people involved in gangs and they were very insular. I interviewed young people from Possil in the north of the city and yet they had still never been into the city centre. "Gangs are about belonging, and race and ethnicity are a very quick way to differentiate people."

'No evidence'
However, Strathclyde Chief Constable Willie Rae said he did not believe there was a significant problem of gangs making links with right-wing and Neo-Nazi organisations. "I am aware that there's a message circulating about extreme groups publishing articles on the websites, which suggests they may well be targeting asylum seekers," he said. "But we don't have the evidence at the moment at this time. "I think we've got to be cautious given that we're approaching elections where there will be individuals who will try to raise these matters for their own ends."  Last year, a crackdown on youth gangs in Glasgow was stepped up. About 90 extra police officers have been posted on the streets in "hot spot" areas as part of Operation Tag. Plain clothes "spotters" are used to "identify and disrupt" gangs which cause the most trouble between 1800 BST and 2200 BST on Friday and Saturday. Extra officers have already been posted from police offices at Govan, New Gorbals, Cathcart, Giffnock and Pollok. However, for asylum seekers in particular, these gangs and their deep-seated territorialism means that, as yet, they have little chance of making a happy and productive new home in Scotland.
© BBC News

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EXPOSED: NICK GRIFFIN’S APARTHEID BOMBER (uk)

The BNP have hired an Afrikaanse white supremacist, once convicted of planting a bomb in a South African school, to run their websites.

5/3/2007- The revelation, by anti-fascist monitoring group Searchlight, will be seen as further evidence of the British National Party's links to terrorism. Lambertus Nieuwhof helped plant a bomb at the Calvary Church School in 1992 in protest against over a decision to become racially mixed. Luckily the home-made explosive failed to go off but Nieuwhof, who was a member of the supremacist Afrikaner Weerstand Beweging (Afrikaner Resistance Movement) AWB, has never apologised for his crime. Nieuwhof is now running most of the BNP's internet operations through his Hertfordshire-based company Vidronic Online. Last week a judge ordered former BNP activist David Copeland was ordered to spend at least 50 years behind bars.

Detonate
Nailbomber Copeland was responsible for a 13-day reign of terror with explosions in Brixton, Brick Lane and Soho in London, killing three people and injuring 139. Earlier this month the trial of an ex-BNP candidate accused of running a bomb-making factory began. Robert Cottage is charged with possession of chemicals used for making explosives. Two BNP councillors, David Enderby and Kevin Hughes, were recently convicted for racially-aggravated violent attacks. The BNP's press spokesman, Dr Stuart Russell, has brushed aside concerns about Nieuwhof's involvement in the neo-Nazi party's websites. He said: 'Even if he is involved with our website, so what? Peter Hain was a supporter of Nelson Mandela's terrorist group in South Africa.'

Settlement
Nieuwhof, of Peterchurch in Herefordshire, was part of a three man of terrorist cell aiming to prop up the apartheid regime with a terrorist attack. He was arrested after one of the gang lost his nerve, after the bomb failed to detonate, and turned in his two associates. He was given a 12-months suspended prison sentence. Nieuwhof was an active member of Eugene Terreblanche's paramilitary AWB, which was responsible for a string of bombs in the 1980s and early 90s. Nieuwhof, known in the BNP as Bep, runs the party's Barking and Dagenham siteis and also does work for for the BNP's trade union Solidarity. Searchlight says Nieuwhof is part of an inner circle of advisors around BNP leader Nick Griffin, who was cleared of race hate charges last year.

Handmaiden
Searchlight claims Nieuwhof is an associate of another South African extremist exile living in Britain, Arthur Kemp, who has been linked to the murder of Chris Hani, a close colleague of Nelson Mandela, in 1993. Kemp was released without charge but was named by far-right South African MP Clive Derby-Lewis as the author of a hit list of prominent anti-apartheid leaders. Kemp has had articles published on the BNP's website and his book March of the Titans is recommended by the BNP's booklist. Gerry Gable, publisher of Searchlight, said: 'The handmaidens of South Africa's murderous apartheid regime are unfortunately alive and well and pulling the strings in the British National Party.' Solidarity General Secretary Patrick Harrington said: 'The named individual was 20 at the time. We have been told that he now rejects violence and believes that political settlement in South Africa must be through agreement and negotiation.'
© Black Information Link

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INVESTIGATION CLEARS LONDON ISLAMIC SCHOOL OF HATE-PREACHING(uk)

5/3/2007- An investigation by the British Department for Education has cleared a Saudi-funded Islamic school in London of hate-preaching, after teachers removed all references from controversial textbooks which taught that Jews were "apes" and Christians were "pigs". The King Fahad Academy had its textbooks and lesson plans scrutinised thoroughly by officials from the UK’s education watchdog, OFSTED, in an "emergency" inspection last month. The inquiry had been ordered by Jim Knight, the Education Minister, after details of the controversial syllabus were revealed during an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal being brought by a former teacher, Colin Cook. Further details of Cook’s allegations were later broadcast in a television documentary. At the time, Sumaya Alyusuf, the director of the London-based academy, promised to take out controversial pages from the school’s textbooks and appointed a committee to carry out an internal review of the school’s teaching material, insisting that teachers were initially unaware of their content and that the offending textbooks were rarely used. As part of its investigation, OFSTED said it interviewed teachers and pupils, demanded to know where the school’s books were stored and read them to ensure they were of a high quality and did not contain inflammatory material. Their report said they were satisfied that the previous inflammatory textbooks - which have now been removed from the school - were rarely used and had very limited availability. The report added that the textbooks were now set to be shredded. "The textbooks referred to in the television programme have all been removed and are no longer available as a teaching resource.

Inappropriate
Inspectors are satisfied with the school’s responses and explanations as to their previous very limited availability and usage. The school and the inspectors agree that these materials are inappropriate for the international curriculum that the school is developing," the report said. It added: "These books have been withdrawn and are to be shredded, along with all other books from the Saudi curriculum. Inspectors visited the skip with over 2,000 books awaiting shredding and saw the supporting paperwork. Current textbooks seen for Islamic Studies meet the requirements of the regulations." Ruling that the school’s current syllabus is up to scratch, OFSTED
concluded: "The school meets all the regulations concerning pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural education." It ruled that its 600 pupils learn about "their own and other cultures" in accordance with DfES guidelines. In a statement, Alyusuf said she was "delighted that the Academy’s name has now been cleared".
© EJP

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WHITE WOMAN 'HARASSED BY ANTI-BLACK RACISM'(uk)

3/3/2007- A white woman who claims she was racially harassed by "jokes" insulting black people has won the right to take her case to an employment tribunal. Pat Gravell, 45, says that her former employer Bexley Council did nothing to stamp out the racist emails and text messages. Although she is white and British, she says that she was harassed by the remarks because she found them distressing and offensive. The former homeless prevention officer from Bexleyheath, Kent, says she hopes to force employers to tackle casual racism in the workplace. Last September a tribunal struck out her claim, saying it had no reasonable prospect of success, but today she won the right for a full hearing. The fact that she is white was not a "killer blow", and her claim should be judged on its merits, according to Judge Peter Clark at the Employment Appeal Tribunal in London. He added that her unusual case was "perhaps a bit of a trailblazer". Ms Gravell, who was made redundant in January after five years in the job, says that her colleagues sent her texts referring to black people as monkeys, and making offensive references to the mixed-race marriage of comedians Dawn French and Lenny Henry. She also received jokes mocking those who died in the New Orleans flood and the cockle-picking disaster in Morecambe Bay, she claims. Bexley Council denies creating an environment in which racism could flourish, and intends to launch a Court of Appeal challenge to today's ruling.
© The Daily Telegraph

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THIRD MUSLIM HIGH SCHOOL OPENS IN FRANCE

For many families in France, a Muslim private school is a way around the 2004 ban on religious symbols, including Muslim headscarves, in public schools - - designed to reaffirm France's commitment to state secularism.

5/3/2007- France's third Muslim high school opened on Monday in a suburb of the eastern city of Lyon, welcoming its first students after a months-long battle with the local education authorities. Named after a ninth-century Arab scholar, the Al-Kindi private school initially opened to one entry-year class and will eventually cater to 140 students aged 11 to 16, making it the largest Muslim school in France. Built on a former industrial site opposite a housing project in Decines, the school got the green light to open last month after the French Higher Education Council (CSE) overruled a decision by the Lyon education board. The board prevented the school from opening in September, citing concerns about safety as well as the teaching and management credentials of the team behind the project -- concerns both dismissed by the CSE. "We are very pleased, this is going to soothe tensions. The judiciary has enabled us to reach a compromise. We will continue like this, in full respect for the laws of the Republic," Rachid Guergour, head of the Lyon Mosque, told reporters outside the school. "I will cry victory when I see our students' results" in the high-school exams. "That is what matters," added Hakim Chergui, deputy head of the Al-Kindi association behind the project. France's first Islamic high school opened in the northeast Paris suburb of Aubervilliers in 2001, and now caters to around 100 pupils. A second followed in 2003 in the northern city of Lille and currently has 80 students. For many families in France, a Muslim private school is a way around the 2004 ban on religious symbols, including Muslim headscarves, in public schools -- designed to reaffirm France's commitment to state secularism.
It is also a way to ensure their children are taught "proper Islam, not the kind taught in basement mosques", parents say. Not all girl pupils at Al-Kindi wear the headscarf however, and Mohammed Minta, the local imam in charge of religious education classes insists students will be free to dress as they please. The school -- which costs around 1,200 euros (1,550 dollars) per child per year -- will follow the French national curriculum, with an optional two hours of classes on Islamic culture. "I was very disappointed by the public system. Here the teaching is of a higher quality, with a better structure. We hope it becomes an elite school," said Tarek Bejaoui, walking his daughter Zayneb to school.
© The Tocqueville Connection

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EXTREMIST LE PEN STRIKES CHORD IN FRANCE, AGAIN

For over 30 years, Jean-Marie Le Pen has campaigned at the top of French politics. While labeled an anti-Semite and rascist by some, he still commands enough support to add a dark dimension to the presidential election.

5/3/2007- From the earliest steps on the campaign trail, the French presidential election has been viewed as a two-horse race. Despite the wily incumbent Jacques Chirac's mischievous ambiguity over whether he would run again and the emergence of rising centrist Francois Bayrou, the majority of bets have been split between Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy of the ruling conservative party or socialist challenger Segolene Royal taking over at the Elysee Palace. But in the current campaign, as has been the case in the last four presidential elections, there is a dark horse stalking the main candidates. While Sarkozy's and Royal's people are busy putting out the fires from gaffes and scandals, a man who is no stranger to controversy in once again making a play for the top job in French politics. Jean-Marie Le Pen is back. The National Front leader recently launched the fifth presidential election bid of his long career with the hope that he can go one better than in the 2002 campaign when he made it to the second-round run-off. By becoming the one alternative to Chirac in that election, the first in which he made it that far, Le Pen shocked the French political establishment, sent tremors through Europe and ended the political career of Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin on the way. It was the fear of seeing Le Pen in the Elysee which drove voters on left and right to re-elect Chirac by 82 percent.

Anti-immigration, nationalist bandwagon 
Now it seems that after five more years of Chirac, France has forgotten that fear. Le Pen is in the mix again, and while his current campaign is less assured in the preliminary stages as it was in 2002, the far-right stalwart is beginning to work up a head of steam with a populist manifesto built on promises to end immigration, pull France out of NATO and slash taxes for the French only. The fact that Le Pen is once again contesting the presidency is a testament to his tenacity. A street fighter in his youth -- he lost an eye in one scuffle -- and a former paratrooper and Foreign Legionnaire who saw active service in Indochina and Algeria, Le Pen is used to battles. In some ways, he is the epitome of the political survivor. He is a man who has been convicted several times for remarks about Jews or the Holocaust, calling the Nazi gas chambers "a detail of history" and describing the German occupation of France as "relatively humane." He dismissed the attacks on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, as an "incident," and complained before the 1998 World Cup that the French soccer team was not white enough. And yet, despite his behavior and stance, Le Pen and his National Front party still enjoy widespread support.

Greatest support in years
Recent poll results published in the French newspaper Le Monde showed support for Le Pen at its highest levels in years, even better than in the run-up to the 2002 election where he polled 18.9 per cent, nearly 5.5 million voters. In 1997 nearly half of French people saw Le Pen's ideas as unacceptable; now only a third think so. That a man with such extremist views can still compete at the top of French politics says much about the continued disillusionment with the political leadership within French society. Le Pen rose to prominence in the early 1970's with a populist mix of anti-immigrant, pro-employment, and law-and-order promises. And in the 30 years or more since he founded the National Front, more immigrants have arrived in France, unemployment has become more of a problem and crime and unrest more prominent. Le Pen has continually revamped his core policies to play to the fears of what he calls "France's silent majority," the grassroots voters who struggle to be heard above the nation's "technocratic elite." "Le Pen has enjoyed a shift in his voter base from urban to rural areas and from the young to elderly," Nonna Mayer, an expert on French far-right politics from the Research Center for Political Science in Paris, told DW-WORLD.DE. "He has succeeded in extending and diversifying his social base. This is one reason why he remains so relevant even in modern France."

Appeal to disgruntled workers
Just as in the 2002 election, Le Pen is campaigning on a strong anti-immigration platform, blaming the "invasion" of foreigners for France's rising unemployment, urban violence and what he calls "general impoverishment." He is also relying on the "humble workers" vote as he did five years ago, pandering to the discontent of blue-collar employees and farmers. The state of France's agricultural sector has given Le Pen a new, powerful voting pool. "Voting for the extreme right is developing in rural areas," says Mayer. "In 1988, voters in the large cities were most likely to vote for Le Pen. In 1995, his influence extended to middle-sized conurbations. In 2002, he was attracting voters in small towns of less than 2000 inhabitants." Mayer believes that this shows that Le Pen has maintained his political longevity by pinpointing issues that effect the diverse sections of French society; urban crime for big city dwellers, loss of French identity through immigration for middle-class citizens, and loss of jobs and threat to industry for the working classes. How ever distasteful his approach, he is seen by many as being the only candidate to address the issues that matter to them. Le Pen has also won support throughout his career due to the general disaffection the populace has with its leaders. Before the 2002 vote, 83 percent of voters polled said that "politicians do not care what people like us think" and 58 percent said that French politicians were "somewhat corrupt."

Wake-up call
"The conditions were ideal for a protest vote in favor of Le Pen," Mayer said. "It was a protest vote because although they agree massively with his ideas on immigration and law-and-order, most voters don't want him to implement them. Only 41 percent of those who voted for Le Pen in 2002 actually wanted him to be elected." Votes for Le Pen, it seems, are used as a wake-up call for France to deal with the real problems in the society. However, the need for him to continue to run shows that these calls are far from being heeded. This year, it is still unclear whether Le Pen will even make it into the presidential election race. He is struggling to gain the backing of 500 elected officials needed to register formally by March 16. But if he does make into the first round, no one can rule out that his true supporters, and those registering another protest vote, can push the far-right leader into another run-off for the Elysee and cause another European political earthquake.
© Deutsche Welle

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FRENCH FAR RIGHT LEADER CRIES FOUL

3/3/2007- Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front who ran second in the French presidential election five years ago, said this week that he might not get the 500 signatures from elected officials necessary to validate his candidacy in the ballot this year. Candidates have until March 16 to persuade mayors, legislators and local politicians to publicly back them under rules devised to prevent frivolous candidacies. Le Pen is still short by 100 signatures, he said, while opinion polls indicate that about 12 percent of the electorate would vote for him. Some political analysts have dismissed Le Pen's warning as an attempt to reinforce his outsider image. At this stage in 2002, he lacked more than 200 signatures. He went on to qualify and received 16.8 percent of the vote in the first round, eliminating Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, the Socialist candidate, but ultimately losing to President Jacques Chirac in the runoff. "Having represented six million voters in the second round of the last presidential election, it would be unreasonable if I could not run," Le Pen said Thursday. Roselyne Bachelot, a European legislator and former environment minister from the center-right UMP party, said: "Jean-Marie Le Pen will very probably get his signatures. He is playing the victim as he does before every election." Le Pen has dropped in recent polls. A centrist candidate, François Bayrou, who is now credited with about 19 percent of the vote in the first round, has replaced the National Front leader as the "third man" behind Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy on the center-right and the Socialist candidate, Ségolène Royal. There are also signs that officials have become more reluctant to endorse candidates outside of the mainstream. Le Pen's 2002 score was attributed in part to the fact that votes were dispersed between a record 16 candidates.

Other candidates whose campaigns are in doubt this year include José Bové, an anti-globalization campaigner with 350 promised signatures so far, and Philippe de Villiers, another far-right contender who says he is 40 endorsements short. Even the candidate of the Greens party, the former environment minister Dominique Voynet, is worried: she has 500 pledges, but so far only 15 signatures. The prospect of an election without Le Pen made headlines in several French newspapers Friday. It has also begun worrying some Sarkozy supporters who hope to harvest far-right votes in the second round of the election, a calculation that would become less certain if Le Pen failed to make the ballot, analysts said. "If Le Pen wasn't there," Le Figaro daily said in an editorial, it would be an electoral, institutional and moral "cataclysm." Sarkozy's allies have been sending discreet signals to center-right officials that endorsing Le Pen's effort to make the ballot would be acceptable. "You don't win by stopping people from running," Sarkozy told a mayors' conference in November. In late January he went further, calling it "desirable" that Le Pen would run "like all candidates who represent a current in public opinion."
© International Herald Tribune

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LE PEN'S ELECTION BID IN TROUBLE (France)

3/3/2007- French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen says rivals are making a concerted effort to block his candidacy in the presidential election. Mr Le Pen, 78, needs 500 signatures from elected officials to become a candidate. But he admits he is still 100 short. He has until 16 March to submit the required number of signatures. The leader of the National Front (FN) is currently in fourth place in the opinion polls, with 14%. In 2002 Mr Le Pen scraped into the first round of voting, managing to gather the 500 signatures just before the official deadline. But he went on to shock France by reaching the second round runoff vote, where he was defeated by Jacques Chirac.

Struggle for signatures
There are 42,000 elected officials entitled to deliver the signatures, or parrainages. Most of these - 36,000 - are mayors, the rest are either regional or departmental councillors, deputies, senators or members of the European Parliament. But very few - barely 150 - are FN members. Mr Le Pen therefore has to woo elected members of other parties - no easy task. The FN is accused by rival politicians of being anti-Semitic, xenophobic and anti-immigrant - so many mayors are proving reluctant to back Mr Le Pen. Roger Lechevalier, mayor of a small town in Western France, returned a cheque for 1,000 euros (£674; $1,322), donated by an FN official to his municipality, Saint-Pierre-d'Artheglise. It emerged that Mr Lechevalier, who had signed for Mr Le Pen in 2002, had turned him down this time round. "There is nothing illegal in making donations to a municipality," FN spokesman Julien Sanchez told the BBC News website.

'Anti-democratic system'
Mr Sanchez accused other parties of ganging up against Mr Le Pen's candidacy and said the FN was taking legal action. "We have lodged a complaint against Philippe de Villiers (another right wing candidate) for trying to influence officials into refusing to sign for Jean-Marie Le Pen," he said, adding that the FN had taken the same action against 14 others. Mr de Villiers has denied any wrongdoing and dismissed the FN accusation. The FN spokesman said the French electoral system was "anti-democratic". "It's ridiculous that a candidate who scored 17 per cent and qualified for the second round in 2002 is struggling to gather 500 endorsements. Americans send monitors to elections in Africa. They should send them here," Mr Sanchez said. He said three left-wing and far-left candidates did not seem to have any trouble gathering signatures, although opinion polls credited them with a combined 6-7% at most. Mr Le Pen is currently on 14%, in fourth place, behind the two frontrunners, centre-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Segolene Royal, but also behind the centrist Francois Bayrou. Mr Le Pen failed in 1981 to qualify as a presidential candidate. This is his fifth run at the presidency.
© BBC News

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PRESIDENT OF EU PARLIAMENT ORDERS BOOKSHOPS TO REMOVE ANTI-SEMITIC NOVEL

3/3/2007- Hans-Gert Poettering, president of the European Parliament, has ordered bookshops in the Parliament in Brussels to remove from sale copies of an anti-Semitic book. Poettering asked the manager of the Parliament’s two shops to stop selling ’Les Protocoles de Sion. Le nouvel ordre mondial», a novel in French by two Belgian authors which is based on the 'Protocols of the elders of Zion’, an anti-Semitic literary 19th century forgery that purports to describe a Jewish plot to achieve world domination. The new version, written by Patrick Henderick and Patrice de Bruyne, includes a reprint of the entire text of the “Protocols” and has been given the form of a novel set in modern times in which responsibility for 9/11 and the London and Madrid bombings are attributed to the Jews. A spokesman for Poettering said he had instructed the book to be removed and condemned any expression of anti-Semitism. The removal came after Polish Socialist MEP and the Parliament vice-president Marek Siwiec asked Poettering to take action after one of his assistant saw and purchased the book at ground floor kiosk of the Parliament building. In a letter to the Parliament’s president, Siwiec wrote: "The fact that such a publication can be acquired within the premises of the European Parliament is simply unbelievable. The contents of this «novel» stand opposite to all the principles that laid the foundations for the creation of the European Union,” Siwiec said. He added:“This incident may be very harmful to the image of this House. My great concern is that it will send a very negative message to the EU citizens, especially at a time when anti-Semitism is again on the rise in Europe and other parts of the world." “Freedom of expression can not be used to advertise anti-Semitism or any other form of racism.” The director of a bookshop chain in Belgium, where the book is on sale, has also given instructions to remove it from the shelves following Jewish protests. The book has been prohibited in France. The incident came days a row about an anti-Semitic booklet published by a Polish MEP, Maciej Giertych, who is a member of the ultra Catholic League of Polish Families. The book entitled ’Civilisations at War in Europe’ claims that Jews are "biologically different" from Gentiles. Giertych, who used the logo of the European Parliament, might be sanctioned by the EU body.
© EJP

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INTERNATIONAL WOMEN\'S DAY 2007

ABOUT INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY

International Women's Day has been observed since in the early 1900's, a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialized world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies.

1908
Great unrest and critical debate was occurring amongst women. Women's oppression and inequality was spurring women to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change. Then in 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.

1909
In accordance with a declaration by the Socialist Party of America, the first National Woman's Day (NWD) was observed across the United States on 28 February. Women continued to celebrate NWD on the last Sunday of February until 1913.

1910
At a Socialist International meeting in Copenhagen, an International Women's Day of no fixed date was proposed to honour the women's rights movement and to assist in achieving universal suffrage for women. Over 100 women from 17 countries unanimously agreed the proposal. 3 of these women were later elected the first women to the Finnish parliament.

1911
Following the decision agreed at Copenhagen in 1911, International Women's Day (IWD) was honoured the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March. More than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women's rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination. However less than a week later on 25 March, the tragic 'Triangle Fire' in New York City took the lives of more than 140 working women, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants. This disastrous event drew significant attention to working conditions and labour legislation in the United States that became a focus of subsequent International Women's Day events. 1911 also saw women's ' Bread and Roses' campaign.

1913-1914
On the eve of World War I campaigning for peace, Russian women observed their first International Women's Day on the last Sunday in February 1913. In 1914 further women across Europe held rallies to campaign against the war and to express women's solidarity.

1917
On the last Sunday of February, Russian women began a strike for "bread and peace" in response to the death over 2 million Russian soldiers in war. Opposed by political leaders the women continued to strike until four days later the Czar was forced to abdicate and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote. The date the women's strike commenced was Sunday 23 February on the Julian calendar then in use in Russia. This day on the Gregorian calendar in use elsewhere was 8 March.

1918 - 1999
Since its birth in the socialist movement, International Women's Day has grown to become a global day of recognition and celebration across developed and developing countries alike. For decades, IWD has grown from strength to strength annually. For many years the United Nations has held an annual IWD conference to coordinate international efforts for women's rights and participation in social, political and economic processes. 1975 was designated as 'International Women’s Year' by the United Nations. Women's organisations and governments around the world have also observed IWD annually on 8 March by holding large-scale events that honour women's advancement and while diligently reminding of the continued vigilance and action required to ensure that women's equality is gained and maintained in all aspects of life.

2000 - 2007
IWD is now an official holiday in Armenia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. The tradition sees men honouring their mothers, wives, girlfriends, colleagues, etc with flowers and small gifts. In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother's Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers.

The new millennium has witnessed a significant change and attitudinal shift in both women's and society's thoughts about women's equality and emancipation. Many from a younger generation feel that 'all the battles have been won for women' while many feminists from the 1970's know only too well the longevity and ingrained complexity of patriarchy. With more women in the boardroom, greater equality in legislative rights, and an increased critical mass of women's visibility as impressive role models in every aspect of life, one could think that women have gained true equality. The unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women's education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men.

However, great improvements have been made. We do have female astronauts and prime ministers, school girls are welcomed into university, women can work and have a family, women have real choices. And so the tone and nature of IWD has, for the past few years, moved from being a reminder about the negatives to a celebration of the positives.

Annually on 8 March, thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate their achievements. While there are many large-scale initiatives, a rich and diverse fabric of local activity connects women from all around the world ranging from political rallies, business conferences, government activities and networking events through to local women's craft markets, theatric performances, fashion parades and more.

Many global corporations have also started to more actively support IWD by running their own internal events and through supporting external ones. For example, on 8 March search engine and media giant Google even changes its logo on its global search pages. Corporations like HSBC host the UK's largest and longest running IWD event delivered by women's company Aurora. Last year Nortel sponsored IWD activities in over 20 countries and thousands of women participated. Nortel continues to connect its global workforce though a coordinated program of high-level IWD activity, as does Accenture both virtually and offline. Accenture supports more than 2,000 of its employees to participate in its International Women's Day activities that include leadership development sessions, career workshops and corporate citizenship events held across six continents - in eight cities in the United States and in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Spain, South Africa and the UK. Accenture also coordinated am IWD webcast featuring stories about Accenture women worldwide that ran uninterrupted for 30 hours across 11 time zones via Accenture's intranet. Year on year IWD is certainly increasing in status. The United States even designates the whole month of March as 'Women's History Month'.

So make a difference, think globally and act locally !! Make everyday International Women's Day. Do your bit to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding.
2007 IWD events

© International Women's Day

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HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HR CALLS FOR ACTION AGAINST IMPUNITY FOR VIOLENCE AFFECTING WOMEN AND GIRLS

Message of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour on the occasion of International Women's Day, 8 March 2007

I am honoured to convey this International Women's Day message to the billions of women around the world who struggle daily in the home, the workplace and the community for a life of dignity and freedom. As with other commemorations of its kind, there has always been a tension about whether International Women's Day is a time for celebration or a day for protest. It should be all of these things: a time to reflect on the progress achieved in claiming women's rights through much sacrifice and the occasion to reject continuing inequality and the denial of rights. This year, we are putting the spotlight on a denial of women's rights of pandemic proportion: violence against women and girls and the impunity that makes it possible.

Violence against women is rightly termed the most common but least punished crime in the world. A recent World Health Organization study found that 23 to 49 per cent of women suffered violence at the hands of their intimate partners in most of the 71 countries surveyed. UNICEF has reported that 130 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation. According to the United Nations Population Fund, 5,000 women die every year in "honour" killings perpetrated by family members. And it is estimated that less than 5 per cent of rape prosecutions lead to convictions globally, partly because the majority of cases place emphasis on the conduct of the woman and not on that of the perpetrator.

These figures paint only part of the picture, as comprehensive information on violence and abuse against women is hard to collect. To this day women are stigmatized when they speak out, or they face retribution. Often, violence against women is widely accepted as an ordinary and even inevitable occurrence, and thus deemed unworthy of action and remedy. And while rape, genital mutilation, spousal and domestic abuse, and certain traditional punishments, such as stoning and burning, grab the occasional headline and provoke outrage, female infanticide, and systematic neglect of girls all too frequently go unnoticed or are left unaddressed.

The paradox is that most States have largely accepted the international normative framework aimed at preventing, tackling and punishing discrimination and violence against women. Crucially, they recognize that women's equality and entitlements are human rights, thus empowering women to become active right-holders and claimants, rather than passive beneficiaries of discretionary policies. Many countries, however, have not matched this progress in international law with implementation, policy and practice, particularly where it matters the most, that is, in the daily lives of women around the world.

There is nothing inevitable regarding violence against women. In contrast, ample evidence confirms that promoting and defending women's human rights advances society as a whole. What we need now is decisive leadership and a sustained commitment to put an end to this intolerable violence and bring those who perpetrate it to justice.
© OHCHR

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EU MARKS INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY WITH CALL FOR GENDER EQUALITY

8/3/2007- he European Union marked International Women's Day on Thursday with a pledge to fight discrimination and domestic violence against women. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, meanwhile, prepared to chair an EU summit — the first woman to do so in more than two decades. In 1986, then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher chaired an EU summit. While gender gaps in employment and education are narrowing, the pay gap remains around 15 percent across the 27-nation EU. Women account for just 32 percent of managers, 10 percent of board members and 3 percent of CEOs of large companies. A report by EU statistical agency Eurostat compiled from national data gathered between 1998 and 2006 said that women were more likely to be unemployed than men. "Patriarchal structures still exist and women tend to be in lower position. The reduction of salary inequalities has not gone far enough," German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul told a seminar at the European Parliament. The European Commission has announced plans to use educational programs to increase awareness of gender inequality in schools and eradicate gender stereotypes, and encourage promotion of women into senior positions. It is also promoting flexible working arrangements, so that both men and women are able to remain in the labor market when bringing up children. The EU also pledged to promote women's participation in political life, fight trafficking of women and children, and combat domestic violence. "Around the world women continue to suffer horrific domestic violence, discrimination and persecution. Protecting women's rights and empowering them as decision-makers are fundamental principles of the European Union's work across the globe," EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said. City authorities in Strasbourg, France have launched a poster campaign against domestic violence and will also hold meetings on welfare services and women's associations. Strasbourg, the seat of the European Parliament and Council of Europe, is the first city in France where the police have a specially trained domestic violence unit able to intervene when domestic violence actually occurs.
© International Herald Tribune

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WOMEN'S DAY IN A DREAM FOR SOME AFGHANS

Qamar laughed bitterly at the idea of International Women's Day, as if it were a cruel joke.

8/3/2007- As a woman encouraged by relatives to marry her stalker - who was 20 years her senior, had three other wives and now beats her regularly - Qamar found it preposterous that anyone would ever celebrate her existence. "No one will bring me flowers. My husband won't even bring me a stone," the 45-year-old woman said with a cynical smile as she recounted her woes. "March 8th is for foreigners because they have good lives. I don't know anything about March 8th." Perhaps nowhere else in the world do women more desperately need a day to celebrate their existence, given the bleak reality for millions of women in this war-torn country. Since the fall of the ultraconservative Taliban regime five years ago, 2 million girls have returned to school, and women can leave their homes unaccompanied. They also hold 68 seats in the 249-member National Assembly. But those headline successes haven't cured the underlying horrors: Officials estimate at least half of women are forced into marriage and one out of three has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused. Qamar, who like many women in Afghanistan goes by one name, said her husband lost his defense ministry job after the Taliban came to power and the couple moved to his home in Kapisa, north of Kabul, where his other wives lived. There, he fell in love again with his third wife, who bore him children, and the beatings began. Qamar suffered complications in her first pregnancy and was unable to have children. She threatened divorce and ran out of the home to complain to a district elder and a mullah, or religious leader. She said her husband dragged her back inside the house so violently that one of his older sons demanded, "What are you doing? You're killing her!"

Her husband threatened to kill her brother if he interfered. Qamar stayed with a cousin for three months, but he called her a burden, so now she's back in her abusive home. "There's no one to help me. I have to live with them. I have no choice," Qamar said, grabbing a corner of the black scarf covering her hair and shoulders to wipe at her tears. Her tale is echoed by millions of women in Afghanistan, where domestic violence is socially tolerated. Roughly two out of five Afghan marriages are forced, while 45 percent are married by age 18, says the country's Ministry of Women's Affairs. According to UNIFEM, the U.N. Development Fund for Women, at least one out of three Afghan women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused, and the abuser is usually a family member or someone she knows. Rarely is anyone prosecuted or even reprimanded. "Ending impunity is not just the government's responsibility - everyone in Afghan society, men and women, has a responsibility to act when confronted with such violence," said Richard Bennett, human rights chief for the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. The government and women's rights organizations have made significant strides in the past five years. On Wednesday, the women's ministry and rights group Medica Mondiale started a campaign to encourage marriage registration, a legal process before a judge that they hope will cut down on forced and child marriages. Another organization, Women for Afghan Women, opened a family guidance center Wednesday to help victims of rape, domestic violence, and forced and underage marriages. Still, their struggle is up against daunting hurdles - continuing instability after decades of war, dire poverty and lack of education.

One young mother sitting in Women for Afghan Women's office exemplified the challenges. Beshta married at the age of 14. Her husband was killed under the Taliban regime, and she and her 4-year old daughter now live with her father and his second wife. She has been beaten so often her memory has faded. She does not know her age, but looks as though she is in her early 20s. Her speech is punctuated by long, pensive pauses. She stared blankly into the space, with wide, vacant eyes that welled up as a social worker described the young widow's life. Asked what she most wanted now in life, Beshta thought for a while and muttered softly: "Somebody to take care of me and my child."
© Associated Press

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SLOW PROGRESS FOR WOMEN IN PARLIAMENTS

At 17 per cent, the number of women parliamentarians worldwide is at an all time high, up from 11.3 per cent in 1995. However, at this rate gender equality will only be achieved by 2077. The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) presented its latest figures on women in parliament at UN Headquarters on 1 March 2007. "This picture is quite far from satisfactory", said Margareth Mensah-Williams, Vice-Chairperson of the National Council of Namibia and Vice-President of the IPU Executive Committee. "Women hold half the world, so we should hold half the power", she said.

Rwanda has the highest percentage of women in parliament at 48.8 per cent and Sweden came in second with 47.3 per cent. Costa Rica came in third with 38.3 per cent, followed by the Netherlands, which has maintained 33 per cent over the past decade, and Austria with 32 per cent. Women speakers of parliament were elected for the first time in Gambia, Swaziland, Turkmenistan and the United States, holding a record 35 out of a total 262 speakers worldwide, according to the IPU.

In 2006 in the United Arab Emirates, women were allowed to stand for election and vote for the first time, giving that country the highest overall increase-from zero to 22.5 per cent women parliamentarians. "This reflects a growing trend in the Gulf States for representation and voting of women", said Anders B. Johnsson, Secretary-General of IPU. Gender quotas help "kick start to help women get into politics faster and in larger numbers", he said, and the IPU statistics support this argument: in 23 countries that had gender quotas, women took 21.7 per cent of seats in parliaments, as opposed to 11.8 per cent in countries without such quotas.

"We women who are in power have the responsibility to bring more women into parliament", said Barbara Prammer, Speaker of the Parliament of Austria. "It is not enough to be a woman in a political position; we have to do politics differently." She explained that she analyzed the position of women in her staff of 380 in the Austrian Parliament to determine whether they had sufficient opportunities to advance in their careers. Her next objective, she said, was to gender-balance the Austrian Parliament's 120 million Euro budget.

While the overall target was to reach gender parity in parliaments, reaching 30 per cent worldwide by 2010 would "set the world on the right road", said Ms. Mensah-Williams. "It just makes sense to have women in government, because we are peacebuilders. We build bridges of development and economic empowerment, and I feel that there will be less war in the world, because women will appropriate more funds for development than for weapons."

If women had more control of politics, the earth's environment would also be in better shape, contended Ms. Mensah-Williams. "Women are natural environmentalists; in Africa, it is women chopping the trees, making the fires, cultivating everything. Women are on the forefront, so if more women were Ministers of the Environment, the world would be a much better place." Ms. Prammer echoed this statement, saying that women politicians and non-governmental organization activists in Austria were leading the fight against global warming. "Women are more aware of the [environmental] situation, and feel a large responsibility to future generations; perhaps because we are mothers."
© The UN Chronicle

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'GENTLEMEN'S CLUB' STOPS WOMEN FROM GOING INTO POLITICS (Ireland)

8/3/2007- It may be International Women's Day but the Dail was branded yesterday as a "19th century gentlemen's club" that is totally unsuited to female politicians. There are only 23 women TDs out of 166 Dail deputies and women will make up less than one in five of the candidates being put forward by the six main parties in the forthcoming general election. The two biggest parties are the worst offenders and lag well behind their counterparts. Appearing to make no progress in five years, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are running the exact same number of female candidates in this general election as last time. Almost 50pc of politicians in the Welsh and Scottish assemblies are female, but Ireland ranks 20th out of the 25 EU states for female representation. Only 14pc of TDs and 20pc of local councillors are women and this country's ranks a lousy 81st in the world league table of gender balanced parliaments. Despite setting targets to have more women on the Fianna Fail ticket, Bertie Ahern's line-up features just 13 women, with none at all in Connacht or Cork. Yet Fianna Fail passed a plan less than two years ago containing the aspirational target that women would make up one third of the party's local and general election candidates by 2014. At this stage, just one in eight Fianna Fail candidates is a woman. Defending its record, Fine Gael said every candidate is selected democratically by the organization. "As a party, Fine Gael encourages as many women as possible to go forward," a spokesman said. The Taoiseach's oft expressed admiration for Tony Blair doesn't extend to the British Prime Minister's policy of gender quotas on Labour's election tickets.

The creation of 'Blair's Babes' was contentious and divisive within the party. But the move did actually raise the level of female representation in British politics. Likewise, Tory leader David Cameron is now going out of his way to promote women within the Conservative Party. Female politicians from all the political parties yesterday supported the launch of the election manifesto of the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI). Top of the list of issues the NWCI wants to see addressed is the under-representation of women at all levels of political life. NWCI director Dr Joanna McMinn said at the current rate of change, it will take 370 years for women to gain equal representation. Green Party deputy leader Cllr Mary White, the party's Carlow-Kilkenny candidate, called for the Dail to run five rather than three days a week, starting at 9.30am and ending no later than 7.30pm. "The Dail is run more like a 19th century gentleman's club where they are debating late into the night. You can almost smell the cigar smoke in the ante rooms. We would like to change that and make it more family friendly, so that more women can even think about participating in our national democracy," she said. Greens women's affairs spokeswoman Cllr Bronwen Maher said there was a need for more female politicians to provide inspiration to young girls. "But it's unfortunately cronyism and people unwilling to take risks right across the political system. We're talking about serious policy issues here that affect women's lives on a daily basis and they are actually being ignored." The Green Party has yet to elect a female TD. PD deputy leader Liz O'Donnell proclaimed "a woman's place is in the House - Leinster House. "In a progressive, modern republic it is an aberration to have so few women at the centre of policy formulation at national level," she said.
© Unison

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SWEDEN HAS WORLD'S SECOND-MOST GENDER-EQUAL PARLIAMENT

Sweden, Costa Rica and Rwanda recorded the highest percentage of women in parliament in 2006, with the worldwide figure also reaching a record high, the Inter-Parliamentary Union said on Friday. Almost 17 percent of parliamentarians the world over are women, the IPU said. Nordic countries retained their reputation as bastions of female advancement, with the regional average increasing to 40.8 percent after Sweden elected a greater number of women MPs than ever before in its September polls. Women now hold 47.3 percent of seats in the Riksdag, the Swedish parliament , as well as the justice, EU affairs, international development, energy and enterprise ministerial portfolios in the ruling centre-right government.

Rwanda actually has the highest proportion of female parliamentarians, with 48.8 percent of seats in the lower house, the IPU said. The group also hailed the "consistent rate of progress in the Americas over the past decade," notably Costa Rica where women made up 38.6 percent of parliamentarians. Women make up on average 20 percent of parliamentarians across the Americas, trailing only their Nordic sisters and ahead of the rest of Europe. However, the IPU also highlighted "missed opportunities" during 2006 in post-conflict states which are undergoing electoral and parliamentary reform. Women won only 8.4 percent of seats in the newly established lower house of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and four percent in Haiti's lower house. This contrasts with "significant increases" in female representation over recent years in polls in Afghanistan, Burundi, Rwanda, Mozambique, South Africa and East Timor, the IPU said.
© The Local

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VOTE OF CONFIDENCE FOR GREEK WOMEN

9/3/2007- More than half of Greeks would happily vote for a woman as prime minister or president, according to figures released yesterday to mark International Women’s Day, while experts said that women still suffer discrimination in a number of fields. A survey conducted by the Research Center for Gender Equality (KETHI) found that 54.2 percent of respondents would vote for a woman prime minister and 51.5 percent would have no problem in casting their ballot in favor of a female president. A woman has never held these posts. Dora Bakoyannis is Greece’s first woman foreign minister and Anna Psarouda-Benaki is the first female parliament speaker. KETHI’s poll found that the majority of people questioned believe that women politicians are more honest and effective than their male counterparts. Quoting figures supplied by the National Statistics Service, the civil servant’s union ADEDY highlighted the fact that unemployment among men is only 5 percent whereas it is 13 percent among women. The union also underlined that a quarter of women aged 15 to 29 are out of work. “Economic disparity is growing and working women… are experiencing the greatest discrimination and the bulk of the increasing social problems,” said ADEDY. Meanwhile, women academics said that they are often the victims of sexism. The Periktioni Network of Women Researchers said that 27 percent of university teaching staff comprises women, as does 35 percent of research staff in the 50 top public research bodies. However, men still dominate in the teaching of sciences and mathematics. Women are mostly restricted to social and humanities subjects. Nearly one in three humanities teachers at universities is a woman, while only 6.5 percent of science teachers are women.
© Kathimerini

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SWISS REMEMBER FIRST STEP IN WOMEN'S SUFFRAGE

Saturday marks 50 years since women voted for the very first time in Switzerland – in a local ballot in the tiny mountain village of Unterbäch. The move, although controversial at the time, was hailed as a big step for women's suffrage. But a recent study shows that Swiss women – who obtained the vote at the federal level in 1971 - are not always exercising this right. Although officially still not allowed to vote, more than 30 women went to the polls on March 3, 1957, in Unterbäch, in southwesten Switzerland. They were deciding whether civil protection – assistance and support for the local population, such as protecting cultural property - should be made obligatory for women. "I was at first not totally enthusiastic when my husband had the idea that women should vote on obligatory civil protection for women," recalls 87-year-old Katharina Zenhäusern, the wife of the then village mayor. But her husband, the late Paul Zenhäusern, and Peter von Roten, who was married to feminist writer Iris von Roten, thought otherwise, saying that decency dictated that men should not behave as "all powerful guardians". The government and local authorities declared the ballot illegal and Unterbäch itself was sharply divided. Women who voted were subjected to insults as they entered the voting booth. "It needed courage," said Zenhäusern, who was the first to cast a ballot. Only a further 32 of the 84 eligible women followed suit. The proposal was rejected – as it was on a national level. However, the Unterbäch vote provoked huge interest in Switzerland and abroad. Even the New York Times wrote about it.

Important sign
"It was an important sign for the whole of Switzerland because nearly in all other European countries the right to vote for women had already been introduced, but in Switzerland this only came in 1971," Radical party parliamentarian Christa Markwalder told swissinfo. Unterbäch commemorated the anniversary on Saturday. Among those attending the celebrations were Elisabeth Kopp and Ruth Dreifuss, the first two women who joined the cabinet in 1984 and 1993 respectively. Dreifuss called for the fight for equality to continue. However, despite the progress made since 1957, a recent study has shown a worrying trend towards female political apathy. According to data from the Swiss Electoral Studies (Selects) research project, the percentage of women compared with men voting in national polls has dropped markedly. In 1995, 45 per cent of men and 39 per cent of women voted – a difference of six per cent. By 2003, 54 per cent of men and 38 per cent of women voted – a gap of 16 per cent. This goes against the trend in other European countries where the statistics have mostly evened out.

Vote after-effects?
One explanation is that older Swiss women have not developed the habit of voting because they obtained suffrage relatively late. This habit may have been passed on to their daughters. Markwalder, who is 31, said she was surprised by the result, as the rise in women's education levels would normally be accompanied by more political participation. However, she was not sure that the late vote was fully to blame, especially as women were quick to catch up and now make up one quarter of all members of parliament. She believes a reason could be the recent polarisation in politics. "Politics is quite a hard business, you're sometimes personally attacked or there are political fights and I think women are interested in concrete political questions but not so much in the whole theatre all around it," she told swissinfo. Markwalder believes the answer lies in mobilising women to participate in politics at grassroots level. Raising women's profile in politics – such as her party will be doing for the upcoming elections - is also a solution. "For women it is important to have some role models, so you see that women are successful in politics and also self-confident enough to be in the local, cantonal or national government," she said.

CONTEXT
+ After the Unterbäch vote, several cantons gradually followed suit and in the 1960s women started occupying more important positions in local parliaments and governments. In 1968 Geneva, then the country's third largest city, had a woman mayor - but she still couldn't vote in federal elections.
+ On February 7, 1971 Swiss men finally voted to give women full federal voting rights, by a two-thirds majority.
+ Nowadays women make up around 25 per cent of parliamentarians and there are two women in the cabinet.
+ But critics argue there is still some way to go before there is full political equality.

KEY FACTS
+Unterbäch's slogan is "Unterbäch the Swiss woman's Rütli", in reference to the meadow where the Swiss founding fathers swore their oath.
+ The village marked the vote's 50th anniversary with a day of celebrations on Saturday.
+ It has invited Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey and other female politicians to an alternative women's national day on August 1.
© Swissinfo

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CALMY-REY UNVEILS ACTION PLAN FOR WOMEN(Switzerland)

8/3/2007- On International Women's Day Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey has presented a Swiss action plan for a UN Security Council Resolution on women, peace and security. In a radio and television address she called on partners of working women to make a "fair contribution" to family life. Also on Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a motion for legally guaranteed paternity leave. Calmy-Rey launched the action plan in Geneva on Thursday during an event organised by women's organisations and the cantonal equality office. The resolution, dating back to 2000, is the first UN Security Council Resolution which expressly refers to the effects of armed conflicts on women and girls and underlines the importance of women in peace processes. The resolution has three priorities. First, women should be more involved in peace promotion measures. Second, gender-specific violence against women and girls in armed conflicts must be prevented and the rights and needs of girls and women must be protected. Finally, peace promotion activities by states must take into account that men and women are differently affected by armed conflicts and play different roles in them. Switzerland is already actively promoting these priorities and the action plan contains measures for 2007-2009 for their implementation.
"Brutal reality"
Earlier in the day Calmy-Rey visited the Geneva International Motor Show, at which she admitted she loved driving her car but reminded the audience that "if we, women, really appreciate the car, it is because it liberates us". Later she also spoke out for the rights of women at the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights. In her radio and television address – the first time a female Swiss president has spoken to the nation on International Women's Day – Calmy-Rey called on men to take a look at their commitment and obligations and to discuss them with their partner. "Perhaps they see things slightly differently," she said, adding that Switzerland was still catching up regarding sexual equality. Women only got the vote in Switzerland at the national level in 1971 – one of the last countries in Europe to do so. The last canton to allow women the vote was Appenzell Inner-Rhodes, which was compelled to adopt female suffrage by a court order in 1990. Calmy-Rey then drew attention to the international situation, which she described as "a brutal reality for all too many women", highlighting the widespread violence against women and the fact that women are more affected by poverty than men.

Paternity leave
During a heated special debate in the House of Representatives on Thursday, parliamentarians voted on 15 motions. A motion for legally guaranteed paternity leave was one of only six motions to be passed, although there is still a long way to go before becoming law. The concept of paternity leave has been slowly gaining ground in Switzerland, coming after women were finally granted the right to 14 weeks' paid maternity leave from July 2005 at 80 per cent of their normal salary. There is currently no such legislation for Swiss fathers who must depend on their employers' generosity and understanding. Political support for a law has generally not been strong. Maternity benefit was anchored in the Swiss constitution in 1945. But voters rejected compulsory paid maternity leave on four occasions. It finally passed at the ballot box in September 2004.
© Swissinfo

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DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN FOCUS ON WOMEN'S DAY (Malta)

As the world marks International Women’s Day on Thursday, the Commission on Domestic Violence is continuing its efforts to raise awareness about Domestic Violence in Malta and Gozo.

8/3/2007- The Commission said that whilst it is right to celebrate women and the achievements of society in its march towards equality for all, gross injustices which are perpetrated against women every day are not to be forgotten. The Commission reminded that Domestic Violence is a human rights violation and that it seriously injures those who live through it and damages the whole of society, including future generations. The Commission added that combating domestic violence calls for joint public action, including the active participation of all members of society. Domestic violence can affect anyone, with celebrities Tina Turner, Cher and Whitney Houston being survivors of the scourge. In turn, on Wednesday, the Malta Confederation of Women's Organizations presented the Prime Minister Dr. Lawrence Gonzi with a Care Manifesto which was compiled by the European Women's Lobby with the objective to raise awareness across member states on issues related to care that need to be addressed in order to achieve gender equality in European societies. Additionally, speaking about Women’s Day Helena Dalli, Malta Labour Party’s (MLP) main speaker for women’s right and public functions said that Malta and Gozo are to have more women in decision-making positions so that problems concerning the females can climb up the countries’ agendas. It was women’s efforts that led to the 1979 adoption of the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, the principal international human rights instrument for women and girls. At major conferences in 1975, 1980, 1985 and 1995, the United Nations brought together the nations of the world to discuss strategies and policies to achieve equality for women and girls, and to end violence against them. In 1993 the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action affirmed the universality of women’s rights as human rights and called for the elimination of gender-based violence.

These processes led to the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action — a global blueprint to achieve gender equality. The Beijing Platform reiterates that violence against women and girls violates their human rights, and prevents them from fully enjoying their “fundamental freedoms”. Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, adopted in 2000, brought the issue of sexual and genderbased violence in armed conflict and post-conflict situations, and the importance of protecting women and girls in those circumstances, into the heart of the global discourse on peace and security. World leaders gathered together at the 2005 World Summit reaffirmed their conviction that progress for women is progress for all, and recognized the importance of eliminating all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls, including by ending impunity. Besides, other measures have been undertaken to free women from domestic violence. In 1996, the United Nations General Assembly established a multi-national trust fund to support local, national and regional efforts to combat violence against women. In turn, men are also doing their part to end gender-based violence against women and girls, through the white ribbon campaign. The white ribbon symbolizes a man’s pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls.
© Malta Media

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PUTTING A STOP TO HUMAN TRAFFICKING (Denmark)

The government has implemented a four-year plan to battle human trafficking with a focus on women and children

Human trafficking is a growing problem in many Western European countries, and Denmark will now attempt to gain control of the situation through a four-year, DKK 70 million (EUR 9.4 million) plan to battle the crime. The plan, introduced Thursday by the social minister, Eva Kjer Hansen, and backed by the ministers of justice and integration, will improve support to victims through better social programmes and increase police efforts in investigating the exploitation - especially that of women and children. 'It is important that we are at the forefront of this development so that we do not experience an escalation of child trafficking in this country,' Hansen told Berlingske Tidende newspaper. 'We've already witnessed examples of children who have been traded into the sex racket or trained for theft.' The national police indicate that half of the estimated 5,000 prostitutes in the country are foreigners forced into the lurid business, and the new plan aims to make closer contact with the exploited persons by better coordinating the 'street teams' that have already been set up to visit and help the groups. In addition to the DKK 70 million, portions of Denmark's foreign aid going to developing countries will also be used to combat human trafficking from the points of origin. While the plan will clearly improve the current situation, Inger Neufeld, project coordinator for Save the Children, said the strategy is not good enough. She said that the plan continues to put the children in open institutions where workers are not trained in handling the very young. Hansen agreed that the plan had certain shortcomings and would not completely eradicate human trafficking, but said it was an important step to getting a better idea of how to attack the problem. 'We can at least reduce the number of women and children being trafficked, especially by increasing people's awareness of the problem.'
© The Copenhagen Post

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WOMEN'S DAY DEDICATED TO THE CAMPAIGN AGAINST DOMESTIC VIOLENCE(CoE)

'Domestic violence against women - Breaking the silence'' is the theme of a conference organised on 8 March in the Council of Europe headquarters, on the occasion of the International Women’s Day. In conjunction, the Congress and the City of Strasbourg are co-operating, from 1 to 15 March, in a poster campaign against domestic violence throughout the Strasbourg metropolitan area. These activities are conducted as part of the Council of Europe’s Campaign ''Stop domestic violence against women''

The Council of Europe Congress and the City of Strasbourg launch a poster campaign against domestic violence 
From 1 to 15 March 2007 the City of Strasbourg and the Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities will be co-operating in a poster campaign against domestic violence throughout the Strasbourg metropolitan area. This activity will be conducted as part of the Council of Europe’s campaign to combat domestic violence against women. The Council of Europe launched its two-year campaign in 2006 targeting the governmental, parliamentary and local/regional levels. The Congress is responsible for the local and regional dimension, including setting up information points on the campaign in the local communities. Pascal Mangin, the Strasbourg deputy mayor responsible for international affairs, who is also a member of the Congress and Rapporteur on domestic violence, says that in becoming involved in this awareness-raising campaign the City of Strasbourg wants to show its determination to prioritise public action against domestic violence. The initiative is shortly to be extended to other European cities, and poster campaigns are already scheduled in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ukraine and Iceland, for example. Furthermore, on 8 March 2007, International Women’s Day, the Mayor of Strasbourg Fabienne Keller will be attending a conference organised by the Council of Europe on the theme “Domestic violence against women – Breaking the silence”. She will also be speaking at a debate on the same subject at the Congress’ spring session from 26 to 28 March.
© Council of Europe

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MAYOR OF STRASBOURG: 'DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IS ALWAYS UNACCEPTABLE' (interview)

The City of Strasbourg has fully committed itself to the campaign “Stop domestic violence against women” and the initiatives of the Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, thanks to Pascal Mangin, Deputy Mayor of Strasbourg and Congress rapporteur on this subject. Fabienne Keller, Mayor of Strasbourg, explains the reasons for this involvement and hopes that many other towns and cities will become involved in the campaign, while also expanding the support they offer to victims of domestic violence.

Question: Strasbourg responded immediately to the call of the Congress, which wishes to involve towns and regions actively in combating domestic violence as part of the campaign. What are your reasons for taking part?
Fabienne Keller: As the Council of Europe’s host city, it is only natural for Strasbourg to take part in the campaign, but our reasons go deeper than that. The issue of domestic violence is of great concern to our social workers and healthcare professionals, and the campaign is particularly necessary and welcome in our view. It also conveys a message of tolerance and respect for other people, which is shared by Strasbourg, a city of humanist values where women’s rights are respected.

Question: What will the campaign involve in practical terms in Strasbourg?
Fabienne Keller: The campaign posters with the various slogans will be put up all over the city from 1 to 15 March. On 6 March, just before International Women’s Day, information and awareness-raising meetings will be held on the subject by the welfare services and women’s and family associations. One of the benefits of the campaign is to help break the silence that all too often surrounds domestic violence. The posters will raise awareness and trigger debate, and talking about domestic violence plays a key part in putting an end to it or, when relations are already tense, preventing it from escalating.

Question: What does Strasbourg currently do to help the victims of domestic violence?
Fabienne Keller: Strasbourg is the first town in France, if not in Europe, where the police have a specially trained domestic violence unit, who are able to intervene rapidly in the places where violence actually occurs, such as the home. Our health and social services teams are familiar with “identifying” victims of domestic violence and helping them from an early stage. The city has 15 accommodation units that can provide temporary shelter for 25 women – on their own or with their children – who leave their homes because of domestic violence. We are preparing to establish a second emergency shelter in another building, which will take in up to 30 people. We also offer financial assistance to women who suffer poverty and domestic violence. We help them get into or back into work, including with working hours suited to their family needs or by assisting with childminding arrangements. Lastly, we are very active in supporting several women’s and family support associations, which do preventive work and assist victims, helping them to return to normal lives.

Question: Is Strasbourg going to encourage other French and European towns and cities also to take part in the campaign?
Fabienne Keller
: I believe that it is the role of the Congress to mobilise local and regional authorities in this area, and it is actually doing that very effectively. Preventing violence against women really needs to be done locally, from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, and grassroots work of this kind is one of the tasks of local elected representatives. It also involves mediation and reminding people of the requirements of the law. By definition, municipal leaders are close to vulnerable groups and have many different ways of detecting domestic violence. For instance, it can sometimes be detected at school, as child abuse is often linked to conjugal violence.

Question: In addition to getting local authorities involved, what are the other priorities for combating domestic violence?
Fabienne Keller: In Strasbourg, two years ago, a woman was killed in the street by her husband, who had managed to find her, even though he was under a restraining order. That tragedy showed that the French authorities had failed to protect her as they should have done, especially since they had been aware of her husband’s violent behaviour for a long time. Incidents of that kind must not be allowed to happen again. Combating domestic violence is really a matter for everyone, at all levels. For that reason, too, I am particularly happy that Europe has taken up the struggle: all too often, the focus is only on the financial or economic aspects of Europe, while this campaign offers a perfect illustration of a Europe of men and women, a Europe of values.
© Council of Europe

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THOUSANDS OF WOMEN IN NEED OF SHELTERS (Turkey)

Turkey needs more women's shelters to protect victims of domestic violence, women's organizations are asserting, just before International Women's Day on March 8.

Turkey currently has 17 women's shelters functioning under the Social Services and Child Protection Agency (SHÇEK) that offer help for women and their children who are subject to domestic violence. In the past 17 years, at least 6,000 women and 4,600 children found refuge in SHÇEK shelters. Women who were forced into marriage, those who were thrown out of their family homes for extramarital pregnancy and victims of physical, sexual, economic, emotional or other types of abuse as well as potential targets of honor killings all seek refuge in shelters. Apart from SHÇEK's shelters, there are foundations and associations such as the Mor Çatý, or the Purple Roof, which try to offer protection to female victims of violence or physical abuse. There are around 30 shelters and associations providing women shelter, although representatives of women's organizations indicate many more are needed. According to a recent story from Radikal correspondent Özlem Dođan, a privately managed women's shelter in Konya which currently hosts 250 women has 2,000 others who are lined up to get inside.

Mentality change is the cure
Mor Çatý currently hosts 30 women at its shelter and is processing 64 applications from women who would like to get in if a vacant room is available at the shelter. "In fact, a majority of these incidents are preventable," according to Filiz Karahasonođlu from Mor Çatý. Most of the aggressors are not necessarily violent people. "It is 'okay' to beat one's own wife. We have tremendous difficulty with the police often refusing to intervene if they get a call reporting domestic violence." Although Turkey has recently adopted a regulation that allows prosecutors and judges to issue a ban for a violent husband to have access to the house, the police usually don't implement court rulings. Halime Güner from the Flying Broom women's association agrees that Turkey needs more shelters to protect women who are subject to domestic abuse. She points out that municipalities are now opening their own shelters, made possible by a recent order from Interior Minister Abdülkadir Aksu. Recent messages posted on Ankara's billboards celebrate the opening of a new women's shelter by the Ankara Metropolitan Municipality, something that Güner thinks would not have been possible without the minister's order. "A few years ago, Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek attended a cocktail party to celebrate Yakýn Ertürk's appointment as the UN rapporteur on violence against women," she recalls. At some point, the representative of a women's organization asked Gökçek why the municipality wasn't working on projects to prevent violence against women, such as opening women's shelters. "I know what that business will turn into, once shelters for women open up," Gökçek scandalously replied, sparking major controversy that made headlines for several days. Güner finds it ironic that the same man is celebrating a new shelter today. "This shows how far women's movement has come in the country. The prime minister recently played in public messages against domestic violence. The European Union has allocated millions of dollars in funds to the fight against domestic violence. The current circumstances are on the side of those working to end violence against women."

Women and violence in Turkey
Although there are no comprehensive statistics on gender-based violence in Turkey, according to a recent report from Yakýn Ertürk, the UN rapporteur on violence against women, the few studies that are available indicate that most violence against women occurs in the domestic sphere, pervading all social levels. According to the same report, 68 percent of Turkey's women's have been subject to domestic violence at least once in their lives while a survey in 1995 among women residing in poorer squatter areas of Ankara indicated that 97 percent were subject to violence from their husbands. Few incidents of domestic violence are ever reported.
© Zaman

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ONE IN FIVE WOMEN, VICTIM TO RAPE ATTEMPT

Amnesty International Report

8/3/2007- One in five women is victim to a rape or a rape attempt at least once in her lifetime, most of the times by a relative, but also by strangers or members of State security forces, the military or police. When the aggressors are State members, the situation is doubly worrying as impunity increases, justice fails and the damages suffered by the victim are not compensated, according to the report "No more power abuse or impunity," presented Wednesday by Eva Suarez-Llanos, investigation campaigns' chief of Amnesty International in Spain. According to the report, sexual aggressions take place in areas where there is an armed conflict, using them as "a war weapon to humiliate, punish, frighten or cause displacement of citizens," but they are also carried out in countries where there is no war, specially at police stations, prisons or immigration centres of the State. Furthermore, this kind of abuse takes place everywhere around the world, including Spain and Europe, where victims are frequently immigrants without documents that can't or don't want to report the aggressions, as Suarez-Llanos explained. According to this AI worker, when a prison official sexually assaults a victim, a soldier rapes a woman in a conflict or a police agent searches a naked woman, the case is doubly glaring, as "the State is violating the rules of international rights that oblige governments to respect and protect the human rights of women." To fight the impunity, AI launched the campaign "No more violence against women," urging States to respect international conventions and United Nations resolutions that recommend to defend women's human rights and set up tools to help victims, as well as training programmes for State security members.
© eitb24

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RAPE CASES DO NOT MAKE IT TO COURT(Belgium)

The number of rape cases brought to court increased by 30 percent between 2000 and the end of 2005. No less than 43 percent of these cases have been dismissed. The court was given a total of 17,301 rape cases to process between 2000 and the end of 2005. The number per year increased annually until 2004, but between 2004 and the end of 2005 the number fell slightly, by 1.8 percent. The figures only include rape cases in which the perpetrator was of age. Of the 17,301 cases, only 17 percent had been referred to the criminal court by 10 July 2006. And 43 percent was simply dismissed. And that number could still increase, since investigation is still pending in 10 percent of the cases. Why does the court fail to follow up on so many rape cases? In 49.5 percent of the dropped cases there was not enough evidence to bring the case to criminal court, in 19 percent the perpetrators could not be identified, and 12 percent of the cases involved a complaint, but a crime had not actually been committed.

Woman dies of beating
A 52-year-old woman from Grembergen was fatally injured on Monday as the result of domestic abuse. The woman was brought to hospital, where she died as a result of her injuries. The exact circumstances of the violence are unclear. "The official investigation is underway," said spokesperson for the public prosecutor's office Theo Byl. It is still not clear what caused Katia V.'s death. The first reports indicate that the woman was beaten repeatedly. The authorities have not yet confirmed that the local police are questioning two suspects, presumably the women's former and current boyfriends, a reliable source reports. The public prosecution office in Dendermonde will release more information later in the day.
© Expatica News

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NOBODY BENEFITS FROM FILLING JAILS WITH WOMEN (uk)

One day, society will look back on the treatment of women prisoners at the start of this millennium as scandalous. The alarming and simple conclusion will be that we locked up vulnerable people who had no place in prison. In 2007, we have scarcely advanced from the 19th century, when people were jailed for no offence greater than an inability to pay their debts or the misfortune of suffering from a mental illness. Most of Britain's 4,300 female inmates have at least one psychiatric problem; many are drug addicts; more than half have suffered domestic violence. Fewer than 10 per cent have committed a violent crime. Two-thirds of those held are on remand, with only half going on to serve a prison sentence. Later this month, the Corston Review, commissioned by the Home Office following the deaths of six female offenders at Styal prison in Cheshire, will be published. As The Observer reveals today, the report will recommend the expansion of options to custody and new ways of improving women's life chances. Such approaches require investment. But they would bring long-term dividends by curbing recidivism. Today, almost two-thirds of women offenders go on to commit further crimes, often because when they leave prison they have lost their homes, their children and their dignity. There have been reports in the past highlighting this problem. Even the Home Secretary has acknowledged there are too many vulnerable women in jail. 'It is clear to me that there are people in our prisons who should not be there,' Dr Reid told Parliament last year. In 2001, the government said the best strategy to reduce offending would be: 'To improve women's access to work; to improve women's mental health services; to tackle drug abuse by women; to improve family ties; and to improve the life chances of young women at school and in the community.' But the huge gulf between that goal and action to meet it has not closed.

The government must pay heed to the Corston Review, implementing its recommendations for non-custodial, community-based punishments for non-violent offenders. The alternative is to continue with discredited practice that brings shame on our society.
© The Observer

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MUKHTARAN MAI LEADS WOMEN'S DAY-EVE RALLY IN PAKISTAN

8/3/2007- Taking a strong stand on the occasion of International Women's Day, Pakistani gang rape victim Mukhtaran Mai, flanked by other similar victims, asked at a candle-light rally here why her tormentors were still at large five years after the crime. The walk Wednesday evening was attended by victims of gang rape in the last one year - Naseema Lobano, Kainat Soomro and Naseem Joza - besides a number of women from across the country who had come to show their solidarity. They also included Allah Diwaya and Shamim Diwaya, Naseem's parents, Anees Haroon and Nuzhat Shireen from the Aurat Foundation, Nargis Rehman of the Karachi Women's Peace Committee and Dr Shershah of the Pakistan Medical Association. Asking rape victims to speak out, Mai said: 'The whole world has been supportive of me and my cause, I don't understand why my own country was not.' Mai was ordered to be gang raped by four men in 2002 by a tribal council as compensation for her younger brother having allegedly eloped with a girl from a rival tribe. Though an unlettered farmwoman, Mai lodged a complaint and fought for justice. There has been a trial and conviction, but no punishment.

'The women of Pakistan have broken the silence and taken to the streets with their demands,' declared Mai. She said she would support every oppressed woman in her pursuit for justice and continue to fight for the rights of women from all four provinces. Mai stated that she had committed herself to the cause of education for women and children in Pakistan. 'I am proud that after I decided to break the barrier and come forward for my right, women from my village feel secure and confident about being women,' she said. She said that even now when she remembered her rape, shivers would go down her spine. 'But I had never imagined that Mukhtaran, who used to get scared of the littlest of issues, would rise up to the challenge like this!' Striking a balanced note while talking to Daily Times, she said that she did not believe that all men were to be blamed for violence against women. In a lighter vein, she said she had been approached by a few men with proposals for marriage but 'no one has impressed me enough'. Asked about the Women's Protection Act, enacted after President Pervez Musharraf relentlessly pushed it through parliament last year, Mai said that it was 'a useless law unless it was implemented as it should be'. Responding to a question, she said that the learning period for a person started at five years age when one was enrolled in school, but for her it had begun at age 33. She regretted that after a lapse of five years her culprits remained at large. Another rape victim, Kainat Soomro, expressed the hope that after the rally, justice for her and others like her would come soon. Nasima Labano lamented that those behind her rape had gone scot-free and were even given police protection.
© Malaysia Sun

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FILIPINO WOMEN CLASH WITH POLICE DURING WOMEN'S DAY RALLY

8/3/2007- Hundreds of Filipino women scuffled with anti-riot policemen in the Philippines on Thursday when they attempted to march towards the presidential palace to mark International Women's Day. The women, numbering around 300, wanted to cross Mendiola Bridge, several hundreds metres away from the Malacanang presidential palace, after a short programme nearby. But police used truncheons to push the women back. The women who were holding banners that read "Hold (President) Gloria Macapagal Arroyo accountable for sins against women." No serious injuries were reported in the scuffle. The demonstrators demanded more laws to protect women's welfare and provide more economic opportunities for women. They also denounced an anti-terrorism law recently signed by Arroyo. "As the Arroyo government unleashes its own brand of terrorism on women, Gabriela members all over the country remain steadfast in our fight to resist the government's attacks on our lives," the leftist Gabriela women's group said in a statement. Gabriela has been tagged by the military as one of the front organizations allegedly giving financial support to communist rebels in the country. "We are being attacked because we raise the legitimate issues of Filipino women," Gabriela said. In a government-sponsored celebration of International Women's Day, Arroyo was heckled during her speech when she discussed the benefits of the government's microfinance project. Since none of the women had received financial aid from the microfinance project, they started to heckle and boo the president when she asked who among them have benefited from microfinance. Arroyo later reminded government officials of the need to ensure that more women get microfinance aid, especially since the project was intended for them.
© DPA

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CZECH WOMEN FACE DISCRIMINATION, SENIORS HARASSMENT

23/2/2007- Discrimination against Czech women on the labour market has not yet been eliminated, the Czech Helsinki Committee (CHV) says in a report on the state of human rights in the Czech Republic last year that has been published at its ww.helcom.cz website. One of the problems mentioned in the report is that a large part of children in the Czech Republic are being brought up in institutions and that the rights of the elderly are not sufficiently protected. The elderly people are often exposed to harassment, the report says. The report also mentions the position of foreigners in the Czech Republic, the rights of patients, the freedom of faith and human rights observance in prisons. According to the report, many employers discriminate against women by asking them inadmissible personal questions when looking for new employees. Women job seekers should, for instance, say whether they intend to have children or who would care for their children in the event of their illness. Mothers with young children thus often lose jobs during the trial period because they are unable to work overtime, the report says. There is also unwillingness among companies to employ elderly people, it says. The CHV also criticises job officers and their officials for a humiliating approach to the jobless. It also points to a difficult approach to re-training courses - for instance only women under 35 with complete secondary education are sent to computing courses. The situation of abandoned children in the Czech Republic has not improved, according to the report. The lack of professionalism on the part of social workers and protracted court proceedings prolong unnecessarily the stay of abandoned children in institutions. In addition, an amendment to the law on the family that has been recently passed gives preference to the parents' rights before the rights of the children, the report says.

On the other hand, it mentions the new system of social service that started functioning this year as a considerable improvement of the situation. Disabled and elderly people receive care allowances directly from the state and they themselves decide on whether to pay for an assistant who would help them at home or stay in institutions. However, the authors point out that the services network in the Czech Republic is insufficient and many people thus have to leave institutions. Their capacities are small and waiting time is long. "Quite high sums of money are often required from these people as a sponsorship gift to be admitted to these institutions," the report says. Little attention is paid to the harassment of the elderly and not only in their own families, but also in hospitals and other medical and social institutions. According to a survey conducted by South Bohemian University in 2005, 13 percent of elderly people have been physically assaulted. One-fifth of respondents said they were exposed to psychological harassment. According to the CHV, the position of foreigners from the countries that are not EU members who have lived in the Czech Republic more than five years improved last year, but not thanks to Czech legislation, but the European directive. The report criticises the foreigner police and assesses their quality as insufficient. They implement the rules of a police security force rather than the principles of good administration and openness in their approach to foreigners, the report says.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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FIGHT STILL ON FOR EQUALITY (Canada)

8/3/2007- As the world marks International Women's Day, progress in gender equality in Canada seems to be one step forward, three steps back. These days, women are working in less traditional occupations and are able to share more child-care responsibilities. However, they continue to earn lower wages than men, and experience high levels of gender-specific violence and poverty, said Alison Brewin, executive director of West Coast Women's Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF). "The governments of Canada in the last decade have backtracked in many ways ... I believe we are sliding back to a time where women are one divorce away from poverty," she said. International Women's Day commemorates a march by female garment workers protesting low wages, 12-hour workdays and bad working conditions in New York City on March 8, 1857. Then in 1908, after 128 women were trapped and killed in a fire at a New York City garment and textile factory, 15,000 women workers again took their protests to the street. "What [those] women were fighting for in 1908 were better working conditions, child care and the right to vote - some of these things we're still fighting for today," said Daisy Kler, spokeswoman for the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter. But, despite the "regressive" nature of women's equality rights in Canada, "women are still organizing ... women are still resisting, and each International Women's Day, we pay tribute to women who are fighting for rights," Kler said.

Political leaders
Female representation in Canadian politics has remained steady at about 20 per cent over the last decade - still a far cry from equal representation. In their 2003 book Still Counting, Athabasca University authors Linda Trimble and Jan Arscott argue an "electoral glass ceiling" is keeping women at or below the 25 per cent mark, preventing fair and balanced representation in Canada.

Corner office
A report by a Toronto recruitment firm found women held just six per cent of the 521 top positions in Canada's 100 largest publicly traded companies in 2006. Nationally, there were just three female CEOs. A recent international Grant Thornton survey ranked Canada 11th out of 26 developed countries when it comes to female representation in senior management positions, behind countries such as Russia, the Philippines and Mexico.

Career before kids
More women are waiting until their 30s to conceive. In 1974, only 20 per cent of pregnancies occurred in women age 30 and up. More recently, that number has doubled with Statistics Canada reporting almost half of women who gave birth in 2003 were over 30. Women are also taking control of their childbirth with Caesarean rates reaching an all-time high of 26 per cent in 2002 (compared to 15 per cent in 1994).

Wages
While women have made some gains, they're still far from closing the salary gender gap. In 1967, 11 per cent of wives earned more than their husbands. By 2003, that number tripled to 29 per cent. However, female primary breadwinners in professional positions earned an average $68,000, while their male counterparts earned $83,000. According to Brewin, women today continue to earn only 70 per cent of what men do.

Higher learning
A decade ago, there were equal numbers of males and females in post-secondary education but more recent statistics show 60 per cent of university graduates are women. According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, in 1959 women accounted for six percent of medical school grads. In 1989 it jumped to 44 per cent, and most recent stats show 50 per cent of medical school grads are female.

Equality?
Pay: On average women earn only 70 per cent of what men do
Politics
Female MPs are less than halfway to equal representation
Execs
Just three female CEOs are in Canada's top 100 companies
Education
Sixty per cent of university graduates are women
Biology
More to life than kids. Over half wait until their 30s to conceive
© Vancouver 24 hours

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WOMEN'S CONTRIBUTIONS MUST BE HONOURED (Ghana)

8/3/2007- Three women's coalitions have appealed to the government and the people to raise a monument in honour of women in recognition of their contributions to the pre- and post-independence struggles. "We note that the 50th anniversary celebrations, while recollecting the roles of key figures and various social groups in our pre-and post-independence struggles, have not adequately recognized or honoured the contributions of women," a joint statement issued on Wednesday by three groups to mark International Women's Day which falls today said. "A monument to women would be in order and we urge the government and people of Ghana to take up this proposal," Network for Women's Right (NETRIGHT), National Coalition on Domestic Violence Legislation and the Coalition on the Women's Manifesto said in their statement. "Even more importantly, the contributions of women should become recognized as a central part of our history rather than a footnote," they said. The coalitions congratulated the many forgotten heroines for their sacrifices and immense contributions to the founding of Ghana and the 50 years journey to build an independent country and an equal and just society. The coalitions said they had added cause to celebrate the passage of the Domestic Violence Bill into law.

They said although this was not the only panacea to "the destructive and deadly grip of domestic violence (it) represents a preliminary step to end impunity for domestic violence and offer protection to all who are victimized by it". They lauded women and children who shared their stories of violence, abuse and survival for work to begin on the draft legislation. They also commended those who fought tirelessly for the law to be passed and the parliamentary committee for their work. "We call upon the President to act in the same spirit and to sign the law into effect without further delay." The Coalitions noted that issues ranging from women's low participation in governance, poor access to resources critical for livelihoods and the unacceptably high rates of maternal mortality and violence against women, which had been demanded in the colonial period, continued to be made today. "In today's Ghana, women are in the majority in the survivalist sections of the informal economy and regularly experience livelihood insecurities and state harassment. "Women continue to do the bulk of housework and related functions without adequate social support in the form of child support, day care centres and labour saving devices. "Women continue to be poorly represented in politics and in public and in many spheres of decision making..."  The Coalition noted that the current economic dispensation of "competing for scarce resources" raised fundamental questions about the implementation of any gender specific law or policy, including the Domestic Violence Law. "We call upon the people of Ghana to look critically at the advances made in our history...as a means of charting a concrete independent, equal, self-sustaining and collectivist path for the future vision of Ghana, Africa and all nations," the statement said. It said the country must seize the Golden opportunity provided by the Golden Jubilee to begin to make a real difference in the lives of ordinary women in Ghana.
© Myjoyonline.com

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EGYPT'S MOST PROMINENT FEMINIST SHUNS HOMELAND

Saadawi denies fleeing Egypt after Al-Azhar lawsuit, says that she was seeking ‘peace of mind’.

8/3/2007- With a mane of stark white hair and flashing dark eyes, not to mention opinions on society and women's issues that would be radical anywhere, Nawal al-Saadawi has long been a controversial figure in conservative Egypt. Now the 75-year-old writer, who has spent more than three decades bucking the traditional norms of this conservative country, is taking a break, pronouncing herself disgusted with Egypt even as conservative clerics file suit against her. "I need to breathe," she said by telephone from Brussels in an interview ahead of International Women's Day on Thursday. She is staying in the Belgian capital at the invitation of an organisation working for equality between men and women. It was in Belgium that she learned that Al-Azhar University, Sunni Islam's premier institution, is filing suit against her for the play "God Resigns at the Summit Meeting". Saadawi vehemently denies that she fled Egypt because of such threats, preferring to say only that she was seeking "peace of mind" and plans to stay away for only six months to a year so she can attend conferences and teach at a US university. "I have not fled -- I will return to Egypt to confront them," she said. "Corruption, the dangerous economic recession" and an "intellectual class that flatters the Muslim Brotherhood and the regime because they are scared" are reasons to put distance between herself and Egypt right now, she added. Like many fiercely secular intellectuals, Saadawi sees appeasement of the Muslim Brotherhood leading to increased religionism in society, despite the fact that the government is jailing large numbers of the group and freezing their assets. "Egypt has become a backward country -- politically, economically and culturally -- under pressure from the security services," said the author of dozens of books, both fiction and non-fiction, some of which have been translated into 30 languages.

Saadawi, a psychiatrist by profession, became known for dealing with women's issues, especially sexuality, in a frank and open manner that was practically unheard of in Egypt. Two of her books, her autobiography and the play "God Resigns at the Summit Meeting," were pulled from the shelves of the state-organised Cairo international book fair in January. "Al-Azhar has always been under control of the regime," she said, denouncing the institution's attempts at "revenge" against her. In 2005 she ran for president in a short-lived campaign that included a proposal for the sheikh of Al-Azhar to be elected by popular vote rather than being appointed by the president. She eventually abandoned her presidential bid, citing interference from security forces who would not let her hold rallies. Saadawi's writings and outspoken views have repeatedly landed her in hot water, including a short stay in jail in 1981 when then president Anwar Sadat rounded up all intellectuals and tossed them into prison. In the 1990s, it was the turn of Islamist militants to target her, putting her name on their infamous death lists that also included Nobel prize-winning writer Naguib Mahfouz who was later stabbed. In response to these threats, Saadawi became a writer in residence at Duke University's Asian and African Languages department in the United States between 1993 and 1996. In 2001, not long after her return to Egypt, an Islamist lawyer filed a case to divorce her from her husband on the grounds that her beliefs made her an apostate so she could not be married to a Muslim. But Saadawi stayed and managed to defeat the measure in court. Her detractors in Egypt are saying that her supposed exile is little more than a media stunt for her "massive ego" so she can continue publicising her agenda of "hatred for society and religion" as well as "anti-male racism," according to an article in Rose al-Yussef magazine. While the pro-government magazine is as anti-Islamist as the author, it slammed Saadawi for her anti-regime politics and feminist stances, and even accused her of having "sexual issues."  Saadawi has no intention of being cowed by threats and the bad press she is accustomed to receiving. "I've always been threatened," she said. "I live in fear -- it has become a part of me."
© Middle East Online

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IRANIAN WOMEN STRUGGLE FOR EQUALITY

8/3/2007- In the days before International Women's Day, 33 women were arrested in Tehran for peacefully protesting outside a court building. Thirty of them were subsequently released, but warned not to mark the day with protests. Those detained include many of the big names of Iran's women's movement, who are calling for an end to discriminatory laws against women. It is not hard to find women who have been caused great suffering by the law as it stands. "This is my son just after he was born," say Forugh, looking through old photo albums in the tiny apartment where she lives alone. Ali Reza is now seven and Forugh has not been able to see him for many months. When she separated from her husband the judge gave him custody of their child. "From the moment he came home my husband used to start shouting until he left again," she remembers. "So many times it ended in a physical beating". She says Ali Reza would come to her defence: "'Don't do anything to my mum,' he'd say. But he would beat the child and throw him aside".

Painful separation
The judge said Forugh could see Ali Reza for up to 12 hours a week, but they had to meet in a police station. It frightened the child so much she gave up. Now Forugh's ex-husband does not let them meet and even prevents them talking on the phone. Forugh is worried about the damage it has done to Ali Reza. "One time he came to see me after some months and I asked him: 'Do you feel bad that I separated from your father and you are far away from me?' He said: 'No. I could see how much daddy was bothering you'". Forugh breaks down in tears. Her story illustrates how the laws in Iran are weighted against women: the father automatically gets custody of a boy over two years of age or a girl over seven. Forugh lost her child and got no financial support from her ex husband.

Fighting for justice
There are those trying to change things. Parisa is approaching total strangers on the street and talking to them about the legal status of women. She is collecting signatures for a petition asking for the repeal of Islamic laws that discriminate against women. The campaign has struck a chord with many Iranian women like Mahnoush who are fed up with being second class citizens. Mahnoush has just signed the petition and explains why: "I am protesting that in any instance I am considered only half a man... maybe I am more effective than a man so why should my rights be half his". Her friend Shima has also signed because she says she has seen lots of women suffer, even her own mother when she divorced. "The right to divorce is really ridiculous. I have seen women go and say their spouse is a drug addict and the judge says stay with him, at least he can support you. The judges do not consider the value and dignity of women. It's disgusting."

Surrounded by fear
Parisa is nervous being filmed collecting signatures. She thinks plain clothes police are filming us from a parked car nearby even though she only arranged the meeting point at the last minute. Some of her colleagues have been arrested while campaigning. Parisa believes the authorities see them as a threat. "Officials don't want to listen to the women's movement because they think it's something that's come from the west," she explains. She says the interesting thing is the rich, westernised women are less supportive of the campaign to change discriminatory laws than the poor and more conservative women. Parisa thinks it is because less well off women cannot afford good lawyers when they run into trouble.

1,000,000 signatures
The one million signature campaign to change the law began with a peaceful protest last June in one of Iran's biggest squares. Women activists sat on the grass and sang feminist songs. Within minutes the police beat them and started firing tear gas and mace spray. More than 70 people were arrested. Among them 20-two-year old student Delaram Ali who is now on trial. "I am charged with acting against national security, disturbing public order and doing propaganda against the system, and having connections to illegal opposition groups," explains Delaram. She says she spent three days in solitary confinement in Evin Jail after the police injured her hand in the protest last June. Delaram is being defended by Iran's best known woman lawyer, Shireen Ebadi who won the Nobel peace prize for her human rights work. Mrs Ebadi says Iranian law allows peaceful protests, that it is the police not the demonstrators who should be prosecuted for their violent action. "We filed a complaint against the police. Unfortunately although 10 months has passed no representative of the police has come to reply to the complaint in spite of being asked to attend many times," she explains.
© BBC News

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IRANIAN ACTIVISTS ARRESTED AHEAD OF WOMEN'S DAY

More than 30 Iranian women have been arrested in Tehran for protesting against government pressure being put on women's rights activists.

6/3/2007- The women had gathered outside a court in Tehran on 4 March to show their support for four women's rights activists who went on trial that day for organizing a protest last summer against discriminatory laws. Reports say many of the protesters and the activists are now in jail. The arrests are the culmination of a year of increasing pressure on women's rights activists, who have been arrested, summoned to court, threatened, and harassed. Their protests have also been disrupted - in some cases violently - and their websites have been blocked.

Trying to silence activists
Some observers believe the arrests are aimed at intimidating activists who were planning to hold a gathering on 8 March to mark International Women's Day and to protest injustice against women. The move is also seen as an attempt to silence activists who have been fighting for equal rights. Many of those who had called for holding a protest in front of the parliament on 8 March are now in jail. Iranian rights groups report that between 30 and 34 women who were arrested are being held in Tehran's Evin Prison. Among them are four top women's movement leaders: Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani, Parvin Ardalan, Sussan Tahmassebi, and Shahla Entesari.

Right to freely assemble
They went on trial on 4 March in connection with a June gathering against laws that they consider discriminatory against women. Charges against them include acting against Iran's national interests and participating in an illegal gathering. The four leaders were arrested after they left the court and joined other women who had gathered outside Tehran's revolutionary court. They were reportedly holding banners that said: "Holding peaceful gatherings is our absolute right." Activists say the Iranian Constitution ensures the right to holding a peaceful gathering. Yet police forces disrupted the activists on 4 March and drove the women away in minibuses. Peyman Aref, a student activist in Tehran, told Radio Farda that police used force against demonstrators. "They were threatened and they were also beaten up," Aref said. "The crowd - [which] included more than 50 people - tried to resist by sitting on the ground and not reacting to the beatings. Finally, around 10:00, female police came and the activists were arrested."

Possible reaction to activists' campaigns
During the June demonstration, which was also violently dispersed by police, some 70 people were arrested. All of them have since been released. An Iranian rights group, the Student Committee of the Human Rights Reporters, said today that the families of some of those arrested on 4 March gathered in front of Evin Prison and called for their release. Authorities have said they are investigating the case. Azadeh Kian, a lecturer in political science and an Iran researcher at France's National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), believes women's rights advocates are being targeted in connection with two campaigns they have launched in recent months. One campaign aims to end the practice of stoning to death convicted adulterers. Authorities, however, deny that stoning sentences are being carried out. Another campaign aims to gather the signatures of one million Iranians who are in favor of changing discriminatory laws and to present these signatures to the parliament. Islamic laws as applied in Iran deny women equal rights in divorce, child custody, inheritance, and other areas. Kian tells RFE/RL that the campaigns have been well received, leading to concern among Iranian leaders.

'Intolerance for human rights'
"The goal of women's rights activists is to gain the support of women from different classes who are in favor of changing the laws but have so far not joined the women's movement," Kian said. "This leads to concern among some of those in power in Iran about the implications of these actions. I see the arrests of activists [on 4 March] in this relation; it shows that more and more women want changes in laws and also that women's issues are in fact becoming more and more political." Human rights groups have expressed concern over the pressure and persecution of women's rights advocates, including those who are calling for reform legislation. Kian says that by arresting peaceful activists, Iranian leaders are demonstrating their intolerance and lack of respect for human rights. "It shows once more that under the Islamic establishment, especially under the current government, there is no respect for human rights principles," Kian said. "These women were arrested even though they had not committed any violent or armed action against the establishment. None of the demands of these women are against Islam. This shows that the current government is not ready to accept even the slightest opposition." The Center of Human Rights Defenders, cofounded by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, today described the 4 March arrests as "illegal" and called on authorities to release all of those arrested.
© RFE/RL

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ARRESTS OF WOMEN MAY BE AN ATTEMPT TO PREVENT IWD CALLS FOR EQUALITY(Iran, Press release)

Amnesty International today called for the immediate and unconditional release of over 30 women activists who were arrested on Sunday, 4 March while staging a peaceful demonstration in Tehran. The organization believes the arrests may be intended to deter activists from organizing events to mark International Women's Day on 8 March. The women were arrested outside Tehran's Revolutionary Court, where they had gathered to protest at the trial of five women charged in connection with a demonstration held on 12 June 2006 to demand that women be given equal rights with men under the law in Iran. The June demonstration was violently dispersed by security forces, who arrested at least 70 people. "Rather than arresting peaceful demonstrators, the Iranian authorities should be taking seriously women's demands for equality before the law and addressing discrimination against women wherever it exists in the Iranian legal system," said Irene Khan, Amnesty International's Secretary General. "We worry that the women detained yesterday may be kept in detention until after 8 March, a day on which they were planning to campaign for their internationally recognized right to equality."

Those arrested on Sunday, who included at least four of the five on trial, were taken to the Vozara Department for Social Corruption, a detention centre usually used for people accused of minor crimes, such as violations of the dress code. Family members of those detained are said to have gone to the Vozara Building in an attempt to gain access and secure the release of their relatives, without success. According to reports, all the women were later transferred to Section 209 of Evin Prison, which is run by the Ministry of Intelligence and is outside the control of Iran's prison service.

Background
Those arrested in the 12 June 2006 demonstration include Fariba Davoodi Mohajer, Shahla Entesari, Noushin Ahmadi Khorassani, Parvin Ardalan and Sussan Tahmasebi. All had been summoned to appear before Branch 6 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran on charges of "propaganda against the system", "acting against national security" and "participating in an illegal demonstration". Others have also been charged in connection with the 12 June demonstration, but have not yet been summoned to court. Another, Zhila Bani Ya'qoub, a journalist who was among those arrested on 4 March, was tried and acquitted in January 2007 on a charge of participating in an illegal demonstration relating to the 12 June demonstration. In August 2006, Iranian women's rights activists launched a "Campaign for Equality", aimed at collecting a million signatures from Iranians in support of changes to the law to end legalised discrimination against women. The campaign's website has been filtered by the Iranian authorities on several occasions in recent weeks, making it difficult for people in Iran to access information about the campaign. Amnesty International is supporting this campaign and will issue a joint statement calling for equal rights for women in Iran on International Women's Day with Iranian lawyer and prominent human rights activist Shirin Ebadi, 2003 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.
© Amnesty International

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THE FEMALE EXPERIENCE OF RACISM (Opinion)

By Tokumbo Bodundevideo producer and educator. She recently completed her M.A. in media studies.

8/3/2007- I was intrigued when I heard another Black woman use the phrase that is the headline of this article. It sounded different from sexism. And it could just be all words at this point, but whenever I see the larger-than-life ads for Eddie Murphy’s new movie “Norbit,” the phrase rises to the surface again. The ad features two images of Murphy — one as a meek, glasses-donning version of himself and the other as a severely overweight Black woman who’s pinning him down. This particular image of a Black woman is where I have to acknowledge the female experience of racism.

She is the fat, dark-skinned, loud and unattractive bitch. She is positioned in “real” life and in the movie as the opposite of the Thandie Newton-ish slimmer, lighter and sweeter Black woman. She is comic relief. She is who no one, even those of us who are, wants to be. She is undesirable. She has her historical predecessors, from early American television and cinema.

She ain’t new.

Her image, however, consistently gets green-lighted as an appropriate form of comedy for the masses. Comedian Mo’Nique, bless her soul, had a popular television show in which she essentially was that woman — fat, loud and undesirable to the desired man of the show. She has one foot in those old Tom & Jerry cartoons — she’s always screaming. She’s been the character of countless comedic routines for an easy and reliable laugh.

This version of oppression is completely de-politicized, as is anything once you bring being female into the conversation, particularly when it has to do with looks. Be assured though, that if the traditional experience — the male one — of racism were displayed on billboards as if it were comic, the usual suspects would raise hell. When Jesse, Al, and some women, begin marching and addressing a movie like “Norbit,” I’ll believe that we’re getting somewhere.

I don’t know if I can wait for a march though. The mainstream representation, if there ever was one, of the female experience of racism is limited to trite debates where light-skinned and dark-skinned Black women are positioned against each other — à la India Arie/Alicia Keys of a few Grammys past, or Jennifer Hudson/Beyoncé of “Dreamgirls,” or, hell — and this one probably slipped past the radar of most — Angela Bassett/Halle Berry when Bassett explained that she passed on Berry’s “Monster’s Ball” role because she felt it was one of a prostitute.

With these instances as the context, is it any wonder that people might scoff at the notion of “the female experience of racism”? It has been the challenge of Black feminists galore to take on something people don’t realize exists. How do you explain the irony of “Norbit” opening to the number one spot on its first weekend while “Dreamgirls,” a movie that at least attempts to consider different versions of Black womanhood, stood at number 10? Or that “Dreamgirls” has helped restart Murphy’s career, and he follows with “Norbit”? We barely have the tools to consider that, once they are absorbed into the mass media marketplace, there is not much difference between Mo’Nique, Big Momma from the Martin Lawrence movies and Nell Carter from the ’80s sitcom “Gimme a Break.”

It doesn’t make a difference if it’s an actual woman, or men performing in suits, it doesn’t matter if a white person produced the image or not. The totality of these images reaching our eyes and minds via Viacom, GE or Disney all have racist and sexist implications.

It is political. Don’t be fooled by the fact that it seems like this is about looks. It’s not. It’s about humanity and economics, as racism has always been. I know Black women who look like Murphy’s female character Rasputia in “Norbit.” They are all beautiful, complex women who, as a result of real conditions in this world brought on by racism and capitalism, are overweight.

To repeatedly exaggerate us on the big screen as if it were reality and just to entertain everyone is wrong. As is being told in a multitude of ways that being Black, female and overweight is synonymous with being loud, unattractive and undesirable. It is not merely a matter of depoliticized self-esteem. It is an unacceptable, systematic practice of disregarding and disrespecting a significant and specific part of the population.

With the limits that this notion of Black womanhood imposes, everyone misses out. We narrow who we consider for a number of roles, from who we can date to who can lead all of us. So, while a number of us fixate on whether a “Black” man or a white “woman” has a shot at the White House, I refuse to act as if we, or our experiences, don’t exist or matter.
© People's Weekly World Newspaper

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Headlines 2 March, 2007

POLISH MEP DENIES BOOKLET IS ANTI-SEMITIC

28/2/2007- Polish MEP Maciej Giertych has denied that a booklet he published two weeks ago, which sparked uproar for his comments on the Jewish people, is anti-Semitic. Speaking to European Jewish Press, Giertych said: "Those who said it is anti-Semitic haven’t read it. My impression is that critical comments come from people who have not read the book. They read only a few sentences". Giertych unveiled his 32-page booklet two weeks ago at the European Parliament in Strasbourg and published it on his website. The booklet, entitled "Civilisations at war in Europe", claims that Jews are “biologically different” from “gentiles”. "By their own will, they prefer to live a separate life, in apartheid from the surrounding communities," Giertych wrote. "Jews are not pioneers. They do not go conquering the wild world or overpowering the hazards of nature. They settle among other civilisations, preferably among the rich. The tend to migrate from poorer to richer lands," he added. “It is a great misunderstanding to consider anti-Semitism as racism,” the booklet reads. “The Jews of Poland are racially indistinguishable from the Poles.”

Flat denial
But despite evidence to the contrary, Giertych, a former head of the ultra-Catholic League of Polish Families and the father of Poland’s deputy prime minister, Roman Giertych, flatly denied the accusations. "If you read the book as a whole, you wil realize that it is far from being anti-Semitic," he said. He criticised the journalists who, he said, didn’t read the book. "They first write and then try to find something to support what they wrote," he said. He said his text, published in English, is an attempt to promote the teaching of Polish professor Feliks Koneczny, who has developed a "very interesting" method of classifying civilisations. "I am presenting his methods of classification," Giertych said. "It is in fact a contribution to the big discussion occurring in the world at the moment about the clash of civilisations." "You may like it or not but don’t say I am anti-Semitic because this has nothing to do with anti-Semitism,".

Publicity drive
Giertych went on to thank his critics for raising his profile through their criticism. "I am very grateful to all those who have criticised me because it gave me a lot of publicity". The European Parliament said it didn’t funded Giertych’s booklet although it bears a prominent logo of the EU institution. The parliament’s president has requested an administrative investigation into the use of the institution for the publication. Giertych, who is a member of the new extreme-rightist political group, told EJP : "The regulation within the European Parliament is that you have first to publish with the logo and then apply for payment. I did apply and I am still awaiting for reimbursement of the costs of publishing the booklet".
© EJP

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‘WE’RE NOT DEALING WITH ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS’ (Cyprus)

28/2/2007- The state ombudswoman yesterday repeated her call for the government to find a more humane way of dealing with illegal immigrants, including a proposal that would lessen the jail-time for such an offence. Eliana Nicolaou presented the House Human Rights Committee with her 2005 annual report, with discussions at the meeting centring mainly on human rights’ issues. Also present at the meeting were Attorney-general Petros Clerides, Law Commissioner Leda Koursoumba and Police Chief Charalambos Koulentis. “We concentrated on the matter of illegal immigrants, rejected asylum seekers facing deportation and both parties’ remand in various holding cells,” Committee Chairman, Sophoclis Fyttis of DIKO, said after the meeting. Of the total illegal entries, Fyttis said 95 per cent came south through various points across the Green Line, having arrived in the occupied north through Turkey. In her report, Nicolaou described as “wretched and on the verge of humiliating” the way in which immigrants were being kept in prison and the general way in which their cases were handled. Nicolaou yesterday told deputies that despite her repeated and varied recommendations on ways to improve the situation, the problem has remained largely untouched. There are currently 607 men held at Nicosia Central Prison, out of which 286 are immigrants. Of those men: 76 are serving time for property offences (such as theft); 45 are in for drug offences; 22 for various forms of assault; 11 for sex crimes; two for trafficking offences; one for forgery and the rest for various other crimes – such as illegal entry, residence and occupation in Cyprus. The police chief added that there were another 128 immigrants in police holding cells all over Cyprus, either as prisoners or awaiting deportation.

Nicolaou said some steps had been taken to improve the situation since her report was published – including the creation of a special holding area in Mosphiloti and the improvement of police holding cells – but immigrants’ long-term imprisonment was definitely a violation of human rights. “Regardless of how these immigrants arrived they do not obtain travel documents and they are held for a long time, without being deported or someone finding another way to resolve their problem,” said Nicolaou. She added that a provision could be considered, so that persons are not kept indefinitely but for a period of three months – like in Greece – or 42 days like in France, and then are left free under restrictive conditions. The AG confirmed that the vast majority of illegal immigrants come from the north. “From what I have heard, when they are arrested some of these immigrants bring with them a special document in Greek and in many incidents, there is more than one name written on them, with which they apply for asylum.” Furthermore, Clerides said he had heard that these documents were provided by Greek Cypriot lawyers and specific law firms had made a lot of money out of such cases. This, he added, had concerned the Bar Association, which had also imposed disciplinary fines. “The matter of illegal immigrants is a difficult and complicated one,” said Clerides, expressing his concern over reducing the time in which immigrants are held. “There are many who would be willing to remain in remand for 42 days and then receive permission to stay and move through the European Union freely,” he pointed out. He added, “In many instances, these people are not prosecuted for petty crimes if they accept to return to their country, so we send them home instead of prison”. Police Chief Koulentis promised that by the end of July, holding cells will have improved vastly. In addition 128 new places will be opened in police holding areas: 38 in Nicosia, 30 in Limassol, 42 in Paphos and 18 in Larnaca. The total cost of this expansion is estimated at £8 million. Representing the Justice Ministry, Andreas Louka informed the committee that construction work at the holding cells would be complete by the end of 2008, while cells at the Central Prison were also being upgraded and increased. Furthermore, the prison’s Medical Centre will be completed, along with the improvement of the wing for psychiatric patient prisoners and rehabilitation will be renovated.

‘A worrying trend from the north’
Police chief Charalambos Koulentis said it cost the state vast amounts of money to deport immigrants, with one incident once reaching £8,000. Holding cells for immigrants are in a dire condition, he added, with some inmates having even resorted to suicide. According to police statistics, a total of 5,287 people arrived illegally to Cyprus in 2004, with only seven of the reported entries coming through the south. In the same year, 9,859 immigrants requested political asylum. In 2005, 5,191 illegal immigrants arrived to Cyprus, out of which only 16 came through the south. In the same year, 7,745 immigrants applied for asylum, out of which 3,911 came from the occupied areas. And in 2006, Koulentis said 3,778 people illegally entered the Cyprus Republic, out of which 3,762 entered from the occupied north. From those, 1,147 wilfully returned to their countries. In the same year, 4,131 immigrants applied for asylum – 2,000 of which arrived from the occupied areas. Regarding illegal employment, Koulentis said 390 immigrants had been reported during 2004, 626 during 2005 and the number increased to 1,004 during 2006. Employers reported for illegally taking on immigrants were: 256 in 2004; 362 in 2005 and 592 in 2006. And finally, there were 2,801 deportations in 2004, rising to 2,849 in 2005 and then 2,983 in 2006. Immigrants denied entry were 2,550 during 2004; 2,018 during 2005 and 1,830 during 2006.
© Cyprus Mail

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TWO-FACED(Kosovo, Roma)

In the conflict between Kosovo’s Serbs and Albanians, Roma negotiate the tricky in-between.
By Jessica Meyers, student at the University of California-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

Saffet Ramic has learned to travel with a screwdriver since the war. On a dusty back street in Mitrovica, Ramic pulls his van to the side of the road. He gets out and fishes the screwdriver from his right pocket. Then he slides off the license plates with their Kosovo registration tags, throws them inside and climbs back in. “It’s so the Serbs don’t kill us,” he says matter-of-factly. It’s permissible to drive without plates in this part of the city since Kosovo tags are not accepted here. Several blocks later as the van chugs again into ethnic Albanian territory, he reattaches the plates. “It’s so the Albanians don’t kill us,” Ramic, 30, chuckles, his bronze- colored skin revealing that he is neither ethnic Albanian nor Serb, but one of approximately 30,000 Roma, sometimes referred to as “Gypsies,” who are part of Kosovo’s population of 2 million. In a region where ethnic tensions fester eight years after the conflict between Serbian forces and Kosovo Albanians, Ramic navigates between two clearly defined worlds, although he fits in neither. Like the license plates he slides on and off, Ramic’s identity shifts with necessity and convenience. More than 150,000 Roma were caught in the 1998–1999 war, when many were targeted by ethnic Albanian forces who considered them Serb collaborators, while the Serbian army routed Roma from Kosovo Albanian villages. Thousands moved to temporary camps and still live there. More than 120,000 fled the country before eventual NATO intervention, Serbian defeat, and the establishment of a UN protectorate in Kosovo. Partly as a result of the conflict, many Roma – a term that can also encompass the Albanian-speaking Ashkali and those claiming Egyptian heritage – have adapted their identity to survive. Although Ramic considers himself Roma, in some cases it’s safer for him to say he’s Ashkali. It remains unclear whether the country will regain enough stability to ensure Ramic a definitive identity or other Roma a safe return to their homes. Pending the conclusion of a final agreement this year, Kosovo is poised to become an independent state, a triumph for Albanians but a devastating loss to Serbs. In a land where others hold fast to their identities, the Roma – without country and cohesiveness – live between the cracks. Many just want to go home.

History relived
With independence and more violence a possibility, the Roma are scared, disillusioned, and tired of being in the middle of someone else’s war. To this minority, Kosovo’s status is just another opportunity for trampled rights, empty promises, and more displacement. Ramic winces as a man in a blue police uniform motions him to pull over. He slows down the van and prepares to speak Albanian. If the cop is Albanian, he will be Ashkali today. The police officer glances at his papers and, recognizing Ramic’s Serbian-speaking home village, addresses him in Serbian. The Romani man breathes a sigh of relief. Several kilometers later, the van stops in front of the bridge that connects northern Mitrovica to its Kosovo Albanian counterpart in the south. “I don’t want to drive there,” Ramic says, looking out at the symbolic divide of the Ibar river. He parks the van several meters from the bridge and waits. Located in Kosovo’s northernmost region, the Mitrovica region borders Serbia and is considered one of the areas most prone to violence. In a city where a tangible divide separates one ethnicity from the other, both the Serbs in northern Mitrovica and the ethnic Albanians in the south are particularly jittery about the consequences of Kosovo’s possible independence.

Fitting in
“We are the bridge and everyone drives over us,” says another Roma, Dzafer Micini, 38, sitting on the floor of his three-room house in Kosovo Polje. He remembers the smoking remains of his neighbors’ homes, memories relived five years later when Albanians attacked the town again. The village is a target because it stands on the site of the great medieval battle where an Ottoman army defeated the Serbs, an event that still generates Serbian nationalist passion. Muslim Albanians are seen as descendants of the Turkish oppressors. The Serb enclave has about 15 Serb families and five Romani houses. Micini worries that ethnic Albanians will burn the predominantly Serb village, and he is desperately trying to sell his house. Like many Roma, however, he doesn’t have the proper documents to do so. “We can’t be a lamb among wolves,” he says, glancing at his youngest son playing with flimsy holiday decorations in the corner. The black woodstove warms the sparse room, darkened by the daily electrical outage. He says he even worries about sending his children to the market. “Albanians and Serbs are fickle. When they need us to fight they say we are brothers. Otherwise, they say, ‘Gypsies, go away.’ ” Micini is lucky. He escaped to Serbia during the war and his house was one of the few in the village still standing when he returned a year later.

When riots broke out in March 2004, Micini was not at home. He was in Pristina with several other male relatives. He could not return to his wife and children in Kosovo Polje 12 kilometers away and doesn’t want to relive that feeling of helplessness a third time. If the Serbs who populate the village are forced out, he says, the Roma will have no choice but to leave, too. Most Roma now live in Serb enclaves, small villages scattered throughout Kosovo where Cyrillic lettering replaces the Latin alphabet Albanians use. During Slobodan Milosevic’s brutal decade-long regime that restricted Kosovo Albanian freedoms, even the Roma received some rights not afforded to ethnic Albanians, who make up about 90 percent of the population. When the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) took control of the province and established a provisional government led by Kosovo Albanians after the war, Roma found themselves displaced and despised, unable to slide into either ethnic group who claim ownership of the land. It became only marginally safer to identity oneself as an Albanian-speaking Ashkali. In a place more populated by self-described Roma than Ashkali, the war and continuing violence has created a shift in self-definition. Yet neither Roma nor Ashkali are really sure labels matter. In the end, all feel the consequences of war. “More people became Ashkali during the war,” says Akif Mustafa, 48, a Romani man from the Serb enclave of Plemetina. He draws a circle in the air. “This is a circle of bread. The bread is breaking into pieces,” he says, symbolizing the creation of the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians. “But you see, it’s just broken bread. We are all Roma and we are all still the poorest in the world.”

Choosing toxic lead over relocation
The Roma are the poorest minority group in Kosovo, with the least education and highest unemployment rates. More than a third live in extreme poverty, compared with 4 percent of Serbs and 13 percent of ethnic Albanians, according to UN Development Program reports. With little money and nowhere to go, many could not flee the region when their houses were burned down in 1999. Those who could not pay a smuggler to get to Germany or escape to family in Serbia wound up in UN-run camps within the protectorate. Almost eight years later, most are still there. “The Gypsies are worse off now than they were during the Holocaust,” says Paul Polansky, founder of Kosovo Roma Refugee Foundation and an amateur Roma scholar. Polansky recently conducted more than 100 oral interviews of Romani Holocaust survivors and says the current situation of the Kosovo Roma is also an atrocity. Nowhere is the plight of the Kosovo Roma more evident than in the lead-contaminated camps clustered at the edge of northern Mitrovica. One of them, Cesmin Lug, sits on the edge of Mitrovica’s Serb side. Slag heaps, where the lead originates, form the backdrop of this miniature shantytown of haphazard tin shacks. A trail of drying pink and yellow quilts leads to Sebiha Bajrami’s house. Inside, two women punch dough and place it in the thick iron stove that warms the two-room house. Hers is one of 40 families who chose to live in the contaminated camp rather than in the new camp across the road. Called Osterode, it is the UN’s solution to the lead contamination in Mitrovica’s three camps for internally displaced people.

“In Cesmin Lug there is lead poisoning, and a few meters away in Osterode it’s the same,” says Bajrami, 35, who does not believe the authorities’ assurances that Osterode is a healthier environment. “At least in Cesmin Lug we always have water and it is cleaner because fewer people live here and they clean it.” One hundred sixty-six people currently live in the camp, compared with 463 in Osterode. Bajrami’s skepticism stems largely from UNMIK’s failure to address the World Health Organization’s concern about the camps’ lead levels in 2000. The WHO links repeated exposure – often through air, water, and food – to miscarriages and brain damage. Lead most profoundly affects children. A Romani journalist who works for a local Serbian radio station, Bajrami has helped establish a Romani women’s organization that makes beaded necklaces and colorful table coverings in the camp. For all the clothes, food, and services nongovernmental organizations have promised, she complains, the situation has remained the same. “This would be our fourth camp and we are tired of all the camps,” she says. “We want to go back to our neighborhood, not Osterode.” Yet, it’s not necessarily safer there. One of only a few camp inhabitants who ventures to southern Mitrovica, Bajrami takes certain precautions when her job takes her there. She never refers to herself as Roma and speaks only Albanian. Once, Bajrami recalled, she was accosted by an Albanian man who recognized her name. Was she the girl who read the news in Serbian, he demanded. “I said, ‘Yes, I am the slave reading other people’s news. Find me someplace else to work then,' ” she says. Bajrami hopes to open her own Romani radio station some day, one that plays traditional Romani music and stays away from Balkan politics. First, though, like virtually everyone else in the camps, she wants to go home.

The cycle of forgetting
Outside the tin-roofed encampment and a few steps up the road, a barbed-wire fence and heavy gate separate Bajrami and the rest of Mitrovica from Osterode, the new camp declared “lead-free” by UNMIK. An Albanian guard stands watch from his small kiosk. Recognizing the white truck of Norwegian Church Aid, he swings the gate forward without the usual interrogation procedures. The nonprofit has taken over management of the camp, a series of one-level white barracks and a brick two-story building. Despite the brightly colored shirts and towels strung on makeshift laundry poles, the camp has the austere feeling of the French military base it used to be. Paved asphalt replaces the muddy soil on the other side of the gate. Parents jiggle wailing children on their hips in a line that winds out of the camp’s makeshift clinic. Located in a corner of the compound, the clinic’s two rooms are filled with cotton swabs and vitamins. It is here that treatment for lead poisoning has begun. Next door, “cat” and “dog” are scribbled on a white board in a room where youth language classes are held. A flight of stairs leads to the women’s center, where classes are offered in hygiene and child-rearing. Despite these services, inhabitants point out that the fundamental reality is that they still can’t go home. “Nothing has changed,” says Skender Gusani, the leader of Osterode, Cesmin Lug, and Leposavic camps. “When people moved to Osterode they were promised many things and nothing improved. They were promised 24 hours of water, nonstop electricity, and central heaters. The lead is better but now children get other illnesses because of the conditions.” Water pressure remains inconsistent, as does electricity, but this is the situation all over Mitrovica, says Hasan Kelmendi, the Osterode camp manager employed by Norwegian Church Aid. “I can tell you that Osterode is better than all the camps,” he says pointing out the toilet facilities and washers and dryers. Each family is allotted a small heater but it serves little purpose when the electricity goes out, says Gusani, who recounts stories of families gathering sticks and making fires on the pavement to keep warm. They are tired of bouncing among camps, constrained by regulations and now these gates. “We live like animals, Gusani says. “Security is always checking our pockets. It’s like living in a concentration camp.” Neville Fouche, the UNMIK Roma Task Force coordinator, says the gates are more for safety than obstruction. They allow the agency to monitor what comes into the camps, like car batteries. Fouche believes the burning of these batteries, to extract and sell the lead inside, worsened the lead problem in the previous camps. He emphasizes that the new Osterode camp, which consolidates three camps into one, is a temporary solution. “We have no intention to make it permanent,” he says. “This is a transfer center only for medical conditions.” The ultimate goal is for the inhabitants to return to their former neighborhoods, he says.

Somewhere in between
The guttural sound of German syllables collides with the lyrical tone of Romani as Feruz Jahirovic opens the door and greets his extended family, some of the newer camp inhabitants. Unlike Jahirovic, who has spent eight years in the camps and now lives across the pavement in the one-level barracks, nine members of his family spent the past 15 years in Munster, Germany. Up a flight of dimly lit steps, they are squeezed into two rooms in the red-brick building toward the back of Osterode. Jahirovic’s is one of a growing number of Romani families who have lost their refugee status abroad and have been forced to return. The Council of Europe estimates that more than 1,000 Roma have been sent back to Kosovo. One hundred thousand still face forcible return from abroad, predominately from Germany. It’s difficult for Jahirovic’s children to interact with their cousins since the newer arrivals grew up in Germany and speak German. They landed in Osterode a year and a half ago, leaving their home rather than returning to one. “They had a life like other kids in Europe,” Jahirovic says, shaking his head as he looks at the his teenage nephew and niece, whose English is better than their Serbian. “Now what do they do? What do we do?” Refugee return has increased pressure on international authorities to find places for Roma to live. In Mitrovica, UNMIK and two nongovernmental organizations have built two gleaming mauve and lavender apartment buildings that leap into view from across the river. Also standing among the ruins are 54 family houses established by the Danish Refugee Council along with two more partially erected apartment complexes funded by Norwegian Church Aid. They are for people who once lived in the neighborhood where they are being built. From his vantage point in the north, Jahirovic looks at the new buildings that sit directly across the Ibar river in southern Mitrovica, no longer a careless jaunt across the bridge. He remembers wandering through the spacious rooms of his brother’s house before one of the richest and largest Roma neighborhoods in the region was destroyed. Ninety-four families applied for 48 new apartment spots but Jahirovic is not on the list. He has nine children, the most of anyone in Osterode. Seventy percent of the camps’ residents come from that neighborhood on the other side of town. Jahirovic, however, lived in a village nearby that was burned down and, like his relatives from Germany, he did not make the cut. “Where do we go, live on the street?” he asks about the 30 percent of camp inhabitants who are not originally from the neighborhood that once held 8,000 people. When proper documentation became an issue in assessing who once lived in the neighborhood, the Danish Refugee Council decided to rebuild houses on private land for Roma who could prove ownership. Norwegian Church Aid agreed to build four apartment buildings on municipal land for those without papers. The rest are not sure what to do. “As a minority, I don’t care who will be the head of Kosovo. I am just interested in the freedom to work, security, and my children,” Jahirovic says, looking past the camp’s wire fence.

Prospects of return
Until last year, the only evidence of the neighborhood’s former inhabitants was caved-in brick buildings and crumbling walls. Now the area mirrors other construction efforts occurring across Kosovo: huge, colorful, and essentially vacant. Nevertheless, the reconstruction of Fabricka Mahala – mahala, a Turkish word for “quarter” meaning the same in both Serbian and Albanian – is the largest Romani return project ever undertaken in the Balkans, according to Fouche. For those who will settle in the mahala, its location in southern Mitrovica means a switch in services and languages. Those living in the camps have been receiving social services from the Serbian government, and their children have been attending Serbian-language schools. When they return to the mahala most will attend Albanian-language schools and may no longer receive aid from Serbia. With all the uncertainties, some Roma, like long-time leader Gusani, who used to live here, refuse to go back to their old neighborhood. “Will my son be able to go ahead with his education?” Gusani asks, voicing a concern of many Roma in the camps. “Will he have freedom of movement from his house?” he adds, reflecting the fact that the security of residents in Serb enclaves such as northern Mitrovica is not guaranteed in Albanian territory. Like Gusani, many Roma are still concerned about returning to the same neighborhood from which they were expelled. Fouche says an international peacekeeping officer will monitor the area and drive by it every two hours. Gusani says Fouche has not mentioned this to him. “No one can guarantee my children will have a safe future,” he says about why he has chosen not to return to the mahala. He travels to the south only when escorted by UNMIK for meetings. If he must go alone he tells people he is coming from an Ashkali neighborhood. “If the Roma and Ashkali return, there will be violence,” he says resolutely.

Lasting fear
Tina Gidzic, a Romani woman of 20, gets jabbing pains in her stomach when she drives past her former village, Dobrevo. The town is now a pile of rubble seen from the Pristina–Mitrovica highway. She has no hopes of return. Her family continues to live in Kosovo, but her home is now with her husband in Nis, Serbia’s closest big town to the protectorate. The drive past Dobrevo conjures memories of war more than place for Gidzic. It was destroyed in 1999 when she was 13 and has not been rebuilt. Gidzic remembers growing up with the sounds of bombs a backdrop to her mother’s scoldings not to go outside. Her younger brother was born in Preoce, a small Serb enclave 10 kilometers outside of Pristina where her parents fled and now live. “I am getting nervous,” she says, referring not only to the drive past her leveled village but to the uncertain situation regarding Kosovo’s status. “The Roma here are Muslims like Albanians but we don’t want to hurt the Serbs,” who are Orthodox, she says. “We are living with the Serbs all the time, but they will say that we are helping the Albanians.” Even if not always the target, the Roma will get caught in the crossfire, Gidzic believes. “When the Albanians attack Serbs they don’t know which house is Serb or Roma so they will burn the whole village. That is how there will be violence against us.” Tina jumps out of the van and closes the gate to her family’s new house, a two-story structure that belonged to her grandfather. She joins her mother, warming herself in the one heated room in the house. Gidzic’s mother, Miradija, still cries when she looks at the picture of her crumbled Dobrevo home. Worn from years of touch, the photograph shows Tina’s father walking away from a half-destroyed building. Miradija points to it and says one of the few words of English she knows, “home.”

Attempts at mobilization
The Roma are not entirely silent on the topic of independence, the young Gidzic least of all. “This is the way it should be,” she says, over her second cup of dark, syrupy Turkish coffee in the combination dining room, bedroom, and living room. “The Serbs should go back to Serbia, the Albanians to Albania, and then the Roma can have Kosovo.” After eight years of floating identities in a land that might never be theirs, some Roma are taking action. Romani activists are openly criticizing the UN mission here. They have recently produced a position paper detailing the minority group’s desires in an independent Kosovo. Among their demands are Romani participation in decisions on Kosovo’s status as well as a return strategy for refugees. “If we are not clear cut about what the minorities want in Kosovo there will be a whole new set of problems,” says Bashkim Ibishi, one of the lead authors of the position paper. Ibishi, a Romani man, is also the UN minority affairs officer for Kosovo. “There is no program of assistance because nobody wants to deal with us,” he says. Fifty kilometers away, Saffet Ramic doesn’t have plans to remove the screwdriver from his pocket anytime soon. He flips the plates absent-mindedly and mentions a discussion he had with a man from Kosovo Polje. They are considering starting a business importing shoes from Albania and selling them cheaply in Kosovo. “That’s my plan,” he says jumping into the worn driver’s seat. Then he pauses, a wan smile appearing on his face as he pulls the van onto the darkening road. “If we still exist.”
© Transitions Online

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COURT CLEARS SERBIA OF GENOCIDE

26/2/2007- The UN's highest court has cleared Serbia of direct responsibility for genocide during the 1990s Bosnian war. But the International Court of Justice did rule that Belgrade had violated international law by failing to prevent the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica. Bosnia brought the case and would have sought billions of dollars from Serbia in compensation if successful. The case is the first of a state being charged with genocide. Individuals have been convicted of genocide in Bosnia. The Bosnian Muslim leader expressed disappointment at the ruling, which was welcomed both in Serbia and the Bosnian Serb Republic. At least 100,000 people died in the 1992-1995 war, triggered by the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. Bosnia's Muslims and Croats wanted to cut ties with Belgrade, a move opposed by Bosnian Serbs.

No reparations
The case, Bosnia and Herzegovina versus Serbia and Montenegro, began a year ago and a panel of judges has been deliberating since hearings ended in May 2006. Bosnia argued that Belgrade incited ethnic hatred, armed Bosnian Serbs and was an active participant in the killings. Belgrade said the conflict was an internal war between Bosnia's ethnic groups and denied any state role in genocide. In the ruling, the president of the court, Judge Rosalyn Higgins, said: "The court finds that the acts of genocide at Srebrenica cannot be attributed to the respondent's (Serbia) state organs." However the court added that the leaders of Serbia failed to comply with its international obligation to prevent the killings and punish hose responsible. The court also rejected Bosnia's claim for reparations. "Financial compensation is not the appropriate form of reparation," the ruling said. The war crimes tribunal in The Hague has already found individuals guilty of genocide in Bosnia and established the Srebrenica massacre as genocide.

Stalled talks
Under a 1995 peace accord, Bosnia remained a single state, but power was devolved to a Muslim-Croat federation and a Bosnian Serb Republic. The BBC's Nicholas Walton in Sarajevo says many Bosnian Muslims were hoping for a clear ruling that Serbia as a state was responsible for pursuing a genocide in Bosnia during the 1990s. The Bosnian Muslim member of the country's tripartite presidency, Haris Siladzic, told the BBC there was "disappointment" at the outcome. However he welcomed the fact that the court had "ruled that Serbia and Montenegro had violated the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide by not preventing or punishing the perpetrators of the genocide". In the Serb Republic, Krstan Simic, a senior member of the governing ruling Union of Independent Social-Democrats, said he was pleased that the judges had taken "real facts " into account. In Serbia itself, President Boris Tadic welcomed the judgement and urged parliament to pass a declaration "condemning the crime in Srebrenica without any doubt". The German presidency of the European Union urged Serbia "to use today's judgment as a further opportunity to distance itself from the crimes committed by the Milosevic regime". The ruling comes with Serbia still facing challenges linked to the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. Admission talks with the EU have been stalled over Belgrade's failure to hand over war crimes suspects for trial.
© BBC News

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THE WORLD UNDER ONE ROOF(Bosnia and Herzegovina)

An international school in Bosnia has shown that students here do not have to be segregated.
By Mirna Skrbic, TOL’s correspondent in Sarajevo.


28/2/2007- Last year Omri Beeri traveled from Israel to Mostar to attend an international gymnasium, or high school. Beeri, 16, said when he arrived in the city it took him some time to understand that Mostar was divided from the 1992–1995 war – that people of different ethnicities lived separately. “At first, I was a bit surprised, as I’m not used to living in a city like Mostar,” Beeri said. “It was also a bit of a visual shock at the beginning to see that parts of the city were still destroyed. Then I started to love this place. The city is beautiful, I have friends of all nationalities, and I see no reason for them to be separate.” After a few months of attending school and getting to know Mostar better, he understood why it is important to have a united school offering an international experience at the heart of a divided city. Beeri attends the United World College, one of 12 around the world meant to bring together students of different nationalities, chosen on the basis of merit. The program was introduced in Mostar this school year. While some schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina still face the problem of ethnic segregation 11 years after the end of the war, and others are slowly integrating students of Croat, Serbian, or Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) background in the same classrooms, the United World College seems to have bridged the gap overnight. This school year’s pioneers come from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina and 18 other countries. The nearly 100 students are taught in English, and they learn according to the same, non-national, curriculum, which is unusual in a country where children of different ethnicities have been taught in different ways since the war.

The 1995 Dayton peace accords, which divided the country into two entities, the Federation and the Republika Srpska, did not make any provisions for education. While the Republika Srpska features a more centralized education system, education responsibility in the Federation is devolved to its 10 cantons. Education reform is significantly complicated by administrative fragmentation, and students and teachers find it difficult to move from one school to another because of differing education standards. Segregation in Bosnia and Herzegovina – seen frequently as “two schools under one roof” – has been especially prevalent in the predominantly Bosniak and Croat Federation. In more than 50 schools, children of different ethnicities enter through separate entrances and are taught according to different national curricula. Although a 2003 law on primary and secondary education was supposed to act as an administrative and legal unifier of schools, it has been difficult to implement in Bosnia’s complex education system. Currently, three national curricula are in place, where children are taught in separate languages – Croatian, Serbian, and Bosnian – despite the fact that the three languages are perfectly mutually intelligible. The programs differ particularly on the subjects of history and geography, with each side offering its own interpretation, especially of the war.

Thinking for themselves
The United World College breaks this mold. “The students are encouraged to think analytically, to recognize that different opinions do exist and that it is all right to have different opinions,” said Mirna Jancic, development director of the UWC-International Baccalaureate program in Bosnia and Herzegovina. For instance, she said, when studying history, students are expected to look at different sources and to consider the motivations of authors behind each document in order to form an opinion. “It is okay for them to have different opinions,” Jancic said. “That is how the entire world works. Through their subjects, students are being taught how to think critically and are encouraged to become open-minded and to become responsible for what they believe in, so that they do not believe in something only because someone else told them to believe it.” This approach is a departure for many Bosnian students, who typically study from a curriculum that includes up to 17 subjects and who are seldom encouraged to think critically. Irma Husic, a student from Mostar, said she feels more able to speak to her teachers at the UWC on any concerns she might have with her studies. She also relishes the exchange of languages and cultures that the school offers. “You really can’t see the differences between us when we’re all working together,” she said. But Husic, 17, admitted that it’s not quite the easier ride she expected. “At the beginning, I thought that the work load would be lighter, as I have six subjects at UWC, and I used to have up to 17 subjects at my former school,” Husic said. “However, this is not the case, as these six subjects are studied in depth.”

A lesson for educators?
So what ideas can Bosnia and Herzegovina borrow from the UWC and its two-year, International Baccalaureate curriculum? “This may be an international school, but everything that the college is doing, the majority of it, is applicable and can be transferred to our system,” Jancic said. In teacher workshops to take place in the next year and a half, the aim is to concentrate on the applicable parts of the curriculum and to encourage the teachers from across the country to create a network through which they will be able to lobby for change, Jancic said. Lamija Tanovic, a professor at the Faculty of Science of the University of Sarajevo and chair of the executive committee of the UWC-IB program in Mostar, helped bring the IB curriculum to Bosnia, where it debuted in a Sarajevo gymnasium in 2000. Tanovic said Bosnian education officials have started to address the issue of a state examination and that UWC staff are working with authorities to consider as a model a system of standardized exams already in use at the UWC and schools in Sarajevo and Banja Luka that use the IB curriculum. Such a project could go a long way toward fighting the corruption that plagues the current exam system, Tanovic said. The UWC and the International Baccalaureate program can create templates, but they also serve a philosophical purpose. “The UWC in Mostar has two important roles,” Tanovic said. “One of them is the teacher-training center, where we will bring together teachers from around the country and show them the uniqueness of this way of teaching within the framework of the IB program, as well as the uniqueness of UWC in general.” In addition, Tanovic said, the Mostar UWC “returns to the original idea of the college,” which was founded in Wales in 1962 to bridge Cold War divides. With the end of the Cold War, Tanovic said, the program’s focus shifted. “And now you have Mostar, a witness to a ‘hot’ rather than a cold war, that now offers a chance to go back to that original idea,” Tanovic said.

At the Mostar gymnasium that hosts the UWC, Tanovic said, “You have 800 children who enter the school’s doors each morning, who study different national curricula and are separated in all possible ways. And now we have placed the UWC between them, which has a hundred children from around the world, many of whom are from Mostar and are learning in English according to the IB program. “Through the college itself, we are showing that this segregation has nothing to do with our children, that it is artificial and political, and that children can prepare very well for university in a system that has nothing to do with a specific national program or language,” Tanovic said. Still, it remains to be seen how much influence the Mostar UWC can have on education reform in a country as riven as Bosnia and Herzegovina. If its teachers and boosters had their way, the force of the UWC would be considerable. But there’s always the question of political will to be dealt with. One ally UWC’s champions may have, however, is the accession process into the European Union, which will require significant changes in Bosnia’s education system. But if the Mostar UWC does nothing else, it has already proven that students in Bosnia and Herzegovina can thrive while learning side-by-side, under one curriculum, regardless of language, ethnicity or tradition.
© Transitions Online

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DISCRIMINATION OF CZECH ROMANIES AT WORK TO BE REDUCED BY NGO

23/2/2007- A Czech civic group that helps Romanies to find jobs will now make the firms change their internal rules so that they do not discriminate against Romanies, Petr Kubacka from the group IQ Roma servis told CTK today. Romanies often come across discrimination when they look for new jobs. It happens that when they come for the interview, they are told that some skills are needed for the work that they do not have, although the ad had not included any such requirements, Petr Kubacka said. The association will work with twelve firms within the pilot project. The activists are selecting the specific employers. These should be companies with over 50 employees. This year, IQ Roma servis will work with them and after the firms change their rules so that none of the existing or new employees could be discriminated against over their race or ethnic origin, they will receive a certificate and the right to use a logo, Kubacka said. Kubacka said that the employer would be able to present itself positively to the public, its partners, clients and consumers. The project will last a year and the EU will cover some 80 percent of the costs. The group has received the subsidy of 60,000 euros, Kubacka said. IQ Roma servis expects the Romanies and other socially marginalised people to collect their experiences. It expects tens of clients to join the project as Romanies mostly do not speak about discrimination and do not seek any help. The data will be used for a DVD with information about the anti-discrimination legislation. It will be given both to the employers and authorities, Kubacka said.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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COLLECTION FOR EVICTED CZECH ROMANY FAMILIES DROPPED

23/2/2007- Czech Minister without Portfolio Dzamila Stehlikova (Greens) has dropped the idea of a collection for the Romany families evicted by the town hall in Vsetin, North Moravia, from their ramshackle houses to other regions in Moravia last year, the Government Press Office told CTK today. The evicted Romanies have refused the financial help. The promised money from politicians and further donors should be sent to the Olga Havlova Good Will Foundation, the Government Press Office said. When Christian Democrat leader, senator Jiri Cunek, was the mayor of Vsetin, the town hall evicted the Romanies from a dilapidated tenant house in the town centre last October. Most of the families were moved to "container-type" house at the town edges and the rest went to the Jesenice region where they were given some ramshackle houses. Romanies are to repay them for 20 years. Stehlikova originally wanted to gain a 1.5-million subsidy for repair works for the Romanies. However, state money cannot be used for private property. This prompted Stehlikova to plan a collection. She sharply criticised Cunek for the eviction of the Romanies as he had pushed the solution to another town hall. Cunek replied that she did not understand the problem. The evicted families have appreciated Stehlikova's interest, but they have refused the offered money. In a letter for Stehlikova, they said that they were trying to repair their homes, that their children attend the school and one of the men has found a job despite the high unemployment rate in the area. Stehlikova said that the facts had shown that the evicted Romany families were not unadaptable. This should prompt politicians to solve the problems in the place in question and not to "multiply them by their export to other localities," she added.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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ITALY WITH SPECIAL LAW AGAINST GYPSIES FROM BULGARIA

26/2/2007- The number of travellers on the planes that fly in Italy from Sofia and Bucharest is not increasing. There was no influx of Bulgarians and Romanians on the Slovenian-Italian border, near to Trieste-the natural front door of Italy to workers from the two Balkan countries. In the first two days since Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU, the real invasion did not came from outside, it came from inside, says the Italian publication "Balkans". The report is connected with the news from yesterday that the last born baby for 2006 and the first one for 2007 ,were borned in Torino, Italy, and were Romanian babies. The Romanians and the Bulgarians already have the same rights as the French, German and Spanish people. The Italian newspaper "Kordillere de la Sera", mentioned their hopes that the EU is not going to be sorry for the early expansion. They also give the information that the Italian non-governmental organisations like "Kariras" and "Initiatives and examinations of the multi-ethnics societies" Foundation, are competeting to make prognosis of how many Romanians and Bulgarians will come to Italy. The expectations vary from 60 to 105 who will rush to Italy. It is not so easy to prognosticate strictly, but the Italians are more afraid from the Gypsies, who are 2.5% of the total population of the two Balkan European members. According to "Kordillere de la sera", the Italian Government is considering new draft of the law, for the coming Gypsies in Italy, most of who got no ID. The journal informed that on the New years Eve, from all the centers of temporarily stay in Italy, the Bulgarians and Romanians, arrested for irregular documents or past permit for stay in Italy, are let out.
© Blaga Bangieva News

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ANTI-SEMITIC ATTACK ON SCHOOL ALARMS BERLIN'S JEWISH COMMUNITY(Germany)

28/2/2007- Unknown perpetrators have attacked and vandalized a Jewish nursery school in the German capital. The Jewish community in Berlin is now calling on Germans to join them in a prayer service on Thursday. Representatives from the Gan-Israel Jewish Nursery School in Berlin have invited Germans to join Jewish leaders in prayer for "tolerance and solidarity" on Thursday. The call came after unidentified assailants sprayed swastikas and other Nazi symbols on the school walls and threw a smoke flare into the building at the weekend. "The attempt to burn down and lay waste to a Jewish nursery school is a dangerous escalation of intolerance and right-wing radicalism," the school in the western district of Charlottenburg said in a statement. "This attack was not only aimed at Jews, but against everyone who cherishes freedom and democracy." Gideon Joffe, the head of the Jewish community in Berlin, said the attack was connected to growing anti-Semitism in Germany. Less and less members of the community were willing to openly live out their religion out of fear, he said. "I have determined greater public acceptance and also trivialization of anti-Semitic ideas in comparison to previous years," Joffe said. Stephan Kramer, general secretary of Germany's Central Council of Jews, said the Jewish community would have to reckon with such attacks in the future, too. "People appear to be losing their inhibitions," Kramer said. "Today, their target was a children's facility. What is going to happen next?"

School will get greater protection
Kramer and Joffe are expected to attend Thursday's prayers, which will take place at the synagogue in Wilmersdorf. The school said the prayers were intended to show "that we will not give in to a threat, but will continue to practice Judaism with pride in Berlin." Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal appeared stunned by the swastikas smeared on the school building. "This incident makes me very, very sad," Teichtal said. "It causes me great pain to have to see this here." Berlin's interior senator Ehrhart Körting called the attack "a cowardly act" and said the fact a nursery school was targeted showed "the particular viciousness of the perpetrators." Körting said the police would now be guarding the school more intensely. The nursery school was only temporarily housed in the villa on Spandauer Damm and therefore not protected as closely as Jewish institutions usually are in Germany.

Police have no leads on the culprits
Criminal investigators called to the scene said the smoke flare failed to explode. It could have caused serious damage or set the building on fire, they said. No one was injured. There was still no trace of the perpetrators, investigators said. A police spokesman said despite a public appeal to possible witnesses of the attack, not one single tip-off had come in. German authorities registered more than 12,000 far-right crimes, including 726 acts of violence, in the first eight months of 2006, marking a 20 percent rise on the same period the previous year.
© Deutsche Welle

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IN GERMANY, MEN WHO BURNED ANNE FRANK'S DIARY FACE TRIAL

26/2/2007- A German man admitted Monday to publicly burning a copy of Anne Frank's diary, at the start of a trial against seven suspected right-wing extremists. Lars Konrad said in a statement read by his attorney that he had tossed a copy of the Holocaust victim's diary onto a bonfire at a summer solstice party last June. But he said he was not making a statement about the Nazis' mass slaughter of 6 million European Jews with his actions. Another suspect admitted to throwing a US flag into the fire. The other five defendants did not address the court. The suspects, ranging in age from 24 to 29, stand accused of inciting racial hatred and disparaging the dead. They face up to five years in prison if convicted. Konrad, 25, said in his statement that he had aimed to free himself "from an evil chapter of German history" but had no intention of denying the Nazis' crimes. "He is very sorry that he was misunderstood," his attorney Thomas Jauch told the court. But state prosecutor Arnold Murra dismissed Konrad's account, saying that the defendants intended to "glorify" the Nazis with the book-burning. "You ridiculed Anne Frank and with her all the victims of the concentration camps," he said.

The case sparked outrage in Germany and abroad when it came to light, fuelling fears that neo-Nazi ideology is spreading through the economically depressed states of the former East Germany. The act is reported to have taken place on June 24, 2006 during a Midsummer Night's party in Pretzien, a tiny village near Magdeburg, the capital of the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt. Anne Frank's diary of life hiding from the Nazis is world famous and has sold some 75 million copies worldwide. The young men, who are suspected to be from the far-right scene, are said to have modeled the destruction of the diary on the infamous Nazi book-burnings in Berlin. Shouting martial slogans and bearing flaming torches, the group is reported to have first tossed a US flag into a bonfire followed by the famous "Diary of Anne Frank." The state prosecutors' office said in a statement before the trial opened that "by using clear-cut neo-Nazi and Nazi terminology," the men had not just mocked Anne Frank, who died in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945 at the age of 15, but also all the other millions of Nazi victims.

"Nobody wants to be a witness"
The court in Magdeburg has invited eight witnesses to the trial, which is expected to draw much media attention around Germany. However media reports say the gathering of evidence and testimonies is not expected to be easy. Though some 80 inhabitants of the 900-strong village of Pretzien are said to have witnessed the book burning last June, few are expected to come forward and talk about it. "A huge silence hangs over the place," Andreas Holtz, the local Protestant priest told Berlin-based daily die tageszeitung. "People would rather stay silent than say something wrong. Nobody wants to be a witness."

"No coincidental act by drunken youngsters"
The paper pointed out that the case illustrates the difficulties of small towns and villages -- particularly in former East Germany where statistics show right-wing crimes are on the rise --in tackling the far-right scene and their dissemination of extremist ideology. The paper said the seven accused were hardly marginal figures in the village; one of them apparently sings in the local male choir while two are involved in the voluntary fire department. Men belonging to a recognized club in the village also freely sported T-shirts emblazoned with the words, "Wehrmacht Pretzien," without anyone taking exception to it, the paper reported. "We need more enlightenment," a local leader Frithjof Meussling told die tageszeitung. He pointed out that though a new group was trying to promote democratization in the village, "not much has happened. We don't have a panacea." The head of the Berlin-based Anne Frank Center, Thomas Heppener, who will be at the trial, told the same paper that the book-burning was in no way "a coincidental act by drunken youngsters," but rather one that its roots in the organized neo-Nazi scene.

Trial raises questions about police lapses
The trial has also raised serious questions about the role of the police and how they deal with right-wing crimes. In the case of the burning of Anne Frank's diary in Pretzien, local police apparently first deemed the crime as a mere "disturbance to peace" because they weren't familiar with the book and thus unable to grasp the intensity and political dimension of the act. They only began investigations and raids in earnest ten days after the crime. "Unfortunately many police officers in Germany need to massively refresh their knowledge of the Nazi-era and the role played at the time by their profession," Detlef von Schwerin, head of a documentation and research group on police history at a police college in the eastern state of Brandenburg told German news agency dpa. The state of Saxony-Anhalt where the diary of Anne Frank was burned however seems to have drawn some lessons from the crime. According to Klaus-Peter Knobloch, spokesman of the state's interior ministry, the state has already modified police training programs in response to the crime. "In seminars and other events, officers have since been increasingly learning about the Nazi-era, the historical context and in particular the current manifestations of the right-wing scene."
© Deutsche Welle

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BULGARIA'S ULTRA-NATIONALISTS STORM EDITORIAL OVER LIBEL ARTICLE

24/2/2007- Leader of Bulgaria's ultra-nationalist party Ataka broke into the editor's office of the 168 Hours and 24 Hours newspapers on Friday night together with 50 other party members. Ataka leader Volen Siderov and his party members broke into the editorials because he wanted to deal in person with journalist, who wrote an article, in which they claim Ataka's arch enemy the ethnic Turkish party has paid Siderov BGN 1,6 M. Siderov entered into the office of the editor-in-chief and demanded to be shown a document, which can prove the information about the given money is true and which journalist exactly has written it. When he wasn't presented with such document, he left. Allegedly the Atakaists have stormed the building and started searching room by room for the author of the article. According to officials, the ultra-nationalists wanted an explanation from the "prostitutes" and "homosexuals" who worked for the newspapers. The two newspapers will have to face court on a trial from Siderov, who accuses them of libel. According to witnesses, not less than 150 people literally stormed the building and rushed into the editor-in-chief's office. On the other hand the vice-chairman of Ataka, Pavel Shopov claimed they just entered the building to hand a refutation and there was no "storming" and "breaking in". An hour later police appeared to investigate the case. When approached on the issue, leader Volen Siderov denied there was a mob of Atakaists and said several party members and he visited the editor-in-chief to hand him a letter of refute in connection with the article. The article has provoked him to visit in person the editorial and find the document that states he received BGN 1,6 M from the Ethnic Turkish party, Siderov said. When the editor-in-chief said he did not have such document, Siderov just labeled the article as "contemptible libel".
© Novinite

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FLEMISH COUPLES DON'T WANT TO BE WED BY WOUTER (Belgium)

25/2/2007- Wouter Van Bellingen has a good Flemish name. He is a former patrol leader in the Boy Scouts. He is an elected official of a party that wants more autonomy for Flanders. And he is a Belgian black. Now, three couples in the town of Sint Niklaas - whose patron saint is Santa Claus - have judged their registrar by his skin and cancelled their weddings. 'I am not really surprised. I'm used to having more space on the train than my fellow passengers,' said van Bellingen, a 34-year-old father of two. However, the town's Socialist mayor, former minister Freddy Willockx, said that he was shocked by the racism that was being shown by the people of Flanders. 'I had found the image of a black man officiating at a white wedding rather beautiful,' he mused. But while the Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, has expressed his indignation at the situation, the country's racial equality commission has been caught on the hop. 'We are more used to cases where someone seeking services has been discriminated against. Legally there is not much we can do,' said Jozef de Witte, the director of the Centre pour l'Egalité des Chances. Van Bellingen knows just what the racist couples can do: 'They have three choices - to accept me as their registrar, to stay single, or to move. I have been elected for six years.'

The registrar began his job at the town hall of St Niklaas, to the west of Antwerp, on 1 January - two months after topping the list in local elections of Spirit, a left-inclined nationalist party whose coalition with the Socialist Party scored 35 per cent of the vote. Vlaams Belang, the right-wing nationalists who want Flanders to break away from Belgium, won 26 per cent of the vote in the town, which has a population of 70,000. 'I was in all the papers because I had become the first black alderman in Belgium,' said Van Bellingen, who was born in Antwerp to Rwandan parents and grew up in St Niklaas with an adoptive white family. His three brothers and sisters were half-Indian, half-African and white. Mayor Willockx, 60, said that he had only learnt of the cancellations from town hall staff after the event. 'In Belgium, couples wishing to be married can pencil in a date at their town hall up to six months before the ceremony,' he said. 'The place of marriage is determined by the bride's home address. It seems that the three couples had been pencilled in. The cancellations happened independently of one another but in each case the couples or their parents were clear about their reason; they didn't want a black man officiating. 'The director of administration came to me in confidence to find out how he should handle future cancellations, especially since one set of parents had been abusive. If it happens again, I want to talk to the people, but there is nothing that we can do to trace those who have already cancelled their pencilling-in.'

He has received more than 2,000 emails and letters since the cancellations became public knowledge three weeks ago. 'Only about 10 have been racist or critical of the council's support for the registrar,' the mayor said. 'This is not a racist town. We have a refugee centre right in the middle of town and we have never had any problems.' Van Bellingen, who has married 25 couples since the beginning of the year, views the whole experience as enriching. 'The African in me - who always likes to see the positive side of life - feels happy about what has happened,' he said. 'I hope that the three couples change their minds. If they do, I shall happily marry them and thank them for bringing about a debate. The issue of race is too often hushed up because people feel ill at ease with it. My books are now full until August and the people I marry all want me in their wedding photograph. The people of St Niklaas are so proud of their black registrar.' As a result of the marriage controversy, local members of Belgian human rights groups have organised a symbolic mass wedding on the market square of St Niklaas to take place on 21 March, which is World Anti-Racism Day. 'It's going to be such fun,' said Van Bellingen. 'We have 200 couples so far and we're going to have the most crowded wedding photo ever, the biggest wedding dance ever and the most multicultural buffet imaginable.'
© The Observer

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BELGIAN SHOP STOPS 'PROTOCOL' SALES

1/3/2007- Following protests by Jewish organizations, a major Belgian bookstore stopped sales of a novel containing the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion."  CEJI-a Jewish Contribution to an Inclusive Europe and the Simon Wiesenthal Center had called on the Relay-Press Shop chain to stop carrying the book, a novelized version of the "Protocols." CEJI also called on the Belgian government to investigate the launch of the book, which partly blames the Holocaust on the United States and implicates Western states in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The authors, Belgians Patrick Henderickx and Patrice De Bruyne, claim in the book that they added the full text of the "Protocols," "so that everyone can reach their own judgment." The "Protocols," a 19th-century forgery, describes a supposed Jewish plot to take over the world. The basis for much subsequent anti-Semitism, its publication has been prohibited by many countries under incitement laws. CEJI called on the Belgian Center for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism to investigate and press charges against the authors on the grounds of incitement to hatred. While the prohibition of books is seemingly impossible under Belgian law, the authors of hateful literature can be prosecuted. "The Protocols have been linked to many anti-Semitic incidents, and as such have been the cause of much harm," CEJI Director Robin Sclafani said. "The fact that they resurface disguised as a novel is frightening. We hope the Belgian state will make clear that this work, which is banned in neighboring countries, is not welcome here either."
© JTA News

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OFFICER SUSPENDED FOR LEAKING INFO(Belgium)

24/2/2007- The court in Antwerp has convicted an officer who leaked a list of extremist and terrorist organisations to the Vlaams Belang party in 2005. The court ruled that the officer had breached professional secrecy by leaking the internal and confidential document. The detective in question showed Filip Dewinter of Vlaams Belang the so-called “secret list of extremist and terrorist groups,” on which both the Belang itself and Gaia were included. Dewinter subsequently published the list. At the end of 2005 the Justice Minister Laurette Onkelinx (PS) branded the list as unlawful. The public prosecutor had asked that the man be sentenced to six months in prison and a 550 euro fine for violating professional secrecy. The defence argued that the document did not contain any secret information. “The information of the organisations were perhaps not confidential, but the ranking and classification make it clear that this was an internal and confidential document,” was the court’s ruling. The court said that the officer should have been more careful with the information. “A police officer is expected to do his job with the discretion necessary for the effective functioning of the police apparatus,” the decision read. The court did take into account that the man had no criminal record and did show remorse. As a result he was suspended but not sentenced to prison or a fine. The Humanist Union and the Union of Mosques and Islamic Foundations of Antwerp recently filed complaints because their names were on the list. The organisations feel their privacy has been violated and that they have been the victims of slander and defamation of character. That case was brought before the court on Wednesday but has been postponed indefinitely until further investigation can be carried out.
© Expatica News

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POLITICIANS LASH OUT AT WILDERS(Netherlands)

26/2/2007- Geert Wilders, the political leader of the Freedom Party, has provoked the outrage of a large number of politicians in The Hague with his announcement that he plans to submit a motion of no-confidence against state secretaries Ahmed Aboutaleb and Nebahat Albayrak. Wilders wants to submit the motion on Thursday during the parliamentary debate on the government statement, De Volkskrant reports. André Rouvoet, ChristenUnie leader and member of the new government alongside Aboutaleb and Albayrak, says Wilders' statements went "beyond parliamentary standards of decency." Henk Kamp (Liberal VVD) thinks that the two state secretaries set a good example. "If you antagonise people it can come back at you like a boomerang," Kamp said. MP Mirjam Sterk (Christian democrat CDA) said Wilders was engaging in "crude politics." Wilders said again in an interview with the NRC Handelsblad this weekend that Aboutaleb and Albayrak should not be able to serve in government because of their status as dual nationals. Aboutaleb, the new state secretary for Social Affairs, holds both Dutch and Moroccan nationality, while Albayrak, in charge of immigration policy in the new government, holds a Turkish passport in addition to a Dutch one. Aboutaleb responded laconically to Wilders' plans. "It is perfectly within their rights," he said at a party conference in Veendam. But he added that this kind of motion is usually submitted against politicians who have done something wrong. Aboutaleb and Albayrak have not yet taken any official action as they were just sworn in last Thursday. This was the second time in three days that Wilders sought confrontation with the new cabinet. At the end of last week he attacked new Minister for Integration Ella Vogelaar after she said she did not support an absolute ban on the wearing of burqas. Vogelaar feels that garments that conceal the face should only be banned in public functions and in positions that involve a lot of contact with the public, like jobs in healthcare or education. Wilders subsequently announced plans to submit a motion to ban burqas. The electorate seems to be rewarding Wilders for the commotion he has stirred up. A poll from Maurice de Hond this last weekend puts the Freedom Party at 14 seats, five more than it actually holds in Parliament at the moment.
© Expatica News

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KAMP PREDICTS ROW OVER BURQA BAN(Netherlands)

24/2/2007- The Freedom Party (PVV) is going to submit a motion to ban the wearing of burqas in public. Faction leader Geert Wilders announced this on Friday in a reaction to statements from Minister for Living, Neighbourhoods and Integration Ella Vogelaar, the Volkskrant reports. Vogelaar said on a current affairs programme on Thursday evening that she thought women should be allowed to wear a burqa in public. Vogelaar did say however that garments that conceal the face are not advisable in public functions or jobs that involve a lot of personal contact with the public. Christian democrat CDA MPs Mirjam Sterk and Wim van de Camp have asked the minister to explain what steps she will take to stop the wearing of veils and other concealing clothing in the situations she deems unadvisable. During the last government term the CDA supported a motion to ban burqas in public. The coalition accord however does not state that such a ban will be introduced. Wilders pointed out that a majority in Parliament has twice urged the cabinet in motions he initiated to arrange a complete ban on wearing burqas in public. “That means not just at work, but also on the street,” Wilders said. He said Vogelaar’s statements were very surprising. “It’s as if nothing has happened. This is entirely the wrong signal to be sending. Perhaps I’m being a bit naïve, but I assumed that after two motions in Parliament the measure would be carried out,” Wilders said. Wilders hopes to work with coalition party CDA and opposition party Liberal VVD in preparing the bill. Both these parties have supported Wilders’ motions so far towards banning the wearing of burqas in public. The new coalition parties Labour PvdA and ChristenUnie have opposed the motions. Minister at the time Rita Verdonk (Liberal VVD) announced last year that a general ban on face-concealing clothing in public areas would be introduced. The new coalition accord however watered down this plan and stated that face-concealing clothing may be banned in the interest of public order and safety. “If this is the line Vogelaar will be taking then we are in for quite a row in Parliament,” VVD MP Henk Kamp said in a reaction. “The burqa is the symbol of not participating, of standing on the outside, and of being kept in one’s place. That is the opposite of integration and should be stopped as much as possible,” Kamp said.
© Expatica News

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CHURCH LEADERS THREATEN GOVERNMENT OVER ABORTION(Sweden)

25/2/2007- Two of Sweden's most influential church leaders have threatened to encourage Christians to vote against the government at the next election, following a proposal that foreign women should be allowed to come to Sweden for abortions. Sweden's Catholic bishop Anders Arborelius and leader of the evangelical Philadephia Church in Stockholm, Sten-Gunnar Hedin hinted that the Christian Democrats, traditionally supported by religious voters, could be hit hardest. "We are sad that this proposal is backed by a Christian Democrat social affairs minister, Göran Hägglund. It is incomprehensible that he is supporting this proposal while claiming that it was required by the EU, something that this country's leading EU law expert, Professor Ulf Bernitz, insists is not the case," the pair wrote in Dagens Nyheter. The two church leaders pointed to the Christian Democrats' current low levels of support in opinion polls, with the party hovering just over the four percent level needed to get voted into the Riksdag. "If the Christian Democrats are ejected from the Riksdag it will undoubtedly have consequences for the Alliance." Arborelius and Hedin write that they, together with a majority of Christian leaders in Sweden, "could be forced to work actively to reduce the chances of the Alliance being re-elected," at the next general election in 2010. "We appeal to the government not to force us to do this."  The two church leaders accused their opponents of "aggression" and "self-righteousness". They questioned whether most women would have the resources to travel to Sweden for an abortion. They said that in "abortion tourism" was in practice only an option for "those who are well off and who wish to have an abortion at all cost." "As Christians, we think there's a whiff of hypocrisy when you say you want to help foreign women."
© The Local

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MOSCOW MAYOR DENOUNCES HOMOSEXUALITY AT LONDON CONFERENCE

2/3/2007- Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov publicly spoke against homosexuality calling it “wrong and unusual’’ in a London news conference attended by his Paris and Berlin counterparts, both of them gay, the Bloomberg.com web-site reported March 1. Luzhkov, in the U.K. capital for a meeting of the leaders of Europe’s four largest cities, also repeated his opposition to a Gay Pride parade planned for May 27 in Moscow. He has called such a march ”satanic.“ Last year’s Moscow Gay Pride parade, held in defiance of a ban, was broken up by police. ``Through the gay parade you promote some uncertain people and it becomes an invitation to acquire this quality of the sexual minorities,’’ Luzhkov said at the briefing with the mayors of London, Paris and Berlin. The Moscow mayor, in office since 1992, conceded that Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe and Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit disagreed with his views when they met with London Mayor Ken Livingstone, a longtime supporter of gays and lesbians. The mayors discussed the issue ``in a peaceful and calm way,’’ Delanoe said. ``We have to look at equality of rights, and that leads us to combat every form of discrimination or stigmatizing of individuals because of their sex, their religion, color of their skin or their personal identity,’’ he said. Livingstone and Wowereit didn’t comment publicly on Luzhkov’s views. The mayors also agreed to cooperate in areas such as transportation, climate change, terrorism and planning. They will meet next year in Paris. A dozen gay-rights advocates picketed outside London City Hall during the meeting. Organizers are planning to go ahead with the Moscow parade, the London-based gay-rights group OutRage! said in an e-mailed statement.
© MosNews

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HATE MOTIVATED ATTACKS IN FEBRUARY, 2007 (Russia)

2/3/2007- In February, 2007 we registered 29 attacks with at least 44 victims, 7 of them dead. It’s not much more, than in January, but this figure will certainly be higher, because often the attacks are registered much later than they were committed. The majority of the attacks were committed in Moscow (14 attacks) and St. Petersburg (7 attacks). The majority of the victims come from Central Asia (at least 12 people) and from the Caucasus (at least 11 people). The most notorious events took place in St. Petersburg and Nizhniy Novgorod. On February, 8 a special police group beat ethnic Azeri people in Nizhniy Novgorod. Two women, reportedly working for the regional Prosecutor’s Office, refused to pay the bill at an Azeri café and left. Two men entered the café and started beating the Azeri personnel. Then 20 special policemen arrived and joined the fight, shouting "Your nation should be exterminated". The policemen poured boiling water on the beaten people. Five of the victims were taken to the police department. They were in a poor condition and the ambulance was called for. According to the café’s director, the duty doctor refused to render medical assistance, saying "I hate you blacks, so much". However, later the victims were finally hospitalized. On February, 16 in Pushkin, a suburb of St. Petersburg, a group of about 15 young people attacked an ethnic Armenian in a shop and beat him. Later they attacked a group of Uzbek people and at least two of them were beaten severely and got knife wounds, one of them died. The police insist that these attacks were committed without any racist motive. This year the usual February victims of nazi violence – Bob Marley’s fans who celebrate his birthday on February, 6 – seem to have escaped from violent attacks, at least we couldn’t find any reports about them. However, it certainly doesn’t mean that there were no attacks on Rastamen…
© SOVA Center for Information and Analysis

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TRAFFIC CONTROL(Russia)

Fearing that the increasing tide of illegal immigrants and trafficked people into Russia could be heading its way, the EU presses Russia to tighten its borders – and possibly makes things worse.
By Vladimir Kovalev, freelance journalist living in Vienna.
 

24/2/2007- Like many struggling young people in the former Soviet republics, 17-year-old Maryam dreamed of a better life. She thought she was on her way to one when she decided to leave her native Kazakhstan to work as a shop assistant in Russia. Instead, she walked into a nightmare. When she arrived at her destination, the shop she had expected to see turned out to be a locked cell with barred windows and a metal door. Armed guards told she would be working as a prostitute. "I refused by saying that they could do anything they want, but I wouldn’t work as a prostitute. I was punished for that. I was beaten up, raped, and starved. In five days I gave up," she said. Maryam said she was lured into the trap by a man named Dastan, who paid her parents $300, gave her a false passport, and accompanied her to Samara, a central Russian city with a population of 1.3 million people. Her story is among those included in a report by the Geneva-based International Labor Organization (ILO) on human trafficking, released at the end of 2005. Russia has long been a country of origin for trafficking into the European Union, but as Maryam’s experience illustrates, it is becoming a destination as well. Experts point out that the country’s booming economy is attracting more illegal immigrants from the former Soviet republics. At the same time, that swelling wave of illegals has European Union officials worried that it will wash over their shores. Russia has been trying to reach an agreement with the EU to allow its citizens to travel there without visas, but EU officials insist that Russia first tighten its southern borders, especially with Central Asian countries. But some organizations that fight human trafficking say tighter immigration controls have only complicated matters without really helping.

Follow the money
With its widespread poverty and questionable commitment to the rule of law, post-Soviet Russia has long been one of the top supplier countries for this vast criminal network. Russia still ranks among the top 10 countries of origin for trafficked human beings, along with Albania, Belarus, Bulgaria, China, Lithuania, Nigeria, the Republic of Moldova, Romania, Thailand, and Ukraine. According to the labor organization report, some 2.45 million people worldwide have, like Maryam, been victims of a criminal human trafficking industry that supplies prostitutes and slave laborers, and boasts an annual turnover of more than $32 billion. Trafficking is driven in large part by a huge gap in salaries between the developed and developing world that makes it easy to lure ambitious young people. “Wages are nearly 130 times higher in the richest countries than in the poorest ones, and between 30 and 50 times higher in industrialized countries than in Russia,” wrote Elena Tyuryukanova, an analyst at the ILO, in her recent study of the forced-labor market. Wages may be low in general across Russia, but the situation in some cities, such as Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhnyi Novgorod, or Samara, Maryam’s destination point, is a bit different. While the average income in Russia is about $325 per month, in Moscow, it is more than triple that. In St. Petersburg it is $640 a month. Incomes in large Russian cities have grown by an estimated 17 percent to 19 percent per year for the last five years. Russia in general has seen the rate of income growth rise from about 11 percent in 2002 to about 15 percent in 2006, according to government statistics. In 2005 the Interior Ministry registered 66 crimes linked to human trafficking, 22 crimes connected to the use of slave labor, and, in an elevenfold increase from the year 2000, 242 cases of forced prostitution.

“The flow of [illegal] economic immigrants from CIS countries to Russia is expected to grow, taking into account positive tendencies in the Russian economy. In addition to areas such as commercial sex services, Russia is popular for such immigrants as a place with a variety of jobs that are traditionally not in demand with [Russians], such as retail, which is in general a low-paid position, according to Russian standards” said Yevgeny Volk, an analyst in the Moscow office of the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based conservative think tank. “As for the Russian citizens trying to settle down in the EU, this flow is not so big compared to tens of thousands of people trying to get into the European Union from CIS and Asian countries,” the analyst said. The EU, which is the most popular destination for human trafficking from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Eastern European countries, has tried to stem the flow by improving border controls and plans to strengthen visa regulations within the next few years. The latest attempt came from the German Foreign Office, which has reportedly ordered its consuls in Russia to issue no more than 600 visas a week, a move that analysts say could put a damper on Russian tourism to the country. “The problem is that all this talk about the necessity to ease the visa regime between Russia and the EU ends up helping people involved in diplomatic or business activity of some sort, but for ordinary Russian citizens, such as tourists, the situation becomes more and more complicated, as happened with the recent initiative of the German Foreign Office,” Volk said.

Bad example
The recent examples of Romania and Bulgaria can offer little hope that the EU will open its doors wider to immigration from Russia. British police commander David Johnston told the Guardian newspaper in August that Bulgaria could act as a transit point for undesirables from outside the EU. "When Bulgaria joins the EU those people will only have to cross the border to be in Western Europe. And from there it is just a stepping stone into the UK," the paper quotes him as saying. “At the moment, we see a tendency where more girls from Moldova are being trafficked to Romania, and the situation is getting worse,” said Ramona Mida, a representative of Fundatia Conexiuni, a Romanian human rights organization that focuses on human trafficking. “As for children trafficked from our country, we had several cases registered within the last few years, when children were transported to [Western] Europe for begging,” she said. Human rights advocates could not say how many children are trafficked from Romania annually. Some say most of the victims are underage and are drugged into submission so that they can beg in metro stations and underground pedestrian walkways of major European cities.

Taking a detour
So European countries keep their guard up. But while stricter visa regulations might seem a logical way to combat the problem, in fact they have made the job more difficult, according to some human rights advocates. “The main thing is that traffickers have changed the ways they organize illegal transportation of people within the past few years. In the mid-1990s they used fake passports and visas, moving their victims by force or lying to them. Now they operate according to legal procedures, especially in connection to the sex industry,” said Anna Yakovleva, a representative of a St. Petersburg human rights organization, Stellit. “As a rule victims are informed now about where are they going and what they will do. As for traffickers, they use legal channels to organize transportation,” she said. The proportion of women and girls who have consented to being trafficked into the sex trade is growing, Yakovleva said, but not many of them imagine that they will be locked behind bars when they arrive. As EU countries have tightened visa requirements, traffickers have simply found loopholes in the law, such as fraudulently obtaining work permits for their victims or organizing fake marriages, the human rights advocate said. “Traffickers have started using more sophisticated schemes, and it’s harder to detect them now,” Yakovleva said. Maryam, the woman from Kazakhstan, did not go willingly, and she escaped by chance. “Once when we were driving to a client, our car was involved in an accident. Our guard and the driver went to settle the matter. While they were having it out, a quarrel broke out and I just ran away. I ran to a main road and stopped a car to Omsk,” Maryam said. Now she’s looking for a way to go home. “I’d like to go home somehow. I’m thinking about it right now,” she said.
© Transitions Online

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STUDENTS TRY TO OUST MIGRATIONWATCH DON (uk)

2/3/2007- Academics last night condemned as a witch-hunt a student campaign to oust an Oxford don because of his links to an immigration watchdog. Student members of a refugee support group launched a petition demanding that Prof David Coleman be sacked for stirring up hostility towards immigrants. The professor of demography helped found MigrationWatch in 2001 to monitor the effects of overcrowding and integration caused by refugees and asylum seekers. Yesterday it emerged that Oxford Student Action for Refugees had urged Dr John Hood, the Oxford vice-chancellor, to "consider the suitability of Coleman's continued tenure as a professor of the university". This provoked a row over academic freedom and free speech. Last year, Dr Frank Ellis, a Leeds University academic was removed from his post after claiming that whites were the superior race. Prof Coleman told a student newspaper: "It is a shameful attempt of the most intolerant and totalitarian kind to suppress the freedom of analysis and informed comment that it is the function of universities to cherish. "I am ashamed that Oxford students should behave this way. It is the signatories who will bring the university into disrepute and it they who should reconsider their membership of this university." Prof Coleman helped establish MigrationWatch as an independent think-tank promoting "open and frank debate" about how to manage growing immigrant numbers. But his views are controversial. Teresa Hayter, a writer and anti-racism campaigner, recently pulled out of an event after learning Prof Coleman would appear alongside her. She said yesterday: "I support the petition. I don't think he should be a professor at the university." Dennis Hayes, the president of the University and College Union, and founder of the campaign group Academics for Academic Freedom, said: "Students who once fought for challenging the state on things like war are now fighting against free speech. "It comes to something when students would rather see an academic sacked than stand up and debate these issues with him." MigrationWatch says immigration has made a "valuable contribution" but "the numbers have become too great". An Oxford spokesman said: "Freedom of speech is a fundamental right respected by the university. Staff have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges."
© The Telegraph

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'CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY IN THE UK: OVERVIEW AND KEY ISSUES'

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has published research by Gary Craig, Aline Gaus, Mick Wilkinson, Klara Skrivankova and Aidan McQuade on: 'Contemporary slavery in the UK: Overview and key issues'.
Download the full report (pdf file, 368kb) Or Download the findings (pdf file, 96kb)
© The Joseph Rowntree Foundation

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MONTH-LONG MARCH IN CHAINS BEGINS (uk)

1/3/2007- Campaigners bound in chains have set off on a 250-mile march to commemorate the abolition of slavery.The month-long Lifeline Expedition from Hull to London has been organised to apologise for the slave trade. The event is one of the first to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. The 30-strong group will be joined for the first two days by Lady Kate Davson, a descendant of anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce. Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott is also expected to join the march before it reaches Westminster on 25 March. The expedition started on Thursday morning after the Bishop of Hull anointed the marchers with water from the font where William Wilberforce, who was elected as MP for the city in 1780, was baptised. Those joining the walk include people whose ancestors were slaves or employed slaves. Organiser David Pott said they hoped the walk would also draw attention to the estimated 12 million people the International Labour Organisation reports are working in modern slavery. He said: "I have been reminded that it is normal that expeditions involve risks - slave trading expeditions were risky ventures. "So as we seek to undo the damage initiated by the slave trade it should be no surprise that we face challenges. However, on our journey we will not suffer a fraction of what slaves went through." He added that other people were welcome to join the march at any point during the event.

Route being taken: Hull, Lincoln, Boston, Wisbech, Cambridge, Waltham Abbey, Walthamstow, Westminster.
© BBC News

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BROWN: MIGRANTS SHOULD VOLUNTEER (uk)

27/2/2007- Immigrants should do community work to help them settle before being granted UK citizenship, Chancellor Gordon Brown has said. Mr Brown, widely expected to be the next prime minister, said citizenship should be a "kind of contract" with rights and responsibilities. He said citizenship and language tests did not go far enough. The Tories and Lib Dems accused him of "headline grabbing" and say it would be unenforceable or even dangerous. The chancellor told an audience in London that obliging migrants to carry out community work would help introduce them to the people they will be living alongside and would show they could contribute to society. He said he believed his earlier call for immigrants to be required to be able to speak English to be granted citizenship was now widely accepted, but more needed to be done. Mr Brown said: "Being a British citizen is about more than a test, more than a ceremony. It's a kind of contract between the citizen and the country involving rights but also involving responsibilities that will protect and enhance the British way of life. "It's also right to consider asking men and women seeking citizenship to undertake community work in our country, or something akin to that, that introduces them to a wider range of institutions and people." He said a debate about what it means to be British was overdue, particularly in light of devolution, the EU Constitution, integrating minorities and dealing with Muslim fundamentalism.

'National purpose'
Building a sense of national purpose was needed, to bring society together, he said. He is also said to be considering whether citizenship should be granted on a trial basis, to be revoked if people did not keep their part of the contract. In 2003, the radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri was stripped of his citizenship by then-home secretary David Blunkett, saying he wanted to deal with people the intelligence services believed to be a "risk". But Sir Bernard Crick, a former Home Office adviser on citizenship, said they had suggested that immigrants do some sort of voluntary work - but that it had been rejected by the Treasury due to costs. He added that any idea of a "contract" which could be revoked was "threatening" and would be unenforceable. And Habib Rahman, of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), said: "Compulsory community service is usually imposed as a non-custodial penalty for a criminal offence. "We are therefore extremely concerned that it is now being proposed as a condition of citizenship." For the Conservatives, shadow home secretary David Davis said the proposal was ill thought out and might mean forcing some professionals who had been in Britain for years to stop working for a time to carry out community service. He added: "This is a headline-grabbing initiative of very little substance. The problem is not with those applying for citizenship but with the number of illegal immigrants coming into the country." Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies said: "This is just a gimmick, and would be impossible to enforce. "We need proper provision for teaching English, not more headline chasing."
© BBC News

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RACE SPECIAL: RACISM IN BRITAIN 2007(opinion)

The subject of race is in the headlines again, but really it has dominated the social and political agenda for centuries. To start 20 pages of coverage, William Leith asks the question we all fear: 'Am I a racist?' 

25/2/2007- I'm about to take a racism test, and it's making me uncomfortable. Why? I'm not a racist. For the record, I am an anti-racist. If you asked me, I would say that, while the races may look different, they are equal. I would say that racism, the theory that one race is superior to another, is fallacious. Also, it does nothing but harm. It harms the victim, and it also harms the perpetrator. There is no sense in it. It is, quite literally, nonsense. Oh, I know about racism. I know that, in both senses of the word, it's wrong. Wrong morally, and wrong factually. I don't know anybody who doesn't know this. And yet, as an idea, it persists. Something, somewhere, gives it power. And this is what's making me uncomfortable. Racism gets its power from some mysterious place, and that place, somewhere in the shadows of our culture, our collective memory, scares me. I have an idea where that place is, but I don't want to go there.

Why does it make me so anxious? Because racism gets its power from confusion and misunderstanding, and these are risky areas. Racism, you might say, is about dysfunctional relationships; as a white person, I am on one side of several such relationships. I'm white, by the way. I forgot to say that. But it makes a bit of a difference, doesn't it? As a white person, I spend most of my time thinking of myself, not exactly as white, but as something else - somebody without a race, perhaps. Or maybe it's more accurate to say that I don't even think of myself as not having a race. Put it this way: I'm English. I'm white. My parents are English and white. My grandparents were English and white. And yet nobody, as far as I know, in my whole life, has ever referred to me as "white". That tells you something about power, doesn't it? Thinking about this, about how white people can go through their whole lives not being referred to as white - they are, in the parlance of sociologists, "unraced" - thinking about this makes me consider how different I am from people who are not white. To show you what I mean, here's a description of jazz by the musician Wynton Marsalis.

"Jazz," he wrote, "is the most modern expression of the way black people look at the world." He goes on to say that it's different from sport, "where they reinterpreted the way the game could be played'. That's because 'Jazz is something Negroes invented... It is the nobility of the race put into sound; it is the sensuousness of romance in our dialect; it is the picture of the people in all their glory, which is what swinging is." When I first read this passage, I appreciated it in a simple way - the author had captured something, and conveyed it beautifully. A black guy, he was looking at his own culture in a positive way. And I'm quite happy to appreciate jazz as a black culture, a black thing. But then I thought: I have a mental block about white culture. I hesitate before typing the words - together, on the page, they look difficult and treacherous.

White culture. Try saying it. There's that mental block again. Surely, though, if I have the capacity to define something as black, this is because I understand it as something other than white. So I must have an idea, somewhere in my mind, what it is for something to be white - in musical terms, to sound white. But then, when I think about this, my mind twists and squirms. I don't want to go there. There's something about whiteness I don't want to confront. I can say "I like black music" quite happily, but I can't say "I like white music". When I think of white music, I think of raspy guitars and nerdy anger. When I think of white footballers, I think of hard tacklers, such as John Terry, and underfed-looking guys such as Peter Crouch. In my mind, whiteness is defined by what it lacks, or not at all. I can't bring myself to think about any positive generalities that define whiteness. Somewhere close lurks a monstrous power I don't want to unleash. So, there it is: I'm white, and I'm trying to write about racism, but, racially speaking, I find it almost impossible to look at myself. I'm wracked with guilt. It doesn't sound like a promising start, does it? On second thoughts, it's more promising than it sounds. And anyway, it's all I've got; as a gateway to understanding, it's the best I can do. So let's try to see how this guilt works.

I was talking to a black guy. Well, when I say black, he was about 30 per cent black. Which, in our society, for insanely complicated reasons, makes him black. Anyway... Hold it right there. I want to tell you a story about a conversation I had with this particular black friend of mine. I want to be straightforward and honest. But, even at this point, I am overwhelmed with a need for self-censorship. So I'm going to stop, and look back over what I've written. My first sentence is fine, I think. My second sentence, about the guy being 30 per cent black, sounds dodgy. I can't explain it precisely, but it does. I suppose it's because, as a white guy, to quantify somebody's blackness might be deemed offensive. Even if I have no problem with blackness. My next sentence, about the fact that, if someone is partly black, in our society he or she is counted as black, feels like a controversy I can't just leap into willy-nilly. Most pressing, though, is my use of the word "insanely". When something is more complicated than it should be, I sometimes use the phrase "insanely complicated". But here, it sounds as if I disapprove of the fact that, if someone is partly black, they are counted as black. In many ways I do. But something tells me I shouldn't just say this, or even hint it, without first clearing it with my internal censor. This isn't getting me very far with my story, is it? But I'm going to follow the thought back as far as I can take it.

This concept, that you're black if you're partly black, is called the "one drop of blood" theory, and dates back to times of slavery in the Deep South. The idea, of course, stems from pure racism - blackness was thought to be a taint; a person only needed a bit of it to be, in the eyes of racists, spoiled. And if you read the literature of slavery, you'll come across all kinds of examples, and be sickened. I once read a quotation in which a guy from the century before last said something to the effect that a single drop of black blood "dimmed the light of intellect", as well as other slurs. So I don't like the "one drop" theory - not one bit. But I also know that a lot of black people have since adopted the notion that, if you're partly black, you're black. And I know that this is out of solidarity - if, way back when, your abuser says that something about you, in any quantity, is bad, then, if you share this quality with others, you'll bond with them. And I also know that the Civil Rights movement adopted the "one drop" theory for demographic reasons - more black people meant more votes. My internal censor is saying: what right do you have, as a white guy, to enter this territory? And here, my brain is beginning to hurt. I'm trying to say something simple, something about a conversation I had with my black, or partly-black, friend, and already I'm back in the 19th century. This is nuts. Or perhaps what I mean is that, in some ways, we are all still mired in the 19th century, that we can't get out of the 19th century.

When Ricky Gervais, as David Brent, came up to his black colleague and said, "Do you know who my favourite actor is? That would be Mr Sidney Poitier," I laughed in that way that sometimes happens when something is truly, dangerously funny - Gervais is a comic genius, and he had revealed a patch of dark matter, a murky zone, in my mind. He had revealed my guilt. I was contorted in my seat, blushing, with tears in my eyes. "Oh my God," I thought, "that's not me, is it?"

Please, no!
David Brent is saying that he's not racist. But he's also allowing it to be known that he's aware that his colleague might think that he is racist. He is, as it were, lifting a hem, and revealing the concept of racism. He is being mildly threatening. His thought processes, which reveal his racism while attempting to conceal it, are sinister. It makes me cringe. I'll start my story again. I was talking to this black guy, this light-skinned black guy. That's better. Or maybe not. But anyway, this black guy said that, if anybody called him "nigger", he'd hit them. "I'd take him out," he said.

"Right." "Anybody who used the word 'nigger' in front of me, I'd take him out."
© Independent Digital

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RACE SPECIAL: DIVIDED WE STAND(uk)

It's Britain's most segregated town, a BNP stronghold where many Asians and whites only meet to riot. But on Burnley's frontline, one brave woman is beginning to make difference. Peter Stanford goes on patrol with PC Susan Sanderson

25/2/2007- What are you called? "Idi Amin." The answer is shot straight back at me and the gang of Asian teenagers shake with laughter at their mate's quick-fire wit. Admittedly it isn't my best ever question, but it's six o'clock on a cold, wintery Monday evening in central Burnley. Inspiration is deep-frozen and tongues need thawing. I smile and make a show of writing it down in my notebook. "What about you?" I ask, doggedly working my way along the line of 16-year-olds, all in hoodies, with carefully gelled hair and plenty of bling peeping out. They are loitering in a bricked-up doorway, next to the convenience store at the junction of Brougham Street and Burns Street in the Stoneyholme area of the Lancashire town. This one doesn't answer at all, but instead pulls his neck scarf up over his mouth, like a cowboy in the Wild West, and stares back at me defiantly. This is definitely not going well. Number three is the most co-operative. He's called Rashid, he volunteers, and is the only one of the gang still at school. The others have all been excluded. They don't tell me this, of course. But standing with me (omega) on the windswept corner is the local neighbourhood bobby, Susan Sanderson, and her colleague, Police Community Support Officer, Zahid Ahmed. They fill in the silences. And the details. While their presence doesn't exactly instil old-fashioned Dixon of Dock Green-like respect in the youngsters, it does at least enable us to have a conversation of sorts.

A slight, dark-haired mother of two in her early forties, PC Sanderson manages to mix qualities that in many others simply wouldn't go together. So she can be firm and stern when the youngsters' repartee demands it. But then in the next breath she is encouraging and engaging with them. There's a warmth in her broad smile that even a group of difficult, self-absorbed, hormonal teenagers can't fail to miss. "Sometimes they call me 'mum'," she later admits, "but at least that means they know I'm with them, not against them." It is an approach that has won her Lancashire Constabulary's Community Beat Manager of the Year award, quite an achievement when you bear in mind that her predecessor in Stoneyholme ended up being attacked with an iron bar. This area and neighbouring Daneshouse are almost exclusively Asian, home to families whose roots are in Bangladesh and Pakistan. The teenagers I'm struggling to talk to are all Muslims. Their track record so far of failure at school and involvement in anti-social behaviour reveals a high degree of alienation from the mainstream of society and makes them prime candidates, if recent reports are to be believed, for the pull of radical Islamic alternatives that stretch as far as terrorism, the Taliban and al-Qa'ida. Last month, the Policy Exchange think tank presented a bleak view of teenagers such as Rashid, "Idi Amin" and their nameless cohorts who are now gathering round and striking rapper-like poses for the photographer. Some 37 per cent of those questioned in their age group were in favour of the introduction of sharia law in the UK, and 13 per cent expressed admiration for al-Qa'ida - both higher proportions than those reported for their parents' generation. Such radical views, though, are not part of any picture either Sanderson or Ahmed recognise. "There was a visit a few years back to one of the local mosques by Abu Hamza," Sanderson recalls. But the controversial preacher from London's Finsbury Park Mosque, now jailed, made little discernible impact. "I think there was one local youth who is thought to have gone off to Afghanistan to train with the Taliban [there is also a significant minority in Stoneyholme of Pathans, who come originally from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border], but my impression is that, if anything, the attraction of that has grown weaker recently. The concerns of youngsters round here are more practical - getting on with their parents and at school, getting a job, staying out of trouble."

In which context, part of Sanderson's role is to provide more constructive channels for teenage energy than standing on a street corner taking the piss - or worse. There's been a gang workshop project, trips out of Burnley (a first for some of the youngsters), and even - mixing stick with carrot - a visit to hear about the grim realities of life inside the local Youth Offenders' Institution at Lancaster Farms. That morning, Sanderson had been to the home of this gang's leader, Rumel. Her wake-up call was to ensure he attended a coaching course she's managed to talk him on to, up at Turf Moor, home of the local football team (like much else in Burnley, a shadow of its former glories). After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing between his family home and his grandmother's in the next street of this tightly packed block of terraced houses, Rumel was found and delivered in the police van to the "Strike for Life" scheme, run by Burnley town council in conjunction with the Prince's Trust and other agencies. "How was it?" I ask Rumel. He pulls a face for the gallery but eventually admits he's going back to the course tomorrow. Under his own steam, even. His ambition, he reveals, his show of bravado slipping, is to be a pilot. His mates all laugh out loud. As well they might. The reality of his exclusion from school and its aftermath is that there are currently few mundane career avenues open to him, let alone reaching for the skies. The local further education college won't have him because of his reputation for being unmanageable. There is mounting pressure for an Asbo to be taken out against him, too often the first step for such disruptive teenagers on the road to prison.

In the middle of the afternoon, Sanderson had taken me with her when she popped back to Turf Moor to see how Rumel was getting on. On the coaching course, he and half a dozen other Muslim teenagers were rubbing along pretty happily with a group of white kids. It should be an everyday scene in multicultural Britain, hardly worthy of mention. But not here. It is probably the first time in his life Rumel has been in such "mixed company" without it ending in a confrontation. Burnley, you see, is a racially segregated town. Or at least it is in its central areas. The further out you go, on to the Moors where there are spectacular views and handsome houses to be had in villages like Worsthorne, the distinctions of race, religion and colour become less important. But here in Stoneyholme, they are all. And in the Burnley Wood and Trinity districts, home to the white youngsters on the course. Superficially both are identical to Stoneyholme. All consist of grids of dilapidated, honey-coloured stone, two-up, two-down terraced houses, built on the lower reaches of the Pennine slopes by mill owners for their employees 100 years ago when the town had a booming textiles industry, but today, with the collapse of its major source of jobs, among the deepest pockets of deprivation in Britain. But in Burnley Wood and Trinity, the population is almost exclusively white. Despite all that they have in common, residents of these different ghettos simply don't overlap. Except when they fight.

In June 2001, riots here made national headlines. A group of white youths marched on Stoneyholme and set fire to cars. Asian youths retaliated by attacking a pub suspected of being a meeting place for white racists. Two years later, the British National Party cashed in on the troubles in local elections to become the official opposition on Burnley Council, taking eight seats on a ticket of keeping white areas for whites and preventing what they alleged was preferential investment in Asian areas. The result set alarm bells ringing. Money from the Government, voluntary sector and European Union has been poured into the town in an effort to change Burnley's image as one of Britain's racist hot spots. There are plans for a £50m urban renewal project, known as Elevate, to replace the urban terraces with homes fit for the 21st century. Many complain, though, that after three years of consultations, glossy brochures and the bulldozing of some areas, they are still waiting to see anything rise from the ashes. And Burnley has just been named one of 40 "Respect" zones by the Government, areas where extra resources will be targeted to tackle anti-social behaviour. "Do you feel that Burnley is changing for the better?" I ask my by-now slightly less chilly teenage audience. This time their blank looks aren't done for effect. Everyone else in the police van is wearing a helmet and riot gear. We're off to serve a drugs warrant on a known dealer in Cog Lane in the Trinity area of town. It is, you quickly gather, a regular occurrence. "Are you nervous?" I ask one old hand as he picks up the battering ram that will be used to open the door. "Not really. It's the monotony of it that gets to me." By one measure, Burnley has the second-highest ratio of drug users per head of the population in the country. A particular favourite is GHB, a home-made concoction, based on nail varnish remover. The element of surprise is vital if the suspect isn't going to flush his stash away down the toilet. So we pull up smartly, doors fly open, officers leap out and bash their way in. While the house is being searched, a lanky, spotty, badly dressed white teenager with an even more forlorn dog on the end of the piece of string is questioned. Either he's too out of it to know what's happening, or he doesn't give a damn.

Outside, Ahmed and other Police Community Support Officers visit neighbouring houses to let them know what is happening. The raid has come about as a result of local tip-offs. Burnley is a national pioneer in a new style of neighbourhood policing. Residents and officers get together regularly for formal meetings. Priorities that the community highlight are then acted upon by the police, even if, as in the case of today's raid, they know the best they can hope for is to inconvenience the dealers rather than frighten them away. Mary Boyle, 82, is the only local resident out on her doorstep to watch. She spent 40 years as a weaver in a local mill, she recalls, before it closed down. She sank all her savings into buying her own home, but has (omega) seen her neighbourhood go down and down. "I hardly recognise it any more. It used to be lovely. There was such a community here. I'd move but these houses aren't worth anything now. I've known three ladies who were friends who did move and it killed them all." She blames absentee landlords for introducing the blight of drugs. "They don't care who's in their houses, as long as they get the money from the social. No one cares anymore." What about the local council, especially the BNP members who have been attracting a ready audience in white areas like Trinity? "Oh they're useless," says Mrs Boyle, talking as if they are naughty schoolboys. "They've done nothing for us either." But why did people vote for them, I wonder aloud. "I don't have much to do with the Asians," she replies mildly. "Some of them did open a shop at the end of the lane and I used to go to get a few little things there. There were always cars outside and I thought they must be doing well. But then there was a police raid and they found £30,000 of drugs." That's her image of Asians, then. Mixed up with drugs. It takes less than five minutes in a car to get from Trinity to Stoneyholme, yet it might as well be on the other side of the moon.

Multiculturalism preaches that people should be able to live as they want, where they want, and with whom they want. It is clear from talking to community leaders on both sides in Burnley that, if the promised rebuild ever comes, they will want to maintain their ghettos. You cannot, according to the mantras of multiculturalism, force integration. You can only hope that it will start to occur naturally. Again in theory, it shouldn't be that hard. Less than 10 per cent of Burnley's 70,000-plus population comes from ethnic minorities. There are plenty of imaginative schemes to accelerate change and promote understanding. But still, integration remains a big ask. When Sanderson drops in on the local nursery school in Stoneyholme (just one of the 80 pupils is white), a teaching assistant, an articulate, friendly, young Asian woman who doesn't want to give her name, describes the ghetto mentality that persists and may even be deepening. "I'd been thinking of moving out of Stoneyholme into a more mixed area. Integrating, I suppose you'd call it. But with first the riots and then the BNP on the council, I've begun to feel unsafe when I'm away from my own. I have even started, for the first time in my adult life, wearing a headscarf." Again, it all comes down to perception. The police report today there are very few racial incidents indeed. But how do you dispel perceptions created by recent history and the climate of distrust it is still generating? An obvious first place is in schools. Burnley Council has launched a major programme called "Building Schools for the Future". Rumel's alma mater, Barden High, was 100 per cent Asian. It has now been closed and its pupils transferred to the newly integrated Sir John Thursby Community College, set up on the site of what had previously been an all-white, all-girls secondary in the Bank Hall area of town.

I stand with Sanderson and Ahmed next to an old park where the railings have been removed, watching as the kids from John Thursby walk home. They divide out almost exclusively along ethnic lines which in turn has caused some of the local, predominately white, residents on the route back to Stoneyholme to ring the police to complain about Asian teenagers on "their" streets. Couldn't the police take out an Asbo or something to stop them, one caller suggested. Such a knee-jerk reaction will only be encouraged by some aspects of the latest Respect initiative when it is implemented in Burnley. One of its key slogans is "Report It, Don't Tolerate It". You could argue that Burnley needs less reporting and more tolerance. Sanderson and Ahmed, though, are defiantly optimistic. While she pulls over a car full of Asian teenagers and crouches by the door chatting to them, collecting information, building bridges, Ahmed points out a young Asian lad as he walks past us. "He's my future policeman," he tells me. "He'll have to lose a bit of weight, though." With a degree in criminology, Ahmed - known as Zed to his colleagues - hopes to step up from Community Support Officer to join Sanderson in the police ranks soon. "When I started," he recalls, "it never occurred to me that young Muslims like me shouldn't have anything to do with the police. But on a drugs raid, early on, someone called me 'coconut'. I didn't know what he meant. I thought he was saying I needed a haircut. Then it was explained. He meant that I was brown on the outside, white on the inside. That just isn't how it feels."

The irony of Burnley is that, if you put the race issue to one side, the problems facing Stoneyholme are precisely the same ones facing Trinity. The drugs raid turns up evidence of use of class-A drugs as well as a crude attempt to by-pass the electric meter. Drugs, poverty, poor education and the consequences of industrial decline hang like a blight over the whole centre of the town with its derelict mill buildings. In their place has grown up a low-wage, low-skill economy. Where there is very little to have, even less to look forward to, it is easy for prejudices to breed as a form of release. But militancy - whether it be from the BNP or radical Muslim preachers - only comes at the end of a line of deprivations and degradations. The best Rumel and his mates can realistically hope for is a job in a local restaurant, supermarket or mini-cab firm. It is hardly an enticing prospect, and so their horizons right now don't stretch much further than whether or not to go to the local youth club. While they decide, Sanderson takes me off, up Brougham Street to the centre, next to the canal. Riaz Mohammed is the youth worker there. With a gentle face but an insistent tone, he describes his challenge as being, with youngsters like Rumel, to reverse a cycle of neglect that often starts at birth. "There is a huge issue today for parents here as to how to build a relationship with a child who speaks a different language. It can lead to a complete failure to build emotional relationships, between fathers and sons in particular. The fathers are, because of their own upbringing and traditions, cold and distant. It leaves their sons with massive identity problems." These can, he believes, ultimately lead young Muslims into "undesirable alliances" with what he calls "outside agitators". "Often these are temporary - and we have been lucky that there have been people in this community keeping a sharp eye out for these agitators and seeing them off." But the threat, he warns, is real.

Once you have spent some time at the sharp end of Burnley, it quickly becomes apparent that there are few quick fixes for the sort of deep-rooted economic, political and social alienation that has been several generations in the making. The riots and the BNP triumph were not, seen in such a light, about race, but about long-term despair and desperation. Even with abundant goodwill and investment, such problems may well take as long to solve as they did to develop. Not that Susan Sanderson is deterred. "Yes, there are problems, but there is also a sense of community here," she says looking out of the youth club windows. "And good people. In three years we have been able to build trust here. That has to be the starting point."  In the car park, she spots a group of youngsters gathering round a red Vauxhall Corsa. She and Ahmed go down to investigate. As they approach, the 17- and 18-year-olds hardly glance up, much less scarper. The reason is soon clear as Sanderson is ushered to the front and given pride of place on the passenger seat. This is no subversive meeting or drugs drop. One of them has a new postage stamp-sized car DVD player attached to his sound system and has it on at full blast, showing off to his mates. The way teenagers do.
© Independent Digital

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RACE SPECIAL: MOHSIN HAMID ON CITIZENSHIP(uk, opinion)

When the Pakistan-born novelist Mohsin Hamid applied for British citizenship, he had no inkling of the bizarre - yet strangely rewarding - rituals he would have to undergo for the sake of Queen and country.

25/2/2007- I sit at my desk in the open-plan London office where I work part-time as a brand consultant. Like so many authors, I write novels for the money, and I feed my soul by brand consulting. On this particular day, the seven British colleagues whose desks form a contiguous mass with my own are bent over with laughter. "You can't be serious," says Charlie. "They really ask you that?" says Joanna. "Wait, wait, I know," says Nick. "It's a lump of coal and whisky." "Almost," I reply. "The correct answer to the question, 'If you were the first visitor of the New Year to a Scottish home, what might you be expected to bring?' is coal, bread and whisky. This tradition, my friends, is known as 'first footing'." I am reading from pages 24 and 26 of the British Citizenship Test Study Guide. This, for those who are unfamiliar with the foundational text of our common culture, is "A comprehensive study guide containing official material, study advice and sample questions". So far, each of my colleagues has on average been able to answer only about one in three questions correctly. None, for example, could describe the intricately choreographed tribal ritual with which one year gives way to another in Wales.

Q: If you were visiting a Welsh home during the New Year, what tradition might be observed?
A: In Wales, on the stroke of midnight, the back door is opened to release the Old Year. It is then locked to keep the luck in, and at the last stroke, the front door opened to let in the New Year.

But unlike my colleagues, I, a 35-year-old, brown-skinned, Pakistani-born, US college- and law-school-educated, sometimes bearded, innately peripatetic, and rather obviously immigrated man can answer virtually all of the 175 sample questions correctly, because I spent much of the previous two days committing them to memory. I have, to borrow an expression from an illustrious group of navigators, The Knowledge. The reason I undertook to know these things, along with such facts as that until 1857 women in this country had no right to divorce and that the Northern Ireland Assembly has 108 members, is that I am taking my Life in the UK Test tomorrow morning. For prospective Britons who have lived here for several years, diligently paid their dues to the Inland Revenue, and avoided the acquisition of a criminal record, this test is the final hurdle they must cross before they can apply for citizenship. I wake up at the crack of dawn and huddle over the counter in the kitchen, engaged in a last-minute review of the Study Guide. It has been almost a decade since I last sat an exam, and my test-taking skills are rusty. But as my sleep-addled brain is slowly resuscitated, I feel a cold and merciless confidence begin to glint, bodkin-like, from within. "Yeah, baby," I say to myself with a Texan squint. "Bring it on."

The official testing centre I have selected is run by a company called A4e and is located on Great Portland Street in central London. As an invigilator explains the procedure, I cannot help but cast a glance over my fellow suitors of Britannia in the waiting area. There are perhaps two dozen in all, and I am surprised by their varied appearance. I see Sub-Saharan Africans. I see Arabs. I see white Europeans. I see East Asians and South Asians, and if my accent-allocation instincts are correct, an American Latino. I see - is it possible? - an oddly pale-skinned pygmy. No, I am mistaken; she is merely a child walking out of the lavatory. I feel a sense of camaraderie as I look around: this motley and eager crew is precisely the sort of nation to which I would be happy to belong. I am taken to a computer, made to log in, shown a sample question, and then it begins. We have 45 minutes to answer 24 questions with a maximum of six mistakes. The first question is one I am familiar with. Relief floods over me. I answer it and move on to the second, which I again recognise. Yes! And the third: a hat-trick! I make rapid progress and before I know it I am done. Less than 10 minutes have gone by. I raise my hand and am escorted back to the waiting area. As I get up, I glance at the test-taker beside me. He is wearing glasses. One hand rests uncertainly on his keyboard. A finger of his other hand is tracing a line of text on the screen. He is still on the first question. Frustration and despair are visible on his face. Nor is he alone. Many of us have completed the test early. But at least as many seem barely able even to begin. It is only then that I realise what surely must be the real purpose of the test: to exclude the illiterate and those with a poor mastery of the English language. That is why it does not ask us the practical questions that might actually be of use to life in the UK - the number to dial for emergency services, for example, or how to register to vote - and instead focuses on arcane trivia unknown even to most native Britons.

I am given my result. I have passed. I leave with a certificate. It is an unexpected anticlimax. My immigration advisor tells me that it could take three to six months for my citizenship to be approved. Being a Pakistani, and therefore used to onerous security checks, I expect a wait at the longer end of the spectrum. Instead, I receive my letter of congratulations from the Home Office in just a few weeks. "MI5 have lost the plot," Nick tells me at work. "What are they thinking, giving citizenship to a potential terrorist like you?" Then he laughs and presents me with a pair of Union Jack cuff links. Other colleagues gather round and applaud. I spread my arms and launch into an impromptu rendition of "Rule Britannia", of which I must admit I know only the first two lines. I am not yet a citizen. I am now required, as the final step in the process, to attend a citizenship ceremony. But that, I am told, is merely a formality, and for the first time I allow myself to think it will actually all work out, and I will not be turned down on some technicality. This paranoia, the sense that a way will be found to exclude me, is part of why I set out to become a British citizen in the first place. When I left Pakistan for (omega) college in America, I had no intention of staying there. But as college gave way to law school, and as law school gave way to a job in fabulous New York, I began to imagine that I might make a permanent home for myself in the United States. But I also felt a pull eastwards. Every three or four years of my dozen-year residence in America, I would return to Pakistan for an extended stay of several months to a year. In 1996, back when I could still imagine becoming a lawyer, I took a summer associate position at the British offices of an American firm, thinking I might prefer Britain's greater proximity to Pakistan. I turned 25 on a flight from New York to London, which I remember thinking at the time was symbolic. But the summer was quickly over, and years would pass before I found myself living in Britain again.

Throughout the 1990s, I remained caught up in America's labyrinthine immigration system. The F-1 visas of my college and law-school years were followed by a brief statutory period of work permission and then by discretionary H-1B visas that tied me to a single employer and could at that time be extended for a maximum of only six years. This limit gave rise to a desperate urgency to progress in one's application for a Green Card, with its promise of permanent residency. Half the starting class of my firm in New York were foreign-born, and immigration was one of our most frequent topics of conversation. The process of receiving a Green Card in America was a black box into which petitions disappeared for years at a time, constantly threatened by arbitrary decisions, labour-certification requirements and misplaced paperwork. The government department responsible for handling all this was, we were convinced, kept deliberately understaffed as an indirect form of immigration control. I knew many people who had been in the US for over a decade and still had not received their Green Cards. This state of legal limbo bred in me a sense of unease. At the same time, other countries were making it more and more difficult to travel on a Pakistani passport. When I first began work in New York, I could often get foreign visas in a day. Four years later, they could take as long as a month, making it almost impossible to know in advance whether a particular vacation or business trip would be able to take place. By the summer of 2001, I was once again feeling a pull eastward, so I arranged a one-year transfer to the London office of my firm. A month after I arrived, the carnage of 9/11 occurred, and America changed both in its attitude to Muslims within and in its actions abroad.

The contrasts with Britain became more and more pronounced. An article I wrote for a US newspaper had a paragraph on Muslim resentment deleted; a similar piece here was published in its entirety. There the Iraq war met with broad public approval; here I marched with over a million people in protest. There immigration officers at airports wore pistols at their hips and treated me as a suspect in a criminal proceeding; here I had polite encounters with unarmed public servants who asked me my business and stamped me through. When visiting the US, I was constantly under the impression that the decision of a single official could have me thrown out of the country. In Britain I went easily from a work permit to a highly skilled migrant visa to permanent residency. My American Green Card was finally approved during this time, and for a while I did consider again living in the US. But a year ago I posted my Green Card back to the American embassy. I had decided to stay. And I am not alone. More and more of my friends - and not just bankers and lawyers but also novelists and journalists - are choosing to make Britain their home and contributing to London's dramatic rise as perhaps the most cosmopolitan city in the world today. We are making our way through what is, despite its inequities, a comparatively efficient and welcoming immigration system. And I, with a certified passing mark in the Test of Life in the UK, am now at the end of the process. I t is clear to me that I have much to gain by becoming a British citizen: the right to travel more easily, the right to be more free of the fear of a change in the public mood followed by sudden deportation, the right to exercise my vote to have some say in how the taxes I am paying will be spent and in how my new country will be governed, the right to be less self-conscious in calling my home, home.

It also occurs to me that I have something to lose. I am a Pakistani and proud of it. Inevitably, I wonder if I am not somehow being disloyal to the country in which I was born and which I have always loved. I have the nagging guilt that I imagine accompanies thoughts of divorce. But then I remind myself that I am allowed dual citizenship. My situation is not analogous to that of a husband who is leaving his wife for another woman. No, I tell myself, I am more like a father who is about to have a second child. Of course I am nervous about neglecting my first-born. But surely I can find within me the affection and commitment to be true to both. It is in this spirit that I address myself to the ethical question of affirming my allegiance to the Queen, her Heirs and Successors - which I am informed I will be called upon to do at my citizenship ceremony. As an abstract concept I am troubled by monarchy; as a matter of history I have an even greater reserve; but as a citizen I have a duty to respect the constitution of the country to which I seek to belong. So I decide that I will interpret my statement of allegiance in this manner: as being made to symbols of the nation rather than to persons functioning in their private capacities as individuals. My pledge of allegiance will, in other words, be a statement of loyalty to Britain, which strikes me as entirely appropriate. The next appointment for a group citizenship ceremony is two months away. Consequently I ante up for an individual one instead. I report as scheduled to the registrar of my local authority, accompanied by my bemused wife and her camera. There I witness the rather sweet and self-conscious spectacle that results when a national culture known at least in part for self-deprecation comes up against the demands of an officially mandated grandeur.

A kindly woman is in charge of my ceremony. She explains the procedure and tells me not to be embarrassed. She reads a message of welcome from the Home Secretary. "The talents, backgrounds and experiences you are bringing are very important to us," she says. "There is much that is good in British society. And there are things we could make better. And together, working as a community, we can make it even better." As she continues, I am struck by the humility and inclusiveness of these statements. There is no "We're the greatest nation on earth and you're lucky to be here. Hoo-ya!" Instead, there is a respectful and generous invitation. She recites my affirmation of allegiance and I repeat after her. She presses play on a small portable stereo and the muffled strains of the national anthem struggle to fill the room. Then we stand together, a portrait of the Queen and a pair of Union Jacks behind us, in this little office which has perhaps known better times, as my grinning wife takes a picture. I am presented with a framed naturalisation certificate and it is done. As I leave the building, I must say I am touched. And I feel a little different.

Mohsin Hamid's second novel, 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist,' is published by Hamish Hamilton in March
© Independent Digital

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UK POLICE ACTION ON GAY HATE WEBSITE, GOOGLE PLACES WARNING ON HOMOPHOBIC SITE

23/2/2007- The Association of Chief Police Officers has condemned a homophobic website hosted by blogspot.com The weblog, called killbattyman, originates in Jamaica. The site carries numerous homophobic statements and also calls for all gay people to be killed. Detective Chief Inspector Simon Taylor, who works for ACPO's crime committee, told PinkNews.co.uk that they have informed the Internet Watch Foundation about the site. "ACPO condemn this completely. This is not the sort of thing we want anyone reading on the internet," said DCI Taylor. The Internet Watch Foundation was formed in 1996 following an agreement between the government, police and the internet service provider industry. Though the foundation deals mostly with child abuse images and racist material, it is also responsible for other illegal content and behaviour on the internet. It is unclear whether an offence under British law has been committed by the blog's authors or others in the UK, or other jurisdictions, who have distributed the homophobic material. The homophbic blog, which has been on Google's blogger.com service since March 2006, features numerous slurs against gay people, including gay activist Peter Tatchell. ACPO have pledged to look into the matter and said that the Internet Watch Foundation's role is to deal with offensive or illegal websites and attempt to have them shut down. The issue of jurisdiction would make prosecutions difficult. The site is hosted by a US company, blogger.com, which is owned by Google. A spokeswoman for Google told PinkNews.co.uk: "We take this very seriously. I cannot comment on individual blogs but this one has been brought to our attention. "The blogger team are investigating and if it is found to violate our terms and conditions or is illegal we will take appropriate action. "Google work closely with the Internet Watch Foundation on a range of issues."

Google places warning on homophobic site it hosts
24/2/2007- Google has placed a warning on a homophobic blog that allegedly incites the murder of gay people as a result of an investigation by PinkNews.co.uk. The weblog, called killbattyman, originates in Jamaica. The site carries numerous homophobic statements and also calls for all gay people to be killed. Visitors to killbattyman.blogspot.com which is hosted by Google's Blogger service now features a warning to visitors telling them that: "Some readers of this blog have contacted Google because they believe this blog's content is hateful." But Google adds: "In general, Google does not review nor do we endorse the content of this or any blog." On Friday, PinkNews.co.uk raised the issue with the British Association of Chief Police Officers who condemned the site. Detective Chief Inspector Simon Taylor, who works for ACPO's crime committee, told PinkNews.co.uk that they have informed the Internet Watch Foundation about the site. "ACPO condemn this completely. This is not the sort of thing we want anyone reading on the internet," said DCI Taylor. It is unclear whether an offence under British law has been committed by the blog's authors or others in the UK, or other jurisdictions, who have distributed the homophobic material. The blog, which has been on Google's Blogger service since March 2006, features numerous slurs against gay people, including gay activist Peter Tatchell. Although Google have posted a warning message on the site, the blog is still accessible to users who click a further link. However they reserve the right to "unlist" the site, which will reduce its visibility by new users.
© Pink News

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SHOCK COMIC NOT AMUSED BY FAR-RIGHT FANS IN FRANCE

1/3/2007- Guy Nantel is an up-and-coming Quebec stand-up comic who is opening a show in France in three weeks. What wasn't part of the promotional plan was drawing fans among the ranks of supporters of Jean-Marie Le Pen's far-right National Front party in France. In recent weeks, a video clip of a Nantel routine mocking Quebec's accommodations for religious minorities has being turning up on French blogs supporting the anti-immigration National Front. "Bravo, this guy is good," one blog visitor commented. "When I listen to the Quebec media, I envy their freedom," another said. Yet another gushed: "Hail to our Quebec friends !!!! who could teach something about freedom of speech to us French people." Mr. Nantel isn't happy about those French who missed the ironic context of his material. "I find it deplorable that there are people who are recuperating artistic material, taking it out of context and interpreting it at face value," he said in an interview yesterday. "It's my stage persona." Mr. Nantel often indulges in shock humour, politically incorrect comedy, playing with his audience's prejudices. Trying to describe his style, he alluded to Sacha Baron Cohen, the British comic who created the faux-Kazakh bigot Borat Sagdiyev. His routine on accommodating minorities was created three years ago, before the debate that has embroiled Quebec in recent monthsexploded. A well-travelled man who has been to China five times and has toured the world making video documentaries, Mr. Nantel has made a film about Mark Rowswell, the Canadian famous in China as the television personality Dashan. People who live together should share the same rights and privileges, he says. In his routine, he jokes: "Let's make things clear for newcomers. When you arrive here and we say, 'Make yourself at home,' it's just a figure of speech." Later, in the skit, he makes comments about various ethnic groups. It is that routine that is now circulating on the Internet and garnering thumbs-up from French extreme right-wingers.  "I'm light years from [their] views," Mr. Nantel said.

While his style is provocative, he has carved himself a spot in mainstream venues in Quebec. He appears weekly on a television public-affairs show. He is affiliated with the Just for Laughs Festival, part of a line-up of comedians who can be hired for corporate event. It's not the first time he has courted controversy. A few months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he was booed for a joke where he asked why "two thousand Americans who die in the World Trade Center, that's more serious than a million Rwandans." A few years later, the same joke now gets loud applause. Of his humour, he says: "Some people get it and love it. Some people get it and hate it. Some people don't get it and adore it. Some don't get it and hate it."
© Globe and Mail

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LE PEN TEMPERS RACISM IN FIFTH PRESIDENTIAL BID (France)

26/2/2007-  Moving away from blunt racism, the French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen folded a flavour of save-the-planet evangelism into his rhetoric yesterday as he launched his fifth bid for president. But M. Le Pen, whose daughter Martine is credited with softening his image, may not be able to run in the 22 April first round. He has not yet secured the 500 endorsements from elected officials that are required before he can stand. Speaking to 2,500 supporters in Lille, M. Le Pen, 78, for the first time brought environmental issues into his campaign, though the underlying message was still laced with allusions to the ills of immigration and the collusion against him by "the cartel of ministers and ex-ministers who have governed us for 30 years". In an appeal to the far left, he called on France's "seven million" poor people to "wake up to the global tragedy" caused by "planetary financial capitalism led by a few predators whose only target is double-digit profit in a nation called Money". Departing from his usual anti-foreigner rhetoric, he said: "We shouldn't blame immigrants for these policies. Those who bear the exclusive responsibility are French politicians [of the mainstream parties] who are today represented by the candidates [Ségolène] Royal, [Nicolas] Sarkozy and [François] Bayrou.  "It is they and the parties which have governed France, sometimes alone, sometimes in cohabitation; all of them responsible, all of them guilty," he said at the Palais des Congrès. The Front National claims M. Le Pen is capable of repeating his feat in the first round of the 2002 presidential elections when he secured more votes than the Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin and got into a second-round run-off with Jacques Chirac.

While anti-racism campaigners staged a demonstration in Lille on Saturday, Mme Le Pen outlined her father's manifesto: "It is clear that in the 1980s, the Front National was inspired by financial liberalism. Today it is much more difficult to define our programme. It's probably much more social. We need to face up to the ravages of ultra-capitalism on the salaried people of our country by rooting solidarity in nationality." The Front National wants "a fiscal" shock that would reduce income tax revenue by €29bn and lead to the introduction of an upper tax bracket of 20 per cent. It would claw back funds by not replacing 250,000 retiring civil servants over five years, scrapping €6bn of subsidies to business and a range of social help for non-nationals. The party wants to scrap health care for illegal immigrants, abolish immigrants' minimum-wage entitlement and limit child benefit to French nationals - measures which it claims would save €18.5bn. However, the party is no longer calling for a return to the franc or for France to leave the EU. M. Le Pen saw a firm place for France in the international community and suggested that he would be "the president who, in September 2007, will go to the United Nations General Assembly with an audacious plan for the joint management of four resources: water, food, basic medication and education". In a further shift in style, M. Le Pen quoted from Alice in Wonderland and mused briefly about the beauty of little flowers and grazing sheep returning to lava-covered slopes after a volcanic eruption and declared that he was "the candidate of life".

Why launch in Lille?
Jean-Marie Le Pen's choice of Lille (pictured) for the first convention of his fifth bid for president suits his objective of portraying the Front National as "the new workers' party". Situated in the formerly industrial Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Lille's heart is to the left. Its mayor is the Martine Aubry - daughter of the Socialist Party veteran Jacques Delors. However, despite having built on its borderland status to attract European subsidies, a Eurostar stop and some service-sector relocations, the Lille region has not managed to replace the breweries, textile mills and coal mines that made up its solid industrial base. Unemployment in Greater Lille stands at 12 per cent and figures for neighbouring cities, such as Tourcoing and Roubaix are worse. Mr Le Pen's nationalistic and populist message goes down well with voters here who are traditionally Communist or Socialist but have become disillusioned by the post-industrial, post-cold war left wing.
© Independent Digital

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FRANCE'S LE PEN BUILDS LASTING LEGACY

24/2/2007- This gathering of Jean-Marie Le Pen's supporters opened to the unlikely strains of the theme music from the film Pirates of the Caribbean. In his early political days Mr Le Pen once sported a black eye-patch. But he abandoned that years ago although he has found it harder to cast off the piratical image. His controversial comments - like his description of the Nazi gas chambers as "a point of detail" in World War II or his remark last week that the 9/11 attacks were just "an incident" - continue to give him an image as something of a political loose cannon. But that matters little to his supporters. They believe that they are the outsiders, excluded by the system. It is a theme capitalised on in the National Front's rhetoric. The uncertainty over Mr Le Pen's ability to gather the 500 sponsorship letters from elected local officials needed to get his name onto the ballot paper is being played up by Front spokesmen as yet another sign that they are the underdog grappling with the establishment.

Strident nationalist
Lille is a good place for Mr Le Pen to launch his presidential programme. The convention is being held in the Grand Palais, a gaunt concrete conference centre which looks as though it has seen better days. It could be a metaphor for the region as a whole. This industrial area has been hard hit by recession. "Its a region that symbolises economic hardship," as one speaker put it and it is a place where Mr Le Pen's stridently nationalist and populist message goes down well. Behind the stage was a vast screen bearing a projected image of seven jet fighters, soaring into the sky, trailing smoke of red, white and blue. Above this was the slogan "With Le Pen - Let's Revive Our France". One of the principal speakers today was Marine Le Pen, the candidate's daughter. With few of the rough edges of her father, she is directing his campaign and is responsible for the effort to give him a more modern and a somewhat more moderate look. "France is going down the drain," she said. "The French people are losing the joy of being French. We need a statesman, a man with character who can look into the future, who will give sovereignty back to the French people". That man, she said, was Jean Marie Le Pen. But for all the manicuring of his image, Mr Le Pen's message still represents very much the traditional face of the French far-right. What he sees as the ills of immigration remain at the heart of his politics. Stalls at this convention represent a weird combination of ancient and modern. The paraphernalia of the campaign trail - mugs, tee-shirts, key-rings and posters - sitting side-by-side with books about veterans of the Algerian war and tracts hinting at an international conspiracy spreading the virus of "mondialisme". The term loosely translates as "globalisation" but conveys a sense of older and darker conspiracy theories posed by the threat from "cosmopolitan forces".

Political legacy
Mr Le Pen is presently trailing in fourth place in the opinion polls. If he does gain sufficient sponsors to enter the race he is going to have to struggle to replicate his success of 2002 when he defeated the Socialist candidate at the first presidential ballot, winning through to the crucial second round of voting. Jean-Marie Le Pen's biography has been massaged by his supporters to cast him as a man of destiny. He will not become president. But in its 30 or more years in existence, the National Front has had a significant influence on the French political scene. It has shaped the way immigration has been handled as an issue. And now - whoever they vote for - opinion polls suggest that between one quarter and one fifth of the French electorate agree with his ideas. That will be Mr Le Pen's political legacy.
© BBC News

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ONLINE GROUPS FOR WHITE STUDENTS RAISE CONCERNS OF RACISM AT RYERSON (Canada)

1/3/2007- A steady growth of online groups devoted to white students has triggered a wave of concern from Ryerson University administration and students who worry the groups are fostering racism. Administration is investigating how university policy could apply to the groups, many of which were created by Ryerson students on the networking website Facebook. Among the user groups are "I'm a White Minority @ a Toronto University" with more than 200 members, and "Equal Rights for Whites" with more than 150. With posts such as "white people unite" generating uproar and a surge in national media attention, the university is facing a "sensitive and complicated issue" in an electronic age where jurisdiction is unclear, said Julia Hanigsberg, general counsel for Ryerson. "We're talking to other universities [...] because this is something we're all facing," said Hanigsberg. "This isn't something that's unique to this university, and we want to make sure we're dealing with it in the most appropriate way." Muhammad Ali Jabbar, the Ryerson Students' Union (RSU) president, said the growth of these online groups demonstrates a lack of education about anti-discrimination, and another civil rights movement may be needed to counter intolerance. "The future looks pretty bleak when things like this are going on, and it just shows there's a lot more work that needs to be done," he said. Jabbar said the union can do nothing about the groups because they exist only in cyberspace.

Although no white culture groups have tried to gain club status on campus, comments online have implied students might try to do so. But they would have a "very hard time" trying to prove a white culture exists, said Nora Loreto, RSU vice-president (education). She says many cultural groups exist for white students, including clubs for Italian and Polish students. "So do white students have a group and a place to organize, and do they have a chance to organize on campus? Yes," said Loreto. "Is there such a thing as white culture or have we been approached to form a white culture club? No." Trevor Morris, a Ryerson student and president of the new Facebook group called "Ryerson Students Against Race Based Groups," said a "double standard" against white students is proven by RSU's refusal to grant club status to white culture groups. This is why he wants to gather support for the removal of all culture clubs if a club for white students is prohibited, he said. Morris also said the media has "overreacted" because nothing racist has been said in any of the groups - but he said that doesn't mean he agrees with everything that's posted, referring to a comment written by an administrator of "Equal Rights for Whites," that stated, "white people are Gods [sic] gift to the world." "I don't think there's anybody in any of these groups that actually have any hatred towards anybody," he says. Morris says that particular comment was probably a joke and it shouldn't be taken seriously. Jabbar said a racism fact sheet and anti-racism training for RSU board members are currently in the works, part of a motion passed last November when the online groups first grabbed attention.
© The Charlatan

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FINALLY, JUSTICE NAILS ZUNDEL(Canada)

We let him spew hate too long
By Mark Bonokoski

23/2/2007- It was last Friday, some nine pages into this newspaper, that a 44-line story out of Mannheim, Germany, appeared, announcing that Ernst Zundel had been sentenced to five years in prison for denying the Holocaust. News editors across this country -- in all media -- no doubt uttered a collective sigh of relief with Zundel's imprisonment. No more space or air time would have to be given to covering the trials and utterances of this unquestionably odious man, an unrepentant neo-Nazi who called Toronto his home for so many years, and whose constitutional challenges, detentions and eventual deportation from Canada took up more court time and taxpayers' dollars than would warrant that of a serial killer. For all intent and purpose, Ernst Zundel was finally now gone. Good riddance. Lassen Sie uns hoffen, daB wir nie wieder treffen. Let us hope that we never meet again. It takes a long memory, though, to remember the days when this wasn't so, to when Ernst Zundel was being quoted willy-nilly in the newspapers and on the airwaves -- including the CBC -- as a legitimate spokesman for a group calling itself Concerned Parents of German Descent, his background unquestioned and his opinion sought out. It was in the late 1970s, when a TV mini-series called The Holocaust was being played in prime time, and Zundel's Concerned Parents of German Descent was getting a sympathetic ear from all media quarters with its argument that World War II was long over, and that the Germans of today need not be tarnished yet again with this plowed-ground reminder of the sins of their fathers and grandfathers. And then a story came out that changed everything.

It was a story about how Ernst Zundel, under his middle names of Christof Friedrich, had recently authored a 120-page soft-covered book called The Hitler We Loved And Why. It was reviewed in a right-wing American magazine, The Liberty Bell, as "leaving no doubt (that) Hitler was well-loved and loved in return." "But this relationship between The Leader and his people was not the gushy, sickly-sweet effusion of an obese Jewish mother for his pimply, draft-dodging son," the reviewer wrote. "This was Aryan love. Strong, steady and uplifting." With that story, confirmed and documented, Ernst Zundel found himself unmasked as a neo-Nazi and a hate monger, and therefore no longer a credible spokesman for any concerned German upset over the depiction of negative German stereotypes. It was a story, by-the-by, that was written by me, and it is therefore my little footnote to not only one sad chapter of Canadian history, but to a sad moment in the media's own journal for its initial willingness to take Ernst Zundel at face value -- with no questions asked. There is no way of knowing for certain, however, just how long Ernst Zundel might have been able to maintain his charade before someone questioned his motives and his background, although one hopes that it would have had a limited shelf life. Today, one suspects, it might have lasted for a nanosecond, what with the Internet and the countless blogs it has spawned. But, then again, who knows?

Within minutes of Zundel's conviction in Germany, where it is punishable with a maximum five-year sentence for denying the Holocaust and inciting hatred, B'nai Brith Canada issued a press release applauding the German court's ruling -- stating that the Zundel case "graphically illustrates the gap between Canadian and German treatment of Holocaust deniers." "It took Ernst Zundel's deportation to Germany from Canada in order to hold him criminally responsible for his messages of hate and racial incitement," said Frank Dimant, executive v-p of B'nai Brith Canada. "It was a German court that meted out the maximum sentence allowable for the clearly recognized offence of Holocaust denial -- a charge that is not distinguishable in Canada from other hate laws on our books. "Where in Germany Ernst Zundel's trial proceeded rapidly and without delay, in Canada he had decades of opportunities in which to spew his hatred and venom and inspire new generations of white supremacists to follow in his path," said Dimant. "Only a few weeks ago, more than 103 countries, including Canada, joined together to co-sponsor a United Nations resolution condemning Holocaust denial, in what was intended as a clear and unequivocal response to Iran -- the biggest purveyor of Holocaust denial today. "We call on Canada and other nations to emulate the German example, by explicitly recognizing Holocaust denial as a hate crime and giving teeth to this law through its consistent application," Dimant added. "As the door slams finally shut on Zundel, there is much more work needed to be done to address the growing and dangerous spread of Holocaust denial."

Back in the late '70s, at the time all this went down and Ernst Zundel was forced to admit that he, indeed, was the author of The Hitler We Loved And Why, threats against my physical well-being came fast and furious from the neo-Nazi crowd in Toronto. I was accused of being a Jew, as if being a Jew was bad -- even though I am not Jewish. A neo-Nazi named Wolfgang Droege was behind most of the threats, but he is no longer with us. Droege, an unemployed white supremacist and former Heritage Front leader, was shot dead in the hallway of his Toronto apartment building back in April 2005, where he was making a living as a drug dealer. Keith DeRoux, a paranoid cocaine-addict, was sentenced to 10 years in prison last June, his delusions apparently fuelling his encounter with Droege who he "firmly but mistakenly believed was orchestrating a campaign of unremitting harassment" against him. With Droege, however, anything was possible. When the story first broke regarding Zundel's authorship of The Hitler We Loved And Why, and he had no recourse but to admit the truth, Zundel issued the following press release:

'SMEAR CAMPAIGN'
"Apparently the editorial policy of the Toronto Sun is to generate heat rather than light on the subject of anti-German hate propaganda," he said. "It would also appear Mark Bonokoski has been selected as the journalistic hatchetman in conducting a smear campaign directed against me as a person, which is calculated to distract the public from the important issues which are a concern of all Canadians of every ethnic group."


Ernst Zundel was only 38 when he wrote that press release, his anti-Semitism masquerading as history now fully exposed. And he was 67 when he finally went to jail. It was, therefore, not a bad run -- all in all.
© Toronto Sun

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MIGRANTS AND REFUGEES, WHY DRAW A DISTINCTION? (Opinion)

By José Riera, senior Policy Adviser in the Policy Development and Evaluation Service at UNHCR

24/2/2007- Refugees are "migrants" in the broadest sense of the term; yet, they continue to be a distinct category of people. As specified in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, they are outside their country of nationality and are unable or unwilling to return due to a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality or membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Over the years, the refugee concept has been broadened to encompass other people who have fled events that pose a serious threat to their life and liberty. What makes refugees different from other categories of migrants is their need for international protection and their right to seek and enjoy asylum in another State.

Refugee and migratory movements intersect in a number of different ways. People who are on the move from one country to another, even when they meet the criteria for refugee status, increasingly engage in unauthorized or undocumented movement, making use of similar routes, employing the services of the same smugglers and obtaining fraudulent travel documents from the same suppliers. While these similarities have no bearing on the fundamental difference between refugees and non-refugees, they have contributed towards a blurred distinction between the two. Concerns about national security in the wake of 9/11 (2001) and State efforts to stem abuse of asylum systems, as well as the growing interstate cooperation to curb irregular migration, have made it harder for refugees to seek and enjoy protection. Many States have introduced measures intended to prevent and deter foreign nationals from arriving on their territory and submitting claims for refugee status. Interdiction of boats on the high seas is a growing practice. It is also of grave concern that the restrictive measures introduced to curb irregular migration and combat human smuggling and trafficking are applied indiscriminately and prevent refugees from gaining access to asylum procedures of another State and entry to the territory.

The numbers speak for themselves. According to the latest asylum statistics for 36 industrialized nations published in September 2006 by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the downward trend in most of these countries continues unabated; 2005 saw the lowest number of asylum-seekers since 1987. During the first months of 2006, applications dropped a further 14 per cent, compared to the same period last year. While this continued decline can be partially attributed to improved conditions in some of the countries of origin, it may also be due to the introduction of more restrictive asylum policies, notably in Europe. The High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, held by the UN General Assembly in September 2006, has undoubtedly put international migration higher on the global agenda. Participants broadly agreed that it can be a positive force for development in both countries of origin and destination, provided that it is supported by the right set of policies. They also recognized that it is essential to address the root causes of international migration to ensure that people migrated out of choice rather than necessity; the same can be said for the root causes of refugee movements. Many participants pledged to work more closely to stem irregular migration.

The presence of refugees among a larger group of migrants, some of whom may also use the asylum channel as a means of entering a foreign country, confronts the international community and UNHCR with some important challenges. High on the list of goals is an effective and coherent response to "mixed" migratory movements, including the protection of refugees and asylum-seekers. Boat movements of sub-Saharan Africans across the Mediterranean provide a good example. While the pattern of migration that we see in the Mediterranean today is not in essence a "refugee" situation, the movement of people seeking asylum and protection is one of its features. In addition to the immediate task of saving lives, systems and procedures have to be established to identify those who are in need of asylum. It is also important to ensure that any measures taken to curb irregular maritime migration do not prevent refugees from gaining the protection to which they are entitled. Equally needed is a clearer understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the different actors involved-such as the countries of origin and transit, international organizations and shipping companies-when people are intercepted or rescued at sea. It is also important to ensure that people who have travelled or who hope to travel find a lasting solution to their situation, whether or not they are recognized as refugees.

It is, of course, the legitimate right of States to control and secure their borders, but this right is not unfettered. Interception at sea and other measures to curb irregular migration should not result in violations of the non-refoulement principle, which is the cornerstone of the international refugee regime and prevents people from being returned to countries where their life and liberty would be at risk. It is therefore noteworthy that the European Union's Justice and Home Affairs Ministers agreed in October 2006 that measures to reinforce the Union's southern external maritime borders and to counter migration on the high seas must be "without prejudice to the principles laid down in the international legal framework on the law of the sea and the protection of refugees".

It is important to bear in mind that refugees over time may also become "migrants". Many have been able to establish livelihoods and become productive members of their communities in countries of asylum. They may choose to remain in that country, even if the causes of their flight have been removed in their homeland, or they may move on and enter the labour market in another country. In such contexts, it is important to ensure that all refugees are able to benefit from the human rights and labour standards to which they are entitled as migrants. In addition, blurring the distinction between a refugee and a migrant may even be advisable, as long as refugees, who are unable to return to their country of origin, continue to receive the protection to which they are entitled under international law. 
© The UN Chronicle

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RACIAL SLUR BANNED IN NEW YORK (usa)

1/3/2007- The city council of New York has voted to ban the use of the word "nigger". The resolution to ban the so-called "N-word" is largely symbolic as it carries no weight in law and those who use the word would face no punishment. But it reflects a growing unease that the racial slur is now part of everyday conversation and that the taboo against its usage has been swept away. The word is in common usage among sections of the younger generation in the United States.

'Throwback to slavery'
For many years the "N-word" has been used by young African Americans who have appropriated it as a, perhaps ironic, term of endearment. Now, other ethnic groups have started to use it in a similar context, and those who insist it should be banned are growing increasingly outraged. Many African American community leaders, with the backing of fellow lawmakers, say it is offensive in every context and that is a word which should never be said. For them the word is loaded with offensiveness. They regard it as degrading and a throwback to the times of slavery when blacks were regarded as sub-human, to be bought and sold by their white owners. The New York City resolution was sponsored by Councilman Leroy Comrie, who says the "N-word" was derived solely out of hate and anger and that its meaning cannot be changed. But for America's so-called hip-hop generation using the word among themselves is about self-empowerment. Its usage is habitual and seems culturally fixed and to stop it is likely to take a change in their attitudes rather than an edict from elected officials.
© BBC News

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MISSISSIPPI JURY REFUSES TO INDICT FOR CIVIL RIGHTS ERA MURDER(usa)

28/2/2007- A last hope of justice over one of the most painful episodes in the racial history of the US was apparently lost yesterday when a Mississippi grand jury refused to issue an indictment for the killing of Emmett Till, the teenager whose murder 50 years ago galvanised the civil rights movement. Fifty-two years after Till's kidnap and murder, and two years after his remains were exhumed from his grave by federal investigators, a jury declined to issue charges against one of the few people left alive and implicated in his death. The prosecution had sought manslaughter charges against Carolyn Bryant, now 73, the widow of one of the two white men who confessed to Till's killing after their earlier acquittal by an all-white jury. Till, aged 14, who lived in Chicago, had been visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi in August 1955, and allegedly whistled at Ms Bryant in a grocery store. He was later abducted by a group of men - and some some say Ms Bryant - and his mutilated body was dredged out of the Tallahatchie river three days later. The decision yesterday frustrates a plan to resolve scores of suspected murders of African Americans in the south in the civil rights era. In Washington yesterday, the FBI announced a partnership with the civil rights group NAACP, the Southern Poverty Law Centre, and the National Urban League, to try to bring closure to cases before the last witnesses of that era die. The FBI re-opened some of the cases last year, and the Poverty Law Centre last week referred an additional 74 deaths. "Although we cannot turn back the clock nor right these wrongs we will continue to work closely with our partners to bring a measure of justice to the victims' families and friends who never lost hope," said the FBI director, Robert Mueller. But the FBI has given the Till file only to local prosecutors, suggesting they pursue a case against Ms Bryant. "You're looking at Mississippi. I guess it's about the same way it was 50 years ago," said Simeon Wright, who was in the store with Till. "We had overwhelming evidence and they came back with the same decision ...same attitude."
© The Guardian

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AFTER 400 YEARS, VIRGINIA ISSUES OFFICIAL APOLOGY FOR SLAVERY(usa)

· Resolution passed in former confederate capital · 'Profound regret' for enslavement of millions

26/2/2007- The state of Virginia, the heart of the confederacy during the civil war, has issued the first official apology for slavery and the exploitation of native Americans by the country's white settlers. In a resolution that passed unanimously in both chambers of the state general assembly in Richmond, legislators offered their "profound regret" for the enslavement of millions of Americans. "The moral standards of liberty and equality have been transgressed during much of Virginia's and America's history," the resolution says. It calls the enslavement of millions of Africans and the exploitation of native Americans "the most horrendous of all depredations of human rights and violations of our founding ideals in our nation's history". The collective expression of remorse is believed to be the first of its kind to recognise that the foundations of America were built on exploitation. Its symbolism was underlined by its delivery from Richmond, the former capital of the confederacy and home at the outset of the civil war in 1861 to half a million of the four million African-Americans living in slavery. The display of contrition was timed to mark the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the English settlement of Jamestown in 1607. The first recorded instance of slavery in the New World was at Jamestown 12 years later with the landing of a Dutch ship at the colonial outpost bearing 20 Africans in chains who were to be sold as indentured servants. By the early 18th century, such enslavement was enshrined in Virginia's legal code, and slaves became crucial to an economy built on the cultivation of tobacco and cotton. The general assembly passed laws sparing white plantation owners from prosecution should a slave die in their custody, and allowed runaway slaves to be hunted down and killed.

The injustice was not entirely righted with Abraham Lincoln's proclamation of emancipation in 1863, the resolution acknowledges. "The abolition of slavery was followed by systematic discrimination, enforced segregation, and other insidious institutions and practices toward Americans of African descent that were rooted in racism, racial bias, and racial misunderstanding." Virginia's apology is the most recent attempt by a southern state to put the past to rights. Maryland and Missouri are considering similar measures, and other states have begun to compensate African-Americans for the wrongs of the past. Florida has paid compensation to the descendants of an all-black town that was destroyed by a white lynch mob in 1923. "This session will be remembered for a lot of things, but 20 years hence I suspect one of those things will be the fact that we came together and passed this resolution," said Donald McEachin, a Democratic sponsor of the bill, who is a descendant of slaves. However, the apology was not without controversy. Earlier this year, another member of the house, Frank Hargrove, said African-Americans should "get over" slavery, claiming he should not have to apologise for something that happened before he was born.

Strange relations
Genealogists hired by a New York newspaper to trace the ancestry of the civil rights activist Al Sharpton said yesterday his forebears were slaves owned by the family of a southern white senator who was an icon of segregation. The bizarre connection between Mr Sharpton and the late South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond was established after two weeks of research, the Daily News reported. Thurmond was among the most fervent defenders of segregation, speaking non-stop for 24 hours on in the US Senate to block civil rights legislation. After his death in 2003, it was found that he had fathered a child by a teenage black maid. Mr Sharpton was stunned by the findings. "I always wondered what was the background of my family," he told the newspaper. "But nothing could prepare me for this." The genealogists found documents in a Florida court showing that Mr Sharpton's great grandfather, his wife and two children, had been given as a gift to a Julia Thurmond in the state.
© The Guardian

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