NEWS - Archive April 2008

Headlines 25 April, 2008

Headlines 18 April, 2008

Headlines 11 April, 2008

INTERNATIONAL ROMA DAY 2008

Headlines 4 April, 2008

Headlines 25 April, 2008

RULING: SCHOOL WRONG TO DENY RIGHT-WING EXTREMISTS(Sweden)

No one has the right to obstruct right-wing extremists from passing out literature at schools, Sweden’s Chancellor of Justice has ruled.

25/4/2008- The Karlberg School in Köping in central Sweden was in the wrong when it denied the National Democrats from handing out political information to students, the Chancellor wrote in an opinion criticizing the school’s actions. The middle school was criticized for denying the anti-immigrant party from arranging a table displaying literature and handing out flyers to students at the school. “You can’t shut out a political party for having an opinion which isn’t in agreement with the school’s basic values,” Chancellor Göran Lambertz said to news agency TT. The National Democrats, a breakaway faction of the Sweden Democrats whose primary goal is to establish an ethnic and cultural homogeneous Sweden—asked last year to come to the school and distribute information about the party. Principal Ragnar Larsson put a stop to the plans. “There was a political resolution in the municipality that parties which are hostile toward immigrants or non-democratic should not be allowed into schools. When I looked at the National Democrats website I interpreted their party platform as hostile to immigrants,” said the principal.
© The Local

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FEW DUTCH CASES AT HUMAN RIGHTS COURT

25/4/2008- The European Court of Human Rights heard 365 Dutch cases last year which amounts to less than 1% of the total, reports ANP news service in Friday. But the Netherlands has a relatively high number of cases related to foreigners’ rights, says ANP. Half of these were from asylum-seekers who felt that their application to remain in the country had illegally been turned down. However these complaints have fallen since the general amnesty granted by the government last year and a less strict regime by the current administration, ANP said. ‘The Dutch government operates in line with the minimum demands of the European Treaty for Human Rights or far above,’ Egbert Myjer, a Dutch judge at the court in Strasbourg told ANP. ‘We are used to them [human rights]. The rights are integrated. This is a big difference with countries where people are tortured or where any criticism leads to a newspaper being closed down,’ he is quoted as saying. The Netherlands was found guilty of two serious breaches of human rights last year. One was the case of a journalist who was held in custody for 18 days for refusing to reveal his sources. The second involved the illegal recording by the police of a suspect’s conversations in a fraud case. Russia tops the list of human rights violation cases handled by the Human Rights Court last year, says ANP.
© Dutch News

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F1 LAUNCHES ANTI-RACISM CAMPAIGN AT TRACK WHERE HAMILTON WAS TAUNTED(Spain)

24/4/2008- Formula One's governing body launched an anti-racism campaign on Thursday at the same track where Spanish fans taunted black driver Lewis Hamilton. FIA unveiled the "Everyrace" campaign in response to the racist abuse directed at the McLaren driver during winter testing here on Feb. 2. Widely publicized photographs showed a group of people in the Catalunya Circuit stands wearing dark face paint with T-shirts displaying the slogan "Hamilton's Family." The anti-racism campaign was launched on the www.everyrace.net website after FIA agreed with the Spanish Automobile Federation's assessment that the incident was "not at all representative of the thousands of people who enjoy a convivial atmosphere and the spectacle offered by motorsport." The website allows visitors to pledge support for the initiative via e-mail alongside morphing photos of faces of different nationalities involved in F1. Hamilton said he doesn't expect any problems this weekend. "It's good to see all the other drivers supporting it as well," Hamilton said. Formula One's most celebrated rookie last year is under pressure this season to rebound from consecutive poor results after winning the first race at the Australian GP. The 23-year-old had his worst placing in 20 career races at Bahrain after a stall at the start and a rushed overtaking move that cost him his front wing and eventually had him finish 13th. "Obviously, I won't be making the same mistake again," Hamilton said Thursday. "Running away and coming here feeling fresh (for this weekend) was important." Hamilton ceded the championship lead to Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen as a result. World champion Raikkonen leads with 19 points, three better than BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld. Hamilton, teammate Heikki Kovalainen and Robert Kubica of BMW Sauber are next with 14.

News of the anti-racism campaign was news to Spanish drivers Fernando Alonso and Pedro De La Rosa. "I was not aware of this campaign," said Alonso, who has always maintained the fans were not taunting Hamilton over his skin color. "This weekend, and always, it has always been OK and everyone will be able to see," said the Renault driver, who had a rocky partnership with Hamilton at McLaren last year. Under-fire FIA president Max Mosley was not in Barcelona to endorse the plan. Mosley's future is in jeopardy after a British tabloid reported that the 68-year-old Briton engaged in sex acts with five prostitutes in London that involved Nazi role-playing. "One thing that most attracted me to motor sport was that nobody cared about your background, race, gender or religion; all that mattered was how quick you were," Mosley said in a statement for the anti-racism program. F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone told the Associated Press earlier this year that the Spanish incidents were blown out of proportion and that he wanted to meet the alleged racists this weekend. "The sport is all about a driver's ability and this will never have anything to do with their race or the color of their skin," Ecclestone said. World champion Raikkonen and Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa of Brazil were among several F1 drivers and team leaders who joined in the anti-racism plan.
© Associated Press

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JANÁČKOVÁ ESCAPES RACISM CHARGES(Czech Rep.)

24/4/2008- Czech Senator Liana Janackova (for the Independents movement) will not be prosecuted over her controversial statements about a group of Romanies in Ostrava, north Moravia, as the Senate refused to strip her of immunity as a lawmaker Thursday. Janackova's prosecution is thus ruled out forever. Earlier today Janackova asked the Senate to release her for the prosecution the police wanted to launch over what some suspect to have been racist utterances. She said she wanted to refute the speculations that the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), which commands a majority in the Senate, would otherwise support her in the Senate because she had backed its candidate Vaclav Klaus in the February presidential elections. However, in the subsequent vote on whether Janackova should be stripped of immunity, the step was supported by only 13 of the 54 senators present. Apart from all ODS senators present, the release of Janackova for prosecution, proposed by the senior opposition Social Democrats (CSSD), was not supported by her colleagues from the Independents' Association (SNK) group, by most Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) and by two CSSD senators. The rest of the CSSD backed the proposal as did all senators for the Communist party (KSCM), members of the Open Democracy Club (KOD) group, KDU-CSL senator Vaclav Koukal, and Premysl Sobotka, the ODS's Senate chairman. The opponents of the proposal pointed out that Janackova had made her statements in the heat of passion and without a racist intention. They said the whole affair has a political subtext. Those promoting Janackova's release said that a politician must behave as a public official. They pointed out that a former deputy mayor of an Ostrava district, who is not protected by immunity, faces prosecution over his Romany-related words, similar to Janackova's.

Janackova, who is Mayor of Ostrava district Marianske Hory and Hulvaky, pronounced the controversial words at meeting of the housing department of her district authority in 2006. On a recording from the event, she was heard speaking about excessively multiplying Romanies and about "dynamite" to blow them up with, in connection with solving problems in a Romany settlement. "Unfortunately, I'm a racist, I disagree with the integration of gypsies and their living across the district. Unfortunately, we've chosen Bedriska [locality], therefore they will be there, behind a tall fence with electricity," Janackova was heard saying from the recording. Janackova apologised for her statements last year, saying they were unfortunate and silly. She said she had made them in a tense atmosphere. She dismissed having aimed her words at all Romanies.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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SENATOR GETS AWAY WITH STATEMENT ON ROMA(Czech Rep.)

22/4/2008- Czech senator Liana Janackova should not be released for criminal prosecution over what she said about Roma in Ostrava, North Moravia, the Senate immunity committee said Tuesday. In connection with the case, the committee did not recommend that Janackova be stripped of immunity as a senator. The final decision will be made by the Senate. Janackova, who is Mayor of Ostrava district Marianske Hory and Hulvaky, pronounced the controversial words at meeting of the housing department of her district authority in 2006. On a recording from the event, she was heard speaking about excessively multiplying Roma and about "dynamite" to blow them up with, in connection with solving problems in a Romani settlement. "Unfortunately, I'm a racist, I disagree with the integration of gypsies and their living across the district. Unfortunately, we've chosen Bedriska [locality], therefore they will be there, behind a tall fence with electricity," Janackova was heard saying from the recording. Janackova apologised for her statements last year, saying they were unfortunate and silly. She said she had made them in a tense atmosphere. Janackova was backed by seven out of the nine present members of the committee. Janackova attended the meeting, but did not ask for her release for prosecution, chairman of the committee Jiri Pospisil (the Civic Democratic Party, ODS) said. Janackova was to be prosecuted over defamation of nation, ethnic origin and race. Earlier Tuesday, the Ostrava state attorney's office brought the same charges against former deputy mayor of Ostrava's district Jiri Jizersky for racist statements about Roma. Jizersky, who was deputy major of Ostrava district Marianske Hory a Hulvaky, spoke about "wiping out" Romani residents at a meeting of the local council that discussed the situation in the problematic Bedriska Romani settlement.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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GOVERNMENT DISAPPOINTED BY COE REPORT ON RACISM, INTOLERANCE(Malta)

23/4/2008- The Maltese government had strongly rebutted allegations made in a report by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) of the Council of Europe. The members of the commission visited Malta in July and a report of their visit has just been presented to the government. The Commission in its report said that Malta’s detention policy had resulted in negative consequences not only on the respect of the rights of the persons concerned but also on the perception of these people as criminals and the levels of racism and xenophobia among the general population. “These perceptions have been sustained by a public, and notably political, debate around irregular immigration in which human rights and human dignity have generally not been in focus. Irregular immigration has also provided the platform for the development of organised right-wing extremist groups. Irregular migrants, asylum seekers, persons with humanitarian protection and refugees remain vulnerable to racial discrimination in accessing different services and to exploitation on the labour market, where they are predominantly employed illegally. "The legal provisions against racist expression, racially-motivated offences and racial discrimination are not yet fully applied and there is still little awareness of the need to actively monitor racism and racial discrimination in order to identify and address these phenomena properly.” The commission said Malta’s perception of itself exclusively as a transit country for immigration has negatively affected the Maltese authorities’ ability to devise integration measures for persons who may end up staying for long periods of time in the country," the commission said. It recommended, among other things, that the Maltese authorities commit to a process aimed at identifying non-custodial alternatives for reception of irregular migrants. While the current detention policy is maintained, it recommends that they improve the conditions of detention and provide these persons with learning opportunities.

ECRI also recommended that the Maltese authorities promote a more balanced debate on immigration that reflects the human rights dimension of this phenomenon. It furthermore recommended that the Maltese authorities improve the implementation of the provisions in force against racism and racial discrimination through: training and awareness-raising measures for the judges and police; awareness-raising measures for potential victims of discrimination and strengthening the independence of the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality. The government in a reply said the ECRI had not fully appreciated the scale of the crisis faced by the smallest EU Member State with one of the highest population densities in the world, as a result of the steadily growing wave of illegal immigrants from North and sub-Saharan Africa. “International law recognizes the right, or perhaps more appropriately, the duty especially in view of Malta’s accession to the Schengen acquis, of each state to determine which foreign nationals may enter and remain on its territory; and to return those it refuses to their countries of nationality. “In this regard, one fails to understand why ECRI fails to recommend stronger border controls and makes no reference to the option of the illegal immigrants` repatriation,” the government said in a reply to the commission. “Whilst Malta is fully committed to offer all possible protection and support to all those who are deemed to be in need of such assistance, at the same time it is determined to return back all those whose application for asylum is not accepted. Otherwise the asylum system’s sustainability would be put at risk.” The government said it was also concerned that the ECRI report seemed to be quite lukewarm in supporting the burden-sharing concept especially by the European countries which ultimately are the intended destination of the irregular immigrants arriving at Europe’s border states. Furthermore, the ECRI report showed disrespect towards Malta`s democratic institutions, including Parliament, the judiciary and the free press. It made more than 30 references to anonymous sources, which did not increase this report’s credibility, and a large number of recommendations which was inappropriate to Malta`s particular circumstances. The ECRI mission did not make any request to visit the detention centres, which it nonetheless criticizes at length and in detail.

“ The Government would like to recall a few facts about these centres. For example, every effort is undertaken by the Maltese authorities, obviously at substantial expense, so that as far as possible, centres are regularly provided with cleaning materials. However, and unfortunately, cases have been registered whereby certain detainees refuse to take on the task of keeping their accommodation up to the desired hygienic level,” the government said. “Likewise, maintenance at the centres is carried out on an ongoing basis, but sometimes vandalism and lack of interest shown by a minority of the immigrants contribute towards the degradation of physical conditions. “Moreover a medical team provides services at each centre five times a week; in addition, the detainees have access to regional health centres and the general hospital on the same basis as Maltese nationals. Furthermore, the Board of Visitors for Persons in Detention, set up recently, monitors detention centres and investigates any claims of maltreatment made by immigrants.” The government said it was confirming its commitment to do anything possible, within the constraints imposed by available resources, to improve the situation of the irregular immigrants arriving on Malta’s shores, who would continue to be treated in a humane and dignified manner . “At the same time, it is disappointing to note that ECRI showed disregard for Malta’s vital national interest and the will of the people; and had a certain tendency to view the efforts being undertaken in this area in a somewhat negative manner. “
© Times of Malta

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WHY WE SHOULD FEAR ITALY'S NORTHERN LEAGUE(Comment)

When a xenophobic party succeeds electorally in one European country, it has a knock-on effect for all Europeans because immigration, asylum and integration policies are shaped at the EU level.
By Liz Fekete, editor of the IRR European Race Bulletin


24/4/2008- Those of us seeking just and humane race and immigration policies in the UK should be fearful of the knock-on effects of the Italian March 2008 general election, which secured a decisive victory for Silvio Berlusconi's Party of Freedom Alliance. Already, the anti-immigrant Northern League, which more than doubled its share of the vote (8 per cent, leading to forty-seven seats in the Chamber of Deputies and twenty-three in the Senate) has upped the ante, calling for deportation of foreigners and the formation of self-defence groups to fight 'immigrant' crime.

Kingmaker of Italian politics
The Northern League, led by the xenophobic populist Umberto Bossi, brought down a previous Berlusconi administration in 1996. It is once again the kingmaker in Italian politics, for, if it withdraws its support, the prime minister will lose his majority in both chambers. Hence, Berlusconi - the richest man in Italy and owner of all bar two of the commercial TV channels - has already hinted that the League will be given at least two cabinet positions. And in a further wink to the Northern League, Berlusconi has promised to set up camps for jobless foreigners, describing 'illegal immigrants' as constituting an 'army of evil'. Although Berlusconi's alliance includes the post-fascist Alleanza National (AN), led by Gianfranco Fini and Alessandra Mussolini, the torchbearer of Italian fascism today, according to Enrico Pugliese of the Institute of Social Politics, is the Northern League. It is the League 'that has absorbed a great part of fascist thinking, especially the racism', he told Reuters.

The search for scapegoats
Pugliese is right. The Northern League, which represents the rich areas of northern Italy where the economy is fuelled by migrant labour, has grown in strength because of its frequent outbursts of racism, its encouragement of vigilante groups to fight foreigners who commit crimes, its introduction of discriminatory measures against foreigners in the towns it controls and, interestingly, for a so-called law and order party, its occasional forays into lawlessness and incitement. One of the first targets of Bossi's lawless rhetoric was African migrants and asylum seekers. African boat people, escaping conditions brought about by war and economic devastation, set out for Europe on desperate, dangerous and epic journeys across the desert and the Mediterranean Sea. Bossi does not believe that their treatment should be governed by international law or the basic standards of a civilised country. In June 2003, in an interview with the Corriere della Sera he declared that 'There are two ways to apply the law [to combat illegal immigration] approved a year ago. Either our ships will tackle the illegal migrants' vessels and take on board only the women and children, or else we write down in black and white that force will be used, and that is the way I want it. After the second or third warning, boom ... the cannon roars. The cannon that blows everyone out of the water.'

One might ask whether a man who incites violence in this way is fit to stand for public office. But, unabashed, he and the League recently turned their fire on the Roma. In October 2007, following the arrest of a Roma suspect of Romanian origin for rape and murder, the League (and the Alleanza Nationale) spearheaded a campaign for the introduction of an emergency decree which would collectively punish (through mass deportations) all Romanians for the individual crime of one Roma suspect. It also announced that it would organise vigilante patrols in the predominantly immigrant areas of Turin and Piacenza. (Few recalled that in July 2007, criminal proceedings were launched against the League's leader on Opera town council, near Milan, and eight other people, for inciting violence against Roma prior to an arson attack on a Roma encampment in December 2006.) Following the March 2008 general election, Roberto Maroni (tipped as a future interior minister) applauded the idea of citizens' defence groups to help prevent crime while brushing off concerns about them taking the law into their own hands. 'These are details which are secondary to people's lives', he told Corriere della Sera.

Anti-Islamic rhetoric
Another target for the Northern League is Italy's vulnerable Muslim community. Every time the Muslim community seeks to open a new mosque, the Northern League opposes. One of the most distasteful initiatives occurred in 2007 when the League's Roberto Calderoli, boisterous after his successful campaign against the Bologna mosque, suggested a 'pig day' against new mosques across Italy. The idea was that a pig should be taken to any land where Muslims proposed to construct a mosque. 'We will walk up and down on the land where they want to build, after which it will be considered "infected" and no longer suitable', he said. Calderoli, then a minister in the Berlusconi administration, had already achieved notoriety after a televised incident at the height of the Danish 'cartoons affairs', when he ripped off his shirt on live television, revealing a T-shirt printed with one of the drawings of the Prophet Mohammed. Violent demonstrations in Libya followed Calderoli's prank, the Italian consulate in Benghazi was attacked and fifteen people were killed when the police opened fire. Calderoli subsequently resigned his ministerial post. He is now tipped to be the next deputy prime minister of Italy.
© The Institute of Race Relations

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RIGHT-WING PARTY EYES ITALY POSTS

22/4/2008- Italy's right-wing Northern League has said it expects to win key positions in the new cabinet of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Firebrand party leader Umberto Bossi, who has toppled a Berlusconi coalition government in the past, said he hoped to become reforms minister. He tipped Roberto Calderoli, whose antics have enraged Muslims in Italy, to become deputy prime minister. But Mr Berlusconi has said that no definite decisions have yet been taken.

Crime focus
"We're talking to everyone. Yesterday the League told me what they wanted but nothing has been decided," Mr Berlusconi said late on Monday. "I'll be taking the decisions and presenting my proposals to the president of the republic," he said, adding that there would be "a few surprises". But Mr Bossi was quoted as telling Italy's La Stampa newspaper that he had his eye on several key ministries. "Reforms, security, defence of agriculture - these are the reasons why people voted for us," he said. Roberto Calderoli is a controversial figure who provoked outrage by threatening to walk a pet pig to the site of a new mosque last September. Mr Bossi said the League's Roberto Maroni, who has proposed citizens' defence squads to tackle crime, would be interior minister. The Northern League party played a key role in Mr Berlusconi's return to power this month, doubling its share of the national vote and winning 8% of all ballots. It campaigned on a platform of increased federalism for the country's prosperous north and taking a tough stance on crime and immigration.
© BBC News

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POLICE BREAK UP NEO-NAZI 'BIRTHDAY PARTY'(Germany)

21/4/2008- Police in the German city of Bremen broke up a birthday party for Adolf Hitler on Sunday April 20. A group of young neo-Nazis had been marking the occasion by getting drunk and chanting "Sieg Heil." They now face prosecution. German police called to investigate loud party noises coming from an apartment in the early hours of Sunday, April 20 found a group of 10 young men celebrating the 119th birthday of Adolf Hitler. "Excessively loud music and raucous bawling could be heard all over the neighborhood. The police officers looked through the window and could see a swastika flag hanging up. The people inside were evidently celebrating the 20th of April," police in the northern city of Bremen said in a statement. "Officers standing at the front door could hear loud 'Sieg Heil' calls being shouted to the refrain of a CD. The noise was so loud that the doorbell went unheard." The police called reinforcements and finally gained entrance to the apartment where they broke up the party and confiscated the flag and a number of CDs. The owner of the flat and his guests, all of whom are known to the police for belonging to the far-right scene, now face prosecution for displaying illegal symbols. The swastika is banned in Germany.
© Deutsche Welle

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GREECE CHALLENGES ASYLUM CRITICS

22/4/2008- Greece has rejected strong criticism of its handling of asylum seekers by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The UN body said the most vulnerable people were often unable to claim asylum and others were not guaranteed a fair evaluation of their claims. Finland responded by saying it would stop sending migrants back to Greece unless it could promise fair treatment. But Greece says the UN's accusations are untrue and it is trying to be fair in handling a big surge in migration. The Hellenic Police Head of Asylum, Nikolas Stavrakakis, told the BBC News website: "In 2006 we had approximately 12,500 applicants, and the next year they more than doubled". The UNHCR report last week said that of 25,113 asylum claims registered in Greece in 2007, eight were granted refugee status at the start of the process and another 138 were added on appeal. The report also draws attention to a large backlog of asylum claims with the waiting period lasting up to four years. "We are all over the country trying to screen the real people from those coming for economic reasons," says Mr Stavrakakis. "We have big pressure and you have to be careful in order to be fair in this process. That's why we have a lot of delays. All these accusations are untrue."

Turkish route
Many of the migrants who come to Greece arrive via Turkey in an attempt to claim asylum in the European Union. Earlier this month, 190 illegal immigrants were detained in a series of operations in Turkey. Fifty-six of them were picked up on the Aegean coast at Seferihisar. It is a short boat trip from the Turkish mainland to the Greek islands of Chios and Samos and, last December, at least 40 people died when their overcrowded boat capsized off the Turkish coast. For those who do make it, their asylum claims should be handled in Greece, according to EU rules. Under the "Dublin II" regulation, asylum seekers generally have to be processed by the first EU member state they come to. Many of those who arrive in Greece move elsewhere, but are sent back as they have not been processed. Finland said it would halt the return of refugees to Greece until it had written guarantees that their asylum applications were dealt with. Speaking after an EU home affairs meeting last week, Greek Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos said his country would fall in line with EU regulations before the end of June. He said he had received very strong support from EU ministers and assured reporters about the treatment of migrants in Greece. "Our first and only concern is respect for the human rights of all who arrive in Greece."
© BBC News

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FINLAND HALTS MIGRANT TRANSFER TO GREECE AFTER UN CRITICISM

21/4/2008- Finland has suspended sending migrants back to Greece following the UN refugee agency's sharp criticism of conditions faced by asylum seekers in the Mediterranean country. Finnish immigration minister Astrid Thors on Friday (18 April) announced that only if they receive written guarantees that migrants will be fairly processed, will they return migrants to Greece. Last week, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees recommended that European states halt the sending of refugees to Greece, complaining that procedural norms and conditions were not being met. "[Refugees] often lack the most basic entitlements, such as interpreters and legal aid, to ensure that their claims receive adequate scrutiny from the asylum authorities," the UN agency said in a statement. As a matter of course, Greece arrests all migrants missing the appropriate documentation and detains them for three months. According to EU rules in place since 2003 – the so-called Dublin II Regulation - the first EU member state that a migrant enters should be the one to examine his or her asylum application, meaning that other member states regularly send asylum claimants back to Greece, as the country is often the first EU country a migrant steps foot in. Greece argues that this puts an undue burden on it as well as other EU border states such as Spain, Italy, Cyprus and Malta.

Athens has denied accusation that it handles asylum seekers poorly. At the end of March, the Greek minister of the interior, Procopios Pavlopoulos, wrote to his Slovenian counterpart – Slovenia currently holds the six-month rotating presidency of the EU - and requested that European justice ministers discuss the matter. Greece respects the human rights of migrants and "EU fundamental values" at all times, Mr Pavlopoulos said in the letter. The letter said that police and port authority officers "carry out their duties with eagerness and self-denial abiding by the Greek Constitution and legislation." It went on to say that "third-country nationals" are "received by State officials with all due respect comporting to the principles of human rights." "It is often the case that State officials do more than their duties dictate." However, the Finnish move is not the first time a European country has halted sending refugees to Greece. In February, Norway - which together with Iceland is a signatory to the Dublin agreements without being part of the EU - suspended all such transfers, and Germany shortly followed by ending the return of unaccompanied minors to the country. In March, a Swedish migration court refused the extradition of an Iraqi asylum-seeker to Greece, fearing he would not receive proper treatment.
© EUobserver

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RACIAL BIAS IN REPORTING CRIME(uk)

A new report from the Runnymede Trust has found that the print media's reporting of violent crime exacerbates racist tension.

24/4/2008- 'A Tale of Two Englands - 'Race' and Violent Crime in the Press' by Kjartan Páll Sveinsson analyses newspaper articles over a two month period in 2007 and shows that the way in which crimes are reported varies according to whether the perpetrators and the victims are Black or White. The author argues that this approach serves to influence public opinion and policy, and contribute to the reinforcement of racist stereotypes.

The report also shows that:
* Gang, gun and knife violence is regularly identified as 'cultural' and then attached to particular ethnic groups. The effect is that entire 'communities' are criminalised on the basis of their 'cultures'.
* While it may be true that certain groups are responsible for a disproportionate number of certain types of crimes, it does not logically follow that most members of those groups are involved in offending behaviour. However, this illogical leap is often made.
* Anecdotal evidence is too often treated as conclusive proof. For example, an inconclusive and brief Metropolitan Police report on the London gang profile was employed as evidence that the majority of young refugees are committing violence on the streets of Britain.

Michelynn Laflèche, director of the Runnymede Trust, commented that, 'The press is in a key position to provide information about people, places and events of which individuals and groups may have little first-hand experience ... Therefore, it is alarming to think that while the language used in the press may have changed in the last 30 years, many assumptions linking minority ethnic groups to violent crime remain intact.'
© The Institute of Race Relations

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THE YEAR ROCK FOUND THE POWER TO UNITE(uk)

In 1978, race relations in Britain were in crisis. The National Front was gathering power and immigrants lived in fear of violence. But that year also saw the rise of a campaign aimed at halting the tide of hatred with music - a grassroots movement culminating in a march across London and an open-air concert in the East End. On the eve of a festival marking the 30th anniversary of that remarkable day, we remember the birth of Rock Against Racism

20/4/2008- On 30 April 1978, a crowd gathered in Victoria Park in London's East End. They had come from all over the country - 42 coaches from Glasgow, 15 from Sheffield, an entire trainload from Manchester - marching across London from Trafalgar Square to attend a special all-day concert headlined by Tom Robinson and the Clash. The day had been organised by 'Rock Against Racism', a grassroots political movement that used music to campaign against the looming electoral threat of the National Front. To mark the anniversary of the concert, as well as to highlight the continuing struggle against racism, another all-day music concert is being staged next week. Many of those who will gather in Victoria Park next Sunday to watch the Good, the Bad and the Queen, Hard-Fi, the View and the others on the bill were not even born 30 years ago. But for those who attended the original concert in 1978 it was a show that changed their lives and helped change Britain. Rock Against Racism radicalised a generation, it showed that music could do more than just entertain: it could make a difference. By demonstrating the power of music to effect change it inspired Live Aid and its supporters claim it helped destroy the National Front. It was the triumphant climax to a story that began two years earlier, following one hot August night in Birmingham.

It was 5 August 1976 and Eric Clapton was drunk, angry and on stage at the Birmingham Odeon. 'Enoch was right,' he told the audience, 'I think we should send them all back.' Britain was, he complained, in danger of becoming 'a black colony' and a vote for controversial Tory politician Enoch Powell whom he described as a prophet was needed to 'keep Britain white'. Although the irony was possibly lost on Clapton, the Odeon in Birmingham is on New Street, minutes from the Midland Hotel where eight years earlier Powell had made his infamous 'Rivers of Blood' speech. But if the coincidence was curious, the hypocrisy was breathtaking: Clapton's career was based on appropriating black music, and he had recently had a hit with Bob Marley's 'I Shot the Sheriff'. In usual circumstances his comments would have been merely ill advised, but it was the social and political context which made Clapton's intervention so chilling. The National Front had won 40 per cent of the votes in the spring elections in Blackburn. One month earlier an Asian teenager, Gurdip Singh Chaggar, had been murdered by a gang of white youths in Southall. 'One down - a million to go' was the response to the killing from John Kingsley Read of the National Front. Sid Vicious and Siouxsie Sioux were sporting swastikas as fashion statements. David Bowie, who three months earlier had been photographed apparently giving a Nazi salute in Victoria Station, told Cameron Crowe in the September 1976 edition of Playboy '... yes I believe very strongly in fascism. The only way we can speed up the sort of liberalism that's hanging foul in the air... is a right-wing totally dictatorial tyranny...' In that same interview Bowie claimed that 'Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars.' This was Britain then in the sweltering summer of 1976, and in that context Clapton's comments were potentially incendiary.

Red Saunders was a rock photographer and political activist who had been inspired and radicalised by the events of 1968. When he heard Clapton's comments he felt compelled to register his opposition. 'I was outraged,' Saunders tells me. 'I was a fan of the blues and had seen Clapton playing in the Sixties at the Marquee Club, I couldn't believe he could now be saying what he was.' Saunders decided to pen a letter of protest to the music press. In the letter, published in the NME, Melody Maker, Sounds and the Socialist Worker, Saunders and other signatories including his friend Roger Huddle wrote: 'Come on Eric... Own up. Half your music is black. You're rock music's biggest colonist... We want to organise a rank and file movement against the racist poison music... we urge support for Rock against Racism. P.S. Who shot the Sheriff, Eric? It sure as hell wasn't you!' The letter urged those readers wanting to join Rock Against Racism to write to them. Within a fortnight there were more than 600 replies. Three months later, in November 1976, Rock Against Racism held its first ever gig, featuring Carol Grimes, in the Princess Alice pub in east London. 'We had friends who were dockers who had become anti-racist after the Powell speech,' Roger Huddle recalls, 'and they provided the security for the gig because the NF were really active in the area.' When Paul Furness read the letter in the NME he was working as a medical records clerk at Leeds General Infirmary. 'Leeds was a dark, depressed city,' Furness told me, 'there was lots of youth unemployment, the Yorkshire Ripper was still loose - so when I read the letter in the NME it was like a breath of fresh air, it was what I had been waiting for.' Buoyed by the enthusiastic response, RAR (Rock Against Racism) began organising concerts which would feature multiracial line-ups sharing the bill. The concerts would end with reggae bands like Aswad and Steel Pulse playing with punk bands such as the Ruts, the Slits and Generation X. Misty in Roots, a Southall-based reggae group played more concerts than any other band for RAR. 'Music can help bring people together,' lead singer Poko tells me. 'When you saw a band like ours jamming with Tom Robinson or Elvis Costello it showed that if you love music we can all live together.'

In Leeds Paul Furness established a RAR club where, every Friday night for 18 months, bands would perform in the common room of Leeds Polytechnic. He tells me of the night he went to see a Tom Robinson concert with three female friends. 'After the gig I went up to him to try and persuade him to play at the RAR club,' he says 'and as I was talking Tom saw a bunch of guys wearing badges indicating they were gay. He told me he had to talk to them. "Some of us don't wear badges," I told him. He looked at me and said, "Are you gay?" and I said "Yes."' It was the first time that Furness had publicly acknowledged his sexuality. 'What did your three female friends think about you coming out to Tom Robinson?' I ask. 'I just remember them laughing,' he says 'Mind you, all three of them are now lesbians.' By the following year RAR was publishing its own magazine, Temporary Hoarding. David Widgery's editorial in its first issue was the organisation's first manifesto. 'We want Rebel music, street music,' it declared, 'music that breaks down people's fear of one another. Crisis music. Now music. Music that knows who the real enemy is. Rock Against Racism. Love Music Hate Racism.' The magazine carried concert reviews as well as political advice for organisers. 'I remember that we would get a phone call,' says Saunders, 'and they would say I want to join my nearest RAR group, and we would say where do you live, and they would say Lowestoft, so we'd say: you are now the Lowestoft RAR group. And we would then send them a box of badges and instructions on how to make banners and that would be it.' The appeal of Rock Against Racism for music fans was that it had recruited the biggest names in the emerging punk culture. By 1977 RAR could claim the support of most of the innovative bands of the time - Stiff Little Fingers, Sham 69, the Tom Robinson Band, Steel Pulse, Misty in Roots and the Clash. The Sex Pistols, although they were booked to play Wigan for RAR, never managed to make it on stage, but John Lydon was unequivocal in his opposition to the National Front, telling one interviewer: 'I despise them. No one should have the right to tell anyone they can't live here because of the colour of their skin or their religion... How could anyone vote for something so ridiculously inhumane?'

'Rock against Racism made it cool to be anti-racist,' says Professor John Street, who has written on the relationship between music and politics. 'Because we had all these bands backing us, we could say that the Nazis are against our music,' says Huddle, 'they want us only to listen to marching bands and Strauss.' It was a message that resonated with Billy Bragg, then living in Barking and working as a bank messenger. 'I had seen the Clash on the first night of the White Riot tour,' he tells me, 'and I remember thinking that the fascists were against anybody who wanted to be different - once they had dealt with the immigrants then they would move onto the gays and then the punks; before I knew it the music I loved would be repatriated.' Following success in the spring 1977 elections - where they pushed the Liberals into fourth place in nearly a quarter of constituencies - the NF were threatening to achieve an electoral breakthrough. The Anti-Nazi League - which had formed in 1977 - were keen to hold a joint demonstration with RAR in the spring of 1978 to encourage supporters to vote against the National Front in May's council elections. The Greater London Council - then Conservative-led - gave permission to use Victoria Park, which had been the rallying ground of London's Chartists in 1848. The date was set for Sunday 30 April and the plan was for a carnival in Trafalgar Square followed by an open-air concert in Victoria Park. In Beating Time, David Widgery's history of RAR, he writes that they wanted to turn the day into 'the biggest piece of revolutionary street theatre London had ever seen, a 10th anniversary tribute to the Paris events of May 1968.' By holding the concert in the East End, RAR was declaring its intention of taking the battle into the heart of where the National Front was trying to build support. Three weeks before the carnival, two parcel bombs were delivered by the neo-Nazi organisation Column 88 to the headquarters of the Communist Party and the trade union Nupe. On 21 April, nine days before the carnival, 10-year-old Kennith Singh was stabbed to death yards from his east London home. The killers - who were never found - left eight stab wounds in the back of his head.

Film-maker Gurinder Chadha was living above her parents' shop in Norbury, south London. 'Being in a shop we were very vulnerable because the next person who walked in could beat you up,' she recalls. 'I was really into RAR. When I heard about the carnival I was determined to go, but my parents said there was no way.' In the week of the carnival Johnny Mathis appeared on Top of the Pops and Brian and Michael had been at number one for three weeks with Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs. The only mention of the concert in London's Evening Standard was tucked away on page 25, below Celia Brayfield's 'On the Town' column, the last entry for the weekend's gig guide. In the early hours of Sunday morning Paul Furness left Leeds on his way to London. 'I have a vivid memory of seeing all these coaches with colourful RAR posters,' he tells me 'and the closer we came to London the more coaches there were.' In Victoria Park, sodden from the rain that had lashed down all week, Anti-Nazi League activists had spent the previous night sleeping on the stage to protect it from being attacked by the National Front. In Trafalgar Square 10,000 people had gathered, the crowd growing as it began to make its way to east London. 'Trafalgar Square was raked with colour,' David Widgery recorded. 'Yellow ANL roundels, punk pink Rock Against Racism stars, Day-Glo flags oscillating in approval to the speeches.' It's worth looking at archive footage of the day in Alan Miles's documentary Who Shot the Sheriff? where its possible to get at least a flavour of what that day must have been like: steel drummers on the back of flat bed trucks, huge papier-mache head of NF leaders and Hitler (made by Peter Fluck and Roger Law who later went on to create Spitting Image) and lots of lots of banners. 'Scottish young Communists' read one, 'Gay Switchboard' read another, while a third said in both defiance and hope, 'Queer jew boy socialist seeks a better world.' Having rained all night and morning, the sun then broke through at 1.30pm. 'I was in Victoria Park and when I introduced the first act, X-Ray Spex, there were only a few hundred people in the park,' recalls Roger Huddle, 'but by the second song the march had arrived.' Throughout the afternoon they came, punks spilling out of coaches in leather and safety pins to join vicars, hippies and trade unionists. By the evening upwards of 80,000 were in Victoria Park to see the Clash take to the stage. In archive footage the entire park appears to throb in a pulsating pogo, a metronomic bounce. Among them was Gurinder Chadha, who had told her parents she was going shopping in Croydon but had sneaked into the concert on her own. 'The whole of the park was jumping up and down to the Clash,' Chadha tells me. 'It was an incredibly emotional moment because for the first time I felt that I was surrounded by people who were on my side. That was the first time I thought that something had changed in Britain forever.'

In the following week's local elections the National Front failed to secure any seats and its level of support fell. In July Rock Against Racism staged a carnival in Manchester featuring Steel Pulse and the Buzzcocks. It was followed in September with a second London concert in Brixton's Brockwell Park with Stiff Little Fingers, Aswad and Elvis Costello. By the end of 1978 RAR had organised 300 local concerts and five carnivals. In the run up to the 1979 election it staged a 'Militant Entertainment Tour' featuring 40 bands at 23 concerts covering more than 2,000 miles on the road. In the general election the NF's 303 candidates averaged just 0.6 per cent of the overall vote. There is an argument that the election of the Conservative government signalled the death knell for the National Front. Far-right parties thrive under Labour governments; the NF were strongest during the mid-Seventies, a time of great disillusionment with a Labour government seen as economically incompetent. Margaret Thatcher had already expressed her concern that Britain was being 'swamped by people of a different culture', a barely coded come-on to the extreme right. But even if some NF votes went to the Conservatives, it is not the full explanation of the drop in NF support. 'There is a danger in believing that politics is all top down,' explains Ian Goodyer, who is writing a book on RAR, 'that Thatcher just pulled the rug from under the racists' feet, but the truth is that by 1979 Rock Against Racism and the ANL had thoroughly discredited the National Front.' Before RAR, the NF had staged intimidatory marches in areas with large immigrant communities, but once RAR began to demonstrate that they could put thousands on the street in opposition to them, the NF were forced to retreat. 'We isolated them at work and we isolated them at the colleges,' claims Roger Huddle, 'and by the end of it they were a spent force mentally and politically. I don't want to overstate what we did, but I am sick to death of understating it.'

Thirty years on and it is not difficult to identify the legacy of Rock Against Racism. That influence was both political and musical. 'It built a circuit of gigs and concerts on which a lot of bands cut their teeth,' explains Ian Goodyer. 'And these small gigs relied on the people in the grassroots getting involved.' Such people include Paul Furness, whose RAR club in Leeds staged the only Rock Against Racism concert featuring Joy Division. The strategy of encouraging black and white bands to jam together paved the way for the ska revival, 2-Tone and multi-racial bands such as the Beat (who, according to Red Saunders, first met in Victoria Park) and the Specials. 'We started out at the same time as RAR,' Specials founder Jerry Dammers tells me, 'so it was all part of the same thing and for me it was no good being anti-racist if you didn't involve black people, so what the Specials tried to do was create something that was more integrated.' Rock Against Racism also demonstrated that it was possible to use pop culture to highlight political causes. It was this that inspired Dammers, Billy Bragg, Tom Robinson and Paul Weller to set up Red Wedge, an anti-Thatcher popular movement in the run up to the 1987 general election. Like RAR, Red Wedge featured musicians touring in support of a cause, but unlike RAR it was explicitly party political: it aimed to help defeat the Conservative government. But in the 1987 general election Labour's youth vote decreased.

Where RAR and Red Wedge were about raising awareness, Live Aid was about raising funds. While there are some parallels - rocks stars performing in a large outdoor venue for a good cause - the Live Aid and later Live 8 concerts were very different in their ambitions to Rock Against Racism. Three months after the 1978 concert in Victoria Park, Bob Geldof, then lead singer of The Boomtown Rats, told Sounds magazine he did not believe in political rallies, adding 'I think all revolutions are meaningless'. The Live Aid and Live 8 concerts were huge spectacles designed for a mass television audience; the audience members were witnesses, not activists. Live 8 did advertise itself as being about 'justice, not charity' but the level of participation demanded was modest: a text message to register concern, a click on an on-line petition. Rock against Racism was a grassroots movement which encouraged members to campaign and challenge those in power; Live 8 relied on stars such as Bono and Geldof cajoling and flattering the powerful, hence Bono's appearance at a Labour Party conference where he dubbed Gordon Brown and Tony Blair the Lennon and McCartney of global development. As for Rock Against Racism, the organisation disbanded in July 1981 with a final carnival in Leeds that was headlined by the Specials. Looking into the crowd, Neville Staple from the band remarked: 'It's like a zebra crossing, black and white, black and white as far as you can see.' And that, you might think, would be the end of the story. Except that the story of Rock Against Racism, like the story of racism itself, is not yet over. On 4 May 1978, the week after the Victoria Park carnival and the same day as the National Front were beaten in the local elections, a 25-year-old Asian man Altab Ali was murdered in London's Whitechapel Road on his way home from a religious festival. The following month Ishaque Ali was murdered in Hackney.

According to the Institute of Race Relations there have been more than 65 murders in Britain since 1991 with a suspected or known racial motive. And yet with notable exceptions - Stephen Lawrence, Anthony Walker - there is little attention paid to these killings. Meanwhile, as East Europeans and white Britons also face race attacks, racism itself has become less black and white. 'I talk to my brothers and other black friends,' says film-maker and DJ Don Letts 'and they are complaining about the Poles and I say to them, brethren - that was us 40 years ago.' The dark days of NF marches may be history but the threat from the BNP is, some claim, even greater. As in the mid-Seventies there is economic uncertainty and scepticism about immigration, but today it is coupled with apprehension about multiculturalism and a BNP that has worked hard to disassociate itself from the thuggish image of the National Front. 'In some ways the BNP are stronger than the NF,' says Jerry Dammers. 'There is a bland fascism that is very dangerous and it's creeping into the mainstream.'

In 2002 Rock Against Racism was revived but renamed Love Music Hate Racism. In their offices near Victoria station national organiser Lee Billingham told me that LMHR sees itself as the direct descendant of RAR. 'Love Music Hate Racism is a RAR slogan,' he tells me. 'We're the same grassroots movement. These days the fascists wear suits and the disillusionment with mainstream politics is even worse.' The organisation is behind next Sunday's 30th anniversary concert in Victoria Park with the Good, the Bad and the Queen (which features former Clash guitarist Paul Simonon), Hard-Fi, Bishi, Jay Sean and many others. The need for a popular movement against racism might still exist but does music still contain the power to inspire and enthuse? 'Music gets political when there are new ideas in music,' says Jerry Dammers, who will be playing a DJ set next week, '...punk was innovative, so was ska, and that was why bands such as the Specials and the Clash could be political.' If today's bands are no longer so interested in kick-starting a revolution, audiences, too, often seem to regard music as just another form of entertainment, to be downloaded as a ringtone. 'They used to say don't trust anyone over 30,' says Don Letts, 'but today I don't trust anyone under 30 - let's be blunt: today's young are spoilt motherfuckers.' Letts, however, has not met Carolynn Hansen and Frances Smith, two 18-year-old students who are part of the new generation of anti-racist activists. The girls live in Barking in east London and are studying at the same school that Billy Bragg attended four decades earlier; they seem to have inherited some of his political fervour. Both fans of the Libertines and Babyshambles, they were drawn into LMHR because of Pete Doherty's involvement. Babyshambles had been due to headline next Sunday's event, until Doherty was incarcerated once again for drug offences. 'It was the music that got us interested,' Carolynn tells me, 'but then we got into the ethos of what LMHR is about.' The girls have been handing out flyers in their classes, they help out in the LMHR offices and on the day they will be at Victoria Park at eight in the morning helping put the stalls up.

I wanted to know why they cared so much, this generation whom we are often told are apathetic. 'But some people are incredibly politically aware,' protests Frances, 'and with things like MySpace and Facebook it's much easier for those of us who do care to organise things.' But what, I asked, about those who say the music of Babyshambles, say, is not explicitly political like Billy Bragg or the Clash. Does that not matter? 'Music is incredibly important in my life,' says Carolynn, 'that's why I was drawn to this cause, but even if the message is not in the song, if the artist portrays it in their interviews or by getting involved, then the fans are going to think its worth looking into.' I leave the girls and head to the Groucho Club in Soho where I meet Drew McConnell, the bassist for Babyshambles. With Doherty in prison McConnell is assembling an all-star super-group, featuring his own band Helsinki and special guests, to play at the anniversary gig. 'I wasn't even born at the time of the first carnival,' he tells me, 'but when I found out that the BNP had started a record company and were handing out CDs outside schools with racist music I just felt offended. That they were using music of all things.' McConnell, along with other bands, decided to record an alternative CD, which the NME helped to distribute with support from teachers. McConnell tells me of messages he reads that are sent to the band's MySpace site from young fans who say they would not have known about LMHR and would not have become active were it not for the band's involvement. 'I feel honoured to be involved in LMHR,' he says. 'The 1978 carnival is something that is etched into history for ever.'

This summer, in the last weekend of June, Eric Clapton will headline two shows in London and Leeds, the locations for the first and last Rock against Racism carnivals. While David Bowie had distanced himself from his pro-Nazi remarks, Clapton has not only never apologised for his outburst, but has continued to praise Powell; only last December on The South Bank Show he reiterated his support for the man and four years ago he told Uncut magazine that Powell had been 'outrageously brave'. In fact the truly 'outrageously brave' ones were those who spoke up against the hate mongers and stood up for a vision of a liberal and tolerant Britain; apathy and cynicism is easy, but Rock Against Racism was gloriously uncynical. 'We provided hope to punk culture,' says Roger Huddle. 'Without RAR, punk would have been only about hopelessness and nihilism.' Rock Against Racism, the activists, artists and audience, also provided hope to the Asians and blacks who might have feared that the entire nation was against them. 'Before Rock against Racism there was a sense that it was OK to be racist,' says Gurinder Chadha, 'but with RAR we got to see that there were others willing to speak out against racism and talk about a different kind of Britain.'

Thirty years after the Victoria Park carnival the story of Rock Against Racism is only fleetingly mentioned in most histories of punk, but that does not diminish its extraordinary achievement. It's an achievement that can perhaps only be gauged by imagining how else things might have been had Red Saunders not been moved to write that letter, had courageous souls like Roger Huddle, Paul Furness and the rest not joined the movement: Eric Clapton would have got away with making racist comments, the National Front would have continued to march into immigrant areas stirring up hatred, winning votes and seats and the course of British politics could have been very different. Let the last word go to Red Saunders: 'The lesson from Rock Against Racism,' he tells me, 'is that we can all intervene, make a difference and change things: nothing is inevitable.'

· Love Music Hate Racism's carnival takes place on 27 April in Victoria Park, London E3. For full details see lmhr.org.uk/about/rock.html

Black and white unite
Tom Robinson recalls: 'At the time the National Front were gaining electoral ground. Suddenly instead of getting three leaflets through your letterbox during the local elections, you'd get four: left, centre left, right and Nazi. It was as stark as that. And the NF were becoming bolder in their attempts to intimidate immigrants with marches and violence. 'The Tom Robinson Band had been keen supporters of Rock Against Racism - playing small gigs right from our earliest days. From the outset RAR was a grassroots movement, avoiding stars and celebrities. There was a sense of solidarity among groups like X-Ray Spex, Steel Pulse and my band TRB, who all played RAR gigs in the early days before any of us were famous. The thing I remember about that particular gig at the Alexandra Palace was the performance of Alex Harvey. He just commanded the stage and he performed an extraordinary version of Bob Marley's "Small Axe" [with the refrain 'If you are the big tree/ We are the small axe']. He divided the audience in two with one side singing "big tree" and the other "small axe" and summed up our struggle with those two simple phrases. 'What mattered was the fact that we all took part in an astonishing celebration of music, fun, justice and the politics of tolerance. The struggle for a more just and civilised society is an ongoing fight that each generation has to carry forward.'

Speaking out against the NF
Darcus Howe says: 'The atmosphere felt sharp. You knew you were making a stance. It was crucial: I lived in the area, I had got married there and my first daughter was born there, so I was part of the community. The National Front had come trying to terrorise us. 'The police put up barriers and cordoned us off so it ended up like a meeting in a park. The gathering was largely black people supported by young white activists. The slogan was "Don't let them pass". 'I was asked to speak right there on the spot. I was not on the list of speakers but [RAR campaigner] David Widgery said: "Give that man the megaphone." I always spoke in dulcet tones like a preacher from the pulpit. I said: "They haven't come here to mobilise us to support them, they come here to terrorise." I delivered rhetoric about standing up, about the fact that black people in America were standing up and rhetoric about Africa. 'The major thing in my mind was, "Come what may, we are here to stay." Today it sounds ridiculous to say that but in those days it was the era of the campaign for repatriation and if the government weren't going to do it, the National Front were going to do it. But in the end, they dropped their flags and ran away.'
© The Observer

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CHURCHES URGE A VOTE AGAINST EXTREMISM AND RACISM ON 1ST MAY(uk)

21/4/2008- Three UK Free Church Christian denominations are urging voters to take a stand against racist and extreme political parties as election day for local councils in England and Wales draws near. 1 May 2008 is election day for many local councils as well as for the Mayor of London and the Greater London Assembly. A new briefing from the Methodist Church, United Reformed Church and Baptist Union of Great Britain encourages people to use their vote wisely. Simon Loveitt, Convenor of the Church and Society Committee for the United Reformed Church, says: “Politics is not just for Westminster. Local elections are a chance to have your say about the issues affecting your community. Many are daunted by the information available, but this briefing demystifies local elections and offers a place to start making your voice heard on the issues that matter.” “It’s very easy to criticise politicians from a distance,” adds Graham Sparkes, Head of Faith and Unity at the Baptist Union of Great Britain, “but as Christians we are called to be fully involved in politics. We need to be engaged in community life, holding politicians to account for their decisions but also taking our democratic responsibilities seriously.”  Local churches are encouraged to issue statements condemning policies and practices that are incompatible with Christian faith and to work with other community groups in taking a stand against extremist parties in their areas. Rachel Lampard, Methodist Secretary for Parliamentary and Political Affairs, says: “Churches have urged people not to vote for candidates who promote racist policies which are completely incompatible with the Christian call to love one another." "Not only should we reject racist and intolerant parties, but we should actively work to counter those who seek to stir up hatred. Using your vote is essential to ensure that extremist parties, such as the BNP, do not get elected,” adds Lampard. Christians in London are invited to attend a hustings event for the London Mayoral candidates which is being organised by the London Churches Group for Social Action and the Evangelical Alliance. The hustings will take place at St-Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square on 23 April from 1800-2000.

The briefing offers links to further resources and is available at www.jointpublicissues.org.uk
© Ekklesia

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BORIS JOHNSON FORCED TO CLARIFY POST-7/7 ISLAM COMMENTS(uk)

London mayoral candidate Boris Johnson has clarified his opinion of Islam after criticism of comments he wrote in the wake of the London 7/7 terrorist attacks.

20/4/2008- In an article for the Spectator on July 16th 2005 calling for a reassertion of British values in the face of Islamic extremism, the Conservative MP argued that "Islam is the problem" and claimed that "Islamophobia… seems a natural reaction" for non-Muslim readers of the Koran. He also labelled Islam "the most viciously sectarian of all religions in its heartlessness towards unbelievers". But taking part in a debate with Ken Livingstone and Brian Paddick, his main rivals for the London mayoral elections, Mr Johnson has stressed that his article was solely referring to extremists' misuse of the words of the Koran. "The problem is people who wrench out of context quotes from the holy book of Islam, the Koran, and use it to inspire evil in men's hearts," he said on BBC1's Politics Show. "That is a fact that few serious people would deny and we need to tackle the extremists." And after reports that equality watchdog Trevor Philips is to claim a 'cold war' based on racial and religious tensions could erupt in the UK due to concerns over mass immigration, Mr Johnson said a reassessment of British immigration policy was paramount. "There has certainly been too much uncounted and unfunded immigration into London. That presents huge problems for the London Boroughs which have to cope with the influx," he added.
© Politics.co.uk

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DETENTION CENTRES ATTACKED AS FIGURES REVEAL SELF-HARM BY ASYLUM-SEEKERS(uk)

19/4/2008- The true cost of using detention centres to lock up failed asylum-seekers has been exposed by statistics showing the extent of self-harm among those held. Figures show that in the last four months of 2007, 42 people needed medical attention for self-harm in Britain's 10 centres. This represents 2 per cent of the 2,095 people held at that time. As well as these cases, one in five people held were considered to be at risk of self-harm and being formally observed. Colnbrook detention centre, near Heathrow, was worst, with 18 cases of self-harm treated in four months, and 126 people under formal watch. Meanwhile, at Yarl's Wood in Bedfordshire, where this week mothers have been on hunger strike in protest over the detention of their children, 52 inmates were under formal watch, and eight people required medical attention because of self-harm. The statistics, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, support the views of many immigration experts and MPs that prolonged detention of migrants is unethical. A spokeswoman for the Refugee Council said: "These figures confirm our huge concerns about detaining vulnerable people for indefinite periods. Many of these people will have undergone extreme trauma and in some cases torture and detention in their home countries. "We urge the Government to consider alternatives to detaining people, given the severe effect it has on their mental health." Emma Ginn, of the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, said she hoped the statistics would act as a wake-up call to the UK Border Agency. "Some self-harm attempts are just a cry for help, but some of these were serious suicide attempts. Why would any so-called bogus asylum-seekers make an attempt on their life? It's an indication of the living hell that they're going through." Ms Ginn believes that the only option is to close the centres. "An alternative must be found," she said, "because they're driving people to make attempts on their own lives."
© Independent Digital

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MOSCOW MAYOR OUTLAWS MAY DAY GAY EVENTS(Russia)

24/4/2008- The Moscow mayor's office said on Wednesday it would not allow gay pride marches -- previously broken up by ultra-nationalists -- to take place on this year's May Day holiday. The announcement came as a gay rights leader said he planned events throughout May to highlight the repression of sexual minorities in Russia. "The council will act decisively and uncompromisingly to prevent attempts to hold such events because society is overwhelmingly opposed to the gay lifestyle and philosophy," council spokesman Sergei Tsoi was quoted by Interfax as saying, in comments confirmed to AFP by a member of his staff. "It is a matter of surprise and indignation that gays plan to carry out unsanctioned gatherings in various parts of Moscow during the Festival of Peace and Work," Tsoi said, referring to May 1, one of the most important Soviet-era holidays. He said the council was taking into account threats of violence made by radical Orthodox and other anti-gay groups. "There could be bloodshed and no one wants that," Tsoi said. Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov has been an outspoken opponent of gay pride marches, referring to them once as "Satan's work." An unsanctioned parade on May 27 last year, the anniversary of the abolition of a Soviet law that criminalised homosexuality, ended with ultra-nationalists throwing eggs and punching and kicking gay activists. The leader of the pressure group Gay Russia, Nikolai Alexeyev, said the group planned to apply for permission to hold five events a day throughout May in various parts of Moscow. "This is not a question of security. It is only a question of the personal hatred of the Moscow mayor towards gay people," Alexeyev told AFP. He added that the events would not resemble the flamboyant carnival atmosphere synonymous with such marches in Western cities. "If everyone sees that these people are not nude or wearing make-up... there will be many questions about why this event was banned," he said.
© AFP

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ANTISEMITIC DEMONSTRATORS THREATEN TERRORISM, MURDER IN MOSCOW,POLICE DO NOTHING (Russia)

23/4/2008- At a rally of around 400 far-right nationalists, speakers called for the murder of various government officials, praised terrorist methods, and demonized Jews, all while police looked passively on, according to an April 21, 2008 article in the national daily Kommersant. At a time when peaceful political opposition demonstrations are routinely suppressed in Moscow through police violence and intimidation, the freedom that extremists routinely enjoy to rally in Moscow calls into question the sincerity of those city and national leaders who have publicly called for inter-ethnic tolerance. The rally took place on Saturday on Triumph Square. Around 400 members of the National Great Power Party of Russia, the Union of Orthodox Standard Bearers, and the neo-Nazi Slavic Union ("SS" in its Russian abbreviation) held signs condemning "Jewish fascism" and the "Jewish mafia" and calling on Slavic women to "guard the purity of your race." Speakers called for the release of Vladimir Kvachkov, who was sentenced to prison for his roll in an assassination plot against a Jewish government official--the far-right nationalist and his co-conspirators strafed Anatoly Chubais' motorcade and set off an explosion nearby, luckily causing no fatalities. Olga Kasyanenko of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration called for Russians to "Arm yourself! Defend your families!" and concluded with the neo-Nazi slogan "Russia for the Russians!" Another speaker called for nationalists to prepare for war. Leonid Simonovich, head of the Union of Orthodox Standard Bearers, read a poem envisioning the murder of several government officials through a terrorist bombing campaign. Nikolai Kuryanovich, a former State Duma deputy, also addressed the rally, which blatantly violated Russia's laws against extremist activity, calls to overthrow the constitutional structure of the state, and inciting ethnic hatred. Nevertheless, police reportedly did nothing in response.
© FSU Monitor

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IMMIGRANT FEARS AS NUMBER OF NEO-NAZI MURDERS SOARS(Russia)

19/4/2008- Russia's skinheads have begun to hunt and kill immigrants "like game" in the most serious surge in neo-Nazi violence since the fall of the Soviet Union. Human rights groups say nationalist extremists murdered 41 people in the first three months of this year, more than four times as many as the same period last year. Some groups put the death toll even higher, at 53. The number and severity of attacks seems to indicate that radical nationalists have become more organised and more willing to kill and maim, usually with a knife.  Victims are stabbed not once but sometimes 20 or 30 times in frenzied attacks accompanied by racial abuse. Those that survive are often scarred for life; in one recent case an immigrant had his nose and lips sliced off. Some of the victims have been women and children. The attackers are driven by a hatred of non-Russians, who they believe are diluting the gene pool and irrevocably changing the fabric of their country. "Russia for Russians" is their main slogan. Far-right websites warn that their followers are poised to crank up the severity of the attacks still further, turning to bombs and guns. The victims are mostly people from former Soviet republics in Central Asia, who come to Moscow and St Petersburg to work in construction or do other manual work that Russians don't want to do. Though the migrant workers fill a gap in the job market, opinion polls show that many ordinary Russians are uncomfortable with their presence and would like to see immigration controls severely tightened. City officials in Moscow, where most of the killings take place, say there are around 850,000 migrants from Central Asia living in a city that has a total population of 10 million. Their Asian features make them easy targets for skinheads scanning the streets for people of non-Slavic appearance. The killings have sparked a wave of diplomatic protests from the victims' home countries and stirred talk of a street war between skinheads and revenge-minded migrant workers.

Raimkul Attakurov, ambassador for Kyrgyzstan in Russia, complained in a letter sent to Russia's human rights ombudsman earlier this year about what he called "the savage attacks of fascist monsters". Police have responded by clamping down on skinhead activity, especially in Moscow. But rights groups accuse them of a cover-up when it comes to discussing the problem publicly or providing meaningful crime statistics. Police prefer to classify many of the attacks as mere "hooliganism". Moscow prosecutor Yuri Semin said last week that he thought the media had "exaggerated" the upsurge in killings and questioned the reliability of statistics released by human rights groups. The police itself keeps no detailed records but insists the number of race hate crimes is falling. "If someone kills a Kyrgyz, it's inevitably assumed it's on ethnic grounds," said prosecutor Semin. "For some reason, it's assumed that people can't kill Kyrgyz people for other reasons." Semyon Charny, an expert at the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights, believes the authorities find the problem inconvenient. "The authorities in Moscow are interested in creating a good image for the city," he said. (But) in recent times the number of extremist crimes is on the increase. It is, as one magazine put it, like a safari." Police also cite the large number of crimes committed by immigrants whenever the problem is raised, hinting that they are facing a backlash of their own making. Embassies are advising migrant workers to avoid going out on their own, to always be smartly dressed, and to drink alcohol in private rather than in the street. Galina Kozhevnikova of rights group Sova believes official rhetoric, which has become increasingly strident and nationalistic in tone, is partly to blame. Politicians from outgoing president Vladimir Putin to Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov have made comments that appear to favour ethnic Russians over immigrants, while laws have been introduced to limit the number of non-Russians working in the retail sector.

Police made a string of high-profile arrests in the last year that appeared to have decapitated the underground neo-Nazi movement. But Kozhevnikova said the arrests have, paradoxically, only encouraged others who seek the same notoriety and infamy in far-right circles. It has, she said, become "fashionable" to be a skinhead and "cool" to kill an immigrant. Sociologists say Russia is home to about 70,000 skinheads and that they tend to congregate in large urban centres such as Moscow and St Petersburg, which has also seen a large number of murders of non-Russians. About 30,000-35,000 of them have neo-Nazi beliefs. Yevgeny Proshechkin, chairman of Moscow's anti-fascist centre, urges the authorities to wake up to what he calls "acts of terrorism". "Things need to be called by their name," he told the liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta. "We are standing on a dangerous threshold."
© The Sunday Herald

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THE THEOLOGIANS WORKING TOWARDS A EURO-ISLAM

Leading Muslim scholars are laying the theological foundations for a "Euro-Islam" which would reconcile their religion with the challenges of modernity. But just how compatible is Islam with secular Western values?

22/4/2008- The air in the conference room is stale, and the dour mood among those present is not much better. The room smells of sweat, cigarette smoke, cold coffee -- and plenty of problems. That comes with the territory at a meeting of some 100 social workers who work in flashpoints like the London boroughs of Hounslow, Eastleigh and Ealing. In their districts they often have to deal with angry youth gangs, unemployment and failed integration policies. Today, on this particular Thursday, they have gathered here in the large hall of the Holborn Bars conference center to learn that multiculturalism also has positive aspects and, most importantly, that no one needs to be afraid of Muslims. Up on the stage, Lucy de Groot, the organizer of the one-day seminar "Cultural Diversity and Social Cohesion," presents “with great pleasure” a speaker whose appearance alone is enough to add a touch of brilliance to this gloomy conference room. Smiling here and nodding there, the “esteemed guest” strides up to the podium with the confidence of an entertainer who has grown accustomed to success. Tariq Ramadan knows how to win people over. Many of the veteran social workers have an almost enraptured expression on their faces as they look up at the tall, thin man. With his striking features and dark well-trimmed beard, his sand-colored suit with its elegant casualness, the unbuttoned collar of his bright yellow shirt and his slightly dark complexion, Ramadan resembles a Latino singer. “It’s wonderful to be in London,” he says warmly into the microphone. “Thank you very much for inviting me.” Ramadan places the fingertips of his well-manicured hands together and gazes confidently at the audience. His fan club is guaranteed to be even bigger after this afternoon.

Officially, Ramadan, 45, is a professor of Islamic studies in Geneva. But now he has just come from Oxford, where he teaches at St. Antony’s College as a visiting fellow. In effect, Ramadan is something of a modern-day itinerant preacher. His mission is to boost the self-confidence of Europe’s Muslims and to explain his vision of a “European Islam” to Europe’s Christian elite. The new brand of faith which, according to Ramadan, “is currently taking shape among European Muslims with Islamic-European culture” aims to reconcile Western values with the teachings of Islam. This “Euro-Islam” has allowed Ramadan to win friends among immigrant children and proponents of interreligious dialogue -- and make enemies among right-wing nationalists and hardline Islamists. Ramadan has given thousands of presentations over the past few years, speaking to a wide range of audiences, including Muslims and Christians, atheists and Jews, church representatives and politicians, industrialists, students and anti-globalization activists. Over the weekend, he made four appearances in France where he spoke to over 2,500 people, mostly young Muslims. Tonight he will speak in Birmingham at a police convention, tomorrow morning his schedule takes him to Blackpool; he can't remember off the top of his head who he's talking to there. The highly popular speaker can devote little more than half an hour to Lucy de Groot’s seminar. But that’s enough time for a brilliant presenter like Ramadan to talk about his religion, Muslim minorities, integration and exclusion -- and to alleviate the fears of his audience of an impending “clash of civilizations,” as prophesized by Harvard University political scientist Samuel Huntington. “We start to run into problems when we construct new dividing lines, when we cease to see society as a whole,” says Ramadan to the worn-out-looking men and women sitting at large round tables. “Instead of perceiving Muslims as ‘the other’ or foreigners, try to see them as fellow Englishmen and women.”

All the listeners can do is nod in approval. After all, this man is one of the most prominent Muslims in Europe -- even if he is also one of the most controversial. A scholar and a blusterer, a reformer and an Islamist, a rationalist and a demagogue -- surely no other Muslim has been given such varied labels as Ramadan. Some, like the British government, see him as a Muslim visionary who provides a modern interpretation of the Koran and breaks with outmoded traditions. “We need trust and dialogue and a more flexible faith,” says Ramadan. This kind of language prompted former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to appoint him to what was essentially a Muslim task force to combat extremism. On the other side of the Atlantic, Time magazine placed him on its list of the 100 people who comprise "tomorrow's most influential individuals." Others see him as an Islamist in disguise, a “wolf in sheep's clothing,” a master of deception. And, as a matter of fact, Ramadan has made a number of statements that don’t sound remotely liberal or tolerant.

An Islamic Superstar
For instance, when he appeared on a French talk show, Ramadan justified the sharia, the Islamic body of social and religious law, which, when strictly interpreted, calls for draconian punishments that constitute a violation of human rights. And he refused to issue a blanket condemnation of the particularly cruel practice of stoning to death. Instead he proposed a moratorium on this form of capital punishment. His opponents warn that when he appears before young Muslims and no cameras are present, it's possible that Ramadan strikes a very different tone. US authorities have even officially classified him as a terrorist sympathizer. After Ramadan donated money to dubious Palestinian groups, the Americans decided to revoke his visa. Ramadan’s family does indeed have a reputation for radicalism. His Egyptian grandfather was Hassan al-Banna, who in 1928 founded the Muslim Brotherhood, an influential Islamic fundamentalist organization that is active throughout the Middle East and even in Europe. His father Said, also a religious zealot, fled to Europe to escape his persecutors in the Egyptian regime. Tariq was born in Geneva. Radical offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood produced the men who assassinated Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat and Farag Foda, a reformist intellectual who said “We need a Martin Luther” -- and was shot down in the streets of Cairo in 1992. Although many people view Ramadan with suspicion, there are in fact a number of parallels between him and the German reformer. Like Luther, who challenged the Catholic clergy, Ramadan campaigns against the “traditionalists who advocate a literal interpretation of the Koran.” Like the monk from Wittenberg, the professor from Switzerland seeks to break up the monopoly held by religious scholars on interpreting the holy book.

Instead of slavishly adhering to ancient revelations, Ramadan says it is necessary to examine the “historical context” in which God’s revelations were received by the Prophet Muhammad. “Islam,” says Ramadan, “cannot place itself outside of history.” What he means by that is reflected in the ongoing debate between radicals and reformers over the issue of apostasy -- the renunciation or abandonment of one’s religious faith. Sura 16:106 says: “He who, after accepting faith in Allah, freely opens his heart to unbelief, shall feel the wrath of Allah and shall receive a dreadful punishment.” Over the centuries, conservatives have interpreted this to mean that heretics should receive the death penalty. Ramadan, however, does not see apostasy as a crime. He points out that circumstances have “totally changed.” At the time of the Prophet, he says, the Muslims were at war with neighboring tribes. Changing faith was tantamount to treason or desertion -- and was punishable by death. That was then. Today, according to Ramadan, faith “is a personal matter for each individual.” “Renew your understanding of the text, even though the text itself does not change. Read it in a new way,” says Ramadan, as he calls on his Muslim brothers to reinterpret the Koran. This places him in good company with other authorities on the Koran like the Egyptian Nasr Hamid Abu Zeid and the Iranian Abdolkarim Sorush, who have written a number of books on the topic and are highly regarded among theologians. They are also proponents of using hermeneutics -- the science of interpreting texts -- to understand the Koran. However, it is Ramadan’s grass-roots popularity that allows him to reach a much wider audience.

“Yesterday, we relied on the solutions that came from our countries of origin, because we only knew one way to remain a Muslim: to remain the Muslims that we were,” he preaches. “But then children were born, new generations, and they are German and British and French. This is our community now; we cannot rely on solutions that come from our countries of origin. We need local solutions.” His solution is a form of faith in which Western norms and Islam are not mutually exclusive. Democracy, freedom of speech, human rights and religious freedom -- these are all things that the faithful can embrace as long as they respect the “inalienable core” of Islam: profession of faith, prayer, almsgiving, fasting. “Practically everything else,” says Ramadan, “can be interpreted and adjusted in space and time.” Nevertheless, Ramadan's vision of Euro-Islam does not entail the secularism, in the sense of a separation of religion and state, that many Westerners would like him to advocate. Ramadan’s faith makes no distinction between political and private realms, between religious and worldly matters. He does not question the holistic nature of Islam. Thus this widely celebrated visionary -- who always carries a small copy of the Koran, drinks no alcohol, and advocates separating the sexes in swimming pools -- is not a genuine reformer, say his critics. However, with his interpretation of Islam, Ramadan builds bridges that allow apprehensive Muslims to open up to their new homelands. He doesn’t alarm them with heretical slogans, yet tries to pull them out of the so-called "ghetto Islam" of the fundamentalists. A strategy paper written by the British government therefore clearly sees him as the spearhead of an “Islamic Reformation” on the old continent.

Among second and third-generation Muslims in particular, Ramadan enjoys the “aura of an Islamic superstar,” as the New York Times Magazine recently wrote. The young faithful see him as the ultimate über-Muslim: a professor in Oxford and the offspring of a family that is renowned for its religious fervor -- extremely devout, yet socially acceptable. Piousness and urbanity, Islam and the modern age -- Ramadan is a living example for his supporters that all these things are compatible. Ramadan gives young Muslims what they yearn for: pride and dignity -- and the reassuring feeling that they can hit the discos at night and still remain faithful servants of God. A Euro-Islam like this, says Freiburg-based Islamic scholar Ludwig Ammann, “reaches out to the majority of Muslims right where they are” -- in the conservative camp with its blind faith in authority. By contrast, Bassam Tibi, a leading German Islamic reformer who teaches at Göttingen University, sees Ramadan’s vision of Islam as “an attempt to give Islam a European face-lift instead of harmonizing the religion with Europe’s cultural, social and political identity.”

Secular Islam, Turkish Style
But is such a Europeanization even possible? Could it be that the notion of a pluralistic democracy based on a secular constitution and the all-embracing nature of Islam -- which makes no distinction between religious and secular matters -- are mutually exclusive? Are Islam and Europe -- sharia and human rights -- like fire and water? “No,” says Tibi, who was born in Syria, and coined the term “Euro-Islam” in the early 1990s as a counterpoint to the “ghetto Islam” of many immigrants who cut themselves off from their European surroundings and seek their salvation in religious fervor. He says that the Koran can be interpreted in many different ways, giving it the “advantage of adaptability.” To back up his assertion, Tibi points to the forms of “Islam in West Africa and in Indonesia, which are very different from the Arab or Persian versions, although all Muslims believe in the one God and his Prophet Muhammad.”

The extent of the compatibility of Islam and secularism has in fact been demonstrated by Turkey, the largest and certainly most conclusive experiment conducted to date on the flexibility of the faith -- and one which is located directly on Europe’s doorstep. Over the years, this EU candidate and NATO member has served as one of the best examples in the world of the stark contrasts that exist between East and West -- the faith of the Prophet and the values of the West. No other Islamic country has forced Islam to accept as much secularity as the Republic of Turkey, founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal, known as Atatürk (“father of the Turks”). Building on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, this staunch European imposed a revolution from above that aimed to transform Anatolia into a modern, democratic nation-state, including forced secularization to free it from the shackles of religion. Atatürk abolished the Caliphate, in which the sultan had authority over the realm and its religious affairs. To symbolize the country’s new orientation toward the West, Atatürk prohibited men from wearing the fez, a red woolen hat with a tassel, and women were not allowed to wear headscarves. He ordered the abolition of the sharia courts and banished religion to the private sphere. To keep the mosques free of regressive ideology, Atatürk established the Presidency of Religious Affairs (DIB). This state agency, which now has over 100,000 employees, supervises the training of imams and muezzins -- the criers who lead the call to prayer from a minaret of a mosque -- and it also decides what will be preached. The president of this organization is the highest ranking representative of Islam in Turkey -- an office currently held by Ali Bardakoglu, an avowed reform theologian. The head of the DIB calls on “the Islamic world to further develop objective thinking and reason.”

Bardakoglu was appointed five years ago by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an Islamist who many once feared would shake the foundations of the Kemalist establishment. Today, however, this deeply religious government leader is widely acclaimed as a modernizer who is whipping the country into shape for entry into the EU and whose Justice and Development Party (AKP) serves as an Islamic counterpart to Germany’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Any fears that Turkey would reinstate the Caliphate and return to sharia have vanished, also thanks to Bardakoglu. In contrast to his predecessors, who saw their position as a Kemalist bulwark, the current head of the DIB aims to promote religious discourse, push for reforms and give Islam a new look -- in a very literal sense. He demonstratively refused to wear the heavy black robe worn by his predecessors. It was too authoritarian for Bardakoglu’s taste. Now the country’s top Muslim wears spiritual white, like the pope. The man from Ankara maintains a dialogue with the head of the Catholic Church, despite heated disputes over the pope's now infamous Regensburg speech. In the papal address held last September at the University of Regensburg in Germany, Benedict XVI quoted the little known Byzantine emperor Manuel II: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." An angry Bardakoglu described the pope's statement as reflecting a “crusader mentality.” He only assumed a more conciliatory tone following a personal meeting with Benedict XVI during his visit to Turkey. Now historians and theologians are working on a paper that will allow the DIB to refute the emperor’s statement.

In his reform campaigns, Bardakoglu has pushed primarily for a reinterpretation of Islamic scripture. “Every age,” he preaches to his imams, “must rely on its own spirit, its strengths, its intellectual experience to understand the Koran.” The ammunition for debates with the fundamentalists comes from a nearby institution in the capital -- the University of Ankara. Founded in 1948, the university’s department of theology has a reputation as the nucleus of all religious reform initiatives in Turkey. Today, there are an additional 23 theological departments throughout the country, and their deans are almost all graduates of the original department in the capital.

'We Muslims Have Been Left Behind'
Yasar Nuri Öztürk, who lives in Istanbul, is the most well known and certainly the most influential representative of Turkish reformist theology. Whether he’s walking along the banks of the Bosporus or through the bazaar, many Turks immediately recognize this small, rather unassuming, nearly bald man from his numerous TV appearances, from his columns in the daily newspaper Hürriyet and from his over 30 books, which have sold more than a million copies in Turkey alone. Many of them have been translated into Arabic, Farsi, English and German. Given Öztürk's high profile, people tend to overlook the fact that he also happens to be the dean of the theological department of the University of Istanbul. Öztürk’s thinking is mainly aimed at the fundamentalist elite in regimes of the Islamic world that oppress their people in the name of God. He says, however, that the Muslims only have themselves to blame for this state of affairs because they understand “almost nothing” about the “real Islam” as it stands in the Koran. Did not Allah himself declare that the system of monarchist rule was unacceptable? This, at least, is how Öztürk interprets verse 34 of the 27th Sura: “Surely the kings, when they enter a town or a country, lay it to waste and make the noblest of its people into the lowest. That is their way.” And Öztürk, with reference to the holy book, clearly rejects the position of bigoted mullahs and zealots who still dream of reinstating the Caliphate. “The Koran proclaims that the prophethood is over,” he says. “And one of the fundamental demands that arises from that, is that the age is over when people are led by individuals claiming to derive their authority from God.” While the Bible and the Torah promise the rule of God on Earth, Öztürk sees the Koran as “the only book that proclaims that theocracy should have no role in the lives of people.” This “key truth” of the Koran is, however, “kept secret and concealed in Islamic societies.”

Öztürk preaches this vision of Islam and politics with his own mixture of theological authority and populism. His understanding of a secular state, however, is not the traditional division of religion and worldly matters. Öztürk's version of secularism is based more on a kind of "democracy imperative" which is based on the Koran and which should force rulers to base their authority “not on God or divine right, but on the will of the people.” The so-called Ankara School of reform-minded theologians has even spread beyond Turkey’s borders to Germany. Ömer Özsoy, 44, one of the reform movement’s most renowned scholars, has become the first Muslim professor of theology at a German university. At his inaugural lecture, held last November at Frankfurt University, he addressed “modern interpretations of the Koran.” What this graceful man with fine features and a high forehead says tends to strike many Muslims -- who see the Koran as the eternal word of God -- as simply unbelievable. Özsoy asserts that the holy book of the Muslims is not a timeless message. The professor of theology sees the Koran as a “speech by God” directed toward a specific group of people at a specific time and under specific circumstances. According to Özsoy, this is shown by the fact that the revelations to the Prophet occurred over a period of approximately 23 years, first in Mecca, then in Medina. Every statement by God relates to a special situation that Muhammad and his followers faced, as fighters, believers, refugees or conquerors. He says that we can only understand the message behind God’s word if we know the circumstances under which the Prophet received the revelation. Özsoy is convinced that only a fraction of what the revelation intends to convey to mankind is actually contained in the Koran. The majority of the actual messages can only be elucidated by studying historical events as they transpired 1,400 years ago -- and then reinterpreting them for the present. Since this “transfer” -- this adapting of the Koran to the current situation -- was held in disdain for so long, Muslims now lack “the answers to the questions posed by modernity.” This has had disastrous consequences, he feels: “We Muslims have been left behind.”

In order to make the jump to the present, at least on a theoretical level, the Turkish religious agency is funding the professorial chair for Muslim theology in Frankfurt, which is part of the university's Department of Protestant Theology. In addition to the Germans who attend his lectures, Özsoy’s students reflect the entire multicultural spectrum of the city, from Muslim Macedonians and Christian Egyptians to Turkish-German women in traditional headscarves. Up until now, only a minority of Muslims in Germany have embraced such reformist approaches. The Islamic researcher Bassam Tibi estimates that perhaps two-thirds of the over 3 million Muslims in Germany would claim to profess a Euro-Islam version of their faith, but he thinks that no more than 10 percent of the Muslim population “genuinely follows” this liberal form of Islam. “Sipping a glass of wine does not necessarily constitute acceptance of European values,” says Tibi. Tibi attributes little practical importance to the initiatives launched by Ankara, at least for the time being. He says that while the critical thinking of Özsoy and his colleagues is commendable, the vast majority of Turkish Muslims are not open to this line of thinking. In his opinion, “the organized religion is Islamist or orthodox.” Although Tibi promotes Euro-Islam in his lectures and among his academic colleagues, he has his own doubts over whether the concepts embodied by Euro-Islam hold the key to the future of over a billion Muslims around the world or whether the traditionalists will maintain the upper hand. However, Tibi is certain that there is no alternative to an Islam that recognizes the “cultural, social and political realities” of modernity. Based on that conviction, the professor from Göttingen will continue to fight for the vision of an Islam without sharia -- and not just in Europe.
© Spiegel Online

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EU COMMISSION INVESTIGATES LINK BETWEEN BIOFUELS AND FOOD CRISIS

24/4/2008- In the wake of mounting pressure from international organisations such as the World Bank and the United Nations World Food Programme, European Commission President Barroso has requested a study on whether there is any relationship between the recent skyrocketing of food prices around the world and biofuels. "I have personally asked for a study on all aspects: the impacts on prices, the impact on agriculture, the impact on development, etc. All the aspects," said the president. He made the comments following a meeting with Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme last Wednesday (17 April) but until now they had only been reported by the Belgian press. "We must have the courage to re-examine our [biofuels] objectives," said Mr Leterme on the margins of the meeting with the commission president. A spokesperson for the president confirmed on Thursday (24 April) that a study had been requested but said this is only to supply him with data on the relationship so he can form an opinion on the recent concerns about a link. "The president is not however considering changing the ten percent biofuels target," said Mark Gray, a commission spokesperson. "It is simply for the president to look at the data on a possible link with food prices." Mr Gray refused to be drawn on whether the commission would publish the data gathered. "We haven't ruled it in or out whether it could be published. It's for him to decide." EU leaders last spring agreed that the EU should increase the use of biofuels in transport fuel to ten percent by 2020, up from a planned 5.75 percent target to be achieved by 2010.

Commission divided over biofuels target
The move comes amid speculation that there is a growing division within the commission over the question. Last week, the commission's development chief, Louis Michel, speaking to the Belgian Senate, said that biofuels were a "catastrophe". "I have long said that the fashion for biofuels could be a catastrophe especially in countries which are not self-sufficient in food," reported the Belga news agency. Furthermore, last weekend, the UK's Guardian newspaper quoted a commission official saying: "The target is now secondary." However, the following Monday, energy spokesperson Ferran Tarradellas denied that there was any reconsideration of the target. On Tuesday (22 April), the Reuters news agency reported that during the commission's internal discussion on sustainability criteria for biofuels, environment commissioner Stavros Dimas and development chief Louis Michel had been on the one side, arguing for social criteria such as the link with food prices to be considered, but were shot down by energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs and trade commissioner Peter Mandelson. And Thursday (24 April), agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel argued that biofuels cannot be the reason for rising food prices. Speaking at a hearing in Copenhagen, she said of the 2.1 billion tonnes of grain produced worldwide, only 0.1 billion tonnes are used for biofuels, Danish daily Politiken reported. "This could not tilt the prices," she said. However, Mr Gray categorically denied that there was any division. "There is unanimity on the subject and we have underscored that we are looking at second and third generation biofuel alternatives and that we are developing sustainability criteria for the rest." A spokesperson for Mr Mandelson said: "The commissioner certainly raised the issue of food security and that it would have to be watched in any biofuels scenario." "It wasn't as clear-cut as some articles in the media would make it out to be." "The problem with social criteria is that you have to be very careful with WTO compatibility," he added.
© EUobserver

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SOME STATES STILL DO NOT RECOGNIZE RACISM’S EXISTENCE, UN RIGHTS CHIEF CAUTIONS

21/4/2008- As preparatory meetings kicked off today in Geneva in preparation for next year’s review of the landmark 2001 global conference against racism, the top United Nations human rights official warned that some States still do not recognize the existence of racism as a phenomenon. “National laws and measures to ensure its elimination in most countries are either inadequate or ineffective,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour. “As a result, vulnerable groups continue to suffer aggression while abusers enjoy impunity.” She added that few nations have implemented the necessary action plans to remedy this situation. The process to prepare for the 2009 Durban Review Conference began in 2006, but its first substantive meeting was held by the Preparatory Committee today. The Conference will assess progress and implementation at the regional, national and international levels of the Declaration and Plan of Action adopted by the 2001 World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. “The Durban Review Conference is not, and should not be seen as, a repetition of the 2001 World Conference,” Ms. Arbour pointed out at the opening meeting of the Preparatory Committee. Instead, “it is a platform to evaluate progress, an opportunity to reinvigorate commitments, and a vehicle to fine-tune responses in a purposeful and contextual manner.” According to a press release from Ms. Arbour’s Office, known as OHCHR, progress since the 2001 meeting – a huge event which attracted some 18,000 people – has been patchy. The High Commissioner acknowledged that the controversy surrounding the original Durban Conference has not completely subsided. “There is no hiding the fact that the Durban Review Conference, even before moving its first, preparatory steps, has already elicited criticism and continues to raise concerns which, if not squarely confronted and resolved, may ultimately jeopardize a successful outcome of this process,” she said.
© UN News service

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Headlines 18 April, 2008

REGULAR NEWSFEED INTERUPTED DUE TO REPORTING ON UN DURBAN REVIEW PREPCOM

20/4/2008- For the coming two weeks (21 April - 2 May) ICARE will provide reporting from the UN Palais de Nations in Geneva, Switzerland where the preparatory committee meeting (PrepCom) for the Durban Review Conference takes place.  In the past ICARE has done extenisive reporting on the European Preparatory Conference to the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Intolerances (WCAR), PrepCom 2 and PrepCom 3 of the original WCAR in Durban, South-Africa in 2001 and ofcourse on the WCAR itself.

The regular English newsfeed will resume from May 9.

Suzette Bronkhorst
© I CARE News

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NEO-NAZI WHO ATTACKED GAYS LOSES APPEAL(Sweden)

18/4/2008- The leader of a neo-Nazi group in southern Sweden, jailed for beating five men at a gay rights party, lost his appeal yesterday. National Socialist Front (NSF) leader Simon Lindberg, had the three month sentence handed down by a district court confirmed by the Court of Appeal in Malmo. The 24-year old and an associate entered an event held by the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL), who had gathered at the organisation's headquarters to watch the Eurovision Song Contest in May last year. An initial verbal argument quickly became physical with several RFSL members claiming they were threatened with knives and attacked with knuckledusters. Following his initial court hearing in April last year, Lindberg said the verdict was "political" and commented to news agency TT:
"The lay judges were swayed by who I am, and have not judged professionally. There is no evidence, and in such cases we have a principle of justice which says that one should acquit, not convict."
Although both Lindberg and his friend both admit to being at the scene, Lindberg claims he went there to discuss politics and argues that he himself was attacked by RFSL members. Lindberg was convicted of criminal damage, acting as an accessory to abuse and acting as an accessory to unlawful threats, according to The Local. His 28-year old accomplice is serving a six month sentence for assault, threatening behaviour and careless driving. The National Socialist Front was founded in 1994 and cites the abolition of democracy, the repatriation of immigrants and the implementation of scientific racism as its main goals. The organisation, which became a political party in 1999, ran in elections at a national level in 2006 and received 0.03% of the vote, short of the 4% needed for a party to sit in the Swedish parliament.
© Pink News

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HUNGARY ASKS US TO HELP CLAMP DOWN ON FAR-RIGHT - PAPER

17/4/2008- Hungary has asked the United States to help investigate far-right activities in the country, according to unnamed sources cited by business weekly HVG. The weekly, published on Thursday, said the Ministry of Justice has asked the US to help investigate the activities of the far-right news portal kuruc.info as well as the Arrows of Hungarians National Liberation Army, which is allegedly linked to it. The "Arrows" have claimed responsibility for a series of petrol bombings of houses of Socialist MPs earlier this year and for assaulting and seriously beating a TV presenter late last year. The Hungarian authorities are "groping about in the dark," said the paper, and they are even uncertain about the existence of the organisation. The attackers' e-mails claiming responsibility originated from the same US-based server which hosts kuruc.info, a far-right website in ideological kinship with terrorists. Hungary first turned to the US last year when the news portal published the names, phone numbers and photographs of Hungarian judges. The request was rejected on the grounds that US laws do not qualify the publication of personal data as a crime as long as it does not involve incitement for violence.

© HVG

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NEO-NAZI GANG ARRESTED IN SOUTH TYROL WITH LINKS TO AUSTRIAN FAR-RIGHT

17/4/2008- A gang of violent neo-Nazis arrested in South Tyrol on Thursday have links to right-wing extremist groups in Austria, police believe. It was announced on Thursday that 16 men were arrested in Bolzano, Italy, all between 17 and 27-years-old, on charges of violence and instigation of racist, ethnic, and nationalist discrimination. Propaganda materials, Nazi symbols, and German Navy war flags were confiscated from members of the group who held regular meetings at a cabin in the woods - with "One Tyrol" carved into the door - where ritual induction ceremonies would take place for new members. Police could give no further clarification as to the links with Austrian extreme far-right groups but it is believed the Austrian and Italian neo-Nazis met regularly.
© The Wiener Zeitung

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RUSSIAN NAZIS PLAN MAYHEM FOR HITLER'S BIRTHDAY

17/4/2008- Russian neo-Nazis plan to celebrate the birthday of Adolf Hitler, three weeks before Victory Day celebrations - on May 8 in Europe and May 9 in Russia - mark the defeat of Nazi Germany. Last year, they held a demonstration with the official approval of the Moscow authorities. This year, they plan mass actions and attacks on foreigners and non-Russians in general. Russians were shocked to see the first skinheads with modified swastikas on their sleeves in the late 1980s. This could not be, they argued, referring to Russian history, traditions and the collective memory of World War II. How could neo-Nazism flourish in the country that lost more than any other in the struggle for freedom against Nazism, and which is populated by more than 100 ethnicities? Unfortunately, it can and it does. There are more than 300 ultra-rightwing groups in Russia, with skinheads alone numbering as many as 70,000. And they are becoming more aggressive and ruthless, injuring and killing more people every year. According to a survey by the Moscow Human Rights Bureau, 86 racially motivated attacks were registered in January-March 2008, in which 49 people were killed and more than 80 injured. The Russian SOVA Center for Information and Analysis reported that last year more than 630 Russian citizens and foreigners became targets of xenophobic attacks, most of them in Moscow, the Moscow Region and St. Petersburg, where skinheads are waging a veritable war against those they see as "aliens." In just the past few days, two men from the Caucasus were beaten up in the Shchukinskaya metro station and two non-Russians in the Kievskaya station. In Moscow's Vykhino district a group of skinheads attacked several people from Ingushetia, a republic in the Caucasus, killing one of them. Another neo-Nazi group attacked three Azeri teenagers in Pervomaiskaya Street. Skinheads maimed two men from Uzbekistan in the town of Dzerzhinsk and Tajik workers in Orzhitsy, near St. Petersburg, and in Perlovka outside Moscow. Several Mongolian girls and one African man were attacked in St. Petersburg.

Nationalists routinely attack immigrants and wreak havoc at outdoor food markets, where the traders are mostly non-Russians. Meanwhile, members of parliament make racist speeches spearheaded against immigrants. Nationalist newspapers and Nazi literature are routinely and openly sold in Russia. The other day I saw a "collection" of such literature in Lubyanka, just a stone's throw from the headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the former KGB. Human rights groups and activists have called on police officials to prevent these crimes. Minority community leaders are seriously worried, and several immigrant groups have announced on their Internet sites that they are prepared to use force to protect themselves. The rectors of some Russian universities have advised their foreign students to remain in their rooms for the next few days and strengthened security at halls of residence. I don't know what the law enforcement agencies are planning for Hitler's birthday, but so far only the Moscow Region police have announced plans to take additional measures to protect public law and order. The authorities seem to be blissfully unaware of the magnitude of the problem. Why else could they have allowed the Hitler demonstration last year, or the so-called Russian March, which saw far-right racist demonstrations held in several major Russian cities? Colonel General Vladimir Pronin, chief of the Moscow police, recently restated his line that there are no skinheads in the capital, and that the numerous racist attacks against foreigners were nothing more than "individual instances of extremism." The general has been maintaining this view, in heroic defiance of the facts, for years. But the Pronin is not an exception. Russian society does not see the problem either. According to a recent poll conducted by the Levada Center, only 5% of Russians see the danger of political extremism. The Public Opinion Fund reports that 15% of young Russians say there were positive elements in Nazism. One third of students in a Moscow university said that it would not have been a tragedy if Hitler's Germany had defeated the Soviet Union, and 10% of respondents said "we would have lived better" in that event. This is extremely alarming.

Neo-Nazi groups in Russia are so far a fragmented and disparate bunch who act separately and often fight each other. Nor are they very large. But it would not be wise to dismiss them as a potentially powerful political force. In 1923, the Munich police and army easily stopped the Nazi Beer Hall putsch. But three years later the National Socialist German Workers Party had 17,000 members, and its membership swelled to 800,000 in 1932, one year before they came to power, the Reichstag burnt and the enabling act was passed.
© RIA Novosti

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NAZI SIGN ON TANK DRAWS PROBE(Russia)

17/4/2008- Prosecutors are investigating a group of military history enthusiasts for extremism because they staged a World War II re-enactment featuring a tank with German army insignia. Novosibirsk prosecutors say a replica Panzer 38(t) tank, which took part in a mock battle in Siberia with a World War II-era black-and-white cross stenciled on its side, was in breach of a law banning Nazi symbols. The enthusiasts who staged the event say the allegations are absurd and accuse prosecutors of failing to understand the point of a historical re-enactment. But Novosibirsk Regional Prosecutor Vladimir Tokarev was adamant. "If today we do not notice a cross on a tank, tomorrow we will be surprised to see that young people have appeared on the streets with swastikas on their sleeves," he said. "This is precisely why the prosecutor's office has given an instruction ... to painstakingly check what goals this organization is pursuing and whom it represents. "We cannot ignore such facts. Nothing can be trifling in this case," he said in remarks posted on his office's web site. The head of the Siberian chapter of the Russian Military History Social Movement said prosecutors were mounting a witch hunt. "To put it mildly, I am indignant. I'm speechless," Oleg Nelzin said by telephone. "You shouldn't try to find a crime where one just doesn't exist. ... The people involved in this are pretty grown-up, level headed and well-off. If there is a re-enactment, you need an opponent."
© The Moscow Times

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BRIGITTE BARDOT ON TRIAL FOR MUSLIM SLUR(France)

It's the fifth time the former French star has faced the charge of "inciting racial hatred" over her controversial remarks about Islam.

15/4/2008- French former film star Brigitte Bardot went on trial on Tuesday for insulting Muslims, the fifth time she has faced the charge of "inciting racial hatred" over her controversial remarks about Islam and its followers. Prosecutors asked that the Paris court hand the 73-year-old former sex symbol a two-month suspended prison sentence and fine her 15,000 euros ($23,760) for saying the Muslim community was "destroying our country and imposing its acts". Since retiring from the film industry in the 1970s, Bardot has become a prominent animal rights activist but she has also courted controversy by denouncing Muslim traditions and immigration from predominantly Muslim countries. She has been fined four times for inciting racial hatred since 1997, at first 1,500 euros and most recently 5,000. Prosecutor Anne de Fontette told the court she was seeking a tougher sentence than usual, adding: "I am a little tired of prosecuting Mrs Bardot." Bardot did not attend the trial because she said she was physically unable to. The verdict is expected in several weeks. French anti-racist groups complained last year about comments Bardot made about the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha in a letter to President Nicolas Sarkozy that was later published by her foundation. Muslims traditionally mark Eid al-Adha by slaughtering a sheep or another animal to commemorate the prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son on God's orders. France is home to 5 million Muslims, Europe's largest Muslim community, making up 8 percent of France's population. "I am fed up with being under the thumb of this population which is destroying us, destroying our country and imposing its acts," the star of 'And God created woman' and 'Contempt' said. Bardot has previously said France is being invaded by sheep-slaughtering Muslims and published a book attacking gays, immigrants and the unemployed, in which she also lamented the "Islamisation of France".
© Reuters

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NEW POLICE UNITS TACKLE FEAR AND HATE IN FRENCH SUBURBS

Police officer Catherine Vaillot, who grew up in the high-crime area of La Courneuve, said she volunteered because she despaired that people had stopped coming to the police station to report crimes.

13/4/2008- Freshly-trained officers of a new French police service fan out in Paris' volatile suburbs on Monday, on a risky mission to reach out to poor multi-ethnic communities who largely fear and loathe the police. Five months after the latest outbreak of suburban rioting, the officers will go on patrol in three of the toughest neighborhoods of northeast Paris as part of national pilot project launched by President Nicolas Sarkozy. "These are experienced police officers," said David Skuli, head of public security for the Seine Saint Denis region, a sprawling area dotted with grimy housing estates where up to 40 percent of residents are under the age of 30. "They were chosen to restore public trust in policing," he said of the 50 officers of the UTEQs, or neighborhood territorial units, who underwent a two-week training course in Bobigny, east of Paris, before hitting the streets in France's crime heartland. All of the officers volunteered to be part of the new service that will focus heavily on developing streetwise intelligence on gangs, drug runners and arsonists who in 2005 went on a three-week rampage, burning cars and buildings. They will also work to present a human face to suburban residents, who have come to fear police raids and the frequent ID checks by officers armed with Taser electroshock weapons and Flash-ball rubber bullet guns. Police officer Catherine Vaillot, who grew up in the high-crime area of La Courneuve, said she volunteered because she despaired that "people had stopped coming to the police station to report crimes." "I really do think that something needed to be done," said Vaillot, 47, who has been working in La Courneuve for 11 years. "I want to develop this relationship of trust with citizens because they expect a lot from us in those tough neighborhoods. There are not just criminals living there, there are a lot of honest people who come home after a hard day's work and want to enjoy some tranquility.

' Relations have broken down with the police'
Vaillot believes she can make a difference by walking the beat. "We will be in that sector every day. People will see us and know us," she said. The new police service will replace a neighborhood force that was dismantled by then-interior minister Sarkozy in 2002, a decision that critics say stoked tension between the police and the suburbs' immigrant youth. "Relations have broken down with the police," said Mehdi Bigaderne, spokesman for AC Le Feu (Enough Fire!), a community group founded after the 2005 riots in Clichy-sous-Bois, the flashpoint of the rioting. "When the police come around, we feel like hunted animals. We don't feel that they are there for our security," said Bigarderne, whose group has welcomed the new units as positive step. France still bears the scars of three weeks of suburban riots in 2005, triggered by the electrocution deaths of two teenage boys who allegedly were fleeing a police check. The latest major outbreak of violence was in the Paris suburb of Villiers-le-Bel in November when two teenagers riding a motorbike died after they collided with a police car, sparking three days of riots. More than 100 police officers were injured in Villiers-le-Bel when rioters armed with hunting rifles and pellet guns opened fire, a new, worrisome turn in the ongoing clashes with police in the suburbs. During training, the officers received guidance from an expert psychologist on questioning young offenders and were taught about the cultural and religious practices of the more than 40 nationalities who live in the suburbs. Nordine Zine, 34, one of only a handful of officers of north African origin played down the importance of his immigrant roots and knowledge of Arabic in his new policing duties. "It's not a question of one's origins. It's about respect," he said. "I think people will be surprised to see us, to see that we are faithfully there." Prime Minister Francois Fillon has said the police force will be waging a "societal struggle" in the suburbs by using its most "baddle-hardened" officers.
"Faced with a culture of violence and hate, a disdain for our common rules, the struggle for civility and mutual respect is a societal struggle," he said. La Courneuve, Clichy-Montfermeil and Saint-Denis have been chosen as test sites for the new police force and plans are underway to expand it to Toulouse and up to 200 other tinderbox suburbs.
© The Tocqueville Connection

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DENOUNCE BUT DON'T BAN FAR-RIGHT NPD(Germany, opinion)

Germany should denounce extremism but not ban the far-right NPD, said parliamentarian Hans-Peter Uhl. On Thursday, April 17, the state interior ministers blocked a repeat bid to make the controversial party illegal.

18/4/2008- The first effort to ban the NPD, led by former Interior Minister Otto Schily, failed in 2003. The Constitutional Court rejected the case because the implicating evidence had been influenced by informants to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. Nothing has changed since then. Once again, the state interior ministers have agreed not to pursue another request to ban the NPD. Ultimately, they would have to guarantee that the informants had not influenced any of the material collected to prove that the party is unconstitutional. To do this, they would have to remove all of the informants and obtain new evidence over a longer period of time. This, however, would create a security risk, since possible crimes could be planned, which the state wouldn't know about without the informants in place. The SPD, which has tried to score points on the domestic policy field in the past few weeks with an NPD ban, is now empty-handed. The CDU and CSU won't tolerate accusations of being lenient toward right-wing extremism. On the contrary, we won't be outdone in the fight against extremist ideas. The basic democratic rule in the fight against unconstitutional ideologies is political debate, in order to win the heads and hearts of the people. It's a mistake to believe that deleting a party name would also delete the extremist ideas it represents. The NPD offers primitive, mono-causal solutions and misdirected statements. These cannot be silently tolerated in civil society and in politics, but should be rejected and ostracized. This path may be tedious, but there is no alternative. It's also important that politics and the media don't abet political disenchantment but respond to problematic developments in a responsible way before extremist Pied Pipers get involved.

For this reason, the CDU makes an effort to offer people on the right of the political spectrum more moderate orientation, in order to integrate them in a way that corresponds to the constitutional order. Unapologetically separating oneself from extremist ideas is adherent to this. We, therefore, condemn the often glib fight "against the right" when it indiscriminately excludes legitimate concerns in the democratic opinion spectrum and lumps them together with extremist content. Any suggestions to cut funding to the NPD should be examined and, if possible, successfully carried out. But there are legal risks involved here as well. The principle of tiered equality for all parties that aren't banned tightly restricts special treatment. Public debate should not lead to unnecessary extra attention for the NPD. When the group is mentioned, its platform should be denounced in the same breath. The NPD should in no way benefit from this short-sighted party conflict.

Hans-Peter Uhl is the domestic policy speaker for the CDU-CSU faction in the German parliament.
© Deutsche Welle

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ANTI-BLACK POSTER IN GERMANY RULED LEGAL

18/4/2008- An overtly anti-black leaflet circulated by the neo-Nazi supporters of a far-right German party does not breach German sedition laws, a court said Friday. Ghanaian-born Gerald Asamoah, a star of the German national football team and member of the Schalke squad, had complained to police about the rightists' ugly riposte to a "We are All Germany" publicity campaign during the 2006 World Cup. The leaflet, to be used as a poster, showed his photo and the words, "No, Gerald, you are not Germany." Leaders of the extreme National Democratic Party (NPD) are set to go on trial soon for racism in connection with similar leaflets. An appeal court in Neuruppin near Berlin Friday acquitted three men who had handed out the leaflet. Judges ruled the message was not sedition, as it did not inspire hatred of a group specifically, but was a general attack against multiculturalism in Germany. A lower court had convicted the men. A separate sedition conviction of the trio, aged 25 to 41, for a "nasty" anti-Semitic leaflet stood. Two received suspended, eight- month jail terms and the third a fine. The three had formerly been members of a neo-Nazi group which was prohibited by law.
© DPA

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BLACK WOMAN SUES LANDLORD AFTER DISCRIMINATION ADMISSION(Germany)

A 34-year-old woman is suing her former landlord. He evicted her from an Osnabrueck apartment because she was black and a single mother.

15/4/2008- Natasha Kelly received the eviction notice in December. "Some of the other tenants are unhappy about your background and skin color and your personal situation as a single mother," the landlord wrote. "Some of the elderly ones have been here for 40 years and I cannot ask them to leave." The landlord said two of the parties in the six-apartment building in central Osnabrueck had put pressure on him to evict Kelly and her 12-year-old daughter.

Setting a precedent?
Kelly was suing the landlord for discrimination and demanding 10,000 euros ($15,800). The case was likely to set a precedent in the application of Germany's anti-discrimination law, which came into effect in August 2006. It forbids discrimination based on a person's origins, skin color, age, disabilities or sexual orientation. "It's unheard of that someone expresses such incriminating ideas so freely in writing," Kelly's lawyer, Simone Singer, told the Tageszeitung newspaper. In the meantime, Kelly, who was born in Britain and grew up in Germany, has moved. She said she had been turned down before when she tried to rent an apartment because she was black, "but I have never been thrown out because of it afterwards." "If it were just me, I would have stayed and seen this out to the bitter end, but I did not want my daughter to grow up in a racist environment," she added. Kelly, a PhD candidate, launched a magazine last year, called X-Magazine, that deals with black people's experiences in Germany.
© Deutsche Welle

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MUSLIM WOMAN RECEIVES DAMAGES FOR HEADSCARF SLIGHT(Sweden)

12/4/2008- A 20-year-old Malmö woman has been awarded damages after she was asked to leave a bus for wearing a veil. The woman has received 25,000 kronor ($4,203) from public bus service operator Arriva after an agreement was reached with the Ombudsman against ethnic discrimination (DO), according to local newspaper Sydsvenskan. The woman was instructed to leave the bus in the southern Swedish city when she refused to remove the niqab veil that she was wearing as part of her sartorial hijab headdress. The niqab covers the entire face except for eyes. The bus driver had asked the woman to remove her niqab so that he could identify her, however the woman was using a buss pass that did not require identification. "The bus driver has not acted according to Arriva's values. There is no doubt where the fault lies and this is most regrettable. We are happy to pay out the money to make up for it," said Jan Wildau at Arriva. As a result of the incident the bus driver, who was employed on an hourly basis, no longer works for Arriva.
© The Swedish Local

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WHY YOUNG MOROCCANS EMBRACE ISLAM (Netherlands)

Young Dutch Moroccans are increasingly turning to their religion. Anthropologist Martijn de Koning says this is a direct result of the current polarisation of the debate on Islam.

17/4/2008- "Even before 9/11 there was already an increase in interest for religion among young Moroccans," says Martijn de Koning. "But once the debate on Islam flared up, their interest increased enormously." When during the late 1990s, Mr De Koning was finishing off his anthropology degree, he decided to research religious experience under young Moroccans at the same mosque in Gouda where he had supervised homework sessions during his study. At the time, the general perception was that young people were turning away from their religion. But things went differently.

Islam debate
During his research from 1999 until 2005, Islam suddenly found itself at the centre of attention due to the terrorist attacks by Muslim extremists in New York, Madrid and London. In the Netherlands, a Muslim radical assassinated filmmaker Theo van Gogh. These events triggered a major change in attitude towards religion among the group of around forty boys and girls that Mr De Koning observed. While the Dutch fell over each other in a national row over the integration of Muslims, young Muslims started finding out more about their religion.
"They were continually asked about their Muslim identity; not just by the media, but also by school mates and teachers and by people at their sports club. They started looking into Islam so that they could answer these questions."

Salafi Islam
However, the Islam they found was not the traditional type from Morocco. They found their answers on the Internet in the conservative, Saudi-Arabian version called Salafism. The search by this young group of Muslims, says Mr de Koning, was a search for an identity with which they could distinguish themselves from Dutch society as well as from their parents.
"They wanted a pure Islam, without compromise. Not an Islam that had been watered down because they happened to live in the Netherlands. Nor did they want an Islam peppered with Moroccan traditions."                                                                            Salafism met their need. It is a form of Islam with clear rules, which makes a clear distinction between good and evil. An Islam which is stricter and more orthodox than that of the older generation, but nevertheless seemed to provide better answers to their complicated lives in modern Dutch society. "Only a few actually converted to Salafism," says Mr De Koning.
"Most of them only sporadically dabbled in religion. But it was an important source of inspiration for almost all of them."

Generation gap
The young Moroccans' religious preference sparked a generation conflict that was fought out in the mosque. To attract young Muslims to the Gouda house of prayer a Salafi imam was employed at the end of 2001. Mr De Koning says:
"Initially everyone was enthusiastic, as more young people came to the mosque. But after a while, the imam began to forbid everything. Music was not allowed, women could not cycle bikes, work or go to school. It was the older generation that revolted. They said: ‘Wait a minute! We live in the Netherlands and our young people have to be able to function here!' But the young people thought it was great that the imam was so stubborn. ‘Look', they said, ‘He doesn't bend. He doesn't adapt Islam, he didn't do it in Morocco and he doesn't do it here.'"

Avoiding conflict
Mr De Koning stresses that the type of Islam that young ethnic Moroccans have embraced has not taken on a solid character. Whether it will, depends mainly on the development of the Islam debate in the public arena. The researcher expects young ethnic Moroccans to get involved in the debate, which they have avoided so far. Now that appears to have changed.
"A group of more politically committed young people have gradually come to feel strong enough verbally and well educated enough to engage in a direct confrontation."
© Radio Netherlands

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ETHNIC GROUPS FACE DISCRIMINATION AT WORK(Netherlands)

De Volkskrant reports that only 1 percent of the senior positions at Delta Lloyd are held by people with ethnic backgrounds.

15/4/2008- De Volkskrant reports that the number of people with a foreign, or non-Dutch, ethnic background who are unemployed is three times the rate of those of Dutch origin. Even people with "foreign backgrounds" who have a university degree are twice as likely to be unemployed. The Dutch statistics office wrote in a 2007 report that the under-representation was "in part" due to discrimination.

Workshop reveals more shocking figures
De Volkskrant describes an Inspiration for Integration workshop set up by the Netherlands' largest employers' organisation VNO-NCW. One of the sponsors is the company Delta Lloyd. Three workers (of African, Moroccan and Hindi origin) who work on the lower floors and have low-or medium-level jobs were invited to the 30th floor where the managers and other senior staff work. The paper reports the paleness of the managers and directors forms a sharp contract with the Eastern face, Mediterranean looks and African skin of these 'average' workers. The paper writes that at Delta Lloyd "people with ethnic backgrounds hold 11 percent of the low-ranking positions, but only one percent of the senior positions". A Delta Lloyd employee, 33-year-old Shamim Akthar who arrived in The Netherlands from Pakistan when she was an infant and is fully integrated, says "if you want to climb higher, they keep on asking more and more from you. You sometimes see that someone who is relatively new is given preference. And not because of his capacities."

Always a lot of talk
De Volkskrant writes that Delta Lloyd's 'diversity work group' has been disbanded and that only a sounding-board group is left over. An employee who has been a member of the sounding-board group for years says. "There’s always a lot of talk. We know what we want to achieve, but nothing ever gets off the ground." The company's management says "We don’t have any structural plans or quota." But Delta Lloyd says it might consider setting up another 'diversity work group' in the future.
© Radio Netherlands

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MUSLIM STATES SLAM DUTCH AT UN ON ISLAMOPHOBIA, FILM

15/4/2008- Muslim countries led by Iran and Pakistan called on the Netherlands on Tuesday to combat what they called rising Islamophobia and discrimination against immigrants in Dutch society. Condemning a film released by Dutch member of parliament Geert Wilders that accuses the Koran of condoning violence, they also urged Dutch authorities to prosecute its author for inciting hatred against Muslims. The video "Fitna", launched last month on the Internet, urges Muslims to tear out "hate-filled" verses from the Koran and starts and ends with a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad with a bomb under his turban, accompanied by a ticking sound. "Despite an impressive array of (Dutch) laws and an elaborate framework to combat racism and xenophobia, recent actions by individuals to incite racial hatred and religious intolerance have shocked Muslims around the world," Pakistan's ambassador Masood Khan told the U.N. Human Rights Council. "A defamatory documentary released by a Dutch parliamentarian intended to demonise Muslims and distort the message of the Koran has been widely condemned," he said, referring to the leader of the anti-immigration Freedom Party. Khan called on the Dutch government to complete its investigation into the film's release and to prosecute the author for "inciting hatred against Muslims in the Netherlands and all around the world". Iran's ambassador Alireza Moaiyeri also denounced discrimination against minorities in the Netherlands. The most recent example was "attacking Islam through the making of a defamatory film against the holy Koran as a vivid example of Islamophobia and incitement to racial and religious hatred".

Nebahat Albayrak, Dutch state secretary for justice and one of two Muslims in the cabinet, told the Geneva forum her government had opposed the release of the film. Albayrak, who is Turkish-born, said her government was drawing up a plan to combat racial discrimination on the labour market, in law enforcement, criminal investigation and on the Internet. "Combating prejudice and respecting freedom of Muslims to practice their religion are key themes of our integration policies," she said. "The Dutch government strongly believes that fostering inter-action (between communities) will help us to combat discrimination and Islamophobia," she added. The Dutch public prosecutor was investigating a possible criminal offence in connection with the film, she added. Dutch Muslims have defended freedom of expression as a fundamental right of Dutch society, she said. (Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Ibon Villelabeitia)
© Reuters

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NATIONAL PARTY SCREENS ANTI-ISLAMIC FILM(Czech Rep.)

15/4/2008- The Czech extra-parliamentary extremist National Party (NS) presented the controversial anti-Islamic film Fitna of Dutch ultra-right MP Geert Wilders in Hradec Kralove Tuesday. Over 20 people attended the screening. On this occasion, Pavel Sedlacek from the NS pointed to the alleged danger of Islamisation and he mentioned demonstrations in the Czech Republic and abroad against it. Only several people took part in the debate. One of them said problems with the Islamisation of society should be solved on the official level. "You must call on politicians to start dealing with it," he said. Sedlacek objected that one cannot rely on politicians in this respect. The local branch of the NS, which was officially registered in 2002, also screened the film Ahmed - Dead Terrorist and offered T-shirts and papers to the audience tonight. The NS has released Wilders's film called Fitna, an Arabic word used to describe discord, on its website. "A total of 26,000 people have seen the film, a half of them from Germany and Austria. People from 71 countries have watched it on our website," Sedlacek said. The police organised crime squad (UOOZ) started investigating the film's release on the NS's Internet page to check whether the film's content is in compliance with Czech law. UOOZ spokesman Pavel Hantak told CTK that the investigation had not been completed yet. The film describes the Koran as a book that provokes intolerance, murders and violence, and it ends up with the slogan: "Stop Islamisation. Defend Our Freedom." The film, released in March, met with sharp criticism in the Muslim world. The Dutch TV channels refused to broadcast it. The authorities expressed fears that the film might stir up violent protests in Muslim countries similar to those that followed after the publication of the Prophet Muhammad cartoons in Danish papers two years ago.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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COURT OVERRULES TOWN'S DECISION, PERMITS NEO-NAZI MARCH(Czech Rep.)

17/4/2008- The court has permitted Czech neo-Nazis to stage a march through Litvinov which the town hall previously banned, Tyden.cz said Thursday, adding that the extremists organise the march annually to commemorate one of them who was stabbed to death in Litvinov nine years ago. The court said there was no evidence proving that law might be violated during the march, the server Tyden.cz writes. "Unfortunately, this is true. The court has abolished our ban saying we did not meet the legal conditions for the march to be banned. Nothing can be done about it. We respect the court decision," Litvinov town hall's secretary Alexandra Sixtova is quoted as saying. She said the town hall would not be opposed to a commemorative meeting, but it minds the march that is to follow. "Last year, cases of violation of law occurred during the march," she added. The participants in the Litvinov neo-Nazi march annually move from Litvinov to the nearby town of Most, where left-wing extremists protested against their march last year. A 26-year-old right-winger then ran with his car into a group of anarchists, injuring two girls. The court sentenced him to three years in prison.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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UN HUMAN RIGHTS BODY SLAMS ROMA SITUATION, CAGED BEDS(Czech Rep.)

16/4/2008- The Czech Republic was criticised for allegedly using cage beds, discriminating against Romanies and not ensuring an equal position for women, at a discussion of the U.N. Human Rights Council Wednesday. The assessment of human rights observance in the Czech Republic is to be released in June, according to the Czech mission in Geneva. The Czech Republic is one of the first 16 states that the council assesses within the regular evaluation of human rights observance in particular U.N. member countries. The council reviews after four years how particular countries react to its recommendations. The Czech Republic has submitted to the council a national report saying that it fulfils its human rights commitments and enumerating the measures it has taken in this respect. The U.N. council's report is accompanied by reports by Amnesty International (AI) and other NGOs and groups that monitor human rights observance in the Czech Republic. AI wrote in its report that Romanies continue to be discriminated against in the Czech Republic and that mentally handicapped people are still placed in cage beds. In its report that CTK has at its disposal AI also points to policemen abusing their powers and to women undergoing forced sterilisation. The objections and recommendations by the council will be summed up in a report that is to be approved on Friday.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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MINISTER STEHLÍKOVÁ APOLOGISES FOR STATEMENTS ON ROMANIES(Czech Rep.)

15/4/2008- Czech minister for human rights and minorities Dzamila Stehlikova (junior ruling Greens) Tuesday apologised for her controversial statements on Romanies in a local paper. Stehlikova told Saturday's issue of the regional north Moravian paper that "parents are to blame for Romany children's failure at school as they allow them not to go to classes and send them out to thieve." Stehlikova told reporters Tuesday that she had spoken about concrete Romany families in a concrete municipality and that her words cannot be generalised. Stehlikova also said in the interview in the local paper that Romanies have no relation to real estate since "they have got what they have too easily." She said the Romany ethnicity feels no need to work since the state offers an alternative of almost the same financial benefit without work. The daily Lidove noviny (LN) reported about the interview with Stehlikova Tuesday. LN writes Stehlikova explained that she had pronounced the utterances in "a certain context." Such negative phenomena exist in the socially excluded Romany localities, but they definitely do not concern all Romanies, Stehlikova said in LN. "I am awfully sorry that the statements that concerned concrete families were understood in general terms to apply to the whole community," Stehlikova said. She added that in the interview she had tried to name the Romany problems that are to be solved. Stehlikova said she would like to meet representatives of the Jesenik municipalities, north Moravia, and Romany organisations again in about a month.

A new government-established Czech agency against social exclusion, under the supervision of Stehlikova, is to help improve the situation of those living in Romany "ghettoes." Stehlikova noted that Romanies and other inhabitants of the socially deprived localities should be involved in the agency's work. "If they mistrusted the agency or me, it might have a negative impact on our work," she added. Stehlikova told reporters Tuesday that some 250,000 to 300,000 Romanies live in the 10-million Czech Republic and 60.000 to 80,000 of them live in the socially excluded localities. Most of the Romanies are trying to integrate into the majority society. However, some dozens to hundreds of families abuse the inefficient welfare system that does not motivate people to work, she said. Stehlikova stressed in her statement released Tuesday that she had never taken xenophobic stances. "I respect all decent people regardless of their origin. As I cooperate with Romanies frequently, I know many decent and responsible people among them. I feel very sorry if some of them could relate my formulations to themselves," Stehlikova said. The agency to stimulate Romanies' integration started working in March. It will focus on six selected localities in Bohemia and another six in Moravia. A majority of adults in these localities are unemployed, the families live in often inappropriate conditions and they depend on social benefits. Most children attend special schools. Many of them have never seen their parents working.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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PLZEN MAYOR TO AVOID PROSECUTION FOR NEO-NAZI MARCH BAN(Czech Rep.)

14/4/2008- Plzen Mayor Pavel Roedl will not be prosecuted for banning a march of ultra-right nationalists through the city in January, as the state attorney has ordered that the case be shelved, the daily Pravo wrote Saturday. Roedl (Civic Democratic Party, ODS) faced a criminal complaint on suspicion of abuse of power as a public official. The state attorney stated that the motive behind Roedl's decision was not to harm anyone but, on the contrary, to prevent a damage. The participants in the planned march were to pass by the local synagogue in the wake of an anniversary of the wartime transport of Plzen Jews to a concentration camp. Roedl could logically suppose that people's health could be harmed and material damage caused if a brawl broke out between the right-wing extremists and their opponents, Pravo writes, citing the state attorney. The criminal complaint against Roedl was lodged by the march organiser, Vaclav Bures, along with a representative of the extra-parliamentary Workers' Party. The administrative court previously admitted that by banning the march, Roedl had not acted in harmony with law. Roedl issued the ban after the deadline the law sets for authorities for similar occasions. Above all, Roedl was not empowered to issue the ban at all, the administrative court said. It said the city must enable the organisers to stage the march, which finally took place on March 1.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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OVER 100 PEOPLE PROTEST AGAINST ANTI-SEMITISM IN PRAGUE(Czech Rep.)

13/4/2008- Over a hundred people took part in a meeting in protest against anti-Semitism and racism, held in Prague today, that included a march through the centre of the city and a rally in the upper house garden named All of us are people. The event, organised by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem to commemorate the Holocaust victims, took place for the fifth time this year. The march and rally are held to outweigh events organised by right-wing extremists. The organisers say it would be enough for the evil to triumph if decent people were doing nothing. The participants in the meeting, accompanied by traditional Jewish songs, carried posters condemning racism, and also carried Israeli and Czech flags. Oldrich Stransky, a former Czech inmate of the Oswiecim (Auschwitz) concentration camp, wore the camp inmate's clothing on this occasion. Stransky said at present young people no longer exactly know what happened during World War Two, and sometimes they are unable to distinguish the threat posed by neo-Nazism. "All this is a terrible mistake. If they knew this [WWII events], they could much better orientate themselves in relation to what is happening now," Stransky, who lost his whole family during the war, told CTK. Adressing the rally in the Valdstejnska garden, surrounding the Senate building, Senate chairman Premysl Sobotka condemned present displays of anti-Semitism. "Passiveness towards their [neo-Nazis'] activities is no solution," Sobotka said.

The rally was also addressed by Slovak EU commissioner for culture and education, Jan Figel, Prague Mayor Pavel Bem and Czech Jewish Communities' Federation secretary Tomas Kraus who presented a report on anti-Semitism in the Czech Republic. According to the report, the Czech Republic ranks among the countries with a relatively low number of violent displays of anti-Semitism. No such case was registered in the Czech Republic last year, also because only a low number of Jews live in the country. At present, neo-Nazis mainly "focus" on Romanies and anti-fascist activists, the report says. Four attacks on Jewish property were registered in 2007. For example, in April an unknown perpetrator engraved a swastika in a piece of furniture in Prague's Old-New Synagogue. On the other hand, the organisers of the rally say that intensifying political efforts by ultra-right groups can be registered, including their attempt to stage a march through Prague's historical Jewish Quarter last November, on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, an anti-Jew pogrom in Nazi Germany.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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FOREIGNERS SIGN INTEGRATION CONTRACT(Switzerland)

12/4/2008- Some 80 foreigners living in Basel and Zurich are about to take part in Switzerland's first integration contract programme. But official support for the pioneering scheme varies between German- and French-speaking regions, with the latter generally more sceptical about its value in helping people feel part of Swiss society. In all, 40 foreigners from Basel and 40 from Zurich have agreed to join the pilot project and follow a language or integration course. In return, the state will grant or extend their residence permit. The project has generated considerable interest in Zurich. "The demand for places on the programme has hugely exceeded supply," Julia Morais, an integration delegate for canton Zurich, told swissinfo. The contracts are intended to help foreigners who have difficulty or are reluctant to integrate into Swiss society, despite help from traditional programmes. There has been much debate in Switzerland over recent months about the necessary courses of action to help foreigners successfully integrate. In August 2007 the government announced more than 40 wide-ranging measures to improve the integration of foreigners, with languages and education taking centre stage. "The contracts are drawn up according to very personal criteria," explained Morais. "We look together with the individual at their objectives, the timeframe and what they need to achieve." Morais added that they had the right to claim additional assistance. Certain immigrants also benefit from heavily subsided rates – SFr5 ($4.97) per class. "It's not a good idea to make it totally free," said Morais. "Sometimes that can be associated with bad quality. And we have to ensure complete fairness."

Dividing line
Although no one denies the importance of learning a local language – the federal authorities have subsidised language courses since 2001 – the idea of forcing people to attend classes divides French and German speakers. Those advocating a tough line are supporters of the rightwing Swiss People's Party, who have been pushing for an ability to speak a national language (German, French or Italian) to be linked with a person's residency permit. A failure to improve language skills by a certain date would result in a permit being withdrawn. For the vice-president of the Swiss Conference of Integration Delegates, Magaly Hanselmann, learning a language should not be the sole factor when judging successful integration. "Many Africans speak French but encounter difficulties in their professional integration," she commented. "As an integration specialist, I try to ensure that as many people as possible learn French," she added. "But by forcing people to learn, I'm not sure I'd be any more successful, as an individual has to show real willingness and motivation." This was one of the main conclusions of a recent study published by the Swiss Refugee Council, which also claimed that an integration contract alone had little impact. According to the authors, clear objectives and sanctions are essential.

Regional differences
The Federal Migration Office downplays any regional differences and says each canton is free to choose. "Cantons are not obliged to introduce integration contracts and linguistic knowledge is not a sole criteria, as integration courses can also be offered," pointed out spokesman Jonas Montani. "Language skills are nevertheless the number-one priority for the government between 2008 and 2011," responded Hanselmann. A model integration contract is available on the migration office's website in the three main national languages, as well as in nine others (Albanian, Arabic, English, Kurdish, Macedonian, Russian, Serbo-Croat, Tamil and Turkish). For 2008, the federal authorities have provided the cantons with integration grants worth SFr14 million. This amount will rise to SFr16 million annually from next year, of which SFr9 million are for language learning and training. Integration contracts are not covered by any special federal funds.
© Swissinfo

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MOB RANSACKS ROME GAY CENTER(Italy)

18/4/2008- Rome police are searching for members of a mob of youths who burst into the city's LGBT center, ransacking the building. The attack on Mario Mieli Homosexual Cultural Circle occurred Thursday night while members were in the building. As they attempted to confront the gang the youths yelled anti-gay and anti-Semitic slogans. As they ran off the gang yelled praises for Benito Mussolini, Italy's wartime dictator. "We fear that this situation is linked to the electoral climate," the association said in a statement. Rome is in the midst of a mayoral runoff between rightist and leftist candidates. Earlier this week Silvio Berlusconi became Prime Minister when his rightwing coalition swept national elections. In 2004, during his last stint as Prime Minister Berlusconi's handpicked man to be the European Union's human rights chief was rejected by an EU committee after Rocco Buttiglione called homosexuality "a sin" and that marriage existed ``to allow women to have children and to have the protection of a male.'' Reacting to the EU move, a Berlusconi cabinet minister launched into a homophobic tirade. "Poor Europe: the faggots are in the majority," Mirko Tremaglia declared. Fascist and Nazi youth have stepped up their visibility since the election. In the north of Italy this week police broke up what is described as a neo-Nazi gang arresting 16 people on charges of inciting discrimination, hatred and violence based on race, ethnicity and nationality. Police said the gang had ties to skinhead and Neo-Nazi groups in Austria, Switzerland and Germany.
© 365Gay.com

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SILVIO BERLUSCONI SAYS ILLEGAL MIGRANTS ARE 'ARMY OF EVIL'(Italy)

16/4/2008- Silvio Berlusconi branded illegal immigrants an "army of evil" yesterday in his first day in office after winning Italy's general election. Mr Berlusconi, 71, who was elected on Monday to serve a third term as prime minister, said that he would "step up neighbourhood police, who can be an army of good, placing themselves between the Italian people and the army of evil". He vowed to deport non-European Union citizens who "do not have work or home and are forced into crime in order to live". His comments will have pleased his "post-fascist" allies and the Northern League, which declared four years ago that immigrants should be shot in their boats. Mr Berlusconi's coalition drew up a harsh anti-immigration law in its last term in office, which was repealed by Romano Prodi's short-lived socialist government. However, Italy has cracked down on the communities of illegal immigrants that have sprung up on the edges of its major towns, repatriating many Eastern Europeans. Walter Veltroni, who lost the election to Mr Berlusconi, said he was shocked by the new prime minister's immediate plunge into polemic. "I have been badly struck by his statements so far, words which do not add up to a good start," he said. Mr Berlusconi replied: "My throne will be very uncomfortable. But as I tell my friends, I have been unstoppable until now. "I feel very different from the Berlusconi of 2001. I know how this works, and I can be immediately working for the good of the country." Although Mr Berlusconi won a crushing victory in the election, and will have a majority of at least 40 seats in the Senate, commentators said that he would be "held to ransom" by Umberto Bossi, whose secessionist Northern League will be a vital component of the future government.

To soothe Mr Bossi, Mr Berlusconi said that he was committed to splitting Italy in two, devolving the industrial North into its own state. "Federalism is a fact of modernity. It is a great principle of democracy and liberty," he said. A referendum on devolution was held in 2006 but Italians voted in huge numbers to remain united. However, Mr Bossi said: "This time we will do it. The first thing we will carry out is tax independence." His supporters are tired of money generated in the North being used for handouts to the less affluent South. In a frenzy of activity, Mr Berlusconi promised he would form a cabinet within a week, and that he had found a site in Naples to hold an emergency meeting in order to resolve the city's rubbish crisis. He also hailed the disappearance of the Italian Communist Party. For the first time since the Second World War, the Communists failed to win a single seat in either house of parliament. He received telephone calls of congratulations from President George W Bush, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France. Downing Street said the Prime Minister had telephoned Mr Berlusconi to offer his "warm congratulations". He also wrote saying he looked forward to working "closely" with him on issues ranging from foreign affairs and climate change to international development and Europe. As he repeated a lavish string of promises, including a rescue plan for Alitalia, Italy's stricken national airline, Mr Berlusconi was warned by Joaquin Almunia, the EU finance commissioner, to sort out Italy's troubled finances. Several al-Qa'eda-linked websites flashed up messages in the aftermath of his victory, one of which said: "Let Allah curse Berlusconi and unleash his rage against him."
© The Daily Telegraph

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'ACCEPTABLE FACE' OF FASCISM MAY COST BERLUSCONI VICTORY(Italy)

Italy's only woman candidate for PM emerges as the revelation of the election campaign, as she attacks the media magnate's chauvinism head on

13/4/2008- The sensation of Italy's election campaign has been a glamorous 46-year-old divorcee with long, shapely legs, a piercing gaze, a fine Italian temper and the guts to say to Silvio Berlusconi: "You're not having me." There is no chance she will become Italy's next prime minister; if her small, extreme, new-minted party manages to win seats in both houses of parliament it will be remarkable. But commentators on both sides agree that Daniela Santanche, the only woman candidate for prime minister, has been the revelation of an election which finishes in polling today and tomorrow. Ms Santanche is the figurehead of La Destra, meaning the right, campaigning on the old fascist trinity of God, Fatherland and Family. The party's symbol is the old neo-fascist tricolour flame. It was founded by a nucleus of post-fascist believers after the mainstream heirs of fascism, the National Alliance, amalgamated with Mr Berlusconi's Forza Italia to form the People of Liberty party. The hard-right content of La Destra's programme is familiar enough: the attacks on immigrants; the evocation of family values; the assault on privilege and banks' profits. But what was new and startling was Ms Santanche's decision to challenge Mr Berlusconi's male chauvinist appeal head on. Mr Berlusconi, whose lead in opinion polls appears to have shrunk in the last phase of the campaign (polls are banned in the last two weeks before voting), has long revelled in his macho image, the sultan in his harem surrounded by curvaceous young lovelies, some of whom might end up among the ranks of his MPs, but not in government. Despite what has happened to the status of women elsewhere in Europe – the Spanish Prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's new government has a majority of women ministers – for Berlusconi, women belong in the bedroom or the kitchen.

His demeaning remarks about them are the stuff of legend. "The left has no taste in women," he mocked. "Ours are much more beautiful." "Ladies," he said at a recent campaign meeting, "I have a mission for you on election day: cook! Sweet and exquisite things, please. Bring them to the polling station to be examined. The boldest can try making a tart, the most skilful, profiteroles." Far from being a trivial eccentricity, Mr Berlusconi's compulsion to dominate and belittle is at the heart of his political success. The reason his centre-right coalition has had much less trouble with splitters and dissenters than the centre-left is simple: with his billions he has for years bankrolled his main ally, the secessionist Northern League. This time around he has done the same for the National Alliance, putting several of its leaders on his payroll as the price for absorbing their party and erasing its identity. The National Alliance's leader, Gianfranco Fini, has bet his party's existence on his hopes of stepping into Mr Berlusconi's shoes. Ms Santanche charges her ex-colleagues with prostituting themselves for Mr Berlusconi's favours. In a television encounter with the equally tempestuous Alessandra Mussolini, the granddaughter of Il Duce and one of the right-wingers who has gone along with Mr Berlusconi, Ms Santanche told women viewers: "Don't give your vote to Berlusconi, he sees us only horizontally, never vertically." She accused la Mussolini of being "Berlusconi's showgirl". "Your grandfather must be spinning in his grave," she spat. For a man like Mr Berlusconi, as priapic as a character in an Aristophanes farce, Ms Santanche was too gorgeous to be ignored. "People will vote for la Santanche because she is a beautiful babe," he said, "without realising that by doing so they will give votes to someone who is certainly not a beautiful babe [his centre-left opponent], Walter Veltroni." It's the fate of the lion in winter: all his billions, all his television channels, cannot rescue him from the mockery that rains down on the aged lecher, his powers visibly waning. While his rival, Mr Veltroni, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, has soberly criss-crossed the country, denouncing the Mafia and calling for Italy to turn over a new leaf, Mr Berlusconi has addressed small, ageing crowds, many bussed in to fill the seats, saying "anything that comes into his head", as one commentator put it, and bemoaning his fate. The magic has deserted him. But it took the flashing eyes of a beautiful woman to spell out the extent of his humiliation.
© Independent Digital

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MIGRANT CRIME FEARS 'UNFOUNDED'(uk)

16/4/2008- The influx of migrant workers into England and Wales from eastern Europe has not led to the crime wave that some have suggested, a police report says. Since 2004, about 800,000 people have registered for work in Britain from many eastern European countries. The report by two chief constables has been sent to the home secretary ahead of a meeting with senior officers. It says the influx of migrants has created problems in some areas but overall crime levels have not risen. With the recent expansion of the EU, migrants have entered the UK from such countries as Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania, and more recently Romania and Bulgaria. Last year, Cambridgeshire's chief constable, Julie Spence, sparked controversy by claiming the sudden influx in east European workers had led to community tensions and increases in certain types of crime. Several other forces said they were having similar problems.

Nationality records
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) canvassed the views of detectives and community officers across the UK. It found no evidence that crime was more prevalent among East Europeans than other groups. It said the sheer number of migrants in some areas had caused tensions and policing pressures - but the problems were minimal. The chief constables' study comes three days after figures released by 25 police forces in England and Wales indicated that one-in-five people convicted or charged with murder in the 12 months to April 2007 was foreign. In figures released by the Home Office in January, recorded crime in England and Wales was down by 9% from July to September last year compared with the same period in the previous year. Acpo's head of race and diversity, Peter Fahy, who co-wrote the report, said: "We have got...a fairly significant reduction in crime across the whole country. "So it wouldn't really make sense that given we've brought in something like 800,000 to 1,000,000 from eastern Europe, during that period crime has actually fallen significantly."

Sudden wave
Mr Fahy said immigrants were not criminals, although there had been tensions in some parts of the country, and sought to qualify the comments made last year by Ms Spence. "Our report is very clear: it has led to an increase in some tensions. "Particularly, say, those areas which have had higher concentrations - you get misunderstandings, you get rumours, you've got big pressure on things like housing. You get rumours that wages are being held down," Mr Fahy said. "What is different about this wave of immigration is that it's so sudden. "Which has created a different dynamic which has created tensions and people like Julie Spence have pointed out that we have had huge increases in the interpreters budget, but that's not really just about eastern Europeans being offenders, it's also about them being victims and witnesses of crime." He said the nationality of offenders should be recorded to make it easier to monitor crime trends, and called on eastern European states to share criminal intelligence more widely.

'Modern-day slavery'
Mrs Spence stood by her comments, saying that immigrants were not responsible for a "crime wave" but recent population growth had given police "significant challenges", particularly with non-English speakers, as the force deals with people from 93 cultures, speaking 100 languages. "Looking after victims and witnesses and managing community tensions is substantially more complex now than three years ago," she said. "We have seen an increase in specific offences such as motoring offences, sex trafficking, and worker exploitation - a form of modern-day slavery. Our workload and its complexity is increasing. "Some parts of the country are no doubt unaffected by this. However, Cambridgeshire certainly is." Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said she would examine the report in detail. "[The report] is very helpful for getting the issues into proportion. "When new people come into any community, it can bring pressures - those changes need to be responded to - and I wanted to work with chief police officers to find the best way of doing that."
© BBC News

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RACISM RIFE IN COMMONS, SAYS MP(uk)

Dawn Butler, one of only two black women in the House, speaks out about the discrimination she has suffered from politicians of all parties

13/4/2008- The House of Commons, held up as a beacon of democracy, has a 'dirty little secret', according to black MPs - its racism. Dawn Butler, only the third black woman ever to have become an MP, said she faced such frequent racism from politicians of all parties that she had to 'pick her battles' to avoid being constantly in conflict with her colleagues. Disillusioned by what she has found, she is calling for a dedicated complaints department with the power to suspend politicians and send them on awareness training courses. 'I thought people in Parliament would be progressive. It is still a shock that they are not,' she said. 'Over the past 400-plus years, the only black people - and black women in particular - in Parliament have been there to cook and clean. For some politicians, it's still a shock to come face to face with a black women with any real power. Racism and sexism is Parliament's dirty little secret.' She is backed by Diane Abbott, the only other black woman in the Commons, who said that she had suffered 20 years of prejudice. 'In the beginning, some of it was sheer ignorance. I remember being shocked when a Labour MP asked me once whether we celebrated Christmas in Jamaica,' said Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington. 'It has not helped that the Labour party powers-that-be have always seen me as "uppity" but I have dealt with the racism and misogyny by reaching out to other black women.' Butler, who won the Brent South seat in 2005 when she was 35, described how shocked she was by the attitude of a senior Conservative who challenged her right to have a drink on the Commons' Thameside terrace, a privilege reserved for MPs.

In an article written for the Fawcett Society's new collection of essays, Seeing Double: Race and Gender in Ethnic Minority Women's Lives, Butler describes how former Tory minister David Heathcote-Amory confronted her as she went to sit in the members' section on the terrace. 'He actually said to me: "What are you doing here? This is for members only." 'He then proceeded to ask me: "Are you a member?" And I said: "Yes I am, are you?" And he turned around and said to his colleague: "They're letting anybody in nowadays." 'This man could not equate the image he saw in front of him with that of an MP. It was quite upsetting for my team and so we had to take it further.' In an interview with The Observer, Butler went on to describe how an official complaint she made was stonewalled. 'It's not as though Parliament has a human resources department that you can complain to and expect disciplinary action from,' Butler said. 'So after being told by the Tory chief whip and the Speaker of the House that there was nothing to be done about it, I had no choice but to let it drop.' Heathcote-Amory, MP for Wells, rejected the allegation that his remarks to Butler in September 2006 were racist. 'It is quite absurd,' he said. 'What she is actually objecting to is that I didn't recognise her as a new MP. I simply asked her what she was doing at that end of the terrace, and they are quite sensitive about this kind of thing, they think that any kind of reprimand from anyone is racially motivated.' He agreed that there was a problem with too few black and minority ethnic MPs being elected.

'The trouble is that feminism has trumped everything. We are a bit obsessed with getting more women in and I think genuinely broad-based politics is one that takes people from every social and religious group. But we are exaggeratedly courteous to anyone with a different skin colour, so the idea that anything I have said is racist is absurd.' But Butler has also described further incidents in which she claims to have suffered explicit racism from politicians, lobbyists and police who provide security at the Commons. 'I was using the members' lift in the middle of last year, when a number of politicians started talking about how cleaners and catering staff shouldn't be allowed to use that specific lift,' she recalled. 'It was obvious they were talking about me and so I started to drop hints that I was an MP. 'They didn't pick up on my hints and continued complaining in a loud voice. When we all got out of the lift, I ran along the corridor after the particular person who had been most involved, and tried to make them realise how rude it was to talk like that; it would have been rude even if I had been a cleaner or caterer,' she said. Zohra Moosa, editor of the Fawcett Society book, said: 'With only two black women MPs and not a single Asian woman, Parliament has never once been representative of Britain. There is no excuse for an unrepresentative democracy in this day and age but, until we change the way our institutions work, we will never have the politicians we need.'
© The Observer

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FAR RIGHT GROUPS PROTEST AGAINST 'LACK OF PUBLIC ORDER' IN NE HUNGARY

12/4/2008- Some 210 members of three Hungarian far right groups protested in a march against what they called a lack of law and order in Nyirkata, a northeast Hungarian village with many Roma residents, on Saturday. The march, as locals claimed, was triggered by an accident on Tuesday, in which a driver hit a three-year-old local boy who jumped before the car within stopping distance. The angry parents of the boy, who was hospitalised with serious injuries but released since then, beat the driver causing him light injuries. About half of the protesters were members of the Hungarian Guard, a paramilitary arm of the far-right Jobbik party, which is often accused of an anti-Roma agenda. In the meantime, a group of some 100 counter-demonstrators, including members of national and local Roma organizations, appeared at the scene and quietly watched the far-right protesters. In a somewhat similar case in October 2006 a driver was beaten to death after hitting and slightly injuring a child in Olaszliszka, another northeast Hungarian village.
© MTI

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CHAIRMAN-IN-OFFICE PLEDGES TO STRENGTHEN OSCE ACTION TO PROMOTE TOLERANCE (Press release)

16/4/2008- The OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, underscored today that equality and non-discrimination were fundamental principles on which the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe was founded. He urged the participating States to use the OSCE's institutions and mechanisms to further the promotion and protection of human rights. Concerning the recent online release of the film Fitna, the Minister said that he fully supported the line taken by the Dutch Government in rejecting the interpretation of the film, which equates Islam with violence. "I encourage the OSCE participating States to follow the practice of the Dutch Government and Dutch society in handling this issue," he said. Minister Stubb emphasized that freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. However, he noted that this freedom should be exercised in a spirit of respect for religious and other beliefs and convictions. He also underlined the importance of inter-cultural dialogue as well as the role of non-governmental organizations in the promotion of tolerance. "The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the High Commissioner on National Minorities, the Representative on Freedom of the Media and the three Personal Representatives of the Chairman-in-Office are doing valuable work in supporting the OSCE participating States in combating all forms of intolerance and discrimination. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly also provides an important link to the national parliaments of OSCE participating States in the promotion of tolerance," said Stubb. He said he was concerned about the rise in discriminatory acts and expressions of intolerance throughout the OSCE region in recent years. "I pledge to strengthen OSCE action and international co-operation to promote tolerance. The upcoming OSCE meetings on tolerance-related issues in Vienna in May and in Helsinki in June should be fully utilized," said Stubb.
© OSCE

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Headlines 11 April, 2008

VLAAMS BELANG SUPREMO TO LOSE PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY?(Belgium)

Justice minister has requested immunity to be lifted so prosecution against Vanhecke can proceed.

11/4/2008- Belgian justice minister Jo Vandeurzen of the Flemish Christian democrat party has asked the president of the European Parliament to lift the parliamentary immunity of the Flemish Euro MP Frank Vanhecke. Vanhecke is a former leader of the far right Vlaams Belang party, the successor of Vlaams Blok. The justice minister says the lifting of the parliamentary immunity is necessary to allow a prosecution to proceed. Vanhecke stands accused of racism. In 2005, the mayor of Sint-Niklaas Freddy Willockx filed a complaint against the local party of Vlaams Belang in his town. In a leaflet the party had linked an act of vandalism to the presence of members of the ethnic minorities in Sint-Niklaas. Vanhecke was responsible in law for this publication. If convicted under Belgian anti-racism legislation, Vanhecke could lose his seat in the European Parliament as well as his right to be active in politics. The procedure to lift a member's parliamentary immunity could take a long time in the European Parliament. Both the Justice Committee and a plenary session of Parliament have to vote on the matter. Vanhecke is astounded by the move. He says usually the author is quizzed first and not the responsible publisher.
© Expatica News

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THIRTEEN ILLEGAL ALGERIAN MIGRANTS’ BODIES FOUND(Spain)

The men were part of the Algerian group who had attempted to reach Spain in a homemade boat.

11/4/2008- Algerian coast guard patrols have recovered the bodies of 13 young men and are continuing to search for three others who have been missing since they attempted to reach Spain in a homemade boat last week. The deaths of the men, all of whom were aged between 17 and 25, constitute the worst immigration tragedy in Algerian waters on record. They had set off from a beach near Oran on 3 April bound for southwest Spain aboard a makeshift vessel, but capsized sometime before the weekend. The first eight bodies were recovered on Sunday. All the occupants of the boat are thought to have been friends and relatives from the town of Tiaret, around 220 kilometres south of Oran. Meanwhile in the Canary Islands, authorities reported Thursday that a group of 62 African migrants, including 15 minors, had reached the port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the early hours of the morning. All the immigrants, who Red Cross officials were said to be in a good state of health, have been taken to a shelter on the south of the island.
© Expatica News

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SPAIN TURNING BLIND EYE TO RACIST ATTACKS, SAYS AMNESTY

The report claims that racist attacks are ignored and the victims are invisible.

11/4/2008- Racist attacks against foreigners in Spain are "ignored" and the victims are "invisible," Amnesty International charged on Thursday in a report. The report claims to highlight the reluctance of the Spanish government and the country's judicial authorities to deal with racism. According to the human rights group, more than 4,000 racist attacks occur in Spain each year although the vast majority go unreported, while those that result in complaints to the police - between 90 and 120 by the group's estimates - often fail to lead to convictions. "Spain has no official registry [of racist crimes] so it is impossible to know the scale of the problem," Esteban Beltrán, the director of Amnesty International in Spain, said. "Unfortunately, attacks of this sort are not isolated incidents." Beltrán noted that up to 15,000 Spaniards belong to racist organisations, while websites preaching racist violence have proliferated in recent years. Coinciding with a sharp increase in immigration, Spanish attitudes toward foreigners have also hardened, with opinion polls showing that around a third of the native population are hostile toward immigrants, compared to eight percent in 1997. About 0.7 percent believes racism to be a problem - a figure that in the view of human rights activists reflects a widespread reluctance by citizens and authorities to address the issue.
© Expatica News

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LEFT, RIGHT DEMONSTRATIONS END PEACEFULLY - GYURCSÁNY, SCHRÖDER JOINS ANTI-FASCISTS(Hungary)

Two groups of demonstrators - one from the far right and numbering about 1,000, and one from left-wing and mainstream society and numbering about 2,000 - ended their official meeting near a ticket shop on Friday afternoon where they locked horns in a double protest, MTI's onsite correspondent reported after 5pm local time.

11/4/2008- The extremists were protesting against what they considered was the improper handling of a customer who wanted to buy a ticket for a band favoured by the far right. This was just the latest in a series of attacks on the shop, which had been firebombed two weeks ago, after the ticket-purchasing incident, and had had its windows broken a few days later. The mainstream has already held one counter-demonstration, initiated by a local district official (opposition, Fidesz), who has since received anonymous death threats. Today's counterdemonstration had been sponsored by the left-wing Socialist party, the liberal Free Democrats, and the conservative MDF party, all of who sent high-ranking members including the Prime Minister, who arrived before 4pm accompanied by former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. The Israeli ambassador and Roma and Jewish organizations were also in the crowd. Chants coming from the far right included "Rotten communists," and "Dirty Jews," while the mainstream gave an ovation to a poster reading "No Nazis for us!" Police closed off the street on which the shop is located and did not allow either side to get close to it. The exception was Tamas Polgar, who organised the far-right demonstration under the nickname Tomcat, and who went into the shop and bought two tickets to the concert over which the dispute originally arose. After 5pm, the extremist group began to disband, moving towards parliament. The mainstream group did not leave. The manager of the ticket office targeted by the two groups said that the whole affair had grown way beyond the original argument, which concerned the price of a ticket. "At this point our shop is just an excuse for the two camps to hold their demonstrations," the manager said.
© The Budapest Times

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GERMAN NEO-NAZIS TO RALLY AROUND STOLBERG STABBING

10/4/2008- German neo-Nazis plan to rally Saturday in the western town of Stolberg near Aachen in the wake of the stabbing death of a 19-year-old German man by an immigrant. Last weekend police arrested an 18-year-old on suspicion of knifing the German man – a known far-right sympathizer – during a confrontation between two groups of youth on Friday. The 18-year-old remains in police custody. Prosecutors believe the fight was personal, not political. Someone from the victim’s group of friends was said to have made a pass at a girl in the suspect’s group in an internet chat room. But police and anti-fascist organizations fear Stolberg could develop into a staging area for Germany’s far right, which is using the knifing as a rallying point. Nationally known neo-Nazi Christian Worch has called about 500 protestors to Stolberg under the motto “no violence against Germans.” Two counter-demonstrations are also planned. The far-right NPD party is expected to hold another rally in two weeks. Six policemen were hurt after a protester sprayed tear gas last Saturday in a spontaneous demonstration by 160 far-right sympathizers. Police said the number of far-right crimes in the Aachen area, in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, rose to about 300 offenses last year. Most were propaganda-related.

NEO-NAZI GROUP SEEN STRONGER FROM BAN
10/4/2008- A trial against five members of banned German neo-Nazi group Sturm 34 begins in Wurzen on Thursday, but some far-right experts worry the ban has only made the group stronger. The right-wing extremist scene in the German state of Saxony is growing because members feel martyred by the ban, which cultivates group lore, Ingo Stange from the Network for Democratic Culture (NDK) told news agency DDP. Stange said the Sturm 34 has not changed its goals or structure since the ban. Leaders continue to network after only a short period of caution directly after the ban came into effect. Despite the growing problem, some €80,000 in state funding for organizations that work against such groups has been reduced, Stange said, citing the regional outreach group AMAL, which ceased work in Saxony because of budget problems.
© The German Local

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RIGHTS-PORTUGAL: NEO-NAZIS ON TRIAL

9/4/2008- Neo-Nazis are on trial in Portugal for their "pathological and irrational hatred of ethnic minorities," according to the charges filed by the Attorney-General’s Office against 36 members of the small but active local chapter of an international white supremacist organisation. The trial against the skinheads, who belong to the Portuguese branch of Hammerskin Nation, began Tuesday, and the sentence is expected to be handed down within a month, which would be a record for Portugal’s slow-moving justice system. The long list of charges they face includes assaults, kidnappings, illegal possession of weapons and ammunition, racial discrimination, distribution of neo-Nazi propaganda and sales of steroids to finance their organisation. The Portuguese constitution expressly prohibits any discrimination based on "gender, race, language, national origin, religion, or political or ideological conviction." The constitution, drafted in the heat of the 1974 "Carnation Revolution" led by leftist army captains who overthrew the Estado Novo dictatorship that took root in 1933 inspired by the Italy of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich, also bans "racist groups or organisations with a fascist ideology." The leader of the accused skinheads, Mario Machado, has been in preventive detention for the past year. The other 35 defendants, including Machado’s two deputies Vasco Leitão and Rui Veríssimo, were granted conditional release but are subject to electronic monitoring by means of bracelets that track their movements, and must periodically report to their parole officers while they await sentencing. Machado had earlier been sentenced to four years in prison for heading a group of 15 skinheads who beat and kicked to death Alcino Monteiro, a 27-year-old Portuguese citizen of African origin, in June 1995.

The case that came to trial this week dates back to an April 2007 nationwide joint operation by different police forces and the militarised National Republican Guard, which searched local Hammerskins offices and arrested the group’s members. The Hammerskin Nation originated in Texas in the late 1980s, but has since become a well-organised international movement with chapters throughout the United States and in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and a number of European countries. The 36 skinheads are also accused of posting Internet threats against Judge Cândida Vilar, who sentenced Machado to preventive detention. In the 240-page accusation, the prosecutors mention several examples of racist propaganda on neo-Nazi web sites, in which the defendants "promote hatred against blacks, gypsies, Jews and homosexuals." The document also cites the Portuguese band "Odio" (Hatred), which performs exclusively at concerts organised by white power skinheads. The band recently taped "Morte aos traidores" (Death to Traitors), an album that includes the song "The Horrible Jew", whose lyrics say "Oh horrible Jew! You are going to die tonight/You are going to die tonight for the victory of our night/Die, die". According to the prosecution, the defendants took part in violent actions aimed at "unleashing a racial war with the intention of fighting for the supremacy of the white race, thus subverting the functioning of the constitutionally established institutions of the state of law." The accusation states that the group’s ideological orientation is similar to that of Italy’s neo-fascists and Britain and Germany’s neo-Nazis. Despite the evidence against the group, Machado’s defence lawyer José Manuel Castro said in statements to the TSF-Radio Jornal station in Lisbon Tuesday that the trial had a "political bias" and was thus incompatible with "the rights, freedoms and guarantees enjoyed by citizens."

Because of the scant popularity of the extreme-right in Portugal, one of the most racially heterogeneous countries in Europe, the skinheads’ defence attorneys have apparently decided on a strategy based on the argument that the court is "simply prosecuting ideas," as Castro stated. José Falcão, head of the non-governmental group SOS-Racismo, which fights for the rights of immigrants and against xenophobic groups, told IPS that "we would like to see these people brought to justice for once -- these people who threaten and issue death sentences against human rights activists, who even insult the president (Aníbal Cavaco Silva), without anything happening to them up to now." "It is not even necessary to invoke the constitution to bring the xenophobic extreme right to trial for their crimes, because they commit crimes that are covered by the penal code," said the activist. Falcão has become a well-known national figure after his years of fighting police brutality against immigrants from Brazil and former Portuguese colonies in Africa, as well as dark-skinned Portuguese citizens. The extreme right in Portugal often feels "encouraged by what is happening in many police stations, where violence is common, including threats, bodily harm, illegal detention and even murders in custody," said the activist. Most cases of police brutality go unreported by immigrants from former colonies like Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Sao Tomé and Príncipe or Brazil, "due to their fear of being deported." Falcão knows all too well what he is talking about. As he was returning home one day in 1995, he tried to defend three African immigrants who were being beaten by the police. Not only did the police continue their beating, but they arrested and brutalised the activist as well. "The problem is that the 1995 case was not an exception, the result of police excess. A decade later, in 2005, a young African man was shot to death by a police officer in a shopping centre and the judge acquitted the officer, accepting his argument that his weapon was fired accidentally," said Falcão. The only person sentenced in that case "was me, to 20 months in prison and a 4,000 euro fine, because I criticised the verdict handed down by the judge, who prosecuted me for libel." "In other words, in Portugal it would appear that criticising a judge can be more serious than killing someone," said Falcão.
© Inter Press Service News Agency

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BULGARIA NATIONALIST LEADER SENTENCED FOR HARASSMENT OF ETHNIC TURKS

9/4/2008- The Sofia City Court has sentenced Volen Siderov, the leader of the nationalist and extreme right Ataka party, for his discriminatory remarks against Bulgaria's ethnic Turks. The news was announced on Tuesday by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC), an NGO dealing with human rights issues. BHC cites some of Siderov's statements made between 2003 and 2005, in which he talks about the showing of news in Turkish on the Bulgarian National TV, and relates that to the period when Bulgaria was ruled by the Ottoman Empire:
"Bulgaria's state television uses state money, our money, in order to show news in a language that we don't understand. What is more, for many Bulgarians this language is unpleasant because it is related to the language of those who carried out genocide against the Bulgarian nation for a very long period." "... contrary to all historical facts, which point to the fact that a genocide against the Bulgarian Christian population had been carried out for centuries. It was performed by people speaking the language you heard in the news emission of the Bulgarian National Television. People who spoke this language decimated, slaughtered, enslaved, robbed the Bulgarian nations for decades, centuries."

The BHC announced that the sentence was issued on March 13 but that it became public on Monday. The Court ruled that "Siderov has created a hostile and threatening environment for the Bulgarian Turks by suggesting a connection between them and events from the past and potentially from the future". Thus, with his statements, he has performed "harassment based on ethnic affiliation", and the Court has prohibited Siderov from making such statements against the Bulgarian Turks in future. The case was brought before court by the singer Sunay Chalukov together with the "Citizens against Hate" Coalition. This is the second sentence against Siderov for hostile statements against ethnic minorities. In 2005 the Sofia City Court ruled his speech was in violation of the legal rights of minorities, and of the public interest.
© Sofia News Agency

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BERLIN COURT UPHOLDS BAN OF FAR-RIGHT ORGANIZATION(Germany)

7/4/2008- A Berlin court says it has upheld the city's ban of a far-right organization, ruling that it clearly glorified the Nazi era. The court says it rejected the appeal against the 2005 ban by members of "Kameradschaft Tor Berlin" and a separate group for women. The groups argued that they were "discussion and self-help organizations." But the court said in a statement Monday that they violated Germany's constitution through their actions and celebration of Nazi figures. The court says "they stand for a 'national socialism,' continuously glorify Adolf Hitler, Rudolf Hess and Horst Wessel, have an anti-Semitic attitude, are racist and xenophobic, and reject the basic democratic order." The March 11 decision cannot be appealed.
© International Herald Tribune

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RUSSIA BECOMES MORE DANGEROUS FOR IMMIGRANTS

Racist Attacks On Rise in Cities Despite Crackdown

7/4/2008- A significant increase in anti-immigrant attacks by neo-Nazi skinheads in Russia has led to a rare police crackdown in Moscow and a warning of vigilante justice by diaspora organizations. Ultranationalist skinheads killed 41 people in the first three months of this year, a more than 400% increase from the same period last year, according to the Moscow-based Sova center, which monitors such attacks. The victims were nonwhite Russians, dark-skinned immigrants from former Soviet republics, and people from Asia and Africa. Sova says the number of such racist attacks is increasing, as is the severity -- evolving from simple stabbings to torture and disfigurement. The Kremlin hasn't been able to control the problem, and some critics say nationalist rhetoric from the government is feeding the problem, even though ultranationalist politicians have been marginalized or operate only under strict Kremlin control. The leaders of countries that supply Russia with migrant labor took time out of a political and economic summit in February to complain about the violence to President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Putin promised tough action. Diaspora groups and migration experts estimate there are as many as 15 million immigrants living in Russia -- out of a population of 142 million -- including a large number of illegal immigrants. Immigrant numbers are growing, according to the United Nations, a trend that Russian officials say is aggravating tensions.

Racism experts and officials are divided on why skinheads have cranked up the violence. One theory is that they are reacting to tougher policing; another that it is the work of infamy-hungry copycats. Killing migrants with a knife has become a skinhead pastime, says Semyon Charny, an expert at the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights. The attackers sometimes record their crimes on videos as proof of work done for shadowy neo-Nazi groups that, police believe, commission the killings. "People are afraid to walk the streets," says Muhammad Egamzod, a spokesman at the embassy of Tajikistan, a country whose citizens have been targeted. In the past year, police have made a string of arrests, breaking up at least four gangs. In Moscow, where most of Russia's race-related murders occur, police have begun stopping and fingerprinting skinheads in the subway. The crackdown hasn't stopped the killing, though. Diaspora groups have said immigrants will take the law into their own hands if the police don't control the problem. Galina Kozhevnikova, deputy head of Sova, says the Internet allows racist killers to become heroes in ultra-right circles whose adherents believe a war is raging to keep Russia ethnically Russian. The killers' "fans" then try to copy and outdo them, she says. One 18-year-old skinhead arrested last April was hailed on ultra-right Russian Web sites as a "patriot" after a closed-circuit video camera apparently showed him stabbing an Armenian man to death. The skinhead told police he had killed 37 nonwhites, though he later recanted, according to local media reports. In transcripts of his interrogation leaked to local media, the teenager said Moscow needed to be "cleansed." He is awaiting trial.

The Moscow Bureau for Human Rights and Sova estimate Russia is home to about 70,000 skinheads -- including neo-Nazis, antifascists, and those who merely dress the part wearing heavy laceup boots, black bomber jackets and buzzcuts. Sova says about half of these skinheads are informally aligned with groups that promote anti-immigrant violence. The skinheads are largely located in Russia's urban centers, primarily Moscow, St. Petersburg and Voronezh. At times, they brawl with antifascist skinheads. In Moscow on March 16, neo-Nazi skinheads killed a young antifascist. On the same day, in six attacks in Moscow and Voronezh, three people ended up in intensive care and one victim was permanently disfigured. Vladimir Pronin, Moscow's police chief, did little to reassure diaspora groups when they met with him in February to complain about the violence. In comments shown on state television, he told them to ensure migrants committed fewer crimes. In an interview with a Russian paper the same month, Mr. Pronin blamed skinhead violence on a lack of a positive belief system and poor educational opportunities. "Teenagers have nothing to do," he said. "They need an outlet for their aggression." Ultranationalists complain that Kremlin dominance of the media and politics has left their supporters with little outlet for their frustration. "Legal forums for expressing feelings have become fewer and fewer," says Alexander Belov, head of the ultra-right Movement Against Illegal Immigration, an activist group. He says recent parliamentary and presidential elections -- where pro-Kremlin parties squeezed out most of their opponents -- left many feeling disenfranchised. "Some youths feel like they have no other way of expressing their feelings." Dmitry Rogozin, one of the most prominent ultranationist politicians, was forced out of politics by the Kremlin as his party gained in popularity. He was sidelined and named as Russia's ambassador to NATO in January.
Sojun Sadykov, head of Azerbaijani diaspora group Azeross, says many migrants are straining for revenge. "If it continues like this for another two or three months, there will be civil war," he says.
© The Wall Street Journal

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NGO LAUNCHES CAMPAIGN AGAINST NEO-NAZIS(Czech Rep.)

7/4/2008- The Czech People in Need humanitarian organisation today launched a new information campaign pointing to the threat of neo-Nazism called "Neo-Nazi. Do You Want Him?," actor and singer Jan Budar, who is the campaign's face, told reporters during the project presentation. The campaign is to inform the public about the danger of neo-Nazism on the website www.chceteho.cz. The other part will focus on schools - teachers and students. "The point is not to declare war on them [neo-Nazis], but to deprive them of the fears they have inside in a humorous form," Budar added. Budar has recorded a song for this purpose that will be available on the campaign's website where activist Ondrej Cakl, who has monitored Czech extremist groups for a long time, will release news. The song will also be played at schools as the introduction to discussions on Czech extremism. People in Need points out that the recent demonstrations of right-wing extremists in Prague and Plzen, west Bohemia, proved that the self-confidence of these groups is rising in the country. The campaign spots are to show that the activities of ultra-right extremists are actually very dangerous, though they might seem funny at first sight. The spots will be presented in cinemas and the organisers are also negotiating with the public Czech Television (CT) in this respect. The campaign is mainly targeted at people aged 15-25. The organisers plan a number of debates all over the country in which some 2500 students from almost 500 schools should participate. The campaign costs two million crowns, 70 percent of which were covered by the European Commissions. The project will follow People in Need's similar campaign six years ago, called "Be Kind to Your Local Nazi," that introduced a funny spot mocking skinheads that called on citizens to help their "local Nazi" find a hobby and show him the right path before he runs wild. Its motive was a couple of Nazis whose hands raised in a Nazi salute were used for hanging a washing line.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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CEMETERY DESECRATION: FRENCH JEWS EXPRESS SOLIDARITY WITH MUSLIM COMMUNITY

7/4/2008- The French Jewish community has expressed outrage after people desecrated Muslim graves in France's biggest war cemetery, hanging a pig's head from one tombstone and daubing slogans insulting France's Muslim Justice Minister Rachida Dati. Two men and a youth have confessed to desecrating the gravestones in the cemetery of Notre Dame de Lorette, near Arras, in northern France, where the remains of many thousands of soldiers killed in World War I are buried, the local prosecutor announced. The men, both aged 22, and a 16-year-old, admitted carrying out the attack for racist reasons, prosecutor Jean-Pierre Valensi said. The graves of 52 soldiers were daubed with swastikas and Nazi slogans like "Heil Hitler". In a communiqué released on Sunday, France’ chief rabbi Joseph Sitruk expressed his indignation. “I condemn these racist, odious and unacceptable acts,” he said, calling for exemplary sanctions against the authors.
"Exemplary sanctions expected for the authors of the desecration would not ease our bitterness," he added. "All our feelings of solidarity and brotherhood are to the hard-hit Muslim community,” the statement said. CRIF, the umbrella representative body for French Jewish organizations, expressed its solidarity and support to the Muslim community and said it is "disgusted" at such odious actions "which undermine the basic feelings of respect that we owe to our deaths." “Whether they involve Muslim, Jewish or Christian tombstones, these actions demonstrate the same ignominious intolerance,” CRIF said. The National Bureau of Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, a group monitoring anti-Semitic incidents in France, condemned the desecration. "This racist crime and the outrage against a minister of the Republic are grave acts which unfortunately tend to keep recurring." "We often warned that the new anti-Semitism, which burst on our soil since 8 years, by using revisionist and neo-Nazi slogans, has prepared the bed of the well-known racism of the extreme right which spreads in our country in a worrying manner,” the bureau said.
© EJP

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ARRESTS OVER WWI GRAVES VANDALISM(France)

8/4/2008- Police have arrested four people in connection with the desecration of nearly 150 Muslim graves at a French World War I cemetery at the weekend. President Nicolas Sarkozy has condemned the desecration and ordered an inquiry. A pig's head was hung on one headstone in the cemetery, which holds the graves of tens of thousands of Muslims, mainly from French colonies in Africa. A year ago, a group of neo-Nazis drew swastikas on 50 Muslim graves at the cemetery, France's largest from WWI. In the latest incident, slogans insulting Islam and France's justice minister, who is of North African descent, were written on some of the graves. About 78,000 colonial subjects of France, including many Muslims from North Africa, died in the war. The Notre Dame de Lorette war cemetery, near Arras in northern France, is on the site of some of World War I's largest battles. Two men were sentenced to a year in prison for the desecration of about 50 graves in the Muslim section of the cemetery in April 2007.
© BBC News

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FRENCH MUSLIM WAR GRAVES DEFACED

6/4/2008- Vandals have desecrated 148 Muslim graves in France's biggest WWI cemetery, officials have said. A pig's head was hung from one headstone and slogans insulting Islam and France's Muslim justice minister were daubed on other graves. President Nicolas Sarkozy condemned the attack as a "hateful act" and the "most inadmissible kind of racism". About 78,000 colonial subjects of France, including many Muslims from North Africa, died in the war. The Notre Dame de Lorette war cemetery, near Arras in northern France, is on the site of some of WWI's largest battles. About 100 police officers have been sent to the cemetery to investigate the incident. President Sarkozy has called for the rapid detention and punishment of those responsible. In a similar attack in April 2007, Nazi slogans and swastikas were painted on about 50 graves in the Muslim section of the cemetery. Two men were sentenced to a year in prison for that act.
© BBC News

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GAY GRAVEYARD OPENED IN COPENHAGEN(Denmark)

8/4/2008- A special graveyard has been opened for Danish homosexuals in Copenhagen where the organisation Rainbow has reserved 36 places for funeral urns, reports said. The organisation has an option for a further 12 places in a section of the municipal Assistens cemetery in the Danish capital where famed Danish writers HC Andersen and Soren Kierkegaard are buried. Ivan Larsen said he and his partner, Ove Carlsen, felt they wanted to be close also after death, and co-founded Rainbow a year ago that offers its members a funeral urn site for 2,500 Danish kroner ($A567.69). "We have our own places where we can meet and have fun, gay bars and such. That is why we wanted our own graveyard," Larsen, a priest, told public broadcaster DR. Carlsen said some eight urn sites were already reserved. The graveyard is marked with a big stone and the rainbow flag that often symbolises gay and lesbian community pride. Denmark pioneered same-sex unions in 1989.
© Sydney Morning Heraold

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FASCISM NOT A DIRTY WORD FOR ITALIAN RIGHT

8/4/2008- The ‘F'-word got a rare mention in mainstream Italian politics in the run-up to the election on April 13-14 when an ally of centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi declared himself proud to be a fascist. Memories of Benito Mussolini's dictatorship are fading but politicians still woo far-right voters who are nostalgic for a totalitarian past or youngsters lured by fascism's message. The cultural legacy of fascism remains very apparent in Italy where Mussolini bullied his way to power in 1922 and stayed there until the 1943 Allied invasion in World War Two. A marble obelisk inscribed "Mussolini Dux", meaning "Duce" or leader in Latin, is a familiar sight to soccer or tennis fans attending matches in Rome's Olympic Stadium and Foro Italico. Across the Tiber in the family-owned Osteria Sireno, locals enjoy home-cooked pasta and beans with the dictator looking down sternly from pictures on all four walls. Visitors to Rome can buy Mussolini calendars and even Mussolini-branded wine. Aside from the history and kitsch, some Italians still regard themselves as fascists. One of these is Guiseppe Ciarrapico, who is running for the Senate. "Fascism has given me suffering and joy but I never disowned it," said Giuseppe Ciarrapico, a newspaper publisher and former chairman of soccer club AS Roma. Many in Mr. Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party bristled at this statement. But Mr. Berlusconi stood by Mr. Ciarrapico, who softened his stance by condemning Mussolini's anti-Jewish laws. "I am a fascist, but in a cultural, not a political way."

Even before this election, Mr. Berlusconi, a billionaire businessman who says he entered politics to save Italy from communists, had absorbed much of the right-wing vote. His alliance with Gianfranco Fini, who transformed Italy's neo-fascist party into a mainstream conservative force, proved a winning ticket in the 2001 election. Mr. Fini served as Berlusconi's foreign minister and is often touted as his political heir. Mr. Fini's move into the mainstream fractured the far right and Alessandra Mussolini, a descendent of the dictator, split with him initially for rejecting her grandfather's heritage. She has since returned to the Berlusconi/Fini ticket and told Reuters she considers fascism, which was banned in post-war Italy, part of the country's political fabric. "Here we are in EUR which was built by my grandfather," she said after a rally in the suburb named after the cancelled Universal Expo of 1942, home to most of Rome's fascist-era architecture. "These days no one is able to do anything." Asked if she considered herself a fascist, the 45-year-old who is a strong advocate of women's rights, looked annoyed. "I am Alessandra Mussolini, proud of everything," she said. According to Enrico Pugliese, head of the state-funded Institute of Social Politics, neither Alessandra Mussolini nor Mr. Fini represent fascism in modern Italy. "Fini ‘de-fascistised' his party, there's no doubt about that." Mr. Pugliese called Alessandra Mussolini a "folkloric" figure trading on her name for political advantage.

At this election, a new party hopes to woo right-wing voters away from the PDL. Simply called "The Right", the party set up by a former Mr. Berlusconi minister risks splitting the centre-right vote which Mr. Berlusconi fears could favour the centre left. "We are not the biggest right-wing party, we are the only right-wing party," said its founder Francesco Storace who called Mr. Berlusconi's decision to absorb Mr. Ciarrapico's supporters an attempt to lure votes away from The Right. "They woke up and decided to field candidates not against the left but against the right," Mr. Storace told Reuters. His party took 2.5 per cent in the last published poll versus 44.6 per cent for the Berlusconi bloc. Unlike Mr. Fini, who has explicitly broken with neo-fascism and Mussolini's heritage, Mr. Storace says there is much to be proud of. "We have no intention of giving up our historic memory. We respect it," he said. "But that doesn't mean we would propose a totalitarian model." Right wingers who find even Mr. Storace too moderate have a further option — Forza Nuova, an anti-immigration, anti-abortion and pro-"tradition" party dismissed by critics as rabble-rousers. Mr. Pugliese, an avowed leftist, believes the torchbearer of fascism is in fact a party that calls itself anti-fascist — the Northern League, Berlusconi allies who oppose immigration and want autonomy for Italy's rich north. "The Northern League has absorbed a great part of the fascist thinking, especially the racism," said Mr. Pugliese. League leader Umberto Bossi once advocated gunships to ward off immigrants and threatened this week to use "rifles" in a row over ballot papers.
© Reuters

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DOCUMENT ON STUDENT EXTREMISM SERIOUSLY FLAWED(uk, comment)

New policies being recommended to prevent extremism on campuses are aimed at the wrong target and could promote division and fear within the student body.
By David Renton


10/4/2008- There are times in life - and politics - that you encounter a straightforward lie. Saddam Hussein has nuclear weapons. The local council is giving asylum seekers free mobile phones. But more often than not the lies come walking sideways, like a crab. Such lies are harder to refute. They are not altogether without any starting basis in some shred of a factual situation. But neither are they true. Take this early sentence in a new consultation document (The Role of Further Education Providers in Promoting Community Cohesion, Fostering Shared Values and Preventing Violent Extremism)[1] recently published by the Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills, 'We recognise that colleges face similarly complex issues with regard to the activities of the extreme far right, animal rights activists, anti-semitism, Islamophobia as well as wider issues of race, faith, sexual orientation and gender intolerance. These problems, however, do not present the same scale of threat as Al-Qa'ida-influenced violence.' (p.2)

A greater threat to students?
A greater threat to students? One way to measure a threat would be to estimate the number of people affected. There are 400 Further Education Colleges in Britain, with very roughly four million students between them. Surveys of lesbian and gay lecturers suggest that between 25 and 40 per cent describe harassment, as a result of their sexuality. Among lesbian and gay FE students, the percentages to have encountered harassment are unlikely to be lower. Even on the most conservative estimate, this problem must affect tens of thousands of students each year. Still greater numbers of FE students of course face sexual or racial harassment.

Islamism exaggerated
The one report to have been published in the last ten years on the extent of extremist activities in Further and Higher Education was written by Professor Anthony Glees of Brunel University in 2005.[2] The Glees report was flawed. Its working methodology was to search through acres of newsprint for any single record of Islamist activity. Whether an incident had occurred in the past month or the past decade, the institution involved was then named and shamed as an organisation at which extremists were present. Glees appeared to overstate the case. He identified only twenty-three educational institutions as targets for radical Islamists. Of this list, twenty-two were universities, and one was a secondary school. But even Glees could not find a single reported incident of an Islamist (let alone Al-Qa'ida) organisation operating on any FE campus in Britain.

The anti-democratic threat
Perhaps the Department has in mind a different kind of threat, the threat posed to democracy by the existence of organisations that are radically opposed to free speech, that believe in the oppression of women, and have twisted notions of racial and religious incompatibility. The mere existence of such organisations diminishes us all, it could be said, even where the numbers involved are small. The British National Party claims to have members in 100 universities and colleges. Members of the BNP, including a former senior officer, have been convicted of terrorist activities. The lecturers' union UCU takes at least one call a month from members of the union, including Black, women, and disabled lecturers who allege to have been harassed by BNP members. But according to the document it is Al-Qa'ida that we are supposed to fear. If it were simply a matter of the wrong premise, then the document would be unmemorable. But from this premise, all sorts of practical suggestions are made.

Recommendations
Colleges are invited to monitor the activities and leadership of religious-based student organisations:
'The overwhelming majority of faith-based student/learner organisations are moderate and democratic groupings that seek to provide students/learners with accurate information on religious beliefs, history and civilisations, as well as organising prayer meetings, speakers and other activities. These societies can have an influential role within a college with members varying in numbers across institutions. For those who are members, these societies can wield significant influence in their lives through organising liturgical and other activities. It follows that should control of a university or college society or other group fall into the hands of extremist individuals, this can play a significant role in the extent of extremism within a college.' (p.36)

Colleges are invited to monitor the content of talks given by outside speakers:
'Student/learner groups commonly hold debates and talks on a variety of issues and often invite speakers or preachers into colleges. This is an important part of encouraging vibrant debate and discussion about issues of concern. However, on occasion such speakers hold very extreme views which could include advocating and justifying the use of violence. These individuals can be forceful, persuasive and eloquent, and often have a scholarly background, the latter fact being emphasised in order to give them greater credibility in the eyes of students. They seek to exploit feelings of alienation and sometimes offer "religious" justifications for extreme actions. It is increasingly likely that speakers would be careful to keep their messages within acceptable limits while speaking at college meetings.' (p.36)
Putting Muslims under scrutiny

In the above examples, Further Education colleges are invited to distinguish between moderate and radical students. Some of this thinking is purely reflective of the new world since September 2001, in which Muslims are required to profess their loyalty to the West. Those who do so repeatedly are moderate and acceptable. Those who think, for example, that the war in Iraq was illegitimate, are not acceptable. They are radicals, and the only appropriate place for them is jail. In both the above examples, however, this familiar premise is given an additional twist. Radical Muslims, like Communists in 1950s America, are chiefly remarkable because they organise covertly. Particular care must be taken to scrutinise moderate organisations, because even moderate organisations are constantly in danger of falling to the extremists. Colleges have to, according to the document, understand that a moderate message expressed on campus is merely the prelude to a militant message expressed off-campus, away from public view.

Policing extremism
One danger, the document suggests, is college staff. Some will not have had the proper training. Others, for any reason, may fail to report their students to the police:
'It is important for the police (and wider community) to have confidence that a local college can recognise if it has a problem and ask for help. In order to assess this capability it may be useful for colleges to consider the following questions:

* Can staff identify violent extremist behaviour?
* Do staff have the confidence to report it within the college?
* Does the college have the processes in place, and the willingness, to get that information to the police?' (p.42)

The only hope for the future lies with much greater monitoring of students and campuses by police and the security forces:
'If the police require information from a college then they will make a request for it. A court order is not necessarily required before a disclosure can be made to the police, although if a college receives such an order it must be complied with. Most Police Forces will have their own request form which should always include a brief outline of the nature of the investigation, the student/learner's role in that investigation, the signature of the investigating officer and will, if necessary, provide how the request is compatible with the Data Protection Act 1998. Disclosures should be made in writing rather than over the telephone.' (p.39) The brave new world proposed in this document is one of greater surveillance of students, including greater surveillance by both lecturers and police. The document identifies the wrong problems and it proposes the wrong solutions. It would promote a climate of division and fear on campus. It is a wretched piece of work.

Make your feelings known
Its present status is policy recommendation. It is now subject to public consultation. Responses can be submitted by email to: College.COHESION@dius.gsi.gov.uk. Anyone is entitled to respond, including FE students, FE lecturers, and members of the public. The consultation closes on 6 May.

[1] The Role of Further Education Providers in Promoting Community Cohesion, Fostering Shared Values and Preventing Violent Extremism: Consultation Document is a public document. It can be accessed online at: http://www.dius.gov.uk/publications/extremismfe.pdf                                                                                                                [2] When Students Turn to Terror: Terrorist and Extremist Activity on British Campuses, Anthony Glees & Chris Pope, 2005. Social Affairs Unit. David Renton is the former equalities officer at NATFHE - now known as the University and College Union.
© Institute of Race Relations

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BBC CHIEF MARK THOMPSON WARNS OF 'OVER-CAUTIOUS' ISLAM COVERAGE(uk)

10/4/2008- Mark Thompson, the Director General of the BBC, tonight warned broadcasters against becoming overly-cautious in their reporting on Islam for fear of causing offence to Muslims. Speaking at Westminster Cathedral Mr Thompson, a practising Catholic, said there was “a growing nervousness about discussion about Islam and its relationship to the traditions and values of British and Western society as a whole”. He said that the BBC and other major channels “have a special responsibility” to ensure that debates about “faith and society” and about any religion “should not be foreclosed or censored”. In an effort to demonstrate that his remarks were not targeted solely at ensuring that Islam received journalistic scrutiny, Mr Thompson also referring to his decision to broadcast Jerry Springer, The Opera despite an avalanche of complaints from Christians unhappy at the depiction of Jesus in the satire. “There is no point having a BBC which isn’t prepared to stand up and be counted; which will do everything it can to mitigate potential religious offence; but which will always be forthright in the defence of freedom of speech and of impartiality,” he said. The lecture, Faith and the Media, also discussed how religious broadcasting at the BBC developed from the secularist perspective of the 1960s and 1970s, when Mr Thompson worked on Everyman, to faith-oriented programmes that tap a “sharp revival of interest in the spiritual potential”. He contrasted The Passion, a traditional portrayal of Jesus Christ’s last days written by Frank Deasey, with the previous attempt to tell the story of his life, Dennis Potter’s 1969 version of a self-doubting prophet in Son of Man “It is quite simply inconceivable that the BBC in the 1970s or 80s or indeed the 90s would have [shown] a drama about Christ’s passion across BBC One’s primetime schedule”.
© The Times Online

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HUNDREDS TO STAGE PROTEST AT CAR DEALERSHIP IN RACISM ROW(uk)

10/4/2008- A city once split by race riots will today see a mass demonstration calling for justice – after seven workers at a car dealership walked out, accusing managers of racism. Support for the protest, built up among the city's Asian communities over recent weeks, means that hundreds are expected to participate. They will focus on the Evans Halshaw dealership in King's Road, where staff walked out yesterday after a human resources' investigation apparently exonerated a colleague who had been accused of racism. Staff first complained after the area manager was allegedly heard telling an Asian sales manager who was not feeling well that he "did not like black people". A few weeks later, as a second Asian worker was walking into the office, the area manager is said to have made comments about being approached by "a black and white minstrel" – an incident witnessed by five people. Since those accusations were made, tensions at the Citroen dealership have grown and members of the Asian communities have called upon workers to take a stand. Yesterday they did, with five salesmen – three of them white – and two managers walking out after the HR investigation cleared the area manager of racism, citing the fact he had a black best friend. It also said that the area manager had recruited an Asian sales manager for another dealership, so therefore could not be considered racist. Tahir Farooq, who resigned as a sales manager and will lead today's demonstration, said: "All they've done is give him a warning and sent him on an equal opportunities course, which made our positions untenable. "There's no place for racism in our society. We're expecting quite a big turnout. There's been quite a lot of leafleting around Bradford letting people know this is taking place. All of us and our extended families will be there and we are expecting lots of others, perhaps hundreds."

He said that he wanted a peaceful demonstration and that, while he acknowledged the city had a history of race-based violence, he did not think his protest would descend into that. "We just want justice done. Between us we've had 30 to 40 years of experience in the motor industry. We've been here a long, long time. Along with the seven of us that have quit, another has had to go off sick with the stress caused by this all. "It was a strong team at Evans Halshaw and they've ruined it, so we feel very justified in walking out and now holding this demonstration." Mr Farook said that he had wanted to speak out about the problems at the dealership, and help promote the demonstration, but had been constrained by the terms of his employment. Having walked out yesterday, he felt free to talk more openly. Last night Mike Rich, managing director of Evans Halshaw's northern division, said he could not comment on the demonstration as an investigation was still going on and was due to continue at 4.30pm today. No one was available last night at Evans Halshaw's parent company, Nottingham-based Pendragon, Europe's largest automotive retail network. Bradford has seen two race riots in recent years – in 1995 and then more damagingly in 2001. Since then, police have monitored tension and increase their presence if they anticipated any problems – most recently following the assassination of Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto, who had close links with the city.
© The Yorkshire Post

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BNP SEEKS TO BURY ANTISEMITISM AND GAIN JEWISH VOTES IN ISLAMOPHOBIC CAMPAIGN(uk)

· Community groups unite to combat far right threat · 'Website now one of the most Zionist of all'

11/4/2008-  The far right British National party is trying to shed its antisemitic past as part of a drive to pick up votes among London's Jewish community. The party, which could get its first seat on the London assembly if voter turnout is low next month, is campaigning in Jewish areas across the capital and attempting to play on what it sees as historical enmity between the Jewish and Muslim communities. In one leaflet, handed out in north London last weekend, the party's only Jewish councillor, Pat Richardson, is quoted along with a picture of young Muslims holding a placard reading: "Butcher those who mock Islam." "I'm in the BNP because no one else speaks out against the Islamification of our country," said Richardson. "Being Jewish only adds to my concern about this aggressive creed that also threatens our secular values and Christian tradition." The move has sparked a furious reaction among Jewish organisations who say the BNP is still antisemitic and racist. The Board of Deputies, the London Jewish Forum and the Community Security Trust have launched a campaign with other ethnic minority and cultural groups and the Hope Not Hate campaign to combat the BNP threat.

Ruth Smeed, of the Board of Deputies, said: "The BNP website is now one of the most Zionist on the web - it goes further than any of the mainstream parties in its support of Israel and at the same time demonises Islam and the Muslim world. They are actively campaigning in Jewish communities, particularly in London, making a lot of their one Jewish councillor, their support of Israel and attacking Muslims. It is a poisonous campaign but it shows a growing electoral sophistication." The editor of BNP newspaper Freedom, Martin Wingfield, wrote on his blog recently: "There has been a growing dialogue between senior members of the Jewish community and the BNP and today there are an increasing number of Jews campaigning for the BNP and feeling very comfortable with their political choice." Henry Grunwald, president of the Board of Deputies, said the anti-BNP campaign which is being run in conjunction with Operation Black Vote and Sikh and Hindu organisations aimed to underline the antisemitic nature of the BNP and ensure that all voters turned out on May 1 to see off the threat posed by the far right. "Whatever other sources of anti-semitism there are, we are still very concerned by the threat that comes from the far right," said Grunwald. "Despite all its attempts to portray itself differently we know it is still the same antisemitic, racist party it always was." He added: "We, in the Jewish community, will not tolerate any form of racism or prejudice ... I would be thoroughly ashamed if any member of the Jewish community voted for them."

The BNP's drive to abandon its anti-semitism and cash in on what it perceives to be the growth in Islamophobia was outlined in an essay by party leader Nick Griffin, who once said of the Holocaust: "I have reached the conclusion that the 'extermination' tale is a mixture of Allied wartime propaganda, extremely profitable lie, and latter-day witch-hysteria." In his essay last year he wrote: "It stands to reason that adopting an 'Islamophobic' position that appeals to large numbers of ordinary people - including un-nudged journalists - is going to produce on average much better media coverage than siding with Iran and banging on about 'Jewish power', which is guaranteed to raise hackles of virtually every single journalist in the western world." Nick Lowles, from the anti-fascist organisation Searchlight, which is mobilising voters across the country through its Hope Not Hate campaign, said the tactic of appealing to different ethnic and cultural groups ticked several boxes for the BNP. "It allows them to portray themselves as being non-racist at the same time as legitimising their vicious and sustained attacks on the UK's Muslim communities."

Backstory:
Analysts believe the BNP could make a breakthrough in the May election unless there is a big turnout. Last time London went to the polls the far-right party got 4.7% - a few thousand votes short of the 5% needed to get a member on the London assembly. At the time the UK Independence party, which has since largely imploded, polled 8.2%, and it is feared many of its supporters may now transfer their allegiance to the BNP. The electoral system means the BNP, which has since picked up several councillors in London, needs 5% to get one assembly member, 8% for two and 11% for three. All three mayoral candidates have condemned the BNP. Ken Livingstone said yesterday: "We have to get across one simple fact: there's only one way to stop the BNP, which is by actually going out to vote against them. A low voter turnout will help the BNP get elected."

· The following correction was printed in the Guardian's Corrections and clarifications column, Friday April 11 2008. Ruth Smeed, whom we quoted above, is not now working for the Community Security Trust. She has been seconded to the Board of Deputies. This has been changed.
© The Guardian

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MEP'S HOME OFFICE MEETINGS ABOUT GAY IRANIAN(uk)

8/4/2008- The President of the European Parliament´s Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights is today holding a series of high level meetings with senior members of the Home Office. Michael Cashman, who is one of two openly gay MEPs, is meeting the government officials following the return to the UK of Mehdi Kazemi. "I trust that the UK government will do the right thing in relation to Mehdi," he said. There has been concern in Europe about the 19-year-old's case. He left Iran in 2004 to travel to England on a student visa and continue his education. Two years later while still in the UK he learned that Iranian authorities had arrested his boyfriend Parham back in Iran, and that his boyfriend had been forced to name Medhi as someone with whom he had had a relationship. Medhi's father then received a visit from the Tehran police, with an arrest warrant for his son. In late April 2006, Medhi's uncle told him Parham had been put to death. Mehdi's request for asylum was turned down by the United Kingdom. After fearing for his life he fled to Netherlands and sought asylum there. However, under the terms of an EU treaty, asylum seekers must be returned to the first state where they claimed asylum. He was returned to the UK last week but the Home Office has promised to review his case. If they decide to again reject his asylum appeal he will be returned to Iran. More than 60 members of the House of Lords wrote to Home Secretary last month urging the government to "show compassion" to Mr Kazemi. The Independent newspaper mounted a campaign on his behalf and members of the European Parliament called on the UK not to deport him. Since Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979, human rights groups estimate that between 3,000 and 4,000 people have been executed under Sharia law for the crime of homosexuality. The British government has been accused of being more inclined to believe Iran than human rights groups on the issue of how gay people are treated in that country. In March Lord West of Spithead, Home Office minister in the Lords, said:
"We are not aware of any individual who has been executed in Iran in recent years solely on the grounds of homosexuality, and we do not consider that there is systematic persecution of gay men in Iran."
© Pink News

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FEAR OF ISLAM IS RUINING OUR CHANCE FOR PEACE (uk, opinion)

By Andrew O'Hagan


8/4/2008- The wish genuinely to address political ills in this country is often stymied by a need people have to cling either to what is Right or what is Left. You see it at work every day, the instinct to turn with the shoal of mackerel or the flock of starlings, without a moment's pause to examine what is really at issue. Our politicians do this as a matter of course, but so does the public and so very often do the media, wishing life's complicated circumstances to conform immediately to the expectations which are born of our own prejudices. But sometimes we must go against the grain of what we think in order to do some thinking.

Islamophobia is one of the big questions of our day, and one, perhaps more than most, which causes each of us to dig in to our entrenched positions. The problem is answered most often with ignorance or with common hysteria, and almost never with fresh thinking. What is the nature of the feeling in our communities and in our courts against Islam, and how can we put an end to it? Are we not hurting our own society and our own security by making a monster where it shouldn't exist, a monster made from the mania of our own fear? Over the weekend, 148 graves were desecrated in the Muslim section of a military cemetery near Arras in northern France. In an act that might appear to open a new chapter in Europe's hateful treatment of feared minorities, the vandals sprayed swastikas and other Nazi insignia on the graves of dead servicemen. (Jewish communities will recognise the obscenity.) "This is a most unacceptable act of racism and the president shares the pain of France's Muslim community," said a spokesman for President Nicolas Sarkozy.

France has a population of five million Muslims, Britain has two million, and each nation has, over many years, pursued policies which have resulted in those communities being more isolated, more discredited, and more radicalised than any other, and in consequence we have begun to work not only against their interests but against our own. We are making extremists where they previously hardly existed; this might be termed a suicidal policy. In Britain, we did this once before, in Northern Ireland, where the last three decades of that horrible conflict were not enacted by people fighting for liberation so much as by people made insane by what they understood to be human rights abuses perpetrated by British forces on their own soil. It is not a happy-making argument, especially for those of us who would wish to believe in the possibility of British rectitude, but the British state made a quagmire of Northern Ireland, stoking anger and a sense of injustice for years when the matter could have been concluded, as it eventually was, by people willing to listen to the actual experience of people who were willing to compromise over almost everything except assaults on their own communities.

While readers may not agree, I think that the lawyer Gareth Peirce makes the argument most persuasively in the current issue of the London Review of Books. She has worked for both Irish and Muslim individuals in their legal struggles with British prosecutors, and is able - if one is able to listen - to tell a story of relationships made worse by this nation's determination to punish and harass the communities it most fears. She used the example of Bloody Sunday, when British soldiers killed 13 unarmed Catholic demonstrators, "marching to demand not a united Ireland, but equal rights in employment, education and housing (as well as an end to internment)". At the time, the IRA was having trouble recruiting and was very much a reduced organisation. After the killings they were able to find volunteers who were stepping forward from every area of Irish life. "Over the years of the conflict," writes Peirce, "every lawless action on the part of the British state provoked a similar reaction: internment, 'shoot to kill', the use of torture… brutally obtained confessions and fabricated evidence. This was registered by the community most affected, but the British public, in whose name these actions were taken, remained ignorant: that the state was seen to be combating terrorism sufficed."

And here we are again today, with the view that every action of the British state to "combat terrorism" - including internment, detention without evidence, false confessions, the illegal passing of information on suspects to foreign governments, the use of torture - can be justified, even as a flouting of legal obligation, so long as we believe in the interests of "national security". Gareth Peirce's article provides some utterly sobering reading, especially to those who might take it for granted that actions taken in aid of "national security" could never be seen to serve the opposite purpose. But we are currently threatening our own position by following the pattern of behaviour we established in Northern Ireland. We are ruining our chances of peace, to say nothing of what we are doing to offend international justice, human rights, and common decency. Those of us who grew up with the obscenities that were the bombings of Eniskillen and Omagh might always wish to understand how they could have happened. Did they happen as a result of the mad actions of a generally blood-thirsty people who craved a United Ireland? Or were they the desperate acts of some parts of that community hounded into extremism by the British State's consistent abuse?

There is no righting those wrongs. Just as there is no righting the wrongs of the London bombings. But the attempt to explain them is not the same as the attempt to either right them or support them: to my mind, civilian bombings are always acts of terrible barbarity, and I will never attempt to justify them. Yet history bequeaths to us the duty to try to understand the hatred in the eyes of our enemies. Surely we want to know the manifold wrongs that lead to further wrongs. Perhaps not, if we're set in our ways and at home with our ignorance, but Islamophobia is where many of our future troubles might be seen to begin. We ignore it, and our part in it, at the peril of everything we claim to hold sacred.
© The Telegraph

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REDBRIDGE: RACISM IN SCHOOLS 'COVER-UP' FEAR(uk)

9/4/2008- Teachers in Redbridge could be covering up the true extent of racism in schools despite a record number of reported incidents. The suggestion comes after 11 schools in the borough said they had no racist incidents at all last year, a claim which has been met with scepticism by some councillors. At a meeting of the council's children's services scrutiny committee, Cllr Ralph Scott said: "Some schools like to believe about themselves what they want." Cllr Scott, who sits on the Redbridge Racial Equality Council, added his own theory about why the schools did not report any racial abuse. "Racist incidents, whether physical or oral, get put down as bullying - if they get put down at all," he said. Cllr Dev Sharma said he was equally perplexed at the figures. "Have these schools achieved complete equality? I am wondering about that." Last week the Guardian reported how the number of racist incidents in the borough's schools had risen to their highest levels since records began, with 297 cases compared to 278 the year before. However, council officers argue that the increase is down to better reporting by schools. At the meeting, Colin Moore of the Children's Services Department said the figures needed "to be taken with caution." He added: "We believe that we are making good progress both in raising the attainment of different groups and we also believe that we are making very good progress in the many ways in which schools record incidents that take place on their premises." A council spokeswoman said it could not reveal the names of the 11 schools which did not report any incidents because they had a confidentiality agreement with them.
© Epping Forest Guardian

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IMMIGRATION RULE CHANGE 'ILLEGAL'(uk)

8/4/2008- The government acted unlawfully in changing immigration rules for highly skilled workers who want to stay in the UK, the High Court has ruled. In 2006, a new "points" system, based on education, previous salary and age, was introduced, changing the criteria for remaining in the country. Opponents say 44,000 people in the UK under old rules must leave - but the Home Office say 1,370 are affected. Judge Sir George Newman ruled that the original scheme should be honoured. The government is considering an appeal against the ruling. Under the Highly Skilled Migrants Programme, introduced in 2002, non-EU workers such as doctors, engineers and financiers were originally given UK entry for a year. They could apply for a two-year extension, then a further three years before applying for settlement. This was judged according to qualifications, experience and earning ability. But in November 2006, the home secretary changed the rules, so anyone applying to extend their work visa would have to score points based on their education, salary and age. The Highly Skilled Migrants Programme Forum group brought the case against the government, arguing the new system was "grossly unfair" and "a clear case of breach of legitimate expectation". The group claims 90% of those who arrived before 2006, about 44,000 people, would no longer qualify to remain in the UK and accused the government of going back on a promise to let them stay after several years' work. But the government says regulating the number of immigrants to the UK is in the country's interest. A Home Office spokeswoman said that the number of people affected by the change in the rules was much lower than claimed. She said that about 16,000 people who arrived under the old rules would have to meet the new points criteria - and said the government estimated that about 1,370 would not meet it.
© BBC News

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THE MENACE ON THE TERRACES(uk, opinion)

By Alexander Goldberg

5/4/2008- Football has done much to clear out the scourge of racism that plagued the game 25 years ago and through organisations like "Kick it Out" has made tremendous progress in improving the image of the game. Sadly, though, anti-semitism is still prevalent on the terraces. In the last year alone, there was a serious incident recorded at West Ham, a successful prosecution of an Arsenal fan following a pre-season friendly at Barnet and complaints by one leading journalist who attended the Carling Cup Final between Chelsea and Spurs [see the Community Security Trust report for 2007, here (pdf)]. Islamophobia is also surfacing in football, and a number of incidents aimed at Newcastle and Egypt international Mido have been reported. Some defend anti-semitic and increasingly Islamophobic chanting as friendly banter, but it is usually far from that. Tottenham fans often report that opposing fans make hissing gas noises along with "Yiddo chants". References to Auschwitz are frequently made. This week, the Football Association (FA), Board of Deputies of British Jews and National Muslim Police Association along with the Met Police held their first summit on anti-semitism and Islamophobia. The footballing fraternity turned out along with senior police officers, community leaders and representatives of the Football Supporters Association. All of them had the same message that "zero tolerance" of racism was the only policy open and that the strong policing powers which already exist need to be fully enforced.

The FA has promised to put together an action plan that will see better stewarding, more training, new methods of policing racism and other measures that will both combat racism and promote the game among religious minorities. They are looking into strict liability for clubs where racist incidents occur and also a system of deducting points that already happens in many European leagues. Furthermore, education is needed among the judiciary. There has been a successful prosecution following a racist incident at a Barnet vs Arsenal pre-season friendly in 2007. Unfortunately, the magistrate decided not to use his legal powers to issue a banning order that would have excluded the perpetrator from future matches. You would not allow someone with a drink-driving offence back into a car, so why would you allow someone who has committed a specific offence of racist behaviour at a match back into a football ground? Football is our national sport and, in many cases, acts as a bridge between communities. Later in the spring, West Ham United is hosting an event co-organised by Canary Wharf, the Metropolitan Police and the Board of Deputies' Shared Futures school-linking programme, which will see young people from all ethnic and religious spectrum attend a community day including a football tournament for primary schools. This sort of outreach to local communities is not unique. During my time at the Commission for Racial Equality, we would often use football stadiums to bring together young people in cities and towns where there had been community tensions. Football was seen as a uniting force.

It was ironic that in the run-up to the seminar that I met a lifelong Jewish West Ham fan and season ticket-holder who told me that he no longer felt able to bring his own children to the game as his father had brought him. This is really sad. Daniel Finkelstein's recent column in the Jewish Chronicle regarding his discomfort sitting among his fellow Chelsea fans at the Carling Cup final was a sad reflection that this form of abuse has gone on far too long. It should not be lifelong fans that are feeling alienated and isolated, but the racists. Football has become a multimillion pound sport, which rightly prides itself on its relationships with communities. It has done much to engage with communities and has brought families back into stadiums that were, only two decades ago, marred by hooliganism. It has combated other forms of racism. It is time for all of us to reclaim the national game which we love so much from those who wish to use it as the last bastion of open racism. The laws are in place, and I am glad that the FA is now looking to make one last push to eradicate racism forever.
© Comment is free - Guardian

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A HELPING HAND FOR THE HANDICAPPED(Norway)

A new discrimination and accessibility law has been proposed to help handicapped people get around in Norway.

5/4/2008- The new minister in charge of family and equality issues, Anniken Huitfeldt, has laid forth a proposal which should improve life for handicapped people by requiring upgraded public transportation (buses, trains, etc.) and improved facilities in the workplace, as well as in commercial areas, such as stores and offices. In addition, a new planning and construction law, also to be proposed today, will require all public buildings, both official and private, to be built according to a "universal plan", making them accessible to as many people as possible. Existing public buildings will have to be improved for handicapped accessibility. Many other European countries and the US already have similar laws in place. Lars Ødegård, general secretary of Norges Handikap Forbund NHF (Norway’s Handicapped Asssociation), expressed satisfaction that the government is making new demands to aid handicapped people, but warned that without specific deadlines, nothing will be accomplished.
© Aftenpost

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MEXICAN MIGRANT WORKERS FILE COMPLAINTS WITH UN RAPPORTEUR(Canada)

Canada's image as a safe and secure destination for foreign temporary workers is under fire, critics say.

9/4/2008- The government has been working hard in recent years to expand the number of temporary foreign workers who are allowed into Canada to ease what appears to be a growing labour shortage across the country. But Canada's image as a great place to work and earn a living is being threatened as migrant workers from Mexico who say they are being mistreated are now reaching out to a United Nations special rapporteur for help. In an interview last month, Jorge Bustamante, UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, told Embassy that over the past six months, he has received about a half-dozen letters directly from Mexican migrant workers in Canada. In the letters, the workers claim they are not receiving their proper wages and that their freedom of movement is being restricted. The special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants position was established in 1999 by the former UN Commission on Human Rights. The rapporteur's role is to enforce the full and effective protection of the human rights of migrants, and in some instances visit countries to further enforce legal frameworks in the interest of migrants. Mr. Bustamante, who was appointed to the position in August 2005, said that before receiving the letters, he had thought the bilateral migrant worker agreement between Canada and Mexico, inked in 1974, set a good example, but now he has the opposite impression. "The only thing is my feeling of regret that something that for so many years has gone on without complaints, now all of a sudden there are complaints," he said. "This is something that was actually quite new to me, because before that I had the opposite impression [of Canada]. But recently I have heard reports from migrants in Canada that have complained about abuses of not allowing them to move from one job to another, their wages and things of that sort."

Mr. Bustamante, a professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame in the United States and founder of a Mexican institute for the study of border issues, said he has sent each letter to the Canadian government. No further actions can be taken without verification of the abuses from the Canadian government, he added. If and when he receives this verification, a report about the abuses and what steps should be taken in response is submitted to the UN Human Rights Council. However, as yet, Canadian officials have not provided any response. "There has been no word at all from the Canadian government," he said. "If I have any kind of credible verification, then I would report it to the UN, but since I have not verified that, then I would not report it." Asked on Monday how the government would be responding, Human Resources Minister Monte Solberg said he would have to see what the letters say. "We haven't received any letter from him regarding migrant workers," Mr. Solberg said. An official in Immigration Minister Diane Finley's office referred questions to the Department of Foreign Affairs. Calls to Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier's office over the past two weeks were not returned. Reports of abuse and exploitation of migrant workers in Canada have become a concern for many in recent months, especially in light of the country's increasing reliance on such workers. Just last week, the issue was raised by a witness at the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration during a meeting in Moose Jaw, Sask.

Limits Bring Problems
Testifying before visiting MPs on April 2, Eric Johansen, director of the Saskatchewan government's Immigration Nominee Program, said limits on the ability of migrant workers to move within the labour market puts them at risk. "Temporary foreign workers are particularly vulnerable in our labour market as they don't have the mobility that other individuals in the labour market do," Mr. Johansen said. "So we think it's very important that we take extra measures to work with this group of individuals, ensure that they understand the protection afforded to them under provincial legislation. "And we want to find mechanisms to ensure that commitments made by employers to temporary foreign workers are indeed, under a labour market opinion, being followed through." Also testifying before the committee last week was Yessy Byl, a temporary foreign worker advocate at the Alberta Federation of Labour, who told MPs that brokers and employers are exploiting workers by illegally charging recruitment fees and housing them in poor conditions. "Alberta's temporary foreign worker program is inherently exploitive and treats people as disposable. I can assure you that Canada's reputation in foreign countries has suffered a great deal," Ms. Byl told committee members. In response to an increasing number of complaints received by the Alberta Federation of Labour, the advocate position was created last year. In a six-month report, Ms. Byl, an Edmonton lawyer, reported opening 123 case files for foreign workers. The cases involved migrant workers reporting poor working conditions and lower wages than were promised.

In her conclusion, Ms. Byl wrote that "there are deep and troubling flaws in the program, both in its structure and operation." "The rapid expansion of the program has been an unqualified disaster and it is the most vulnerable participants—foreign workers—who are feeling the brunt of the pain." Over the last two years, the Conservative government has expanded the Temporary Foreign Workers program to admit a greater number of workers by easing the bureaucracy Canadian employers have to navigate in order to hire workers from abroad. Rather than advertise a job for six weeks, most employers need only advertise through the government's "Job Bank" for seven days before seeking workers from abroad. Tanya Basok, a professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of Windsor who has done extensive research on migrant workers, said the restriction on workers' freedom to change jobs is a major issue because under the agreement, these restrictions are not a violation. Removing this restriction is a fundamental component to improving the program, said Ms. Basok, because workers rely on a good letter of recommendation from their Canadian employers, and a negative review could impede their chances of returning, "leaving many too afraid to speak out against their employer."

Changing Jobs Unrealistic
Rodolfo Diaz, co-ordinator of political and migratory issues at the Mexican Embassy in Ottawa, said that once in the program, workers make a commitment to an employer, and that it is unrealistic to expect they can switch jobs once in Canada. "That is part of this program, it is temporary, and as any temporary worker you have agreed you are to go back to Mexico," Mr. Diaz said. "We do believe that the program is successful, a great number of workers are re-hired, they have access to pensions from the Canadian government." Mr. Diaz said there are already mechanisms in place to inform workers of their rights, their due pay, and an emergency number to call for help, such as pamphlets written in English and Spanish handed out upon arrival. In addition, Mr. Diaz said there are regular meetings between regional and federal officials, and aspects of the program are constantly being reviewed. He said the Mexican and Canadian governments are very proud of the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, which started in 1974 and has brought more than 162,000 Mexicans to work in Canada. From 2002 through 2006, Mr. Diaz said, more than 56,000 workers came through the program; during this time, 73 cases were opened in response to letters from Mexican workers sent to the consulates in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. Of the complaints received, Mr. Diaz said, most are based on conflicts and disagreements that require mediation, and that they are rarely about pay. Mr. Diaz would not comment on the matter between the UN rapporteur and the Canadian government, except to say he trusts the Canadian government will respond at the right time. Liberal Labour critic Judy Sgro, who served as immigration minister from 2003 to 2005, called the situation an embarassment and a black-eye for Canada's reputation.

"For them to refer these issues to the rapporteur at the United Nations, this is not something that's done lightly by any of the people writing," Ms. Sgro said. "Frankly, I'd like to see an immediate response and an investigation into their complaints. We have an obligation when we let these workers in under various categories, that they have safe working conditions." NDP Labour critic Libby Davies said the massive increase in the number of foreign workers coming to Canada over the last 10 years has led to serious problems. "We think the Conservative government must review the foreign workers program," Ms. Davies said. "It is developing so rapidly, there are so many complaints of exploitation, of abuse of foreign workers. There's not been any monitoring or enforcement mechanisms, there has to be a way to track where foreign workers are. "So if the UN special rapporteur has taken note of it and sent a letter to the government, we're very glad to hear about that; the government needs to take note."
© Embassy Magazine

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B'NAI BRITH REPORTS ANTI-SEMITISM ON THE RISE IN CANADA

10/4/2008- For the second year in a row, the number of attacks on Jews in Canada has hit a record high, a leading Jewish advocacy group said Wednesday. In its annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, B'Nai Brith Canada reported a total of 1,042 death threats, assaults and intimidation of Jews last year by Canadians. This figure has increased four-fold over the past decade, the group noted. As well, incidents have spread from cities to rural areas for the first time, the group said in a statement. "The 2007 findings indicate that anti-Semitism is not just at the fringes of Canadian society, nor the work of a few lone bigots," said Frank Dimant, vice-president of B'Nai Brith Canada. "Anti-Semitism's reach is far more systemic," he added, noting: "This form of hatred appears to be increasing in rural areas, whereas before incidents were primarily confined to urban centers." Incidents included an assault on a rabbi in Toronto, the words "kill Jews" scrawled on a Toronto public school wall, swastikas painted on Edmonton's oldest synagogue, and the firebombing of a Jewish community centre in Montreal.
© AFP

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UN: WOMEN FACE BIAS WORLDWIDE

5/4/2008- Women are discriminated against in almost every country around the world, a UN-commissioned report says. It says that this is despite the fact that 185 UN member states pledged to outlaw laws favouring men by 2005. It adds that 70% of the world's poor are women and they own just 1% of the world's titled land. The report, which was prepared for UN Human Right Commissioner Louise Arbour, says rape within marriage has still not been made a crime in 53 nations.

'Life-long violation'
The report was compiled by Fareda Banda, a law professor at London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). At a news conference in Geneva, Prof Banda said that other laws discriminating women included statutes on divorce, maternity benefits and pensions. She said that even basic laws like the legal ages for marriage could have a huge impact on women's lives:
"Many states still have different ages of marriage for young women then they have for young men, and the age for girls is always lower then the age for boys. "This leads to violations, for example of a girls' right education, if she has to leave school at 14 to get married, and this impacts upon her life chances. "It ends up being a life-long violation of her rights in terms of forfeiting education, having children too early, possibly being damaged herself."

The report recommends the introduction of a new, separate mechanism to fight discrimination because existing UN and international human rights laws are not being upheld. It also calls for a new UN expert to focus specifically on laws which damage women's chances in life.
© BBC News

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INTERNATIONAL ROMA DAY 2008

ACTIVISTS: CZECH, ROMA CO-EXISTENCE STILL POOR

8/4/2008- Co-existence of Czech Romanies with the majority society is not improving, activists from some Romany organisations said today on the occasion of the International Roma Day celebrated on April 8. On the contrary, anti-Gypsy tendencies have strengthened in the past period, activists from the Dzeno organisation and the Association of Romany Regional Representatives said. Dzeno members said that Czech society tolerates politicians' insulting statements about Romanies and events organised by extremists. Last year Dzeno addressed an open letter to President Vaclav Klaus calling on him to contribute to the observance of human rights and the improvement of Romany situation in the Czech Republic. The Association of Romany Representatives wants to address international institutions asking that they help the Czech Republic "abolish anti-Gypsy tendencies, racial discrimination and expressions of apartheid." The organisation pointed out in its statement that the Czech Republic itself was unable to do so. The International Roma Day will be celebrated in many Czech towns. In Prague Romany activists will stage an exhibition on racial violence and a candle demonstration. Some 11,700 people declared themselves Romanies in the latest national census. According to estimates, some 250,000 Romanies live in the country. An analysis has shown that one-third of them live in ghettos in which almost all adults are jobless and families are dependent on welfare benefits. Romany children are placed in schools for children with learning difficulties which closes a path for them to a higher education. According to the analysis, nine in ten Czechs consider the existence of ghettos a problem that should be dealt with but they do not much believe that Romanies living there would soon be able to integrate in society. Some one-fifth of people believe that it could take 25 years and more than a quarter think it will take 25-75 years. However, almost a quarter of Czechs firmly believe that either more than 500 years would be required to resolve Romany problems and these problems would never be solved.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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ROMA PROTEST - ON INTERNATIONAL ROMA’S DAY (Moldova)

Over a 100 of Roma people will gather on the 8th of April in Chisinau, capital of Moldova to take part in the march protest organized by Roma National Center in order to raise awareness of the majority of population on the social-economical problems that is faced everyday by this ethnicity. The march will start on 11.00-14.00 and will have the following route: Square of the Opera and Ballet Theater- Ştefan cel Mare şi Sfînt bd. (main street in the Capital) - Sfatul Ţării str.- Alexei Mateevici 109/1 str. This is a manifestation dedicated to the day of 8-th of April, which is also known as Roma’s International Day, declared by the 4th Roma Congress thus honoring the first conference, which took place in London, 1971. In the Roma communities there is no access to qualitative drinkable water, Roma are often disconnected from the electrical energy source, are subjected to a violent treatment applied by policemen. Discrimination is a phenomenon which can be met in schools, medical institutions and other public places. Men can not find a job, old people don’t receive any help or even pension, and children don’t attend school or abandon it. These people suffer from different diseases because of the precarious living conditions and lack of material resources. They can not assure a treatment in time, so die at an early age. After 17 years of democracy, situation of these people didn’t change to better. With this opportunity, Roma National Center will forward a protest letter to the central public authorities, through which solicits to the Government of the Republic of Moldova to undertake certain measures in order to improve Roma’s situation and their participation at the decision-making process.

More details regarding organizing and proceeding of the protest march and content of the protest letter here.
© Dzeno Association

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EUROPEAN UNION NEEDS COMMON ACTION TO MAKE EQUALITY A REALITY FOR THE ROMA(Press release FRA)

“We have put in place strong legislation to root out discrimination in the EU, but the promise of equal opportunity remains unfulfilled for many Roma and Travellers in our societies”, said Anastasia Crickley, Chairperson of FRA’s Management Board, in a statement ahead of International Roma Day (8 April).

7/4/2008- “Roma and Travellers are subjected to racially motivated violence and hate speech. The Fundamental Rights Agency and many other organisations have documented the endemic discrimination against Roma in education, employment, health care, housing and access to services. Romani women and children are particularly vulnerable. The action plans and strategies on how to solve these issues through comprehensive programmes have all been drawn up long ago. We must now implement them rigorously, measure their impact, identify good practice and learn from our mistakes. Partnership with the Roma communities themselves must be one of the principles guiding the implementation of these programmes and policies”, Anastasia Crickley continued. A particularly acute problem across many Member States of the European Union is the housing situation of Roma and Travellers. The lack of provision of accommodation sites by local authorities often results in people from these groups living in sub-standard accommodation, which lacks even basic sanitary facilities. In some countries, the housing conditions, in which some Roma communities live are aggravated by their subjection to evictions and forced relocations. The situation of Roma and Travellers and the discrimination they face is a European concern requiring a common European response. The Agency therefore welcomes the moves towards greater coordination of Member State efforts at European Union level. At the European Council in December 2007, the Heads of States and Governments of the EU recognised the “very specific situation faced by the Roma across the Union” and invited Member States and the Union “to use all means to improve their inclusion”.

The Fundamental Rights Agency will support this common EU effort to help Roma and Travellers realise their right to equal opportunities in the EU.
© The Fundamental Rights Agency

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INTERNATIONAL ROMA DAY: STILL FIGHTING FOR OUR RIGHTS(Press release ERIO)

7/4/2008- The European Roma Information Office (ERIO) would like to join Roma communities throughout Europe in celebrating the 8th April, International Roma Day. On this day we unite with Roma communities around the world in celebrating the Roma culture and remembering the long fight of Roma for their recognition. But the history of European Roma is not only one of their fight against racism and social exclusion. It is also a history of the development and consolidation of a non-territorial nation in Europe. Over the centuries, Roma language, tradition and culture have not only become a part but have enriched the European culture. Here, the resistance of Roma against the Nazi and other authoritarian regimes as contribution to the development and consolidation of peace and democracy in the European Union should be acknowledged. An acknowledgment of Roma's contribution to the construction of a more democratic Europe is the last Resolution of the European Parliament of 31 January 2008 calling upon the European Commission to shape a Community Action Plan on Roma Inclusion. This would be a big step towards Roma inclusion. In 2008, declared by the European Commission as "European Year of the Intercultural Dialogue - 2008", the realisation of equal opportunities remains the goal for the largest parts of Roma. Given the extreme patterns of social exclusion and discrimination faced by Roma, they are not equal partners in such societal dialogue. This remains the main challenge for European institutions and especially for national governments. Nevertheless, ERIO believes that effective inclusion policies can be successful only with the full participation of Roma themselves whose fight for recognition and equality should be recognised on this International Roma Day.
© The European Roma Information Office

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INT'L ROMA DAY: OPPORTUNITY TO CELEBRATE, ALSO TO RECALL URGENT NEED FOR ACTION AGAINST THE EXCLUSION

7/4/2008- Tomorrow, 8 April, the world celebrates International Roma Day[1]. The European Roma Policy Coalition (ERPC)[2] is taking an active part in these celebrations and highlights on this occasion the important cultural diversity which the Roma, Sinti and Traveller communities bring to the European Union. But these celebrations are also an opportunity to remind citizens and policy makers of the discrimination and disadvantage which Europe’s largest minority faces on a daily basis. An estimated 7-9 million Roma live in EU member states but to date there is no integrated and comprehensive EU policy specifically targeting discrimination against Roma. Commission officials have acknowledged that “social exclusion and discrimination of Roma communities are well documented and despite all available legislative and financial instruments remain often extreme”. However, these words have not been matched by effective action and change. The European Roma Policy Coalition therefore urges the European Union to adopt a Framework Strategy on Roma Inclusion, developed in full consultation with Roma communities. This strategy should ensure that Roma communities are protected from discrimination, have equal access to education, healthcare and housing, and are empowered through participation in the civic and economic life of the country.

David Mark, the coalition coordinator, said:
“Celebrating the cultural diversity of the Roma community is all the more relevant as this year is European Year of Intercultural Dialogue. The EU must now ensure that its emphasis on cultural diversity is matched by strong and effective action to ensure the economic and social inclusion of Roma, Sinti and Travellers into European societies and protect them from discrimination.”

1 Established in 1971, International Roma Day celebrates a community dispersed throughout Europe, facing enormous economic, social and political challenges.
2 The European Roma Policy Coalition, launched on 6 March 2008, is a network of national and international NGOs working on different aspects of discrimination against Roma people which calls for the full realisation of the economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights of Roma. The member organisations are: Amnesty International, European Network Against Racism, European Roma Grassroots Organisation, European Roma Information Office, European Roma Rights Centre, Fundación Secretariado Gitano, Minority Rights Group International, Open Society Institute and Spolu International Foundation.
© EUropean Network Against Racism

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OSCE MISSION IN KOSOVO MARKS INTERNATIONAL ROMA DAY

7/4/2008- The OSCE Mission called today for full integration of the Kosovo Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians into the Kosovo society. The statement was made on the occasion of International Roma Day, which is marked on 8 April. "The Kosovo Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities continue to face marginalisation and discrimination in the region. The OSCE Mission is committed to support these communities in solving the remaining challenges: access to basic human rights and services, integration and effective participation in political life," said Ambassador Tim Guldimann, the Head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo. The OSCE Mission is helping the Kosovo authorities draft a Strategy for the Integration of Kosovo Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians which would focus on key issues such as education, employment, return, housing, anti-discrimination and political participation. The Mission also continues to monitor the compliance of Kosovo institutions with human rights standards and minority rights, particularly in respect of the most vulnerable minority communities. Lack of civil registration and documentation is widespread among the Kosovo Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities. This impedes their access to basic human rights. The lack of document registration has a particularly negative effect on the displaced as it hinders their return and the property restitution process.

Tens of thousands of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians are still displaced within the region or have temporary residence status in Western Europe. Germany hosts around 35,000 Kosovo Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians under "toleration status". The OSCE Mission in Kosovo monitors the return process and supports it through awareness-raising campaigns and specific local returns projects. On occasion of the International Roma Day, the OSCE Mission's Regional Centres will organize different events. The Centre in Peje/Pec will hold an art contest for Roma children. Photographs from this occasion are available here . The Centres in Mitrovica/Mitrovice and Prishtine/Pristina will organize football tournaments and the Centre in Gjilan/Gnjilane will support a Roma Day party in Kamenice/Kamenica. The Centre in Prizren will organize a workshop, The Rights of Roma - Challenges and Recommendations, for Roma community leaders, local politicians and civil society representatives.  
© The OSCE Mission in Kosovo

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USA CALLS FOR IMPROVED RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS OF ROMA

6/4/2008- On the occasion of International Roma Day, the United States calls attention to the pressing need to improve respect for the human rights of Roma. Violence and other manifestations of racism and discrimination against Roma are a problem in many states, particularly throughout Central, Eastern and Southern Europe. Roma face widespread societal and sometimes official discrimination, including incidents of ill treatment by police. Recent cases of Roma leaving their homes to seek asylum elsewhere underscore the need to deal effectively with the underlying causes of intolerance and socioeconomic hardship. Unfortunately, such problems rarely receive the response from high-level government authorities that they demand. Even when officials are genuinely committed to helping Roma, they often are not given sufficient resources or authority to do so. The United States is committed to protecting and promoting the human rights of Roma, both within a bilateral context and through our involvement in the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the Stability Pact. We are pleased to announce that, under the auspices of the Nazi Persecutee Relief Fund, the United States Government has awarded the Open Society Institute more than $585,000 to provide college scholarships for Roma, seed grants for community development projects, and special initiatives in health and education. The United States calls on all governments to respect the rights of Roma and urges OSCE participating States to honor their commitment, made at the 1999 Istanbul Summit, to ensure that laws and policies fully respect the rights of Roma and, where necessary, to promote comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. We welcome steps taken by Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria toward this end, but note that these measures must be effective laws, formally adopted and thoroughly implemented. We further urge Hungary, the Czech Republic and other states considering similar measures to make the adoption of such laws a priority.

The United States urges all who cherish democratic values of pluralism and tolerance to speak out forcefully against any expressions or acts of hatred against minorities, including Roma, and diligently work to promote tolerance.
© the U.S. State Department

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Headlines 4 April, 2008

US CROWDS MARK KING ASSASSINATION ANNIVERSARY

4/4/2008- Crowds have gathered in the US city of Memphis, Tennessee, to mark 40 years since the assassination of legendary civil rights leader Martin Luther King. The commemorations focus on the former Lorraine Motel, now a civil rights museum, where he was shot dead aged 39. Presidential hopefuls John McCain and Hillary Clinton marked the milestone in Memphis, while the latter's Democratic rival Barack Obama spoke in Indiana. King's campaign for equal rights by non-violent means inspired millions. His "I have a dream" speech in Washington in 1963 is considered among the greatest ever made.

Candle-lit vigil
Under rainy skies, a "recommitment march" was held through Memphis to highlight King's ideals of social justice. Wreaths are being laid at the site of his assassination. His son, Martin Luther King III, and civil rights campaigner the Rev Al Sharpton were expected to lead the march, which will be followed by an evening candle-lit vigil. US President George W Bush paid tribute to the anti-segregation icon's legacy from Zagreb, Croatia. Mr Bush said: "Dr King was a man of courage and vision. He understood that love and compassion will always triumph over bitterness and hatred."

'Equality and justice'
John McCain, who will be the Republican Party's presidential candidate in November's general election, spoke in front of the balcony where Dr King was shot. Addressing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which Dr King once headed, Mr McCain said changing times had only helped to make him seem a "bigger man". "The quality of his character is only more apparent. His good name will be honoured as long as the creed of America is honoured," he said. Mrs Clinton, who is competing with Mr Obama to be the Democratic Party's choice to run for president, talked about how Dr King had inspired her. She recalled meeting him when she was a teenage girl and said Dr King would always carry Americans forward, so long as they remembered his legacy. Mr Obama, in Indiana, spoke not only of Dr King but also of then Democratic presidential candidate Robert Kennedy, who was himself assassinated two months after the civil rights leader. Mr Obama told a campaign rally that Dr King had "preached the gospel of brotherhood; of equality and justice". He said Dr King had recognised that beyond people's colour, faith or class, "we all have a stake in one another, we are our brother's keeper, we are our sister's keeper, and either we go up together, or we go down together".

'Pulled down walls'
Dr King was killed by a rifle round as he helped organise a strike by sanitation workers. James Earl Ray, who admitted firing the fatal shot, died in prison in 1998. The BBC's Andy Gallacher says that while conspiracy theories abound about Dr King's death, it is his legacy that will be celebrated. Dr King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his efforts to end segregation and racial discrimination. "He pulled down the walls of fear, he changed the laws of legal apartheid in our country, he set in motion the right to vote which has transformed democratic governments around the world," the Rev Jesse Jackson, who was with him in his final moments, told the BBC. The Lorraine Motel was turned into a National Civil Rights Museum in 1991. Other US events being held to commemorate Dr King's death include an appearance in Indianapolis by Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert Kennedy. A special exhibition on Dr King's final days and funeral is due to open in his birthplace, Atlanta. Members of the US Congress paid tribute to him in speeches on Thursday.
© BBC News

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CANDIDATES COURT BLACK VOTE ON KING ASSASSINATION ANNIVERSARY

4/4/2008- Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Democrat Hillary Clinton tried to shore up support among black voters on Friday in the city where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was slain 40 years ago. Democrat Barack Obama honoured King's legacy with a speech in Indiana while his rivals attended activities in Memphis marking the anniversary of the day King was gunned down as he stood on a Lorraine Motel balcony. "I think it's important to spread the message that Dr. King's work is unfinished in places like Indiana and North Dakota," Obama, who would be the first black U.S. president, told reporters in Fort Wayne, Indiana. As a steady downpour soaked a crowd outside the Lorraine Motel, Arizona Sen. McCain got a mixed greeting at a meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. A couple of people shouted "no more war" as McCain, an Iraq war supporter, was introduced. There were scattered boos as McCain said "I was wrong" for voting against creating a federal King holiday while he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1983. Others shouted, "We forgive you." McCain, who will face Obama or Clinton in the November U.S. presidential election, noted that he had afterward supported a King holiday in his home state of Arizona. "We can all be a little late sometimes in doing the right thing, and Dr. King understood this about his fellow Americans," McCain said. Forty years after his death, King "only seems a bigger man from far away. The quality of his character is only more apparent. His good name will be honoured for as long as the creed of America is honoured," McCain said. Clinton spoke at Mason Temple, headquarters of the Church of God of Christ, where King gave his famous "I've been to the mountaintop" speech the day before he died. She said if elected president she would appoint a Cabinet-level "poverty czar" to address the problems of the disadvantaged, the people for whom King fought. "He never gave up and neither should we," Clinton said. "Like with any faith there were dark moments -- but he would always come back from those dark places. And so must we."

Race roiling
Forty years after King's assassination set off race riots in more than 100 U.S. cities, race is roiling U.S. politics this presidential election year. Both McCain and Clinton have some fence-mending to do among African Americans. McCain had rankled black voters by skipping a Republican debate on African-American issues in September. Clinton had irked some black voters by saying on the campaign trail that King was not solely responsible for improvements in civil rights laws, that 1960s President Lyndon Johnson had a lead role as well. Obama has been criticized over inflammatory sermons given by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the pastor at Obama's Chicago church, as he railed against the U.S. history of segregation. Obama, who is getting overwhelming black support, told a crowd in Fort Wayne that American politics had not lived up to King's dream. "For a long time, we've had a politics that's been too small for the scale of the challenges we face," he said. "Instead of having a politics that lives up to Dr. King's call for unity, we've had a politics that's used race to drive us apart." A New York Times/CBS News poll published on Thursday found Obama's favourability rating among Democratic primary voters dropped 7 percentage points to 62 percent since late February. The decline was mostly among men and upper-income voters. Clinton, who would be the first woman to win the White House, is scrambling to capture the Democratic presidential nomination from Obama in what seems an increasingly hard task. Obama and Clinton will address the North Dakota Democratic convention later.
© Reuters

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US RACE RELATIONS: THE ENDURING LEGACY OF MARTIN LUTHER KING

It was 40 years ago this week that the American civil rights leader was assassinated, but his message has never been more relevant, as his son, Martin Luther King III, tells Tim Walker

3/4/2008- Martin Luther King III was just 10 years old when his father was shot on the balcony outside room 306, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, on 4 April, 1968. Now 50 years old, he remembers the day vividly. "My siblings and I were watching the evening news at home in Atlanta and we heard 'Dr Martin Luther King Jr has been shot,'" says King III, who will lead a march tomorrow to that motel, now home to the National Civil Rights Museum. "We ran to our mother's room, and she was preparing to leave because she had already had a call to say my father had been shot and she should get to Memphis as quickly as possible. She didn't know how bad the injury was." Coretta Scott King never made it to Tennessee that night. An hour later, at 7.05pm, her husband was declared dead. "She came back to put us to bed, and told us that Daddy had gone home to live with God, and one day we'd see him again. She said that when we saw him again in his current form it would appear as if he were asleep; he wouldn't be able to talk to us or hug us or kiss us. But she told us that God rewards his servants and brings them home. That was enough for me at the time."

Only after his murder did King III begin to grasp his father's importance. He knew his father was friendly with some big stars – Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Sammy Davis – but it did not prepare him for the parade of celebrity mourners that descended on the family home in April 1968. "Every political aspirant who was running for office, came," he says. "Richard Nixon came. Robert Kennedy came. Ted Kennedy came. Jackie Kennedy Onassis came. Bill Cosby and Robert Culp, who starred together in I Spy and were one of the first racially integrated television pairings, came. Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston. All of the significant entertainers of the day. That's when I realised that my Dad must have been tremendously important." On 9 April, the day of Dr King's funeral, President Johnson declared a national day of mourning. "I've never seen as many people in my life as I did on the streets of Atlanta that day," says King III. Until that day, he and his siblings had been largely sheltered from his father's public life. "To all of us, he was just Daddy," says King. "Because Mom did most of the disciplining, he was our playmate. When Daddy came home he would put us on the refrigerator and we would jump into his arms. We didn't have a large quantity of time with him, but the quality was remarkable. What I wish more than anything else is that as an adult I'd had the opportunity to have a conservation with him."

On rare occasions, King III and his brother Dexter travelled with their father. One trip he recalls clearly was to St Augustine, Florida, a town where the police were public servants by day and Ku Klux Klan members by night; when it was suggested that blacks should be allowed to use the public swimming pools, acid had been added to the water. The four King children – King III has a younger brother and sister, in addition to an older sister, now deceased – also experienced discrimination first-hand. "There was a theme park in Atlanta called Fun Town," King remembers. "Whenever we drove past it we would always say we wanted to go in, and Daddy would say, 'Well, you can't'. One of the most incredible days we had together was the day when blacks were finally allowed to go to Fun Town. Daddy took us and we had a phenomenal time. Of course, right afterward we just forgot about it, but later I realised the significance of that day." Martin Luther King III does not have Dr King's voice, nor his remarkable gift for oratory. Instead of the commanding rumble that inspired millions, his intonation is delicate. He does not have his father's striking face, nor his room-quieting charisma. Instead, he is fleshy and genial. But what he does have is his father's name. And 40 years after Martin Luther King Jr's death, it is a name that still carries great authority, and great responsibility. "It weighs heavy on me every day," says King. "If I woke up each morning trying to fill my father's shoes, I would fail miserably. So I'm thankful my mother raised me and my siblings simply to be our best selves. 'Martin,' she said, 'you don't have to be Martin Luther King Jr.' I am who I am. All I can do is be the best Martin that I can be."

The young King III didn't harbour ambitions to follow his father into campaigning. "I was like any child. I wanted to be a pilot, a policeman, a bus driver, an astronaut. I worked in the hotel business for a few years after graduating from college, but I realised quickly that, though I enjoyed it, it was not my calling. I wanted to make a difference, not just make money." But, from re-reading his father's sermons and speeches, King III learned much about the philosophy of non-violence. He cut his own teeth as a public speaker and organiser during his college years, and by co-ordinating the annual celebration of his father's January birthday – Martin Luther King Day. In 2006 he founded Realizing the Dream, an organisation devoted to tackling poverty, one of the "triple evils" identified by Dr King before his murder. Forty years on, those triple evils of racism, poverty and militarism still loom large.

Dr King's best-known achievements – the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act, specifically – tend to overshadow his later battles, fought in 1967 and 1968, against poverty and the Vietnam War. The latter position made him new enemies in the establishment, including J Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI. "We've made great strides race-wise, but we ignore the poor," says King III. "Hurricane Katrina showed the world there were Americans living in poverty. Yet even now our federal government acts as if poverty doesn't exist. If we'd spent some of the money we spent on the military in Afghanistan and Iraq on social services and business development instead, then maybe our economy wouldn't be so bad. "We're still a long way from my father's dream of freedom and justice and equality for all."

Militarism, meanwhile, has run rampant. When it comes to King's views on the War on Terror, Dr King's principles of non-violence apply. "We had the world's attention after September 11th, the world's empathy and sensitivity," he says. "We squandered it. Everyone knew we could strike and knock people out, so why didn't we show the world that when you're attacked you don't always have to retaliate in kind? Maybe we need to reach out, try to understand and build relationships. That's leadership." King III has high hopes that this year's presidential election can not only change things in America, but also in the wider world. He now supports Barack Obama but on Martin Luther King day in January, when every candidate was vying to lay claim to the King legacy, the great man's son was meeting not with Obama, but with his Democrat rival John Edwards. Edwards, he says, was the only candidate to have seriously raised the issue of America's vast underclass, the 37 million people now living in poverty. "Speaking up for them is not politically convenient," he wrote in a letter to Edwards. "But it is the right thing to do." Since Edwards dropped out of the race, he has given his influential backing to Obama, the first credible black challenger to join the race for the White House. That a black man now has such an opportunity is one clear measure of Dr King's accomplishments. There have been black business leaders, black religious leaders and black political leaders who have inspired America's African-American community before now, but, says King III,

"Whether he is successful or not, the presence of Obama is going to create a different paradigm, a different model for leadership that tries to be more inclusive. The fact he's able to run as a serious candidate is, in itself, very significant." The way the campaign has been conducted, however, has not always been to his liking. The media's focus on the fiery sermons of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Obama's Chicago pastor is, he says, a sideshow. "That issue doesn't feed anyone," says King. "It doesn't help people get healthcare, it doesn't educate any children. We need to talk about race but we don't need to focus on Obama's relationship with a pastor. It's a decoy." The television networks' penchant for re-running a passage of one sermon in which he cries "God Damn America!" has forced the pastor into hiding. "This, in the land of free speech," laments King III. "People say Reverend Wright hates America, and he hates white people. This is a man who has counselled biracial couples to get married in his own church. Now he can't go anywhere. The Klan said that if he came to Tampa, Florida, they would blow up the church." King III was in London this week to attend an event, organised by the Arts Council-funded Music Matrix initiative, to commemorate his father. His speech is peppered with humour; he even quotes Richard Pryor.

Today's world is very different from his father's and, as the media reaction to Reverend Wright's sermon suggests, it is one in which his father's apocalyptic style would not necessarily be welcome. "Reverend Wright's comments should create a dialogue. I don't agree with everything he said, but I've heard those sentiments from other black preachers all over the country. None of those people hate America. For example, someone still needs to explain how, in 12 or 15 years, all of Sub-Saharan Africa somehow contracted Aids. I don't know what created it but there's more to it than what's being said. I'm not sure it came through inoculations and vaccines, but I've heard a lot of preachers posit that theory as a possibility." King III can be forgiven for believing conspiracy theories. The swirl of unanswered questions around his father's death produced plenty of those – not least a possible connection to Hoover's FBI. After involvement in the public investigation into Dr King's death, his brother drowned at home in an accident that his family still think suspicious. King III's destiny, meanwhile, was written on his birth certificate. He and his wife are expecting their first child – and Dr King's first grandchild – in May. She may only share half of her grandfather's name, but while America retains its inequalities, it will remain an inspirational one, for at least one more generation.
© Independent Digital

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VERDONK'S PARTY PUTS FOCUS ON NATIONALISM(Netherlands)

4/4/2008- Independent MP and former integration minister Rita Verdonk positioned her new political grouping Trots op Nederland (Proud of the Netherlands) firmly in the nationalist camp during the party’s inaugural speech in Amsterdam on Thursday night. Verdonk stressed the need to protect Dutch identity from outside influences and passionately rejected what she said was a growing call for the Dutch to adjust to other cultures. ‘To that I say: enough! There are limits.’ According to today’s Volkskrant this is the first time that any Dutch political party has played the nationalist card so emphatically. Speaking on Thursday’s Nova current affairs show, the leader of the social democrat D66 party Alexander Pechtold said one-third of Verdonk’s 30 minute speech was dominated by anti-foreigner rhetoric. But she had failed to come up with concrete proposals on issues such as integration, he said. As well as immigration and integration, Verdonk said Trots op Nederland (TON) will focus on education, reducing bureaucracy, security, traffic, healthcare and development aid. The Volkskrant listed the following among the main points from her political programme:

# Scrapping provincial governments and halving the number of MPs to 75
# Tougher punishment on groups that are over-represented in crime statistics
# Cutting the development aid budget by two-thirds and using the money instead for police, teachers and nurses salaries
# Extending permission for shops to open on Sundays
# Limit public discussion on major infrastructure building projects to ensure they go through

Furthermore, Verdonk said she wants to distance herself from ‘the political elite in The Hague’ and give the public more say in her new party’s policies by setting up a ‘wiki-style’ online communication system.
© Dutch News

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FRENCH ARMY INVESTIGATES PHOTO SHOWING SOLDIERS DOING NAZI SALUTE

3/4/2008- The French army opened an investigation after the weekly satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné published Wednesday a photo showing three paratroopers from Montauban in southern France doing a Nazi salute in front of a Nazi flag with a swastika.
According to the paper, the army’s leadership ignored the soldier's neo-Nazi tendencies and even silenced a former captain in the uniy who had reported the events to his superiors several times since 2006. The photo has been circulating in the unit for a long time.
Jamel Benserhir, the officer in question, said he felt discriminated by the extreme-rightists. But while the three soldiers faced no consequences, his contract was not extended due to "emotional instability," the weekly said. Benserhir then decided to write directly to Defence Minister Hervé Morin and report about the facts. An army chief said two of the soldiers accused by Benserhir have been "immediately confined." The third is no more a member of the unit. The National Bureau of Vigilance Against anti-Semitism (BNVCA), which monitors anti-Semitic incidents in France, called for stiff sanctions against the three soldiers and asked for the investigation to make clear why the facts were hidden by the army’s hierarchy. In a statement, the bureau’s head, Sammy Ghozlan, declared: “We consider that official France is not anti-Semitic but the last cases involving civil servants and policemen call us to be vigilant.” He mentioned the recent firing by the Interior Minister of a deputy prefect who published an anti-Israeli pamphlet on internet and the suspension of policemen after an anti-Semitic outburst, Ghozlan referred to the recent report by a governmental human rights commission on racism and anti-Semitism which noted a drop of the number of anti-Semitic acts in France. He added: "While the number of anti-Semitic incidents is slightly decreasing, it remains too important and confirms that anti-Semitic speech has been totally freed, including through internet, and that it has reached and penetrate the institutions."
© EJP

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ONE’S MAN EX-PAT IS ANOTHER MAN’S MIGRANT… (Cyprus)

3/4/2008- There's a small town in the south-west corner of the Peloponnese where two families have settled in Greece to start new lives. One is British, one is Albanian. They are of similar ages; both have teenage children, a boy and a girl. The kids are in the same class in the local Greek state school; they both use the Greek health care system and rely on the acceptance and help of the local community. Both men in the families are builders. The British couple, who sold up in Britain five years ago, call themselves expats. They have bought land and built a house. They speak no or little Greek. They draw most of their friends from the ever-increasing cohort of English-speaking northern Europeans moving to this corner of Greece for the climate and cheap housing. The Albanians, who have been in Koroni 15 years, now call themselves Greek, speak Greek, and have integrated with the local working class community, but are referred to by the British couple as migrants. So what is the difference between a migrant and an expat? In one word: money. The British couple, simply, has more. Yet their motivation for moving to Greece was exactly the same as the Albanians, namely to give their children a better future and to improve the quality of life for themselves. There is no doubt that the word “migrant” has become culturally demeaning, loaded with snobbery, just as the word “expat” comes with connotations of wealth and glamour. Yet any of us who move to another country to better our circumstances, must be labelled migrants. Which is why the whole “expat” whingeing that happens when people set up their English speaking colonies around the Med is so laughable, and why host nations are right to feel resentful if the migrants do not try and integrate or put something back into the society that like parasites they have come to feast off.

Go on to one of the many blogging chat rooms for “expats” here in Greece and the content is cringingly condescending to the country they have chosen to make their home. Whole sections make fun of Greek workmanship, local habits and customs. Whole blogs are bigoted and obsessed with not being able to find tins of Heinz baked beans or get a good cup of tea, or lamenting the lack of Greeks who speak English. Very few of these escapees from the weather and high cost of living in the UK are honest enough to admit that the reason they have moved to Cyprus or Greece was simply because they could live better, make their money stretch further, and basically ‘go up’ in the world. They appear arrogant because they are embarrassed to admit that by relocating to a cheaper place they can afford luxuries they didn’t have at home, like a cleaner or pool or detached house or eating out more than once a week. Which is why I respect the Albanian couple: they have no pretensions, they love Greece, they are grateful that the country is educating their children, giving them the opportunity to work and live in a safe environment. They have even named their two children after Greek gods, because as they told me, “from what we came from, this is heaven”.
© Cyprus Mail

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POLICE CHECK NEO-NAZI LINK TO BELFAST ATTACK(Ireland)

2/4/2008- Police have confirmed they are investigating a possible link between supporters of British neo-Nazi group Combat 18 and a mass loyalist attack on a Belfast pub in which one man had his throat slashed. Hugh McAnally, 32, was beaten to the ground and had this throat cut as up to 50 people attempted to storm Cosgrove's bar on Saturday after the screening of the Celtic-Rangers Old Firm derby. Some of the mob shouted, "Combat 18" and "Section F", a far-right soccer hooligan gang in Northern Ireland, witnesses said. Yesterday a Police Service of Northern Ireland spokesman confirmed that officers were investigating possible links to the extremist group, which has had irregular links with the loyalists in the past, though less so in recent years since some members were told by the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force at gunpoint to leave Northern Ireland. Yesterday, loyalist sources and the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight said it was unlikely that Saturday's attack involved English members of Combat 18. A senior UVF source said that, as paramilitary groups became less active because of the peace process, there was a nucleus of younger loyalists who wished to emulate Combat 18 and its hooligan offshoots. They were trying to stir up sectarian trouble in Northern Irish football, the UVF source said, but loyalists who had been through the Troubles, especially those who served time in prison, regarded these hooligan street fighters contemptuously. Saturday's attack followed the end of the Irish Cup semi-final between Linfield, a club with a large loyalist following, and Cliftonville, which draws a lot of its support from the Catholic community. Witnesses said the assault appeared to be well organised; those leading the charge wore scarves over their faces, and carried knuckledusters and knives. The most high-profile incident involving Combat 18 in Ireland was 13 years ago when neo-Nazi hooligans started a riot in Dublin's Lansdowne Road, resulting in a friendly between England and the Republic of Ireland being abandoned.
© The Guardian

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NEO-NAZI RAMPAGE IN BELARUS

2/4/2008- Neo-Nazis attacked residents of Novopolotsk, Belarus, according to a March 31, 2008 report by the opposition web site Khartiya 97. "It is outrageous that over the course of several hours, not a single police patrol appeared on the streets of Novopolotsk, which allowed fascist gangs to violate public order with impunity," a local human rights group announced in a statement on the March 30 violence. The assailants targeted youths hanging out in the downtown area, as well as passersby. Although not noted in the report, the police lack of a response to the rampage is especially strange in light of the fact that Belarus is a dictatorship where security agencies strive to keep order and stifle dissent. In recent years, opposition youth groups have accused the government of encouraging or at least allowing neo-Nazis to attack them, but it is unclear from the report what, if any, political affiliation the victims of the rampage have.
© FSU Monitor

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MARCH 2008. AN OVERVIEW OF THE SITUATION(Russia)

31/3/2008- In March 2008, in Russia, there were not less than 31 racially motivated attacks on 40 people, including 10 fatalities. In total, in 2008, not less than 39 people died and 112 were injured in 14 regions of Russia. Moscow stays the major center of violence with 24 people murdered and not less than 63 injured, including 5 murdered and 20 injured people in March. Obviously, because of the big number of deadly crimes, the information about minor incidents remains underreported. In particular, in St. Petersburg, the second center of the neo-nazi violence, in 2008, there have been reports about 7 murdered and only 4 injured people. This proportion hardly reflects the real situation in the city. In March 2008, Russian courts issued not less than 4 guilty verdicts for the violent hate crimes, in Moscow, Ivanovo, Omsk and Yaroslavl. In total in 2008, there were 6 guilty verdicts for racially motivated violence against 11 people. Two people were convicted for propaganda in March. In Ulan-Ude and in Kursk, the convicted got suspended sentences for distribution of xenophobic leaflets. In the middle of March, the Federal list of the extremist materials was updated for the 6th time. Now it includes 101 titles of books, pamphlets, films and songs. Besides, in March, there were not less than 4 court decisions which adjudged a number of documents extremist.
© SOVA Center for Information and Analysis

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RACISM HURTING UKRAINE’S IMAGE

3/4/2008- Peyman Mokhkhamadi, the head of the Iranian Council at the Kyiv Polytechnic University, wouldn’t look like a victim of racist abuse. However, this tall confident young man with an open smile acknowledges that he’s felt racial hostility more than once. “Few foreign students survive an assault and few want to talk about it,” Mokhkhamadi said. Larysa Loyko, director of the International Center of Tolerance, revealed the grim statistics on racial violence: “In 2006, 14 people were assaulted, two perished. In 2007, nearly 70 were attacked and six perished, and since January this year, there have been at least 10 attacks on minorities.” Most of the incidents occur in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Simferopol and Odesa. The majority of victims were from African, Middle Eastern, Asian countries, the Caucausus and noticeable minorities from Western countries. This year alone seven persons in the capital became victims due to the color of their skin, and two died. Even a professional American basketball player, Marcus Feyson, playing for the Kyiv team was attacked. “Officially we were not informed about every fifth crime against foreigners in Ukraine,” said Oleh Martynenko, head of the Monitoring of Human Rights Observance Department at the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA). The 20 percent that were not reported dealt with foreigners legally staying in the country, while crimes committed against those illegally staying are impossible to count, he said. “An illegal can certainly go to the police but there can be complications for him,” said Martynenko. “And it is a real problem because (racists) know that an illegal will not complain to police and they can beat him to death.” Mokhkhamadi doesn’t hide his irritation telling his story. He tried to talk with the teenagers confronting him. They replied, “Go to your own country, there is no place for you in Ukraine.” Then one kicked him in the back.

“I was shocked and didn’t understand it,” he said. The Iranian did not go to police saying it didn’t make sense, as he’s seen policemen ignore these incidents before. A Vietnamese man living in Kharkiv for four year once informed the police and they “took away my documents and demanded money to return them.” The MIA emphasizes processing racial, nationality, or religious criminal cases is under the jurisdiction of the Public Prosecutor’s office and only internal affairs organs conduct such investigations. According to Novynar, last year only two criminal cases were prosecuted under article 161 of Ukraine’s Criminal Code. The first was against three Odesa citizens who vandalized a Holocaust monument, the second against four Kyivans who beat a North Korean citizen to death. This year during an investigation into the murder of a Congolese man, two Kyivans acknowledged membership in a skinhead gang. Suspects in the murder of a Sierra Leone native also admitted similar ties. The MIA officially acknowledges the existence of 500 skinheads in Ukraine. Minister Yuriy Lutsenko also cited this number with the caveat that this was true as of 2006. Until recently skinheads were referred to as “hooligans” in police reports, and police did not see them as a unique threat. “We can’t say how many of them exist now as the investigation is ongoing,” Martynenko said. International groups and institutions have expressed their concern about Ukraine’s xenophobic atmosphere. Official American and French Web pages give warnings of existing dangers to their citizens. Ukraine was also mentioned at length in the European Human Rights Commission report on racism and intolerance presented last February. Mokhkhamadi is convinced that for the large part Ukrainians are a kind and intelligent people and race discrimination damages this image. “I have watched the matter closely for a few years, and the main abuse is directed at students, athletes and diplomats, who then leave the country and spread [the negative views] around the world,” he said.

To some extent this is confirmed by research from the Tolerance Center showing that of all the foreigners attacked last year, more than half were students, four were rabbis, one a football player, one a diplomatic consul and another a Mali press secretary. However none of the polling experts interpreted these facts as a “conspiracy theory” but simply a coincidence. According to research conducted by the State Institute of Family and Young People Development last year, racial intolerance is demonstrated mainly by unemployed teenagers, which amounts to 2.8 percent of young people. At the same time, nearly a third of young people consider it necessary to limit the number of foreigners working in the country. The civic association, Patriot of Ukraine, is often mentioned in relation to growing racist sentiment, specifically because the group staged a march against illegal immigrants last year. Serhiy Bevz, the organization's Kyiv chairman, denies any connections to skinheads and avoids the term “racism.” The Patriots support saving the nation’s gene pool, Bevz said. So far, a Patriot tracks down illegal immigrants and hands them over to the police. “With more influence over the state, we will lobby for laying down harsher terms for people arriving in Ukraine and stricter punishments for illegal immigrants,” he said. Taras Vavryk, psychology lecturer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Academy, characterizes the division — “our people and strangers” — as a primitive atavism. He notes xenophobia mostly involves people of low social status and income. Taking into account their insufficient level of education and general culture, they are easily influenced. And they are exploited in the name of their leaders’ personal interests, both political and economic. “So far we’ve got a poor imitation of Russian skinheads. We are glad to say that it is unorganized, but it is better to fight the problem before it is too late,” Martynenko cautioned.
© Kyiv Post

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UKRAINIAN GAY PAPER FACES CRIMINAL CHARGES

31/3/2008- Kiev's public prosecutor is targeting a well-regarded gay newspaper under laws banning the distribution of pornography, while newspaper kiosks across the city openly sell explicit erotic heterosexual magazines. Since 2003 Nash Mir, the oldest Ukrainian LGBT human rights organisation, has published Gay.Ua newspaper. "The newspaper is registered as an "information, for leisure, and erotic" edition,"" Nash Mir said in a statement. "Gay.Ua publishes articles about the life of homosexuals, provides legal and psychological counselling, places personals from gays and lesbians, and also has erotic pictures and articles. "This newspaper is the only one for sexual minorities in Ukraine, and has been well-received and praised by its readers. "The newspaper is distributed mainly to readers within gay-community. "Gay.Ua is not accessible by nor intended for wider readership." In December 2007 the National Expert Commission of Ukraine on the Issues of Public Morality (operating in accordance with Law of Ukraine "protection of public morality"), made a ruling that Gay.Ua is a pornographic product. According to the commission, a picture of a man with an erect penis and a story on a sexual subject are pornography. Nash Mir has appealed to gay rights groups in the West to help them. Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and Patricia Prendiville, executive director of the Europe branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association, have written to the President of Ukraine and others complaining about a "violation of freedom of expression and discrimination." "The criminal action initiated against the staff of the Nash Mir Centre is discriminatory because it targets only the publisher of LGBT news and information, selectively employing the notion of public morality," they wrote. "The criminal action stands in contrast to the human rights commitments of Ukraine and to the country's opening towards the principles upheld in the rest of Europe, where governments increasingly take action to protect the LGBT community from discrimination."

IGLHRC and ILGA-Europe said that Ukraine is in breach of the European Convention for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, to which the Eastern European nation is a signatory. Ukraine is not a member of the EU. "In its decision in Scherer vs. Switzerland in January 1993, the Court stated: "it is of particular relevance whether or not the obscene material at issue was displayed to the general public,"" said Ms Prendiville and Ms Ettelbrick. "The newspaper of Nash Mir is not meant for general distribution, and is only posted in sealed envelopes to a closed list of subscribers. "In the Court's opinion, the cases of distribution of 'obscene' or 'explicit' materials does not concern the protection of morals of adult persons in a society in general, as long as "no adult was confronted unintentionally or against his will with the film. Where this is so, there must be particularly compelling reasons justifying the interference at issue." "In the case of Muller vs. Switzerland (25 May 1988) the Court has clearly stated that article 10 of the European Convention "is applicable not only to 'information' or 'ideas' that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any section of the population." "We call upon the government of Ukraine to drop the criminal actions initiated against the Nash Mir Centre and to respect and protect the human rights of all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity." Nash Mir said they had tried to contest the ruling of the National Expert Commission in a judicial order. During 2007 they submitted eight lawsuits and complaints. "Not one court accepted a consideration of our lawsuit's basis: referring to various and contradictory norms of legislation," the group said in a statement. "Nor have instances of our appeals at the supreme juridical levels, including Constitutional Court and Supreme Court of Ukraine, brought any results.

"At the same time, at newspaper kiosks a person can readily buy print media materials – for heterosexual men – containing various erotic information, including explicit female photos and sexual articles. "These outlets have an "OK" from National Expert Commission. "Is it possible that this type of material when published through heterosexual outlets is erotica, but when published in Gay.Ua newspaper for gays – is misjudged as pornography?" On February 22, 2008 Kyiv Office of Public Prosecutor instigated a criminal case "on the fact of distribution of pornography" against the staff of Nash Mir Centre. If found guilty they could face between three and seven years in jail. While the Ukraine continues to stress its European credentials and seek EU membership, there are questions over its commitment to human rights. MPs from the governing party last year spoke out about "propaganda and expansion of homosexuality in the country form a threat to national security, contradict national interests and undermine the authority of rights and freedoms of human being and family." The Ukranian parliament's Committee on the Issues of Freedom of Speech has attacked the "increasing propaganda" about gay and lesbian issues. "Such a situation obliges organs of state power to adopt determined and urgent steps for stopping popularisation of homosexualism, lesbianism, other sexual perversions, which do not correspond to moral principles of the society," the committee reported. Since 1991 Ukraine, formerly part of the Soviet Union, has had an equal age of consent and homosexuality was decriminalised at that time. However, there are no specific protections for LGBT minorities, and the country is generally dominated by the Orthodox church and is deeply socially conservative. Only 15% of the population are supportive of the existence of gay couples.
© Pink News

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GREECE UNDER FIRE OVER REFUGEE TREATMENT

3/4/2008- Greece is facing growing pressure over the way it treats asylum seekers arriving to its territory, with a group of 63 refugee-assisting organizations urging all EU capitals to immediately suspend transfers of applicants to the Mediterranean country. On Thursday (3 April), the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) issued open letters to EU governments as well as the European Commission, calling for the red light until Greece fully complies with EU and international law. The letter cites "the unacceptable conditions for asylum claimants in Greece, the obstacles to accessing a fair determination procedure and the risk of other serious human rights violations" as reasons for the move. "Greece is not a safe place for those in need of protection," Bjarte Vandvik, the head of the ECRE, said. The country has been under the spotlight over possible breaches of asylum seekers' rights for quite some time. On 7 February, Norway - a signatory to the Dublin agreements, a set of criteria designed to establish which EU state is responsible for examining an asylum claim - became the first country to suspend the return of asylum seekers to Greece. Germany has stopped transferring separated children back to Greece, while the European Commission decided in January to challenge Athens' refugee practices at the EU's top court. The commission criticism centres around the fact that unauthorised departure of an asylum seeker from Greece leads to a withdrawal of their asylum application and discontinuation of the asylum procedure. According to refugee-assisting organizations, the approval rate of asylum seekers' applications in Greece is also alarmingly low. In 2007, out of a total of 20,692 claims considered, only 140 asylum seekers were granted refugee status and 23 were granted humanitarian status.

Wider problem
However, Mr Vandvik believes that the current problems in Greece are "only a symptom of fundamental and far-reaching flaws inherent in the Dublin system". Under the rules, responsibility over an asylum seeker usually lies with the member state that played the greatest part in the applicant's entry into or residence on EU territory. "After ten years in operation, the Dublin system still fails to achieve its aims," the ECRE's head said, underlining that "responsibility is assigned but not carried out". The European Commission is set to further harmonize the rules on how asylum seekers should be treated in all 27 member states, with concrete proposals expected later this year. Brussels believes that a change is necessary to reduce secondary movements of applicants within the bloc, known in EU jargon as asylum shopping and refugees in orbit. The ECRE, for its part, has tabled four key recommendations - to suspend transfers to states that cannot guarantee fair examination of asylum claims; to better ensure the reunification of family members; to improve solidarity between states; and to introduce a special procedure for cases involving children and other vulnerable groups. "The EU can surely find a better system than the current one which bounces vulnerable refugees around Europe like ping pong balls, with devastating consequences for those unlucky enough to land in countries which lack proper asylum systems," Mr Vandvik concluded.
© EUobserver

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GAY IRANIAN SPARED DEPORTATION FROM GREECE

31/3/2008- Gay rights activists in Greece are celebrating after their government has decided not to deport a 40-year-old man back to Iran.  Known as Alex, he was arrested, beaten and tortured in his home country because he is gay. Two separate applications to remain in Greece had been rejected.

The Greek Homosexual Community (GHC-EOK), which led a campaign on his behalf, said today:
"We are happy to announce that the gay Iranian refugee, known as 'Alex,' was finally granted asylum following the reconsideration of his case. "EOK wishes to express its gratitude to all within Greece and abroad involved with enthusiasm and who helped the positive outcome. "Special acknowledgments go to the party of SYRIZA who, immediately after becoming aware of the case, helped to achieve the positive outcome and to the Deputy Minister Mr Chenofotis, who responded by acknowledging the just cause in Alex's case."

Gay and lesbian people in the Islamic Republic of Iran face the death penalty. GHC-EOK say that Alex is a member of a rich Iranian family who was visited in 1999 at his workplace by an ex-schoolmate who knew Alex was gay and who was probably a member of the government party. After that visit, Alex was arrested by the religious police and kept in the Jankal jail at the Iranian town of Rast for 45 days. Alex was tortured at Jankal. He was beaten systematically with lashing straps in his back and kidneys. Beaten several times in the face, he lost three teeth as a result. He had his testicles twisted, was submitted to bastinado (beating the soles of the feet) and had salt poured on his open wounds. He was put twice in mock execution. After spending forty-five days in jail, his family paid to get him out so that he could attend the funeral of his mother. The police took him to the funeral in women's clothes. While out of jail, Alex managed to escape. A few days later, he arrived to Greece by way of Turkey in a terrible condition. He went to the General Administration office of the police and applied for political asylum based on the torture he had been submitted to in Iran. The application was rejected.

In 2003, Alex submitted a second application for political asylum stating that he was homosexual and had a relationship with a Greek man, Phoebos (not his real name), who also testified that he was Alex's partner. Alex and Phoebos are still together. However, this application was also rejected. The status of Iranian people claiming asylum on the grounds of their sexuality has caused controversy in several European countries, including the UK. Earlier this month the British government agreed to reconsider th case of gay Iranian Mehdi Kazemi. The 19-year old, who has lived in Britain since 2005, was facing deportation and possible execution in Iran, where homosexuality is illegal. Although the decision was met with support, gay activists warned that there are many similar cases which are being overlooked by the government.

Omar Kuddus, a gay rights activist who campaigned for Kazemi's case, told PinkNews.co.uk:
"The British government has for once done the right thing and given this young man a chance and hope for his future. "There is no question of the fate awaiting Madhi if he is deported back to Iran - execution, just for being gay. "Homosexuality is not accepted and the state kills and punishes those guilty of being gay. "To say that homosexuals are safe as long as they are discreet and live their lives in private, is to say that Anne Frank was safe from the Nazis in World War Two as long as she hid in her attic, there is no difference. "Homosexuality shall never be acceptable in Iran as long as the Ayatollahs and Sharia law is in place. "I am grateful that Mehdi can now make his case and establish the true dangers awaiting him in Iran."

The Home Office said that even though homosexuality is illegal in Iran and homosexuals do experience discrimination, it does not believe that homosexuals are routinely persecuted purely on the basis of their sexuality. Peter Tatchell, a human rights campaigner and member of gay rights group OutRage! believes that there are dozens of other gay asylum seekers whose cases the government are refusing to review.

Mr Tatchell said:
"The review of this case is welcome, but there are still many more which need to be reconsidered, including Pegah Emambakhsh and many other individuals who are fleeing violently homophobic countries such as Uganda, Nigeria, Iraq, Zimbabwe and Palestine. "The underlying problem is the government's whole asylum system and the way it is rigged to fail as many applicants as possible, combined with the homophobic biases of the asylum process. "Asylum staff and adjudicators are given no training on sexual orientation and there is no explicit official policy supporting the right of refugees to claim asylum on the grounds of sexual orientation."

Ms Emambakhsh, 40, who fled to Britain in 2005 after her girlfriend was sentenced to the death penalty, narrowly avoided deportation in August last year when her local MP Richard Caborn persuaded the government to allow her to stay while further avenues of appeal were explored. Last month, however, the Court of Appeal turned down her application for permission for a full hearing and she now plans to apply for a judicial review at the High Court.
© Pink News

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CZECH MUSLIMS SAY INTOLERANCE GROWING

31/3/2008- Hatred and intolerance of Muslims and Muslim nations have mounted in the Czech Republic over the past few years, Munib Hasan, chairman of the Brno-based Islamic Foundation, says in a statement sent to CTK Saturday. He said this is to blame on the media, politicians and certain interest groups, but also individual Muslims, and called for reconciliation and tolerance to be exercised by both Muslims and the Czech majority. "We are afraid of the day when this venomous campaign against Islam and Muslims results in physical attacks, which creates an atmosphere of fear and instability in society," says the statement. The foundation issued a similar document in 2006. The Brno Muslims denounced in the statement the speeches by terrorist Usama bin Laden. "He has no right to speak for either European Muslims or Muslims as a whole," the statement says. It says the media broadly cover bin Laden's speeches, but they do not provide the same scope to moderate Muslims who reject his words and threats to Europe. On the other hand, the Muslims sharply criticise the appearance in the streets of Brno posters reproducing one of the cartoons of Prophet Muhammad that provoked angry protests throughout the Muslim world. They praise the attitude of the Czech Foreign Ministry and Brno authorities that denounced the cartoons' appearance in the city. "We call on the diplomatic missions of Muslim countries in he Czech Republic to inform about the positive stand of responsible Czech bodies on this issue," the statement says. The Czech Muslims also come out against the recently released controversial film by Dutch ultra-right deputy Geert Wilders and say it is orientated against Islam. "We support freedom of expression. We only reject its abuse for provoking civic hatred, offences and defamation of the personal feelings of inhabitants of the Czech Republic," the statement says. The Brno Islam believers said in the statement Europe is their home and that they feel bound to observe the Czech legal order. "We call on Czech Muslims to continue to protect the calm course of life in this country," the statement says. An active Muslim community lives in Brno. Ten years ago a mosque was built in the city to which about 120 believers come to pray.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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ANTI-SEMITIC PIECE OUTRAGES(Hungary)

A torrent of outrage was aimed at the daily Magyar Hírlap last week in response to the publication of an anti-Jewish opinion piece.

31/3/2008- Prompt accusations of anti-Semitism were already making headlines when the leader of the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) sent an open letter condemning an opinion piece published on 19 March in the daily Magyar Hírlap. Ibolya Dávid, whose conservative opposition party holds a handful of seats in parliament, quoted Hírlap staff writer Zsolt Bayer as writing: “In 1967, Budapest Jewish journalists hated Israel. Those same Budapest Jewish journalists hate Arabs, and Fidesz, and us. Because they hate us more than we hate them. [...] Their mere existence justifies anti-Semitism.” In her letter, published by the online news portal index.hu, Dávid began by calling Bayer’s words “astonishing, outrageous, scandalous and deplorable,” adding that Magyar Hírlap had crossed a line that no right-wing Christian should cross. Her letter came two days after another in which 100 Hungarian intellectuals asked the owner of the newspaper, Gábor Széles, whether he was comfortable backing a newspaper at which a writer openly declares himself to be anti-Semitic. Széles did not respond directly, but last Thursday sent out an open letter of his own in which he defended his writer’s right to express his opinion. “The news is sacred, and opinion free,” he said and added that people were free to agree or disagree with Bayer’s views. He did, however, acknowledge that the language Bayer’s used was “too strong, perhaps open to misunderstanding or even offensive”.

Bayer had apparently been outraged by watching an edition of an evening current affairs show. The well-known journalist Sándor Friderikusz interviewed a journalist from the left-wing daily Népszabadság in mid-March. Bayer referred in his diatribe to Rudolf Ungváry opining on air that if the centre-right Fidesz party wins the next general election, the country will be run by people “whose predecessors shot Jews into the river Danube”. Bayer’s depiction of the Hungarian Republic as a swimming pool into which Jews are hawking snot and Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány has urinated while real Hungarians must languish round the edge certainly offended one notable Hírlap subscriber. Budapest Mayor Gábor Demszky announced last Wednesday that he was cancelling the subscription for his office. In addition, Demszky, said he would no longer talk directly to the paper. The businessman Széles made his fortune in the electrical goods industry in the ’80s and ’90s. He branched out into publishing last September when he acquired the relatively politically neutral (by Hungarian standards) Magyar Hírlap, as well as a cable news channel. The paper has since rapidly moved to the right.
© The Budapest Times

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BUDAPEST SCUFFLES AS 'NAZI' GROUP INDUCTS HUNDREDS OF NEW MEMBERS(Hungary)

30/3/2008- Brief scuffles broke out in Budapest late Saturday, March 29, after a far-right Hungarian paramilitary 'guard' inducted hundreds of recruits who were seen wearing black uniforms and symbols reminiscent of the country's pro-Nazi regime during World War Two. Members of the Magyar Garda, or Hungarian Guard, took their oath of loyalty to "defend Hungary" and Hungarians at Budapest's Heroes' Square, surrounded by police and a crowd of enthusiastic supporters. Following the controversial ceremony, a small group of youngsters managed to break through a police cordon to protest against the Magyar Garda. Armed with vacuum cleaners, brooms and even air fresheners, they attempted to "clean the square of Nazi ideas." Several Magyar Garda members and their supporters responded by kicking the youngsters and spitting at them, but they managed to escape, eyewitnesses said. Earlier a man apparently attempted to pelt Magyar Garda members with at least one egg, but he was led-away by local police. Organizers of Saturday's gathering suggested that with the latest recruits the Magyar Garda has some 1,500 members, including a special youth branch and former fighters of the 1956 Revolution against Soviet domination. The Magyar Garda was founded last year by the by the For A Better Hungary (Jobbik), a far-right political party not yet represented in parliament, known for its views against Jews and Gypsies, who prefer to be known as Roma.

Retired bishop
Saturday's ceremony was attended by retired Reformed Bishop Lorant Hegedus and Hungary's former Defense Minister Lajor Fur. "Help to clean up the robbers of our country," Fur told the Magyar Garda recruits and their supporters. Magyar Garda Captain Istvan Dosa warned in a speech that his recruits will "come forward with all of their strength" if the "political elite pursues anti-national politics." Although allegedly unarmed, he said the Magyar Garda has become "increasingly stronger and their support-base is growing." Officials have told BosNewsLife that they have encouraged the Magyar Garda members to take shooting lessons. Both the government and Jewish organizations have condemned the Magyar Garda, saying the group is reminiscent of World War Two when Hungary was a close ally of Nazi Germany. Some 600.000 Hungarian Jews died during the Nazi-era. The Magyar Garda members are wearing a uniform of black pants and vests with white shirts, and a cap emblazoned with a medieval coat of arms, the Arpad Stripes. The striped, red and white symbol is a centuries old Hungarian banner, a version of which was used by the Arrow Cross, a pro-Nazi party that briefly ruled Hungary toward the end of World War II and enthusiastically helped murdering Jews.

Hungary downgraded
Britain-based Jane's Information Group, known for its military intelligence, reportedly said Friday, March 28, it had downgraded Hungary's stability outlook, in part because of concerns over right wing extremism. At place 55th, Hungary is in the worst position among what are known as the 'Visegrad Four' countries, with the Czech Republic in 30th place, Slovakia in 35th and Poland at 47th. Earlier this week, Hungary's junior liberal governing party Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) terminated its subscription to conservative daily Magyar Hirlap after it carried an anti-Semitic article. The article, written by Zsolt Bayer and published on March 19, said that "back in 1967 the Jewish journalists of Budapest were vilifying Israel. Today the same Jewish journalists of Budapest are vilifying the Arabs and [main opposition] Fidesz, and us all. Because they hate us more than we hate them… their mere existence justifies anti-Semitism." Besides Hungary, there have been growing extremism in other countries, including in the Czech Republic where on Saturday, March 29, some "150 far-right extremists" gathered at a memorial to German soldiers who died in the Second World War, Radio Prague reported. The event in the Moravian town of Jihlava was honored "Germans who had been victims in the war" and also denied the Holocaust ever took place, the radio network reported. One of the neo-Nazi speakers was reportedly taken questioning by local police. Analysts have said painful, but necessary economic reforms in former communist countries such as Hungary and the Czech Republic could benefit extremist groups.
© BosNewsLife

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EAST GERMAN VICTIMS CHAMPIONED BY FAR-RIGHT ECCENTRIC

The nut from the Brandenburg gate

4/4/2008- Tourists walking between Berlin's Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag building can hardly miss Gustav Rust and his private memorial to the victims of the GDR. Behind the memorial, however, stands a man with a history of assaults and questionable far-right associates. At the municipal office in Berlin's Mitte district, it's hard to find out exactly which bureaucrat is responsible for Gustav Rust. Perhaps it's the Parks and Gardens Department, because Rust sets up his stall on a path belonging to the Tiergarten, the city's large central park? Maybe the Trade Office, because he sells his books on a Berlin sidewalk? Or could it be the Office of Public Order, because he occasionally assaults people walking by? What is clear, though, is that the file on Gustav Rust sitting in the district office is extremely thick. It includes altercations with police, complaints from the president of the German parliament and even entanglements with foreign diplomats. Gustav Rust, 67, is a former East German prisoner who has devoted himself to publicly paying tribute to the victims of the communist regime. Any tourist who walks from the Brandenburg Gate to the German parliament building, the Reichstag, can't help but go past him: He's the tall, lanky guy with the angular skull, prominent holes between his teeth and a pair of handcuffs dangling from his left wrist. He stands in front of his home-made memorial: a row of white crosses attached to a fence memorializing victims of the communist East German regime. Rust sat in a GDR prison for several years, and he is determined to make sure that the injustices he suffered do not go forgotten.

No one has any problem with a former GDR prisoner denouncing the crimes of the Stasi and the Socialist Unity Party (SED), the ruling party of the former communist East Germany. But many people feel that Rust is aggressive and disturbed. He is always putting up new flyers on the fence in the spaces between the crosses. One accuses German Chancellor Angela Merkel of being a "Free German Youth activist," referring to the communist youth organization in the former East Germany, which the young Merkel did in fact belong to. Another sign warns of the "PDS Band of Murderers," referring to the Party of Democratic Socialism, the successor party to the East German SED, which has now become part of Germany's far-left Left Party. Yet another notice claims that the communist terror in East Germany did not begin on Aug. 13, 1961, the day the Berlin Wall went up, "but rather, in 1944, when the Russian-Asiatic hordes" raped young girls in eastern Prussia. "Asiatic hordes?" It's an expression that was used by the Nazis. That's no coincidence: On his Web site, Rust also promotes a book by the late Franz Schönhuber, founder of the far-right German party the Republicans. Rust himself writes: "Don't be afraid to hold your heads up high, just because you were German soldiers!" Links on Rust's homepage lead directly to that of the far-right extremist and Holocaust denier Horst Mahler as well as to a page dedicated to Rudolf Hess, Hitler's deputy in the Nazi Party who is venerated by the current generation of neo-Nazis (more...). Rust admits he is "a National Socialist -- but without the gas chambers."

Questionable Company
It would be wrong to say that Rust's problematic positions have gone unnoticed. Polish diplomats in Berlin filed a complaint after he got into an argument with a Polish military attaché. Members of the German parliament have called upon the parliament's president to take action against the protestor -- because, after all, the image of the parliament is at stake. Even Germany's Cultural Minister Bernd Neumann, who is responsible for public memorials in Germany, thinks that Rust's private tribute is awful. Rust is not, however, a lone warrior. He has, in fact, close connections to the Association of the Victims of Stalinism (VOS), an organization which represents victims of political repression, mainly in East Germany -- and which also has its share of right-wing adherents. In 2006, Bernd Stichler, the then head of the VOS, had to resign after it was revealed he had referred to Jews and Muslims as "occupying forces." Nevertheless, Stichler did make a fine distinction: "If a Jew stands next to you, he doesn't stink. But a dirty Turk in the subway stinks." Stichler's speech was caught on tape, but he refuses to discuss the incident with the press any more. The current deputy head of the VOS, Hugo Diederich, who also happens to sit on the board of the German public television station ZDF, has in the part granted interviews to Junge Freiheit, a weekly far-right German newspaper.

The real problem with Rust, however, is not his ties to the VOS but his relation with the German authorities. The question of who is actually responsible for the lone protestor on the sidewalk is incredibly complicated. It's not the federal government's business, nor the Bundestag president's. Not even the Berlin Senate is responsible for him. It turns out that only the Office of Public Order in the Berlin district of Mitte -- where Rust's patch of sidewalk is located -- is responsible for determining how long someone can make a nuisance of himself in one of Germany's most politically symbolic locations. Officials have removed Rust's memorial twice. Both times, he just went back and rebuilt it. According to one of its officials, the staff of Mitte's Office of Public Order prefer to give Rust and his memorial a wide berth these days -- they are all very familiar with his criminal record. Back in 2004, for example, Rust was convicted of assault and battery. On Nov. 6, 2007, Rust was given a four-month suspended sentence, again for aggravated battery. According to the judge's verdict, Rust had punched a man in the face, "resulting in the man suffering pain in the left jaw region and the temporomandibular joint." In support of the defendant, however, it was assumed that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his time in the GDR prison, and was therefore not capable of evaluating his actions. Rust puts it much more simply: In his words, prison made him "a bit odd." And so -- at least until his next outburst -- Rust will remain outside, looking after his memorial. He might not be much of an advertisement for Germany, but he's a good example of how the country functions. According to one man from the Mitte district office, people hope that at some point Rust will no longer just get off with probation.
© Spiegel Online

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NEO-NAZI CLOTHING SHOP SPARKS CLASHES BETWEEN BERLIN RADICALS(Germany)

3/4/2008- "The Neo-Nazis have arrived in the heart of Berlin," said with a heavy heart a salesman at a clothing store near Alexanderplatz in the eastern part of the German capital. Two months ago, a clothing line linked to Germany’s extreme right opened a branch adjacent to his store, on Rosa Luxembourg Street. Nothing in the clothing line’s actions is accidental - not the name of the street, which is named after one of the icons of the German left, nor the street number, 18, which in numerology represents the initials of Adolf Hitler (AH - 18). "They have a lot of clients, and on Saturdays, two shaven-headed guards stand at the entrance," said that salesman. "Neo-Nazis from all over Berlin come here. They’ve ruined the entire street." Over the last two months, the ongoing battle between the extreme right and the radical left has focused on the new clothing store in the heart of Berlin. The store, named Tönsberg, carries the brand "Thor Steinar" - a well-known label worn by members of the extreme right. In the past, the company’s clothing has been outlawed in Germany due to use of banned symbols. The chain was forced to change its logo several times, in a game of cat and mouse between the far right and Germany’s rigid "de-Nazification" laws that forbid the use of Nazi symbols. In the German state of Brandenburg it is forbidden to wear the brand of clothing sold at Tönsberg, but in Berlin, their sale is permitted. The opening of the new store has now moved the violent clash between left and right to the center of the capital.

The shop’s display windows have been smashed in several places, evidence of the stones habitually thrown by left wing activists. The store is covered in paint stains from "paint bombs" utilized by anti-fascist activists during organized marches as well as secret operations. Inside the store, Nordic motifs dominate the décor which consists of stuffed deer, pictures of wolves and Scandinavian landscapes. The chain views Norway as an object of admiration, having named the store after the oldest city in the Scandinavian country. The clothes available at the store are colorful, expensive and display the company’s logo very prominently. The saleswoman at the store, a woman with a fake tan and bleach blonde hair, refuses to speak with reporters. The German court is currently debating whether or not to shut the store down. The chain signed a lease with the owner of the building for three years. The owner of the building has said that he was misled by the clothing company. "They told him that they were a fashion chain with stores all over Germany and hundreds of employees," said a salesman at a store nearby. The building owner has filed a request with the court to terminate the lease unilaterally, but the matter is currently under discussion. Meanwhile, the store continues to operate. "There is no other choice," said a salesman at a nearby store. "In Germany we have to employ a policy of zero tolerance for signs of Nazism. We don’t have the luxury that other countries have to allow complete freedom of expression. I can’t wait until they get out of the area."
© Haaretz

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FAR-RIGHT ACTIVIST FILES COMPLAINT AGAINST HUMAN RIGHTS BODY(Canada)

3/4/2008- Marc Lemire, an online distributor of far-right propaganda whose hate-speech prosecution has galvanized criticism of Canada's human rights courts, yesterday filed criminal complaints against the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) over its alleged surreptitious use of a civilian's computer. In complaints to the Ottawa Police Service and the RCMP, Mr. Lemire alleges CHRC investigators accessed a chat-room through an unsecured wireless Internet connection owned by a 26-year-old Ottawa woman who lives near the CHRC offices. He said doing so contravened four parts of the Criminal Code. Mr. Lemire alleges they did this "in order to hide their online identity." Philippe Dufresne, the CHRC's director of litigation, said that, for security reasons, the Commission's laptops were not wireless enabled at the end of 2006, and to the best of his knowledge, the investigators would not and could not have accessed a private citizens internet account. He said the matter is under investigation and the CHRC is looking into the possibility of a mistake or a coincidence. Mr. Lemire said the event happened in late 2006, just before the online pseudonym Jadewarr was exposed as the secret identity of CHRC Internet hate-speech investigators, who used it to monitor and post on target Web sites and to elicit the identities of Web site owners. The issue of the civilian's computer came to light last week at Mr. Lemire's Human Rights Tribunal hearing, when his legal team subpoenaed a Bell Canada representative to identify which of the company's subscribers accessed the Web site freedominion.ca as Jadewarr on Dec. 8, 2006. Alain Monfette, director of the law enforcement support team for Bell, provided the woman's name and address to the tribunal. The National Post interviewed her that evening, and reported that her Bell Internet account had wireless access that was not password protected, meaning anyone within range could have used it. She said she had no connection to the CHRC.
© The National Post

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ACQUITTAL OF GERMAN FAR-RIGHT LEADER OVERTURNED; RETRIAL ORDERED

3/4/2008- A federal appeals court on Thursday overturned the acquittal of a senior member of a German far-right party and ordered a retrial on charges of incitement for distributing CDs that allegedly encouraged violence against foreigners. Jens Puehse, a member of the national leadership council of the National Democratic Party, or NPD, was acquitted last year by a Dresden state court of the charges, saying it found no evidence of criminal behavior. But prosecutors appealed the acquittal — as allowed under German law — arguing that the court had not sufficiently considered all the evidence. They said Puehse, 36, had worked with an attorney to determine how far the CDs could go without getting him charged, indicating an awareness that the activities could be criminal. The Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe agreed, and ordered the case sent back to Dresden for retrial. The German government has accused the NPD of inciting hate crimes against foreigners and Jews, but an attempt to ban the party in 2003 was blocked by the country's highest court, which refused to hear the case because the government cited statements by party members who turned out to be paid informers for state authorities. The charges against Puehse stem 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, though he said during the trial that he regretted a CD titled "Der Untermensch" ("The Subhuman") had been produced. The NPD is only a fringe force at national level, with no seats in the federal parliament. However, it has caused alarm by winning seats in the state legislatures of two eastern regions in recent years, prompting a revival of the discussion of a ban. In 2005 the party caused outrage in Saxony — where Puehse's publishing house is based — when its members walked out of state parliament instead of observing a moment of silence for Holocaust victims. This year, in January, NPD lawmakers in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania refused to rise from their seats during a moment of silence in honor of the Nazi's victims, being marked on the 75th anniversary of Hitler's elevation to German chancellor.
© International Herald Tribune

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NEW BID TO BAN FAR-RIGHT NPD LOOKS DOOMED(Germany)

Germany has long talked about banning the neo-Nazi NPD party. But an attempt to do so is about to fail because Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives say such a bid could strengthen the party. Germany's Jewish population is up in arms.

1/4/2008- Germany's second attempt to ban the far-right National Democratic Party looks doomed before it has even begun because a number of conservative-ruled states are refusing to cooperate in mounting a legal bid against the party. The president of Germany's Central Council of Jews, Charlotte Knobloch, criticized the states which failed to present information on the activities of the NPD in their respective territories by a March 31 deadline. "I don't agree with the way this is being handled," Knobloch told the Märkische Oderzeitung newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday. Her deputy, Dieter Graumann, told the Associated Press that it would be a sign of "helplessness and resignation" if no attempt was made to ban a party that spread "poisonous propaganda." The domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, calls the NPD "racist, anti-Semitic, revisionist" in its 2006 report and says it "denigrates the democratic and legal order of the constitution." As a legitimate political party, the NPD gets state funding. Germany tried to ban the NPD before, in 2003, but the country's highest court threw out the case because it was based partly on testimony from informants in the NPD recruited by the domestic intelligence service. That failure was a major embarassment to the government and emboldened the NPD which did well in several subsequent regional elections, crossing 5 percent hurdles to win seats in the eastern state parliaments of Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

Conservatives Say Bid May Help NPD
As a result, Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives are skeptical about a plan by the center-left Social Democrats to mount a new bid to get the party outlawed. The conservatives say a new legal bid may fail again and would make it harder to monitor the activities of the party because intelligence contacts with informants would have to be severed during the case. "We would lose important insight into the inner workings of the party," Wolfgang Bosbach, the deputy head of the conservatives' parliamentary group, told the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung newspaper. Another argument often cited against a ban is that it would drive right-wing extremists underground and thereby make them more dangerous. Eight of Germany's 16 federal states, all of them ruled by conservative governments, refused to provide information on the NPD's activities ahead of a conference on April 17 and 18 which is due to assess the prospects for a ban. Social Democrat parliamentarian Sebastian Edathy, head of the domestic affairs committee of the Bundestag lower house of parliament, told the German news agency DPA: "I deeply disagree with those state interior ministers who are refusing to even assess whether a legal case would have any prospects or not." Anyone who was serious about fighting the NPD could not avoid discussing whether to ban the party, he added.

'Foreign Bodies'
A guide by the NPD leadership for party candidates and officials states that the party's aim is to "restore the capability of the German Reich" and calls the German constitution a "diktat of the Western victorious powers." An "African, Asian or Oriental" can never become German, regardless of whether they obtain a German passport, the party states. Members of other races will "always remain foreign bodies physically, mentally and spiritually, regardless of how long they live in Germany." NPD flags and symbols are unmistakably similar to Nazi paraphernalia, and party members are on record praising Hitler and his henchmen. And in a bid to broaden its support, the party has been recruiting members of the violent neo-Nazi scene into its leadership and has joined forces with the far-right German People's Union (DVU) party. The NPD's chairman, Udo Voigt, faces trial on racial incitement charges.
© Spiegel Online

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SAXONY-ANHALT BANS NEO-NAZI FOOTBALL HOOLIGANS(Germany)

1/4/2008- The interior ministry for the German state of Saxony-Anhalt has banned a violent right-wing extremist fan group for the first time. The group, which calls itself the "Blue White Street Elite" and comes from the Jerichower Land county, has been watched by authorities since 2007, said state Interior Minister Holger Hövelmann in Magdeburg on Tuesday. Many group members are also fans of 1. FC Magdeburg, a regional football team with blue and white jerseys. Core group members are between 18 and 25-years-old who have repeatedly engaged in aggressive brawls. At 1. FC Magdeburg home and away games, the group has often engaged in violence with rival fans. Their crimes have involved breach of public peace, property damage, dangerous bodily injury, and resisting police. Hövelmann said that some members of the group are on police registers for right-wing extremist crimes. The group is known to have recruited members from the neo-Nazi extremist group "Weisse Aktivisten Jerichower Land," or White Activists from Jerichower Land.
© The German Local

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1,000 TURN OUT TO TAKE PART IN PROTEST FAR-RIGHT MARCH IN GERMANY

29/3/2008- Around 1,000 people protested a march on Saturday by supporters of a far-right party in a northern German city, police said. They outnumbered the estimated 300 people at the event organized by the National Democratic Party in Luebeck. Police said two suspected far-right supporters were detained, one of them for giving the Hitler salute - outlawed in Germany. A group of 30 counter-demonstrators who were heading toward the far-right event with masks and sticks were also detained. Confrontations between extreme-right marchers and counter-protesters are a regular event in Germany. The government tried unsuccessfully in 2003 to ban the National Democratic Party, which it accused of inciting hate crimes against foreigners and Jews. Germany's highest court refused to hear the case because the government cited statements by party members who turned out to be paid informers for state authorities. Separately, police in southwestern Germany said Saturday they were investigating "in all directions" after a baby carriage was set alight overnight in the entrance of a building inhabited largely by Turks in Backnang, near Stuttgart. Police said two backward swastikas and the words "now all die" in misspelled German were found sprayed on an outside wall. A resident extinguished the fire, and two young women were taken to a hospital after inhaling smoke. Police said it appeared that the fire would not have been strong enough to set the entire house ablaze.
© The Canadian Press

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EU BACKS GAY MAN'S PENSION RIGHTS(Germany)

1/4/2008- A gay man in Germany may be entitled to his dead partner's pension following a ruling by the highest court in the EU. Tadao Maruko's partner died in 2005 but the pension fund refused him a widower's pension and the case was sent to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The court ruled that refusing a pension was direct discrimination if the partnership was comparable to marriage. Mr Maruko's lawyers predict the case will have repercussions in EU countries where same-sex partnerships are legal. "I'm happy. It's a very important step," lawyer Helmut Graupner told the BBC News website. "This will help all those countries which have registered partnerships. It's the first time the ECJ has ruled in favour of same-sex couples." The court based its ruling on an EU directive which states that there should be no discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Although German law considers only heterosexual unions as marriage, the ruling makes it clear that any country in the EU that gives same-sex couples rights equivalent to marriage should treat the two as comparable. The European Commission welcomed the decision, but emphasised that national governments rather than the EU were in charge of legislation on family law. "It all depends on the law of the country. The right to a survivor's pension exists if the two regimes [marriage and gay partnership] are analogous," said commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger.

European repercussions
Mr Graupner said the ruling would have significant repercussions for the UK and Scandinavia where same-sex partners had "mirror institutions" to marriage, rather than French-style civil contracts. But he also suggested that indirectly it would help gay couples in countries where there was no equivalent to marriage. "The next case may be one of indirect discrimination, from a country that excludes same-sex partners from the rights and obligations of marriage. "The way out for such a country would mean they would have to provide the same benefits as other countries," he said.
© BBC News

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DISCRIMINATION FEAR FOR GAY PEOPLE IN EDUCATION SYSTEM(uk)

Gay people fear discrimination in education, according to a new poll.

3/4/2008- A YouGov survey of lesbian, gay and bisexual people, commissioned by Stonewall, found that lesbian and gay people expect to experience unfair treatment when accessing education for themselves or for their children. YouGov surveyed a sample of 1,658 people which it said was the first statistically significant national poll ever conducted into the life experiences of Britain’s 3.6 million gay people. The findings, published in the report, Serves you Right, look at the experiences and expectations of discrimination when it came to work, education, politics, crime and the criminal justice system, housing and healthcare. Asked about their own experiences and expectations in education, the findings show:
+89% of lesbian and gay people in Wales expect to face discrimination if they were to apply to become a school governor;
+Three in 10 lesbian and gay people across Britain expect to be treated worse that heterosexuals if they enrol their child in primary or   secondary school;
+Younger people (18-24 year olds) are more likely to expect less favourable treatment as a result of being gay.

“Homophobic bullying is still prevalent in schools, so it’s not surprising that so many lesbian and gay people feel the education system is unwelcoming,” said Matthew Batten, Stonewall Cymru’s policy and public affairs officer. “Governors, schools and local authorities need to engage more with the lesbian, gay and bisexual community, to recognise the unique skills and experience they can bring to the role and encourage more people from diverse backgrounds to become a school governor. “School governors play a vital role in developing the ethos of a school and it is disappointing that so many gay people in Wales are reluctant to apply for a position of school governor. “Often gay people have important skills that could help schools develop a more inclusive and respectful learning culture. Gay school governors understand first hand the issues of ‘coming out’ and being gay in schools, and they can help schools develop policies that tackle homophobic bullying and take steps to ensure lesbian and gay people are welcomed and included in all aspects of school life.” Stonewall said “positive steps” are being taken to tackle anti-gay attitudes in education in Wales. The Welsh Assembly Government is funding Stonewall Cymru’s bilingual training DVD, aimed at helping teachers better understand and tackle homophobia and homophobic bullying. The DVD is part of Stonewall Cymru’s Education for All campaign and will be sent to every secondary school in Wales later this year. The Assembly is also producing guidance to help schools develop approaches to address homophobic bullying and create an inclusive environment. Mr Batten said, “We are delighted that the Assembly is demonstrating its commitment to tackling homophobic bullying by issuing guidance to all schools and funding this much-needed resource. This will be invaluable to teachers who want to make their school a safe and respectful environment for all.”
© IC Wales

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ROMA MIGRANTS FACING EXPLOITATION(uk)

1/4/2008- Thousands of migrant Slovakians living in the space of just a few streets on the south side of Glasgow face exploitation and dangerous overcrowding, according to a leading lawyer. Mike Dailly, who is principal solicitor for the Govan Law Centre, says plans are well advanced to set up a law centre in Govanhill, to help protect ethnic Roma Slovakians and other members of the community. Since Slovakia joined the EU in 2004, the authorities in Glasgow have had to cope with a huge influx of migrant workers and their families. Estimates of the population vary between 1000 and 5000.
© The Herald

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ANTI-RACISM NGOS SAY INTERCULTURAL DIALOGUE MONEY NOT WELL SPENT(EUrope)

31/3/2008- European anti-racism NGOs have criticised the European Commission for giving money to activities during the European year of intercultural dialogue to EU governments, rather than to those who work directly to help minority communities. "If the European Commission wanted multiculturalism and intercultural dialogue, it should have given at least half of the money to NGOs who interact with the very people they want to create a dialogue with," Bashy Quraishy, president of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) told Euobserver. The organisation groups over 600 NGOs working to combat racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in all 27 EU member states. According to the Indian-born, Pakistani-raised Dane, if each country chooses to spend the EU money according to its own definition of 'intercultural dialogue', the targetted minorities stand little chance of being involved in dialogue with the majority communities. He targetted his home country Denmark for criticism: "The Danish government does not believe in interculturalism, they believe in Danish culture. The government did not invite a single local NGO to discuss the activities for the year," said Mr Quraishy. Nonetheless, he praised the European Commission for its initiative, underlining that any focus on the sensitive issue of multiculturalism is valuable and that Brussels has been much bolder than member states on this issue. However, EU policy makers should have required governments to spend the money according to an agreed definition of the words 'multiculturalism' and 'intercultural dialogue' before handing out the cash, he continued. "The commission should have said: 'By interculturalism we mean that majorities with all their resources and money interact with minorities who do not have those things'. Ask them [the minorities] what kind of activities they want in the 'intercultural dialogue' programme. Their picture is completely different from that of the governments," Mr Quraishy said. "My biggest concern is that this kind of year, like last year, which was the year of 'equal opportunities', becomes a symbolic gesture; talking and exchanging smiles and pleasant words," he concluded.

A small cake to share
The European year of intercultural dialogue has a budget of €10 million, plus money from EU capitals, to be spent on seven flagship multi-European projects and 27 national projects involving culture, education, youth, sport and citizenship. It aims to encourage understanding, tolerance, solidarity and a sense of common destiny among people of all origins and cultures in Europe. Out of the €10 million grant from Brussels, 40 percent is dedicated to campaigning and other public relations work for the year. Another third is directly invested in co-financing trans-country projects, leaving only €2.4 million, split between European capitals, to be freely allocated. "There is incredibly little money to share after you have divided it amongst 27 member states to begin with," a Brussels culture attaché involved in the year's planning said, explaining that the administrative burden in splitting such small sums between not only governments but also NGOs would simply not be worth while. "It seems reasonable that the commission gives the money to governments to handle, considering they are also supposed to counter with money from their own state coffers to finance the different projects," the attaché continued. He said several countries had been sceptical of spending such large amounts on media campaigns and other PR work, and would rather have seen the money invested directly into concrete activities around the theme of intercultural dialogue. "There was a divide between countries who wanted to spend more on 'emblematic projects' to raise profile, and those who wanted to allocate more money among governments and projects," he explained.
© EUobserver

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