NEWS - Archive February 2017

Headlines 24 February, 2017

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Headlines 24 February, 2017

Cyprus: KISA asks for effective measures to combat nationalism – racism

23/2/2017- KISA publicly expresses its grave concern over the flare of nationalism among the Greek Cypriot community as well as the fact that some of the so-called ‘democratic powers’ seem to fall in line with ELAMist neo-Nazis. The excuse to behind this particular declaration lies in the recent approval in the House of Representatives of the amendment proposed by ELAM to celebrate the anniversary of the Cyprus Enosis Referendum of 1950 at schools. Aside from the consequences this decision might have on the negotiation procedure to resolve the Cyprus problem, KISA underlines that nationalism and chauvinism fuel and promote racism and place a bomb at the foundations of any and every democratic society.

As in the recent past, when a window of opportunity opens regarding the resolution of the Cyprus problem, nationalism turns into a platform for all those contrary to a solution within the context based on a Bizonal Bicommunal Federation with political equality between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Identification with and expression of nationalism inevitably leads to racism and intolerance and, by association, to racist violence and hate crimes. After all, it’s not coincidence that incidents of hate crimes by Greek Cypriot nationalists against Turkish Cypriots have increased to alarming levels recently.



Attacks against Turkish Cypriots by Greek Cypriot students in November 2015, against Turkish Cypriot taxi drivers in July 2016[iii], the arson attack on Deneia mosque in February 2016 repeated attacks against Turkish Cypriots outside the APOEL buildingheckling and jeering from helmet-wearing fascists against pro-peace protesters during a bicommunal event at Ledra Pallas in January 2017, as well as the recent (February 2017) malicious damage caused to Turkish Cypriots’ cars at Troodos, are only a few examples of racist violence. These are precisely the incidents that cannot be perceived as isolated but (must be seen) as consequential of an ethnocentric educational system that has existed for a very long time, and of extremely nationalist and racist public speech, which become even more intense when progress is about to be made during various attempts of resolution of the Cyprus problem.



KISA rang the warning bell a long time ago regarding the increasing influence of the neo-Nazi, neo-fascist organisation ELAM. At the same time, we had expressed the immediate need for the establishment of a common code of conduct and stance of all parties against ELAM in the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, instead of this, almost all the parliamentary parties show no hesitation in “joining forces” with the neo-Nazis, ignoring the fact that this particular tactic contributes to the establishment of the neo-Nazi movement in the political life of the country and in short, legitimizes its actions in society. Moreover, the “legitimisation” of ELAM in parliament coincides with a period of revelations that confirm the Nazi spirit of Golden Dawn. At this point, it is important to note that Golden Dawn and ELAM are not just “sister parties” but one and the same. In addition to the fact that the head of ELAM, C. Christou states that “we are the Golden Dawn of Cyprus”, he himself has served as a member of the select squad of “bodyguards” (with the “red caps”) of the “Führer” of the Greek Nazis, N. Michaloliakos.



Based on the above, KISA calls:
# Even at the last moment, the political parties to realise the dangers lurking in the political legitimization and further strengthening of ELAM and, steering clear of populism, to proceed with the establishment of a common code to deal with ELAM in the House of Representatives but also more broadly.
# The government to finally proceed with putting together a complete and integrated nation-wide plan of action to combat racism, nationalism and crimes committed on this basis.
# The immediate and effective investigation of all incidents of racist violence and hate crimes, including those committed against our Turkish Cypriot compatriots, as well as the exemplary punishment of the perpetrators.


© KISA
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Danish man burning Quran faces blasphemy case

Case is first time Danish prosecutors have charged anyone with blasphemy in 46 years

23/2/2017- A Danish man who posed a video of himself setting fire to the Quran on Facebook has been charged with blasphemy in the first such prosecution for 46 years. The 42-year-old suspect put the clip, entitled “Consider your neighbour: it stinks when it burns" to a group called “YES TO FREEDOM – NO TO ISLAM” in December 2015. Jan Reckendorff, from the public prosecutor’s office in Viborg, said: “It is the prosecution's view that circumstances involving the burning of holy books such as the Bible and the Quran can in some cases be a violation of the blasphemy clause, which covers public scorn or mockery of religion. “It is our opinion that the circumstances of this case mean it should be prosecuted so the courts now have an opportunity to take a position on the matter.” Judges in Aalborg will heard the case, although a date has not yet been set.

The maximum sentence for blasphemy is four months in prison but Mr Reckendorff said prosecutors were more likely to seek a fine. Copies of the Quran are treated with reverence by Muslims and any move to desecrate or destroy the holy book is seen as a grave insult. Rumours of Quran burnings have sparked arrests, lynchings and riots in Muslim-majority countries, while the move has been appropriated by the far-right and anti-Islamic groups, including the Westboro Baptist Church in America. Under clause 140 of Denmark’s penal code, anyone can be imprisoned or fined for publicly insulting or degrading religious doctrines or worship.

Only four blasphemy prosecutions have ever been attempted in the country. The last was in 1971, when two Denmark Radio producers were acquitted after airing a song mocking Christianity. Two people were previously fined in 1946 after acting out a “baptism” at a ball in Copenhagen, while four others were sentenced for putting up anti-Semitic posters and leaflets in 1938. At least a dozen other cases have been considered but not charged, including in 2006 when prosecutors decided to stop an investigation into the Jyllands-Posten newspaper over a controversial set of caricatures under the headline “The Face of Mohamed”. The publication sparked protests around the world, with insulting the Prophet seen as a grave offence to Muslims and Islamic scholars interpreting Quran verses on idolatry to forbid any representation of Mohamed.
© The Independent

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Croatia Risks Losing EU Cash For Anti-Discrimination Plan

Croatia risks losing possible access to 6.8 billion euros in EU funds because the government is behind schedule in passing its national plan for fighting discrimination.

23/2/2017- Delays in implementing a promised national plan for fighting discrimination mean Croatia may lose access to the EU’s "Competition and Cohesion" program funds, as it is unlikely the plan can be adopted in time, an expert told BIRN. The plan, specifying how numerous state institutions should implement anti-discrimination measures, should have been passed by the end of 2016. With a new deadline in summer looming, no members of the working group have yet been chosen. The government’s Office for Human Rights and National Minorities’ Rights last Friday opened a tender for civil society members of the working group for the 2017-2022 period. It will close on March 1.

Sara Lalic, from the Centre for Peace Studies, an NGO, said she had been a member of the working group in 2014 and 2015 when the national plan for the 2015-2020 period was passed. “With a few months of very intensive work, the working group could draft some kind of a document … but not a document that has any quality,” Lalic told BIRN, recalling that her working group had worked on a draft of the plan for ten months, and explaining that another three months are usually needed for all state institutions implementing the plan to evaluate the document, as well hold as an obligatory public discussion process. The Foreign Ministry gave a negative review of the existing draft, but refused to specify the reasons, the daily Novi list reported on Friday.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister and Vice Prime Minister Davor Ivo Stier – known for his conservative views – has assigned Ladislav Ilcic, president of the small right-wing Christian party, Hrast [Oak] - Movement for Successful Croatia, as his special advisor. When the opposition centre-left Social Democratic Party, SDP, last week criticised the decision not to accept the current draft of the plan, Hrast MP Hrvoje Zekanovic warned that the SDP “won’t be satisfied” with how the new plan looks. Zekanovic said the existing plan working group “presents sex equality as gender equality, and these things are different”, adding that he “believes and strongly hopes” that the NGOs involved in the current working group “won’t work on the new one [national plan]”.

Ilcic and Hrast are closely connected to conservative NGOs, such as Voice of Parents for Children, GROZD, which advocates Christian family values. GROZD campaigned especially against introducing sex education courses into public schools, claiming they promoted homosexuality. In the last public debate on the plan, GROZD also criticised it for introducing gender equality, claiming that concepts based on gender ideology had been “scientifically discarded”. GROZD also complained that the plan emphasised multiculturalism and did not speak about the need for patriotism - and that it advocated introducing civic education in schools as an alternative to religious education. A different composition for the working group is possible since the Council for the Development of the Civil Society, which approved the last group’s members from civil society, has been formed but is not yet constituted.

conservative views –  has assigned Ladislav Ilcic, president of the small right-wing Christian party, Hrast [Oak] - Movement for Successful Croatia, as his special advisor. - See more at: http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/croatia-risks-losing-funds-due-to-anti-discrimination-plan-02-22-2017#sthash.17H3obTV.dpuf

© Balkan Insight
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Croatia: Far-Right Attacks on University Condemned

Far-right claims that Serbs are 'taking over' an important university in Croatia have met widespread condemnation and derision.

22/2/2017- Some far-right media outlets in Croatia have been condemned for publishing a press release from an alleged initiative of academics called "Let’s Save Rijeka" claiming that Serbian groups with the help of some political parties are trying to take control of the university in the Croatian city of Rijeka. Those named in the statement have dismissed the claims as nonsense and as borderline hate speech. The press release does not mention any names of the people supporting it or give any contacts. The so-called initiative also has no website or profile on social networks. As evidence for its claims, the initiative said the son of Croatian Serb leader Milorad Pupovac would now be employed at the university and that its provost, Snjezana Prijic Samarzija, who is running for the post of rector, graduated from Belgrade University. “We oppose the hegemonic plans of taking over academic and cultural institutions in Rijeka on the platform of Great Serbian ideology,” the initiative says, adding that the rector on leave, Pero Lucin has allowed the university to become “a sort of academic SAO Krajina”, referring to the breakaway Croatian Serb statelet in the 1990s.

The initiative also mentioned the role played by the centre-left Social Democratic Party, SDP, through the former Science, Education and Sports Minister, Zeljko Jovanovic, and the liberal Pametno (Smart) party, through Jovanovic’s former deputy, Sasa Zelenika. Zelenika told BIRN that he is no longer a member of Pametno, as the release claimed, and added: “People who don’t even have the courage to sign themselves don’t deserve an elaborate comment. “Nevertheless, this shows how communication inside Croatia looks like and how so-called, patriotic internet portals use this for their petty interests. “It is them [the initiative] who can’t get over Yugoslavia because it is Yugoslavia and ethnic labelling that gives purpose to their lives," he added. "It’s then easiest to attack something that doesn’t exist. In our public discourse we have already numbed ourselves to such outbursts of hate while those who should react officially, from the government and others, don’t react,” he continued.

He also said the media should not share press releases that “spread hate speech and ethnic and racial intolerance”, which is contrary to Croatia's constitution, the law on electronic media and different international obligations on human rights. He called the entire press release of the initiative a lie, noting that Pupovac’s son had been elected to his post through an open tender, while neither Pametno nor the SDP nor the Serbian National Council, the body representing Serbs in Croatia, has any influence on Rijeka University, while rectorial elections are held according to laws and regulations. Jovanovic told BIRN that he “doesn’t wish to dignify them with a comment”. University spokesperson Elvira Marinkovic Skomrlj told BIRN that such statements “can’t be called anything else than accusations based on nothing. “It’s best not to comment too much … In the 21st century, to point to someone’s ethnic background is unacceptable,” she added. Prijic Samarzija told BIRN that she could not comment on anything until the elections for the post of university rector are over on February 28.
© Balkan Insight

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Germany: Carnival troop who 'black up' get police escort after racism row

A carnival association has dropped any characters who "black up" from their parade amid accusations of racism. Worried the troop might be attacked, police will escort them during the parade.

24/2/2017- Police in Fulda, Hesse, will escort the Südend troop when they march during the Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) parade, according to a report in Focus magazine. Police say that due to a heightened possibility of violence against the troop, they will also wear bodycams to identify any offenders in the crowd. The troop has come under fire of late as part of their traditional parade involves some characters painting their skin black and a wig with a bone in it. Others in the troop wear ivory colonial uniforms. During the carnival parade different troops dress up as characters from historical eras, with some troops dressing as knights and damsels. The Südend troops have represented the German colonial era. The accusations against them have come from a group of academics from the Fulda College, who say that the troop is spreading a racist and colonial world view.

The group also criticised the costumes in an email, saying that "with this they are normalising and trivialising genocide, oppression, and the deprivation of rights." They demanded that the troop lose the colonial costumes and the "black-facing", calling it "derogatory, inhumane, and racist". German colonial rule in Africa was marked by brutality, including the deaths of around 65,000 members of the local Herero population. Colonial rulers signed a notorious extermination order against the Hereros after they revolted in anger at land seizures in 1904. But many have come out in defence of the carnival troop, saying that they are merely portraying a time in Germany's history. The CDU mayor of Fulda, Heiko Wingenfeld, said the academics "didn't have a clue about Fastnacht (Shrove Tuesday)."

Volker Rippert, spokesperson for another Fulda troop, said that the accusations and the police presence have depressed the mood in the lead up to the climax of the carnival season. "We wanted to joyfully celebrate Fastnacht. But now we don't know what trouble will be brought to the parade. The people affected are on their last legs. They are completely worn down," he said. "The Northend troop dresses as polar bears and penguins. Soon they'll be getting the animal lovers in the neck."
© The Local - Germany

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Germany: Far-right AfD sees worst poll results since 2015

Good news for Angela Merkel, bad news for the far-right: New polls show the AfD falling below double digits for the first time in months, while Merkel's party still has its nose in front.

22/2/217- The poll by the Institute Allensbach and newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung asked participants who they would vote for if an election were held on Sunday. The AfD received just 8.5 percent of the theoretical vote - the first time they have dropped below double digits in the Allensbach poll since last July, and the worst level of support since December 2015 when they fell to 8 percent, Focus magazine observed on Wednesday. Another poll on Wednesday by Forsa research group, RTL and Stern magazine also showed the AfD’s support to be waning, with the party receiving just 8 percent support. This was a drop from 12 percent within just four weeks. "At the moment the AfD can barely gain any points with their strategy to capture voters through the refugee crisis. Furthermore the chaotic administration of US President Donald Trump, which they celebrated at first, is now causing concern given flash points across the world," Forsa researcher Manfred Güllner told Stern.

Since Brexit, Trump’s election win, and right-wing populist parties growing in popularity in Europe, German traditional parties have been more concerned about the AfD’s rise in regards to the upcoming national election. Founded in 2013, the AfD failed to gain seats in the German parliament in the federal election that year, but has since grown in support, as its anti-immigrant rhetoric has chimed with discontent over the refugee crisis. Last year it won double-digit percentages of votes in all five state parliament elections, including in Berlin, and nearly a quarter of the votes in Saxony-Anhalt.

Merkel still squeaks ahead in support
The Allensbach poll also showed Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Union parties (CDU/CSU) to be at the forefront with 33 percent support. They were followed closely at 30.5 percent by the Social Democrats (SPD), whose chancellor candidate Martin Schulz is hoping to upset Merkel’s bid for a fourth term in power. A poll earlier this month by Bild and Insa research group actually placed the SPD one percentage point ahead of Merkel’s Union.
© The Local - Germany

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Germany: Leader of far-right party meets Putin allies in Moscow

21/2/2017- The leader of Germany's far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) held talks with Russian officials during a visit to Moscow at the weekend, including with an ultra-nationalist ally of President Vladimir Putin, a spokesman said on Tuesday. Frauke Petry, whose party is expected to enter parliament for the first time after a federal election on Sept. 24, discussed possible cooperation between Russian and German regional assemblies with her hosts. Her spokesman Oliver Lang said the two sides did not discuss possible financial assistance for the AfD and that there will be more meetings. France's far-right National Front (FN) party in 2014 borrowed 9 million euros ($9.48 million) from Moscow-based First Czech-Russian bank. The bank has lost its license to operate and Russia has started legal proceedings to recover the loan. FN leader Marine Le Pen said that, unlike mainstream parties, the FN had not managed to secure any loans from French banks.

Potential Russian influence over western elections has become a sensitive issue since U.S. intelligence agencies accused their Russian counterparts of seeking to disrupt the U.S. election through hacking and cyber attacks. Moscow has denied the allegations. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the ultra-nationalist leader of the pro-Kremlin Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and a fan of U.S. President Donald Trump, was present at the talks with Petry, a statement posted on the Russian parliament website said. Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the Duma lower house, and his deputy Pyotr Tolstoy were also there. The Duma statement said Volodin and Petry discussed "cooperation of regional parliaments and parties as well as improving contacts between youth organizations". Petry was invited to Russia by local authorities in Moscow, the statement said. The AfD has seats in 10 of Germany's 16 regional parliaments and is expected to become the third-largest party in the Bundestag lower house after the federal election in seven months. Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPO) in December offered to act as a go-between for Trump and Putin after signing a cooperation agreement with the Russian president's party.
© Reuters

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France: Two jewish brothers attacked in Paris street

French police are investigating an assault on two Jewish brothers in a Paris suburb, in which the attackers allegedly shouted anti-Semitic abuse.

24/2/2017- The eldest, 29, and his brother, 17, say one of the attackers was armed with a hacksaw and they both suffered cuts during the struggle. They say they were harassed while driving through Bondy on Tuesday evening, wearing kippas. Bondy is near Aulnay-sous-Bois, an area hit by anti-police rioting this month. No suspects have been detained yet in connection with Tuesday's assault. Bondy is part of Seine-Saint-Denis district, north-eastern Paris, where violence erupted earlier this month because of the alleged rape of a young black man by police. The man, called Theo, left hospital this week after emergency treatment. Violence also rocked some other suburbs. Seine-Saint-Denis has a high density of immigrants, many of them Muslims. The district suffers from high unemployment and urban deprivation. A French group combating anti-Semitism, called BNVCA, said the two Jews had been racially abused first by two assailants who had followed them in a van.

'You're going to die!'
In a statement to police, quoted by French commercial broadcaster LCI, the younger brother says that when the van cut off their car, his brother lowered his window to ask why. "I do what I want on the road," the driver allegedly replied. "You dirty Jews! You pr***s! You're going to die!" The younger man says the driver then ran at his brother wielding a hacksaw, striking him with it as he tried to protect his face from attack. When he saw the attacker aiming for his brother's neck, he struck him and a struggle ensued for the saw, in which his own fingers were cut, he said. Some of the people then intervened to stop the attack, telling the brothers to leave, which they did, going to the casualty ward of a hospital, the younger brother said. An eyewitness told LCI that he had taken a hacksaw off a man involved in the brawl but said he had seen no kippas. "I saw neither Jew nor Muslim nor Christian nor atheist at the scene," he said. "As for the brothers' account, I heard nothing of the kind." The BNVCA initially said that one of the brothers had lost a finger in the attack but they later corrected their account (in French) of the incident.

Anti-Semitism has been a feature of Islamist attacks in France in recent years:
# An Islamist gunman killed four people in a Jewish supermarket during the Paris attacks in January 2015, which included the massacre at Charlie Hebdo magazine
# In 2012 a Jewish school was targeted by gunman Mohammed Merah in a shooting spree that left seven people dead in Toulouse and nearby Montauba
© BBC News

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France: Le Pen film takes aim at far-right momentum

Few things seem to stop French far-right leader Marine Le Pen from rising in the polls. Not investigations for fraud and hate speech, attacks by opponents nor warnings from experts about her programme.

22/2/2017- Will a new, highly critical film nine weeks before the presidential elections make a difference? "Chez Nous" ("This Is Our Land"), which hits screens Wednesday, depicts the political career of a nurse who stands in local elections for a far-right party called the Patriotic Bloc. The plot makes few efforts to disguise its core message about the dangers of the anti-immigrant, anti-EU far right, which has spent years trying to shed its image as a racist, anti-Semitic movement. "'Chez Nous' is targeted at people who are angry and is an attempt to represent them, with their difficulties and their sense of having been betrayed," the film's Belgian director Lucas Belvaux told Telerama magazine. "I want voters to understand exactly what they are supporting when they vote for the FN (Le Pen's National Front)," he added.

The film takes place in the sort of small town in northern France struggling with joblessness and the effects of globalisation that has become fertile ground for the FN. Promising economic nationalism and a crackdown on crime and immigration, Le Pen has targeted the similar type of disgruntled, working-class white voters that propelled Donald Trump to the White House. The film's lead role, played by Emilie Dequenne, is a single mother of two who is looking after her father, a communist-voting former metal worker. "You just talked about a revolution. We're going to do it," she tells him at one point.

- Marketing material? -
Polls currently show Le Pen, who took over the party from her father in 2011, winning the first round of the two-stage presidential vote in April with more than 25 percent. But they also show her falling short of the 50 percent of votes needed to win the second-round runoff, when mainstream parties are expected to unite to keep her out. But after the political shocks of Brexit and Trump in 2016, seasoned political observers caution against predictions. "We should be delighted with this film because I think it's our best travelling salesman at the moment," Le Pen's closest adviser Florian Philippot said on Monday. He added that for him, the film revealed a total "contempt" for the lower classes. It was a change of tactics from the start of the year when he called the film project "scandalous" and a clear attempt to influence the election. Others in the party have come out fighting. The mayor of Henin-Beaumont, an FN stronghold in northern France, sympathised with Le Pen on Twitter, saying she had been badly depicted in what looked to be "a genuine turkey of a film".

- Futile attacks? -
France-based Belvaux told AFP that Le Pen was only "one of several sources of inspiration" for the blonde party boss in the film, played by left-wing star Catherine Jacob. But the two women bear a striking resemblance. "The film doesn't instruct people how to vote," Belvaux said after criticism that his film amounts to political campaigning. It is a "survey of what the party is today, and 90 percent of what is said is true", he added. Le Pen, who was in the headlines again on Tuesday after refusing to wear a headscarf during a visit to Lebanon, is convinced that after the anti-establishment revolts in Britain and the United States, her time has come. She has been helped recently by a scandal that has engulfed her conservative rival Francois Fillon, accused of falsely employing his wife as a parliamentary aide. "2016 was the year the Anglo-Saxon world woke up. In 2017, I am sure, the people of continental Europe will wake up," she said at a meeting of far-right parties in Germany in January.

In the "Anglo-Saxon world", leading entertainers in the film, music and television industries in London and Los Angeles signed petitions and lobbied hard against Brexit and Trump -- to no avail. Hollywood, a bastion of the left, has had to face up to the impotence of its attacks on Trump -- and which may have had the opposite effect to the one desired. "We got cocky and became arrogant and we also became bullies," actress Zoe Saldana, star of "Star Trek" and "Avatar", told AFP last month. "We were trying to single out a man for all these things he was doing wrong... and that created empathy in a big group of people in America that felt bad for him and that are believing in his promises," she said.
© AFP

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France's Le Pen cancels meet with Lebanon grand mufti over headscarf

French far-right National Front presidential candidate Marine Le Pen canceled a meeting on Tuesday with Lebanon's grand mufti, its top cleric for Sunni Muslims, after refusing to wear a headscarf for the encounter.

21/2/2017- Le Pen, among the frontrunners for the presidency, is using a two-day visit to Lebanon to bolster her foreign policy credentials nine weeks from the April 23 first round, and may be partly targeting potential Franco-Lebanese votes. Many Lebanese fled to France, Lebanon's former colonial power, during their country's 1975-1990 civil war and became French citizens. After meeting Christian President Michel Aoun - her first public handshake with a head of state - and Sunni Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri on Monday, she had been scheduled to meet the Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian. He heads the Dar al-Fatwa, the top religious authority for Sunni Muslims in the multireligious country.

"I met the grand mufti of Al-Azhar," she told reporters, referring to a visit in 2015 to Cairo's 1,000-year-old center of Islamic learning. "The highest Sunni authority didn't have this requirement, but it doesn't matter. "You can pass on my respects to the grand mufti, but I will not cover myself up," she said. The cleric's press office said Le Pen's aides had been informed beforehand that a headscarf was required for the meeting and had been "surprised by her refusal". But it was no surprise in the French political context. French law bans headscarves in the public service and for high school pupils, in the name of church-state separation and equal rights for women. Le Pen wants to extend this ban to all public places, a measure that would affect Muslims most of all.

Hariri's Veiled Message
Buoyed by the election of President Donald Trump in the United States and by Britain's vote to leave the European Union, Le Pen's anti-immigration, anti-EU National Front (FN) hopes for similar populist momentum in France. Like Trump, she has said radical Islamism must be faced head on, although she has toned down her party's rhetoric to attract more mainstream support and possibly even woo some Muslim voters disillusioned with France's traditional parties. After meeting Hariri on Monday, Le Pen went against current French policy in Syria by describing President Bashar al-Assad as the "only viable solution" for preventing Islamic State from taking power in Syria. Lebanon has some 1.5 million Syrian refugees. "I explained clearly that ... Bashar al-Assad was obviously today a much more reassuring solution for France than Islamic State would be if it came to power in Syria," she told reporters.

Hariri, whose family has close links to conservative former French President Jacques Chirac and still has a home in France, issued a strongly-worded statement after their meeting. "The most serious error would be to link Islam and Muslims on the one hand and terrorism on the other," Hariri said. "The Lebanese and Arabs, like most of the world, considers that France is the home of human rights and the republican state makes no distinction between citizens on ethnic, religious or class grounds." Speaking after meeting French President Francois Hollande in Paris, Walid Jumblatt, the main political leader of the minority Druze community in Lebanon, said Le Pen had "insulted" the Lebanese and Syrian people.

"I hope France will make a better choice than this fascist right. We cannot ask the Lebanese people to forget the crimes of the Syrian regime against it and we cannot return en masse (Syrians) while there is the Syrian regime. It's a double insult," he said. Syria dominated Lebanese government and politics for years and had a military presence in the country until 2005, when it withdrew following the assassination of Saad's father, former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, and months of anti-Syria protests.
© Reuters

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Sweden: After Trump comments, the reality of crime and migrants

US President Donald Trump's remarks over the weekend that Sweden is paying a high price for its generous asylum policy, including mention of a non-existent terror incident, have baffled Swedes.

21/2/2017- So what is the real link between immigration, delinquency and terrorism in the Scandinavian country?

What did Donald Trump say?
"You look at what's happening in Germany, you look at what's happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They're having problems like they never thought possible," Trump told a campaign-style rally in Florida on Saturday, as he launched into a list of places that have been targeted by terrorists. No serious incident occurred on Friday evening in Sweden and Trump later acknowledged he was referring to a Fox News report, which contained several approximations and exaggerations, and presented Sweden as a violent nation. The Republican president tweeted on Monday: "Give the public a break - The FAKE NEWS media is trying to say that large scale immigration in Sweden is working out just beautifully. NOT!"

Has there been a terrorist act in Sweden?
Yes, but before the large migrant influx in 2014-2015, when Sweden took in the highest number of asylum seekers per capita in Europe. Of the 244,000 people who sought asylum during that period, 34 percent were Syrian and 10 percent were Iraqis. On December 11, 2010, a Swedish citizen of Iraqi origin, Taymour Abdel Wahab, blew himself up in a busy shopping street in central Stockholm. Two people were lightly injured in the attack. More recently, a White House list of 78 terror attacks that received little media attention included a Molotov cocktail attack in October against a Muslim (Shiite) prayer room in Sweden's third city Malmo. A Syrian man was arrested in connection with the attack and no one was injured. The Swedish intelligence agency Sapo has assessed the national terror threat status as "high", the second-highest level on a five-point scale, as around 150 people from Sweden have returned from fighting with the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria.

Has crime risen since the arrival of many refugees?
Sweden registered a record number of crimes per capita in 2015, according to the government agency Swedish Crime Prevention Council (BRA). The figures are just a bit higher than in 2009.

Crimes and misdemeanors rose by 4.1 percent from 2014 to 2015.
Property damage (theft, robbery, burglary) jumped by 7.2 percent between 2014 and 2015.
But violence against persons fell by 0.4 percent and all sexual crimes plunged by 11 percent in the same period, according to BRA.
Detailed crime statistics for 2016 will not be published until the end of March.
Preliminary data shows a jump in attacks on persons (+7 percent), including a sharp rise in rapes (+13 percent) and a drop in attacks on property (-5 percent).
Criminologists noted that changes in statistical methods or penal qualifications may explain annual variations. Comparisons are therefore risky.
Sweden has one of the lowest crime rates in the world with a homicide rate of 1.1 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2015, according to BRA. That is 4.5 times lower than in the United States (4.9 according to the FBI).

Is crime higher among foreigners in general?
Yes. The Swedish police do not provide statistics based on ethnicity but people who were born abroad or whose parents were born abroad are twice as likely to appear in crime statistics than those whose parents were born in Sweden, according to a study by BRA. Nevertheless the vast majority of crimes in the country are committed by the native Swedish population. That study also shows that in similar socio-economic conditions, the risk of getting in trouble with the law is virtually the same. And asylum seekers are also victims of crimes. Last year, 92 refugee housing centres across Sweden were hit by arson attacks. In October 2015, a young neo-Nazi stabbed and killed two teachers and a high-school student with immigrant backgrounds in a southwestern Swedish town
© AFP

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Sweden: Far-right editor's offer to pay travel costs to 'crime-ridden Malmö' backfires

An offer from the editor of a far-right website to pay travel costs and accommodation for any journalist willing to stay in "crime-ridden migrant suburbs" of Malmö appears to have backfired, after dozens of people accepted his pledge on Twitter.

21/2/2017- Paul Joseph Watson made the offer on Wednesday, in response to criticism of US President Donald Trump for making false claims about crime in Sweden. Watson's pledge has since been met with a wave of replies from people willing to make the trip, including comedian Al Murray, broadcaster Matthew Sweet, and Vanity Fair's Kurt Eichenwald. "Can I bring my wife too? I'm excited!" Eichenwald asked eagerly in response: Malmö’s deputy mayor Nils Karlsson even responded, saying he would be happy to meet any journalists sent to the city. Watson has since donated $2,000 to one journalist, US-based Tim Pool, who is crowd-funding an investigative trip to Sweden. The rest of the willing travellers seem destined to be disappointed, however.

The rush to grab a paid trip to Malmö is one of the more light-hearted consequences of the spotlight being thrust on Sweden this week in the wake of US President Trump's bizarre comments last Saturday, which implied a non-existent serious incident had taken place in the country the day before. Trump later clarified by saying that his statement was in reference to a story on Fox News. The story, an interview with filmmaker Ami Horowitz claiming there had been a “surge in both gun violence and rape in Sweden since it began its open door policy,” has since been derided for its factual inaccuracies, and the police officers interviewed for it claim their quotes were taken out of context.

Horowitz denies that their answers were manipulated however, telling Fox News on Monday: "I’ve never had a subject claim, and certainly not prove, that I ever misled them or ever doctored the footage. It’s never happened before. So my record stands for itself, and what you saw on that video clear as day stands for itself."
© The Local - Sweden

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Italy: Lidl staff accused of racism after locking women in recycling container

A video of two Lidl employees tormenting women they had trapped in a recycling container has sparked debate over racism in Italy.

24/2/2017- Staff at a Tuscan branch of the budget supermarket shut two Roma women in a recycling container after spotting them going through the contents of the bins. The supermarket workers shared a video of the women's frantic cries for help on Facebook. The men filmed themselves smiling at the camera while standing outside the women's makeshift jail. While the women called for help, the men laughed, one repeating the phrase: "You can't go into the rubbish container at Lidl". The video then shows him climbing on top of the closed container to film the women, one of whom shouts desperately while her companion sits silently on the ground. Since it was posted to Facebook on Facebook on Thursday morning, the shocking footage has been viewed over 200,000 times and shared by major Italian news publications.

Lidl Italia quickly condemned the men's actions, but several social media users shared messages in support of the employees, some using racist language. "If you lay the two boys off, my family and I will never set foot in your shop again. Italy for Italians! Well done boys!" read one of the comments on Lidl's Facebook page, while plenty of other users also voiced their support for the staff. The leader of Italy's far-right Northern League party, Matteo Salvini, said the party would offer legal support to the men. Salvini shared the video on his social media channels, saying: "I stand with the workers (I'll contact them to offer legal support) and not the rummaging Roma." Lidl said it "disassociated itself and firmly condemned behaviour of this kind". The company said it was verifying the contents of the video and would take "appropriate measures".
© The Local - Italy

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Italy's anti-discrimination head quits over gay sex club scandal

The head of Italy's anti-discrimination office has resigned after revelations that government money earmarked for combating sexual discrimination had been allocated to clubs offering gay prostitution services, in a scandal which created a media storm.

21/2/2017- Francesco Spano's resignation followed a report by popular television show Le Iene ("The Hyenas") on Sunday which said the National Office against Racial Discrimination (UNAR) had been allocating funds to "cultural" associations which hosted gay sex parties. UNAR head Spano, who was responsible for allocating taxpayers' money to the associations, quit "out of respect" for the work his office performed, the government said in a statement. ANDDOS, the National Association Against Sexual Discrimination, which runs hundreds of gay clubs across Italy, received 55,000 euros ($53,000) in 2016, said Italian daily Corriere della Sera. Explicit undercover images broadcast by Le Iene showed men using a "dark room", designed for those who want to engage in sexual activity with strangers, while the reporter was offered sexual services in return for money in three ANDDOS clubs. Spano told La Repubblica on Tuesday that his resignation was "not an admission of guilt", though he could not explain why he was listed as a member of one of the clubs. The association was supposed to "provide for the creation of support centres for victims of homophobic violence," he told Corriere della Sera.

Call for investigation
Italian consumer association Codacons on Monday demanded Rome prosecutors launch an investigation into the use of public funds by UNAR, which reports to the government's equal opportunities department. "It is difficult to imagine that 'positive action' (against discrimination) could include in any fashion activities which include prostitution," it said in the request for a probe. Italy's Catholic associations and parties on the right of the political spectrum had a field day, demanding minister Maria Elena Boschi, who is in charge of the equal opportunities department, provide explanations to MPs. Giorgia Meloni, head of the right-wing Brothers of Italy party, said UNAR should be shut immediately, with "not one more euro of taxpayers' money thrown away on paying their salaries". LGBT association GayLib warned against a knee-jerk reaction, saying UNAR helped tackle homophobia. "We hope the government intervenes, not to close UNAR, but to verify who receives the money and if necessary demand it be repaid," its national secretary Daniele Priori said, adding that the reputation of Italy's gay movement was at stake.
© AFP

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UK: Polish far-right priest Jacek Miedlar to speak at Britain First Telford rally

Anti-racism campaigners fear 28-year-old's firebrand sermons could radicalise Poles in UK.

24/2/2017- A notorious Catholic priest, who has become an icon for the far-right in Poland, is to speak at an anti-Islam rally in Shropshire – in a sign of the growing links between British "extremists" and nationalists abroad. Jacek Miedlar, branded a "fanatical hate preacher" by anti-racism campaigners in Poland, will march through the town of Telford with activists from Britain First on Saturday (25 February). Following a 2016 Daily Mail report insinuating that Telford was "the new Rotherham", the protest is a rally against alleged child sexual exploitation in the area. Miedlar's planned visit is said by Britain First to be part of the far-right party's attempts to build links with foreign nationalists in preparation for "civil war" with Islam.

His appearance has proven controversial both in the UK and Poland, with his critics accusing him of spreading anti-Semitism, homophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment. The protest has already been condemned by the town's Conservative MP, Lucy Allan. She accused Miedlar and Britain First of "hijacking" the experiences of child sex abuse victims for their own political ends. Miedlar says his critics are simply "leftists" opposed to "Polish patriotism".

Who is Jacek Miedlar?
Jacek Miedlar, 28, from Wroclaw in west Poland – who is currently suspended by his local Catholic church for his firebrand nationalist sermons – has addressed tens of thousands people at right-wing revival rallies in Poland. Often clad in black clerical robes and a hooded top, his style of preaching is far from meek. One video, from a 2015 Polish Independence Day rally in Warsaw, sees him address 50,000 fellow "soldiers". He spouts hatred against the political left, "Islamic aggression" and immigration, with his speech interspersed with dramatic chants of "God, honor, fatherland" and calls for the "warriors of Great Poland" to rise up. Anti-racism campaigners in Poland say the prospect of seeing similar scenes on the streets of the UK – where he could "radicalise" some of the 800,000 Poles living here – should be a serious concern to the British authorities.

"Miedlar is a radical nationalist on every front: anti-gay, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic," Rafal Pankowski, a professor at Warsaw's Collegium Civitas and director of Poland's Never Again anti-racism group, told IBTimes UK. "The level of hatred is quite exceptional. He really stands out as a fanatical hate preacher. He appeared on the far-right scene about three years ago, and in those three years he's really made a name for himself as a very outspoken and extreme preacher. "He has a certain audience among younger Poles in the UK; it's not the first time a Polish far-right speaker has come to the UK [...] but Miedlar stands out. I would put him on the same level as Islamic hate preachers. It's something the British authorities should take seriously."

Miedlar has attracted numerous headlines in the Polish media over the years. Last year, he was accused of calling Jews a "cancer" who had "swept Poland" during an address to crowds at a far-right rally in Bialystok, north-eastern Poland. He was eventually cleared of alleged hate-speech offences linked with the comments. Miedlar sparked controversy again by then posting a message to his 10,000 Twitter followers saying: "Bialystok investigation discontinued! Zero tolerance for 'Jewish cowardice'. Salut!" The tweet, later deleted, saw him attach a picture of Poles in Myslenice performing a Nazi-style salute taken on 23 June, 1936 when a group of nationalists took part in an anti-Jewish riot, the Times of Israel reported. His controversial speeches, including to followers of Poland's fascist National Radical Camp (ONR), eventually led him to be suspended from his local Catholic church chapter. But Miedlar says he has been unfairly tarnished by "leftist" critics who are simply ideologically opposed to "patriotism".

"I want to rebuild a Chrisitan Europe"
Denying he was spreading anti-Semitism, he told IBTimes UK this week: "Sadly, we live in times when those with Catholic views, or who support patriotism or Polish nationalism which is in accordance with Catholic doctrine, attracts criticism. That's the stick in the hands of the hated leftists." He added: "If homophobia is standing against deviancy, as well as against the adoption of children by homosexual couples, and anti-semitism is uncovering anti-Polish feeling and being against historical lies propagated by [the Israeli media] which suggests Poles collaborated with Nazis or that Poles helped Jews during the WW2 as a result of greed, not altruism, then Yes – I am an anti-Semite. "However, if using the real definition, according to which homophobia is the hate of homosexuals and anti-Semitism is the hate of Semites – I stress Semites, because Semites are not just Jews – then calling me an anti-Semite and homophobic is a crime." He said he accepted Britain First's invitation to speak in the UK to "pool our strength to rebuild a Christian Europe" – a goal he said was endangered by fundamental Islam and immigration. "It's high time we started working together." 

Polish far-right in the UK
Miedlar's invitation to speak in Telford, where Polish is the most spoken language after English, comes after anti-extremism researchers in the UK warned last year that several Polish far-right groups had become active in the UK. Hope Not Hate, Britain's most prominent anti-extremism organisation, said Miedlar's visit would bring "rabid extremism to Telford". In a blog post this week, the charity added in no uncertain terms: "Jacek Miedlar is an anti-Semite and disgraced Catholic Priest who last year called Jews a 'cancer' and who claims 'the biggest enemies of the world are Jewish imperialists and masons.'" Earlier this month, details of a Foreign Office report, released to The Times, were published showing how far right extremists from across Europe had joined forces to take part in a "conservative congress" in Russia. Britain's delegation included Britain First's founder, Jim Dowson, and former British National Party leader Nick Griffin.

In a stark interview with IBTimes UK, Britain First – a radical Christian party accused by its own critics of stoking up anti-Muslim hatred in towns across the UK – says its invitation to have Miedlar speak is part of efforts to build links with nationalists abroad in preparation for "civil war". "Anyone who thinks they can go this struggle alone is insane," the party's deputy leader, Jayda Fransen, told IBTimes UK. "I do honestly believe we are heading for civil war and we will need the support of other groups who also believe we are heading for civil war. At that stage we will all need to unite - we have a common enemy, and that is Islam." Leader Paul Golding, who was last month released from prison after being convicted for one of the party's so-called "mosque invasions" in Cardiff, said his party had forged relationships with right-wing "patriot" groups in Europe, the United States and Russia.

While boasting the largest following on Facebook of all the political parties in the UK, Britain First's rallies have consistently failed to draw significant crowds of supporters. But talk of Miedlar's arrival in Telford has already spread among the town's Polish community. Golding and Fransen will be hoping the priest's presence will see the streets filled with Polish fans – fulfilling the party's ambition of attracting Poles living in the UK to its cause.
The Home Office has been contacted by IBTimes UK for a comment on if it is aware of Miedlar's visit.
© The International Business Times - UK

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UK: Tory MP: 'stop being so sentimental’ about Syrian child refugees'

23/2/2017- A Conservative MP has caused anger after she urged people to “stop being so sentimental” about Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict to Europe. Pauline Latham, the MP for Mid Derbyshire, said that Syrian refugees who had made it to Europe were not under threat and were in safe countries. She said taking in refugees was acting as “pull factor” and that it would be best for them to stay in their home region. The comments, which the MP later said were "misconstrued" and a "poor choice of words", came in a debate in the House of Commons about the Government’s closure of the Dubs scheme on child refugees. The Government had been expected to take 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees in from camps in Europe but instead closed the scheme after 350. Ministers said they believe the scheme was acting as an “incentive” for children to travel to Europe as refugees.

Ms Latham said that reported poor conditions in the camps, such as rat infestation, were not a matter for the UK. “We do need to provide as much as we can to keep the people in the [Middle East] region because what most Syrians want to do is to go home once it is safe to do so. If they’ve come here they will not be able to go home as easily,” she told MPs. “I would like to say that although I understand the sentiments of what people say we should stop being so sentimental and we should actually be looking at what the best thing to do for these families and children [is] which is to keep them in the region – and that’s what this government are doing.” The MP’s comments elicited shouts of anger from other MPs in the chamber. SNP Chris Law, who was speaking straight after Ms Latham said he was “shocked, actually, to hear the last comments about sentimentality”. “Many children in Greece find themselves in detention centres where they’re made to sleep in crowded, dirty, rat infested cells, often without mattresses and are deprived of basic sanitation and privacy,” he said.

“It is reported that some boys are even turning to prostitution to keep themselves alive. If I am sentimental for bringing this up then I am very proud to be so because these are some of the basic facts.” Ms Latham interjected to respond: “If we’re talking about Greece and being rat infested and no mattresses, whose fault is that? That’s Greece’s fault and they should be helping those children.” Mr Law replied: “A simple fact of the matter: the world is a small place and we all belong in it.” Labour MP Stella Creasy said Ms Latham should tell herself “whatever [she] has to tell herself to sleep at night”. “The member of mid Derbyshire talks about other countries and their responsibilities – she is right, I agree with her, France, Greece, Italy, we should all be doing more. But because one country is not doing enough does not absolve us of doing our bit we could do, and that is the problem,” she argued. She later added: “Whatever the member for mid Derbyshire has to tell herself to sleep at night about this issue, let her tell herself that.

“Let us not as a house decry these children but stand up for them, because that is the best tradition, that is what will keep them safe and that is what will do justice to this House and this country.” Ms Latham said in a statement issued after the debate that her comments had been “misconstrued”. She added that she had used a “poor choice of words”. "I fear I have been misconstrued in my speech today. I claimed we must think logically and not sentimentally in order to do what is best for the children. As I stated, 'we should stop being so sentimental and we should actually be looking at what the best thing to do [is] for these families and children'," she said. "I admit this was not the best choice of words from me, and what I meant is that we should analyse the issue objectively to provide the most useful help and ensure the greatest level of safety for the children, not that we should not care. I visited a Jordanian refugee camp out of concern for refugees, not a lack of it."

In the debate on Thursday, MPs from all parties – including the Conservatives – were critical of the Government’s early closure of the scheme. On Wednesday, charity representatives told MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee that people traffickers were likely to benefit from a £20m windfall due to the closure of the scheme as children turned to illegal means of getting to the UK. Others warned of “severe confusion” on the ground among the children over what the UK’s policy was.
© The Independent

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UK: Art gallery criticised over neo-Nazi artwork and hosting racist speakers

Artists and campaigners call for closure of the LD50 gallery after accusing it of promoting ‘hate speech not free speech’ but owner criticises protesters

22/2/2017- A London art gallery has come under criticism for exhibiting neo-Nazi artwork and hosting openly racist speakers. This weekend, artists and campaigners will protest calling for the closure of LD50, in Dalston, east London, after accusations the gallery gave a platform to anti-immigrant, Islamophobic and “alt-right” figures and promoted “hate speech not free speech”. Guests at LD50’s Neoreaction conference last summer included Brett Stevens, the white supremacist whose writing was an inspiration to Oslo far-right terrorist Anders Breivik, who murdered 77 people in 2011. After Breivik’s attack, Stevens wrote: “I am honored to be so mentioned by someone who is clearly far braver than I, no comment on his methods, but he chose to act where many of us write, think and dream.”

Others on the conference programme included anti-immigration activist Peter Brimelow, who runs Vdare, described by the Southern Poverty Law Centre as “an anti-immigration hate website” that “regularly publishes articles by prominent white nationalists, race scientists and antisemites”. Brimelow’s talk at LD50 was orientated around the threat imposed on “native white Americans” by a “great influx of third world immigration”. He said that while it was socially acceptable for Hispanic and Asian ethnic activists to call for more immigration, the only people who get criticised are whites; described the Black Lives Matter movement as a Democratic party racket purely designed to increase turmoil; and referred to the Jewish faction of the Democratic party vote as problematic.

Gallery owner Lucia Diego said in a statement published on the LD50 website that the programme was intended to create “a dialogue between two different and contrasting ideologies” and that the audience for the conference was “very liberal”. However, a recording of Brimelow’s talk reveals that members of the audience who contributed to the discussion were predominately sympathetic to his views, agreeing with his statement about the need to remove the “corrupt treacherous elite” in government and one professing support for David Duke, the former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and Holocaust denier. Shut Down LD50 has accused the gallery, which has previously exhibited works by Turner Prize nominees Jake and Dinos Chapman, of curating “one of the most extensive programmes of racist hate speech to take place in London over the past 10 years”. They said the fact that the list of names of the conference speakers had been made public only after the event was finished was telling. “At first in secret, LD50 has acted as a platform for a cross-section of the most virulent advocates of contemporary extreme-right ideology.”

Alongside the conference, the gallery hosted an art exhibition titled Amerika, which explored far-right and Nazi imagery and featured video works of far-right and neoreactive texts being read out by avatars. A pink swastika was graffitied onto the gallery front door last week. Writing on his ultra-conservative blog, Amerika.org – which is directly linked to on the gallery’s website – Stevens said the neoreaction conference had been held behind a “veil of secrecy to prevent the usual suspects (Leftists and other neurotics) from attacking”. Last week, in an Facebook exchange with artist Sophie Jung, Diego described the left as “more like a fascist organisation than the real fascists” and indicated her support for Donald Trump, writing: “I’m not even sure if I disagree with the Muslim ban. I see it also as a temporary measure in order for America to get sorted while they transition to another form of government.”

In an open letter, Shut Down LD50 said that it could not “creditably be argued that the talk series was an instance of artistic license or of the free-spirited ‘exploration’ of ideas. “The fact that the gallerists decided to make the details of their conference public only in late November, after the Trump election victory, is the clearest evidence of conscious purpose”. Andrew Osborne, a fine art technician at the Royal College of Art, who is among the campaigners, said they would be handing out 2,000 leaflets in the area around the gallery on Saturday to make the public aware of the gallery’s allegiances, adding that the campaign had the backing of businesses neighbouring the gallery. “We believe this is a matter of public safety,” he added.

In her statement, Diego defended the gallery’s programme, writing: “We feel that the exceptionally aggressive, militant and hyperbolic reaction this has provoked vindicates our suspicion that at some point, as a society, we have drifted into a cultural echo chamber.” She said the reaction of the protesters was proof that anyone who disagreed with the left was “publicly vilified, delegitimated and intimidated with menaces”. “Our position has always been that the role of art is to provide a vehicle for the free exploration of ideas, even and perhaps especially where these are challenging, controversial or indeed distasteful for some individuals to contemplate.”
© The Guardian.

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British Muslim teacher denied entry to US on school trip

Juhel Miah from south Wales was removed from plane in Reykjavik despite suspension of president’s travel ban

20/2/2017- A British Muslim schoolteacher travelling to New York last week as a member of a school party from south Wales was denied entry to the United States. Juhel Miah and a group of children and other teachers were about to take off from Iceland on 16 February on their way to the US when he was removed from the plane at Reykjavik. The previous week, on the 10 February, a US appeals court had upheld a decision to suspend Donald Trump’s executive order that temporarily banned entry to the country from seven Muslim-majority countries. The trip proceeded as planned but pupils and colleagues from Llangatwg comprehensive in Aberdulais were left shocked and distressed after the maths teacher, who had valid visa documentation, was escorted from the aircraft by security personnel.

Miah, 25, from Swansea, said he was made to feel like a criminal and was so worried by what happened to him that he did not eat or sleep for two days. He told Wales Online that shortly before the flight was due to leave he was approached by an official who told him he could not board the plane. “Everyone was looking at me,” Miah said. “As I was getting my luggage the teachers and kids were confused. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I was being escorted out. It made me feel like a criminal. I couldn’t speak, I was lost for words. “We got to the airport, and as soon as we got to check in, the lady behind the desk read my passport and then straight away said you’ve been selected for a random security check. “She took me to the room, made me stand on a stool, take my shoes off, jacket off, checked under my foot, got a swab to brush over my hand and bag, my clothing and school hoodie. They gave me the all clear and then I went. The search was about five minutes. There were five or six people in the room, two searched me.”

He was taken to a hotel. “I was waiting for two hours for a room. It was horrendous. There were holes in the sheets, a dirty bag under the bed, the light wasn’t working and only the lamp was working. “My phone battery was dying so I went to my suitcase, and that’s when I realised the padlock was missing. It had gone. I was so paranoid, I was scared, I didn’t sleep or eat for two days.” The school booked him on to a flight back to the UK. The school party was due to return to the UK on 20 February. The teacher’s employer, Neath Port Talbot council, has written to the US embassy in London demanding an explanation and the issue is being taken up by Welsh politicians. A council spokesman said Miah was left feeling belittled at what it described as “an unjustified act of discrimination”. The council said the teacher is a British citizen and does not have dual nationality.

The spokesman said: “Juhel Miah was with a party from Llangatwg comprehensive who travelled initially to Iceland en route to New York last week. Mr Miah boarded the onward flight in Reykjavik on 16 February but was escorted from the aircraft by security personnel. While the school trip proceeded as planned, Mr Miah’s removal from the flight left pupils and colleagues shocked and distressed. “The local authority understands that Mr Miah was refused permission by the United States authorities to fly to New York, despite being issued with a valid visa for travel. Mr Miah is a popular and respected teacher at Llangatwg comprehensive school. He is a Welsh Muslim. “We are appalled by the treatment of Mr Miah and are demanding an explanation. The matter has also been raised with our local MP. “No satisfactory reason has been provided for refusing entry to the United States – either at the airport in Iceland or subsequently at the US embassy in Reykjavik. Mr Miah attempted to visit the embassy but was denied access to the building. Understandably he feels belittled and upset at what appears to be an unjustified act of discrimination.”

Trump’s travel ban was unveiled at the end of his first week in office. While the White House insisted that he was fulfilling a campaign promise to toughen vetting procedures for people coming from countries with terror ties, the order caused chaos at airports in the US and sparked protests across the world. In its original form, the order temporarily suspended all travel to the US for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya for 90 days. The order was put on hold by the courts and a revised version has not yet been signed though it is understood from a draft that the same seven countries will be targeted in it. Neath Port Talbot council pointed out that UK government advice states: “We have confirmed with the US government that British passport holders (regardless of country of birth or whether they hold another passport/nationality) aren’t affected by the executive order.”

It also drew attention to a statement made by the foreign secretary Boris Johnson at the end of last month in the House of Commons, when he said: “We have received assurances from the US embassy that the executive order will make no difference to any British passport holder, irrespective of their country of birth or whether they hold another passport.” The council said Miah’s experience casts serious doubts on whether either of the statements could be relied upon. Neath Labour AM Jeremy Miles said he was appalled to hear about the incident. He said he would be raising the issue with the Welsh government to ask them to make representations to the British government. The Foreign Office is aware of the case. A spokeswoman said: “We are providing support to a British man who was prevented from boarding a flight in Reykjavik.” There was no immediate response from the US embassy in London.
© The Guardian.

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UK: Gay couple ‘beaten up in homophobic attack on busy train’

An ice skating coach has told how he and his boyfriend were beaten up on a London-bound train in an horrific homophobic attack following a Valentine's Day meal.

18/2/2017- Phil Poole, 35, said he was set upon by a gang of thugs as he travelled into the capital with his boyfriend Zbynek Zatloukal, 26 following a night out in Reading. The couple said they were viciously assaulted by a group of up to five men who boarded the Great Western Railway train in west London. The thugs hurled a homophobic slur at Mr Zatloukal while Mr Poole slept on his shoulder after the pair missed their stop at Maidenhead, where they both live. Mr Poole said he was woken by a punch to the face after his partner was briefly knocked out. He said he told the gang to “leave us alone”. He told the Standard: “I can’t really remember much about what happened because I was in such shock when I woke up.

I managed to get up and stumble down the carriageway but then they followed me. “I’m not a violent person at all. I’ve never even been punched so I didn’t even know how to defend myself." Mr Poole said horrified passengers alerted police who boarded the train at Ealing where the gang fled the scene. He said he suffered severe cuts and bruises and was left traumatised by the attack while his partner suffered a suspected broken eye socket and had to be stretchered out of the carriage. He added: “I’m still a bit jumpy and I think it could be a while before I get back on a train. “I was just sleeping on his shoulder it wasn’t like I was making out with him, I can understand if people dislike couples kissing on the train.” The pair were taken to Ealing Hospital for treatment. A British Transport Police spokeswoman said the force was aware and was investigating.
© The Evening Standard.

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Bulgaria: Lukov March 2017 goes ahead in spite of mayoral ban over foreign neo-Nazi involvement

18/2/2017- The torchlight Lukov March proceeded through the streets of Bulgaria’s capital Sofia on the evening of February 18 in spite of a ban ordered by mayor Yordanka Fandukova following information from Interpol about foreign neo-Nazi groups taking part in the procession. The announcement of the ban came shortly before the start of the march, which proceeded under the customary heavy police escort. During the march, public transport was diverted. Sofia police had passed on to Fandukova information sent via Interpol in Warsaw about Polish citizens involved in an organised group spreading pro-Nazi propaganda taking part in the Lukov March. Before the march started, a man was arrested in possession of what was described as a neuro-paralytic spray. Six others were removed from the scene of the start of the march, outside the National Palace of Culture, because they were drunk.

The Sofia municipality had, ahead of the annual event, agreed only to participants laying wreaths at the house of Hristo Lukov in the capital city’s Trakiya Street. As has happened routinely for several years, this restriction had no effect. Foreign participation in the Lukov March is not new. In past years, it has drawn in groups such as Nordic Resistance. The 2017 version saw the waving of a number of foreign flags and far-right banners, at an event supposedly dedicated to Bulgarian national pride. The Lukov March honours a Bulgarian general who led the far-right ultra-nationalist Union of Bulgarian National Legions in the 1930s and 1940s. Condemned by his latter-day critics as a pro-Nazi and anti-Semite, Lukov was assassinated on February 13 1943 by communist partisans.

The 2017 march had been the subject of calls for a ban from the Shalom Organisation of the Jews in Bulgaria and the State of Israel’s embassy. The US embassy also issued a statement noting that Lukov had been known as a pro-Nazi. Speaking to public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television, Israel’s ambassador in Sofia, Irit Lilian, said that marching in the city centre, waving neo-Nazi and fascist symbols, chanting against minorities, against immigrants and against Jews was totally unacceptable. “We cannot accept it, no one should accept it. And we sincerely hope, we believe that the authorities will protect public order, but this is about much more than public order. It’s about the values ​​of this country, the legacy of Bulgaria as a tolerant country. As a country saved Jews in World War 2,” the Israeli ambassador said.
© The Sofia Globe

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Spain: Protesters in Barcelona urge Spain to take in more refugees

18/2/2017- At least 160,000 protesters marched Saturday in Barcelona to demand that Spain's conservative-led government increase its efforts to take in refugees from war-torn countries like Syria. Spain has accepted just 1,100 refugees of the over 17,000 it has pledged to take in. Marchers held a large banner and signs in Catalan with the slogans "Enough Excuses! Take Them In Now!" and "No More Deaths, Open The Borders!" as they made their way through the city center to its Mediterranean coast. Barcelona police said 160,000 people took part in the march, while organizers said it reached 300,000 participants. "There is an ample consensus in Catalonia to demand that the (government's) commitments are upheld," said organizer Ruben Wagensberg. In Sept. 2015, Spain's government pledged to bring 17,337 refugees in within two years: 15,888 from camps in Italy and Greece and 1,449 from Turkey and Libya.

On Thursday, a group of 66 refugees— 65 Syrians and one Iraqi— who arrived in Madrid raised the total number of refugees that Spain has taken in to just 1,100. Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau, a former anti-eviction activist who has pushed Spain's government to let her city accept more refugees, joined the march. "It is very important that in a Europe of uncertainty where xenophobia is on the rise for Barcelona to be a capital of hope," Colau said. Colau had also criticized the federal government's stance toward refugees in December at a Vatican conference on Europe's refugee crisis. In contrast to Spain, fellow European Union member Germany took in 890,000 asylum-seekers in 2015 and another 280,000 in 2016. Germany decided last year on more than 695,000 asylum applications. Nearly 60 percent of the applicants were granted either full refugee status or a lesser form of protection.
© The Associated Press

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Ireland: Almost half of racism victims are children

Almost half of those subject to racism in housing estates are children while the majority of victims are of black African descent, a new study shows.

18/2/2017- Racist harassment in housing is much more prevalent and serious than previously realised, according to new research by the Immigrant Council of Ireland. Two attempted suicides have been identified as being a direct result of racially motivated attacks and three families have “ended up becoming virtually homeless,” according to the ICI which called for hate crime laws to be introduced. The report, Taking Racism Seriously details housing- related racist incidents, examines the challenges faced and outlines racially motivated attacks on foreigners, especially under-18s. “This research was inspired by calls to our own anti-racism hotline and the increasing number of incidents of racial harassment in people’s homes or the vicinity,” said the council’s CEO Brian Killoran.

“We uncovered the nature of racist harassment in housing is much more violent than in other settings such as in the workplace or in schools and colleges. “We were left in no doubt of the serious impact racial abuse and harassment has on people, with, shockingly, two suicide attempts reported as a direct result of racially-motivated anti-social behaviour. “Three families ended up becoming virtually homeless and there were also many reports of sleep disturbance, anxiety, fear of leaving home or of leaving children to play outside.” The ICI said the report, produced with Dublin City Council, highlighted clear gaps in policy, training and procedure for those working in local housing authorities and the gardaí.

“Given the increasing diversity of Irish society, there is a risk this issue could mushroom and overwhelm many services,” Mr Killoran warned. “We, therefore, have a responsibility to put policies and practices in place which will prevent the problem escalating,” he said. Responding to the report, Sr Stanislaus Kennedy, founder of the Immigrant Council, said many people were unaware of the levels of racially motivated abuse occurring in Ireland. “Our homes should be sacred places, places of sanctuary. This is an invasion of people’s privacy,” she said. “It’s essential we find a way to develop a robust response that will really bring about change. Now is the time, not in 10 years.”

Meanwhile, a separate survey reveals 73% of adults think the world is becoming a more dangerous place to live in with most of them attributing this to terrorism, war and radical groups. A study by iReach Insights shows 42% of adults gave up holiday in certain cities because of terrorism while 24% stayed clear of crowded, popular venues. The survey found that 31% of people think that the problem of terrorism is under- reported by the media while 79% thought that increased tolerance among all existing religions would help to eradicate it.
© The Irish Examiner.

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Belarus: Demonstrations Throughout Against “Parasite” Law

A spate of protests against a new tax has spread beyond the Belarusian capital, Minsk. The unpopular labor law obliges citizens to pay the equivalent of $250 if they work less than half the year.

19/2/2017- Local media in Belarus reported on Sunday that around 2,000 demonstrators had taken to the streets of Gomel, the country's second city, while hundreds more marched in other cities. The protests were unauthorized but appeared to be tolerated by the authorities with no reports of arrests. The new tax, widely known as the "Law against social parasites" or the "anti-sponging law" is enshrined in a decree on preventing social dependency.

Almost half a million liable
Under the law, adults who declare less than 183 days of work per year and do not register with state labor exchanges have to pay the equivalent to $250 in compensation for lost taxes - more than half an average monthly salary. Tax authorities say around 470,000 people are liable for the tax, but fewer than 10 percent have paid, generating just $6 million in extra revenue for the government.

Economic turmoil
While focusing on the new law, demonstrators also expressed their general dissatisfaction with the authoritarian government of President Alexander Lukashenko who has been in office since 1994. Similar protests were held in the capital, Minsk, on Friday. The demonstration of around 2,000 people marked the biggest opposition action in Belarus since 2011. Belarus has been in recession since 2015 due to a slump in oil prices and contagion from an economic downturn in neighboring Russia, where many Belarusians work in order to send money home.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Racism/sexism stem from 'optical illusion' in brain, 'part of human condition', academic says

But recognising the problem exists can help overcome prejudice and institutional bias with one university reporting stunning results in improving graduation rates among poor, ethnic minority students

18/2/2017- Human beings have a hidden, “implicit bias” against those who appear to be different that makes them prone to fearing large black men, thinking maths is a ‘male’ subject or holding a number of other culturally defined prejudices, academics have said. However, by recognising the problem and taking steps to address it, society can be transformed dramatically for the better. For example, Georgia State University has been able to completely eliminate the gaps in academic performance based on race, ethnicity and poverty — attracting attention from academic institutions in South Africa, where the legacy of apartheid still resonates. An online test has even been developed by Harvard University to enable people to discover just how implicitly biased they are.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston, Professor Lydia Villa-Komaroff said the human mind was a “marvellous machine”. But to make up for its limitations the brain had developed a number of shortcuts which could produce a “cognitive illusion” of knowledge which she described as “a little bit like an optical illusion”. Many people, Professor Villa-Komaroff said, objected to the idea they might have any kind of implicit bias “because they think it means they are prejudiced in some way”. But she said: “Those shortcuts are used by all human beings. Implicit bias is not something limited to one sector of the population. “It is a human thing, all of us are subject to implicit bias that arises because of our evolutionary and cultural history. “So it’s not just a white man or woman who will associate a large black man with possible danger, a black man and a black woman will have that same reaction – in the American culture.

“All of us, men and women alike, will tend to think that the man we see is going to be better at math than the woman that we see.” The shortcut to fear or distrust difference evolved because “we grew up among lions and tigers and bears and people who wanted our property”. “We are prone to think that, because of our necessity to survive, anything that’s different might be threatening and that remains part of the human condition. So we tend to think of differentness as possibly dangerous.” However, the situation is far from hopeless. Professor Villa-Komaroff said: “If we generally recognise this, we can actually ameliorate it. Human beings are very good at compensating for our weaknesses.” She said there had been a realisation within the education community that the US had not been “utilising all the talent available to the country”, but progress had been slow “despite a lot of good efforts and well-meaning efforts”.

However at Georgia State University academics appear to have discovered a way to eradicate differences in performance based on an individual’s background. Dr Timothy Renick, a vice-president at the university, said there had been an “institutional bias” against ethnic minorities from poorer families even if it had appeared to be a level-playing field. This was because they tended not to have the same support network as wealthier students, which could help them from making mistakes like picking the wrong course, that might ultimately lead them to drop out. Georgia State, which teaches 30,000 students, introduced an early warning system to flag up when students were having problems and arrange a meeting with an adviser. In the last 12 months, there had been 52,000 such meetings. The results were remarkable.

The number of students graduating from the university rose by 30 per cent in four years. The number of black men getting a degree in science, technology, engineering and maths increased by 100 per cent. Among Hispanic students, there was a 200 per cent rise. Dr Renick said they were now carrying out a scientific study at 11 different academic institutions in the US to see if this early warning system could help other students. The results have also attracted interest from universities in South Africa, where there are significant gaps in academic performance between black and white.
© The Independent

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Netherlands: MPs back participation declaration to uphold Dutch values

24/2/2017- MPs on Thursday voted in favour of requiring everyone who has to go through the compulsory integration process (inburgering) to sign a document declaring they will uphold Dutch values. The participatieverklaring – participation declaration – includes a commitment to ‘respect’ values, such as freedom of speech, and ‘make an active contribution to Dutch society’. The measure still has to be approved by the upper house of parliament. Once it has senate approval, social affairs minister Lodewijk Asscher plans to make signing the contract compulsory from July 1. People who refuse to sign can be fined up to €340 and, eventually, refused residency rights. Refugee organisation VluchtelingenWerk has pointed out in the past that new arrivals are being asked to sign a document which not all Dutch nationals support or adhere to. D66 parliamentarian Paul van Meenen says that requiring new arrivals to sign the document is creating first and second class citizens.

Labour minister
‘You would think it is a PVV law but it is from a Labour minister,’ Van Meenen told a radio programme on Thursday. The decision to press ahead with the contract follows what the government says are ‘successful trials’ of the concept in 13 councils between March 2014 and March 2015. In total, just over 4,000 people were involved in the trials and 1,500 completed the courses and signed the official declaration, a report for the social affairs ministry shows.

Declaration
What does the participation declaration say? Here’s a translation of the version currently being used in town halls around the country.

Welcome to the Netherlands! The Netherlands is a constitutional democracy. This means that everyone has the same rights and that everyone must obey the same laws. In the Netherlands, the values of freedom, equality and solidarity are central. These values are connected to rights which also apply to you. These values can only be upheld if everyone actively contributes to society. In the Netherlands, participation is extremely important.

Freedom
In the Netherlands, everyone may think, do and say what he will. This means that: Everyone can express their own opinions Everyone may have their own belief and is free to decide whether to believe or not Everyone has the right to his or her own sexual preference Everyone has the right to make their own choices and independence There are boundaries to this. What someone says or does may never conflict with the law. For example, you may not deliberately insult someone, discriminate against them or stimulate hatred.

Equality
In the Netherlands, all citizens are treated equally. Discrimination on the grounds of sex, belief, origin or sexual preference is not accepted.

Solidarity
In the Netherlands, citizens are responsible for society. Citizens have the right to live in a safe environment, to decent housing, to fair labour contracts, a minimum wage when they work, good education and good medical care. The government has a duty to protect people against exploitation and unfair treatment. In principle, citizens must ensure they can look after themselves. If that is not possible, and no-one else can help, the government will offer help.

Participation
In the Netherlands, we ask all citizens to contribute to a pleasant and safe society, for example, by working, going to school or doing voluntary work. This can be done in the neighbourhood, at school or through an association. Speaking Dutch is very important in this.

I declare that I have taken note of the above listed Dutch society values and that I will repect them. I declare that I want to make an active contribution to Dutch society and that I expect to be given the space and the cooperation of my fellow citizens to do this. Signed:

Please note, this is a rough translation by DutchNews.nl for information purposes only
© The Dutch News

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Nederlands: Wilders drops public campaigning due to security corruption scandal

23/2/2017- Geert Wilders has suspended the PVV‘s public election campaign activities because of the corruption scandal involving a key official in the police protection squad. The latest revelations are ‘extremely unsettling’, Wilders said on Twitter. Until all the facts have been uncovered, the PVV will not take part in any public campaign activities, Wilders said. The NRC reported on Wednesday that one officer in the squad, which is charged with protecting the royal family as well as Wilders, had been arrested on suspicion of leaking information to a money-laundering gang. On Thursday, the AD said Faris K had been under suspicion when he worked in Utrecht. Sources also told the paper his brother had been sacked by the police for similar offences. Meanwhile, judges in The Hague ruled on Thursday that Faris should not be remanded in custody while the investigation continues. Suspects can only be kept in jail ahead of their trial if they are suspected of serious crimes or are potential absconders. Ministers said on Wednesday there is no reason to think that Wilders’ security had been compromised by K.

ICARE Update 24/2: Two more policemen (from Wilders' protection detail) suspended due to fraud charges.
© The Dutch News

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Netherlands: Refugees Shaken By Far-Right Surge

Geert Wilders, an anti-Muslim populist leading the polls ahead of March elections, promises to "make the Netherlands ours again"

22/2/2017- Ultra-nationalist Dutch politician Geert Wilders is spurring anxiety among refugees who say that his growing popularity ahead of the March 15 elections is dragging the famously liberal country rightward. Yahia, an administrator of the Facebook group “Syrians in the Netherlands,” said that many worry for the future of aid and family reunification programs currently available to refugees in the country. “Most Dutch are good people, but I think the greatest fear is that [Wilders’ win could] change Dutch people’s attitude toward the Syrians,” said Yahia, who is himself a Syrian refugee from Damascus, living in the Netherlands since 2014. Like others interviewed for this article, he requested his last name not be used because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Wilders, leader of the Party for Freedom, is currently leading the opinion polls. He has drawn massive crowds to rallies around the country, where his supporters liken him to President Donald Trump, both in his populist appeal and eccentric shock of grey-blonde hair. His platform calls for a “limit on the growth of Muslim numbers” in the Netherlands, a ban on the Quran, and a shuttering of mosques and asylum centers. He has praised President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban order. At the launch of his campaign in a working class suburb outside of Rotterdam on Saturday, Wilders posed for selfies with voters wearing “Make America Great Again” hats. He proclaimed that he will “make the Netherlands ours again.” Speaking in English with reporters, he called the country’s Moroccan population dangerous “scum,” adding that he was not referring to all Moroccans, but to “a lot of Moroccan scum.” “He started with Moroccans, but will be coming next for the Syrians and Iraqis,” said one Iraqi member of the Facebook group who requested anonymity.

Many refugees are concerned that the Dutch media is giving Wilders, who was found guilty last year of inciting racial discrimination, a platform to deliver his message, which is working to embolden other similar movements across the continent. The Dutch elections are a test for populism in the age of Donald Trump, Brexit and the rising ethnic-nationalist zeitgeist. Many expect that a win for Wilders will give momentum to similar far-right leaders, like Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France and Frauke Petry, the head of the Alternative For Germany party; who are also preparing for parliamentary elections in the coming months. Refugees in the Facebook group prayed for God’s help, and warned that “Wilders is following in the path of Trump in order to pave his own version of racism.” One user said that “March 15 seemed to be a day for disasters,” referring to the Syrian civil war that started on March 15, 2011.

But Amer, another member of the Facebook group, is optimistic. He hopes his fellow Syrians refugees will also “put their trust in the Dutch law and support anti-racist, pro-refugee parties. All the political parties refused to cooperate with Wilders, proving that most Dutch people are against him,” he said, referring to the fact that most Dutch parties have ruled out joining a coalition with Wilders.
© Vocative

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Dutch Far-right leader Geert Wilders calls Moroccan migrants ‘scum’

The leader of the populist Freedom party went on to tell supporters to ‘make the Netherlands ours again’

18/2/2017- The Dutch populist leader Geert Wilders sparked outrage on Saturday when he launched his election campaign with a stinging attack on the country’s Moroccan population. The anti-immigration MP called them “scum” and said he wanted to make the Netherlands “ours again”. Wilders, 53, was surrounded by police and security guards when he made his remarks during a walkabout in his party’s stronghold of Spijkenisse, part of an ethnically diverse industrial area just south of Rotterdam. “The Moroccan scum in Holland … once again not all are scum … but there is a lot of Moroccan scum in Holland who make the streets unsafe, mostly young people ... and that should change,” he told journalists as he attempted to take a stroll in a market. Wilders, who has lived in hiding since the 2004 murder by an Islamist of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, is hoping a global upsurge in populism will propel him to power in the parliamentary election. His campaign pledges include a ban on Muslim immigration, shuttering all mosques and leaving the European Union.
He has been leading opinion polls for several weeks and his progress is being monitored carefully by politicians who fear European politics is lurching heavily to the right. “If you want to regain your country, if you want to make the Netherlands for the people of the Netherlands, your own home again, than you can only vote [for the Freedom party],” Wilders said. “Please, make the Netherlands ours again.” The MP, who has also vowed to ban the Qur’an should he be voted into power, was convicted of discrimination in December over previous comments he made about Moroccans living in the Netherlands. Opinion polls give Wilders and his PVV party between 24 and 28 seats in the 150-seat lower house of parliament, two to four seats ahead of Liberal prime minister Mark Rutte’s ruling VVD party. However, even if Wilders wins, he would struggle to form a government because most major parties have ruled out joining a coalition with him, viewing his policies as offensive or unconstitutional. The fragmented political landscape means a coalition government of four or more parties is now all but inevitable.
© The Guardian.

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Headlines 17 February, 2017

Spain's Rajoy takes EU defence as far-right threatens

16/2/2017- Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy leapt to the defence of Europe in an interview, describing it as the "best region in the world" but warning it could implode if populists win elections this year. "There are many populists, extremists and radicals that blame Europe for all their problems, real and imaginary," Rajoy told AFP this week at the prime minister's official Moncloa residence. "We have to fight them by firstly telling the truth: Europe is the best region in the world in terms of democracy, freedom and economic and social progress," he said. "We have in Europe a model welfare state, pensions, public healthcare and education that exists nowhere else in the world," said the premier of one of the most Europhile countries in the European Union. The 61-year-old, who was re-elected this month as leader of the conservative Popular Party (PP), took the helm of government in late 2011 when the country faced dire recession, but has brought it back from the brink. And as anti-EU parties across Europe and US President Donald Trump welcome Brexit, the Spanish leader has dropped his usual reserve to speak out against populism and for Europe.

- 'End of Europe' -
"A victory of the populists would be the end of Europe and it's the worst news we could have," he said. Without naming names, he criticised "those who talk about organising referendums to pull their countries out of the EU". Both Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, who are riding high in the polls, have promised votes on EU membership should they be elected. Rajoy said however that Britain's shock decision to leave the EU might provide the opportunity for the bloc to close ranks and tighten its integration. He said he for one supported "fiscal union" as well as a single energy market and a single digital market. "It would be totally absurd for Brexit to create divisions between member states," as feared by European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, who recently said he feared Britain could divide EU states during Brexit negotiations. "Honestly, I don't believe that," he said.

Rajoy said he hoped to see ties between Washington and Europe ease after a phone call he had last week with the US president in which both sides expressed "the will to have good relations". "Let's have constructive international relations, trying to destroy one another does not seem the right way to me". But he appeared to be in no hurry to heed US Defence Secretary James Mattis' warning to NATO allies to increase military spending or risk seeing Washington "moderate its commitment" to the alliance. Spain spends less than one percent of its GDP on defence, far below NATO members' pledge to reach two percent by 2024. "We will gradually increase our military spending, but when circumstances are right," Rajoy said, pointing out that his government was working to reduce the public deficit to the EU's 3 percent ceiling after a damaging economic crisis. "It's hard to do everything at once."

- Deficit pledge held? -
Spain is only just emerging from a crisis sparked in 2008 when a property bubble burst. Under Rajoy's watch, unemployment has gradually come down from a high of nearly 27 percent in 2013 to 18.6 percent, still well above the eurozone average and the second worst rate in the EU after Greece. Critics also say that many jobs are temporary and precarious and that drastic spending cuts by Rajoy's government to ease the crisis have raised poverty and inequalities in the country. Rajoy pointed out that his government had managed to bring down the public deficit to 4.6 percent of GDP last year from a high of 11 percent, and was aiming for 3.1 percent in 2017. But the European Commission warned this week that Spain would be unlikely to reach that target, tabling more on 3.5 percent. "Spain intends to keep its promises," Rajoy said. "But it is growing at 3.2 percent, double the growth of the EU. More than 500,000 jobs were created last year. "We want to keep our promise on the deficit. So if we exceed it by one or two tenths of a percentage point.... But I will try and avoid that."
© AFP

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Danish nationalists slammed for distributing 'racist' flyers to residents’ homes

The far-right Danes’ Party (Danskernes Parti) is once again generating headlines thanks to a controversial stunt clearly meant to provoke.

15/2/2017- The party, which caused an uproar in September by distributing cans of hair spray re-labelled as ‘refugee spray’ and was criticized in March for what many considered to be racist bus ads, has tried to capitalize on the latest national debate on Danishness by distributing fake plane tickets to residents of Brøndby Strand. The Danes’ Party, which was founded by a former neo-Nazi and enjoys only marginal support, distributed flyers to Brøndby Strand postboxes that one resident told The Local made her too scared to even check her postbox. The flyers were made to look like one-way airline tickets "to the strangers/foreigners in Brøndby Strand, with love [from the] Danes’ Party. The "airline ticket home" was designed to show a flight from Copenhagen Airport to “Langtbortistan”, which roughly translates to “Far-away-istan”. It also included an Arabic text reading "have a good trip home".

The flyers set off a heated debate on Facebook. Although some social media users expressed their support for the ad campaign, the majority of comments slammed the far-right party’s message as “disgusting”, “evil” and “racist”. But the debate on social media was nothing compared to what the actual residents of Brøndby Strand felt. Louise Vinther Alis, who is married to a Dane of Turkish descent and hopes to represent Brøndby Strand in parliament, said she couldn’t even bring herself to check her mailbox after hearing from her angry and hurt neighbours. “I feel freaking scared. I have had to move out of the country before, so I know that this is serious business,” she told The Local. “Who will be defining who these 'strangers' are?” “I don’t understand how this can be legal. I don’t understand how someone can threaten peaceful residents in their own mailboxes. And yes, I feel like my legal rights are threatened. Like my husband and my children’s rights are threatened,” she continued.

The ‘airline tickets’ were distributed to postboxes belonging to residents with names that do not sound traditionally “Danish”. Meanwhile, the residents with traditional last names received a false cheque for 16 billion kroner, which is what the party claims Denmark would save by expelling all non-Western residents. The cheque to “the Danes in Brøndby Strand” comes with a note saying that the nationalist party is “giving you Denmark back”. Copenhagen Vestegn Police confirmed to Politiken on Wednesday morning that a complaint has been filed over the flyers. “Now we will determine whether this is punishable by law and that is something we will do just as soon as we have the necessary legal assistance in here,” spokesman Kim Madsen said. A determination on whether charges would be filed was expected later on Wednesday.

In response to the flyers and last week’s controversial parliamentary statement, the residents of Brøndby Strand are organizing a demonstration on Saturday at 1pm at Kulturhuset Brønden “against those who can’t see what’s good about Brøndby Strand but only what’s bad”. “We’ve had enough. Now we need to stand together, regardless of colour and faith,” organizers wrote on Facebook. More details about the demonstration will be available on the Facebook page soon, Alis said. The western Copenhagen suburb was targeted by nationalists because it was the subject of a controversially-worded statement approved by parliament that expressed concern that “Danes” have now become the “minority in residential areas in Denmark”. Critics slammed the resolution’s language, saying that it essentially defined “Danes” as only those whose parents are Danish, or at least Western.
© The Local - Denmark

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France: Migrant children returning to Calais, say NGOs, after 'jungle' demolished

17/2/2017- Some 300 to 400 migrants, mostly unaccompanied children, have made their way back to Calais in northern France over the past few weeks in the hope of reaching Britain, non-government associations say. France moved more than 6,000 migrants, many fleeing poverty and war in their homelands, from the site of a makeshift camp in the port city last October to reception centres around the country to calm growing local anger. The migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa have streamed into Calais for years, hoping to cross the short stretch of sea to Britain by leaping onto trucks and trains, or even walking through the tunnel under the Channel. Police forces are still deployed permanently in the area. "We believe some migrants are coming back and that 300 to 400 of them are currently in the region. Most of them are teenagers or young adults," Lucie Favry, from local aid association Utopia 56, told Reuters.

A precise figure was difficult to come by because many were in hiding from police patrols while others had already made it across to Britain, she said. Yolaine Bernard, who works with the NGO Salam, said she and her colleagues were handing out more than a hundred meals daily to migrants turning up. "We haven't been counting them all, but we see new faces all the time, so we are definitely talking of hundreds of people and I think there are more and more migrants around," she said. "Authorities are not doing anything since the jungle was torn down. We are on our own here," she added. The 'jungle' is the colloquial name for the make-shift camp that was dismantled. The regional government in Calais refused to confirm numbers and said local authorities were wary of sending any kind of message suggesting migrants would benefit from special treatment if they came back.
© Reuters UK.

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France: Paris deploys 'anti-migrant boulders' to thwart refugee camps

First there were anti-migrant grills to block off pavements, now Paris City Hall has rolled in large boulders to dissuade migrants from setting up camps outside an official humanitarian centre in Paris.

15/2/2017- The boulders appeared under a flyover at Porte de La Chapelle in the 18th arrondissement, of northern Paris, where migrants often sleep rough while waiting for one of the 400 spaces in the nearby official humanitarian welcome centre. The boulders were put in place by the Paris City Hall, without the knowledge of Emmaus solidarité, the charity that runs the humanitarian migrant centre which opened November 2016. “It’s not the first time that these boulders have been installed around the centre, we weren’t advised about it the first time, nor were we this time," the association said.

The boulders are designed to make it hard for people to take shelter under the bridge, however those waiting for spots at the centre are managing to sleep in between the huge ocks. “It’s difficult to sleep here," one migrant told Le Parisien newspaper after the boulders were brought in. This isn’t the only piece of so-called "hostile architecture" Paris authorities have installed to stop migrants from making camps in the city. After the camps at Stalingrad Metro was cleared, metal grills were erected blocking off areas where refugees had set up camps, such as along Avenue de Flandre and the Place de la Bataille-de-Stalingrad.
© The Local - France

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France’s Marine Le Pen quietly pledges to end same-sex marriage

Far-right French Presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen has quietly pledged to close off same-sex marriage.

14/2/2017- Front National leader Marine Le Pen is currently leading in first-round polls ahead of France’s Presidential election. Le Pen’s party previously maintained strong ties to the anti-LGBT lobby, though it has recently made inroads with conservative gay voters, purporting to have “ But despite any “reforms”, Le Pen has now quietly confirmed plans to end same-sex marriage in the country, burying the policy announcement in a list of 144 pledges released last week. Buried midway through the lengthy document at number 87, Le Pen promises to create an “improved” form of civil unions in the country to “replace” the equal marriage law passed under the current Socialist government in 2013. The policy plan specifies that the changes would “not be retroactive”, sparing Le Pen the legal headache of trying to unpick or downgrade thousands of existing same-sex marriages, but the replacement plan would close same-sex marriage to new couples – meaning gays would once again only be able to enter civil partnerships.

It would be a return to the former status quo for France, which only permitted same-sex couples to enter a contractual form of civil union (PACS) from 1999 until 2013. Le Pen’s policy document does not specify exactly what “improvements” would be made to the PACS system. As well as plans to tamper with equality laws, Le Pen also outlines plans to restrict fertility services, ending assistance for gay couples wanting to have children. Ironically, the plans were snuck out under a sub-heading claiming FN would “allow everyone to find their place” in French society. The policy shift is surprising given the FN’s recently attempts to court gay voters, playing down reports of homophobia and taking advantage of fears over homophobic Islamic extremists.

Though she leads in the first-round poll, Le Pen is not expected to succeed in May’s run-off election, where she will likely face either centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron or Republicans right-winger Francois Fillon. Macron, the only supporter of LGBT rights among the top candidates, has faced ‘gay’ smears in recent weeks from Russian state media outlets.
© Pink News

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Politicians can change people's minds on migrants (opinion)

By Thomas Huddleston

14/2/2017- A poll published last week by the London-based think tank, Chatham House, found that a majority of Europeans in 10 EU countries would support a Trump-style ban on migration from mainly Muslim countries. This is, as Chatham House said,“sobering news” and should serve as a massive wake-up call to policymakers in Brussels and across Europe who, in the wake of the rise of so-called far-right populist parties, have failed to speak out in support of refugees and migrants and instead pandered to the fear-mongering of far-right politicians. It is indeed this increasing refusal by centrist politicians to stand up and explain the facts to their citizens that is leading, at least in part, to such polling results. A survey carried out last year by the European Social Survey in 21 European countries found that negative attitudes towards migrants do not appear to be linked with net migration rates, but rather “the most preferred [migrants] were people from the same race or ethnic group as the majority”. Hence, “Jewish people are much more welcome than Muslims, who in turn are more welcome than Roma” without any specific basis in people’s experiences or the country’s context. However, such attitudes do not have to be accepted as status quo because policies and politicians can substantially affect them.

Inclusive integration
Numerous studies using our Migrant Integration Policy Index (Mipex) show that more inclusive integration policies help the public to trust migrants and see the benefits of immigration to society. People living in countries with ambitious and inclusive integration policies are much more likely to believe that their country is right to give immigrants the same rights as national citizens. Canada, the Nordic countries and Portugal, for instance, are good examples of this. In contrast, where integration policies are under developed, even in countries with small numbers of migrants, high levels of anti-migrant sentiment are often found and restrictive policies likely to only reinforce public distrust and xenophobia.

Worryingly, Mipex research also shows that once the far-right starts to achieve success in elections, centrist politicians reshape their rhetoric and integration policies to please that part of the electorate. This, in turn, has the effect of essentially legitimising the far-right’s fear-mongering and helps to spread anti-immigrant attitudes. Politicians have a duty to their citizens to inform them about the facts on migration and not let them ride their own wave of hearsay and fear. To stop this increase of hate and unfounded fear, policymakers from both the left and right of the political spectrum need to find the will to stand up and tell the truth.

Similar to the US
Several studies show that citizens across Europe grossly over-estimate the number of immigrants and Muslims in their country, leading to negative attitudes that appear to have no link with net migration rates. Importantly, research also shows that correcting these numbers and misperceptions improves public attitudes towards migrants. Unfortunately though, as a forthcoming report by the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) will highlight, politicians have generally taken the opposite approach since 9/11. We are all responsible for stopping this negative discourse, but as the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights has insisted, politicians in particular have a responsibility to win the integration debate, helping the public “to understand the migrants and changes around them and to build trust and relationships with newcomers and different cultural communities”.

Politicians should therefore be focusing on showing that more inclusive and effective integration policies can benefit everyone in society rather than finding ways to essentially close Europe’s borders. Michele LeVoy, Director of the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) under-lines that what is happening in the US is not too dissimilar to the situation in the EU where “our protections and rights are [also] being ebbed away in order to appear tough on migration. Public, media, and judicial oversight are now critical if we here in Europe are to avoid similar failures".

Politicians, you have been warned.

Thomas Huddleston is programme director at Migration Policy Group, an NGO in Brussels
© The EUobserver

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Sweden: Why we must stop seeing far-right terrorists as lone wolf offenders (opinion)

Our cognitive bias makes us view Islamist and far-right terrorists differently, writes Swedish researcher Christer Mattsson.

14/2/2017- The fundamental attribution error, sometimes called the mother of all prejudice, teaches us that we are likely to ascribe the negative actions of others to their poor morale or other inner qualities, and look to unfortunate circumstances to explain our own shortcomings. If I arrive late it is because the bus left too early and right in front of my nose. If you arrive late, it is because you are careless and irresponsible. This also works on a collective level. When people who the majority perceives as belonging to a different cultural or religious group commit reprehensible acts, it is more likely that we attribute the reason behind these acts to characteristics said to be associated with the group and we look for patterns whether they are there or not.

However, if the offender is part of what is perceived to be the majority, it is highly likely that we instead choose to view these acts as deviations – he or she is insane in one way or another. The fundamental attribution error is a very useful term in social psychology which could help us understand why it is easier to notice patterns when violence is carried out in the name of Islam, rather than when violence is carried out for racist and/or Nazi purposes. Terror and violence carried out by extremists of various persuasions have been continuously present for many years, in our part of the world too, and it cannot be said that there was ever a time without political terror of some kind.

But while it is easy to find links, both real and less probable, between people who execute Islamist violence and various Islamist organizations or ideas, it has been distressing to see how racist perpetrators are instead seen as loners and madmen. Leading politicians, civil servants and sometimes even academics talk about "rapid radicalization" when people with no previous known connections to Islamist groups suddenly commit serious and gruesome crimes, even if evidence of links is scarce. Nobody talks about rapid radicalization when refugee accommodation is set on fire and nobody talks about extremist thought police in Swedish dominated residential areas brainwashing Swedish youths with racist ideology when Roma beggars are the victims of life-threatening violence.

Anton Lundin-Pettersson murders three people for racist reasons at a school in Trollhättan, Peter Mangs shoots and kills several people over several years in Malmö because of racist and fascist beliefs, the mayor of Skurup resigns after an arson attack with Nazi overtones on his home and three bombs are placed in Gothenburg with the suspected perpetrators having clear links to a well-known Nazi organization. In none of these cases do we talk about radicalization, nor do we try to explain it through their Swedishness or how racist ideas in Swedish society have been transferred to them, which in combination with several other factors, contributed to extreme and fatal violence.

My own research includes Swedish local authorities' action plans against violent extremism, and although the study will be presented later this spring, I am already able to say that it is significantly more common that these plans treat Islamist rather than far-right violence. This also applies to towns where there are no known examples of extreme Islamist environments, but where there are active Nazi organizations. I do not think it is as simple as that we underestimate far-right violence or that we do not know that it exists. If we think about it we know that it has been ongoing for decades. I rather think that it is a combination of the fundamental attribution error, that we recognize our own domestic perpetrators and see them as loners, and that members of the majority rarely have to feel threatened by these groups.
© The Local - Sweden

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Greece: Golden Dawn trial disrupted after tensions lead to scuffles

Judges hearing an ongoing case against the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party had to leave the courtroom on Tuesday after scuffles broke out between the plaintiffs’ and defendants’ supporters.

14/2/2017- Tuesday's hearing related to an attack by suspected Golden Dawn members on a branch of Antipnoia in June 2008, in which two members of the anarchist group were stabbed. Tension arose after witnesses for Antipnoia asked for supporters gathered outside the court to be allowed entry. They objected when police refused the request, saying that dozens of GD supporters had been allowed in. The incident sparked a heated exchange of words between the two sides, with police stepping in when they started to launch water bottles and other projectiles at each other. The judges walked out of the courtroom after adjourning the hearing until Thursday. Proceedings are to resume at a makeshift courtroom at Korydallos Prison instead of the Athens Appeals Court. Meanwhile on Tuesday, riot police denied allegations that one of their officers was equipped with a video camera during the incident. Earlier, a photograph that emerged on social media allegedly showed a police officer with a small camera attached to his uniform. Police said that an inspection found the device to be a power bank used to charge a mobile phone and Bluetooth headset.
© The Kathimerini.

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Greece: Patra mayor vows to keep fighting neo-Nazi Golden Dawn

13/2/2017- Patra Mayor Costas Peletidis was cheered by a crowd of supporters on Monday as he left a courtroom in the western city following the postponement of his trial on charges of violation of duty. The charges were brought against Peletidis in 2015 by Michalis Arvanitis, then a would-be MP for Golden Dawn, after the mayor refused to give the neo-Nazi party space in municipal offices during the pre-election period. Peletidis’s trial is to resume on February 23. On leaving the courtroom, he told cheering supporters that the Patra municipal authority would “continue its fight to stop Golden Dawn from passing on its ideology, propaganda and racist poison.” “It’s a political issue regarding the protection of this city against racist messages,” he said, adding that “Patra will never become a place where those who want to divide us are active.”
© The Kathimerini.

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Far right feels squeeze on EU funding

Alliance for Peace and Freedom wants its €600,000. MEPs aren’t convinced.

14/2/2017- The EU’s long tradition of funding its worst critics could be upended if lawmakers cut off the cash to a political group dubbed “the worst right-wing extremists and neofascists” in Europe. What happens to the Alliance of Peace and Freedom is a test case for the European Union, which handed over €600,000 to the group and its affiliates in 2016 and is slated to do so again this year. Some mainstream MEPs, who describe the group as racist and violent, are deploying a previously unused procedure to halt the funding. The group denies the charges against it and threatens to take the case to court if the money isn’t forthcoming. EU cash is regularly handed out to groups that are critical of the bloc, including Euroskeptic parties that want to see it brought to its knees such as Nigel Farage’s UKIP and Marine Le Pen’s National Front. Any grouping of political parties is entitled to EU funds if they represent at least seven member countries, “contribute to forming a European awareness” and respect the principles of “liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law.”

Hervé Van Laethem, leader of the far-right Belgian party Nation and a board member of the Alliance of Peace and Freedom, said the group meets those requirements, though possibly not quite in the way they were intended. “Is there an obligation to see Europe like the other parties? We are a lot of European nationalists who want to work together, we have the same idea about Europe,” he told POLITICO at his party’s Brussels headquarters. “Of course we want a kind of European Union.” In an attempt to tighten the screws on the far right group, the leaders of four political groups in the European Parliament last year launched an investigation into the Alliance over concerns that Parliament cash had been spent on a far-right conference in Stockholm last year which included anti-semitic songs. (The group’s defense was that they were sung as a joke). That investigation is ongoing.

The Alliance is also suffering because of a rule change introduced by the Parliament in December last year after some right-wing groups were repeatedly asked to repay money the Parliament alleged was misspent and were either unable or unwilling to do so. The rule obliges political groups to provide a guarantee from a triple A-rated bank to ensure they can repay the money if asked. The Alliance has failed to provide such a guarantee, according to a Parliament spokeswoman, and as a result has so far received no money this year. Other groups affected by the clampdown include UKIP’s Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe, Europeans United for Democracy and a new party called Coalition pour la Vie.

‘Persecution’
The Alliance says it meets the EU’s criteria because it has member parties in nine EU countries and has four MEPs — one from Germany’s National Democratic Party and three from Greece’s Golden Dawn. The group’s manifesto says it seeks to “protect, celebrate and promote our common Christian values.” That and other language in its statutes proves it is neither racist nor violent, said the group’s lawyer Peter Richter. It has threatened legal action against the Parliament, arguing that it is the target of “nothing more than political persecution.” To try to sort out the issue, MEPs on the Constitutional Affairs Committee, who will make a recommendation to the entire Parliament on whether to suspend EU funding, summoned senior members of the Alliance — Roberto Fiore of Italy’s New Force and Stefan Jacobsson, who led the now-defunct Party of the Swedes — to Brussels last Thursday to make their case.

The committee hearing was often tense, with Fiore sparring with Socialist MEPs Marita Ulvskog and Ana Gomes, who accused him of holding views incompatible with the EU’s ideals. Attempting to demonstrate that the Alliance isn’t racist, Fiore cited a visit to Syria in 2016 to meet with members of President Bashar al-Assad’s government as evidence that the group respects Muslims, Arabs and “all the people in the world.” The hearing was halted after MEPs complained it was turning into a platform for the far-right group, to which Richter, their lawyer, responded by saying it had turned into a “medieval witch trial.” The Alliance said in a statement released after the hearing that Fiore, Jacobsson and Richter “repudiated every single accusation of the self-proclaimed ‘democrats,’ some of whom fled the hall during the meeting.”

György Schöpflin, a center-right Hungarian member of the parliamentary committee, remembered things differently, describing the Alliance’s performance in front of the committee as “incredibly repetitive, boring and tedious.” It isn’t clear if MEPs did enough to make the legal case for suspending the Alliance’s funding. “Not all of them were aware of the exact rules,” said Wouter Wolfs, a researcher at the University of Leuven who specializes in the funding of eurosceptic parties. “You wonder whether the hearing really helped the European Parliament in putting up a case against the [Alliance].”

‘See you in court’
Manfred Weber, the German MEP who heads the center-right European People’s Party group, said the funding should be stopped: “The EU should not be naïve and hand its opponents the stick to beat it with.” He had earlier described the Alliance as “the worst right-wing extremists and neofascists around Europe.” The Alliance’s website includes blog posts by Nick Griffin, a former MEP and ex-leader of the British National Party, whose Twitter profile describes him as a “lifelong white rights fighter.” Griffin’s subject matter includes the video game Angry Birds containing hidden messages about “unmistakably Islamist” villains and the risks to Swedish milkmaids of being sexually assaulted by Muslim refugees. One of the “tags” displayed at the bottom of the latter page is “white genocide.”

Griffin, Fiore and Jacobsson are the co-authors of the book “Winds of Change,” released in December, which calls for “new generations of political soldiers” and is marketed elsewhere as being “a great introduction to the ideology of revolutionary nationalism.” In the coming weeks, the Constitutional Affairs Committee will make a recommendation on whether to suspend or approve the EU funding, taking into account the opinion of “a committee of independent eminent persons,” including Parliament President Antonio Tajani. Richter warned that if MEPs made a decision based on politics rather than the letter of the law, he would take them to the European Court of Justice. Hungarian MEP Schöpflin wasn’t concerned, saying: “If they want to go to the courts, fine. See you in court.”
© Politico EU

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Who is the real populist?

There are two essential elements to defining a populist. In other words, true populists meet both criteria.

13/2/2017- Today’s word of the moment is “populism” – but there is not much agreement on what the word actually means. The term is applied to politicians who have little in common. Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Donald Trump and Viktor Orbán are called populists, but so are Bernie Sanders, Alexis Tsipras and Beppe Grillo. In Latin America, the late Venezuelan leftist Hugo Chavez was called a populist and so was Argentina’s military strongman Juan Perón. A new book by the Princeton-based scholar Jan-Werner Müller, called “What is Populism?”, goes a long way to set the record straight. This is important, otherwise any politician that challenges the status quo is simply dismissed as populist. The danger is that populist becomes a label for, as Müller writes, any “successful politician one doesn’t like”. Müller points to two essential elements to defining a populist. In other words, true populists meet both criteria.

First, they are anti-elite. Now, this is where most reasoning about populism usually stops. Somebody who criticises free trade agreements, bank bailouts or a political class that does not pay attention to the needs of low wage workers is often dismissed as populist. They are portrayed as being unreasonable and failing to understand how the world really works. Meanwhile anyone who supports that politician is dismissed as angry, afraid or frustrated – as if anger is never based in reason. So while being anti-elite is a necessary characteristic of a populist, it is not sufficient. It must combine with a second attribute: populists are anti-pluralist. A populist leader claims that they alone can represent “the people”. Anyone they are running against is portrayed as illegitimate, part of a corrupt elite. Anyone who doesn't vote for them is not a real citizen.

A certain politician in this neighborhood has taken to calling anybody who questions him “anti-Slovak”, for example. Next door in Hungary, Mr Orbán held a referendum last year to reject EU refugee quotas, the result was invalid after not enough people turned out to vote. He called the result “outstanding” and promised to move forward with changing the constitution anyway – because the people who did vote, real people, Orbán supporters, backed his position. As Müller puts it, populists claim is not “We are the 99 percent,” which is what the Occupy Wall Street protesters famously chanted. Populists claim “We are the 100 percent”. Anybody left out doesn't count, because they must not be a real Slovak, Hungarian or American.

The combination of these criteria is important for understanding populists once they office. They take over state institutions, engage in mass clientelism (corruption) to reward their friends (“true people”) and systematically attack civil society – all because they view themselves as the singular representation of the public will. Some even have the gaul to do so based on receiving just 28 percent of the vote.
© The Slovak Spectator.

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UK: One in four 'extremists' reported to Gov's deradicalisation programme far-Right sympathisers

One in four extremists reported to the Government’s anti-terror programme Prevent are now far-Right radicals, an independent watchdog has revealed.

15/2/2017- David Anderson QC, a reviewer of the Government’s counter-extremism system, warned yesterday that far-Right extremism is now “as murderous as its Islamist equivalent”, with the murder of MP Jo Cox highlighting that extremists were planning “violence of their own”. His comments follow the disclosure of new figures by the Home Office, revealing that 25 percent of counter-terror interventions now relate to far-Right sympathisers, both adults and children - up ten percent in six months. Briefing MPs in October last year, Security Minister Ben Wallace also admitted that far-Right referrals now “outnumber” those relating to Islamist extremism in several areas of the country. Mr Anderson said the figures had been provided to him by government officials, adding that far-Right extremists were increasingly looking to “feed off the tension” caused by Islamist terror in the Middle East. Writing in the Evening Standard, he added: “Muslims with a grievance or a crisis of identity are recruited to the false certainties of violent Islamism.

Increasingly, Right-wing extremists extremists such as Thomas Mair, the killer of Jo Cox, feed of the tension to plan violence of their own. “The threat from extreme Right-wing terrorism in the UK is currently fragmented but the massacre perpetrated by Anders Brevik in Norway is a warning against underestimating the threat. “Both the Government and the courts treat the threat with the seriousness it deserves. A sophisticated network is not a prerequisite for mass slaughter.” The sharp increase in far-Right cases follows growing concern about anti-Semitic attacks in the UK, with the number of incidents recorded up by a third last year. Now in its 10th year, the Channel programme - which incorporates Prevent as part of the Government’s "CONTEST" strategy - is due to undergo a major overhaul, with ministers drawing up plans to strengthen guidance for schools and universities.

Suspected Islamic extremism remains the most likely reason for referral, accounting for 70 per cent of the 4,000 cases received each year. Security Minister Ben Wallace said: “Prevent is fundamentally about safeguarding and supporting vulnerable individuals at risk of radicalisation, in a similar way to processes designed to protect people from gangs, drug abuse, and physical and sexual abuse. “It is a making a positive difference and we’ve seen a significant impact in preventing people being drawn into terrorism. I agree that it is vital Prevent is understood as first and foremost a safeguarding process. “Around a quarter of people who are supported by the voluntary Channel programme are for far right concerns - the Prevent strategy deals with all forms of terrorism and does not focus on any one community.”

What is Prevent?
# Prevent is part of the Government's counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST. Its aim is to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism.
# It is meant to tackle all forms of terrorism but continue to prioritise according to the threat they pose to the UK's national security. At present, the majority of resources are devoted to preventing people from joining or supporting Islamist terror groups.
# The Government says it remains absolutely committed to protecting freedom of speech in this country. But preventing terrorism will mean challenging extremist (and non-violent) ideas that are also part of a terrorist ideology. Prevent will also means intervening to stop people moving from extremist groups or from extremism into terrorist-related activity.
© The Telegraph

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UK: Swastika carved into Exeter Uni door and 'rights for whites' sign under investigation

University officials said the incident may have been part of a 'deeply offensive joke, parodying a sketch in a TV comedy show'

14/2/2017- A top university has launched an investigation into the discovery of a swastika carving and a “rights for whites” sign on campus, amid concerns about rising anti-Semitism and far right influence across UK institutions. The incidents at the University of Exeter follow reports last term that students had been pictured wearing clothes with handwritten anti-Semitic and racist slogans. One T-shirt had the words “the Holocaust was a good time” scrawled across it, while another said: “Don’t talk to me if you’re not white.” According to the university’s student news website Exeposé, the swastika had been carved into a door at the Birks Grange halls of residence, while the “Rights for Whites” sign decorated with a union flag was found on the door of a student room in Llewellyn Mews.

University officials said they believed the incidents may have been part of a “deeply offensive joke”. A spokesperson said the graffiti and carving have been removed and an investigation has been launched into the matter. In a statement, the university said: “The investigation into the students’ actions is being carried out under the university’s disciplinary procedures. “The investigation is ongoing and no conclusions have yet been drawn, but it appears, from initial inquiries, that this may have been an ill-judged, deeply offensive joke on the students’ part, parodying a sketch in a TV comedy show. “The university believes any form of racist or discriminatory behaviour is unacceptable and the actions of those involved are in contrast to the vast majority of students, who help to build our tolerant and inclusive university community.”

The incident is the latest in a series of reported racist incidents at universities across the UK, and follows claims from higher education adjudicator, Ruth Deech, that Jewish students are avoiding certain universities due to concerns about anti-Semitism. The Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University said he was “profoundly concerned” to discover Holocaust denial leaflets had been distributed around university buildings this term, and that a swastika had been drawn on a map in the city centre. In December, the Government’s Holocaust envoy, Sir Eric Pickles, commented that British universities had shown “grave cowardice” in terms of dealing with anti-Semitism on campus, and that he was “looking into” new legislation to protect Jewish students. “The classic definition of dealing with racism and anti-Semitism is those who stand by and do nothing,” he added.

His comments followed a warning from universities minister Jo Johnson that academic institutions must “act swiftly” to investigate claims of anti-Semitism and other hate crimes on campus. Mr Johnson said universities had a “clear responsibility” under the 2010 Equality Act “to ensure they protect their staff and students and act swiftly to investigate and address hate crime, including anti-Semitic related incidents reported to them.” Commenting on the incidents at Exeter University, the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) expressed concern, but said it would not go so far as to accuse individual universities of developing a reputation for anti-Semitism. “Universities ought to be safe and welcoming for all students, but this vandalism undermines that principle and indicates instead that some students do not welcome their minority peers, the union said.

“Incidents like the one in Exeter undoubtedly make Jewish students uncomfortable and some may feel unwelcome on campus, and even one single incident is one too many. “But even as we support the students affected by these incidents and help them to challenge and work to eradicate anti-Semitism, we must remember that every day on almost every campus, and almost every day at the remaining handful of campuses, Jewish students are safe and fully and freely expressing their Judaism.”
© The Independent

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UK: Neo-Nazi pipe bomb teenager given rehabilitation order

A neo-Nazi teenager who made a home-made pipe bomb has been sentenced to a three-year youth rehabilitation order.

13/2/2017- The 17-year-old from Bradford, who cannot be named, was also ordered to receive intensive counselling from a deradicalisation expert. The teenager had been convicted of making the pipe bomb at Leeds Crown Court in January. During his trial it emerged he was a member of the "secretive neo-Nazi" group National Action. The boy, who praised the killer of MP Jo Cox, was arrested after he put a photo of the pipe bomb online. Last month he was found guilty of making explosives but acquitted of the preparation of terrorist acts.

'Extreme views'
Passing sentence Mr Justice Goss said the boy needed "a considerable amount of work and attention" in order to address his behaviour. The judge told the boy he rejected his claim to have been "merely fooling about with fireworks" and said "you have continued to express extreme views". He said the boy would have received "a substantial custodial sentence" had he been convicted of preparing terrorist acts. Counter-terrorism officers arrested the boy in his bedroom in July 2016 after a member of the public alerted them to a series of Snapchat posts. These posts included apparent threats to ethnic minorities and an image of the pipe bomb.

'Butcher race traitors'
Detectives found the improvised explosive device inside a desk drawer and an army bomb disposal expert was called out to make it safe. During his trial the boy admitted he had wanted people to think he was planning an attack, but said he never had any real intention of carrying one out. He told the court he still held Nazi views and he had been a member of National Action. It was proscribed under anti-terrorism laws in December. Jo Cox was murdered by Thomas Mair in act of of far-right terrorism in her West Yorkshire constituency of Birstall. The 17-year-old posted a picture of her killer online saying "Thomas Mair is a HERO". "We need more people like him to butcher the race traitors", he also wrote.
© BBC News

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UK: Holocaust Denier Irving Lashes Out at Jews in Secret Talk in Glasgow

Irving, who doesn't advertise his events for fear of cancellations and protests, gave a two-hour rant chock-full of anti-Semitism and praise for Nazis.

13/2/2017- One of the world’s most notorious Holocaust deniers and Nazi sympathisers has been condemned for giving a secret talk in Glasgow on Friday about his vile career. David Irving made a series of “disgusting” remarks about Jews at the event in the city’s DoubleTree by Hilton hotel. He also said that he liked living in the north of Scotland because it reminded him of the England he was born into, when “England was white”. The event, which the Sunday Herald secretly obtained access to, took place as Glasgow’s Lord Provost Sadie Docherty held her annual Burns Supper at the same venue downstairs. Jackson Carlaw, the deputy leader of the Scottish Tories whose constituency has a sizeable Jewish population, said: “He [Irving] is a disgrace and the peddler of a deeply hateful message which Scotland and the world can well do without.”

Irving, an English historian who has written more than 20 books, is reviled for his sympathetic view of Hitler and for disputing the official, accepted account of the Holocaust. He sued author Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher for libel after she wrote that he was a Holocaust denier, but he lost the case in 2000 and was made bankrupt. Irving was then jailed in 2006 in Austria - where Holocaust denial is a criminal offence - after describing the gas chambers as a “fairytale”. He had pled guilty. A film on the subject called Denial, starring Rachel Weisz and Tom Wilkinson and charting Lipstadt’s victory and Irving’s disgrace, was released earlier this month. The 78-year-old is now living near Nairn and is in the middle of a tour to discuss his life and books. The locations are not advertised amid fears of protests and cancellations.

On Friday evening, the great and good of Glasgow arrived at the DoubleTree in the centre of the city for the Lord Provost’s gala Burns Supper. Pipers greeted the black tie guests, who included city council leader Frank McAveety and a host of other prominent names in the worlds of politics and business. A Scottish Government event was also listed as having taken place earlier in the day. But a very different gathering had assembled in the hotel’s discreet Clyde Suite on the eighth floor, for an event in the name of a firm linked to the author, rather than in Irving's own name. Dressed in a scruffy blue jumper with a hole in it, the convicted Holocaust denier delivered a speech about his life that was heavy on self-pity and vile comments.

Speaking to an audience of all age groups, which included a child, Irving praised prominent Nazis and criticised Winston Churchill. On Rudolf Hess, a member of Hitler’s cabinet who tried to broker a “peace” deal with the UK after flying to Scotland, he said: “It was as though the Lord had wanted Rudolf Hess’s magnificent achievement to be blessed with success. He had come on a peace mission. He had wanted to put an end to this crazy war.” Irving also claimed Hess did not commit suicide, but had been killed by a black American soldier. On Hitler, he recalled travelling to Germany decades ago and speaking to some of the individuals who had known him: “They all say they admire him immensely. Admiration for him is super abundant.”

However, his obsession with Jews came to the fore during an appalling two hours. On Martin Gilbert, a historian who wrote a multi-volume work on Churchill, Irving said the books were “very good, but he’s Jewish. Everything negative towards the Jews has been cut out. That’s what happens”. He also moaned about negative reviews of his own books: “I remember we got a four-page review in the Sunday Times from Arthur Koestler. He didn’t like the book. [There was] another Jew, what was his name, Rosenthal… something like that. He called it a ‘bucketful of slime’.” As a boy, Irving said he watched films about British heroism, but lamented: “Now of course the same schoolboys go down the High Street or to the Odeon cinema to see Schindler’s List, all about hatred of one people to another people. Nothing to do with Britain.”

After signing books at the mid-way point of the event, Irving appeared to relax and stepped up his hateful comments: “I am very conscious of the fact that we are not being disturbed here this evening. I am wondering whether this means that the Jews now have given me carte blanche and said, ‘Lay off him, he’s getting old’.” In another rant, he said that after 1938, “we allowed in hundreds of thousands of Jews who have taken over the country”. A woman in the front row, who seemed to have a Liverpudlian accent, hollered: “And the judiciary”. He continued: “When you look at the way these people for the last 50 years have spent 50 years trying to destroy me and my family, as Jews, they have done this as Jews, I criticise them and they accuse me of anti-Semitism.”

One of the most disturbing aspects of the evening was the interaction with members of the audience. A man asked: “Was there not about 50 million dead in the Second World War? The Jews were not the only ones who suffered.” A woman asked whether the Denial film would have the opposite effect of what “they” think. Another individual suggested the victims of the Belsen death camp had starved. At one point, Irving said there had been a plan during the Second World War to round up and ship Jews to Madagascar, which prompted a man to say: “Certainly improve the banking industry.” Irving also defended Hitler, saying: “Hitler was uninterested in the Jews and was constantly applying the brakes on all these anti-Jewish operations.” Asked about President Trump, he said: “It’s very interesting to see the problems he is already having with the judiciary and the Jews.”

Of his current living arrangements, he mused: “When I was born England was white, like Inverness,” adding, “That’s why I like living [there] because it is England as I remember it.” At the end of the event, Irving received a standing ovation by a group of men at the back of the room. In his damning ruling in the 2000 libel case, Mr Justice Gray wrote of Irving: “Not only has he denied the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz and asserted that no Jew was gassed there, he has done so on frequent occasions and sometimes in the most offensive terms.” He added: “He is content to mix with neo-fascists and appears to share many of their racist and anti-Semitic prejudices. The picture of Irving which emerges from the evidence of his extra-curricular activities reveals him to be a right-wing pro-Nazi polemicist.”

The DoubleTree by Hilton is a 300-room hotel that was rebranded last year and took Hilton’s Scottish portfolio to 16 properties. It is operated under a franchise agreement with Hilton. A spokesperson for the DoubleTree by Hilton Glasgow Central hotel said: “We can confirm that an event took place at the hotel on 10 February that was attended by approximately 40 people. The hotel management does not adopt, share or promote the views of the individuals or groups to which we provide accommodations and services.” Carlaw said: “David Irving, a minor and discredited historian, has spent a lifetime maliciously and notoriously seeking to deny The Holocaust. No platform should be offered to this man by anyone who cares about either the truth or wider humanity.” Labour MSP James Kelly said: “These views are disgusting and have no place in modern Scotland. It underlines why we must continue to challenge intolerance and bigotry, not let it fester behind closed doors.”
© The Evening Times

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UK: Women in public life are now being openly bullied (opinion)

Diane Abbott isn’t the only female MP enduring more sexist and racist abuse than usual – and it seems to be completely accepted
By Suzanne Moore


13/2/2017- Those of us in the UK are thankful that we don’t live in the land of the pussy grabber-in-chief, but in the land of his handmaiden. Theresa May, she who once sported a “This is what a feminist looks like” T-shirt, presides over a rabble of men who clearly feel they can behave appallingly towards female colleagues. Men behaving badly is just the rough and tumble of politics and really we should all relax and accept it. Part of the wider shift to the right is a reassertion of power-grabbing masculinity, usually performed for other men. Thus the bantering of the banterful is just the way of the world, and the ways of the world are sexist. For this is mostly where the bants go. Last week, there was an incident between Brexit secretary David Davis and Labour MP Diane Abbott in the Strangers’ Bar in parliament after the vote on article 50. Apparently, he was merely congratulating her for voting on the same side as the government.

This man is one of our chief Brexit negotiators and it was reported that he tried to kiss or embrace her, to which she apparently told him to fuck off. Legendary banter or real edge? Witnesses seem confused. Davis claims it was light–hearted. It’s unlikely that Abbott was feeling particularly light-hearted after the vote. Davis’s subsequent text messages have now been made public, where he says he wouldn’t hug Abbott because “I am not blind”. Well, this is hilarious isn’t it? Harassment isn’t harassment if the man deems the woman not to be worthy of it. If Davis found Abbott to his taste, would it then be fine to lurch at her? At what point are women free of these judgments, this unwanted sexualised attention? Harriet Harman, who detailed in her autobiography the groping and creepiness she has endured during her long career, was accused in a headline in the Daily Mail of destroying “the good names of the men she says sexually harassed her”. That’s what matters. This is what happens when women speak out.

Never mind what goes on behind closed doors, what happened years ago and what can be proved, what we are seeing now is the open and public humiliation of female MPs in plain sight. Take Channel 4 political correspondent, Michael Crick, who tweeted a cruel jibe made about Abbott by a London cabbie just to make a point about Jeremy Corbyn. And now it is OK for Davis to make her the butt of a joke in front of his friends. One does not have to be a fan of Abbott – and I am not – to see that she probably knows more about being publicly insulted and sneered at than most. The level of abuse that is aimed at her has always been vast, but is now openly and swaggeringly racist. The tropes of misogynoir are easy to see: the black woman is always both desirable and undesirable, and reduced to a sexual identity.

Currently a Conservative councillor has been suspended for portraying her as an ape wearing lipstick. Alan Pearmain retweeted this completely unacceptable message, added a comment, and is being investigated. “Can you tell me what’s wrong with this tweet?” he has said. Why was Pearmain not sacked instantly? Is racist conduct now acceptable? The intensity of the abuse around her is not simply about her voting the wrong way over article 50, as many Labour MPs did. It is absolutely shot through with undisguised racism as well as sexism. The reality is that every day Abbott deals with rape and death threats and remarks about her appearance and skin colour. These insults are not about her politics but her person, and the nasty racist scorn flows freely online and in some parts of the media. This is shocking. The climate now accommodates racism as being somehow natural, ordinary and something that its victims simply have to tolerate. If not challenged, it is given permission.

Black MP Dawn Butler has spoken about how in a members-only lift at the House of Commons, a fellow MP told her This lift really isn’t for cleaners. Commons Speaker John Bercow may indeed make valiant speeches about parliament standing against the racism and sexism that Trump represents, but there are scant signs of this lately. Last week Sir Nicholas Soames started “woofing” or making barking noises when SNP MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh was speaking in the house. She raised a point of order about his extreme disrespect. Soames had to apologise but insisted it was a “friendly canine salute” because obviously barking at a woman while she’s talking is just normal, right? All these kinds of behaviour are not about colleagues joking with each other. They are about men making women feel uncomfortable. The reports of Abbott recoiling from Davis do not speak of a reciprocal and jovial situation. If banter is not consensual, it is actually bullying. And that is what we are witnessing here: the bullying of women in public life online, in bars, in the houses of parliament, in plain sight. And it really isn’t funny.
© Comment is free - Guardian.

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UK: Brexit: Hate crimes could soar once Article 50 is triggered

Exclusive: Campaigners fear an 'undercurrent of xenophobia' may boil to the surface once EU talks begin

13/2/2017- Police forces across the UK are ramping up intelligence gathering and putting protection in place for vulnerable communities ahead of a projected spike in hate crime when Theresa May triggers Article 50 next month. The move follows a dramatic rise in the number of racially and religiously-motivated crimes reported to police following the June referendum result in favour of Brexit, including assaults and arson. Community groups representing EU nationals in the UK have warned about the potential for an “undercurrent of xenophobia” to spread after the talks with Brussels get underway. The head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Rebecca Hilsenrath, has also said he is “hugely concerned” about a backlash against European citizens once the Government’s EU withdrawal negotiations begin.

In response, the Metropolitan Police, the UK’s largest force, said it was initiating a plan to increase intelligence gathering and reassure potential victims of racism and xenophobia. A spokeswoman said the force had witnessed a steady increase in hate crimes in recent years and acknowledged that “national and world events”, such as the activation of Article 50, could act as a “trigger”. “Where we identify a possible trigger event that could result in more hate crime, we instigate a community engagement plan to ensure those in communities who may be victims of hate crime know that we will not tolerate this kind of crime and that we encourage them to report this to the police,” she said.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for hate crime, said the organisation had been in touch with European embassies based in the UK over the threat of increased violence. “We know that national and global events have the potential to trigger short-terms rises in hate crime and we saw this following the EU referendum last year,” he told The Independent. “We have increased the central reporting and monitoring functions to enable us to recognise spikes earlier. This will be used to assess any threats that may arise and inform local police activity.” Police in Scotland said they had reactivated community impact assessments, which will allow the force to more easily investigate hate crimes as well as offering increased protection for at-risk groups. West Midlands Police said they were “continually reviewing intelligence and community tension”. “Should we detect an emerging threat related to the triggering of Article 50 we would intervene swiftly to mitigate that through our officers, partners and communities,” Chief Superintendent Chris Johnson. “We have a zero tolerance stance on hate crime and recognise the impact it can have on communities.”

A Government Bill giving Theresa May the power to trigger Article 50 cleared the House of Commons last week without any amendments being made, making it likely that the Prime Minister will be able to stick to her timetable of starting the process in early March. Home Office figures show that hate crimes soared by more than 40 per cent after last year’s Brexit vote. In July 2016, police recorded a 41 per cent increase compared to the same month a year earlier. Data from 31 police forces showed that 1,546 racially or religiously aggravated offences were recorded in the two weeks up to and including the day of the referendum on 23 June. In the fortnight immediately after the poll, the number climbed to 2,241. In one incident in Telford, Shropshire last year, a student was stabbed in the neck with a smashed drinks bottle “because he was speaking Polish”.

Polish police were also called in to patrol the streets of Harlow in Essex alongside British officers to reassure the public after 40-year-old Polish national Arek JóŸwik was killed in what was believed to be a hate crime. Wiktor Moszczynski, of the Federation of Poles in Great Britain, said there remained an “anxiety” about a surge in attacks on or around the date Article 50 is invoked, despite the increase in police action. “If the Brexit negotiations start with a quick settlement of the EU citizens’ rights issue it might reduce the tension,” said Mr Moszczynski. “If it does not, then there could be more unpleasant incidents. “An undercurrent of xenophobic and unpleasant comments, mostly verbal, has been reported by Polish families. “Often these arise in situations involving neighbours or work colleagues or classroom bullies, where there is already an atmosphere of conflict, which is then made more acute by racist comments and threats. “For the most part these are not reported to the police or to company bosses as Poles prefer to keep their heads low and out of trouble.”

David Isaac, head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, warned of the potential for increased violence. “After the rise in reported hate crime after the referendum, it makes sense to be prepared and plan for any potential spike in hate crimes throughout each point in the process,” he told The Independent. “The triggering of Article 50 is the next major milestone and we must do all we can to ensure people who may feel at risk are supported.” Such is the scale of the problem that the Government has awarded researchers at Cardiff University a £250,000 grant to help monitor Brexit-related hate crime on social media. Professor Matthew Williams, lead investigator and co-director of the Social Data Science Lab at the university, said: "Hate crimes have been shown to cluster in time and tend to increase, sometimes significantly, in the aftermath of 'trigger' events.
"The referendum on the UK's future in the European Union has galvanised certain prejudiced opinions held by a minority of people, resulting in a spate of hate crimes. "Many of these crimes are taking place on social media.

Over the coming period of uncertainty relating to the form of the UK's exit, decision makers, particularly those responsible for minimising the risk of social disorder through community reassurance, local policing and online governance, will require near-real-time information on the likelihood of escalation of hateful content spread on social media.” Other forces said they were awaiting instructions from the Home Office on how to address any potential spike in hate crimes once Article 50 is invoked. But the Government declined to tell The Independent what extra guidance it was giving police forces. A spokesperson said the deployment of resources was an “operational matter” for local forces, adding: “The Home Secretary has been crystal clear that crime motivated by hostility and prejudice towards any group in society has no place whatsoever in a Britain that works for everyone. “That is why we have some of the strongest legislation on hate crime in the world.”
© The Independent

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UK: Landlords' immigration checks are 'fueling discrimination'

The initiative has left British citizens without passports at a disadvantage in the private rental market.

12/2/2017- A controversial scheme requiring landlords to check the immigration status of new tenants is fuelling discrimination and should be scrapped, a report claims. The Right to Rent initiative has left British citizens without passports as well as foreigners at a disadvantage in the private rental market, say campaigners. They also argue there is little evidence that the approach is having an impact in the Government's efforts to create a "hostile environment" for illegal immigrants. Right to Rent, which was rolled out across England last year, requires landlords to establish that tenants have a right to be in the country by taking copies of documents such as passports or identity cards. Failure to comply can lead to fines of up to £3,000 a tenant, while those who persistently flout the law by failing to carry out checks can face up to five years in prison.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) says its research suggests landlords who have no wish to discriminate are being forced to do so. Of 108 landlords who responded in a survey, more than half (51%) said Right to Rent would make them less likely to consider letting to foreigners. And 42% stated that they were less likely to rent to someone without a British passport as a result of the scheme. A mystery shopping exercise found that a British Black Minority Ethnic tenant without a passport was 26% more likely to receive a negative response or no response than a BME tenant who could provide a British passport. A white British tenant without a passport was 11% more likely to be ignored or turned down than a white British applicant with the document.

No evidence of racial discrimination was detected between the BME and "white British" scenarios where both had a British passport. "This strongly suggests that the discrimination found is as a result of the Right to Rent scheme, rather than latent discrimination by racist landlords," the report said. It accused the Government of being unable to provide evidence as to the supposed benefits of the crackdown. It also described Home Office guidance to landlords as confusing and labelled the procedure "Kafkaesque". The paper concluded: "The Right to Rent scheme conscripts ordinary members of civil society into the immigration enforcement arm of the Government, and does so in such a crude and ham-fisted fashion that it creates structural incentives for them to discriminate unlawfully against foreigners and ethnic minorities."

Saira Grant, chief executive of JCWI, argued that Right to Rent was "failing on all fronts". She said: "It treats many groups who need housing unfairly, it is clearly discriminatory, it is putting landlords in an impossible position and there is no evidence that it is doing anything to tackle irregular immigration. "It is time to stop the scheme before it does any more damage." Alan Ward, chairman of the Residential Landlords Association, said it shared JCWI's concerns over document discrimination. He added: "There are more than 400 acceptable documents proving right to rent from within the EU alone and landlords are making risk-based decisions and only accepting documents that they recognise and have confidence in." Figures published last month showed that across two phases of the scheme, 106 landlords have been issued with civil penalties.
© The Independent

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UK: Sport’s homophobia problem requires zero-tolerance approach, say MPs

Parliamentary select committee lays out recommendations • Report says football has a hostile culture towards LGB participants

12/2/2017- Immediate and tough sanctions – including one- and two-year bans – should be imposed on football supporters who engage in homophobic abuse, a report by the parliamentary select committee for culture, media and sport has recommended. Following a short inquiry held last year, the report cites a range of surveys and research demonstrating homophobia is a major problem in school, youth and professional sports and recommends a zero-tolerance approach combined with better training and education for staff at all levels. “It is clear to us that the casual use of homophobic epithets and terms has a wide-ranging and damaging effect and we consider it disappointing that a significant percentage of people consider anti-LGB language to be harmless,” the report says. “It should be treated in the same way as other offensive language, whether racist, sexist or denigrating any other group.”

A 2015 study of attitudes internationally, Out on the Fields, reported 84% of participants having heard homophobic jokes within sport, and a 2015 survey by Stonewall found that 72% of football supporters had heard homophobic abuse in grounds. The committee, chaired by the Conservative MP Damian Collins, argues that football, which does not have any openly gay current professional players, has a more hostile culture of homophobia than other sports, including swimming, whose work is commended, and rugby union and league, where there are A 2015 study of attitudes internationally, Out on the Fields, reported 84% of participants having heard homophobic jokes within sport, and a 2015 survey by Stonewall found that 72% of football supporters had heard homophobic abuse in grounds.

The committee, chaired by the Conservative MP Damian Collins, argues that football, which does not have any openly gay current professional players, has a more hostile culture of homophobia than other sports, including swimming, whose work is commended, and rugby union and league, where there are high-profile gay role models and strong action has been taken against incidents of homophobic abuse. Greg Clarke, the chairman of the Football Association, told the committee that he could understand a gay male professional footballer not wanting to come out publicly, for fear of the abuse he was likely to suffer. Clarke told the committee: “There is a very, very small minority of people who hurl vile abuse at people who they perceive are different. Our job is to stamp down hard on that behaviour. That behaviour is disgusting and needs stamping out and I am absolutely determined that we do stamp it out. If I was a gay man, why would I expose myself to that?”

The committee found that attitudes to gay women footballers, where some players and the former England manager, Hope Powell, are out, were much more accepting; in fact it cites women footballers’ frustrations that they are assumed to be gay. The BBC director general, Tony Hall, is criticised in the report for his response to the criticism of the boxer Tyson Fury being included in the 2015 sports personality of the year shortlist despite the boxer’s “numerous violently homophobic comments”. Hall said at the time that he “believed in the process” for selecting the shortlist, a response at which the committee said it was “dissatisfied and concerned”. Referring to young people’s participation in sport, Out on the Fields found 70% of British respondents did not believe that youth sport was supportive and safe for lesbian, gay and bisexual participants.

The committee’s report highlights a “significantly higher” drop-out rate among LGB young people compared with heterosexual participants in sport and, the MPs state: “We have serious concerns over the effects of low participation among LGB youth on their mental and physical health and wellbeing.” The survey found 70% of young British men under 22 who participated in the survey kept their sexuality fully or partly hidden from team-mates, out of a fear of bullying, being rejected by team-mates and discrimination from officials. Calling for a zero-tolerance approach to homophobia across all sports, Collins said: “More needs to be done by the authorities to address both the overt and latent homophobia that exists within sport. Homophobic abuse in sports grounds is just as intolerable as racist behaviour and should be dealt with just as severely.”
© The Guardian

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Netherlands’ Wilders not riding Trump’s coattails (opinion)

By Nick Ottens

17/2/2017- When Donald Trump won the presidential election in November, Dutch nationalist party leader Geert Wilders hailed it as the beginning of an illiberal reaction that would inspire like-minded movements on the Atlantic's other shore. But it doesn’t seem to be happening in his home country. The national broadcaster NOS averaged the polls for the election in March and found that support for Wilders’ Freedom Party has fallen since the end of last year, from a high of 21 percent to 18 percent. The party, which proposes to take the Netherlands out of the European Union and stop immigration from non-Western countries, could still become the single-largest. But the difference with Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal VVD is now only a few seats. If this trend continues, Rutte could come out on top, although he is likely anyway to remain in power at the head of a coalition of parties in the centre.

Get to know Trump
A Peil.nl survey suggests that Wilders may have made a mistake by tying himself to Trump. It shows that only one in two Freedom Party voters have a positive opinion of the American president. A quarter are undecided, while another quarter regard Trump negatively. It’s unusual for so many Freedom Party supporters to disagree with their leader on an issue. They normally applaud whatever Wilders says or does by 80 to 90 percent margins. What’s changed from a few months ago is that Trump has made good on his campaign promises. He tried to ban immigrants and travellers from seven Muslim countries, a discriminatory policy that appears to have gone too far even for Dutch nativists. Trump’s critical comments about Germany, a major trading partner for the Netherlands and a country the Dutch generally respect, have been widely reported in Dutch media.

As have his sceptical comments about NATO and positive remarks about Russia’s Vladimir Putin. None of this has gone over well with Dutch voters. Other European nationalist movements may benefit from flirting with Putin’s anti-American, family-values conservatism, but he is not well-regarded in the secular Netherlands. Even reactionary Freedom Party voters by and large support gay rights while Russia is blamed for downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over southeastern Ukraine in 2014, which killed 193 Dutch passengers. Wilders knows this and he has kept his distance from Putin, but it’s beginning to dawn on voters that all his friends — Trump, Marine Le Pen in France, Frauke Petry in Germany — seem to admire the Russian leader.

Where to go?
So far Freedom Party voters are not flocking to Rutte, who is closest to Wilders on immigration and security policy but also supports EU membership and free trade. His liberal party is stable at 16-17 percent support. That is down from 26 percent in the last election, but largely unchanged from when the liberals formed a coalition government with their Labor Party rivals in late 2012. Many right-wing voters have yet to forgive them for this perceived betrayal. Wilders got 10 percent support in 2012, but he also polled better in the months leading up to that election. It seems some voters express their dissatisfaction with the established parties by telling pollsters they’ll support the Freedom Party only to think better of it in the voting booth. The question now is: where will they go?
Nick Ottens is a political analyst from the Netherlands and editor of the Atlantic Sentinel.
© The EUobserver

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Netherlands: Video released of gay couple's assault

15/2/2017- The police released surveillance camera footage of a gay couple being assaulted on the Ruijterkade in Amsterdam in October last year. Investigators hope that information from the public may lead to the perpetrators being arrested, they said on Opsporing Verzocht on Tuesday.  The attack happened during the early hours of Sunday morning, October 16th. The couple, who had just gotten off the ferry between Amsterdam-Noord and Amsterdam Central Station, was attacked by three young men on scooters. It is believe that the couple, 55 and 51 years old, were targeted because of their sexual orientation. The video footage shows the young men blocking the couple's way with their scooters. The couple ended up on the ground and were beaten and kicked. The police stopped the video there, as the rest of the assault is too shocking. Some students intervened and chased the attackers away. One of the victims spent a long time in hospital after the attack. Along with the video footage, the police also released an image clearly showing one of the culprits on the back of a scooter. The police call on anyone who recognizes this young man to come forward.
© The NL Times

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Holland Refuses To Hand Over Turkish Officers

14/2/2017- Holland has refused to satisfy Ankara’s demand that it hand over the Turkish officers who requested political asylum and has granted them temporary residence of 18 months, reported BGNES. During this period, the Dutch Justice Ministry will review the requests of the Turkish officers and their families for political asylum in the country and decide their fate. Ankara sent a request to the Dutch government insisting that the wanted NATO military officers be handed over to Turkey within three months, with the assurance that their Turkish citizenship will not be revoked. The officers refused to return after the coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and pointed out in their requests for asylum that they have zero guarantees of a fair trial in their homeland, reported BBC Turk.
© Novinite

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Dutch politician Wilders claims Islam is more 'dangerous than Nazism'

The far-right leader said the Quran contained more anti-Semitism than Mein Kampf in a television interview.

14/2/2017- Far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders has sparked outrage once again with his comments about Muslims and the Islamic religion. In a television interview Wilders described Islam "as an ideology that is possibly more dangerous than Nazism." He argued for the closure of mosques, drawing a comparison with "Nazi temples", and told Dutch broadcaster Rick Nieman that "Islam does not belong in The Netherlands." Wilders backtracked on his previous promise to criminalise owning a Quran, but suggested the religious text should be banned from bookstores, and should be viewed in the same light as Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. "The Quran is far more anti-Semitic than Mein Kampf," he said. "It is full of calls inciting violence." He said that his Freedom Party (PVV) only has one campaign promise: "To make The Netherlands ours again". "We will close the borders and we will stop sending all our money abroad — to Africa, to Brussels, to Greece – and give that to the Dutch people living in our country," he told viewers.

Despite his opponents' pledges that they will not work with the PVV, Wilders said he is confident that he will be able to form a coalition. The PVV is currently leading in the polls and is predicted to win close to 30 seats. Wilders said the other parties cannot avoid the PVV's success. "If the voter chooses to make the PVV great, then they will have to work with us. You don't just sidestep two and a half million people. That would be very ill-advised." Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Twitter on 13 February that there was "zero per cent" of a collaboration with the far-right leader. His credibility has been questioned by critics who point out that he recently tried to woo PVV voters with a letter telling immigrants who do not respect Dutch customs to leave. 

At least three parties will be needed to form a coalition, according to the latest polls. If the PVV is taken out of the equation, five parties are needed to form a majority. Wilders said this scenario is unlikely. "The government will be so unstable that not only will it not serve the country, but it will be lying on its ass within a year, to put it crudely," he told Nieman.
© The International Business Times - UK

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Netherlands: 5 party manifestos are discriminatory, unconstitutional, say lawyers

14/2/2017- The manifestos of almost half the main parties contesting the March general election include measures which go against the Dutch constitution, according to research by the Dutch law society Nova. The law society looked at 13 manifestos and found measures which would weaken the rule of law in most of them and proposals which are illegal in five. Most of the measures concerned dealing with terrorism, jihadism, refugees, Islam and immigration. ‘These challenges ‘are pressuring the foundation of our legal system,’ Nova said. However, solutions are not found in going against fundamental human rights and freedoms, the lawyers organisation says in the NRC.

In particular, the one-page manifesto drawn up by the anti-immigration PVV contains a number of points which conflict with international treaties and Dutch laws, Nova said. In addition, the Christian Democrats want to ban foreign funding of mosques, VNL wants to ‘de-naturalise’ dual nationals with a criminal conviction and the VVD wants to render people who join terrorist organisations stateless. All these measures conflict with human rights or are openly discriminatory against certain population groups, the commission said. A comparison of this year’s manifestos which those published before the 2012 general election shows a ‘considerable increase’ in discriminatory proposals.
© The Dutch News

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Netherlands: Shop owner cleared of spreading hatred for selling Mein Kampf

14/2/2017- An antique shop owner who put old copies of Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf on sale has been cleared of disseminating hatred by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, upholding a string of lower court decisions, said in a statement that freedom of expression can be curtailed if there is an urgent social need, but there is no question of that in this case. In addition, the seller only wanted to sell the books because of their historical relevance, rather than a desire to spread anti-semitic texts. Furthermore, Mein Kampf is available in libraries and online, the judges said. Several copies of the book were taken from Michiel van Eyck’s Totalitarian Art Gallery in Amsterdam after the Jewish Netherlands Foundation lodged a complaint in October 2013.

Banned
The sale of Mein Kampf is officially forbidden in the Netherlands and the public prosecution had sought a €1,000 fine. Van Eyck said he had sold Hitler’s memoir as a historical artefact alongside busts of other 20th-century leaders such as Lenin and Churchill. ‘I don’t just sell Mein Kampf, but Anne Frank’s diary too – anything that is of historical relevance.’ The shops sells copies of the book from the 1920s and 30s in several languages, including German, English and Dutch. A copy costs between €100 and €150.
© The Dutch News

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Dutch companies combine to fight far-right 'populism'

Far-right anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders' Freedom Party leads polls, leaving Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte's Liberal party in second place

12/2/2017- Major Dutch corporations including Shell, Unilever, Philips and dairy produce giant FrieslandCampina have joined forces in a PR campaign to showcase national talents in a bid to roll back gloom and populism, Dutch media reported on Saturday. The initiative coincides with the run-up to general elections that are seen as a bellwether for nationalism in Europe in a critical year following last year's Brexit vote and the election victory of Donald Trump. Dutch far-right parties have been beating the drums on immigration, Islam and economic stagnation. Far-right anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party have been leading the opinion polls for months, leaving Prime Minister Mark Rutte's Liberal party trailing in second place. A poll aggregate published on 1 February predicted Wilders would emerge with the largest party with 27-31 seats in the 150-member lower house of parliament, with Rutte's party mustering just 23-27 seats.

The PR campaign - whose launch coincides with the tense election campaign - will point to Dutch success in meeting five challenges of the future, the financial daily Het Financieele Dagblad said. Entitled "Global problems, Dutch solutions," it will look at how Dutch enterprises are enhancing farm yields and water management, coping with demographic ageing, the demands of urbanisation and the switch to renewable energy. The European head of Unilever, Jan Zijderveld, told the paper that "populism is a symptom of lack of progress". "Right now, there is a lack of an outlook for growth and that feeds negativity." He added: "To combat populism, we need a new business model, a point on the horizon to which we can work over the next decade." "In the election debates, people only talk about today, not about the future," he said.
© The Middle East Eye

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Dutch far-rightist Wilders says others will soon forget pledge not to work with him

12/2/2017- Anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert Wilders said on Sunday that promises by other parties not to work with him would be quickly forgotten if, as expected, his far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) gets more than 30 parliamentary seats in next month's election. He then traded barbs on Twitter with Prime Minister Mark Rutte about who will work with whom after the March 15 vote. Wilders has proclaimed that Europe is about to enter a "Patriotic Spring" in which populist parties will triumph in the Netherlands and France following last year's vote by Britain to leave the European Union and the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president.  The PVV leads in most opinion polls, with Rutte's conservative VVD party in second place. But the VVD and other Dutch mainstream parties have said they won't enter into a coalition with Wilders because his platform calls for banning mosques and the Koran as well as leaving the European Union.

In his first major televised interview ahead of the election, Wilders said on Sunday that those promises would be ditched if PVV gets 30 or more seats in the 150-seat Dutch parliament. "In the first place, they'll have to," he said. "You can't just shove two and a half million people aside after democratic elections, that would be very ill-advised." He predicted a non-violent "revolt", if PVV is sidelined and added that alternative left-right coalitions encompassing 5 or more parties -- the only alternative on current projections -- would prove unworkable. That kind of coalition would "be so unstable that not only will it not serve the country, but it will be lying on its ass within a year, to put it crudely," he said. In response, Rutte tweeted a link to a video clip of himself categorically ruling out cooperation with Wilders. "Zero percent (chance) Geert, ZERO percent. It. Is. Not. Going. To. Happen", he tweeted on his personal account, the first time it has been used in five years.

The VVD, however, said Rutte's tweet represented both his personal position and the party line. Wilders, a prolific user of Twitter, quickly shot back: "It's the voters who are in charge of this country Mark, for a HUNDRED percent. And. Nobody. In. The. Netherlands. Still. Believes. You." Pollster Maurice de Hond said on Sunday his weekly poll showed PVV slipping from 32 to 30 seats, with Rutte's VVD gaining one to 24 seats. In the interview, Wilders repeated remarks he has made frequently in the past, offensive to many, comparing the Koran to Hitler's "Mein Kampf". A self-avowed admirer of Trump, Wilders said the Netherlands does not need to build a wall to keep out foreigners but should re-establish border controls. In December, Wilders was convicted of insulting Moroccans and inciting discrimination against them for leading supporters in chanting they wanted "Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!" of them in the country. He is appealing the ruling.
© Reuters

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Croatia: Tear gas thrown at gay party in capital, 2 hurt

12/2/2017- At least two people have been injured after an unknown assailant threw a tear gas canister during a party for LGBT people in Croatia’s capital. Police say an investigation is underway into the incident at a Zagreb night club early Sunday. Local news reports say people inside the club fled in panic, storming the exit and breaking windows to get out. A witness tells Vecernji List daily that he was trampled during a rush for the stairs. Croatian gay rights groups are describing the attack as an “act of hate violence.” The Zagreb Pride group says in a statement that Croatia’s conservative government has turned a blind eye to a recent surge in right-wing sentiment in the European Union’s newest member state.
© The Associated Press

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Germany: Mass sexual assaults by refugees in Frankfurt ‘completely made up’

Prosecutors in Frankfurt are investigating two people for making up a crime, after they claimed in a national newspaper that dozens of Arab men rioted and sexually assaulted women at New Year.

14/2/2017- The claims first appeared in Bild newspaper on February 6th, which described the men as a “rioting sex mob,” speculating that they had come from a refugee home in central Hesse. In an article since taken down from its website, the tabloid interviewed a well-known chef who runs a restaurant on Fressgass street, as well as a 27-year-old woman. The chef, Jan Mai, claimed that 50 Arab men caused havoc in his restaurant as well as in others. He also claimed that they sexually assaulted women and stole jackets. The woman told the newspaper that “they grabbed me under my skirt, between the legs and on my breast - everywhere.”

But police confirmed on Tuesday to the Frankfurter Rundschau that their investigation of the allegations had led them to believe that they were spurious. “Interviews with alleged witnesses, guests and employees led to major doubts with the version of events that had been presented,” the police said. “One of the alleged victims was not even in Frankfurt at the time the allegations are said to have taken place.” The police were indeed unequivocal in how they understood the events to have unfolded. “Masses of refugees were not responsible for any sexual assaults in the Fressgass over New Year. The accusations are completely baseless,” the police said.

Before the Bild report, no sexual assaults were reported to police from Fressgass over New Year. Prosecutors are now looking into whether Mai and the 27-year-old woman made up the story. Bild newspaper is bitterly resented by the German left, which accuses it of having stoked hatred against immigrants over decades. On its website Bild published a statement on Tuesday, saying “Bild apologizes expressly for the untruthful article and the accusations made in it. “This article in no way met the journalistic standards of Bild.” Bild's online editor-in-chief, Julian Reichelt, also promised consequences on Twitter. “We apologize for our own work. I’ll shortly announce what Bild will do about it,” he tweeted.

But other social media users were not prepared to forgive the newspaper too easily. “It’s too late. The damage has already been done,” one wrote. “Ah, Bild is apologizing. You should do it more often given how many of your articles are fakes,” another wrote.
© The Local - Germany

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Tennis: Germans outraged as U.S. plays Nazi version of anthem

12/2/2017- German tennis has responded with outrage after the United States Tennis Association (USTA) made the embarrassing error of playing the Nazi-era version of Germany's national anthem during a Fed Cup tie in Hawaii. The version played included the first stanza, beginning "Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles, uber alles in der Welt" which was used as Nazi propaganda. It translates as "Germany, Germany, above all, above all in the world" and was dropped after World War Two because of its association with Adolf Hitler. But Deutschlandlied, written in 1841, is still listed as the official national anthem, with only the third verse now being sung. Unfortunately, the male soloist on the Hawaiian island of Maui somehow sung the wrong version.

"I thought it was the epitome of ignorance, and I've never felt more disrespected in my whole life, let alone in Fed Cup," Germany's Andrea Petkovic said, adding that she considered walking off court before the singles match against Alison Riske. Petkovic later said her first comments had been somewhat emotional but that was because the incident happened before her match and she was left stunned. "We were left shocked and did not know how to react," Petkovic said. German team coach Barbara Ritter said the mistake was "an absolute scandal, a disrespectful incident and inexcusable". German tennis federation chief Ulrich Klaus said his American counterpart had apologized for the mistake.

"Our American hosts at the Fed Cup opening in Hawaii made a mistake that should not happen," Klaus said in a statement. "The fact that in the year 2017 a wrong anthem can be played that is associated with the horror of the past was for players and staff and the officials present both shocking and disturbing." "The USTA through its president Katrina Adams has apologized officially in writing and in person and deeply regrets the blunder." Riske won the opening rubber to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead. Bad weather prevented any further play on the opening day of the tie.
© Reuters

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Germany: Neo-Nazis rally in Dresden ahead of war anniversary

Neo-Nazis and their opponents have rallied in the city of Dresden ahead of the anniversary of the city's destruction in World War II. Police warned that there could be legal steps taken against one of the neo-Nazis.

11/2/2017- Hundreds of neo-Nazis descended on Dresden on Saturday, two days ahead of the anniversary of the destruction of the city by Allied forces in World War II. In front of about 200 right-wing extremists, convicted neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier Gerhard Ittner declared himself to be a "national socialist" and glorified Nazi ideology as a "model for the whole world." Police announced on Twitter that his comments could have legal repercussions. Denying the Holocaust is a crime in Germany. Ittner is a notorious neo-Nazi in Germany who has in the past been convicted of multiple crimes, including sedition. After fleeing the country in 2005, he was captured in Portugal and deported to Germany to face one-and-a-half years imprisonment.

The neo-Nazis faced opposition from protesters who attempted to block the path of the two marches, but the rallies passed mainly peacefully. Local media reported that Mayor Dirk Hilbert participated in opposition to the neo-Nazis, with newspaper "Sächsische Zeitung" quoting him as saying, "The 13th of February has been abused by neo-Nazi demonstrators for many years." The student group Durchgezählt reported that about 650 right-wing extremists took part in the second rally on Saturday, organized by rival Nazi leader and Dresden local, Maik Müller. Saxony police reported that 1,300 officers were deployed from multiple regions to deal with the protests. Police Commissioner Horst Kretzschmar said he was "particularly pleased that the day was peaceful." The baroque city was destroyed by three days of air raids beginning on February 13, 1945, which left it leveled and burning.  Up to 25,000 people lost their lives, but right-wing extremists often inflate that number. Dresden is often a focal point for neo-Nazi activity.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Switzerland votes to ease citizenship process

Voters support proposal to make it easier for third-generation immigrants to become citizens, despite opposition from populists

12/2/2017- Switzerland has voted to make it easier for third-generation immigrants to become citizens, rejecting rightwing politicians’ complaints that the proposed measures would pose a security risk. Until now, a fast-track route to citizenship was only open to foreigners who had been married to Swiss citizens for more than six years, including those who have never lived in the country. The outcome of the referendum on Sunday will open up this easier route to the children of secondos (second-generation immigrants), who number about 24,000 in the country of 8 million inhabitants. Nearly 60% of this group are Italian, followed by people from the Balkans and Turkey. The constitutional amendment does not make naturalisation an automatic process, and applicants will still be required to prove they are aged 25 or under, were born in Switzerland and visited a school there for at least five years, share Swiss cultural values, speak a national language and do not depend on state aid.

After polls closed at midday, public broadcaster SRF announced that 60.4% had voted in favour of the amendment and 39.6% had voted against. In 2004, the Swiss public emphatically rejected a similar initiative, with only 29% voting in favour. Activists with links to the populist Swiss People’s party (SVP) had used posters showing a woman in a niqab with the slogan “no unchecked naturalisation” to campaign against the proposal, which was backed by the government and parliament. Switzerland has a history of immigration from Germany, Italy and the Balkans, and lists more official languages than any other country in Europe. But strict naturalisation rules mean one-quarter of the population is listed as foreign, a relatively high rate in comparison with other countries that make it easier for the children and grandchildren of immigrants to become citizens.

The vote on facilitated naturalisation was one of four reserved annually for plebiscites on subjects that affect federal as well as local laws and institutions. Initial debate on the proposal had nothing to do with religion, according to Sophie Guignard of the Institute of Political Science at the University of Bern. But then the SVP, a party repeatedly accused of demonising Islam, focused on the risks of more Muslims becoming citizens and the possible “loss of Swiss values”, she said. Central to that effort was the widely distributed poster with the woman in the niqab. The SVP was not officially responsible for the poster, which was commissioned by the Committee Against Facilitated Citizenship, but the group has several SVP members in leadership positions.

Jean-Luc Addor, the co-chair of the committee and an SVP lawmaker, had urged people to reject the proposal on the grounds that soon, most third-generation immigrants would not be of European origin. “In one or two generations, who will these third-generation foreigners be?” he wrote in an opinion piece on the SVP website. “They will be born of the Arab spring, they will be from sub-Saharan Africa, the Horn of Africa, Syria or Afghanistan.” Guignard said mainstream politicians and journalists viewed the poster as “a violent attack against Muslims”. Voters also rejected plans to overhaul the country’s corporate tax system, dealing a blow to the government’s attempts to abolish ultra-low tax rates for thousands of multinational companies without causing a mass exodus.

While most people in Switzerland recognised that reforms were necessary to prevent the country from becoming a low-tax pariah, the proposed measures to help companies offset the loss of their tax breaks had created deep divisions. Provisional results on Sunday showed that just over 59% of voters opposed the plans, which the Swiss political and business elite embraced under international pressure. The finance minister, Ueli Maurer, said the government needed time to analyse what business leaders were calling a dangerous legal limbo. “It will not be possible to find a solution overnight,” he told a press conference in Bern, saying it could take 12 months to come up with a new plan and years more to implement this.
© The Guardian.

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Switzerland's right wing pins hopes on niqab poster

Critics say image is a brazen appeal to voters worried about more Muslims becoming Swiss

11/2/2017- The woman's shadowed eyes stare out from a black niqab with the poster's tagline urging Swiss voters to reject "uncontrolled naturalisation". But critics of the campaign image distributed across the country ahead of tomorrow's referendum say the poster is really just a brazen appeal to those worried about more Muslims becoming Swiss. "That is exactly what they are trying to (do)", said Mr Pius Walker, who heads the Zurich-based advertising agency Walker AG. "It is a very, very frightening thing that is going on here." The issue in tomorrow's vote is whether the grandchildren of immigrants should be able to benefit from an expedited citizenship process. The government as well as a majority of lawmakers and political parties support the proposal. They argue that children born in Switzerland, who have a grandparent who was also born in the country or had a residency card, should be able to skip a few steps in the arduous process of securing a Swiss passport.

According to a migration department study, an estimated 25,000 people qualify as third-generation immigrants, nearly 60 per cent of whom are Italian. But in campaigning against the measure, the right- wing nationalist Swiss People's Party (SVP) has made clear that Italians were not its primary concern. "In one or two generations, who will these third-generation foreigners be?" SVP lawmaker Jean-Luc Addor wrote in an opinion piece on the party's website. "They will be born of the Arab Spring, they will be from sub-Saharan Africa, the Horn of Africa, Syria or Afghanistan," he warned. The SVP is not officially responsible for the niqab poster. It was commissioned by the Committee Against Facilitated Citizenship, which is backed by many senior SVP members, including Mr Addor, the committee's co-chair.

And SVP members are no strangers to campaigns denounced as discriminatory, notably a successful 2009 initiative to outlaw the construction of new mosque minarets. Campaigns demonising Muslims are expected from the SVP, but they are not "deemed acceptable" by the Swiss political mainstream, said Ms Sophie Guignard of the Institute of Political Science at the University of Bern. For most politicians and journalists, the niqab poster amounts to "a violent attack against Muslims", Ms Guignard told Agence France- Presse. But that does not mean it won't work. The latest polls from the gfs.bern institute show 66 per cent of people support easier citizenship for third- generation immigrants, with 31 per cent against and 3 per cent undecided. Polls from the news company Tamedia have it closer, with 55 per cent for and 44 per cent against.

The "No" side has gained about 10 points since polling opened. And an upset can't be ruled out, especially with the touchstone issue of Swiss identity and Islam at the centre of the debate. The niqab poster was created by the Zurich-based agency Goal AG, whose chief Alexander Segert was described by the Financial Times in December as "the advertising guru of Europe's new right". Mr Segert has worked extensively for SVP members as well as the far-right Freedom Party of Austria and is seeking to expand his business to include Germany's political right, according to the FT. Among his earlier Swiss work was the 2009 minaret ban campaign. He produced a poster with a series of minarets sketched to look like spears protruding from a Swiss flag as a similar niqab-clad woman stared out in the foreground.

For Mr Walker, whose agency has worked for left-wing causes and parties, Goal's religiously and ethnically charged ads have "basically copied a style" that goes back to the "Soviet Union and Nazi Germany". "It's a very simple trick," where a nation's problems are condensed into the image of a supposedly threatening outsider, he explained. He also expressed regret over the fact that right-wing parties seemed better at using such methods than the left. "Maybe fear is very simple to communicate and hope and pluralism is harder," he said. "But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be done."
© AFP

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Italy: Hundreds protest far-right meeting, scuffles break out

11/2/2017- Hundreds took to the streets in the northern Italian city of Genoa to protest against a meeting of European far-right political groups on Saturday, and tension simmered at times with police. Demonstrators gathered in a square to the east of the coastal city ahead of the meeting, which was organized by hardline Italian group Forza Nuova and went ahead as planned. They waved banners reading, "Genoa anti-fascist, free city, defend our country." Local media said around 1,000 protesters turned out. The meeting was attended by Udo Voigt, a European lawmaker from Germany's far-right National Democratic Party, former leader of the British National Party Nick Griffin, and representatives of Romanian and French far-right movements. Genoa Mayor Marco Doria joined the protest march. "The presence of figures in Genoa that call into question ... democratic values, anti-fascist values, tolerance, merits a response," Doria told local newspaper Il Secolo XIX. The largely peaceful demonstration was punctuated by isolated moments of tension. Some protesters brawled amongst themselves and others threw smoke bombs at police. Video footage showed protesters and police squaring up to each other in the street near where the meeting was held. A few blows were exchanged, but no injuries were reported.
© Reuters

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Headlines 10 February, 2017

EUrope: MEPs look for ways to defund far-right party

10/2/2017- Members of the European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee (Afco) have said they are not obliged to fund parties that don't respect the founding principles of the EU, in a hearing with representatives of the Alliance for Peace and Freedom on Thursday (9 February). Hungarian MEP Gyorgy Schopflin said his centre-right EPP group was committed to freedom of speech, but not to funding parties that represent "ideas directly contrary to the EU". "These are legitimate in terms of debate, but not to receive financing from the EU institutions," he said. "The European Parliament decides for itself how it wants to spend its money". Schopflin is one of two MEPs in charge of the committee's probe into whether the Alliance for Peace and Freedom (APF) complies with the founding principles of the EU. Afco's members refer to a parliamentary rule, which says EU money can only go to parties that respect “the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law”. It is the first time the parliament tries to enforce this rule. Last year, MEPs awarded €600,000 to APF, a pan-EU party founded in February 2015.

Looking for anti-European values
APF brings together parties that have been described as neo-Nazi and fascist: Italy's Forza Nuova, Greece's Golden Dawn, the Party of the Danes, Germany's National Democratic Party (NPD), and Czech anti-Roma DSSS. Nick Griffin, a Holocaust denier who was expelled from the British National Party for being too extreme, is also a board member. Marita Ulvskog, a Swedish social democrat, said EU money had financed an APF rally in Stockholm last year, where representatives of different Nazi, fascist and white power movements gathered and sang an "anti-Semitic song blaming terror attacks, the war in Afghanistan, and feminism, on the Jews". She said APF secretary-general Stefan Jacobson was also the editor of Logik, a publishing house that brought to the Swedish market The Turner Diaries, a book that has been called the "bible of the far-right", and which calls for the extermination of Jews and homosexuals. She said APF president, Roberto Fiore, a veteran neo-Fascist, was convicted for the 1980 terrorist attacks in Bologna.

Jacobsson said the song was a cover on a humour sketch by Henrik Dorsin, a Swedish comedian. "I don't think he [Dorsin] hates all the gays. They [rally participants] made fun of the song in a different way," Jacobsson said. Fiori said he had been falsely implicated in the Bologna bombing and that he will sue Ulvskog, who is covered by parliamentary immunity, for defamation. He told MEPs they were wrong to stop funding his party, which stands for a "Europe of sovereign nations" and celebrates "Christian values and European cultural heritage" in its programme. "You cannot say that you have to be a liberal to be part of the [European] family... I know perfectly the spirit of Europe. My wife is Basque and eight of my children were born in the UK. I know you don't agree with our ideas, but it doesn't matter. We are probably saying a lot of things that will become more popular in the future," Fiori, an ex-MEP, said.

"I ask you to have a political consciousness and understand that these ideas are debatable. And because they don't infringe anything at all, they should be respected. We should be treated like any other party," he said. The European Parliament has been rocked by several scandals related to the misspending of EU money, but APF wasn't one of the parties involved.

Other ways to defund APF
Its representatives said they couldn't be hold responsible for Nazi and fascist ideas in general, or even for the behaviour of their members outside APF activities. The hearing was part of Afco's probe, which was launched last May. The committee will now seek the opinion of "independent, eminent persons". The plenary will then vote on whether the APF has complied with the criteria for being recognised as a European political party. APF's legal representative, Peter Richter, told EUobserver his client had also sued the parliament for cracking down on party funding to far-right parties. Last December, the parliament's bureau said some parties, including APF, must have a top-rated bank to back the application of parties, in case they spend their funds improperly. Richter told this website APF had not been able to secure a bank guarantee and that it had filed a lawsuit against the parliament with the EU general court in Luxembourg.
© The EUobserver

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Greece: Athens: Refugee kids stuck in EU limbo

10/2/2017- A centre for minors seeking asylum in the outskirts of Athens offers an almost idyllic setting. Surrounded by olive trees and overlooked by Mount Hymettus, the facility has become a sanctuary for children, some as young as eight. They come from Syria, Pakistan, and elsewhere. All arrived alone, without a parent. Last week, five children from Afghanistan absconded, boarding ferries in the Greek port of Patras, and are now thought to be in Italy. "They have friends here at the centre and they told us that they arrived in Italy", a lawyer at the centre told EUobserver on Friday (February 10). It is unclear why the Afghans left. But the centre has been struggling with bureaucracy as children are having to wait for months to reunite with their families.

Launched last October, the centre is financed by the European Union under the auspices of the International Organisation of Migration and run by Medecins du Monde Greece. It offers 24-hour care, counselling, security, psychologists, educational and recreational activities in a building specially designed for children. Located off a narrow dirt road from the town centre in Paiania, the facility has playrooms, common areas, a room full of instruments, a theatre, well-equipped bedrooms and a large bright canteen. All is geared towards helping children deal with personal traumas and cope with being separated from their families and loved ones. But administration, bureaucracy and the slow pace of getting kids reunited with the families in other EU states is a frustrating exercise.

Since its launch last October, only one child has been relocated and just three, out of 35 who applied, have so far reunited with their families in other EU states. A 2016 report by the European Commission said that Greek authorities couldn't properly investigate if a child applicant had family in another member state. The burden of family tracing instead fell on the child applicant. When EUobserver first visited late October last year, Nancy Retinioti, its programme director at the time, described the slow pace as also taking a toll on the staff. "You have to deal with the disappointment of kids who ask why they have to wait so long to rejoin their families and all the trauma they carry on top of all the issues here. It's a bureaucratic process that makes us also feel very bad," she said.

Retinioti said they sometimes took the kids to see their friends in city centre Athens, some 12 km away. Many had found friends while in Moria, a camp in Lesbos island, and can now be found living near Athen's Victoria Square. She said allowing them to leave, under supervision, is important so they do not feel locked in and isolated. They also try to get the kids involved with the local community, have them play football in a nearby field, and "be present". "I have to tell you that it is a conservative suburb so we had to deal with a lot of opinions about refugees," she said. The parents of Greek children resisted at first, but later offered clothing and other help following meetings with MDM. "It is a process, you have to inform them," said Retinioti.

Waiting to start school
Unlike other centres in Greece, the facility run by Medecins du Monde can accommodate up to 100 kids. Last October, there were 20 with nationalities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Eritrea, Pakistan, and one child from Ghana. The kids are divided into age groups. The youngest are eight, the eldest 17. Over a dozen older children had been accepted to and attended a nearby multicultural school. Discussions had also been under way for those under 10 to attend schools in the neighbourhood with other Greek children. But months later, resistance towards their presence among the community appears to be resurfacing.

Konstantinos Kolovos now runs the centre. Earlier this week, he said some of the older kids are still attending the multi-cultural school but that they are struggling to get the younger ones into classes. "We face difficulties because the area here in Paiania is very negative in the applications we made, the mayor also doesn't help in this situation," he said. Four of the kids at the centre aged between 10 to 12 are hoping to attend secondary school. "We cannot find a solution to include them," he said. The centre is now home to 65 minors, down from 75 last week. Around 15 are from Iraq and Syria. In January, they ended up with 124. "We are waiting for new children to come from the islands," said Kolovos.

Bureaucratic reform
The European Union is currently working on a reform of the Dublin asylum system, the draft proposal suggesting speeding up the waiting system to just a few weeks. But the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), the EU rights watchdog, opposes the move, saying asylum procedures must be long enough to assess and respond to the specific needs of children. The European Parliament's negotiator, Swedish liberal Cecilia Wikstroem, instead suggests that family reunification should take place before any admissibility assessments kick off.

This article was independently created by EUobserver's editorial staff and is part of a series about unaccompanied migrant children. Travel and other costs for producing this article was funded in part by the Destination Unknown initiative.
© The EUobserver

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FIFA Anti-Racism Task Force: Mission Unaccomplished (comment)

Journalist Osasu Obayiuwana, a member of the now dissolved FIFA Task Force Against Racism and Discrimination, shares his personal experiences and disappointment with FIFA’s half-hearted attempt to address racial and discriminatory issues in football. “The time for silence has ended,” he says and calls the disbandment of the Task Force a “grave mistake”.

10/2/2017- FIFA’s decision, that they had enough of the Anti-Racism Task Force - set up to help excise a cancerous scourge on the game - came to me as a run-of-the-mill e-mail on Friday, the 23rd of September 2016. There was nothing special about that evening, as I was doing some work in Lagos, Nigeria, when I noticed the pop-up on my computer screen and I opened the email attachment. But what I subsequently read, in a letter from Gerd Dembowski, FIFA’s Diversity and Anti-Discrimination Manager, certainly gave me a jolly good jolt and changed my mood for the rest of that day.

“Dear Mr Obayiuwana,” his letter began, “The FIFA Task Force Against Racism and Discrimination was set up with your help on a temporary basis to develop recommendations for FIFA. We are therefore delighted to inform you that all of the Task Force’s recommendations HAVE BEEN IMPLEMENTED (emphasis mine)… “Given that the last meeting of the Task Force was some time ago 2nd December (Dembowski 'forgot' to add the year, which was 2014) and that we have recently received some enquiries about possible meetings in the future, we would like to explain to you that the task force is dissolved and no longer in operation… “We thank you very much for your valuable contribution to promoting diversity and fighting discrimination in football.”

To say that I was gobsmacked, after I had finished reading the letter, was the understatement of last year. And I was certainly not the only one. "After failing to deal with racism sufficiently for decades, why stop, when something is beginning to work?" asked Ivorian Yaya Toure, the four-time African Footballer of the Year and Manchester City player, who was a fellow member of the Task Force. "Are FIFA being complacent ahead of a World Cup in Russia? This makes no sense," Toure said.

A “temporary” mission
How could we have fulfilled our “temporary mission,” as Mr Dembowski claimed, when the Task Force had no concrete engagement with Russia, with regards to the 2018 World Cup, which will be staged in barely 18 months from now? And how could we have fulfilled our “temporary mission,” when FIFA has failed to take any strong, direct action to change the attitude of several Football Associations and Federations towards racism, particularly in Spain, Italy and in several parts of Eastern Europe? These were the unresolved issues that were the subject of intense debate, since May 2013, between the members of the Task Force and the FIFA administration. Our group included South Africa’s Tokyo Sexwale, the ex-South Africa cabinet minister and close friend of the late Nelson Mandela, (Sexwale was a FIFA presidential candidate in 2016), AIPS president Gianni Merlo, Theo Van Seggelen of FIFPRO, the world player’s union, Piara Powar of FARE (Football Against Racism in Europe) and Howard Webb, the former English Premier League Referee.

The letter from FIFA was particularly grating, as I had discussed the inactivity of the task force with Gianni Infantino, the incumbent FIFA president and Fatma Samoura, its Secretary-General, in Abuja, when both came on a visit to Nigeria, in July 2016 - only two months before. My conversation with them did not give me the impression that they saw the Task Force as a relic of the Sepp Blatter era, which they were determined to consign to the scrapheap. But when, weeks later, a source in FIFA intimated me, not in the warmest of tones, that I should “be expecting a letter very soon, on the future of the Task Force,” I knew that its ‘Nunc Dimittis’ was being sung, which the letter only confirmed.

A perfect storm
After putting the news of the dissolution of the Task Force, (as well as a copy of the letter), on my twitter handle that same day, I decided to sit back and let the chips fall where they may. That began two days later, when a colleague, Rob Harris of the Associated Press, asked me three questions:
1. What was your reaction to the letter/being told the committee has been disbanded?
2. Was the committee a success, was there still more work to be done?
3/ What does this say about the new FIFA under Infantino?

My strong response to these questions formed the basis of his report, which went global and did not exactly do FIFA's image any favours, particularly on Monday 26th September. It was the day that Fatma Samoura was making her first public appearance, as Secretary-General, in England, where the world football governing body was naming the winners of its 'Diversity Awards'. It was, as they say, the perfect storm. With former BBC journalist and former FA Director, David Davies and Andy Burham, a former UK Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, amongst those criticising FIFA for what they saw as a strange decision, it was an unexpected baptism of fire for Samoura, who had to defend the decision to dissolve the Task Force. This sad end to being part of a group I sincerely thought could actually play a key role in making real and sustained change to attitudes in the game (a thought that my colleagues, like Jens Weinreich, believed was incredibly naïve) is a far cry from March 2013, in Marrakech, Morocco, when this personal journey began.

A task force lacking key players
At the personal request of Sepp Blatter, the immediate past president of FIFA, he asked me to be a part of this working group, knowing my very strong views on the subject and what I felt should be done about them. The very first meeting of the Task Force, on 6th May, 2013, officially chaired by Jeff Webb, the disgraced CONCACAF president (now convicted by a US Court for fraud and racketeering) – but with Sepp Blatter and Jerome Valcke in attendance, in the basement of FIFA’s HQ in Zurich (which usually hosts its executive committee, now council meetings) was promising. All the right sentiments were expressed about tackling a problem that was highlighted by the treatment of Ghana’s Kevin-Prince Boateng, then playing for Italian Serie A side AC Milan.

Boateng walked off the pitch during a friendly match against Pro Patria, a fourth division side, in the town of Busto Arsizio, in January 2013, after he was racially abused by the fans there. Although Boateng was appointed as the first person, by Sepp Blatter, to be a member of the task force, in a high-profile ceremony, the fact that he never attended any of our meetings was an irony not lost on me. That we were having discussions about racism without the consistent presence of active players, was, to put it very diplomatically, particularly odd. Serey Die, the Cote d’Ivoire midfielder, who plays for FC Basel in Switzerland, attended our very first meeting and was never seen again. Jozy Altidore, the USA international, also co-opted as a member of the Task Force, did not attend any meeting either. Yaya Toure, the Manchester City midfielder, also co-opted onto the Task Force, found it impossible to attend meetings but was involved in other task force activities.

That meetings were scheduled to take place at times that players would not be released by their clubs to travel to Zurich did not help matters. Being a governing body for the sport, well aware of players' work schedules, it was odd that they did not think of this important point. There was, in the main, a general consensus that only a two-pronged approach – stiff sanctions for racist behaviour, as well as a programme of education for the global fraternity, to change ignorant attitudes and the mind-sets of those with prejudice, was the way to go. I did warn the group, not once, that there were several national associations, particularly in Europe, where it was evident that they lacked the internal capacity to deal with the problem of racism and required direct intervention from FIFA – and the credible threat of sanctions – to ensure that they actually did something about it.

Failing to address discrimination issues ahead of the 2018 World Cup
After our first meeting in May 2013, we had a second meeting on September 12th, four months later. Russia – and how it was going to confront the problems of racism within the game, ahead of the 2018 World Cup finals, was a major topic for discussion in the Task Force. Jerome Valcke, the disgraced former FIFA Secretary-General, may have lost all credibility, as the result of the 12-year ban imposed on him, for six violations of its Code of Ethics, by the governing body's Judicial Chamber. But since the old saying goes that 'even the devil deserves his due', I have to make clear that he made poignant observations that we, as a Task Force, had a huge responsibility to dialogue with the Russians and come up with a credible plan to improve the state of things there, which had been clearly exposed in a study done by Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), in association with the SOVA Centre in Moscow.

During the 2014/2015 season, they logged 92 incidents of discriminatory displays and chants by Russian fans in and around the stadium, against a total of 83 for the previous two seasons put together. And, as far back as 2008, Andre Bikey, the former Cameroon international, admitted to the London Daily Telegraph that he carried a firearm, for personal protection from violent racists, while he was playing for Lokomotiv Moscow. "Russia has a different mentality. For a black person, it is very hard to live in Russia... I'm a big guy and maybe you think you can fight people off, when there is one, two or three people trying to attack you. But when it is six or seven, you cannot do this. This is why I had to buy a gun," he told the paper.  "When I moved to [English club] Reading, I gave it (the gun) to one of my friends in Moscow. There are things I want to forget, about my time in Russia.

"You would go onto the pitch and as soon as the game starts, you would begin to hear the fans saying bad things. It was not easy to hear those things. The police did not protect us," Bikey said. The harrowing tale of Bikey – and other players like him – fuelled my personal determination – and certainly that of other members, like Tokyo Sexwale and Piara Powar, that we, as a Task Force, needed to do something serious and sustainable, about bringing this horrible problem to an end – or at least, reducing it. But after our second meeting, ominous signs began to show that the work of our group was not being taken seriously by certain members of the FIFA administration.

Three meetings in 3 ½ years
After the meeting of 12th September 2013, there was no single meeting of the Task Force for over one year – 15 months to be exact. It was a pathetic and extremely disappointing state of affairs that certainly sowed the seeds of despondence in my spirit. I – and, as far as I know, other members too – did not receive any meaningful communication from FIFA, on why no meetings were called. Jeff Webb, then CONCACAF president and the chairman of our Task Force, before his arrest and subsequent conviction by the US justice system, publicly said as much, at an embarrassing press conference in Rio de Janeiro, during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, to mark its Anti-Racism/Discrimination Day.

Eleven months into the 15-month interregnum – and after I had consulted with other concerned members of the Task Force – I decided to write Sepp Blatter, Jerome Valcke and every member of the Task Force, about the "unenviable, if not embarrassing position" we found ourselves in. "Considering the scope and seriousness of the work the Task Force was given to carry out, I am very surprised, to say the least, that we find ourselves in this unpleasant situation, where our work has, for all intents and purposes, come to a perplexing halt," I told them on 7th August 2014. "The watching world will judge the Task Force's members and FIFA very harshly, if they come to the conclusion that the Task Force did nothing concrete about the problem of racism in the game. For now, the jury is still out on us," I warned them.

I never got a reply to this letter, from any member of the FIFA administration, right up to the moment that the third – and very last meeting of the Task Force took place, on the 2nd of December 2014. Illness made it impossible for me, at the very last moment, to attend that meeting, the last chaired by Webb, before his tales of woe and subsequent disgrace began. But the suggestion, at that 2nd December meeting, that the Task Force should have had its fourth session in Russia, in order to have meaningful dialogue with that country's football federation, as well as its World Cup Local Organising Committee (LOC), never saw the light of day. Webb's subsequent arrest at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich, on 27th May 2015, after the Swiss authorities acted on a US arrest warrant, in which other members of the FIFA executive committee (as it was then known) were arrested and subsequently extradited to the United States for trial, brought a rude, dramatic and certainly unexpected end to his chairmanship of the Task Force.

DR Congo's Constant Omari, president of his country's football association and a member of the FIFA Council, was appointed as Webb's replacement in September 2015. But not a single meeting was held under Omari's chairmanship until the Task Force was dissolved. My email to Omari, on 26th August 2016, asking him why no meeting had been called never got an answer. It was only when I saw him, at a CAF media breakfast meeting, on the 4th of February, at the Radisson Hotel in Libreville, Gabon, during the recently concluded Africa Cup of Nations, that he finally gave me an answer. "There was no direction from the FIFA administration on the entire issue, so I was in no position to say anything to you," he said. It was an excuse that I found untenable, as he could have certainly explained this to me in confidence, as a member of the Task Force.

“The time for silence has ended”
From the time I was appointed to the Task Force, on the 29th of April 2013, until its dissolution on 23rd September 2016, I only made one public statement – to the BBC World Service's "World Football" programme, on the workings, activities and frustrations of being a part of a Task Force that was clearly not working properly. (I must state that I am a longstanding reporter and pundit for this programme). And that was only after my conversation with Infantino and Samoura. That, for anyone who knows me and my very robust style of journalism, is a show of unusual restraint. During my 41-month stint, I received several requests, from CNN, the BBC and several media organisations around the world, to comment on the work we were doing.

But I refused to do so, because it would not have promoted the required atmosphere and ambience for Task Force members to have brutally frank and robust dialogue during our meetings, if they were afraid that their comments could end up on the pages of newspapers. The time for silence has since ended. I am extremely concerned with the attitude of the current FIFA administration and they need to be told the unvarnished truth – the disbandment of the Task Force is a grave mistake. And not allowing it to have taken on the task of dealing with Russia, ahead of the World Cup, was also a faux pas. That FIFA does not have a concrete plan to deal with errant member associations, where racism is endemic, is extremely disappointing. There are quite a few – Italy, Spain and several countries in Eastern Europe.

Carlo Tavecchio, the current president of the FIGC, the Italian FA, received a six-month ban, from UEFA and FIFA in 2014, after making racist jibes about "banana-eating" African players being allowed to have careers in Serie A. Before the UEFA and FIFA bans, an internal FIGC investigation shockingly found him innocent of any wrongdoing. That speaks volumes about the prevailing attitude in Italy. Israel, where clubside Beitar Jerusalem have openly discriminated against Arab players and are not been exactly welcoming to people of African descent, also needs FIFA's attention. These countries, and many others, do not have the political will to confront these problems. And it is only the big stick, which only FIFA can wield, that can enforce – or at least, promote – sustained change.

“FIFA has the power to do a hell of a lot more”
Many people have asked me whether I regret my time on the Task Force. As with many things in life, there isn't exactly a straight 'yes' or 'no' answer to that; Having the opportunity to see, from the inside, how FIFA works was an extremely educative experience and I would not change that for anything. It has certainly given me insight into how it functions or dysfunctions. This knowledge certainly cannot be bad for a journalist that reports and comments on global football governance. But as a member of the football fraternity, who thought that he could actually make some impact in confronting the scourge of racism and discrimination, I am, to put it very mildly, bitterly disappointed. FIFA has an obligation to do better. At the moment, it is just not doing enough, when it has the power to do a hell of a lot more.

Lilian Thuram, the 1998 World Cup winner with France, offered some telling advice for FIFA. "I am extremely shocked that such an important organisation that can reach millions of people, especially children, can say, in 2016, in this global political situation, 'the job is done'. "There is a symbolism in them saying that 'this [Anti-Racism Task Force] is no longer important to us... We must be on our guard and start to change the way that we think, as football is an incredibly good way to get people to think differently." I couldn't have put it any better than the former Juventus player has done. But will the game's guardians realise the error of their ways and do the right thing, in the end? That is a question that only posterity can answer.
© Play the Game

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Sweden: First we take Hässleholm … far-right rises

10/2/2017- When the leader of the Moderates, Anna Kinberg Batra, recently announced that her party would be open to negotiating with the Sweden Democrats, it sent shockwaves through the establishment. Many accused Kinberg Batra of ripping up the cordon sanitaire which has prevented far-right populists in Sweden from winning the kind of influence they have achieved in neighboring Denmark and Norway, and elsewhere on the Continent. “You will be sitting and negotiating with a party that you yourself say is racist and pro-Russia,” Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said in response to the news, arguing that his opponent had ”lost her political compass.”

Even the Moderates’ allies in the centre-right Alliance bloc were unhappy, with Liberal leader Jan Björkland calling the move an “unfortunate gambit.” Both he and Centre Party leader Annie Lööf have said they would never be part of a government formed with the active support of the Sweden Democrats. But the Sweden Democrats — which have been surging in the polls — will likely be in a position to wield real power after next year’s election. And the blessing by the Moderate leadership to allow MPs and local councilors to start talks with the SD is clearly helping sanitize a party that, until now, has been cut out of mainstream politics over links to neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups.

Unlikely alliance
In Hässleholm, a town in northern Skåne, a stronghold for the Sweden Democrats, Ulf Erlandsson, the local SD leader, looks every inch the maverick in black jeans, trainers and a floral shirt. At the end of this month, he intends to join forces with the centre-right Moderates to oust the ruling Social Democrats, whose budget the two parties have blocked from being voted through. He hopes the Social Democrat council chairman will resign at a meeting on February 27 and, in exchange for supporting the Moderates’ appointee to replace her, expects to be made his deputy. The collaboration between SD and the Moderates in this area will be the first of its kind in Sweden and if he gets made vice chairman, Erlandsson will be the first Sweden Democrat to take such a position in Sweden, “so it’s nice,” he said. “But I think it will soon be happening all over the country.”

Indeed, Erlandsson believes the winds of change blowing through Skåne are the same ones that have brought Brexit and Trump and have upset the upcoming elections in France and Germany. In November, he made a speech in the council chamber, celebrating the election of U.S. President Donald Trump. “I said that those people who wanted to see a woman president … just have to wait for it to happen in France,” he said. His party’s support has soared in recent years on the back of growing disquiet over migration. Last year, Sweden, a country of 9.5 million people, granted residency to a record 150,000 immigrants. As the number of asylum seekers has dipped, the party has turned its focus to law and order concerns in areas with large immigrant populations.

But despite leader Jimmie Åkesson’s moves to soften the party’s image, it continues to be dogged by scandals involving racism. An MP was sacked last year for proposing that the Bonniers newspaper group, whose family owners are Jewish, be broken up because no “ethnic group” should be allowed to “control more than five percent of the media.” At the height of the refugee crisis in 2015, party activists posted a map listing the addresses of all asylum centers in and around the city of Lund, a move criticized as inviting anti-immigrant activists to commit arson attacks.

A big deal
Last week, Moderate party officials held their first official meeting with their Sweden Democrat counterparts on cooperation in the Riksdag, Sweden’s parliament. “It’s a really big deal [although] it was very probably a matter of time,” said Nicholas Aylott, associate professor at Södertorn University, who sees the shift as part of a necessary realignment of the party system since the growth of the Sweden Democrats deprived alliances on the left and on the right of the chance of a majority. “I still think we’ve got a long way before the Sweden Democrats get anywhere near ministerial positions,” he said. “What’s more likely is some understanding where SD would passively support a centre-right government.” Kinberg Batra, who has repeatedly described Sweden Democrats as “racist in its actions,” put a stop to her party’s backroom negotiations with the SD in Hässleholm as recently as December, saying: “I do not want us Moderates to enter into cooperation with the Sweden Democrats on any level.”

Her sudden shift has left Moderate MPs grumbling, mostly off-the-record, that they were never consulted. And at least three former Moderate ministers have criticized the move publicly. Mikael Odenberg, defense minister in the last Moderate government, wrote an article on Monday, calling for a grand coalition with the Social Democrats rather than negotiations with a party whose policies on most issues, he said, are “a total joke.” “Is limited cooperation with SD possible?” asked Sten Tolgfors, a former trade minister, on Facebook. “Is it desirable? Will you influence one another through cooperation? Will the political climate be affected by it?”

In Hässleholm, Douglas Roth, who hopes to be appointed chairman of the council this month if all goes to plan, argued the move was a return to sanity. The last Moderate government’s “open hearts” in terms of immigration and its refusal to put in place tougher policies proposed by then-immigration minister Tobias Billström, was the reason his party came third in the municipality, he said. “We saw that people were horrified by the immigration politics we were driving forward,” he said. “If we had brought in the politics that Billström wanted, we wouldn’t have had the Sweden Democrats with 16 percent of the votes.”

He is not alone. A poll by Inizio found that 82 percent of Moderate voters supported Kinberg Batra’s move while a clear majority of Moderate local councilors, approached by the Dagens Nyheter newspaper, welcomed the possible collaboration. Roth admits that talks have already taken place in Hässleholm, contradicting the claims of Pär Palmgren, the local party leader, that there is no cooperation. For Roth, it comes down to arithmetic. The Social Democrats have 20 seats in Hässleholm and, with their allies, hold 30 seats on the council, leaving them one crucial vote short of a majority. The Moderates, with just eight seats, are far short of a majority, even with all of their Alliance partners, unless they get the support of the Sweden Democrats and the local Folkets Väl party, which would earn them 31 votes.
Authoritarian roots

The maths looks similar across Sweden. In Gävle municipality, half-way up the Baltic coast, the Moderates at the start of last year ended more than a hundred years of Social Democrat rule, again with the passive support of the Sweden Democrats. Kinberg Batra’s move opens the way for more to do so. The Moderates are already moving to detoxify the Sweden Democrats’ image among voters. Kinberg Batra’s latest line is that her party would neither form a government with the Sweden Democrats nor with the Left Party as “both have authoritarian roots.” The underlying message is that ruling with the passive support of a party whose founders had links to the neo-Nazi movement is no different from the way the Social Democrats often have done with the former Communist party, whose previous leaders supported Joseph Stalin.

“It’s wrong to call SD such a terrible and disgusting party,” Roth said. “The Social Democrats want you to see them like that because they want to be able to stay in power. Half of SD’s members are old Moderates.” In Hässleholm, Erlandsson can’t wait to move into his council office. “I don’t have a key, but I will next month!” he said with a laugh. “I will have a big office on the second floor. It feels very good.”
© Politico EU

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France: Violence and discriminatory treatment by police is a wake-up call for action

A serious incident of police violence and alleged rape against a young Black man in Paris, France, highlights the urgent need to address police violence and discriminatory treatment of ethnic and religious minorities across Europe.

9/2/2017- On 2 February, police officers in a suburb of Paris began stopping youths and asking for their identity papers. Police officers stopped Théo, a young black man, and are now being charged with assault and raping him. There are also accounts of racist insults by the police officers. This incident is symptomatic of widespread ethnic profiling by police forces – which leads to individuals being singled out for identity checks or searches because of their race, ethnicity or perceived religion – and police violence against ethnic minorities in Europe, and in particular people of African descent. Heightened concerns over migration and the threat of terrorism may be fuelling these discriminatory policing practices.

Amel Yacef, ENAR Chair, said: “This latest appalling case shows just how damaging ethnic profiling and violence by police forces are. The allegations of rape should be investigated as a crime and sanctioned accordingly. Such practices are unacceptable and are also spreading a feeling of police impunity. We cannot wait any longer for EU action to put an end to racial bias in policing.”

In the United Kingdom, Black people are stopped by police at six times the rate of White people and Asians at almost twice the rate of Whites. In Belgium, there has been an increase in ethnic profiling by police of young males of African or north African background since the Brussels and Paris terrorist attacks. Police forces in Germany recently very openly profiled North Africans during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne. Police violence was allegedly experienced by 75.9 % of the 870 individuals surveyed in the Calais ‘Jungle’, which included physical violence, verbal abuse, tear gas and sexual violence.

These practices breach fundamental rights standards and have an extremely negative impact on the minority communities targeted, often leaving innocent individuals feeling humiliated, alienated and damaged, physically and psychologically. In addition, ethnic profiling leads to lower levels of trust in the police, making the very communities whose support is necessary for fighting crime and terrorism reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement authorities.

ENAR calls on the European Union to develop standards for fair and effective policing, which should include an explicit prohibition against ethnic profiling, the collection of data on police stops, and the provision of appropriate training for police officers. EU Member States should:
- Systematically investigate and sanction criminal wrong doing by police officers including the racist bias.
- Strengthen the law and police instructions on stop-powers to ensure police use their discretion in a fair, respectful and non-discriminatory manner, and without excessive force.
- Ensure that all ID checks, stops and searches are recorded and each person stopped receives a record of the encounter. This data should be used to monitor officers’ use of     powers.
- Provide training to police officers to raise awareness of ethnic profiling and implicit bias.
- Invest in community policing to build and restore trust and good relations with all communities.
© EUropean Network Against Racism

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French police conclude 'anal rape' of suspect was an accident

An initial French police investigation has found insufficient evidence to support allegations that a 22-year-old man was anally raped with a police truncheon, a police source said Thursday, suggesting they believe the officer's baton slipped up the man's anus by accident.

9/2/2017- The outcome of the internal police inquiry emerged after violence flared in the northern suburbs of Paris and elsewhere in France following the incident involving the man identified only as Theo. The youth worker required surgery for severe anal injuries after he was allegedly assaulted with a truncheon and also suffered head trauma in a case that has revived the contentious issue of policing in France's deprived suburbs. The police's own investigation into last Thursday's incident in the gritty suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois has concluded that the injuries were not inflicted intentionally. A video of the scene shows a policeman "applying a truncheon blow horizontally across the buttocks with a truncheon" and Theo's trousers "slipped down on their own", a police source said.

Investigators said they had taken into account "the questioning of the victim and the (police officers), eyewitness accounts and CCTV recordings" and had concluded that "there are insufficient elements to show that this was a rape". However, an investigating magistrate has charged one of the police officers with rape and is still examining the case. Police said Wednesday night was quieter after several nights of car burnings in Aulnay-sous-Bois where the February 2 incident involving Theo took place, but 28 people were detained in neighbouring Parisian suburbs for "throwing objects, lighting fires and violence".

Violence, protests spread
The trouble spread to northwestern France, with 20 people arrested in Nantes following a demonstration of around 400 people in support of Theo and incidents in the city of Rennes as well. The alleged victim, who has urged people to stay calm while the investigation takes place, has said he was assaulted after officers ordered him to stand against a wall. Police say they were on the lookout for drug dealers at the time. President Francois Hollande has visited Theo in hospital and Prime Minister Bernard Cazenueve said Wednesday the government expressed its "solidarity" with the alleged victim. Theo himself has called for calm and has urged residents of Aulnay "not to go to war".

The case has revived past controversies over the relationship between police and immigrant communities in rundown suburbs. In 2005, the death of two teenagers who were electrocuted while hiding from police in an electricity substation sparked weeks of riots in France. Around 10,000 cars were burned and 6,000 people were arrested. The latest case comes in the midst of a presidential election campaign and follows the death of 24-year-old Adama Traore in police custody in another Parisian suburb last year.
© The Local - France

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French MP claims Presidential hopeful is puppet of ‘rich gay lobby’

A French MP has claimed that the favourite to become France’s next President is a secret puppet of the “rich gay lobby”.

6/2/2017- Nicolas Dhuicq, a outspoken member of the National Assembly for the right-wing Republicans, made the claim about centre-ground candidate Emmanuel Macron, who has taken a surprise lead in the Presidential race. Macron is the new favourite to face far-right leader Marine Le Pen in May’s run-off election, following a scandal that that savaged the campaign of Republicans right-winger Francois Fillon. Speaking to Russian government-controlled news agency Sputnik, Dhuicq sought to play up fears that Macron is a puppet of the “gay lobby”. He said: “Concerning his private life, it is becoming public as we speak… Macron is a guy who is called a chouchou, or a darling, of the French media, which is owned by only a few people, as we all know. “Besides, one of the guys who backs him is famous businessman Pierre Berge, a business partner and long-time lover of Yves Saint Laurent, who is openly homosexual and advocates gay marriage. There is very wealthy gay lobby behind him. This says it all.”

The Russian-controlled outlet then attempts a smear, claiming: “In November 2016, Macron publicly denied a persistent rumour that he’s secretly gay and living a ‘double life’.” Speaking previously Mr Macron, a supporter for LGBT rights, rubbished smears about his sexuality, adding: “I care more than anything about my family life and my marriage.” Mr Macron married his wife Brigitte Trogneux in 2007. The centrist candidate is the strongest supporter of LGBT rights among the top candidates. Mr Fillon, who strongly opposed the introduction of same-sex marriage in 2013, has shrugged off calls to directly repeal same-sex unions if elected President – instead planning to pare back the rights of gay couples to adopt. The candidate, who voted against an equal age of consent in 1982, says he wants to change the law to ensure “a child is always the fruit of a father and mother.”

Under Mr Fillon’s proposals, same-sex couples would be banned from fully adopting a child, under a new requirement that children must have both male and female parents. Ms Le Pen’s party has previously maintained strong ties to the anti-LGBT lobby, and though she insists she has made “reforms”, many of her party’s most senior figures have expressed homophobic views. A Russian bank with strong ties to the Kremlin made a controversial loan to Le Pen’s Front National in 2014, leading to accusations of government interference.
© Pink News

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Italy: Slurs against Jews in sport not racism, judge rules

Two fans of the Italian Lazio soccer club acquitted by judge despite being caught on camera singing explicitly anti-Semitic chants at Roma fans; judge says it is ‘legitimate’ given historic antagonism between the team’; Jewish community leader warns of ‘dangerous precedent’ of ruling

8/2/2017- Members of the Italian Jewish community were disappointed to learn of a recent court ruling in Rome which saw the acquittal of two soccer fans from the S.S Lazio team after being filmed in 2013 calling out anti-Semitic chants. The Lazio fans watched their team play against Calcio Catania, as they have done many times throughout the world, and cursed supporters of their urban opponents, Roma. On March 30, 2013, closed-circuit cameras in the Stadio Olimpico captured the two screaming out the words “giallorosso ebreo,” Italian for “yellow-red Jew” in reference to the colors the club’s soccer kit. Policemen brought the two suspects in for investigation shortly after and they later stood trial for “incitement and racial hatred.” However, the judge appears to have acquitted the two on the grounds that the phrase “Jewish Roma supporter” does not constitute racism, but is rather an acceptable and legitimate term because of the “historic sports antagonism between the two urban teams.”

“This is merely sports ridicule,” the judge said before discharging the two. He even justified his decision by saying that on the same day, Roma fans were not even present in the stadium. In its essence, the judgement appears to legitimize both abusive chants, including explicit expressions of anti-Semitism, as long as they are expressed within the domain of competitive sport. The prosecution team’s case was not helped by the fact that the police found in the apartment of one of the defendants a cold weapon and posters and t-shirts identifying with the far right. The head of the Jewish community in Rome, Ruth Dureghello, wrote Monday a scathing letter of protest against against the legal decision, pointing out: “This is, without doubt, an extremely dangerous precedent for justice in this country.” Dureghello also explained that the ruling, in practice, lends legitimacy to using the word “Jew” in its most negative form for racist use and any other form of mockery in sports events.

Some solace could be found for the crestfallen Jewish community in the fact that the Italian Minister of Justice promised to look into the matter further, familiarize himself with the ruling and act accordingly if he deems necessary. Moreover, a Foreign Affairs Committee of the Italian parliament supported the Jewish community and concluded that the ruling shows that “the judge is blind and deaf or worse.”
© Ynet News

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Netherlands: Rijksmuseum to hold exhibition on slavery in 2020

10/2/2017- The Rijksmuseum will organise an exhibition devoted to the Netherlands and slavery in 2020, the museum director Taco Dibbits told the Volkskrant in an interview. Dibbit’s decision marks a break with the vision of former directors who devoted little attention to the darker side of the country’s history, the paper said. ‘The collection tells the history of the Netherlands which is connected with many countries,’ says Dibbits. ‘The good and less good are part of that and must all be shown.’ The museum’s collection includes many objects which refer to slavery, including three dimensional tableaus of slaves working on plantations made by Surinamese Dutch artist Gerrit Schouten.

The collection also includes etchings and paintings featuring slaves, including child slaves in the service of wealthy families, the Volkskrant said. Cultural historian Thomas Dunk told the paper that slavery should be an integral part of the way we view history. ‘There needs to be an awareness, but we should not have to radiate guilt,’ he said. ‘You are not guilty of things you have not done but as a society you are a product of history.’ He urged the museum to make sure the exhibition reflects slavery in a wider perspective. ‘All cultures whose remains we wonder at, be it the Egyptians with their pyramids and Romans with their Colosseum had slaves,’ he said.
© The Dutch News

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Netherlands:The Wilders effect (opinion)

How the far-right rabble-rouser hijacked Dutch politics.
By Tom-Jan Meeus


8/2/2017- Just over a month before the Netherlands heads to elections on March 15, conventional wisdom in political circles has it that the man expected to win — right-wing rabble-rouser Geert Wilders — will be unable to form a governing coalition. But while he may not become prime minister, to dismiss him would be a mistake. No political leader has had a larger impact on Dutch politics over the past decade than Wilders, a harsh critic of Islam, immigration and the European Union. In the decade since his Freedom Party (PVV) won its first parliamentary seats in 2006, Wilders has reshaped the politics of a country with a long tradition of tolerance and liberalism. Policy debates, political language, media attitudes, party landscape — all have been affected by Wilders’ politics. Whatever the ultimate outcome of the election, expect the controversial “Dutch Trump” to keep playing an outsized role.

Between a rock and hard place
Last month, Prime Minister Mark Rutte, a fiscal conservative, set the stage for the final campaign months. He pointed out that there is no chance — “I mean, zero” — that his party will govern alongside Wilders after the election. This all but certainly isolates the far-right leader from power. In a fragmented party landscape, Wilders currently has the support of about 20 percent of the vote in the polls. Rutte — who is, on policy terms, Wilders’ closest available partner — comes in second with 16 percent. But then Rutte has also made another big campaign move. He published an open letter that partly echoed the anti-immigrant sentiment Wilders has been cashing in on. Rutte advised immigrants who refuse to accept Dutch cultural standards to leave the country: “Act normal or leave,” he wrote. Observers from outside the country were stunned. Rutte’s strategy “could have come from President Trump’s playbook,” wrote the New York Times.

In Dutch political circles, however, none of this came as a surprise. Over the past four years, Rutte has done fairly well in second-tier elections largely thanks to similar remarks. During a campaign for regional elections two years ago, he said he preferred Dutch nationals fighting alongside the Islamic Sate in Syria to die on the battlefield instead of returning home. Rutte’s party has also struggled to respond to Wilders’ crude remarks on people of Moroccan descent. In 2014, the populist leader said he would “take care” of reducing the number of Moroccans allowed in the country. Late last year, he was convicted, but not punished, by a Dutch court for inciting discrimination. Rutte has pointed to Wilders’ remarks as an important reason for his unwillingness to govern with the far-right politician. But Rutte’s party — like most in the country — has shied away from attacking Wilders on the topic during the campaign. After all, Wilders’ conviction only boosted his support in the polls. Wilders has boxed in his opponents: The harsher they criticize him, the better his chances of winning the election.

Co-opting the left
And so instead, politicians from all stripes have started copying his language. The new leader of the struggling Labor party, Lodewijk Asscher, has made “progressive patriotism” his campaign slogan. The leader of the Green Party, Jesse Klaver, who could become the new face of the Dutch left, attacked “the elites” in the early stages of the campaign. The left has suffered the most from Wilders’ rise. As a former MP for Rutte’s party, Wilders has long held right-wing economic views. After his criticism of Islam and immigration turned out to do very well with less educated voters — traditional supporters of the left — he suddenly opposed attempts to slash funding for health care and other welfare state programs, confessing behind closed doors that these policies made no sense to him. The effects were huge. Together, progressive parties traditionally held close to 50 percent of the vote. They are now down to 30-35 percent in most polls, largely because voters have flocked to Wilders.

Scarcity tactics
In the meantime, Wilders also managed to change the media’s attitude towards him. Skepticism toward him has largely disappeared over the years. Reporters are now eager to land his quotes. Wilders’ controversial statements tend do be a boon for ratings and clicks — and he knows that. So he simply ignores tough questions and hardly ever sits down for one-on-one TV interviews. Instead, he holds back — and his tactic has worked remarkably well. Because he hardly ever responds to requests from individual political reporters, when he grants one newspaper a long interview, his remarks tend to get picked up by every outlet. Like Trump in the U.S., Wilders regularly bashes “the media” on Twitter. And with his more than 700,000 followers, he easily beats the circulation of most newspapers. Scandal erupts again and again in his party. Over the years, his MPs have gotten in all kinds of trouble — for thing like urinating in a neighbor’s mailbox or running a porn company. Last year, Wilders’ spokesman was caught stealing close to €200,000 of party money to pay for his cocaine and alcohol addictions.

As a consequence, the party has become an extremely secretive affair. There is no democracy there: His party does not allow citizens, or even PVV politicians, to become party members. The only exception to this rule is Wilders himself, meaning that he never faces opposition within his party. Investigative reports on the inner workings of the party show a distrustful party leader with little respect for his MPs, whom he often refers to as incompetent or crazy. The contrast with his public performances is striking. The electorate perceives him as a strong and confident leader. But in his party he is known as being too suspicious to build longstanding relations, even with his closest allies. But the bottom line is that none of the scandals or inside reports have harmed his poll numbers or his reputation among supporters. So most political reporters have accepted that reality — and cover him by mainly running his quotes and tweets.

And Wilders gained a huge psychological victory when the editors of the country’s major news outlets invited him to a closed door session last September. Though some were rather critical of his media tactics, the overall message was quite clear: We’re eager to talk to you, despite the fact that you’ve refused to answer our questions for so many years.

The Wilders way
Not only did Wilders manage to shrink the left, he catalyzed its fragmentation. A new pro-immigrant party emerged two years ago, after the left had internalized parts of Wilders’ criticism of Dutch immigration and integration policies. The governing Labor party had vowed to get tougher on immigrants who, in their eyes, failed to fully integrate in Dutch society. When two Labor MPs — both Muslim and of Turkish descent — disagreed, they were kicked out of the party. They founded Denk (“equal” or “balanced” in Turkish —and “think” in Dutch), a party that mirrors Wilders’ confrontational style. Where Wilders criticizes Muslims and immigrants for not acknowledging the supposed superiority of Western culture, Denk criticizes him for not acknowledging their contributions to Dutch society. Denk soon became a huge success in immigrant circles, where frustration with Wilders’ abrasive politics has been simmering for years.

Denk attracted a TV personality with Latin American roots, Sylvana Simons, who soon became a leading figure in a toxic debate over Zwarte Piet (Black Peter), traditionally celebrated as Santa Claus’ servant on Saint Nicholas, a tradition widely perceived as racist. The debate pitted “traditionalist” Dutchmen against immigrants in a polarizing atmosphere, out of which both Denk and Wilders benefited politically. Pollsters had predicted huge success for Denk. Then, in late December that year, news broke that Simons had left Denk and started a party of her own. A typical Dutch outcome — in a country where close to 30 parties will compete in elections — that shrinks the chances of both Denk and Simons’ new party. The incident showed that the Netherlands’ immigrant population — and their supporters — are clearly susceptible to a party that mirrors the style and tactics of Wilders, setting the stage for further polarization and fragmentation in the future. And it confirmed what Dutch political analysts have seen happen for over a decade now: At the end of the day, things go Wilders’ way.
Tom-Jan Meeus is a political columnist for NRC Handelsblad. He was awarded best political writer of the Netherlands in 2015.
© Politico EU

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Britain to end its program for lone child refugees

9/2/2017- A former child refugee, Alfred Dubs was elated in May when he helped force the British government to accept unaccompanied refu­gee children from other European countries. Less than a year later, the Czechoslovakia-born Dubs, a member of the opposition Labour Party, is trying to prevent the closure of the refugee program he helped spearhead. The British government announced quietly Wednesday that it would limit the number of lone child refugees brought in from Europe under the “Dubs Amendment” to 350 — far fewer than the 3,000 that campaigners wanted. The rollback, however, reflects forces that resonate across the West as many countries tighten immigration policies, rethink the size of their welcome mat for refugees, fret over perceived threats to their culture — and watch a landmark court battle play out in the United States over the Trump administration’s entry ban on refugees and on citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said at a news conference Thursday that President Trump’s ban was “wrong” and “divisive” and not something that Britain would do. She also insisted that Britain’s approach to child refugees is “absolutely right” and said that Britain is helping refugees from Syria. “What we are doing in terms of refugees is absolutely right, on top, of course, of the significant financial support and humanitarian aid we are giving to refugees in the region of Syria — a commitment of 2.3 billion pounds, the second-biggest bilateral donor,” she said. Dubs, whose father was Jewish and who entered Britain at age 6 on one of the famed “Kindertransports” out of Nazi-occupied Europe, disagreed. “They have no right to stop it at any point on any basis. It’s going against the whole tenor of the parliamentary debate,” Dubs, 84, said in an interview with The Washington Post.

Britain is not the only country in Europe wrestling with its stance on immigration and refugees. In Germany, for instance, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is facing an election this year, has recently taken a tougher position on deporting rejected asylum seekers. Germany deported 620 unaccompanied minors in 2016. Amber Rudd, Britain’s home secretary, defended the government’s decision, telling Parliament on Thursday that the initiative risked encouraging traffickers and suggested that local councils did not have the capacity to accept more children. In a statement Wednesday, the British government said that 200 children had arrived from France and that 150 more were expected next month. A spokesman for the Home Office said that a total of 350 children would be accepted under the Dubs program.

Last year, Dubs sponsored an amendment to the government’s immigration bill that required Britain to make arrangements for the safe passage of unaccompanied refugee children who arrived in the European Union before March 20, 2016. The government never agreed to a specific number, but Dubs originally proposed that it take 3,000 children. In a passionate address in the House of Commons on Thursday, Yvette Cooper, a Labour politician who chairs the Home Affairs Committee, urged the British government to reconsider. “Where does it say that instead of the 3,000 that Parliament debated that we will only help one-tenth of that number?” she said. “Britain can do better than this.”
Some have suggested that by limiting the number of refugees allowed in by this route, May is moving Britain in the direction of Trump’s immigration policies.

“May’s treatment of refugee children is appalling, and shows how close she has moved to the policies of Trump,” the Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said in a statement. But Rudd insisted that the United Kingdom was not turning its back on vulnerable children, and that it would focus on supporting those in Syria and the region. “The U.K. has a strong reputation, in Europe and internationally, for looking after the most vulnerable that will continue,” she said. “We have a different approach to where the most vulnerable are. We believe that they are in the region. That’s why we have made a pledge to accept 3,000 children from the region and we are committed to delivering on that. They are the most vulnerable.” Campaigners have indicated that the decision to end the Dubs scheme could face a legal challenge.
© The Washington Post

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UK: Anti-racism campaigner cleared of racism

An anti-racism activist has been given an absolute discharge over a charge of racially aggravated behaviour.

8/2/2017- Shafiq Mohammed, 50, told the court he had been spat at and faced Nazi salutes and yells of "Sieg Heil" at a protest by the Scottish Defence League (SDL). He himself had been accused of racially abusing a woman and three men at the protest in Ayrshire in November 2015. Sheriff Robert Weir said the atmosphere at the demo had been "rendered toxic by other people". He ruled that Mr Mohammed should not receive "further punishment" and gave him an absolute discharge. During an earlier court hearing, the sheriff heard how tempers flared as members of the far-right anti-immigration SDL staged a counter demonstration against pro-refugee demonstrators.

It followed 150 Syrian refugees being granted emergency accommodation at the Adamton Country House Hotel in Monkton, near Prestwick. Mr Mohammed was said to have shouted that the group were "nothing but white bastards". He denied behaving in a racially aggravated manner which was intended to cause alarm and distress. Mr Mohammed claimed the four witnesses had conspired to make up the allegations against him. However, Sheriff Robert Weir QC found that Mr Mohammed had behaved in the manner outlined in the charges. The sheriff also said he did not believe the group were in collusion over the allegations. He adjourned the case from November last year to consider his verdict.

Positive references
Delivering his verdict, Sheriff Weir noted Mr Mohammed had no previous convictions, was of low risk of re-offending and positive references had been given to the court. He gave Mr Mohammed an absolute discharge, meaning no conviction or punishment. The sheriff said: "I am satisfied that a formal conviction would make any future employment in your chosen field difficult, if not impossible." Outside court, Mr Mohammed said the decision had made him "all the more more determined" to stand up to racists and support refugees and asylum seekers. He said he had been hopeful of being cleared but that the other demonstrators should have been charged. Mr Mohammed added: "Their behaviour was appalling with spitting, Sieg Heils and Hitler salutes. There was about 300 mainly white refugee supporters there yet it was me they went for. "I reported it to the police but they took no action."
© BBC News

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UK: Far-right bid to disrupt building of mosque in Aberdeen

8/2/2017- Far-right campaigners are planning to disrupt the building of a new mosque in Aberdeen that they claim will lead to an increase in homegrown terrorists heading to Syria. The National Front has launched a leafleting campaign in the city’s deprived Seaton area. The leaflets warn residents about the alleged dangers of a planned mosque near the beach and that the group plans action against an “influx of Muslims”. Aberdeen City Council has provisionally approved plans for a 5,000 capacity mosque to meet demand from the city’s growing Muslim population. But the National Front is promising to hold “days of action’ in the area against the plans and includes the line: “Join us as we try to save Seaton from an influx of Muslims” It also claims the flag of Islamic State (IS) could fly over the mosque and alleges it could radicalise local Muslims to follow people such as IS fighter Aberdeen-born Abdul Rakid Amin, who was killed in Syria by a drone strike.

Amin was born in Bangladesh but grew up in the Froghall area of Aberdeen before moving to Leicester with his family. He appeared in an Isis recruitment video after learning about the terrorist group on Twitter and travelling to Syria. Now the National Front leaflet has been handed over to Police Scotland amid fears it could ramp up racial hatred in the area. Aberdeen Central MSP Kevin Stewart said: “This is a disgusting leaflet that has been stuffed through people’s letterboxes. “While the worshippers at our city’s existing mosques have been playing active roles in their communities, raising funds for charities and helping make our city a better place to live; the National Front has been out peddling hatred and fear, making vague and pitiful attempts to link our city’s Muslim community with Daesh and terrorism. “I am determined to ensure we continue to be a welcoming city, despite the efforts of a small band of bigots.”

Aberdeen is home to the leader of the UK National Front, who won a seat on a community council in one of the city’s most multicultural areas after securing just 18 votes. Seaton community policing team said they are currently unaware of any complaints in relation to leaflets.
© The Herald Scotland

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UK: Activists blockade London meeting of ‘secret Neo Nazi society’

Meeting of 'British alt-right' had been due to hear from an 'outspoken admirer of Adolf Hitler'

7/2/017- Around 80 protesters blockaded the entrance to a central London hotel that was due to host a meeting of prominent far-right voices. On Saturday, The Kensington Holiday Inn was due to host a meeting of The London Forum, which London Anti-Fascists describe as a ‘neo Nazi, white supremacist’ organisation. Their previous meetingshosted notorious historian and Holocaust denier David Irving. The organisation has been contacted for comment. An exposé of one of their previous meetings reported speakers urging the audience to “identify, counter and break Jewish-Zionist domination". The group was due to hear from keynote speaker Jason Reza Jorjani, close associate of American white supremacist Richard Spencer, who shot to prominence when footage of his colleagues giving Nazi salutes following a speech went viral. Also on the bill was Ian Millard, a former barrister who was barred from practising after expressing his admiration for Adolf Hitler.

However, activists told The Independent the meeting was unable to go ahead as planned after they stopped attendees entering and leaving the building. Police were called to the Holiday Inn, but there was no confrontation between protesters and London Forum members. A spokesperson for London Anti-Fascists told The Independent: “These meetings are a recruiting ground for organised fascists - the kind who are happy to make Nazi salutes in public as well as the more insidious. "Nearly every neo-Nazi protest held in London over the past few years can be linked back to this series of meetings. “The London Forum has been running since 2012 and has expanded across the country/There are regular meetings linked to it in the South West, Wales, Yorkshire and New York. The YouTube channel which they use to promote these events has clocked up more than 500,000 views." “We need to take direct action to shut these meetings down and prevent a fascist movement from emerging.” The Kensington Holiday Inn declined to comment on the incident.
© The Independent

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Hungarian mayor says Muslims and gay people not welcome in his village

László Toroczkai says he welcomes new residents who 'don't want to live in a multicultural society'

7/2/2017- The mayor of a village in Hungary has said Muslims and gay people are not welcome, despite a need to fill houses in the area. ​László Toroczkai, mayor of Asotthalom, a remote village of around 4,000 on Hungary’s southern border with Serbia, said that while he would like to attract more inhabitants to the village, he did not want to attract Muslim or gay people — citing his desire to “preserve traditions”. Mr Toroczkai, who was elected in 2013 and is also vice-president of Hungary’s far-right party Jobbik, told the BBC’s Victory Derbyshire show the village authorities wanted to welcome new Western European residents, claiming that the flow of refugees could lead to the "disappearance of Europe". “We primarily welcome people from Western Europe, people who wouldn’t like to live in a multicultural society. We wouldn’t like to attract Muslim people in the village, even though we already have a few Muslim residents in Asotthalom," Mr Torockzai said.

“It’s very important for the village to preserve is traditions. Europe is small. It can’t take in billions of people from Africa and South Asia, where there’s a population boom. This would soon lead to the disappearance of Europe. “We can see large numbers of Muslim communities in Western communities that haven’t been able to integrate, and we don’t want the same thing to happen here.” When asked about recent laws he had put forward that discriminate against gay people, Mr Toroczkai said this was also part of the village's drive to “defend” traditions, saying: “We’re defending our own traditions. Assothalom has a by-law that bans homosexual propaganda. We adopted it a few weeks ago.” It comes several weeks after the Asotthalom mayor, who has become renowned for expressing anti-refugee sentiment since the migration crisis gained momentum in 2015, announced a series of bans on Muslim traditions such as the call to prayer, the wearing of Islamic dress and the building of mosques in the village, as well as outlawing the “propogation of gay marriage” and public displays of affection by gay people.

The mayor first unveiled the plans to ban Muslim traditions as part of a “preventative action package” of laws last November, describing them as a "defence against the forced mass resettlement of migrants by Brussels". The Hungarian government is due to rule on the legality of Asotthalom’s by-laws later in February. In another display of his strong anti-refugee rhetoric, Mr Toroczkai released a video in 2015 warning immigrants entering the town that they would be caught and imprisoned. The video, which appeared to be a mash-up between a clichéd car advert and a low budget action film, showed dramatic police chase scenes on the Hungary-Serbia border, ending with the ominous warning: "If you are an illegal immigrant and you want to get to Germany... Hungry is a bad choice. Asotthalom is the worst." The mayor's latest remarks come as Hungary’s government on Monday submitted proposals to the EU that all asylum seekers in the county be automatically detained for the entirety of their asylum claim.

The government’s chief spokesman, Zoltán Kovács, said anyone seeking asylum through the country would be kept in “shelters” for the entire period of their application. Speaking at a briefing in London, Mr Kovács said: “No migrants – not even those who have already issued their request for asylum – will be able move freely until there is a primary legal decision whether they are entitled for political asylum, refugee status or anything else, so they are not entitled to move freely in the country.” Hungary has repeatedly clashed with the EU over its migration policy, including its decision to erect a fence on its Serbian border and its refusal to accept EU-wide asylum quotas. During 2015, the country saw nearly 10,000 refugees entering every day. The country set up border fences with Serbia last year, and plans to employ between 6,000 to 8,000 border guards “to apprehend those coming through the fence”.
© The Independent

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Malta: Archbishop snubs the far-right after ‘patriots’ request meeting

Far-right party that claims it ‘fights against immigration invasion’ wanted to discuss ‘moral deficit’ with Maltese archbishop

7/2/2017- Malta’s far-right ‘patriots’ grouping – the Moviment Patrijotti Maltin – wanted the blessing of the Archbishop for a spiritual pastor. So Charles Scicluna snubbed the anti-immigration zealots, suggesting they can approach any priest for “the Church’s teaching on social justice”. Now having registered themselves as a political party, the MPM has complained that Scicluna’s snub had “prevented” it from having an appointed spiritual leader, after it requested a meeting to “discuss the country’s moral and social deficit”. On his part, Archbishop Scicluna said the doors of the Church would remain open to anyone seeking guidance on the Church’s teaching on social justice, a subtle hint at the MPM to brush up on the Catholic Church’s teaching on the treatment of others such as refugees, migrants and poor. “While encouraging Christian politicians to practice their faith, it is not the Church’s remit to appoint spiritual directors for a political movement,” the Maltese Curia said.

The MPM were ready to take the sleight to hyperbolic proportions, complaining that their party was being ‘interdicted’ by the Church for “fighting against the invasion of illegal immigrants”, harking back to the 1961 interdiction of Labour politicians. Archbishop Charles Scicluna had blessed the ‘Phoenix’ vessel used by the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) in Marsa, where he met founders Christopher and Regina Catrambone, and the crew of the vessel and a number of volunteers. “I only have a few words to share, to leave this to the beauty of the liturgy, especially on this ship, which I baptised as a ‘New Door of Mercy’. The Holy Father has proclaimed ‘A Year of Mercy’ and I strongly believe that this is the ship of mercy,” Scicluna said during the service. “That is also a door of mercy, it is a door of life, and the Lord blesses that door and whatever you do in saving lives... This is a high point in being human, giving our lives, what we have and who we are, to be companions to other people. May your example be a shining light to all,” he added.
© Malta Today

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German states aim to cut off public funding to far-right NPD

Efforts to ban Germany's far-right NPD party have so far failed. Now three states in the country are proposing a limit on the party's public financing, but that could set a dangerous precedent.

10/2/2017- If three states get their way, the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) would lose public funding. Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland are petitioning the federal government in the Bundesrat, Germany's upper house of parliament, for a change to the country's constitution. Meanwhile, Lower Saxony has put forward a draft bill that would "cut off state partial financing to parties that undermine the free, democratic basis or existence of the Federal Republic of Germany."

One vote, one euro
The legislative maneuvers are a consequence of the Federal Constitutional Court's January ruling against the NPD's banning. It concluded that the NPD was unconstitutional, but not in a position to bring down the state. The NPD is not significant enough, the judges said, urging lawmakers to find "other methods" than an outright ban on constitutional grounds. Cutting off funding would be one such method, according to the three states proposing it. All political parties in Germany, the NPD included, receive state funding. How much depends on their electoral success at the state, federal and EU levels. Parties that capture at least 0.5 percent of the vote in national and EU elections receive one euro for every vote as well as almost 50 cents for every euro raised. In 2015, the NPD received 1.3 million euros ($1.38 million) in public financial support.

Pro: Equal financing not required
For supporters of party public finance reform, a party declared unconstitutional could then lose its right to public money. That requires amending Germany's Basic Law, which needs a two-thirds majority in both the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, and Bundesrat. It would not be an easy sell: Due to Germany's Nazi past, the German constitution affords political parties a great deal of protection from efforts to undermine them. Trying to deny the NPD state financing could have negative consequences, representatives of the three states proposing it acknowledge. Efforts to outright ban the right-wing nationalists have failed twice. Every subsequent unsuccessful move against the NPD calls into question Germany's democratic legal authority. Voices from the Green and Left parties have criticized the plan as lacking in benefit for democracy.

Con: Slippery slope to abuse
The plan is poorly conceived "superficial politics," Michael Koss, a political party researcher from Munich's Ludwig-Maximilians-University, told DW. He considers the idea "unimplementable" given how easily the line between democratic and undemocratic can be blurred. "It would mean parliament decides who among it is a good and bad democrat." Koss is also wary of potential abuse, should populists and extremists one day be democratically elected in Germany. Once in power, they could use limited public financing of parties as a "political tool against undesired political opposition," he said.

Uncertain future
Many doubt the NPD's ability to truly threaten German democracy. The party is losing members and threatened by splinter groups. Many on the far-right of the political spectrum have instead turned to the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has seen success after success in recent state elections across the country. A final decision on continued public financing for the NPD remains far off. It first has to go through committee, then be debated in the Bundestag.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Germany: Merkel reaches deal with German states on faster migrant deportations

Merkel and state leaders agreed to a plan to quickly deport rejected asylum-seekers. Although deportations are a state matter, the federal government made it clear it wants to play a bigger role.

9/2/2017- German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with the premiers of Germany's 16 states in Berlin on Thursday and agreed to a plan that will speed up the deportation process for migrants denied asylum. One of the main tenets of the 16-point plan concerns a central coordination center in Berlin that would include representatives from each state. Additionally, the plan calls for federal deportation centers to be set up near airports to facilitate collective deportations. "We have agreed that a repatriation center, where all responsible authorities are present - which to some extent already exists - should be constructed under federal authority in Potsdam," said Volker Bouffier, the state premier of Hesse. The plan would also make it easier to deport migrants who have been deemed as threats, and increase incentives for "voluntary returns," where migrants receive money if they choose to leave Germany before receiving a final ruling on their asylum application.

"We are placing a strong emphasis on voluntary returns," Merkel said late on Thursday. "We know, however, that nobody will volunteer to return to their home country if there isn't also a forced deportation scheme in place." The chancellor maintained that the plan will be implemented "on the basis that we want to help those who are most vulnerable." Within its federal system, Germany's individual states are responsible for carrying out deportations, but the federal government wants to be granted more powers to deny residence permits and carry out deportations itself.

Increasing federal powers
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, who outlined the plan last month, said on Thursday that Germany needed a "joint effort" to deport people more expeditiously. "The number of rejections is increasing, therefore, we need to do more for repatriations and deportations," de Maiziere said on German public broadcaster ARD's Moregenmagazin program. He also held firm on his position to continue deportations to Afghanistan, which have been criticized by some state governments. Germany's opposition Green Party criticized the government's plan to establish central departure centers on Thursday. "This is the wrong approach," Green Party co-chair Simone Peter told German public broadcaster SWR.

She argued that the federal government wanted to take on responsibilities that could be more effectively organized at the state level. She also said Berlin was supposed to present proposals for increasing security measures in Germany, rather than focusing on deportations. "This goes beyond the original goal," Peters said. Merkel has been facing pressure to overhaul Germany's security structure ahead of the national election in September and in light of a truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market in December. The main suspect in the attack was rejected asylum-seeker Anis Amri who couldn't be deported as Tunisia did not initially recognize him as a citizen.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Germany: Muslim teacher wins €9,000 in Berlin discrimination case

The Muslim woman won an appeal before a Berlin-Brandenburg court on Thursday, and is set to receive nearly €9,000 after she was rejected from a teaching job due to her headscarf.

9/2/2017- The Berlin-Brandenburg court on Thursday ruled on the side of the woman, who was denied a teaching job at a Berlin elementary school. Head judge Renate Schaude said that the woman had been discriminated against and because her wearing a headscarf posed no danger to school peace, the discrimination against her was illegal. She was therefore awarded €8,680 in compensation. She had lost her initial case last year as the Berlin school argued neutrality rules meant no one could wear religious symbols in schools. But in 2015, Germany’s Constitutional Court ruled that general bans on state school teachers wearing headscarves were unconstitutional - unless headscarves were found to “constitute a sufficiently specific danger of impairing the peace at school or the state's duty of neutrality.” After this major ruling, some states had to revise their regulations - also because they gave preferential treatment to Christian symbols.
© The Local - Germany

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Germany: Far-right politician convicted for refugee shelter arson

A far-right German politician has been sentenced to eight years in prison for burning down a sports hall that was to be used to accommodate refugees.

9/2/2017- Maik Schneider, a local National Democratic Party (NPD) politician, was convicted of arson by a Potsdam court. He was given an additional 18-month prison term for other offences. The hall in Nauen, just west of Berlin, was burnt down in August 2015 as large numbers of asylum seekers arrived in Germany. No one was injured in the blaze but the hall was completely destroyed, with the cost of the damage estimated at €3.5m (£3m). An accomplice, who was not identified by the DPA news agency, was given a seven-year term, while four others were given suspended sentences of varying lengths. During the trial, 29-year-old Schneider had claimed that he was trying to send a political message but had not meant to burn down the building. He also denied that he had acted out of xenophobic motives.

Many Germans consider the NPD, which has 5,000 members, to be a neo-Nazi group. Judge Theodor Horstkotter said Schneider and his accomplices had clearly acted on right-wing extremist beliefs. "The attack was meant to signal to refugees: you are not welcome here, we don't have space for you, you aren't safe here," he said. German Chancellor Angela Merkel's office describes the NPD as an "anti-democratic, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-constitutional party". The six men prosecuted are reported to have previously committed other crimes, including setting fire to the car of a Polish citizen. Last month Germany's Federal Constitutional Court rejected a historic attempt to ban the NPD. The case was brought by the state governments represented in the upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat. The court ruled that the party did not have the potential to overthrow democracy in Germany.
© BBC News

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German neo-Nazis construct large wooden swastika

Ultra-nationalists have reportedly erected a swastika several meters high, despite the symbol being banned in Germany. Police in Bavaria have expressed worries about the rise of far-right crime in the region.

8/2/2017- Neo-Nazis from across southern Germany allegedly participated in the creation of an enormous wooden swastika, according to local media reports on Tuesday. The Nazi symbol was allegedly put up at a meeting of far-right extremists in the Bavarian town of Bessenbach. Police arrived on the scene, a private home hosting about 30 neo-Nazis, on Saturday evening. According to German news agency DPA, the ultra-nationalists destroyed the several-meter-high swastika before the police arrived. Authorities have opened an investigation into whether they had broken any laws regarding the display of symbols deemed hostile to the state. Police have voiced concerns about the rise of nationalist extremism in Bavaria. In the Unterfranken region, of which Bessenbach is a part, there were 151 more far-right crimes in 2015 than the previous year. "It is certain that we have to keep this in sight in the future," a police spokesman said.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Germany: Human Rights First Releases New Report on Rise of Extremism, Far-Right

7/2/2017- Human Rights First today released a new report examining antisemitism, xenophobia, and extremism in Germany. The report, “Germany Conflicted: The Struggle Between Xenophobia and Tolerance,” analyzes current trends in Germany, as well as recommendations for both Germany and the United States to jointly combat the rise of extremism in all its forms. Today’s report comes just days before Germany’s presidential election on February 12, and at a critical time when the new Trump Administration and upcoming elections across Europe are poised to test the transatlantic alliance and emerging threats to democratic norms.

“Germany and the United States have much in common on issues of antisemitism, xenophobia, and intolerance,” said Human Rights First’s Susan Corke. “Problems of institutional discrimination, the prevalence of hate online, and the weaponization of fear by politicians have contributed to spikes in hate crimes in both countries. This problem must be urgently addressed, as a strong U.S.-German relationship is essential for security in the region. A commitment to human rights and tolerance must remain the foundation of the transatlantic alliance.”

The report outlines how Germany is at a tipping point as it heads into important national elections in 2017. Germany has been a leader within Europe on the refugee crisis, maintaining a welcoming policy toward those fleeing violence and persecution. However, the uneven implementation of this policy has exacerbated existing social divides. Because the German government failed in important ways to adequately prepare the country to receive refugees, many in Germany perceive that the situation has spiraled out of control. While Germany’s history makes it unique, its struggle against xenophobia-fueled illiberalism is increasingly representative of trends buffeting Europe and the United States. Across the Atlantic —in societies roiled by social change, globalization, and terrorism—demagogic leaders and far-right movements are magnifying and leveraging hatred toward ethnic, racial, and religious minorities.

The report contains recommendations for Germany and the United States to promote greater transatlantic cooperation to ensure that tolerance and human rights remain the foundation of their democracies. These recommendations include:
# Address institutional racism. Germany should implement recommendations to bolster training for law enforcement on racial discrimination and hate crimes, and create external accountability mechanisms.
# Strengthen responses to hate crime. Resources to protect communities from hate crime should be increased to match the increased threat.
# Prioritize refugee policy and integration. The German government should seek to restore society’s confidence in its ability to manage the refugee crisis and integrate refugees and migrants in a way that is inclusive, safe, and rights-respecting.
# Fight hate online. Government, technology companies, and civil society in both the United States and Germany should continue to work together to counter the spread of misinformation, intolerance, and extremism online.

© Human Rights First

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Germany: These stories really didn't get enough attention, Mr Trump

Donald Trump thinks Islamist terrorism in Germany is under-reported in the international media. Maybe he should try looking at far-right violence instead.

7/2/2017- On Monday the White House included six incidents in Germany on a list of terror attacks which Washington claims didn’t receive enough media attention. Contrary to the White House’s claim, each one made it into the international media, on top of receiving extensive coverage in Germany. The bigger incidents, such as the Berlin truck attack, were front page news across the world for days. One of the incidents, an unsolved stabbing in Hamburg, has never been proven to be linked to Islamism. The reality is that there has been a recent spike in all kinds of political violence in Germany in recent years, not just that of an Islamist bent. But when this violence is carried out by “native” Germans, it attracts far less international attention.

Huge rise in far-right violence
Crime statistics for 2015 show that politically motivated crime by the far right perpetrators rose by an astonishing 34.9 percent over 2014 to 23,000 reported incidents. In one case in July 2015, a left-wing politician's car was blown up in the town of Freital on the outskirts of Dresden. Hate crimes - those directed against specific social groups, such as Muslims, Jews, or homosexuals - also soared by 77 percent in comparison with 2014. Attacks on refugee homes increased by a factor of five between 2014 and 2015, from 199 reported cases to 1,031. In 2016 the number of such attacks reportedly remained stubbornly high, at 970. When the crime figures were released in May 2016, they were covered by the Guardian and the Independent in the UK. The Wall Street Journal covered them, but decided to focus on how the refugee crisis was destabilizing Germany.

Far-right radical murders cop
In October 2016, police in Bavaria raided the house of a self-declared "Reichsbürger" in order to seize illegally held weapons from him. During the raid in Georgensgmünd, Bavaria the right-wing extremist immediately opened fire and injured four police officers, one of whom died due to his injuries. The leader of Germany's BfV domestic security agency told DPA in January that there are an estimated 10,000 Reichsbürger across the country, and about 500 to 600 of them are considered right-wing extremists. 

Reichsbürger often come into confrontation with police because of their refusal to recognize German law, and often set up their own “governments”, forging their own forms of identification. The murder of the police officer in October was reported in a handful of UK publications and the New York Times. It was not covered by the online editions of major US outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and USA Today. On Trump’s list of "under-reported" terror attacks was the stabbing of a police officer by a teenage girl in Hanover in February last year. The Isis-inspired attack did not prove to be fatal. Nonetheless, the case made the pages of the Telegraph, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, among others.

Dresden mosque bombing
Two homemade bombs were planted at a mosque and an international convention centre in the eastern city of Dresden in September last year, just days before Angela Merkel was due in the city for Reunification Day celebrations. No one was injured in the blasts, but the imam of the mosque was inside the building at the time, along with his family. In December, police arrested a 30-year-old in connection with the attack. Bild reported that the man had spoken at a rally by the far-right Pegida movement, railing against "criminal foreigners" and "lazy Africans".

The bomb attack was reported upon by several international publications when it initially happened. But by the time police arrested the man behind the attack, the international media had completely lost interest. Al Jazeera and Fox News were two of the few news sites which followed up on the story, both publishing brief articles.
© The Local - Germany

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Majority of Germans think AfD are an extreme right party: survey

A new survey by YouGov shows that almost two thirds of Germans consider the Alternative for Germany (AfD) to be an "extreme right" party.

6/2/2017- Twenty-six percent of respondents told YouGov that they definitely think of the AfD as extreme right, while 38 percent said they tend to think of them as extreme right. Only nine percent of respondents said that they definitely do not think of the AfD as extreme right, while 16 percent said they tend not to think of them as extreme right. Eleven percent said they weren’t sure. Set up in 2013, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) describe themselves as conservative and economically liberal. Party leader Frauke Petry has often stated that it is their intention to become a Volkspartei, a term used to describe large political parties with members in all sections of German society. The party is currently polling at between 11 and 13 percent for September’s national election, which would make them the third largest party in the country.

But the latest survey suggests that a large majority of the German public views the AfD as far too radical to win wide popular acceptance. Forty-three percent of respondents told YouGov that elements within the party had aims which contravened the German constitution, while another 25 percent said the party as a whole aimed to defy the constitution. Meanwhile 16 percent said the party did not have unconstitutional aims. In January Björn Höcke, leader of the AfD in Thuringia, provoked national outrage when he urged the country to end its "culture of remembering Nazi crimes" in a speech to the group “Young Alternative Dresden”. In response to the speech, the chair of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, said: "the AfD have shown their true face with these anti-Semitic and extremely inhumane words." "I would have never believed that it would be possible for a politician in Germany to make such statements 70 years after the Holocaust."
© The Local - Germany

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Headlines 3 February, 2017

Polish Police Raid Office of Anti-Racism Group

3/2/2017- Polish police on Friday raided an organization that monitors racism and xenophobia and the private homes of some of its board members, seizing computers. The head of the Monitoring Center on Racist and Xenophobic Behavior said he considers the early-morning raids on Friday an attempt to intimidate the group and destroy evidence that is inconvenient for the authorities. "It is a form of revenge against us, they want to silence us," Rafal Gawel told The Associated Press. He said the group has exposed ties between local officials, prosecutors and right-wing groups in Bialystok, a city in eastern Poland. The group also runs a theater whose program is "not appreciated by the ruling party," he said. It challenges the traditional national values on which the government is focused. Gawel said he and other board members were "fearing for our lives" after receiving arson threats.

Lukasz Janyst, a spokesman for prosecutors in Bialystok, confirmed there were raids "at a number of locations in Warsaw" and said they were related to an investigation underway in Bialystok into fraud, the counterfeiting of documents and other wrongdoing. The investigation concerns the theater activity that the center's leaders opened in Bialystok and are now continuing in Warsaw. Gawel admitted that he has been sentenced to four years in prison for business dealings unrelated to the anti-racism center. He is appealing that conviction.

The center has been filing complaints to prosecutors across the nation about anti-Semitic slogans or graffiti and recently it complained to the state broadcasting authorities about an anti-Semitic comment that was broadcast on public television. Rafal Pankowski, the head of Never Again, a leading anti-racism watchdog, said Bialystok, the most multi-cultural city in Poland, "has a record of neo-Nazi activities and a pattern of the local authorities not dealing with those issues properly." "Many serious investigations against violent neo-Nazi attacks have been dropped by the public prosecutor," Pankowski said. "They drop them and then go after the people doing the anti-racism work."
© The Associated Press

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Polish TV director: Jews behind anti-government protests

Polish TV station director accuses Jews of being behind protests against government. 'They're giving matzot to each other.'

29/1/2017- Marcin Wolski, the director of the Polish national television station TVP2, accused the local Jewish community of being behind recent protests by Polish citizens against the government during a live television interview. Hundreds of thousands of Poles have taken to the streets to protest against the ruling Law and Justice political party since it came to power 15 months ago. New legislation introduced by the Law and Justice party would allow the government to dismiss and replace the directors of state media and to appoint new justices to the Constitutional Court. Demonstrations have also been held in protest against legislation to limit abortions and to give preference to the Catholic Church.

Wolski believes that Jews are organizing the protests against the government. In an interview on the television program "Behind the Vision," Wolski stated: "Instead of taking part in the New Year's Eve Op³atek (wafers which Christians in Poland give to each other on Christmas Eve), they're giving matzot to each other at the protests." He went on to recite a satirical poem which implied that Jews were behind the protests. Wolski's interview was uploaded to Facebook by a Polish organization seeking to combat racism and xenophobia, which filed a complaint with the management of the television statement over the anti-Semitic remarks.

Jewish community leaders in Poland filed their own complaint with the National Media Council against Wolski. They also sent Wolski a package of matza and leaflets explaining the phenomenon of anti-Semitism. Anna Chipczynska, president of the Jewish community in Warsaw, said: "We cannot just ignore the [anti-Semitic statements] of Marcin Wolski. We believe that words have meaning. They can hurt, offend and humiliate other people. One must not accept such statements. Our goal is to call a spade a spade - Anti-Semitism is a crime and these kinds of statements should not be uttered, especially in public media."
© Arutz Sheva

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Five myths about antisemitism (opinion)

By Yair Rosenberg, senior writer at Tablet Magazine.

3/2/2017- For a phenomenon often dubbed “the world’s oldest hatred,” anti-Semitism is not well understood. From top Iranian officials who blame the Talmud for the international drug trade to British political activists who claim that the Mossad is stealing their shoes, anti-Jewish bigotry can be bewildering and bizarre. But given the prejudice’s longevity, virulence and recent resurgence in Europe and America — witness the waves of bomb threats against dozens of Jewish centers nationwide in the past month and the controversy over the Trump administration’s repeated refusal to include Jews in its Holocaust memorial statement — it’s well worth debunking common misconceptions that impede our ability to fight it.

Myth No. 1 Anti-Semitism largely subsided after the Holocaust.
In my time reporting on anti-Semitism, I’ve often encountered a certain well-meaning skepticism: Didn’t the Holocaust, with its shocking horrors, finally compel society to stamp out anti-Jewish bigotry? Sophisticated people don’t write this idea down, but it’s one I hear constantly in my reporting. This is profoundly, depressingly wrong. According to the FBI, Jews in the United States are annually subject to the most hate crimes of any religious group, despite constituting only 2 percent of the American population. The picture is considerably darker in Europe, where Jews were the target of 51 percent of racist attacks in France in 2014, even as they made up less than 1 percent of that country’s population. In recent years, synagogues and Jewish schools and museums have been subject to terrorist attacks in France, Denmark and Belgium.

A 2013 E.U. survey found that nearly 40 percent of European Jews fear to publicly identify as Jewish, including 60 percent of Swedish Jews. Non-Western examples abound as well. Populations of Jews in Arab lands, which once numbered nearly 1 million, have been reduced to only a few thousand, having been persecuted to the point of expulsion or flight in the past century. These facts underscore a crucial point: It’s wrong to subsume anti-Semitism under Nazism, its worst manifestation, when the centuries-old prejudice usually takes less extreme or exterminationist forms. The end of American slavery did not mean the end of American racism; likewise, the end of Nazism as a dominant political force did not silence anti-Semitism.

Myth No. 2 Anti-Semitism comes predominantly from the right.
This past election season, the ascendant alt-right, a band of reactionary white nationalists with a penchant for harassing Jewish journalists, filled Twitter with neo-Nazi memes, Photoshopped reporters into gas chambers and concentration camps, and chanted anti-Semitic slogans at political rallies. (My critical reporting on Trump made me the second-most-harassed Jewish journalist on Twitter, according to an Anti-Defamation League study.) One could be forgiven for assuming that such bigotry flows from one primary political source.

But anti-Semitic outbursts were taking place on the left at the same time. At liberal Oberlin College, a writing instructor named Joy Karega shared Facebook memes about Jewish control of the global economy and media, alongside posts asserting Israeli responsibility for the Islamic State and 9/11. Yet when school officials and others criticized her conduct, the student council dismissed it as a “witch-hunt.” In New York, despite a local outcry, the hip leftist hub Brooklyn Commons hosted Christopher Bollyn, a conspiracy theorist who argued that “Zionist Jews” were behind 9/11. During the Democratic primaries, Jewish candidate Bernie Sanders was confronted by a questioner who declared that “the Zionist Jews . . . run the Federal Reserve, they run Wall Street, they run every campaign.” Surveying this scene, TBS comedian Samantha Bee aired footage of an anti-Semite ranting at a Trump rally, then cracked, “To find anti-Semitism that rabid, you’d have to go to, well, any left-leaning American college campus.”

This bipartisan bigotry shouldn’t surprise. Anti-Semitism could never have attained its impressive influence without forging coalitions across ideological and religious lines. Hatred of Jews has long thrived on its ability to ensnare utterly opposite worldviews. Thus, the 2013 E.U. survey found that Italian and Swedish Jews perceived more anti-Semitic statements coming from the left, Hungarian Jews heard them overwhelmingly from Christians and the right, and French Jews reported abuse largely from Muslim extremists. It’s tempting to cast anti-Semitism as the sin of other people, but that’s usually a way to avoid confronting the problem within one’s own community.

Myth No. 3 Criticism of Israel is generally anti-Semitic.
The state of Israel often confounds the anti-Semitism conversation. Some assume that an attack on Israel and its policies must necessarily be an attack on Jews; evangelical leader Franklin Graham, for instance, dubbed criticism of Israeli settlers an assault on God’s “chosen people.” Others justify their attacks on Jews around the world by pointing to Israel, claiming to be anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic. Much of this confusion stems from the conflation of all Jews with the state of Israel, its government and its policies. Criticism of Israel, however, is not necessarily anti-Semitic. In fact, it is a popular pastime in Israel and among Jews across the globe. Objections to settlements, for instance, or even calls to boycott them are debatable political positions, not bigoted slurs. Dovish proponents of such views are no more promulgating anti-Jewish prejudice than those security hawks and religious nationalists who have opposed Israel’s land concessions for peace. Israel is a democracy — and can be held to account for its actions, just like any other country.

Myth No. 4 Criticism of Israel cannot be anti-Semitic.
At the same time, criticism of the Jewish state can mask malice toward Jews. Some cases are obvious, such as when the organizers of a 2010 flotilla that aimed to breach Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza subsequently denied the Holocaust and claimed that Israel was behind the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Similarly, those who accuse Israel of committing “Palestinian genocide,” when the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics records a four-fold population increase since Israel’s founding, are engaging in libel, not legitimate argument. In other, less-blatant cases, Israel is subjected to criticism leveled at no non-Jewish country.

Consider the United Nations, whose Human Rights Council has condemned Israel more often than all other countries combined, including Syria, North Korea, Iran and Russia. As President Barack Obama’s U.N. ambassador, Samantha Power, put it, “As long as Israel has been a member of this institution, Israel has been treated differently from other nations at the United Nations.” In October, one U.N. body even passed a resolution denying the Jewish connection to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site. What these unfortunate approaches all share is that they treat the Jewish state in much the same way anti-Semites have historically treated Jews: singling them out for censure and implicating them in outlandish conspiracies.

Myth No. 5 Anti-Semitism mostly threatens Jews.
Most bigotries debilitate their targets while empowering their disseminators, much like slavery and redlining enriched America’s white majority at the expense of its African American minority. Many successful societies have been built atop prejudices. Anti-Semitism, however, is a unique case — and uniquely corrosive to those societies that embrace it. That’s because it often takes the form of a conspiracy theory about how the world works. By blaming real problems on imagined Jewish culprits, anti-Semitism prevents societies from rationally solving them. In one of the most famous examples, Nazi scientists shunned Einstein’s advances as “Jüdische Physik,” as opposed to “Deutsche Physik,” enfeebling their understanding.

As Bard College’s Walter Russell Mead has put it: “People who think ‘the Jews’ dominate business through hidden structures can’t build or long maintain a successful modern economy. People who think ‘the Jews’ dominate politics lose their ability to interpret political events, to diagnose social evils and to organize effectively for positive change. People who think ‘the Jews’ run the media and control the news lose the ability to grasp what is happening around them.” For this reason, Mead has warned, “Rabid anti-Semitism coupled with an addiction to implausible conspiracy theories is a very strong predictor of national doom.” This is one case where the hatred ultimately destroys the hater.
© The Washington Post.

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It’s not just Trump’s US. Anti-Muslim hate threatens Europe too (opinion)

The Islamophobic ideologues at the heart of the new US administration have allies on this side of the Atlantic. We must all fight the spread of their divisive lies 
By Joe Mulhall


2/2/2017- While Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration has dominated headlines, it is important to place his anti-Muslim policies in an international context. Far from an anomaly, this is part of a much wider process of mainstreaming anti-Muslim prejudice, which has been present on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond for a decade or more.
Hope not Hate’s report, published on Wednesday, outlines this worrying trajectory of anti-Muslim prejudice in Britain and Europe. Specifically, it maps the journey of conspiratorial anti-Muslim ideas – so-called “counter-jihadism” – from a marginal and ignored, primarily internet-based political discourse, on to the streets and then into the White House and the parliamentary chambers of Europe. The counter-jihad” movement is a broad alliance of organisations and individuals that believes western civilisation is under attack from Islam. Some elements are more extreme than others but all generally agree that Islam is a supremacist religion, and many see little difference between violent jihadis and ordinary Muslims who live their lives quite peacefully.

In eastern Europe there has been a worrying adoption of these conspiratorial counter-jihadi ideas by supposedly mainstream politicians. In Slovakia the prime minister, Robert Fico, has called for the “restriction of the freedom of Muslims in Europe”, and last year a law was passed that effectively bans Islam from gaining official status as a religion. The Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán has become a hero of the anti-Muslim movement because of his Islamophobic and anti-refugee views. Of all the European leaders Orbán has gone the furthest in adopting conspiratorial counter-jihadi rhetoric about a planned invasion by Muslims. A key milestone in the mainstreaming of anti-Muslim prejudice in Europe came in late 2015, when the Czech president, Miloš Zeman, addressed an anti-Islam demonstration that included former English Defence League (EDL) leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (Tommy Robinson) and a contingent of leaders from the anti-Muslim Pegida movement in Germany.

Meanwhile in western and central Europe there has been a rise in the number and size of explicitly anti-Muslim parties, as populist radical-right parties such as the Alternative für Deutschland, Geert Wilders’ Freedom party and Marine Le Pen’s Front National have brought anti-Muslim prejudice to the forefront of their political agendas in Germany, the Netherlands and France. Elections in these countries later this year will be an important yardstick for measuring how far into the mainstream these policies have moved. While we have seen the collapse of street movements such as the EDL in the UK, this has by no means heralded the end of anti-Muslim prejudice. Quite the contrary. Instead we have seen a normalisation of anti-Muslim prejudice in the UK and a rise in anti-Muslim hate crime. A recent report by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) criticised rising “racist violence and hate speech” by both the press and politicians in the wake of the Brexit vote.

Ukip has been a key part of this process of mainstreaming of anti-Muslim ideas, with a raft of leading Ukip figures being openly anti-Muslim and echoing “counter-jihadi” rhetoric. The ECRI criticised former Ukip leader Nigel Farage for claiming there was “public concern about immigration partly because people believe there are some Muslims who want to form a fifth column and kill us.” And so, President Trump. For those of us that monitor and research organised anti-Muslim movements, any hope that Trump would renege on his anti-Muslim campaign promises once in office always seemed unlikely. In May last year, Hope not Hate revealed that Trump had attended the launch of a counter-jihadi group called the United West in Miami, Florida in March 2011. He posed for a picture with one of America’s leading anti-Muslim activists, Frank Gaffney, and a European anti-Muslim activist called Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff.

Gaffney has been an important influence on Trump. The new president relied on discredited research produced by Gaffney’s thinktank, the Centre for Security Policy (CSP), for some of his openly racist comments about Muslims during his presidential campaign. Likewise, Trump’s comments about Muslims creating no-go zones in the US and the UK also appear to have originated with Gaffney. Further proof of Trump’s willingness to associate with and be guided by anti-Muslim activists has come with the appointment of his advisers and appointees since winning the election. As shown in a recent report by the Chicago-based Center for New Community, as well as our latest report, the Trump administration is full of people with links to the “nativist” movement who are either part of or have extensive links with America’s organised anti-Muslim movement.

One example is Trump’s appointment of Walid Phares as an adviser to his foreign policy team. Phares was named in a major Center for American Progress report, Fear Inc, as one of the “validators” that made up an Islamophobia network in America. Importantly Phares sits on the board of advisers of America’s largest anti-Muslim organisation, Act for America. More worryingly an email sent to activists by Act bragged that it now has “a direct line to President-elect Trump through our allies such as … Walid Phares”. Phares is also a former board member of the anti-Muslim propagandist organisation the Clarion Project, and a contributing editor to the anti-Muslim online publication Family Security Matters.

And then there’s Trump’s national security adviser, Michael T Flynn. Last year he tweeted: “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL” and at a meeting of the Dallas branch of Act for America he said of Islam: ‘It’s like cancer. […] And it’s a like a malignant cancer, though, in this case. It has metastasized.’ Trump’s nominee for director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, also has links to the organised anti-Muslim movement, as do his senior policy adviser Kellyanne Conway, and Katharine Gorka from his Department of Homeland Security landing team. So the protesters who marched around the UK this week are absolutely right to be angered by Trump’s draconian executive order. However, it is worth remembering that anti-Muslim prejudice has also entered the mainstream much closer to home, here in Europe. We’re setting up a new unit to look into fake news and the oft-repeated lies and exaggerations from populist movements, which will partly tackle such prejudice. Elsewhere, all of us need to remain vigilant and be prepared to defend the tolerant society that protects us all, including minorities such as the Muslim community.
© Comment is free - Guardian

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Serbia's authorities order lockdown at a migrant camp

1/2/2017- The Serbian authorities on Wednesday imposed restrictions on the movements of migrants in a camp near Belgrade, after three men allegedly attacked a woman and her children near the refugee center, a minister said. The migrants will now need permission to leave the camp, a set of former army barracks in the town of Obrenovac, just outside Belgrade, said Labour Minister Aleksandar Vulin, who is also in charge of refugee centres. "We are introducing tougher measures ... they will have to return to the camp by a certain time and they will be issued identification documents," Vulin said, according to the Tanjug news agency. Although the so-called Balkan route to Western Europe was shut last year, migrants continue to flow through Serbia to its northern border with Hungary. Over 7,000 migrants, mainly from Afghanistan, remain in the country, which is culturally and financially ill-equipped to care for them.

About 500 of the migrants live in Obrenovac. They were moved there over the past 10 days from makeshift shelters in warehouses in Belgrade as temperatures dropped below freezing. The lockdown was imposed after a local woman complained that three men she described as migrants attacked her while she was walking with her three children near the Obrenovac camp. Police said they were investigating the incident. Vulin also said the authorities had introduced a special bus to take migrants back and forth between Obrenovac and Belgrade, "to avoid mixing" with local population.
© Reuters

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Slovaks Set Up Unit to Fight Extremism, Hate Speech

1/2/2017- Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico unveiled a special police unit to fight extremism on Wednesday, warning about the rise of fascism in Europe and
Slovakia. The 125-strong unit will investigate crimes related to the support and funding of terrorism and extremism, hate crimes and hate speech, both online and offline, the police said. In an electoral shock, the far-right People's Party-Our Slovakia entered the Slovak parliament for the first time last year after winning 8 percent of the vote in March's election. The party openly admires Jozef Tiso, leader of the 1939-1945 Nazi puppet state who allowed tens of thousands of Slovak Jews to be deported to Nazi death camps and was tried for treason after the war. It is also hostile to Slovakia's Roma minority.

"A new wave of fascism has been on the rise not only in Europe but also in Slovakia. We have neglected the history because nobody expected it could return," Fico, head of the center-left but socially conservative Smer party, said. "Today we see people in the parliament and regional government using the fascist salute… we see statements challenging the results of the World War II and the Holocaust on a daily basis." Right-wing and anti-immigrant parties have been on the rise across Europe after years of slow economic growth and the arrival of more than a million migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa. Fico himself has been criticized by human rights groups and socialist colleagues in the European Parliament for refusing to accept the EU quotas on accepting refugees and for saying in a May 2016 interview "there is no space for Islam in Slovakia".

He has also repeatedly blamed high unemployment in some Slovak regions on the Roma, who make up around 300,000 of the country's 5.4 million population. Also on Wednesday, General Prosecutor Jaroslav Ciznar called on lawmakers to scrap their immunity on statements made in parliament, saying it prevents authorities from prosecuting hate speech. People's Party-Our Slovakia lawmaker Stanislav Mizik is facing a 1,000 euro fine for breaching parliamentary standards by calling Islam "satanic". He also criticized President Andrej Kiska last month for giving state honors to what he called "people of Jewish origin". Another of the party's lawmakers, Milan Mazurek, has said on social media that the history of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust had been "distorted.”
© Reuters

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Denmark: The price of hate

Laws that criminalize racist or xenophobic expression, created in response to the rise of Nazism, still divide the Nordic country. Now, the EU wants all of its members to have similar rules penalizing this type of discourse, which has become standard among Islamophobes and is impossible to control on the web.

31/1/2017- In 2011 he was recorded in his home discussing Islamic society, including saying things about how Muslim girls are raped by their fathers, uncles and nephews. He insists he was not aware of the recording, but because of it, the government fined him €700. He appealed and one year later the Danish Supreme Court acquitted him, but he became known as the man who was condemned by Denmark’s hate speech laws. What’s more, on February 5, 2013 a man who is now a member of so-called Islamic State (Isis) tried to kill him in his home. Hedegaard says he would not take back those remarks or any of his other criticism regarding Islam, a religion practiced by approximately 4% of the Danish population. “Islam,” he says into the phone, “is not a religion; it’s a totalitarian ideology.” Basil Hassan, the man who tried to kill Hedegaard by impersonating a mailman and firing a shot at his head, did not act alone, according to the investigation. After the failed assassination attempt, Hassan managed to escape, ending up in Syria and Iraq via Turkey. The US Department of State has linked him to an international jihadist network.

Assassination attempt aside, what really bothers Hedegaard is that a judge convicted him for speaking his mind using the already old, article 266b of the Danish Criminal Code. Many simply refer to it as “the paragraph” because it is so famous. Publicly threatening, insulting or degrading people on account of their race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation can land someone up to two years in prison or a fine. This concept became part of Denmark’s criminal code in 1939 to stop anti-Semitic harassment. Today, it is mostly applied to cases related to Muslims. It is controversial because, according to its critics, it is incompatible with freedom of speech. The debate has also changed since the law’s inception because the most common platform for these kinds of comments has shifted to the more visceral and ungovernable space of the internet. Now, using 266b to govern Denmark’s online world is like cracking an egg with a sledgehammer.

Despite that, the European Parliament is currently working to strengthen hate speech laws in its revision of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD). Denmark is its model. However, the text of the European directive, still not finalized, aims to be more concrete – public incitement to violence or hatred against a group of people must be penalized. Denmark is the country of happiness. From its welfare state, to full employment, from a strong economy to the concept of hygge, or enjoying the little things in life, whether it be some beers with friends while watching the Danish handball team or snuggling up with a cup of hot chocolate at home, with a little lamp in the window. That is life and everything else is a bonus for this small and rich country, home to a population of only six million. But Denmark is also dialogue. Governments are consensus-based, there are no majorities (the current conservative government, headed by Lars Lokke Rasmussen is a coalition of three parties) and debate is a tradition. People can say what is on their mind.

The Danish Parliament, or Folketing, in the capital city of Copenhagen is a great place to see this in action. Kenneth Kristensen Berth is a deputy from the right-wing Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti), the country’s second most powerful group. In 2003, a judge used article 266b to sentence him to two weeks in prison for racism, although he never had to spend time behind bars. His crime was distributing a poster that warned against a multiethnic society. It featured two individuals covered in blood and holding the Koran. The point Kristensen was trying to make, he says now, is that multicultural societies bring with them “more criminality.” “One of our parliamentarians, Jesper Langballe, now passed away, said in a debate that it was a problem that Muslim fathers raped and even killed their daughters. He had to go to court and was convicted, even though it is a fact that honor killings exist in Muslim societies,” adds Kristensen. The idea repeats itself: Why should expression of an idea – no matter how disturbing it is – be condemned if there is “truth” behind it? Proving these “truths” is another matter.

It goes without saying that both Kristensen and Hedegaard want to abolish 266b. Denmark is used to immigration – 10% of people in the country have an immigrant background – and to Islam. But the feeling among people is that the arrival of new immigrants or refugees has taken root in the political class and the media as a threat to the country. And from there, it’s only a small step to discriminatory discourse. Along Stroget Street, one of the longest pedestrianized streets in Europe, near the Folketing and the city hall square, is a block full of the offices of Danish newspapers. The security at their entrances is still high, a full 11 years after the wave of protests and threats after one of these newspapers, the Jyllands Posten, published caricatures of the prophet Muhammad.

Does the law against hate speech put limits on journalists? “No, the biggest problem is with self-censorship,” answers Marcus Rubin, the editor of the respected newspaper Politiken. “[This is] Especially [the case] when it comes to saying what one wants to about Islam, Muslims or terrorism, not from the fear that the police will come and arrest you, but instead because of fear of terrorists.” The famous article 266b does not place constraints on the press. Sofie Allarp, columnist and editor of Radio24syv, says she is used to comments from radicals, especially online, and that condemning hate speech is part of the Danish tradition. But she warns about the current state of rhetoric in Denmark, saying “The message that immigration is only a problem and not a solution for the future is too strong.” Section 266b of the Danish Criminal Code has been used against a diverse group of Danes.

Besides Hedegaard and Kristensen, there is also the bestselling Danish-Palestinian poet, Yahya Hassan; the Danish-Iranian artist, Firoozeh Bazrafkan; the imam of Syrian origin, Mohammed al-Khaled Samha; and an unidentified youth who had to pay €280 for comparing Islam and Nazism in a Facebook post about the Salafist organization Hizb ut Tahrir. There were more sentences in the past, but if we take this last example along with that of Kristensen, more than a dozen years have passed, but the fines or convictions have not brought an end to certain kinds of discourse. One of the most critical thinkers against article 266b works in one of the smart buildings not far from the iconic Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen. The lawyer Jacob Mchangama directs the legal think tank Justitia. His opposition to criminalizing hate crime is clear and he proposes an interesting alternative. “Argument, of course,” he says. “If you are against limits on freedom of speech like me, you have a moral obligation to speak up against hate speech.” He thinks that if you criminalize it, radicals win and the message gains more traction.

“Radicalization is a problem in the Danish Muslim community, but not in the Hindu or Buddhist communities; it is a fact and we have to be able to speak about it to solve it.” If, in Denmark, there are a lot of supporters of 266b, their voices are not as loud as those who oppose it. Returning to the Folketing, Naser Khader a Syrian-Danish deputy, shares Mchangama’s vision. Like Mchangama, Khader was born in Damascus 53 years ago, and believes that open debate works better than punishment. He brings up the case of neighboring Sweden with a high level of right-wing violence, saying it is because they speak less about immigration there. Khader, a member of the Conservative Party, also says he has suffered pressure from those who condemn his vision of Islam, but he maintains his position. “Making fun of religion, gods and prophets indiscriminately is part of Danish culture, whether it is Jesus or Moses. Why not Muhammad? Why do Muslims have to enforce taboos? If you don’t like the caricatures, don’t buy the newspaper,” says Khader.

The rejection of criminalizing hate speech hasn’t caught on, not in the streets nor in the Folketing, where parties such as the liberal Venstre Party or the opposition Red-Green Alliance, are happy with the article. “It works as a last barrier to racism and hate speech,” says Rune Lund, spokesperson for the center-left alliance. And freedom of speech? “There are limitations, of course,” says Lund, “but there are things that you can’t say in any society because they are illegal.”

ARTICLE 266B
Article 266b of the Danish Criminal Code says: “Any person who, publicly or with the intention of wider dissemination, makes a statement or imparts other information by which a group of people are threatened, insulted or degraded on account of their race, color, national or ethnic origin, religion, or sexual orientation shall be liable to a fine or to imprisonment for any term not exceeding two years.”

A LAW AGAINST RADICAL IMAMS
When the topic of radical discourse is discussed in Denmark, the name Abu Bilal Ismail often comes up. In February of last year, a hidden camera from television station TV2 filmed one of his sermons at the Grimhoj mosque in the city of Aarhus. Among other things, he preached about stoning adulterous women. Two years later, Ismail was caught in another recording, this time calling for the destruction of the Jews. These kinds of speech have led to the Danish Parliament recently passing a new law (Law 18) that makes provisions for fines or up to three years in prison for “religious authorities.”
© El País in English

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Austrian government promises Muslim veil ban in attempt to appease right-wing voters

31/1/2017- Austria’s coalition government has promised to ban Muslim face-covering veils and to restrict eastern European workers’ access to the labour market, in a package of policies aimed at countering the rise of the far-right Freedom Party. The anti-Islam Freedom Party (FPO) has topped opinion polls for months, boosted by the influx of more than a million migrants into Europe in the past two years and concerns over their impact on jobs and security. Last month the FPO candidate came close to winning Austria’s presidential election. With a parliamentary election due next year, Chancellor Christian Kern of the Social Democratic Party (SPO) hopes the package will provide fresh impetus to an eight-month-old coalition widely seen as ineffective. “We agreed that we must work faster and more clearly,” conservative Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner told a joint news conference with Kern outlining their 35-page plan. “It is now up to us to do what governing parties do, namely implement the programme.”

The deal included a ban on Muslim veils such as the burka and niqab, which cover all or most of the face, and said a more general ban on civil servants wearing religious symbols was in the works. “We believe in an open society that is also based on open communication. Full-body veils in public spaces stand against that and will therefore be prohibited,” the agreement said. Mainly Catholic Austria is home to around 600,000 Muslims in a total population of about 8.7 million. The conservative People's Party, the junior coalition member, obtained tougher measures on security, including the electronic tagging of former jihadists. The SPO opposed its call for a lowering of an annual cap on asylum claims, agreeing instead to strengthen existing border controls in general and to support measures such as greater incentives for voluntary deportation.

The deal also included a requirement that 30 per cent of a company's supervisory board members be female and a plan to make foreign multinationals, particularly online companies, pay the same tax on advertising revenue as newspapers. Unemployment in Austria has been steadily rising but is still relatively low at 5.9 per cent, under a harmonised EU measure. Earlier this month Kern proposed returning to a system that gave local workers priority for jobs in sectors that employ a high number of people from poorer eastern European member states. The system was in place provisionally from 2004 to 2011 after many ex-communist countries joined the bloc.
© The Independent

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The mainstreaming of anti-Muslim prejudice in Europe and North America

Anti-Muslim hatred has gone mainstream. With the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States organised anti-Muslim activists - self-styled ‘counter-jihadists’(CJ) - have an ally in the White House.

1/2/2017- Trump’s election and his subsequent selection of Cabinet officials and advisors has accelerated a process of mainstreaming of anti-Muslim sentiment that has been happening for some years. The result is that prominent anti- Muslim activists are now at the very centre of power and decision making in America. The results of this have been seen all too clearly this week with Trump signing an executive order suspending America’s refugee programme for four months, banning all Syrian refugees and barring all citizens from seven Muslim majority countries. Worryingly a similar process of mainstreaming is happening in Europe, too. This side of the Atlantic the picture is more complex with a combination of ‘counter-jihadists’ entering the mainstream in certain areas, while in others they have been shunned but some of their ideas have been adopted by mainstream politicians and commentators.

This is all laid out in our new report Going Mainstream: The mainstreaming of anti-Muslim prejudice in Europe and North America. Read it here This mini-report traces the journey of conspiratorial ‘counter-jihad’ activists and their ideas from a marginal and ignored, primarily internet-based political discourse, into the White House and the parliamentary chambers of Europe.

2017 will be a very important year for politics, with numerous key elections in Europe. These include France’s Presidential elections, where Marine Le Pen of the Front National is a main contender, as well as the Dutch general election where the anti-Muslim poster boy Geert Wilders and his Party For Freedom are expected to do very well, plus elections in Germany, where the anti-Muslim populist movement the Alternative for Germany (AfD) is hoping to continue its growth. Importantly, this report also argues that it is possible and helpful to conceptualise ‘counter-jihadism’ as one part of a wider offensive against the western liberal progressive consensus, sharing key objectives with the traditional far right, the populist radical right and the so-called ‘Alt’/or New Right.
You can download a copy of this new mini-report here.
© HOPE not Hate

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Czech Rep: Pizzeria owner refuses to serve immigrants

30/1/2017- Tomas Sevcik, a pizzeria owner, is the first Czech to be fined for discriminating against Muslims as he posted on Facebook a picture saying he does not cook for immigrants in September 2015 and then added the caption Stop Islam, daily Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD) wrote on Monday. The Czech Trade Inspection Authority (COI) has twice fined him, 25,000 crowns two years ago and now 60,000 crowns. "I am no Nazi. Since I was 18, I worked in Italy. The only thing I wanted to do was to warn of the situation in which Italy is now, being full of illegal migrants," Sevcik, a businessman from the small town of Hrusovany, south Moravia, is quoted as saying. "Thousands of others are flowing to Europe, while everyone pretends that nothing is going on," he added.

His Grand Italia establishment was fined because he breached the law on the protection of consumers, the COI argues. Sevcik says he will certainly appeal the decision that has not yet taken effect. In fact, he claims that it has never happened that he would not serve anyone in his restaurant. English-speaking people have several times come to the pizzeria. Sevcik says they were agents-provocateurs sent by the COI, MfD writes. "Still I served them all," Sevcik said. Sevcik said since he disagreed with the fines, he posted his slogan again last year. He said he knew pretty well how much Italians were suffering from the influx of migrants and did not feel well in their own country. "I have been going there on business for eleven years. I have lots of friends there, no teenagers, but adult guys, fathers of families," Sevcik said. "If I had not had a seven-year old boy here to provide joint custody him, I would have emigrated to Australia or New Zealand long ago because this cannot end well," he added.

He dismissed the notion that he was a racist or neo-Nazi. He stressed that he was just a father fearing for the future of his son. He said his fear for the future was stronger than that of most people around him. So far, he has spent 100,000 crowns on his struggle with the authorities, MfD writes. However, he does not regret this, it adds. "I have always had an argument with my daddy while watching television. I asked him why he was not doing anything with the migrant crisis. Doing something is better than nothing," Sevcik said. "When my case was set in motion, it was covered by German, Austrian and Italian papers," he added. In Hrusovany with its roughly 3,000 population, Sevcik is considered a hero, MfD writes. The locals are giving him advice what to do next. They say he should post online the slogan "we only cook pork" in an obvious references to the Muslims, MfD writes.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

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Germany: 'Migrant shock', a far-right website selling illegal guns, taken down

A website which sells illegal firearms for the express purpose of "scaring off" immigrants is no longer available, Die Zeit reports.

2/2/2017- It is unclear who is responsible for removing the "Migrantenschreck" website, but it is likely that its owner, Mario Rönsch, took it down himself, the Hamburg news site reported on Thursday. The website once sold pistols, shotguns and semi-automatic weapons, which were delivered from Hungary to Germany. One of the guns on offer was called “Migrant deterrent DP120 Bautzen” another “Antifa deterrent” - a reference to the left-wing Antifa movement. The guns shoot rubber bullets capable of seriously injuring or even fatally wounding someone. Die Zeit speculates that Rönsch became afraid after customs officials searched the premises of 29 of his customers a week ago. In the raids, the customs officers found 42 illegal weapons. In total the website has sold 300 such weapons, according to data seen by the news site. In December prosecutors in Berlin announced that they were investigating a 33-year-old man from Thuringia for running the website.
© The Local - Germany

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German man arrested 17 years after Düsseldorf train station bombing

Nearly two decades after a bombing in Düsseldorf injured mainly Jewish people and foreigners, police have now arrested a suspect.

1/2/2017- The summer 2000 bombing at the Wehrhahn S-Bahn station left ten people injured, including some seriously. The victims were foreigners, and six of them were Jewish. Spiegel Online first reported on Wednesday that police had arrested 50-year-old Ralf S., identified as a gun fanatic who had been a known member of the neo-Nazi scene at the time of the attack. Investigators confirmed on Wednesday that Ralf S. was a right-wing radical who had run a military shop near the scene of the bombing. On July 27th 2000, the suspect is believed to have hung a plastic bag on a railing at the S-Bahn station, which contained a TNT-filled pipe bomb. It detonated at about 3pm that afternoon, hitting seven women and three men, including students at a nearby language school.

One was a pregnant woman who lost her baby and had a leg amputated as a result, according to reports at the time. Six were Jewish immigrants from former Soviet Union countries, while the rest were Russian-Germans. The attack sent shockwaves across Germany, especially because a neo-Nazi motive was suspected. A few months later, a synagogue in the western city was set on fire in an arson attack. Spiegel reported that officials have now confirmed they are investigating it as a xenophobic attack. Ralf S. is reportedly a former German soldier, who became known as the ‘sheriff’ in his part of town because he would patrol the streets with a dog, or dressed in combat gear.
© DPA

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Germany: Infighting symptomatic of AfD in key election year?

Despite massive infighting, Germany's right-wing populist AfD is almost surely headed for good results in state and national polls this year. Voters are disillusioned with the country's refugee policies, analysts say.

30/1/2017- In populous North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party bickered and fought over leadership issues at its state convention on Sunday just months ahead of a key state election regarded as a litmus test for national polls in September. Domestic power struggles or no - the AfD, which currently has about 4,500 members in NRW, is aiming to enter the state parliament there in the May 14 vote. The party already has seats in 10 of Germany's 16 state parliaments - and also has set its sights on entering the national parliament, the Bundestag. The AfD will in fact win enough votes to enter both assemblies, says Professor Carsten Koschmieder of the Berlin-based Otto Suhr Institute of Political Science. The AfD is also expected to win a sizable share of the vote in state polls in Saarland in March and Schleswig-Holstein in May. The populist party might then go on to become the third largest force in the national parliament later his year.

Voters don't care
The AfD voters don't care about the power struggles and infighting, Koschmieder told DW. "They don't vote for the party because of its program or for its political qualities, but because they are dissatisfied with the current situation," - in particular Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policies. Even if the AfD is already widely tipped to win seats at the national level - polls currently give it 15 percent at least - the outcome of the NRW vote matters greatly to the party, Koschmieder says, because the better it does in the state vote, the more media attention it gets ahead of the national vote. The AfD was formed in 2013 by economics professor Bernd Lucke as a Euroskeptic fringe party, denouncing expensive eurozone bailouts and urging a return to the Deutschmark, Germany's currency until early 2002.

From anti-euro to anti-immigrant
Last year, Lucke was forced out, losing the leadership to Frauke Petry as the party's focus shifted and the AfD morphed into an anti-immigration party attacking Chancellor Merkel's liberal refugee policy, Islam, multiculturalism and planned free-trade agreements with the United States and Canada. Power struggles have been frequent all along, but that in itself is not unusual in a young party, Koschmieder points out. But it has been particularly fierce in the case of the AfD, he says, adding that the party has two wings but doesn't tolerate any other camps. There is no room for dissent, he says, arguing that it's all about individual power, not about substance. Currently vying for influence at the head of the party: leader Frauke Petry, a 41-year-old businesswoman and mother of four along with her co-chairman Jörg Meuthen, Björn Höcke - the AfD leader in the eastern state of Thuringia - and deputy chief Alexander Gauland.

"There's not much willingness to compromise, so infighting is bound to continue," Koschmieder says. "We see rifts in six of the 10 AfD state parliamentary groups." Disagreements that made the news have included members trying to ally the AfD - which is nationalistic but doesn't want to be called an extremist or "Nazi" party - with explicitly far-right parties in Europe. Meuthen fell out with his federal co-leader Petry, the party's best-known national face, over anti-Semitic allegations by an AfD lawmaker - and went on to create a new parliamentary group in the state of Baden-Württemberg. Höcke triggered anger across Germany when he criticized Berlin's Holocaust Memorial as a "monument of shame." Even members of his own party said he "went too far." The AfD executive, however, decided not to expel Höcke, one of their more right-leaning leaders, but to impose unspecified "disciplinary measures" instead.

Although Chancellor Merkel is considered very likely to retain power in the September election, she has at the same identified the populist rightwing party as "a challenge for us all."
© The Deutsche Welle*

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France's National Front says it could copy Trump's travel ban

France's far right National Front party says if Marine Le Pen is elected president in May it would consider imposing a Donald Trump-like travel ban on citizens of certain Muslim countries.

30/1/2017- National Front mayor Steeve Briois, who is a leading member of Le Pen's campaign team was asked whether his party would consider imposing the same ban that has barred citizens of seven Muslim countries from travelling to the US. “Why not,” he said. “We not living in the word of Care Bears anymore. We are in a horrible world,” he told AFP. “So from time to time we must take authoritarian measures, even if they shock,” said the mayor of the northern town of Henin-Beaumont. “It is true that the United States is also a target for jihadists, so if Trump wants to protect it by forbidding the arrival of these people from these countries, he is free to do that. “Obviously it is unfortunate for those who have nothing to do with that,” he added.

Marine Le Pen has so far not commented on whether she would consider a similar ban, but she did defend Trump at the weekend, saying the only reason people were so angry was because he was sticking to his promises. She has been keen to avoid any kind of controversy around Islam and recently insisted that the religion has its place in the French Republic. She has however vowed to fight Islamist fundamentalism. Trump had promised at one point in his campaign to bar all Muslims from entering the country. Trump's decree has sparked uproar throughout the United States and around the globe. It has been condemned by France, where the foreign affairs ministry was on Monday forced to urge French citizens with dual nationality from one of the blacklisted countries to forget about travelling to the US.

Trump has insisted the measure was not a “Muslim ban” saying it was about fighting terrorism and had nothing to do with religion. He has suggested in the past that the US might have to restrict immigration from France because it had been “compromised by terrorism”.
© AFP

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Greece: How the rise of Donald Trump has re-energised neo-Nazis

'We should reclaim our country and our interests and put them first, just like Trump'

31/1/2017- Greece’s most prominent neo-Nazi movement says it has found a new surge in support following Donald Trump’s election as US President, and that his ban on travellers from some Muslim-majority countries “validates” the group’s far-right views. Stirring a hardline, nationalistic element in Greece, the new President’s controversial immigration ban has sent thousands of supporters of the far-right Golden Dawn party, which represents about 10 per cent of the popular vote and is the country's third-largest party, onto the streets. They have staged torchlight parades and called for copycat bans for Greece, which is still struggling to cope with a year-long refugee crisis. “Trump’s policies have given us a new wind of support,” Elias Panagiotaros, a leading light of the far-right party and an MP in Athens, told The Independent. “It’s validating and reinforcing our nationalistic and patriotic policies – policies that we have been advocating for years.

“We should follow Trump’s beat,” he said. “We shouldn’t leave Greece like an open field for migrants to come and go as they want. We should reclaim our country and our interests and put them first, just like Trump.” Golden Dawn supporters marched through the streets of Athens at the weekend, ostensibly to commemorate the deaths of three Greek military officers in a helicopter crash near the Imia islets, at the Greek-Turkish sea border, on 31 January 1996. Waving torches and the party’s red-and-black flag – a colour scheme closely resembling that of Hitler’s Nazi party – the group chanted anti-Turkish and anti-migrant slogans and its members spoke out against the “tens of thousands of illegal immigrants in our country”. Police said about 800 people were involved in the Golden Dawn march. A counter-protest organised by Greek anti-fascists also took place in another part of the city at the time, although authorities said they were kept apart and there were no clashes.

The march – and its heated rhetoric – signal an eerie resurgence for Golden Dawn, a once fringe and negligible political force that emerged from obscurity three years ago to gain national representation in Greece’s 300-seat parliament. Feeding on the country’s financial crisis and popular resentment of traditional mainstream parties, the neo-Nazi grouping, regarded as being among the most dangerous reactionaries in Europe, saw its support rise before swooning amid allegations of it orchestrated the killings of leftist hip-hop artists in Athens two years ago. “Since then,” Mr Panagiotaros said, “we’ve become grounded.” He said the group nonetheless remained “vigilant” and “silent”, watching on the sidelines of a lingering refugee crisis that has seen more than a million undocumented migrants pass through Greece on their way to seeking asylum in other parts of Europe, at times unsettling the country and unnerving its people.

Although 62,000 migrants remain trapped in the country because of a flurry of border closures in the Balkans last year, Greece has seen only scarce streaks of racist violence. Still, anti-immigrant feeling is on the rise, and that, says Mr Panagiotaros “will pick up as Trump presses ahead with anti-immigration policies.” “It’s simple,” the Golden Dawn politician said. “Trump is the planet’s keeper. He’s the president of the world’s superpower, and whether you like him or not, his policies are now validating beliefs and concerns across the globe.”
© The Independent

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Greece: Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn march against migrants in Athens

Supporters of the far-right Golden Dawn have taken to the streets of the Greek capital, Athens, in an anti-immigration protest.

29/1/2017- Marchers expressed fury at the number of migrants remaining in Greece since the closure of the Balkan route into Europe. Golden Dawn parliamentarian Ilias Panagiotaros likes what he sees from across the Atlantic: “We don’t see any EU-Turkey migrant deal at all. We just see tens of thousands of illegal immigrants in our country and hundreds, thousands of others that have already come to Greece years ago and our country is an open field, everyone can come whenever they want and they can leave whenever they want. We would like to follow a policy like Donald Trump is doing in the States right now.” A counter anti-fascist march took place at the same time in another part of the city. Police say both groups were kept well apart and clashes were avoided.
© Euronews

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Greece: Third migrant dies in a week in harsh camp conditions

30/1/2017- The third migrant to perish in a week was found dead in his tent on Monday on Greece's Lesbos island, raising alarm about the grim winter conditions in overcrowded camps that critics have denounced as deplorable. The dead man is believed to be about 20 and from Pakistan, a police official on the island said. Another migrant who shared his tent was critically ill and taken to hospital. The death at the island's Moria camp follows those of a 22-year-old Egyptian and a 46-year-old Syrian who shared a tent and died days apart. Greek media reported they had inhaled fumes from a heater, but authorities would not confirm or deny that. Greece's migration minister Yannis Mouzalas ordered an investigation into the deaths, the causes of which remain unclear. Steps would be taken "to make the situation more manageable," he was quoted by the Athens News Agency as saying.

"We wonder how many deaths it will take for the government to wake up," said Stavros Theodorakis, leader of the small centrist party To Potami. At least 3,000 refugees and migrants are living in Moria, a hilltop former military base where conditions have deteriorated as they await for months for word on their future. The United Nations refugee agency and other international organisations have urged Greece to improve conditions at its overcrowded facilities. "Something has got to give. We cannot tolerate this wanton loss of life," said International Rescue Committee Greece director Panos Navrozidis, acknowledging that conditions in Moria did not meet humanitarian standards. As a mid-winter freeze gripped parts of the country earlier this month, thousands of asylum-seekers endured sub-zero temperatures. Summer tents on Lesbos were weighed down by snow.

Across Greece, more than 60,000 refugees and migrants, most from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, have been stranded since last March in formal or makeshift camps which U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch has described as "deplorable and volatile." "We don't know yet how they died but we do know the thousands stuck on the Greek islands have been suffering horrendous conditions in the cold, trapped by the failure of the EU to offer protection and dignity," said Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International's Europe director.
© Reuters

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Netherlands: Four major mosques to restrict access following Quebec attack

30/1/2017- Four of the largest mosques in the Netherlands are to close their doors during prayer times following the weekend terrorist attack in Quebec that left at least six people dead. The decision was taken following an emergency council of leaders at the mosques in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. Earlier the Council of Moroccan Mosques in the Netherlands (RMMN) said it was concerned for the safety of its visitors. In a statement, the four mosques said they had taken a ‘rigorous decision’ to restrict access, despite the principle of a mosque being ‘a public building that anybody can enter at any time of day’. They added that the events in Quebec ‘contribute to the growth of hatred against Muslims around the world’. Six people were confirmed dead and eight others were injured when gunmen opened fire at the Islamic Cultural Center of Quebec on Sunday evening. Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau called the attack a ‘terrorist attack on Muslims in a centre of worship and refuge’.
© The Dutch News

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Dutch Progressive Muslims take on rightwards shift in politics

With far-right leader Geert Wilders ahead in the polls, local party inspired by Islam hopes to counter new populism

29/1/2017- Nourdin el Ouali has grown used to far-right attacks on Dutch Muslims, and to dog-whistle politics. But when the country’s prime minister wrote an open letter last week, in effect demanding that minorities integrate or “go away”, he was still shocked. Mark Rutte’s letter comes less than two months before a national election, and after months of watching populist Geert Wilders rising into the top position in national polls. If the election were held tomorrow his far-right party would probably be the largest in parliament. The letter did not directly mention Muslims, and began instead by attacking people who drop litter or spit on buses. However, in his warning of “something wrong” in Dutch society, the message was clear. Rutte’s naked bid to woo far-right voters for the 15 March election prompted scathing criticism across mainstream society, and worry among Dutch Muslims, who have already endured a sharp rise in hate crime and say they face regular discrimination in daily life.

“It concerns me a lot, because it’s the prime minister who wrote the letter,” says Ouali, a Rotterdam native, founder and city councillor for the progressive Nida party. “You would expect a different role from someone in this position, to rise above it all, bring people together – not writing this kind of letter where he really in a sneaky way talks about Dutch identity, implying there are groups [of Dutch citizens] that are a threat to the Dutch way of life.” The failure of mainstream leftwing parties to respond to that discourse is one reason Ouali waded into local politics himself three years ago. “They didn’t have a good answer on this rightwing discourse and most of all were patronising,” he said. His party, progressive and inspired by Islam, is the embodiment of opposition to his values. “We say we have have Rotterdam DNA and Islamic inspiration, we are very diverse when it comes to ethnicity and attitudes to religion. The confessional inspiration is for values like equality, justice, just like the Christian democrat party,” he said.

It has claimed eight seats on local government bodies since it was set up in 2014, appealing to people who felt alienated by conventional politics. The shift rightwards in Dutch politics has been happening for over a decade, since firebrand Pim Fortuyn burst on to the scene in the early 2000s, with a new form of populism that would be adopted by other far-right groups across Europe. Gay himself, he eschewed the conservatism of previous far-right groups and instead wooed voters by presenting himself as champion of the Netherlands’ liberal, progressive tradition – in every area except religion, painting Islam as a looming threat to Dutch security and the Dutch way of life. Fortuyn was murdered in 2002 but Wilders has since taken up his mantle, trying to push the definition of mainstream slowly to the right, with rhetoric so extreme that late year last he was convicted of inciting discrimination.

The court ruling only boosted his poll numbers, though, and Rutte’s letter appeared to confirm Wilders’ political triumph, after a year that has seen the far right emboldened by Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections. That win, and Trump’s controversial first days in office, have also helped Wilders by keeping the issues that he claims are key at the top of the news agenda. “What the Trump victory does, is bring his issues on the agenda and create the impression that refugees and terrorism are our key concerns, rather than the welfare state and economic progress,” says Cas Mudde, a Dutch political scientist currently at the University of Georgia and a specialist in populism and extremism.

The system of proportional representation that first allowed Wilders to flourish makes it unlikely that he will become prime minister. He would need to rule in coalition, and Rutte’s party, the closest ideologically, has already categorically ruled out a deal. Wilders says he feels the same; a previous venture into government together collapsed in bitter acrimony in 2012. But the apparent adoption of his values by a party that may have courted Wilders’ voters but previously rejected his positions, is worrying for the Netherlands, and dangerous for its minorities, Mudde says.

“The last year or so, since the ‘refugee crisis’, Rutte has taken a stronger position, in which he implies, but never literally says, that there are real Dutch (who seem to be white and non-Muslim) and temporary or conditional Dutch (who are non-white and Muslim),” Mudde said. “The latter have to adapt to the former, even though many of them are born and raised in the Netherlands, and the latter are the main problem, not the former – even though we have seen an explosion of physical threats and verbal violence from the ‘natives’ towards refugees and anyone defending their right to be in the Netherlands. “I think we managed to be accepted, because we are born and raised in Rotterdam and we have politicians who were not born and raised in the city telling us what to do.”

The Netherlands too often overlooks the extraordinary stories of refugees, he says, pointing to the dramatic transformation in his own family. “My father came here in the early 1960s, and he cannot write or read. If you see what happened in one generation, you can really talk about a revolution.” He refuses to accept that Wilders is setting the course for the future. “I am concerned, but I always say that pessimism is for those who can afford it, and optimism is for those who don’t have any other option. I see myself in the second group.”
© The Guardian.

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UK: Police hunt suspect in hate crime graffiti attack on Polish centre

Police have released CCTV images of a suspect they want to speak to in connection with the graffiti attack at the Polish Social and Cultural Association building in Hammersmith last summer.

3/2/2017- Officers are trying to identify a man in an orange hi-vis jacket who was caught on camera spraying offensive messages on the door of the community centre in King Street. He is then seen mounting his bike and cycling off towards Hammersmith Broadway. The shocking attack happened last June amid a wave of hate crime incidents following the EU referendum. It prompted town hall bosses to organise a ‘unity day’ rally that attracted support from thousands of local people. Police are now urging anyone with information to help them identify the graffiti suspect.

Detective Constable Robert Rodak, from Hammersmith and Fulham’s community safety unit, said: “Our enquiries are ongoing and I am now appealing for the public’s help in identifying this man. “We take incidents of hate crime very seriously so I am keen to hear from anyone who may think they recognise him. “Anyone who contacts us will have their information dealt with in the strictest of confidence.” The incident is thought to have occurred at around 5.30am on Sunday June 26 last year. The suspect is seen wearing an orange hi-vis jacket and a grey hooded top. Police have made no arrests in the investigation so far.
Anyone with information is urged to contact DC Rodak on 020 246 2605 or 101.
© London News Online

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Britain posthumously pardons more than 50.000 gay men in 'Turing law'

31/1/2017- Oscar Wilde, the playwright and poet, was among more than 50,000 gay men posthumously pardoned on Tuesday under a new “Turing Law” introduced for homosexual crimes that no longer exist. The law, contained in the Policing and Crime Bill, is named after Alan Turing, the computer pioneer and Bletchley Park codebreaker who was convicted of homosexual acts in 1952. He was pardoned in 2013. As well as the posthumous pardons, the new law will allow 15,000 living men who were found guilty of sexual acts that are no longer illegal to apply to the Home Office for a pardon. People who have died will be automatically pardoned, although their families will not be informed by the Government. The law does not apply to non-consensual sexual acts or those involving people under the age of consent. Sam Gyimah, the justice minister, said: “This is a truly momentous day. We can never undo the hurt caused, but we have apologised and taken action to right these wrongs.”

The new law received widespread support after being suggested by Lord Sharkey, Lord Cashman and Lord Lexden. Lord Sharkey said: “This is a momentous day for thousands of families up and down the UK who have been campaigning on this issue for decades. "It is a wonderful thing that we have been able to build on the pardon granted to Alan Turing during Coalition and extend it to thousands of men unjustly convicted for sexual offences that would not be crimes today.” Wilde was convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years’ hard labour in 1895. A source at the Ministry of Justice confirmed he was one of the 50,000 men pardoned, although some of his crimes will still stand because they are not included in the new law. A spokesman for Stonewall, the gay rights charity, called the new law: “Another important milestone of equality.” 

© The Telegraph

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UK: Cuts to equality watchdog will harm hate crime victims MP warns

29/1/2017- Cuts to the UK's equality watchdog will make it harder to protect victims of hate crimes at a time when these have increased massively, an SNP Westminster frontbencher has warned. SNP MP Chris Stephens claims the cutbacks will limit the ability of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to stand up against racism at a time of rising anti-immigrant sentiment, in part due to the fall-out from the Brexit campaign. The EHRC is to have its funding reduced by 25 per cent during the next four years, with £17.4 million slashed from its budget by 2020. There will also be 26 jobs cut from the 148 permanent staff employed for the EHRC across its offices in Manchester, London and Cardiff and Glasgow. The bulk of the job losses are south of the Border, although campaigners say the cuts will lead to a reduced service across the UK.

Stephens said cutting the funding of a body, which aims to eliminate discrimination and promote human rights, made it more likely racial abuse would be "unchallenged" and would make victims of racism more vulnerable as figures show a spike in hate crime. Stephens believes the increase in hate crime was more likely to be due to the tensions of Brexit campaign, with its anti-immigrant overtones. Figures highlighted by the PCS union show a dramatic rise during 2015-16 across the UK, compared to the previous year. The figures record race hate crimes up 15 per cent, religious 34 per cent, sexual orientation up by 29 per cent, and disability by 44 per cent and transgender, at 41 per cent, almost doubling in the course of the year. Stephens, the SNP's trade union and workers' right spokesperson, said the cuts, which have already provoked strikes, would make it harder to protect victims of such abuse.

The Glasgow South West MP said: "These cuts will mean that the commission will not have the tools it needs to tackle discrimination and human rights abuses. It will result in victims of discrimination who don't qualify for legal aid or who can't afford tribunal fees coming to MPs for assistance. "The huge increase in hate crimes in 2015-16 makes it difficult to understand why the government would make such cuts at this time. The facts speak for themselves with hate crimes almost doubled overall this last year. "A lot of people have suggested this increase in hate crime is a result of the tone of the Brexit campaign," he said. Adding: "The ability of the commission to represent the victims of crime and human rights will be harmed by these cuts and if hate crime is left unchallenged these incidents of abuse could come to be seen as normal."

However, an EHRC spokesperson, in response, said it would take a firm stand against racism during the ongoing Brexit process despite the cuts. The spokesperson said: “We strongly resisted budget cuts at the highest levels but we believe the difficult changes we are making will ensure we can still deliver our ambitious programme. "For example, we have produced our biggest report on race, will soon be publishing the most comprehensive assessment ever of disability in Britain, and we will remain a robust and independent voice to protect people’s rights as we leave the European Union.” A UK Government spokesperson said: “We are continuing to support the important work of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The EHRC has undergone significant reforms since 2010 to increase its efficiency and despite a reduction in budget it maintains capacity to fulfil its duties to promote and protect equalities and human rights”
© The Herald of Scotland

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Swedish far-right MP to face assault charge over Stockholm brawl

Sweden Democrats (SD) MP Kent Ekeroth has been charged with minor assault over an incident outside a Stockholm nightclub in November, where he allegedly struck a man in the face.

3/2/2017- The scuffle took place outside a club near Stureplan, a popular nightclub district in central Stockholm, on November 24th. The 35-year-old MP, who denies the charge, claims he acted in self-defence, and filed a counter-report to police at the time claiming he was also assaulted. Police spoke to between 13 and 14 witnesses about the November incident according to chief prosecutor Lena Kastlund, providing a "largely coherent picture of what happened". Sweden’s Interior Minister Anders Ygeman labelled the charge against Ekeroth as "very serious". "It’s not just an MP, but a justice policy spokesperson, and by extension a candidate to be justice minister who is now subject to a court review for assault. That's of course very serious. I can't remember it happening previously in Swedish history," Ygeman told news agency TT.

Ekeroth was told to 'take a time out' by SD leader Jimmie Åkesson in November after he was reported to the police over the scuffle, being relieved of his duties as an SD member of Sweden’s Committee on Justice while the investigation was in process. In January he was also removed from his position as the party's international secretary, being replaced by MEP Peter Lundgren. On Friday, Åkesson urged Ekeroth to leave the Riksdag while the charges are ongoing. "This clearly hurts the party's reputation," he told Sveriges Radio. This is not the first time Ekeroth has been handed a 'time out' by SD. In 2012 he was told to take a break when newspaper Expressen published a video of him, alongside former SD economic policy spokesperson Erik Almqvist and Stockholm councillor Christian Westling, arming themselves with iron bars after fighting a drunken man.
© The Local - Sweden

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Swedish neo-Nazis held in refugee centre attack

2/2/2017- Three suspected neo-Nazis have been arrested in Sweden after a home-made bomb attack on an asylum-seeker centre last month left one person seriously injured, security services said Thursday. The three suspects "are or were in the past members of the Nordic Resistance Movement", a neo-Nazi group, said Mats Ljungqvist of the anti-terror prosecutor's office. An enquiry is underway into the blast outside the centre in the southwestern city of Gothenburg on January 5. It left an immigration office staff member seriously injured with wounds to his legs. One of the suspects in the bombing was taken into custody earlier this month. The two other arrests were made on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Swedish intelligence service Sapo said in a statement that the attack, which has been linked to two others in Gothenburg in recent months, appears to have a political motive. The first incident took place on November 11 when a bomb went off outside the Syndikaliskt Forum Kafe, a well-known far-left haunt. No one was injured in that blast. Then an explosive device was found January 25 at a campground which was temporarily housing migrants. It failed to detonate. All three explosive devices were "placed in public areas" and there are other elements which suggest that they are linked, said Ljungqvist.
© AFP

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Sweden's conservatives crack taboo with far-right talks

Sweden's far-right party is rejoicing: long shunned by the political establishment, it has suddenly been invited in from the cold by a main opposition party eyeing a return to power -- and Swedish politics is all shook up.

28/1/2017- Breaking a longstanding taboo, Sweden's conservative Moderate Party last week opened the door for a cooperation with the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, causing a deep rift within the stunned four-party centre-right opposition Alliance. All of the political parties in parliament have long held a cordon sanitaire around the Sweden Democrats because of its roots in the neo-Nazi movement, but Moderates leader Anna Kinberg Batra argued the party could no longer be ignored. "It hasn't worked to pretend that such a large party in parliament doesn't exist," Kinberg Batra told public broadcaster SVT. As Sweden took in the highest number of refugees per capita in Europe in 2015, the Sweden Democrats have seen their popularity soar. A recent poll credited them with 21 percent of voter sympathies, making them the country's second-biggest party after the Social Democrats. They first entered parliament in 2010 with 5.7 percent of votes, rising to nearly 13 percent in the 2014 election.

Kinberg Batra made her remarks after calling on her Alliance partners to submit a joint budget to parliament and accept the far-right's votes -- indirect support which would in effect topple the minority left-wing government comprising the Social Democrats and Greens. Officials from the Moderates and the far-right are due to meet "in the near future", Swedish daily Dagens Industri reported on Friday. Kinberg Batra also said she was willing to talk to the Sweden Democrats on some issues, but did not specify which ones. The Centre and Liberal parties fiercely oppose the move, while the small Christian Democrats said they would accept the Sweden Democrats' indirect support but would not negotiate with them. The Moderates need the three parties' support if they are to have a chance at winning the next election in 2018.

Sweden Democrats party leader Jimmie Åkesson was quick to react, saying he would demand "influence over what the government would look like" if his support helped the opposition regain power. Daniel Poohl, editor-in-chief of anti-racism magazine Expo, raised a warning finger to the Moderates. The Sweden Democrats "constitute the greatest threat to democracy as we know it", he said, calling Kinberg Batra's invitation "a milestone" for the far-right. Åkesson is a clean-cut 37-year-old with a talent for public speaking. Often described by media as having the looks of "a mother-in-law's dream", he is credited with giving the party a respectable facade. But it is known for its nationalist views and strong stance against immigration, which it regards as a threat to Sweden's identity. Social Democratic Prime Minister Stefan Löfven made headlines in September 2016 when he described the Sweden Democrats as a "racist and Nazi party".

Ironically, Kinberg Batra said much the same thing a month earlier. "They blame all of Sweden's problems on immigration. It is a racist party as it sets groups against each other and puts labels on other people," she said in a televised interview. The Alliance, which governed Sweden from 2006-2014, is keen to seize back power but its hands have been tied since its 2014 election defeat. Prime Minister Löfven holds a weak minority which could easily be toppled if the opposition accepted the Sweden Democrats' indirect support on key issues in parliament. But the Alliance has until now refused to do so, not wanting to legitimise the Sweden Democrats, and because doing so would throw the country into political instability.
© The Local - Sweden

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