NEWS - Archive April 2017

Headlines 28 April, 2017

Headlines 21 April, 2017

FRENCH ELECTIONS First round April 23

Headlines 14 April, 2017

News from France, Germany & UK- Week 15

INTERNATIONAL ROMA DAY, APRIL 8, 2017

Headlines 7 April, 2017

Headlines 28 April, 2017

Kosovo: Defamation Proposal Alarms Rights Groups

A draft law amending the criminal code, adding articles on defamation of the President, government and state symbols, has alarmed civil society groups, journalists, legal experts and others.

28/4/2017- NGOs in Kosovo, including the Association of Journalists of Kosovo, on Thursday condemned a proposed draft law, amending criminal code articles 134/C and 134/D, that would jail people for insulting the flag and national anthem or defaming top politicians. Article 134/C foresees that “anyone who publically ... expresses contempt for the Republic of Kosovo or for its constitutional order, insults the colours, flag, seal or the anthem of the Republic of Kosovo, is punishable by up to three years of prison or a fine.” Article 134/D foresees that whoever defames a constitutional body, including the President, parliament, government and the Constitutional Court, can be punished with three months to five years of imprisonment.

The NGOs said the proposed changes violate the fundamental principles of a democratic country where human rights are respected. “The Ministry of Justice's aim to criminalize freedom of speech is a step towards authoritarianism in Kosovo and is in complete opposition to the path of European reforms for which the Republic of Kosovo should be committed,” a joint statement of NGOs reads. “The proposed changes constitute a step towards controlling free speech to criticize the high institutions of the Republic of Kosovo through the criminal procedure, a standard that would stifle public freedom of speech,” the statement adds. They say the changes were also drafted in closed process and in an irresponsible way.

Journalists and civil society groups have urged the ministry to withdraw the draft and apologise for this “authoritarian act that has seriously affected the credibility of the institutions ... in Kosovo”. Journalist and editor Enver Robelli said: “The objective of such terrible copying of such articles is a fight against every dissenting thought in Kosovo.” Last yea, he recalled this legal provision was used in Germany against the satirist Jan Boehmermann who was accused of slandering Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The charges were later dropped. Germany seeks to remove the article by 2018, said Robelli.

The EU Office in Kosovo has also expressed concern. “This goes against the international trend to repeal criminal defamation laws. A number of EU members or potential members, including Kosovo, have done away with criminal defamation and insult, and several others have taken important steps in that direction,” a statement by the EU office on Thursday said. The statement recalled that the European Commission Report in 2013 noted previous decriminalisation of libel and defamation in Kosovo as progress, calling on the authorities “to continue to adhere to the existing principles of guaranteeing the freedom of expression enshrined in Kosovo's Constitution.” Kosovo officially decriminalized defamation and insult in 2012, when the articles on this were removed from the criminal code. Defamation is considered a civil issue, and is now regulated by the Civil Law on Defamation and Insult.
© Balkan Insight

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Lithuania: Teacher Claims That Gays Are Cannibals

On April 26th, 2017 a student of Žemaitė Gymnasium in Telšiai (Lithuania) published photos from religion class on “Facebook“ that caused an uproar on the social media. The photos display slides shown for tenth grad students as a part of religious education class. The slides contain information indicating that homosexual persons are “murderers and cannibals, often enjoying sadomasochism and raping children”. “Most serial killers who killed and ate their victims were homosexuals,” states one of the slides.

28/4/2017- Žydrūnas Želnys, headmaster of Žemaitė Gymnasium, confirmed that he had seen the aforementioned post on the social media. The headmaster assured that he would consult with Petras Kuizinas, the Mayor of Telšiai, regarding the situation at school. Vladimir Simonko, Executive Director of the National LGBT* Rights Organization LGL, stressed that it is not the first time that such information has reached the organization. In 2009, LGL received a copy of notes made by a student during a religion class in a different school with similar claims about homosexual persons. LGL applied to school administration, however, the school management was unwilling to “interfere with religious education”.

In Lithuania, students can choose between classes of religious education or ethics. According to the LGL’s Executive Director, many students choose religion classes as they are “trending” among young people.Vladimir Simonko also pointed out that Lithuania has adopted laws prohibiting dissemination of positive information about LGBT* persons to minors. “Any information relating to the LGBT* community is considered as detrimental. These are the consequences of the infamous “anti-gay propaganda” law. This law gives a green light for such statements,” explained the Executive Director of LGL.

The Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson of the Republic of Lithuania has already started an investigation of possible discrimination based on sexual orientation in the religion class curriculum in Žemaitė Gymnasium. “Depending on the results of the investigation, the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson may take several decisions. In case the investigation determines a criminal offense, all materials will be forwarded to corresponding institutions for a criminal investigation. There can be more options but it is hard to comment at the moment due to the ongoing investigation,” claimed the spokesperson of the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson.

Birutė Sabatauskaitė, the Head of the Lithuanian Centre for Human Rights, believes that this situation reflects a broader problem existing in Lithuania. “It is not only the teacher’s responsibility. The politicians and leaders of educational system should also claim their share of responsibility for this incident,” stressed Ms. Sabatauskaitė. “First and foremost responsibility must be claimed by the school administration, school community, the school board and municipality. I do not think that a teacher providing such materials for students can continue to work in a public school. The Ministry of Education and Science is planning to reform the school curriculum, provide trainings for the teachers and implement further steps in order to ensure that students are provided with quality education,” commented Jurgita Petrauskienė, the Minister of Education and Science.
© National LGBT Rights Association Lithuania

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Macedonia Shaken by Violence in Parliament

Police used flash grenades to drive protesters out of parliament and evacuate MPs trapped inside after lawmakers including opposition leader Zoran Zaev were assaulted inside the legislature.

28/4/2017- Police moved in to restore order late Thursday after protesters supporting the former ruling nationalist VMRO DPMNE party stormed parliament, injuring at least four MPs. The protesters forced their way in to the legislature after the former opposition led by the Social Democrats, SDSM, elected a parliamentary speaker in a bid to form a government. Medical authorities reported that at least nine people were injured. At least four MPs, all from the new parliamentary majority, including the SDSM leader Zoran Zaev and the head of the DPA- Movement for reforms, Zijadin Sela, were confirmed to have been injured and received medical treatment. There was a heavy police presence into the night in Skopje's central area as several hundred protesters stayed in front of the parliament building, although the situation remained calm.

The violence began just after 6pm local time when a majority of 67 MPs in the 120-seat parliament elected the new. ethnic Albanian, parliament speaker, Talat Xhaferi – the next step towards the establishment of the new opposition-led coalition government. "Dear citizens, my country, I congratulate you on the election of the new parliament speaker and God speed to all of us," SDSM leader Zoran Zaev told a press conference inside parliament, immediately before the former ruling VMRO DPMNE activists stormed the building. The VMRO DPMNE party, which has been trying to avoid losing power by preventing the election of a new speaker for the past month, complained that the move was unlawful and called it an "attempted coup". All through the evening, increasing numbers of protesters started entering parliament - facing little opposition from the police stationed there.

For a couple of hours, the protesters, some with black hoods over their heads, occupied the press hall, and the new majority MPs stranded inside were attacked. Protesters also entered parliament’s plenary hall, where they sang patriotic songs and chanted for fresh elections, a demand in line with the stance of the VMRO DPMNE party. As increasing numbers of riot police units started to enter the parliament building, all remaining media crews were ushered out and the power was shut off. The police then used concussion grenades to drive the pro-VMRO DPMNE protesters out of the building and evacuate the MPs and remaining journalists who were trapped inside. Some reporters have said that meanwhile they were attacked by groups of protesters.

In a short televised address, the VMRO DPMNE-backed Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov called for calm. "I call upon the leaders of the parliamentary parties to come to my office tomorrow for a leaders’ meeting so that we can overcome this condition," Ivanov said. He also called on all sides to refrain from violence, saying that the parliamentary rulebook and the legislative order had been breached today with the election of a new parliament speaker by the new majority. But the SDSM blamed Ivanov, who since March 1 has refused to award the mandate to form a government to opposition leader Zoran Zaev, despite the fact that he has assembled a working majority. The SDSM said Ivanov was "part of the scenario" responsible for the violence and for blocking a peaceful transition of power after the December 11 early elections.

The leader of the VMRO DPMNE, Nikola Gruevski, who was reportedly outside of the country, in Vienna, used Facebook to call for calm. Gruevski insisted that his party will use "all democratic means" to block the election of the new parliament speaker and stop a new government taking office. The US embassy in Skopje and the EU's Federica Mogherini and Johannes Hahn condemned the violence. But they also said that the election of a new parliament speaker was a positive step forward. "A majority of MPs elected Talat Xhaferi as Speaker of Parliament during a regular, continued session of parliament witnessed by members of the public and press. We will work with him to support democracy and to advance the interests of Macedonia," the US Embassy said in a press release. Macedonia has not been able to elect a new government since December’s polls.

The crisis deepened on March 1, when President Ivanov refused to grant SDSM leader Zaev the mandate to form a government, insisting that it would jeopardize the country's sovereignty. The SDSM said the VMRO DPMNE was afraid to lose power because its leaders fear standing trial. Several senior party figures, including VMRO DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski, are currently facing criminal investigations and indictments by the Special Prosecution, SJO, which they claim are politically motivated.
© Balkan Insight

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Far-Right Leaders Loathe European Parliament, Love Its Paychecks

27/4/2017- Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader trying to become president of France, already has a day job as a lawmaker in the European Parliament, a position she regards with open contempt. She misses votes, mocks the process and cheers for the demise of the European Union. Even so, Ms. Le Pen is willing to accept a salary of 101,808 euros (about $110,000), a generous per diem and an annual staff and office budget in excess of €340,000. In February, the Parliament halved her compensation after fraud investigators concluded that she had wrongly diverted money to pay for National Front party activities in France. The scandal, which has not fazed Ms. Le Pen’s supporters in France, is another example of how Europe’s right-wing parties happily provoke populist fury by attacking the European Union — yet also happily pocket government salaries and other benefits. For some far-right politicians, a perch in the European Parliament can mean a lucrative sinecure, easy news media exposure and immunity from criminal prosecution at home.

“We are in a totally schizophrenic situation,” said Franck Proust, the leader of France’s center-right Republicans in the Parliament. “Europe should not have to finance people who instead of working spend their time destroying their source of funding.” For decades, Ms. Le Pen’s National Front and other parties on Europe’s far right have drawn a strange legitimacy by winning seats in the European Parliament. They blame European institutions for being onerous bureaucracies and lacking democratic accountability even as they enjoy the perks of office and generally shun the daily grind of legislative work. Winning seats in the European Parliament is often easier for them than winning at home, because turnout is anemic, boosting the chances for well-organized protest candidates. The National Front, with more than 20 lawmakers including Ms. Le Pen and her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, has the largest bloc of French representatives in the European assembly — even though it holds just two seats in the French National Assembly.

In 2014, anti-European fringe parties had their strongest-ever showing in European elections, and far-right lawmakers now hold about 10 percent of the 751 seats in the European Parliament. The U.K. Independence Party, which has no lawmakers in the British Parliament, has 20 seats in the European Parliament, including the party’s former leader, Nigel Farage. European institutions in Brussels are routinely criticized as lacking democratic accountability. The European Parliament, whose members are directly elected, is supposed to be the answer to that complaint. But anti-Europe lawmakers instead often use the Parliament, based in Strasbourg, France, to attack the European Union. The overall expenses of salaries, benefits and other funds for far-right Euroskeptic lawmakers and their staffs cost European Union taxpayers about €55 million this year, according to Thilo Janssen, a political scientist who has studied the far right and who advises a left-wing lawmaker in Parliament.

Even more ironic, the Parliament provides a platform for these lawmakers to network and coordinate their anti-Europe efforts — and to get paid for it. They have formed political groups, the main organizational units of Parliament, which allow them to qualify for an array of privileges. Ms. Le Pen, for example, is co-president of the Europe of Nations and Freedom Group, founded in 2015, along with Marcel de Graaff, a Dutch right-wing lawmaker. The group billed for €1.6 million during its first year for staff and activities. Mr. de Graaff, a fiery ally of the Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders, has argued that unauthorized migrants have carried out mass rapes and warned that “we must stop the invasion” of Islam in Europe. “More and more people see through the lies of the E.U. establishment and are joining the patriots,” he told colleagues during a recent address on the floor of Parliament. “The E.U.’s end is approaching.”

Two years ago, when Ms. Le Pen was absent for some votes, Mr. de Graaff covered for her, casting her ballots. She later praised his “chivalrous spirit.” Other lawmakers were less amused. Mr. de Graaff was fined €1,530. “Unsurpassed insolence,” Manfred Weber, a powerful conservative German member of the European Parliament, said at the time. Yet Mr. de Graaff and others mostly shrug off the criticism. Mr. Farage, who helped lead the “Brexit” campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, soaks up free media attention by giving strident, anti-Europe speeches. Mr. Farage leads another Euroskeptic bloc in Parliament, Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy, and that bloc in turn shares many members with a party called the Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe. In November, Parliament ordered that party to repay €172,655. The money was supposed to help lawmakers compete in European elections and “contribute to forming a European awareness.”

But the U.K. Independence Party used it instead to conduct opinion polls on Brexit, officials found. (The alliance’s executive director said the audit procedure was “biased” and aimed at “silencing” critics of European integration.) Neither Mr. de Graaff nor Ms. Le Pen responded to requests for comment. But one Le Pen ally, Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, who helped the National Front secure a loan from a Russian-linked bank but is not himself a member of the party, said he believed that fraud investigators were unfairly singling out right-wing parties for scrutiny. Other lawmakers fume at the antics of the far right, but have little recourse. Far-right members are “hollowing out the whole structure from within, and it’s like tooth decay,” said Esther de Lange, a lawmaker with the Christian Democratic Appeal, a center-right Dutch party. “Are you going to wait until the whole thing falls out, or do you actually come up with a solution?”

Prominent members like Mr. Weber want to block funding for anti-European parties — including the Alliance for Peace and Freedom, which has three representatives from Greece’s neo-fascist Golden Dawn and one from the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany in Parliament. That entitled the party to nearly €400,000 last year. Mr. Weber acknowledged last month that nothing could be done to turn off the money spigot immediately, partly because the rules need to be tightened. There also are concerns about freedom of speech. “You want to gag us, basically,” Georg Mayer, an Austrian member of Mr. de Graaff’s and Ms. Le Pen’s bloc, told lawmakers recently. “I don’t like that reading of democracy.” Ms. Le Pen, for one, has benefited from leading one of the far-right blocs. It entitles her to a prominent placement on the parliamentary benches and choice speaking slots.

Eighteen months ago, when President François Hollande of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany tried to rally support for migration policies on the floor of Parliament, Ms. Le Pen rose to give a stinging, and widely publicized, rebuke. She belittled Mr. Hollande as a German puppet, the “administrator of the province of France.” Her rant, which evoked the Nazi occupation of France during World War II, has been watched at least a half-million times on YouTube. When he visited the Parliament in February, Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, did not have lunch with the heads of the political blocs — to avoid encountering Ms. Le Pen, officials speculated at the time. A number of far-right lawmakers skipped Mr. Trudeau’s speech. Many also joined a boycott in December, when two young Iraqi women who had escaped sexual slavery by the Islamic State were honored with the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Union’s top human rights award.

The boycott infuriated Anthony L. Gardner, who was the United States ambassador to the European Union until January and was present for the occasion. “They tried to turn a deeply moving ceremony about how these girls had survived unimaginable things into a political event,” he said in an interview. “It was shameful behavior for them not to be there.” Meanwhile, Ms. Le Pen has also enjoyed another privilege of being a European parliamentarian: immunity. Last month, French prosecutors persuaded European lawmakers to lift her immunity in a criminal investigation into images she shared on Twitter that showed brutal acts by the Islamic State. (Dissemination of violent images is a crime in France.) On Wednesday, they began a process that could lead to her losing immunity in another French case, concerning alleged abuse of European Union funds to pay for party assistants.

Lawmakers are still considering yet another French request to lift her immunity, in a case of alleged defamation against a former mayor of Nice. But for now, Ms. Le Pen continues to receive legal protection from a European Parliament she wants to bring down.
© The New York Times

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Spain: Women face jail for 'religious hate crime' over giant plastic vagina protest

Three Spanish women who carried a giant plastic vagina through the streets of Seville as part of a feminist protest reminiscent of Easter processions may face jail after lawyers claimed the action constitutes a “religious hate crime”.

27/4/2017- On May 1, 2014, the women took to the streets of the Spanish city wearing hoods and carrying the giant vagina mock-up on a plinth "in the style of the Virgin Mary," according to court papers. They are now facing charges of "crimes against religious sentiment", the court papers said. The feminist group, which called themselves the "Sisterhood of the blessed rebellious vagina to the exploitation of precariousness" (Hermandad del Sagrado Coño Insumiso a la Explotación a la Precariedad), explained that they designed the protest to highlight issues of discrimination against women in the workplace. The women were protesting during a march organised by the Spanish union the General Workers' Confederation (CGT) on national Workers’ Day.

The case will be heard by a Seville magistrate after a previous ruling in favour of the protesters was overturned on appeal by the Association of Christian lawyers (AEAC). The AEAC said in a statement that the action was "vexatious". It claimed that the group shouted slogans such as "the Virgin Mary can abort too" and that it used prayers such as the Creed or the Hail Mary, replacing lines with "sexual, rude and abusive" expressions. Pastora Filigrana, lawyer of one of the accused, said that according to the law it needs to be proved that there was an intention to offend behind the act. The trio have denied any such intention. "The objective was to reclaim the right to a choice [to have an abortion] as well as to workers' rights. There were no insults to churchgoers nor was the action directed at the Church. There were no crosses."

In the original hearing a judge ruled that "not believing in the dogmas of a religion and manifesting it publicly falls under the freedom of expression". But that ruling has been overturned on appeal after a judge found this week that there was evidence the group had deliberately set out to insult the "religious sentiments of Catholics" by making "a mockery of the Easter procession" using "rude and offences slogans", said magistrate Luis Gonzaga de Oro-Pulido. According to the order, Europa Press reports, the court considers that the right to freedom of expression invoked by the accused "is not absolute, but has its limits on fundamental rights, including ideological and religious freedom." "We accept criticism, and we believe it is necessary, but always as part of a dialogue, not in vexation, mockery or offence," said Poland Castellanos, president of the AEAC.

If found guilty of "religious hate crime" the women could face a fine and a prison sentence of up to 18 months, although in Spain a jail sentence of up to two years for a first offender is likely to be suspended.
© The Telegraph

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Swiss far-right gets boost from French elections

25/4/2017- The populist resurgence ahead of the presidential election in France has mobilised far-right and militant groups in French-speaking Switzerland. According to Swiss newspaper Sonntagsblickexternal link, extremist adherents of racist and nationalist ideologies are becoming more organised, outspoken and active in western Switzerland largely because of the popularity of far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen. As reported to Swiss Info online, the extremists in Switzerland have organised recent demonstrations, football tournaments and secret combat training. For evidence the newspaper pointed to a video posted on social media that depicts brutal combat exercises conducted on April 1. One group, Résistance Helvétique (Swiss Resistance), has grown from its founding in canton Valais to now include branches in cantons of Fribourg, Geneva and Vaud. It espouses banning political parties and asylum for foreigners, and reintroducing the death penalty, illegal in Switzerland since 1942.
© New Europe

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Chechnya wants to eliminate gay community by end of May

Sources tell Conservative MP that Kadyrov has set deadline for the start of Ramadan

25/4/2017- Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov plans to “eliminate” the country’s gay community by the start of Ramadan, a British foreign minister has claimed. Reports from Chechnya allege that more than 100 men have been rounded up and detained in secret prisons by authorities on suspicion of being gay in recent weeks, with many beaten and tortured. At least four men are alleged to have been killed. Speaking in Parliament during an urgent question on the persecution and detention of LGBT citizens in the Russian republic of Chechnya, minister of state for the Foreign Office Sir Alan Duncan said he had been informed of alleged plans to “eliminate” the country’s gay community by the start of Ramadan, which commences on 26 May. “Human rights groups report that these anti-gay campaigns and killings are orchestrated by the head of the Chechen republic, Ramzan Kadyrov,” Sir Alan said. “He has carried out other violent campaigns in the past, and this time he is directing his efforts at the LGBT community. Sources have said that he wants the community eliminated by the start of Ramadan.”

Sir Alan called the reports of actions taken in Chechnya, a largely Muslim country, as “utterly barbaric”. One man told CNN people had beaten him with their fists and feet to try and get names of other gay men from him. “Then they tied wires to my hands and put metal clippers on my ears to electrocute me. They’ve got special equipment, which is very powerful. When they shock you, you jump high above the ground.” Sir Alan said the Government is using all engagement with Russia “to make our voice clear,” adding that he raised the issue personally with Russia’s deputy foreign minister Vladimir Titov while discussing general human rights matters. Donald Trump’s ambassador to the UN has said she is “disturbed” by allegations coming out of Chechnya. “If true, this violation of human rights cannot be ignored – Chechen authorities must immediately investigate these allegations, hold anyone involved accountable and take steps to prevent future abuses,” she said.

But Chechnya has denied the reports. Its interior ministry called the allegations an “April Fool’s joke,” when they were first reported, while a spokesperson for leader Mr Kadyrov later denied gay people exist in the country. “If there were such people in Chechnya, law enforcement agencies wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning,” Alvi Karimov said. Russia has backed the Chechen leader’s denials of the brutality. Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said there had been no evidence found to support the allegations, which were first reported in newspaper Novaya Gazeta. He added the Kremlin had no reason to doubt Mr Kadyrov’s claims that no one under his rule has been persecuted over their sexual orientation.
© The Independent

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Bulgaria’s government will include far-right nationalists for the first time

By Nina S. Barzachka

25/4/2017- Bulgarian legislators are gearing up to form a new government, following the March 26 parliamentary election, the third since 2013. Five parties made it into the National Assembly, but none of them won the minimum 121 out of 240 seats to claim a majority in the unicameral legislature. Here is what happens next. Boyko Borisov’s center-right, pro-E.U. party, GERB (Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria) won 95 seats. President Rumen Radev is expected to officially grant Borisov the right to form a government later this week. This will be Borisov’s third and most challenging term as prime minister. GERB decided to partner with the United Patriots (UP), a coalition of three nationalist, far-right parties that won 27 seats. This is the first time in Bulgaria’s post-communist history that the extreme right might be included in government. Negotiations between GERB and the UP are ongoing, but the parliamentary vote to approve the cabinet is likely to take place by May 6.

Nationalists will be in government for the first time
In Bulgaria, as in Britain, the Netherlands, France, Germany and elsewhere, the election campaign was influenced by fear of migration and concerns of Russian and Turkish meddling. This year, the share of the nationalist vote decreased by 2.49 percent since the previous election. In 2014, the nationalist Patriotic Front and Ataka ran separately but overall won 11.8 percent of the vote. This time, under the label UP, these parties got 9.31 percent but became the key coalition partner. Bulgarian and E.U. elites agree that the country needs a stable government as it prepares to assume the rotating, six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union on Jan. 1, 2018. Bulgaria’s presidency will coincide with the decisive phase of Brexit negotiations. Government instability and another election before July 2018 could affect the smooth functioning of the presidency.

The 2017 election was held under open list proportional representation, with 54 percent voter turnout. In Bulgaria, proportional representation allows smaller parties to be represented in the legislature if they can win 4 percent of the national vote, which usually leads to coalition governments. Here is how the National Assembly’s seats ended up:

GERB — 95 seats (33.5 percent of the national vote) — Established in 2006 around Borisov’s charismatic and populist leadership, GERB has become Bulgaria’s main center-right party, affiliated with the European People’s Party within the European Parliament. GERB has diligently pursued the economic policies recommended by Brussels but has lagged in implementing much-needed anticorruption reforms.

Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) — 80 seats (27.9 percent) — Led by Kornelia Ninova, the communist-successor party more than doubled its share of seats. BSP’s foreign policy orientation has been friendly to Russia — but also pro-European Union. BSP is affiliated with the Party of European Socialists and the Progressive Alliance of Socialist and Democrats. However, during the 2017 election campaign, BSP adopted an increasingly euroskeptic position and called for an end to E.U. sanctions against Russia.

United Patriots (UP) — 27 seats (9.3 percent) — This is loose coalition of three nationalist parties: Ataka, VMRO-Bulgarian National Movement and National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB). They espouse anti-Turkish, pro-Russian, euroskeptic and anti-immigration views. The UP also demands increased social spending. These parties have provided legislative support for Borisov’s previous two cabinets without participating in them.

Movement of Rights and Freedoms (MRF) — 26 seats (9.2 percent) — This centrist party is affiliated with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament. It represents the Turkish minority, which is 10 percent of Bulgaria’s population. Since 2005, MRF has participated in two coalition governments with the BSP.

Volia — 12 seats (4.3 percent) — This party was formed in 2016 by Veselin Mareshki, a businessman who ran on a populist, nationalist, anti-immigration and pro-Russian platform.

Several moderate parties came up short and remain outside the legislature, including Reform Block-People’s Voice (GERB’s previous coalition partner), Yes Bulgaria and New Republic. These are center-right, pro-E.U. parties that represent cosmopolitan, young, educated, middle-class and liberal Bulgarians. A fourth party, on the center left, Alternative for Bulgarian Revival (ABV) also lost out. ABV had provided legislative support for Borisov’s previous government.

Negotiations have been surprisingly quick and smooth
The limited choice of coalition partners and the substantial policy differences between them meant GERB found it easy to reject several cabinet possibilities. A single party minority government led by GERB (95 of 240 seats) was not an option because both the nationalist UP and the pro-Turkish MRF could cooperate with the Socialists on policy. GERB and the BSP (95+80=175 seats) quickly ruled out a grand coalition due to major policy differences. However, the BSP may have concluded that in the long term it would be more beneficial to avoid the burden of participating in government and instead wait until the next election. Borisov rejected the MRF’s proposed coalition, which would have produced a total of 121 seats. Brussels would have welcomed the MRF’s pro-E.U. stance but domestically, reliance on the pro-Turkish MRF could alienate some GERB voters and push the UP toward the BSP.

A coalition between GERB, UP and Volia — 134 total seats — also was rejected, possibly due to objections by one of the UP leaders. Borisov refused to rely on Volia’s legislative support for a GERB/UP cabinet without Volia bearing the responsibility of participating in the government. That leaves the UP, the only parliamentary group right of the center that can provide GERB with a majority (122 total seats). GERB and the UP have stated that they plan to govern together for the full four-year term, despite substantial policy differences.

What does this mean for Bulgaria and the E.U.?
Borisov enjoys the strong support of the European People’s Party (EPP). In 2014, the EPP cautioned Borisov not to include the extreme right in the cabinet. Today, Europe seems to prefer a stable, pro-European government led by GERB, even one including the nationalists, to a pro-Russian, Socialist-led one. Bulgaria is likely to remain pro-E.U. and pro-NATO. Both GERB and the UP list joining the Schengen Area — and being part of the E.U.’s borderless zone — as a top priority. Similarly, joining the Eurozone is a shared goal. Currently, Bulgaria is one of seven E.U. countries that doesn’t use the euro. However, Bulgaria is likely to adopt a harsher stance on immigration than in the past. The UP wants changes to the Dublin Regulation on refugees, which makes E.U. states responsible for the refugees that claim asylum within their borders. The fence on the Bulgarian-Turkish border is likely to be extended.

GERB may have to rein in its anticipated coalition partner. It remains to be seen whether governing will force the UP to moderate its nationalist position and whether it will continue to seek friendlier policies toward Russia. As GERB and the UP disagree on important policies, implementing substantive economic and political changes may be difficult, especially anticorruption measures and changes to the judiciary. This could further alienate moderate center-right voters and ultimately destabilize the cabinet.
Nina S. Barzachka is a visiting assistant professor of political science at Transylvania University at Lexington, Ky. Her research focuses on political parties, electoral system reform and protests movements in Western and Eastern Europe.
© The Washington Post.

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Austria: Young, Hip And Far Right

Dateline goes to Vienna to meet a secretive group of young hipsters, whose headline-grabbing stunts are appealing to a new breed of far right nationalists.

25/4/2017- During the day Martin Sellner studies law and philosophy. His nights are often spent at a secret location in the heart of Vienna – a two story terrace that looks abandoned. It’s the headquarters of a growing youth movement across Europe; the Identitarians. “We see ourselves as the voice for a forgotten generation,” Martin tells Dateline reporter Evan Williams. “We are a pan-European youth movement from France, Germany, Austria, Italy and we want to create political change in this country.” Founded in France, the movement has become popular among young people who feel swamped by multiculturalism and feel they have no place to vent. Martin is the group’s Austrian leader, and believes their work is critical to preserving Europe’s cultural identity. “We are at the brink of being replaced by immigrants, who neither assimilate nor integrate into society,” he says. “We are afraid that this process of Islamisation will…utterly destroy our identity and our democracy in the future.”

While the group is still relatively small – Martin says there are around 400 core activists and 10,000 supporters or donors in Austria – its public stunts are gaining it a much wider audience on social media. “If you have a good video that’s going viral, it’s almost as efficient as an action,” he says. In one of the most widely publicised Identitarian stunts, the group gathered in the middle of the night and, using a cherry picker, covered a statue of Austrian monarch Empress Maria Theresa with a burqa. “The message was if you don't stop what's happening now, that will be the future of Vienna,” he says. “All our heritage, what she was fighting for, what she built up, it’s destroyed now by our politicians.” For Martin, his group’s message is critical to the future of Europe. For others, it’s simply discriminatory hate-mongering. Andreas Peham, an expert on far right groups like the Identitarians, says they represent the same values as other neo-Nazi groups, despite their denial of this comparison. “Martin Sellner is an almost classic example of the developmental pathway people can take on the extreme right,” he says.

Andreas believes Martin and others in the Identitarian movement had their core political values shaped by those in neo-Nazi groups. He refers to photos and other documentary evidence, including a photograph from 2008 where Martin is pictured with a prominent face of the far right, Gottfried Küssel, who is currently imprisoned on charges of Nazi revivalism. In Austria, nazism is illegal under constitutional changes made after the Second World War – which were enacted to begin the process of de-Nazification. Austria’s intelligence services are also watching the group as a potential security threat, and across Europe their activism is generating opposition among other youth movements. Dateline visited an anti-fascist group in Berlin, who were running a workshop on how to counter right-wing slogans from groups like the Identitarians. “They say to themselves they’re not left-wing, they’re not right-wing, but they’re patriotic for the country, for the people,” says Anna Müller, who organised the session. “[But] they’re really far right and very conservative in all ways, basically.”

Martin says German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open borders to one million Syrian refugees last summer helped “create” the movement and prompted others to speak up and join them. Much of the Identitarians’ fear of and hostility towards immigrants stems from what they term ‘The Great Replacement’ of white Europeans. They believe they need to retake and protect Europe from foreigners, particularly Muslim immigrants. Martin takes Dateline to one section of Vienna that he says has a growing immigrant population. He’s afraid these mostly Muslim communities will supplant Austria’s white heritage. “The problem is the dynamics of demographics,” he says. “The thing is, this section of Vienna is growing. It’s the future of the whole city of Vienna. “We deserve a country and a culture of our own.” As a new nationalism sweeps through Europe, it’s the wider acceptability of Identitarian ideas, especially among the young, that could move politics to the right for many years to come. With elections in major European countries on the horizon, the stakes for the future of the continent couldn’t be higher.
© SBS

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France: Far right mayor fined for 'too many Muslim children in schools' comments

A far-right French mayor has been fined for comments that include a claim the number of Muslim students in his city was a "problem".

26/4/2017- Robert Menard, who is an ally of France's anti-immigrant National Front party, was fined €2,000 for inciting hatred. "In a class in the city centre in my town, 91 percent of the children are Muslims. Obviously, this is a problem. There are limits to tolerance", he said in September 5 comments on French news channel LCI. Also in September, on France's first day back to school, he tweeted his regret at witnessing "the great replacement", using a term by xenophobic writer Renaud Camus to describe the country's white, Christian population being overtaken by foreign-born Muslims.

Menard, who is the mayor of southern France town Beziers, denied his comments were discriminatory. "I just described the situation in my town," he told AFP at the time. "It is not a value judgement, it's a fact. It's what I can see." The Paris court also awarded €1,000 to anti-racist groups that had brought the case. Menard has said he plans to appeal the ruling. Menard prompted outrage in October by putting up anti-migrant posters and calling for a local referendum ahead of the arrival of asylum-seekers in his town. Under the headline "That's It, They're Coming", is an image of a crowd of migrants, all of them men, outside the cathedral in Beziers.
© The Local - France

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France: Marine Le Pen steps down as leader of Front National

France’s far-right presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen says she is temporarily stepping down as head of her National Front party.

24/4/2017- Monday’s move appears to be a way for Le Pen to embrace a wide range of potential voters ahead of the May 7 run-off between herself and Emmanuel Macron, the independent centrist who came in first in Sunday’s first round. “Tonight, I am no longer the president of the National Front. I am the presidential candidate,” she said on French public television news. Le Pen has said in the past that she is not a candidate of her party, and made that point when she rolled out her platform in February, saying the measures she was espousing were not her party’s, but her own. Le Pen has worked to bring in voters from the left and right for several years, cleaning up her party’s racist, anti-Semitic image to do so. The news comes as it was revealed that centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron got nearly one million more votes than Le Pen in the presidential election’s first round.

Macron collected 8.66 million votes, or 24 per cent, while Le Pen garnered 7.68 million votes, or 21.3 per cent, according to the official final count published by the Interior Ministry. For Le Pen, it is the best result ever achieved by her nationalist anti-EU and anti-immigration party the National Front in a French presidential election. Also on Monday Macron received the backing of French President Francois Hollande in May’s presidential run-off, citing “the risk for our country’s future” if Marine Le Pen won. In a televised statement, the Socialist leader said France risked “becoming isolated and breaking away from the European Union” if the far-right, anti-EU Le Pen were elected. Hollande said French purchasing power would be hit, “thousands” of jobs would be lost and prices would soar if Le Pen won and then implemented her pledge to take France out of the eurozone and hike tariffs on imports. A far-right victory would also “deeply divide France” at a time when it needed to show “solidarity and cohesion” in the face of terrorism, he said.

 
© The Adelaide Advertiser

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MPs should follow Macron's example and stand up to the far right

Where does a liberal centrist's victory fit into your narrative of inevitable decline?
By Julia Rampen


24/4/2017- “Après le #Brexit, le printemps des peuples est inévitable !” wrote the far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen, days after Brexit. Well, the blossom is on the trees, and Le Pen is through to the second round of the French presidential elections, so presumably we’re bang in the middle of that inevitable “people’s spring”. After all, a referendum that left Britain’s metropolitan elite weeping into their EU flags was swiftly followed by the complete overturning of US political and ethical traditions. Donald Trump defied polling and won the Presidency, all the while proclaiming he was “Mr Brexit”. Then, in December, the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi held a referendum on constitutional changes and lost. Both Europhiles and Eurosceptics read the runes. Ukip’s on and off leader Nigel Farage crowed of 2016: “First we had the Brexit deliverance, then the Trump triumph, then the Italian rebellion. Democracy and the rebirth of the nation state!”

As this illustrates, the far-right want you to believe all these results are linked, and that they represent a popular, democratic movement. In the UK at least, the liberal left has drunk the English champagne. Labour is agonising over how to reconnect with “traditional” voters Ukip is apparently so in touch with – which don’t seem to include ethnic minorities, young people and those living in cities. Being “tough on immigration” is the answer to modern woes, and globalisation is a dirty word that can only represent multinational interests and not, say, cheaper food on the table. There are debates to be had about globalisation, of course, and the lingering impact of the 2008 financial crash, and the fact wages haven’t risen, and public services have been cut, and that in some northern towns, people from different ethnic backgrounds live segregated lives. But if the first round of the French presidential election can do us one favour, it’s to dispense with the narrative that there is something inevitable about the end of liberalism.

Emmanuel Macron, an unapologetically pro-EU social, economic and political liberal, led the way in the first round of the French presidential election. The polls put him on course to become President. If he wins, perhaps it’s time to revisit the narrative of decline. To remind ourselves that Hillary Clinton, now written off, won the popular vote in the United States, and among growing demographics of voters too. That a far-right Austrian presidential candidate was defeated in 2016. That as recently as March, the Dutch mainstream prevailed against the far-right original Trump, Geert Wilders, and that the left-green leader Jesse Klaver enjoyed a surge instead. [I CARE edit: actually it's the Green Left party] And that, although it’s now commonplace to assume Canada is just “nicer” in electing a liberal, Justin Trudeau, his party actually overturned nearly a decade of tar sands Conservative rule.

Should liberals start to join these dots, voters should have the right to ask why both Labour and the Conservatives have jumped on the populists' bandwagon so eagerly. Why, among previously economically liberal Conservatives, are Nicky Morgan, Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry left as lone voices on the back benches. And why, in Labour, is patchy research linking depressed wages and immigration now exhalted as long-established fact? Liberalism may be out of fashion, but it’s not dead yet, as any of the Tory MPs in south-west marginal seats know too well. By the time Farage’s “independence day” on 24 June arrives, the narrative may have changed again.
Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.
© The New Statesman

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Tyrants Do Better in Democracies

World Policy Journal begins each issue with the Big Question, where we ask a panel of experts to provide insight into the cover theme. The question for the spring 2017 Fascism Rising issue is: What role does the media play in driving xenophobia? Below, Kunda Dixit analyzes how tyrants take control of democratic regimes and journalists' role in fighting back against divisive rhetoric.

24/4/2017- Western democracies have an in-built design defect: By allowing unbridled freedom to express the most outrageous views, populists can propel themselves to power. A country is especially vulnerable in the grips of an economic crisis or coming out of war. But a demagogue can seize the opportunity anytime discredited politicians have gone astray, forgotten their mission, or failed to fulfill their mandate. Populists can use the mass media to whip up the electorate with deliberately provocative sound bites designed to foment chauvinism, xenophobia, ultra-nationalism, religious bigotry, and racism. Once elected, tyrants begin to systematically dismantle the very institutions that got them into office. They undermine the legislature, interfere with the independent judiciary, tamper with the security apparatus, and undercut the mainstream media’s check-and-balance role. Trump, Modi, Duterte, Erdošan, and many others generate domestic tribalism and cross-border xenophobia as they disassemble their country’s checks and balances.

The terrifying convergence of social media and xenophobia makes it possible for autocrats to twist the truth through the social web and stoke exaggerated fears of the “other,” the “outsider,” and the “alien.” This doesn’t happen in pure dictatorships. Tyrants don’t need totalitarianism to rise up; they can thrive even better in democracies. You don’t need a dictator to roll back democracy and shackle the media; elected demagogues can do that just fine. Once in power, elected despots are smart enough not to do anything as crude as jail journalists. They silence a selection of critical media by snaring journalists with trumped up charges or entangle them with defamation suits. Journalists then self-censor, a practice much more insidious and sinister than overt censorship.

But mainstream media are beginning to realize false equivalences reward xenophobia and bigotry. The mantra of objectivity is finally being challenged. People are realizing it is more important to be truthful than neutral. When the central values of democracy and press freedom are threatened, journalists turn into activists, because they are not just defending their own freedom, but the citizens’ right to know. When the executive and legislative branches of the state are tottering, therefore, we in the media fight fascism by reinforcing the other two pillars of democracy: the judiciary and independent press.

Kunda Dixit is the editor and publisher of Nepali Times, a weekly English language newspaper in Kathmandu. He writes about the media’s interface with climate, conflict, the internet, etc. He is the author of the media textbook, Dateline Earth: Journalism As If the Planet Mattered, as well as curator of the triology of photobooks on the Nepal conflict.
© The World Policy Institute - Blogs

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UNESCO launches first-ever policy guide Holocaust education and genocide prevention

24/4/2017- The United Nations educational and cultural agency has launched a first-ever policy guide for education on the Holocaust and, more broadly, genocide and mass atrocities. “We place the fight against xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism at the heart of our action for peace,” UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Irina Bokova told the 15th plenary assembly of the World Jewish Congress in New York yesterday as she launched the new guide. Education about the Holocaust and preventing genocide is designed to be a resource for policy-makers, curriculum developers and textbook writers to engage in or reinforce education about the Holocaust and the prevention of genocide. It also provides effective responses and recommendations to facilitate debate on these issues in classrooms, and is the first step in a series of projects conducted in partnership with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and with the support of the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“I am convinced education, culture and knowledge have become core security issues in the world today to combat violent extremism built on distortions of faith or history,” said Ms. Bokova.  Also in attendance at the plenary was UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who said he would be on the frontlines in the fight against anti-Semitism to make sure it is condemned and eradicated. According to his spokesman, Mr. Guterres said that while there is hope that the horrors and the shock of the Holocaust would put an end to antisemitism, unfortunately, it is not the case, and antisemitism is alive and well.

In a world with a multiplication of forms of populism, xenophobia and hatred, he said antisemitism has gained an intensity that is unacceptable and that we need to fight with strong determination. Mr. Guterres added that a modern form of antisemitism is the denial of the right of the State of Israel to exist, noting that Israel has an undeniable right to exist and to live in peace and security with its neighbours. And he reiterated his support for the two-state solution. The World Jewish Congress is an international organization representing Jewish communities and associations in 100 countries around the world. It has been UNESCO's official partner since 1962.
© UN News Centre

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Italian minister says painting NGOs as migrant traffickers is a lie

27/4/2017- Italy's justice minister said on Thursday it was "a lie" to paint humanitarian ships saving migrants in the Mediterranean as criminals, responding to a Sicilian prosecutor who has repeatedly suggested some are colluding with Libyan smugglers. Carmelo Zuccaro, the chief prosecutor of the Sicilian port city of Catania, has said he has evidence of phone calls between people smugglers and aid groups, but he has not opened a criminal investigation or presented his evidence. The Catania court opened a fact-finding probe in February, saying traffickers may be funding non-governmental organizations involved in rescuing migrants who attempt the dangerous crossing from North Africa to Europe.

NGOs have forcefully denied any wrongdoing and said their only objective is to save lives. "I hope the Catania prosecutor's office will speak through its investigations because I think it's the best way to clarify things," Justice Minister Andrea Orlando said in a live-streamed interview on la Repubblica newspaper's Web site. "If the prosecutor has evidence, which I think he will present in coming days, then we can consider it. In general, it's not right to make the story of the NGOs working in the Mediterranean as a tale of collusion with people smugglers because it's a lie." Zuccaro, contacted through his secretary and by email, did not respond to a request for comment. A parliamentary probe opened to look into the matter is due to hear testimony from Zuccaro next week.

The sea route from Libya to Italy is the main passage for migrants seeking to reach Europe, with almost 37,000 arrivals already this year, an increase of more than 36 percent on the same period last year. More than 1,000 have died at sea since the start of 2017. Since Italy abandoned a search-and-rescue operation in 2014, humanitarian groups have increasingly taken to the sea to rescue migrants who people smugglers pack onto unsafe and overcrowded boats. But with an Italian general election looming before the summer of 2018, immigration has become a hot-button issue. The 5-Star Movement, which polls say is now the country's biggest party, said last week NGOs were offering a "taxi" service to migrants.

Earlier on Wednesday, during his third appearance on national television in two days, Zuccaro told RAI state television NGOs were attempting to destabilize the nation's economy by ferrying migrants to Italy. "In my opinion some NGOs could be financed by traffickers and I know there has been direct contact," he said. "Smuggling brings in more money than drugs... NGOs have different objectives: to destabilize the Italian economy to their own advantage."
© Reuters

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Italy: Migrant rescue boats colluding with people traffickers, prosecutor claims

Charity boats rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean are colluding with traffickers in Libya, an Italian prosecutor was quoted as saying on Sunday, stirring up a simmering row over aid groups' role in Europe's migrant crisis.

24/4/2017- In an interview with Italian daily La Stampa, Sicily-based prosecutor Carmelo Zuccaro made his most specific claims yet over NGO activities off Libya, which the EU border agency Frontex recently described as tantamount to providing a "taxi" service to Europe. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) active in the rescue effort include long-established groups such as Doctors without Borders and Save the Children, and smaller, newer operations such as the Malta-based MOAS. They have all dismissed suggestions of de facto collusion with smugglers as a baseless slur on volunteer crews whose only mission is to save lives in the absence of EU governments acting effectively to do so.

Over 1,000 migrants are feared to have died in waters between Libya and Italy so far this year, according to the UN refugee agency. Nearly 37,000 have been rescued and brought to Italy. "We have evidence that there are direct contacts between certain NGOs and people traffickers in Libya," Zuccaro was quoted as saying by La Stampa. "We do not yet know if and how we could use this evidence in court, but we are quite certain about what we say; telephone calls from Libya to certain NGOs, lamps that illuminate the route to these organizations' boats, boats that suddenly turn off their (locating) transponders, are ascertained facts."

Libya deal in doubt
Zuccaro is the head of a five-strong pool of prosecutors investigating criminal aspects of the migrant crisis, from trafficking to illegal exploitation of migrants on Italian farms and via prostitution to rackets in the provision of reception facilities. La Stampa reported that prosecutors were looking into whether some of the newly-established NGOs may be financed by the traffickers as a way of making it easier to guarantee their human cargoes get to Italy. The organizations involved have all dismissed the charges against them. They fear they are being targeted by a smear campaign designed to get them out of the way. One group, SOS Mediterranee, told AFP last week it had "never, not once" been put in touch with a migrant boat via smugglers.

Under an EU-backed strategy, Italy is currently trying to beef up Libya's coastguard in the hope more boats can be prevented from getting out of Libyan territorial waters and the migrants returned to holding camps in the troubled country. The strategy has been described by rights groups as a breach of Europe's obligations under international refugee conventions. And it has so far made little headway towards closing down the Libya-Italy migrant route. Rome said on Friday it would be providing Libya with ten new coastguard boats but a cooperation deal covering holding camps and repatriations is in limbo after it was suspended by Libya's Court of Appeal.

Food ban lifted
The number of people leaving Libya in the hope of starting a new life in Europe is up nearly 50 percent this year compared with the opening months of 2016. With most departures coming in the warm summer months, the trend points to around 250,000 people arriving over the course of 2017 - a forecast Zuccaro described as "an under-estimate". Some 500,000 migrants were registered in Italy in the three years spanning 2014-16. And pressure on the country's reception facilities has increased in the last year as a result of neighbouring countries tightening border controls, making it harder for migrants to move further north. Tensions at bottleneck border points were underlined when Ventimiglia, a town on the Riviera border with France, issued an order banning locals from distributing food to migrants.

The order, similar to one issued in Calais in northern France, was withdrawn on Sunday in a move welcomed by aid groups who hope it will have a bearing on a court case against French activist Felix Croft. Prosecutors have asked for a prison term and 50,000 euros fine for Croft, 28, for trying to help a Sudanese family from Darfur to cross the border into France in July 2016. "This is excellent news. You cannot use the law to persecute solidarity, however it is expressed," said Patrizio Gonnella, president of Antigone, a civil rights group. Croft is due to learn his fate on Thursday.
© AFP

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UK: Isle of Wight MP steps down after 'gay danger remark'

An MP is standing down after reportedly telling students that homosexuality was "wrong" and "dangerous to society".

28/4/2017- Andrew Turner, the Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight, was said to have made the remarks on a visit to a college in Newport. They were quickly posted on social media by one of the students, Esther Poucher, 16, who expressed "outrage". In a statement, Mr Turner said it was time for "a new generation" to take over after his 16 years in Parliament. It comes 10 days after he confirmed he would seek re-election after a period of ill health. Ms Poucher posted at midday that Mr Turner made the comment in reply to her question about the Isle of Wight's first-ever Pride event in July. She said: "He told us that he'd been invited, but wasn't intending to go... because... he thinks that homosexuality is 'wrong' and 'dangerous to society'. At this answer, I had to leave." Another student, Toby Sheard, 17, said: "Everyone was shocked, no-one moved, it was complete silence, all of which he was unfazed by and carried on talking." Mr Sheard said the MP later explained his conviction was "to do with religious opinion".

'Contemptible bigotry'
Isle of Wight Pride said: "Any person who makes such a statement in a public forum as our MP is dangerous. "Suicide rates amongst LGBT young people are still disproportionately high. Mr Turner did not know if anyone in the room was struggling with their sexuality or gender identity." Dave Stewart, the Conservative leader of the Isle of Wight Council, said: "It is very disappointing to hear such comments from someone I know and it is a shame for him to end to his career in this way, but what he said was unacceptable." Isle of Wight Labour Party condemned Mr Turner's "contemptible bigotry" while the island's Green Party said the "abhorrent" comments had made his position "completely untenable". Mr Turner announced he would stand down five hours after Ms Poucher's Facebook post. He said: "After 16 years I have come to the decision that it is time for a new generation to take up the mantle of representing my fantastic constituents."
© BBC News.

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UK: Right-wing radio host jailed for 'vile Islamophobic' trolling anti-racism campaigner

'It was pre-meditated, it was determined, it was deeply unpleasant, and it was part of a campaign by you and your associates to tar all Muslims as Islamists'

28/4/2017- A right-wing radio host who trolled an anti-hate crime campaigner with "Islamophobic" tweets and emails has been jailed for 12 weeks. Timothy Burton, 64, branded Islam a "backwards, misogynistic, seventh-century" ideology in a series of emails to Tell Mama founder Fiyaz Mughal OBE between 4 April and 26 April 2016. Burton also sent Mr Mughal links to far-right blogs containing "vile slurs" against Muslims including a petition called "renounce, reform, or get the hell out of my country". The radio presenter for the anti-immigration group Liberty GB was convicted of one count of religiously aggravated harassment in March following a week-long trial at Southwark Crown Court. Burton, who says he has resigned from the group following his conviction, had denied the charge and claimed he was exercising his right to free speech. He said he insulted Mr Mughal after reading articles suggesting Tell Mama had exaggerated figures about anti-Muslim incidents.

Mr Mughal said in a statement: "The defendant’s actions have led to endless nights of anxiety and fear and a sense of being targeted to my core." Judge Alex Gordon said Burton had been on a campaign to tar all Muslims as violent extremists as he jailed him for 12 weeks at Inner London Crown Court on Friday. He said: "The defendant was found guilty by jury following a trial in March of religiously aggravated harassment. "He sent a series of grossly offensive emails to Tell Mama with the obvious intention that they would be, as they were, received by Mr Mughal. "Not only were these emails offensive, they provided links to deeply offensive material involving a petition called ‘renounce, reform, of get the hell out of my country’. "He also linked to articles with vile slurs to Mr Mughal. "He was broadcasting the harassment to the world."

The judge said the emails "continued after the defendant was asked to stop sending them, and after it was threatened that he would be reported to the police". He continued: "It was obvious that these emails were designed, carefully designed to harass Mr Mughal by causing him distress. "Your extreme antipathy towards Muslims is what led you to harass Mr Mughal. "You are seemingly incapable of distinguishing between Muslims and violent Islamists. Your offending behaviour was obviously motivated by a religious hostility and aggravated the harassment. "You were at the time, [though you have] apparently now resigned, a member of a group Liberty GB which promotes antipathy based on religious adherence. "It was pre-meditated, it was determined, it was deeply unpleasant, and it was part of a campaign by you and your associates to tar all Muslims as Islamists." Judge Gordon accepted that Burton had "expressed some limited remorse".

Burton was previously cleared of racially aggravated harassment in 2014 after calling Mr Mughal a "mendacious grievance-mongering taqqiya artist" and a "Muslim scumbag" on Twitter. He told him Liberty GB members "raised a glass in your honour, and toasted you with a bacon sandwich" in an email referencing the second anniversary of his acquittal on 26 April 2016. Jurors were told the obscure theological term "taqqiya" provides persecuted Shia Muslims with an option to deny their faith "if their life is at stake". Mr Mughal said far-right extremists use the term to "blacken all Muslims". He told the trial: "Within far-right circles they say don't trust Muslims because 'taqqiya' means they will lie – one to spread Islam, two to take over the state by insidious means, and three to promote Sharia."

Judge Gordon jailed Burton for 12 weeks and imposed a restraining order barring him from contacting Fiyaz Mughal, Faith Matters, Tell Mama, or any employee of those groups. He added: "A breach of that order is quite rightly taken by the courts as an extremely important matter and may well result in a custodial sentence."
© The Independent

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UK: Anti-racism protesters crash UKIP election launch

28/4/2017- The election campaign launch of Britain's eurosceptic UK Independence Party got off to a troubled start on Friday, when protesters accused its leader Paul Nuttall of promoting racist propaganda after he promised to ban full face veils. UKIP, whose former leader Nigel Farage helped drive support for Brexit before last year's referendum, was once seen as a threat to the ruling Conservative Party. But since Britain voted to leave the European Union, its poll ratings have almost halved from the 12.6 percent votes it won at the 2015 election. Earlier this week, the party came under fire, including from several of its own senior members and former major donor Arron Banks, over a plan to ban full face veils as part of its pitch to voters ahead of the June 8 election. Television footage showed a man shouting that the party was putting forward "racist propaganda", while another man was shown being ushered out by security as he accused UKIP of ejecting a woman in a hijab from the event in central London.

A Reuters witness said there were a handful of protesters at the event, which eventually went ahead with the protesters shut outside. After the delay, Nuttall promised "a bold and radical manifesto", repeating the pledge to ban face coverings, alongside other policies including reducing immigration and cutting the foreign aid budget. One of the protestors, Weyman Bennett, called Nuttall "a famous liar". "One of the problems we have to deal with is to make sure that those lies do not impact on British society in terms of leading to division, we want unity, we don't want division," Bennett told reporters. Asked if the protesters were right that the party was racist, Nuttall said: "No they are not right." "It is disappointing that certain people in politics don't want to debate, what they want to do is to shout people down in an almost aggressive fashion and we're above that," he said, adding that UKIP members and candidates would not act in such "an undemocratic and abhorrent fashion".

Britain has seen a spike in hate crimes since last June's Brexit vote, before which concerns about the level of immigration were a key part of the campaign. A YouGov poll carried out after the UKIP pledge this week found 48 percent of voters would support a ban on wearing a full body and face veil, while 42 percent said people should be able to decide for themselves what to wear.
© Reuters UK.

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UKip leader to investigate anti-Islam election candidate

Ukip leader Paul Nuttall says Anne Marie Waters' comments are 'way above and beyond party policy' and some had made him feel 'a bit uncomfortable'.

28/4/2017- A Ukip candidate who has described Islam as “evil” is facing potential deselection for her opinions. Anne Marie Waters, who is set to stand in Lewisham East in south London for the second year in a row, is the founder and director of Sharia Watch UK and a former member of the anti-Islam Pegida movement. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall said the views espoused by Ms Waters, who appeared on far-right Swedish online platform Red Ice TV this month, made him feel “uncomfortable” and the party's national executive committee would be looking at her record later on Friday. Mr Nuttall was pressed about the decision to select Ms Waters, who argued “Islamic culture does not fit with ours” in a recent election video on Twitter, during the Today programme on Radio Four on Friday morning.

The leader said the comments were "way above and beyond party policy" and some had made him feel "a bit uncomfortable" but he would look at the evidence in full. But Ukip’s press officer later insisted the national executive committee would simply be going through the complete list of candidates and no special attention was to be given to Ms Waters. “No particular attention is to be given to her or her records, the NUC meeting simply involves going through the list of candidates. This is for the NEC to deal with,” the spokesperson told The Independent. He declined to comment on Ms Waters’ political history or the views she has put forward. Ms Waters is the former deputy leader of the UK leg of Pegida, the German far-right and anti-Islam group partly set up by former English Defence league leader Tommy Robinson. Last year former Ukip leader Nigel Farage said party members should not associate with Pegida or take part in marches.

Ms Waters, who tried to run as a Labour candidate before joining Ukip, has a link to the articles she has written for Breitbart, a far-right, pro-Trump news site, in her Twitter bio. The page includes pieces praising Geert Wilders, a populist far-right Dutch politician who wants to close mosques in Holland, and another linking Muslim immigration to rapes and sexual assaults. Joe Mulhall, senior researcher at Hope not Hate, told The Independent it was not clear whether Ms Waters would be dropped as a candidate or not. “It could go one way or the other. If they don’t get rid of her, nobody can be surprised. Look at the policies they’ve put out this week,” he said. Ukip pledged to ban the full-face veil and outlaw Sharia law in its general election manifesto this week. This marks a significant shift from its 2013 stance of not pursuing a blanket ban on face-covering veils. The party’s decision to pursue an “integration agenda” has sparked some anger among senior individuals in the party.

“In one sense her policies and her beliefs fit in quite well with this anti-Muslim shift they’ve had in the last week, which is essentially a panic tactic to try and find some form of relevance in this crisis they are having,” Mr Mulhall said. “It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if she stayed. “If they allow her to stand they are a party that is willing to be open to far-right activists even though they have spent many years telling everyone that is not the case,” he continued. “If they allow her to stand we’re talking about a party that is becoming openly and explicitly anti-Muslim in order to capture the populist vote.” The researcher, a former visiting lecturer at Royal Holloway University, claimed Waters was “this extreme” when the party last selected her to stand so they would not be able to feign ignorance about her views.

The uncertainty over Ms Waters’ future with Ukip has been met with resistance on Twitter and a Save Anne Marie hashtag has gained increasing traction among her supporters. “Lots of people on the far-right are seeing this as a litmus test for Ukip. If she stays then Ukip is possibly a home for then but if not they will leave," Mr Mulhall added. “Anne Marie Water’s views on Muslims, multiculturalism and generally on liberal democracy are deeply, deeply damaging. If she stands as a parliamentary candidate for a party that is as nationally recognised like Ukip, it is emblematic of a normalisation of the rhetoric around Islam and multiculturalism which has become deeply worrying.”
© The Independent

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UKip strives for relevance with hardline stance on Islam

‘Integration agenda’ imitates Le Pen tactics in change of tack after Brexit victory

24/4/2017- The UK Independence party would ban the veil, place a moratorium on new Islamic schools and require girls deemed at risk from genital mutilation to undergo yearly medical examinations. Seeking a new raison d'être since the Brexit referendum was won, Ukip opted to imitate the tactics of rightwing populists such as Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders with a hardline stance on Islam. The “integration agenda” marks a change of strategy from a party that previously pitched itself as libertarian and distanced itself from the likes of Ms Le Pen. On Monday, Ukip even momentarily ditched its usual criticism of European governments and praised France for having “a far, far better record than us” on acting to stop female genital mutilation. It also argued that its new policies on Islam would help to champion women’s rights. “The biggest issues of our time are cultural ones,” said Peter Whittle, Ukip’s deputy leader, on Monday. “Nobody voted for multiculturalism.”

Ukip is struggling for political relevance in this election. It has no MPs and its poll ratings have fallen by a third since the last election to 8 per cent. Nigel Farage, its former leader and talisman, has also decided not to stand for Westminster, preferring to remain as a better-remunerated MEP. Douglas Carswell, the sole Ukip MP elected in 2015, quit the party last month and called for it to disband following its referendum victory. Arron Banks, the party’s main donor, said on Monday he would not stand in Mr Carswell’s seat of Clacton, as he had previously promised. Britain’s first-past-the-post system has largely prevented Ukip, whose voters are scattered across the country, from turning its support into seats. Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, has promised to lead Ukip to victory in Labour-held constituencies in the north of England, but he himself lost a key by-election in Stoke-on-Trent Central in February.

Mr Nuttall refused to answer repeated questions on whether he would stand for Westminster in June despite being pursued out of the policy event by reporters, waiting in a locked room to escape them and then running for a taxi. The proposals on Islam also encountered a sceptical reception, with reporters asking if the veil ban would apply to beekeepers and whether the party was pitching for votes from the British National party. Rob Ford, a politics lecturer at the University of Manchester, questioned whether the new focus on Islam and cultural integration was in fact designed to win seats. “Banging on about burkas is not a first-past-the-post winning strategy. I expect they are well aware they’re going to get a pasting . . . They’re probably thinking about how we can hold on to a large enough part of our core vote,” said Mr Ford. “This is their effort to answer: ‘what’s the point of you now, guys?’ It’s almost like a survival strategy.”

Half of British voters support banning the burka and the niqab, compared with 69 per cent of Germans and only a quarter of Americans, according to a January poll by YouGov. But Mr Ford warned this would not necessarily translate into support for Ukip’s new stance. “It’s the messenger that matters, as well as the message,” he said. However, the policy shift could help Ukip in some constituencies where resentment of cultural change remains high. “This is an issue people do speak to me about,” said Peter Harris, who is seeking to be the Ukip candidate in Dagenham and Rainham, east London, where Ukip came second in 2015 with 30 per cent of the vote. “If you live in an area where you have mass uncontrolled immigration, where cultural practices are [infringing on] the local population, it is an issue.” But Mr Harris suggested that concerns about Islam went far beyond the issues addressed by Monday’s policy launch. “We have a number of new mosques being opened. There is no political will to stand up for local businesses to stop [their premises] being turned into mosques.” Such businesses were “lost to the whole of the community”,” he said.
© The Financial Times^

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UKip accused of Islamophobia

Ukip is facing accusations of "Islamophobia" over calls to ban Muslim faith schools and introduce mandatory medical checks on girls believed to be at risk of female genital mutilation.

24/4/2017- The criticism came as leader Paul Nuttall refused to confirm whether or not he will stand in the forthcoming snap election, despite expectations among members that he will run. Unveiling the party's new "integration agenda" at an election event in London earlier today, Mr Nuttall listed a series of controversial policies, including an outright ban on niqabs and the practice of Sharia. The mini-manifesto was immediately slated by critics across the political spectrum, with Green Party leader Caroline Lucas describing it as an "attack on Muslims". "Ukip's 'integration agenda' is an assault on multiculturalism... It's full throttled Islamaphobia," Ms Lucas said. "Now that the referendum has passed Nuttall's party is desperately scrabbling around for relevance and seem to have settled upon attacks on Muslims and fringe far-right politics as their new home.

"In this election the Green Party will be standing up to the politics of hate spewing from Ukip and putting forward a vision for a multicultural, welcoming Britain which we can all be proud of." Among the policies outlined by Ukip was a call for girls "at risk" of FGM to have medical examinations every year, and when they return from travelling abroad. The party is also proposing a ban sharia from being applied in the UK, a ban on the wearing of "face coverings" in public places and a "moratorium" on new Islamic faith schools. Defending the policies, Mr Nuttall stated they were "not designed to sow the seeds of division" but instead to "[promote] integration in British society". He added that he believed Ukip was "10 years ahead of our time" on these issues, predicting the Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats will be "where we are today at some point in the 2020s".

Responding to questions from journalists, Mr Nuttall refused to commit to standing in the general election, but suggested he would stay on in the role if he fails to become an MP. He repeatedly pointed to a meeting of Ukip's national executive committee at the end of the week, after which candidate selections will be made. Commenting on the new agenda, Liberal Democrats warned that it risks "[alienating] the very communities we are trying to reach out to". Former Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone described the party's approach as "horrifically heavy-handed". "UKIP seem to try and out-do Le Pen with right-wing policies that are insensitive and frankly outrageous," she said. "Research shows that school teachers are still too scared to talk about FGM, honour-based violence and forced marriage, let alone report it," she said. "This is where we should concentrate our efforts not forcing girls to undergo invasive medical examinations."
© The Yorkshire Post

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UK: Sadiq Khan launches London online hate crime hub

A police unit to help tackle online hate crime and provide better support for victims in London has been launched by the capital's mayor.

24/4/2017- The Online Hate Crime Hub is made up of five specially trained Met police officers who will try to identify, prevent and investigate online abuse. Sadiq Khan said officers would "work with community experts to develop the police's understanding of online hate". It is the first hub of its kind in the UK and will cost £1.7m over two years. It is being funded by the Met and the Mayor's Office for Policing And Crime (MOPAC), with £452,000 also being contributed by the Home Office Police Innovation Fund. Any online hate crimes reported to police in the capital, including abuse posted on Twitter and Facebook, will be looked into by the unit.

Officers will provide referrals to victim support groups and work with police in relevant boroughs to investigate. City Hall said discussions were also under way with social media companies "to develop appropriate online sanctions for perpetrators of online hate". Victoria Wright, a disability and disfigurement rights campaigner in London, who has been subjected to online abuse, called the hub "a much needed initiative that will make a real difference". "It's vital that those of us who are victims of online hate crime receive a robust response from the police," she said.
© BBC News.

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UK: 5 Lesbian women attacked by 15 men in brutal homophobic attack

Five lesbians were brutally attacked by more than 15 men in a homophobic attack.

22/4/2017- Thugs punched one woman so hard she lost seven front teeth in a single blow, another was left bleeding and fitting and a third feared she would be killed in the onslaught. The terrified friends now fear going out but have spoken to The News in a bid to bring their attackers to justice. Eight women had left the Blue Anchor pub, in Kingston Road, last Sunday night and singing I’m in the Mood for Dancing when men standing outside a nearby club attacked shouting homophobic abuse. The victims, 23, 24, 25, 27 and 32, agreed for photos of their injuries to be published but do not wish to be named. Chaotic scenes unfolded as the women rushed to help their friends knocked to the ground – only to be attacked by more and more men.

One of the victim’s sisters, 27, who witnessed the attack, said: ‘The men had got off the girls but they were still hitting the older woman, I’d say at least 20 or 30 times. ‘I was begging them to stop. It wasn’t until they heard the sirens that they threw her and ran off. ‘They dropped her like she was nothing and ran back into the club.’ One of the victims, 23, added: ‘In the first punch all seven top teeth were out, and my jaw was fractured. ‘It seemed like forever but the police are telling us it was only 10 minutes.’ The sister added: ‘I turned around and one was stamping on a woman’s head. ‘I had to beg for them to stop. Another girl was fitting on the floor. ‘It was horrendous, I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve had nightmares.’ One woman was pummelled in the chest, leaving bruises.

A 25-year-old victim added: ‘There was at least seven men on her, they would not stop hitting her. ‘There was children there and the women were begging them to stop. It was like a riot from their side.’ The oldest victim, 32, was pushed against shutters of a shop at the start of the attack. ‘There was just a massive group, at last seven, they were just punching me,’ she said. ‘I just remember trying to protect myself. ‘They were trying to get me on the floor.’ When the men threw her away she saw a friend ‘fitting’. ‘There was blood everywhere,’ she said. A Hampshire police spokeswoman said: ‘We are investigating an altercation between two groups at about 11.25pm on April 16.’ Three men, 25, 26 and 27, from London, were arrested on suspicion of assault occasioning actual bodily harm. Another man, 27, of Portsmouth, was arrested on suspicion of affray. All were released but remain under investigation.
© The Portsmouth News

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German court rules NPD cannot bar political scientist's critique

The extremist NPD has failed in a bid to prohibit a Dresden researcher from warning the party planned "crimes against the state." The case raised eyebrows last year when an AfD member judge ruled in favor of the NPD.

28/4/2017- A court in Dresden dismissed a suit against prominent political scientist Steffen Kailitz on Friday, ending a long legal battle over his comments concerning Germany's far-right National Democratic Party (NPD). The NPD had been seeking an injunction to block Kailitz from saying that the party planned "racially motivated crimes against the state." Kailitz, who is a totalitarianism researcher at the Hannah Arendt Institute, made the comments in an article he wrote for German newspaper "Die Zeit" last April. He also wrote that the nationalist party wants to "expel 8 to 11 million people from Germany, including several million German nationals with immigrant backgrounds." The court ruled that Kailitz' comments were protected under freedom of expression and that his arguments were a question of opinion. "A statement of opinion is not examined for its truthfulness," presiding Judge Christoph Wittenstein said. Kailitz was also one of the top experts to testify in the recent German Constitutional Court case on whether to ban the NPD.

Controversial initial ruling
The Dresden case prompted outrage within Germany's scientific community last year when a judge in the city ruled in favor of the NPD. Judge Jens Maier, a prominent member of the hardline wing of the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, granted the NPD's application for an interim injunction against Kailitz in May 2016. The political scientist was thereby barred from repeating his comments or facing a 250,000 euro fine ($272,700) or six months in jail. Following backlash, Maier persuaded the NPD to withdraw its initial suit in October last year - but the extremist party continued in another proceeding against Kailitz. Maier's possible political bias was called into question during the case, particularly in light of a speech he delivered in which he argued against the "creation of mixed peoples" and declared Germany's "culture of guilt" concerning the Holocaust as over.

In February of this year, the state court in Dresden barred Maier from presiding over press law and criminal libel cases to avoid doubts about his impartiality. Last Friday, he was accused of having expressed understanding for Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik. In 2011, Breivik killed 77 people in what he claimed was an attempt to defend Norway against "Islam and cultural Marxism." Maier, who is running as an AfD candidate, is currently on the party's candidate list in Saxony for Bundestag seats. Depending on the election result and his position on the list, he could be granted a spot in the German parliament after the general election in September.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Germany: Egyptian Student ‘Racially Abused’ After Being Struck by Car

28/4/2017- Prosecutors investigating the driver of a car that ran over and fatally injured an Egyptian woman in eastern Germany say they are also now pursuing a man who witnesses say hurled racial abuse at the victim after the accident. The 22-year-old student, identified only as Shaden M., died in hospital on April 18, three days after the accident in the city of Cottbus, and the driver is being investigated for possibly causing death by negligence, Horst Nothbaum, spokesman for the prosecutor's office, said. Two witnesses came forward 10 days after the accident to say that they had heard a passenger in the car that struck the woman yelling insults afterwards, including: "Go back to where you came from, then you won't get run over. Damn refugees." Nothbaum said a new investigation of possible incitement to racial hatred was launched on Wednesday.

Germany has seen a sharp increase in anti-immigrant rhetoric after the influx of over a million migrants over the past two years, and officials say the growing right-wing extremist scene is also increasingly willing to commit violence. Nothbaum said there was no suggestion that the car had deliberately run over the woman. He said witnesses to the accident said it happened when she stepped off a curb into traffic in the centre of the town, near a streetcar stop. Martina Muench, education minister in the state of Brandenburg that includes Cottbus, welcomed the investigation, and said foreign students, teachers and researchers helped strengthen the competitiveness of the state. "It would be a shame if these allegations are proven true," Muench said in a statement. "It is unfathomable and appalling that a young, fatally injured woman would be insulted in such a racist and xenophobic way in the middle of Cottbus."

The state education ministry said international students accounted for about 7,800, or just over 16 percent, of the state's 48,000 students, and around 620 of the state's academic staff came from overseas.
© Reuters

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German 'gun club' raided over possible migrant attack

More than 100 officers have swooped on 11 sites in the state of Bavaria belonging to members of an extremist gun club. Investigators believe they may have been planning attacks on minorities.

27/4/2017- Police in Bavaria raided properties belonging to members of a self-styled "gun club" on Thursday, without giving details of any arrests made. Eleven sites in Munich, and the towns of Kaufbeuren, some 90 kilometers west of the Bavarian capital, and Bad Rodach, in northern Bavaria, were targeted. Some 120 police took part in the raids, including tactical response units, according to the Bavarian Interior Ministry. During the searches, two illegal weapons were confiscated.

Links to PEGIDA
Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann said some members of the "Bavarian Firearm Sports Group Munich" also belong to the local branch of the anti-Islam, anti-migrant group PEGIDA, or "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West." He said the two groups had strong connections, especially at the leadership level. The nationalist, anti-Islam PEGIDA movement started in Dresden in 2014 and has held several large demonstrations across Germany. Herrmann said the gun club is suspected of being PEGIDA's "armed branch." Several members had distributed propaganda from right-wing extremist parties. Herrmann added that authorities "are concerned [the gun club] might try to pursue PEGIDA Munich's anti-constitutional goals in a combative and aggressive way, for example by attacking minorities, such as refugees and Muslims." Investigators are now deciding whether they have sufficient evidence to ban the gun club from operating. PEGIDA's offshoot in Bavaria has been under observation by security services for more than a year, according to the daily "Süddeutsche Zeitung."
© The Deutsche Welle*

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German soldier suspected of plotting xenophobic terrorist attack arrested

27/4/2017- Authorities in the Bavarian town of Hammelburg have arrested a German soldier suspected of planning a terrorist attack against migrants, prosecutors and the Bundeswehr confirmed on Thursday. The 28-year-old German national posed as a Syrian refugee in the states of Hesse and Bavaria in 2015 and early 2016, and later received state benefits and was put up in refugee accommodation despite speaking no Arabic, chief prosecutor Nadja Niesen said. The man had been stationed as a Bundeswehr soldier in the French town of Illkirch and first appeared on the authorities' radar when he hid an illegal firearm at an airport toilet in Vienna several months ago, Niesen said. He was temporarily arrested by Austrian police several days later as he was trying to retrieve the firearm, but was released.

Niesen told reporters that the man was suspected of planning to use the firearm to carry out a "serious act of violent subversion," but that investigators had not found evidence to suggest he had already chosen a target. Some 90 police officers searched 16 locations in Germany, Austria and France on Wednesday in connection with the suspect, the prosecutor's office in Frankfurt said, adding that mobile phones, laptops and documents had been confiscated. A 24-year-old German national was also arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of serving as an accomplice to the soldier. Authorities searched the student's flat and found weapons and "illegal items including a rocket flare," Niesen said. The prosecutor described the case as "more than strange," adding that she had never before handled such a case.
© DPA

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Germany Sees New Rise In Far-Right Violent Crimes, Hate Crimes

24/4/2017- Violent crimes in Germany with far-right motives rose 14.3 percent last year after a bigger increase in 2015, and the country also saw another increase in hate crimes, authorities said Monday. The Interior Ministry said that 1,698 violent right-wing crimes were recorded in 2016, up from 1,485 the previous year. In 2015, the figure soared as Germany saw a large influx of migrants. There was a 3.6 percent increase last year in the broader category of “hate crimes” — offenses of a racist or anti-Semitic nature or targeting people because of their religion, often in online posts. They increased to 10,751 from 10,373 after surging in 2015. Violent politically motivated crimes targeting homes for asylum-seekers were close to the previous year’s level — 169, compared with 177 in 2015. Including non-violent crimes such as cases involving propaganda, the total number of offenses against asylum centers slipped to 995 from 1,031. Violent crimes with a far-left motive dropped by a quarter in 2016 to 1,702 — a fall that was apparently due to a lack of major politically sensitive events in Germany last year. However, politically motivated offenses by foreigners rose by two-thirds last year, largely because of the conflict between Turkey and the outlawed PKK.
© The Associated Press

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Germany: Anti-migrant party turns further right

23/4/2017- German police enforced tight security at the annual conference of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party as its members rejected a “mainstream” policy platform and instead embraced calls to combat the growth of the Muslim population. The party congress was wrapped up today with delegates choosing a new team for the September general election, after sidelining its most prominent personality. With the city centre of Cologne in lockdown yesterday, tens of thousands of protesters tried to stop the event, but more than 4,000 police officers ensured that delegates were able to enter the conference hotel. Two chief candidates were chosen this afternoon - 76-year-old Alexander Gauland, a hardline defector from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU, and Alice Weidel, 38, an openly lesbian former investment banker - after Frauke Petry, the leader, had her vision for the future of the party turned down last night.

Divisions in the party had already forced Petry, 41, to step down as its lead candidate in the September election. She warned delegates that they were poised to make a “strategic mistake”. But Jörg Meuthen, the deputy leader, warned that Germans were becoming “a minority in their own country”. “I don’t know whether we have already reached the point of no return,” he said. “This country, Germany, is the country of our grandfathers and it must remain the country of our grandchildren.” His speech was greeted with standing ovations, as delegates endorsed tough policies, including automatic deportation for foreigners who commit petty crimes. After emerging as a new co-leader today Ms Weidel told the conference that the AfD was the only party that could protect Germany’s borders. Referring to the lorry attack on a Berlin Christmas market, she said it was a “scandal” that “in our country, Christian holidays have to be protected by police with machine guns and barriers for trucks”. “As a woman I should be able to take the last train home in safety,” she added.


© The Times

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German riot police deployed for anti-Islam AfD conference in Cologne

The populist, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) has rejected a bid by its co-leader to move the party closer to the mainstream.

22/4/2017- Frauke Petry had wanted the AfD to seek coalition with other parties and reject extremist views but delegates in Cologne rejected her approach. She has announced she will not contest general elections this year and the party must choose a replacement. Outside the conference protesters clashed with police. Up to 15,000 people demonstrated against the AfD's meeting, with some 4,000 officers deployed to stop them entering the hotel where is was taking place. Two were injured in clashes, one while escorting party members. There were several reports of arrests. Many shops were closed for the day and police helicopters were heard overhead, with some suggesting this was to monitor the protests. About 100 people tried to break through a police line on the opposite side of the Rhine river from the conference venue, Die Welt newspaper reports. Outside the hotel, up to 60 people blocked access using a chain of bicycles. Police broke this up, leading to skirmishes with protesters. It is not the first time an AfD conference has attracted demonstrations. When the party met last year in Stuttgart, hundreds of protesters were detained.

'Here to stay'
AfD co-leader and public face Frauke Petry announced earlier this week that she would not be the party's chief candidate in the September general election. At the conference Ms Petry urged the party to reject infighting and unite behind the leadership, to prove the AfD was "here to stay". But those attending refused even to hold a debate on her arguments that the party should become more mainstream and seek to govern in coalition rather than staying in opposition.

Fractious scenes: BBC's Jenny Hill in Cologne
Thousands of armed police officers were deployed to hold protesters back from the city centre hotel where Germany's most controversial party was holding its pre-election conference. Inside, the atmosphere was no less fractious. The AfD, which is notorious for its fierce anti-Islam rhetoric, is slipping in the polls. The anti-immigrant platform which won it support during the refugee crisis is no longer enough to satisfy the electorate. The party is on course to win seats in the general election but its chances of significant political success depend now on whether its members can agree on a candidate to stand against Angela Merkel and on the party's future direction. While this weekend is officially a party conference, in truth it will be a weekend of crisis talks.

The party pushed Mrs Merkel's governing conservatives into third place in a regional election last year and hopes to build on its success by getting its first seats in the federal parliament. Founded in 2013, it rose on a wave of opposition to Mrs Merkel's 2015 open-door policy to refugees. However, all the mainstream parties have said they will refuse to form a coalition with the AfD. Opinion polls suggest a sharp recent drop in the party's popularity - from 15% late last year to between 7% and 11% now. It is beset by infighting between Ms Petry's pragmatic wing and a wing that is further to the right. The party's reputation has been dented by a local leader's comments in January that the Holocaust memorial in Berlin was a "memorial of shame". The party has voted to expel him and he will not be allowed to attend the conference.
© BBC News.

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Croatia Anti-Fascists, Serbs Gather at WWII Death Camp Site

22/4/2017- Croatian anti-fascists and Serb minority groups on Saturday held a commemoration ceremony at the site of a notorious World War II death camp, boycotting the official event over alleged government inaction in curbing the surge of neo-Nazi sentiment in the Balkan country. The ceremony was held a day before the Croatian government marks the attempted escape in 1945 of 1,073 prisoners from the Jasenovac camp when hundreds were killed. Hundreds of people lined up in a memorial gathering by the site monument, and ambassadors from the United States and several other countries attended the event, Croatian state TV said. Croatia's Jewish groups plan to hold a separate ceremony on Monday.

Tens of thousands of Jews, Serbs and Gypsies died in death camps run by Croatia's pro-Nazi puppet state in World War II. Croatia's Jews, Serbs and anti-fascists have been angered by the authorities' failure to remove a plaque bearing a WWII Croatian pro-Nazi salute from the town of Jasenovac. A survivor, Slavko Milanovic, told the state TV that Croatia's inability to come to terms with its past was "reopening the old wounds so they cannot heal." The "For the homeland — Ready!" battle salute was used by World War II Croatian fascist troops of the pro-Nazi puppet regime established during the war. The salute was inscribed on the plaque in Jasenovac honoring Croatian fighters killed in the 1990s. Several Croatian war veterans stood guard by the plaque on Saturday, chanting the pro-Nazi salute. A number of other pro-fascist incidents have been reported recently in the European Union's newest nation. At the former death camp site, Serb minority leader Milorad Pupovac warned that the policies which led to the Jasenovac killings must be clearly condemned. "This site obliges us to call on the government and everyone else to turn toward mutual respect and repent," he said.
© The Associated Press

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Headlines 21 April, 2017

Russia: Alleged neo-Nazi gunman attacks intelligence office

Two people have died after a gunman opened fire at a regional FSB intelligence office in the eastern Russian city of Khabarovsk. He is also suspected of killing a shooting instructor to steal guns for the attack.

21/4/2017- An 18-year-old man opened fire at a local office of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) on Friday, killing one FSB employee and a civilian in a far eastern Russian city, authorities said. Authorities said the attacker began shooting as soon as he entered the reception area of the agency's office in Khabarovsk. One other visitor was also wounded in the attack. The assailant was subsequently shot dead, according to the FSB, the domestic intelligence agency that is the main successor of the Soviet KGB. The suspect is also believed to have shot and killed a shooting instructor to steal two handguns and a carbine, the intelligence agency said later on Friday. Both the visitor who was killed and the one who was injured were from former Soviet states outside Russia, the FSB added.

The Site Intelligence Group, a US-based monitoring service, said that the self-proclaimed "Islamic State" (IS) group claimed responsibility for the attack through its Amaq news agency. The claim of responsibility contradicted earlier reports from Russian news agency TASS and the FSB which said that the assailant was a local resident and had been active in the neo-Nazi scene. "There is information about his belonging to a neo-Nazi group," the FSB said in an earlier statement, without providing further details.

Attacks on Russian law enforcement are generally rare occurrences outside the country's volatile North Caucasus region. Russia has seen significant support for far-right groups that have sparked brutal confrontations with immigrants from the former Soviet region. Authorities under President Vladmir Putin have also cracked down on neo-Nazi extremists within the country, despite stoking nationalist sentiment since the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. The country was shaken earlier this month when a suicide bomber struck a St. Petersburg metro train, killing 16 people. The suspected bomber and his accomplices were reportedly from Central Asia.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Sweden: Neo-Nazis to attend iconic political festival

A Nazi organization is set to attend Sweden's annual political festival for the first time.

21/4/2016- Every year politicians, pundits and lobbyists descend on Visby on the island of Gotland for Almedalen Week, a decades-old event and today a staple in Sweden's political calendar. This year militant neo-Nazi group the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) has for the first time applied to attend the July 2nd-9th festival, Hela Gotland reports. A spokesperson told the regional newspaper the group has formed a party and plans to run in Sweden's next general election in 2018. Almedalen Week's project manager Mia Stuhre said the application – which would allow the organization to have a stall alongside around a couple of hundred other stallholders – is treated as any other application. "I do not support the party in any way. But we have a constitution and this is a registered party. I cannot say no because their opinions are different," she told the TT newswire.

A decision to grant them a stall does not mean that the group's activities will be part of the official programme of events during Almedalen Week, nor does not give the group access to the main stage, on which the leaders of Sweden's eight parties in parliament traditionally each give a speech. "They have applied for a space to meet people, hand out flyers and give speeches. If they later on apply to be part of the official programme it is up to the local representatives of the eight parliamentary parties to approve it," said Stuhre. "If they say no I'll comply with that." NRM has not applied to take part in the official programme, and the main organizers of Almedalen Week said they have not yet decided how they would treat such an application. "I can't answer that today. We're going to have to bring it up when the parties' representatives get together for a meeting on May 4th," Leif Dahlby, chairman of Almedalen Week 2017 and a member of the Social Democrat party, told TT. "There is already an ongoing discussion about this. But we've got until May to look at the rules and then take a position."

Swedish anti-racism foundation Expo warned last year that NRM was mobilizing and recruiting new members. Expo studied the background of 159 of the organization's most active members and found that 26 percent had been charged with violence or weapon offences in 2015. According to Expo, more than half of the activists (56 percent) had at some point been convicted of some form of criminal offence. In almost a fourth of the cases the sentence included time in jail.
© The Local - Sweden

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Lesson Plan About the Recent Rise of Europe’s Far-Right Parties

19/4/2017- Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right National Front party, is expected to produce a strong showing in France’s first round of presidential elections on April 23. Her campaign is emblematic of a growing movement of far-right parties across Europe and the globe. Ms. Le Pen’s promise to give “France its freedom back, and give the people a voice” is echoed in nationalist, populist rally cries worldwide. In this lesson, students will analyze the growth of far-right movements in Europe and around the world. They will explore the movements’ geneses, uncover their core messages and compare and contrast their leaders across time and place.

Warm Up: Voices from Europe’s Far Right
In the past few years Europe’s far-right parties have achieved electoral success unseen since World War II. While the particularities of each party vary from nation to nation, they share underlying messages of national pride and xenophobia. At the core of their platforms is the belief that the political establishment has failed to provide for its people. Far-right party leaders call for a new era of politics powered by the people for the people, though their definition of “the people” is narrow, limited to a nativist ideology. The establishment finds the far right’s success at the polls inconceivable, but the far right claims that their popularity is not without precedent. They point to the failures of globalization, stagnant economies and rising immigration, particularly from Muslim nations, as the sources of their progress.

Part 1
We begin the lesson with Time Magazine’s short video “Voices from Europe’s Far Right.” As students watch, we invite them to create a See-Think-Wonder chart and to consider the following questions:
• What images or symbols do you see?
• What words or phrases do you see and hear?
• What issues do you think are at the heart of Europe’s far-right movements?
• What questions do you have about the far right in Europe?
After viewing the video one or two times, we encourage students to share their observations, ideas and questions. Record student questions on a poster to drive the inquiry process throughout the lesson.

Part 2
Last spring The Times asked readers who support far-right parties in Europe to tell us why they had turned away from mainstream political movements. Share these excerpts from “Voices from Europe’s Far Right” with students. We suggest dividing students into groups of 3-4 to read and discuss the perspectives shared. Ask students to discuss:
• Who is the person? How old is he or she? What is his or her profession?
• Which issue(s) is most compelling for him or her? Why?
• What is the context surrounding this issue?
We then invite students to share some of their examples, focusing on the question: What issues are most important for supporters of the far right? As students share, write a list of the issues on the board for them to refer to throughout the lesson.

Activity: Perception vs. Reality
Lee Atwater, a political strategist who worked on George Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign, coined the phrase “perception is reality” to describe the power of making people believe something regardless of the facts. Far-right leaders today have been accused of exploiting this strategy, tapping into people’s fears to create the perception of looming disaster. Their talk of economic decline, terrorism and a loss of “traditional European values” has been seen as instilling a sense of anxiety that supersedes truth. In a March episode of the Times podcast “The Daily,” Michael Barbaro sat down with the Times columnists Amanda Taub and Max Fisher to distill perception from reality in a discussion of what’s driving political change in Europe. Ms. Taub and Mr. Fisher argue that this movement is more about immigration, demographics and identity than the economy.

We provide a listening guide, which we suggest reviewing with students before beginning the program. We also recommend pausing every 2-3 minutes to quickly check for understanding and give students time to record any thoughts. The listening guide is divided into two sections. If your time is limited, the first six minutes provide the essential information about the rise of the far right in Europe. If time permits, continue listening for a more detailed analysis of the situation.

Listening Guide: 1-6 minutes
1. What message does Geert Wilders, a far-right politician in the Netherlands, communicate about Islam?
2. What is the perception of why far-right movements are ascending in Europe, according to Ms. Taub and Mr. Fisher, who write the Interpreter column for The Times?
3. What is the real explanation for the rise of far-right parties in Europe, according to Ms. Taub and Mr. Fisher? What do far-right supporters feel they are losing? Why?
4. How is the far right in Europe different from the right in the United States?
5. What role does immigration play in the growth of the far right in Europe?

Listening Guide: 6-14 minutes
6. What does the Somali example show about scarcity and identity?
7. How does the far right take advantage of people’s perception of immigration in Europe?
8. Why have far-right parties made gains in white working-class suburbs just outside of cities where refugees live? What is this called?
9. How have populist candidates affected mainstream political parties?
To bolster this work, students can read Ms. Taub’s article explaining how a sleepy German suburb provides clues about the rise of Europe’s far-right movements. And they can analyze the charts in this Times article illustrating how right-wing parties in a growing number of European countries have made electoral gains over the past two decades.

Wrap Up: Discuss the following questions:
• For what are far-right movements in Europe fighting (or against)?
• Why are they gaining popularity across Europe?
• Do they present a threat to democracy and civil liberties in Europe? Why or why not?

Going Further
1. Examining an Election
 
In this part of the lesson, students will play the role of journalist as they try to gather the facts about the issues at stake in the presidential election in France. Their task is to separate perception from reality and to paint a more accurate picture of the current situation in France and across Europe. Before beginning this activity, you may need to build background about multiparty political systems and the electoral process in Europe. This video from the Financial Times introduces the policies of the most prominent candidates, and this video provides a brief explanation of the French election process. In short, five leading candidates are vying for power in the first round of elections on April 23. If no candidate secures 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will take place between the two leading candidates on May 7.

You also may want to watch the above 12-minute Times documentary from March 2016 as a class. It explains how in France the far-right National Front has hammered at the political mainstream for decades, to limited effect. But a surge of migrants into Europe, as well as a series of deadly terrorist attacks in France and elsewhere, “have left the National Front with the political winds at its back, after years of trying to sanitize its image as an extremist party.” When students have enough background to begin their research, they can work in pairs or small groups to learn about the issues at the heart of the elections in France. You might decide to have each pair or small group focus on one candidate, and then share their research with the rest of the class. Or, you might instead have different members of a group learn about different candidates, before sharing what they learned with the rest of their group. Either way, the goal is to have students understand each candidate’s perspective.



Students can use this BBC guide to the French elections as a starting point for their research. Here are some questions to help drive their investigation:
• Who is the candidate?
• What is his or her political background?
• What is his or her vision for the future of France?
• Who supports the candidate? Why?
• Who opposes this candidate? Why?
• On which issues does the candidate focus (e.g., immigration, globalization, terrorism)?
• What do other reliable sources say about the issues?
• What impact has the candidate or party had on France so far?
• What impact could the candidate or party have on France in the future?

We recommend consulting our lesson plan “Evaluating Sources in a ‘Post Truth’ World” to help students find reliable sources as they conduct their research. You can give students a choice about how they wish to present their findings, with options including but not limited to a newspaper article, podcast, video news segment or debate. For more creative project ideas see our guide on 50 ways to teach with current events.



2. Weaknesses in Democracy
In a recent Interpreter column, Amanda Taub writes:
The recent referendum in Turkey, in which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed a narrow majority of votes to expand his presidential authority, is the latest example of a puzzling phenomenon: Democratically elected leaders who triumph in elections even as they move toward autocracy by undermining checks and balances and consolidating power.

She then investigates what she calls “the most common way for a democracy to collapse” in today’s world — through the actions of an elected incumbent, not a coup or revolution. Have students read Ms. Taub’s analysis, and then consider the following questions, for writing and discussion:
1. What role do checks and balances play within a strong democracy? Are they essential? And, why is it dangerous when a democratically elected leader claims popular support for changes that undermine democratic institutions, such as stripping away checks and balances?
2. What role does a free press play within a strong democracy? Is it essential? Is it dangerous when democratically elected leaders curtail press freedom or spread misinformation? Why?
3. Does democracy need an opposition party or leaders? Why is it dangerous when an elected leader limits the opposition’s ability to campaign or systematically shuts off political opportunities for the opposition?
4. Are democratic elections an effective check on tyranny? And how are deeply polarized societies particularly susceptible to sliding from democracy to autocracy?
5. What do you think citizens in a democracy should do to strengthen democratic traditions and institutions and prevent the possibility of an authoritarian regime taking control? Why?



3. Far-right Nationalism or Fascism?
In an interview this January with Spanish newspaper El País, Pope Francis warned against the dangers of populism, citing the rise of Hitler in Germany in the 1930s. “But the case of Germany in 1933 is typical,” he said, “a people who were immersed in a crisis, who were searching for their identity until this charismatic leader came and promised to give their identity back, and he gave them a distorted identity, and we all know what happened.” In the wake of Brexit, Donald Trump’s election and the growth of far-right populist parties across Europe, there has been much debate over whether the movements we see today are setting the world on a path toward a new era of global fascism. In fact, Peter Baker’s May 2016 article connects the rise of Donald Trump to a growing debate over global fascism. He writes:
...questions are surfacing around the globe about a revival of fascism, generally defined as a governmental system that asserts complete power and emphasizes aggressive nationalism and often racism. In places like Russia and Turkey, leaders like Vladimir V. Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan employ strongman tactics. In Austria, a nationalist candidate came within three-tenths of a percentage point of becoming the first far-right head of state elected in Europe since World War II.

In this extension lesson, students compare and contrast contemporary populist or nationalist leaders with authoritarian or fascist leaders in history to determine at what point nationalism and populism become authoritarian or fascist governments. First, ask students to define four key terms: fascism, authoritarianism, populism and nationalism. How do the definitions overlap in some ways? And how are they different? Then, ask students to choose a fascist or authoritarian leader from the past, perhaps one they have studied in class, and then select a contemporary political figure who has displayed strongman tactics or who has risen to power on a message of extreme national pride and xenophobia. We have created this Venn diagram to help students compare and contrast the two different leaders.



Encourage students to use our archives as a resource to find articles about the two political figures. Challenge them to find articles published at the time the leaders were in power, like this 1933 article (PDF) about Adolf Hitler’s economic program, in which he is quoted saying, “The German people has found itself, it will no longer suffer those who are not for Germany.” If students are having a difficult time choosing a current politician, they might find inspiration in the Times article, “Authoritarian Leaders Greet Trump as One of Their Own.” The article mentions eight politicians outside of the United States, including Vladimir V. Putin (Russia), Rodrigo Duterte (Philippines), Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Turkey) and Viktor Orban (Hungary).

To close this lesson, engage students in a discussion of the revival of fascism in today’s world. Based on evidence from their research, ask students to discuss:
• Are we entering a new era of global fascism? If so, how do we know?
• Is it useful to look for analogies between the fascism and authoritarianism of the past and the politics of today? Why or why not?
• Is this question unique to Europe or should it be a global discussion?


© The New York Times
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Polish gov't 'will not allow' migrant crisis like in Western Europe: minister

The Polish government will not allow a migrant crisis similar to that seen in Western Europe, Interior Minister Mariusz B³aszczak has said.

18/4/2017- “The policy of multiculturalism in Western Europe is bringing about a bloody harvest in the form of terrorist attacks,” B³aszczak told Polish Radio on Tuesday. He said that Europe is dealing with a “massive immigration crisis”. The Polish conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government has refused to accept migrants from the Middle East and Africa under an EU programme to relocate some 160,000 asylum seekers currently residing in camps in Italy and Greece. The previous Polish government coalition led by the Civic Platform (PO) party had accepted the deal signed by EU member states. “Our predecessors, agreeing to receive thousands of refugees – and de facto immigrants from the Middle East, and northern Africa – were striving to bring about such a crisis,” B³aszczak said. He added that while PiS was in power, it would “not allow a repeat of what we are dealing with in Western Europe”.
© The News - Poland

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Netherlands: PVV drafts legislation to stop dual nationality

18/4/2017- The anti-immigration PVV is working on draft legislation which would make dual nationality impossible for Dutch passport holders, party leader Geert Wilders said on Tuesday. The aim is to ban people from having a second nationality, he said. ‘As long as you are Turkish, you can’t become Dutch,’ the Telegraaf quotes Wilders as saying. News of the PVV bill came after it emerged that Dutch Turks voted by a large margin to give more powers to Turkish president Erdogan in the recent referendum. Some 250,000 Dutch Turks were eligible to vote but only around 80,000 did so. Wilders admitted it will be complicated to legislate against dual nationality but said the Turkish law which makes it difficult to give up Turkish nationality is ‘nothing to do with me’. The PVV legislation will apply to ‘everyone, but Turks first and foremost,’ Wilders said. Some 1.3 million Dutch nationals hold a second nationality.

Two passports
At the end of last year, the Liberal democratic party D66 and the Labour party PvdA submitted draft legislation to parliament which would allow Dutch people to keep their Dutch passports if they adopt a second nationality. Currently, Dutch nationals who take a second nationality lose their right to a Dutch passport, while most foreigners who become Dutch are required to reject their original nationality. The proposal, submitted by Labour MP Ahmed Marcouch and D66’s Sjoerd Sjoerdsma, states that the current Dutch position on dual nationality is out of steps with the times. People can apply to become Dutch after living in the Netherlands for five years, or three years if married to a Dutch citizen – if they have gone through the correct integration procedures. However, the government is planning to increase this to seven years. That legislation is pending approval in the senate.
© The Dutch News

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Czech Rep: LGBT community campaigns for marriage for homosexuals

18/4/2017- Five Czech NGOs on Tuesday launched a campaign promoting marriages for all in the country, including gays and lesbians, Czeslaw Walek told journalists on behalf of the LGBT community. Love is one, irrespective of whether one loves a man or a woman, and there is no reason to have two different institutions, Walek said, referring to marriage and registered partnership of homosexual couples that was introduced in the Czech Republic in 2006. For gays and lesbians, marriage is also a question of their dignity, he said. If the homosexual couples meet the criteria, they should also have a chance to conclude marriages, Walek said. Homosexual marriages are possible in the United States, Canada, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and other countries. The campaign has been led by Amnesty International, Logos Czech Republic, Mezipatra, Prague Pride and PROUD.

Ales Rumpel, from Mezipatra, said the campaign wants to open a public discussion on the issue. Rumpel said some politicians campaign against homosexuals, claiming that they are perverts who spread diseases, want to have sex with children and destroy the traditional family and the integrity of society. A special website will start operating on Wednesday and meetings and debates will be held in a number of Czech towns. Adela Horakova said it would be easy to adapt Czech legislation to let homosexuals conclude marriages. A CVVM poll conducted in mid-2016 showed that a slight majority of Czechs (51 percent) shared the view that gays and lesbians should have the right to conclude marriages. Ten years ago, most people in the country were against it.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

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Czech Rep: Number of hate incidents rising

18/4/2017- The number of violent incidents motivated by hatred has slightly increased in the Czech Republic this year, the In Iustitia group says in its quarterly report, adding that it registered 22 in the first quarter, which is five more than last year. Romanies and Muslims remain the most threatened groups. They faced three hate attacks each this year. Politicians' statements stir up xenophobia, In Iustitia says. A half of the incidents from January to March were physical attacks. However, a number of them has not been verified yet and consequently, the final number might be lower. Two arson attacks and five cases of intimidation and extortion were registered this year. Men prevail among the victims of hate violence (12 cases), while women became its target in five cases. The most frequent victims were Czech citizens. The biggest number of incidents were motivated by political conviction. Other motives were nationality and homelessness.

Hate violence was registered mainly in public areas in cities and on the Internet. Nine attacks were committed in Prague and five in south Moravia. Racist comments appeared, for instance, in reaction to a leaflet of the international retail chain Lidl featuring a black male model. President Milos Zeman's statement that a person from North Africa's Maghreb suspected of cooperation with terrorist Islamic organisations is staying in the Czech Republic strongly affected the atmosphere in society at the beginning of this year. Deputy Ombudsman Stanislav Krecek surprisingly called the fight against xenophobia a pretext for censorship, In Iustitia writes in its report. It also highlights the termination of the HateFree Culture government campaign against racism and hate violence and the EC's criticism of the Czech Republic for its approach to minorities.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

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Irish woman's racist abuse caught on camera on Limerick train

A series of videos recording an Irish woman's racist rant on a Limerick train has been reported to the Gardaí by Irish Rail.

18/4/2017- In the videos, which were originally posted to Twitter, a woman can be seen and heard making expletive-ridden comments towards fellow passengers. Twitter user 'TheBexWay' filmed the woman on a train from Limerick Colbert station to Limerick Junction on Sunday. She messaged the Irish Rail account during the trip, saying the woman had been making abusive comments for ten minutes. According to the Twitter user, who did not want her name published, the woman was reacting angrily to another passenger having a bag on a seat. "F**k off back to India. Don't give me your guff, you f**king cheeky p***k. "Respect my f**king country and get your bag off the seat." The woman then took aim at another passenger who appeared to stand up for the people she was abusing, saying: "look at the ugly head of that fella." "That's the only reason he's backing you up is because he's ugly."

According to the publisher, the passengers left their seats after 16 minutes of verbal abuse. "You don't really get the full effect of what happened from the video. She was literally sitting beside them, screaming bloody murder in their faces. It went on for almost the whole train ride," she said. "I didn't feel safe. If that turned into a fist fight, there would have been nobody there to help us." A spokesman for Irish Rail told Independent.ie that behaviour like this will not be tolerated on their service. "People should be able to travel on our services without abuse of any kind," he said. "The footage is very clear and very shocking and we welcome the fact that another member of the public was able to assist in identifying the person involved."

In March, a study issued by the European Network against Racism Ireland (ENAR Ireland) found that there was an alarming growth in the number of racism incidents being reported over the last six months. A total of 245 reports were made in that time frame, which is an increase of 55 in the previous period.
© The Irish Independent

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Northern Ireland: Two Latvian men beaten up in suspected hate crime

17/4/2017- Police in Northern Ireland are investigating a serious assault outside a bar in Coalisland, Co Tyrone last night. Two Latvian men were set upon by a group of men on Main Street shortly before 9pm. The victims, both in their 30s, sustained cuts and bruises as well as possible facial fractures in the attack. PSNI Inspector Neil Beck said: “The victims of this assault are both Latvian nationals and we are treating the incident as a hate crime. “I would urge anyone who was in the Main Street area and who saw what happened to get in touch with police. The number to call is 101, please quote reference 1012 16/04/17.”
If someone would prefer to provide information without leaving their name, they can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
© The Journal Ireland

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Britain First's Paul Golding tweets Pakistan cricket video as Muslims celebrating Paris attack

21/4/2017- Paul Golding, the leader of Britain First, a far-right and British nationalist political party, has been slammed after posting a video on Twitter that falsely claimed was of Muslims celebrating the April 20 Paris attack. As per reports, Golding tweeted the video on Friday afternoon, with the caption, “Oh look, a crowd of 'moderate' Muslims celebrating the Paris terror attack in London.” The tweet has subsequently been deleted. The video, originally, shot in 2009, was of supporters of the Pakistan cricket team celebrating their side’s victory over Sri Lanka during a tour. People shared the original video on Twitter, slamming Golding for stirring Islamophobia. The latest attack on Paris was committed by 39-year-old Karim Cheurfi, who drove his silver Audi onto the Champs Elysee, the city’s most famous street, and killed two police officers on patrol duty. Following Golding’s tweet, one person said, “Paris isn't mention, no radicalised flags. Are you sure this isn't a cricket celebration? English passers-by are even being embraced?” (sic)
© DNA India.

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UK: Far-right group exploiting Chechnya abuse and Pulse anniversary with fake LGBT march

A far-right group is hijacking the first anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting with an anti-Muslim march.

18/4/2017- The march, organised by a group calling itself ‘Gays Against Shariah – UK’, claim to be campaigning for LGBT rights, and have capitalised on public outrage at the abuse of gay men in Chechnya. The “Gays Against Shariah/Orlando Memorial Rally” is set to be held in Manchester on 10 June, and currently has 73 people either interested or attending. The Facebook page for the event depicts shocking images of men being hanged, racist, Islamophobic content, and a video produced by gay Trump supporter Milo Yiannopoulos. It has been organised by the founder of the EDL’s supposed LGBT wing, Tommy Cook, who goes by the name Tommy English on social media. Despite Mr English, head of Gays Against Sharia, failing to secure necessary Public Liability insurance for the event, he still plans to go ahead with the march.

Mr English claims to have been in touch with EDL leader Tommy Robinson, who is supporting the march and says it should go ahead regardless of legality. Far right figures, including Tommy Robinson, as well as Director of Sharia Watch UK Anne Marie Waters, are due to attend the Manchester march. Event organisers have been attacking human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, making lewd accusations toward the activist and sending abusive Tweets, after he confronted organisers about the event. Tatchell responded to the online posts by writing that it “shows I’ve rattled the far right”. The anti-Muslim march, masquerading as a genuine LGBT rights event, is not the first of its nature.

Last year an event in Stockton-on-Tees had billed itself as a Pride march in ‘Solidarity for the Orlando and Nice Attacks’, organised by a supposed LGBT group. It purported to have been set up by ‘LGBT Stockton on Tees’ – a group that had no identifiable contact information, or have held other LGBT events or actions. An anti-extremism watchdog warned that it appears to be a ruse set by affiliates of prominent far-right extremist groups, including the English Defence League and Pegida UK, who are seeking to stir conflict. Tell MAMA, an anti-extremism body set up with backing from the UK government that monitors anti-Muslim sentiment, warned that many of the organisers of the march were activists associated with the EDL, despite portraying the event as an innocent LGBT march. It warned at the time: “Anyone coming across this page would rightly think that this silent march was something that would not only show solidarity against the senseless murder of so many people enjoying a night out in the US, it would also provide an opportunity for communities to come together.

“Nothing on this Facebook page would point to the motives behind such a page and where community issues are being appropriated as potential fronts to draw in people who may have some deeply questionable views.” The event description reads: “Raising awareness of the widespread homophobia within Shariah Law and remembering the victim’s of the Orlando terrorist attack”. The disturbing tactic is not new in itself. Far-right groups including Britain First have previously been accused of exploiting a number of causes including animal welfare and women’s rights in order to recruit and accrue donations. Anti-extremism bodies are concerned that LGBT rights could also be exploited to drive an extremist agenda, due to the groundswell of pro-LGBT sentiment online.
© Pink News

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UK: Police investigate children being spat at as potential hate crime

Police described the incident as 'abhorrent' and said it left the victims 'extremely shaken'

18/4/2017- A group of schoolchildren were spat at while walking home from an adventure playground in an incident, which is being treated by police as a possible hate crime. The two 12-year-old boys and a 13-year-old girl had left Clissold Park, Stoke Newington, North London, when a white Volvo saloon car pulled up. The male driver racially abused the youngsters before spitting out of the window and driving off, police said. He was accompanied by a woman. Detectives said the incident was “abhorrent” and left the victims “extremely shaken”. It was being treated as a hate crime, they said. The suspect is described as a man in his thirties, of Mediterranean appearance, possibly Turkish, with black hair. "This was a shocking incident that has left the victims extremely shaken - the fact that this racial abuse was directed at children makes the offence all the more abhorrent," said Detective Constable David Leitner, of Hackney's Community Safety Unit. "I am appealing to anyone who was in the area at the time of the incident and witnessed the incident to contact police... Equally if you are the individuals concerned, please contact police."
© The Independent

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UK: Outrage as hate-filled neo-Nazi marchers shut down Scottish town centre

Businesses in Wishaw were forced to close on one of the busiest days of the year because Scotland has no laws to counter such demos.

16/4/2017- Hate-filled fascists led by a neo-Nazi exposed by the Sunday Mail forced the closure of a town centre yesterday. High Street businesses across Wishaw, Lanarkshire, were forced to shut on one of the busiest days of the year to allow the far-right to march. Under police protection, activists wearing balaclavas, hoodies and masks taunted locals and waved banners with the slogan: “Refugees Not Welcome.” They were able to cripple the centre of the town because Scotland has no laws to counter such demonstrations. In the middle of the unwanted invasion was Steven Wright, who we revealed earlier this month had links to extremists who praised the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox. Heavily tattooed Wright, 45, who posed as a Holocaust victim to mock those who died in concentration camps, brazenly gave a Nazi salute during the demo organised by the Scottish Defence League.

Around 50 Nazis were confronted by a counter demonstration including a strong presence of people from the town. Politicians, businesses and locals called on the Government to create new laws to stop the far-right bringing unwanted chaos to towns and cities. It is the third major far right demo this year, after similar flashpoints in Edinburgh and Alloa. Wishaw was targeted because the town has welcomed Syrian refugee families displaced by the country’s barbaric civil war. In England and Wales, police have greater powers to disrupt gatherings of more than 20 people if they believe they could cause problems. Labour justice spokeswoman Claire Baker MSP said: “Our police officers do a fantastic job but it is important to make sure they have the powers necessary to keep the public safe. “Police forces in England and Wales have been given the power to control small but volatile protests like this and the Scottish Government should give consideration to doing the same.”

Despite causing mayhem, the SDL did not need permission to hold the rally. Their presence was blamed for keeping consumers away from the area and hitting businesses in the pocket. Anne Tress, 41, who runs Higgins Jewellers in Kirk Street with her husband John, said: “Everyone has been tense and fearing the worst. “People don’t want to come into the town because they’re worried about trouble. “I’ve never seen so many police in Wishaw before.” Esther McArthur, who runs off sales Beer Barrel, added: “I’ve been telling my customers to stay off the streets. It just doesn’t feel safe.” Residents also voiced their opposition. Donna McCallum, 46, said: “We’re too small a town to have a protest like this.This should not have happened. “People going about with their faces covered, it’s very intimidating. You don’t know who they are.” John MacDonald, 52, said: “Demonstrations by extremists should be banned. The town centre has been in lockdown because of bigots.”

A heavy police presence outnumbered the 50 SDL protestors and more than 200 supporters of the counter protest, led by Unite Against Fascism. The demo followed comments by former North Lanarkshire Council housing boss Sam Love that Syrian refugees were being given homes with “front and back doors” ahead of locals who have been on the housing waiting list for years. Thirty-seven Syrian families have moved into the area since 2015. Labour council leader Jim Logue said: “I think it’s absolutely disgusting that businesses, on Easter Saturday, were forced to close because these purveyors of racial hated have invaded Wishaw. “They have absolutely nothing in common with the overwhelming majority of residents here. “They came because a former Labour councillor said Syrian refugees here as part of the UK resettlement programme should not be offered the same housing as residents in Wishaw.

“I found that completely objectionable. We were the first council in Scotland to participate in the resettlement programme, taking in Congolese refugees in 2007. “As a result of that councillor’s irresponsible and disgusting comments, the SDL saw an opportunity to come here and attempt to stoke up racial hatred. They’re not welcome.” Motherwell and Wishaw SNP MP Marion Fellows added: “This is a tolerant and welcoming place, so today’s events fly in the face of all the efforts locally to bring our community together. “The refugees who live here have fled their war-torn home looking for safety. “On this busy holiday weekend, I’m hugely disappointed that this small group of intolerant protesters have managed to cause so much disruption to the people who live here and our local businesses.”

Last month, police made 10 arrests at a demonstration in Edinburgh organised by extremist group the White Brotherhood. The SDL also held a protest in Alloa. Both events were attended by Wright, who works around Scotland as a labourer. Motherwell and Wishaw SNP MSP Clare Adamson said: “It’s really disappointing that towns like Wishaw and Alloa have been targeted. They’re small towns where businesses struggle. “These people have targeted us because we welcomed Syrian refugees and their views certainly don’t
represent those of the town.” Colin Borland, of the Federation of Small Businesses, called for police to be given extra powers to control demos in town centres. He said: “The Easter weekend is a really important anchor point of the year, particularly for businesses in the retail and hospitality sectors. “In these tough times, particularly on such an important weekend, we want to see people out enjoying themselves and spending money – not feeling they can’t set foot in the town centre. The demonstrations either shouldn’t be allowed to take place or a much higher bar set.”

Unite Against Fascism Scotland’s spokesman John McFadden said the SDL demo was an attempt to intimidate refugees and stir up racial hatred. He added: “Scotland’s communities have always provided magnificent support to refugees, recognising that they are fleeing war, persecution and oppression. “It’s appalling that the hate-filled, sieg heil-saluting fascists of the SDL imposed themselves on the people of Wishaw.” Last year, a report to the Scottish Government said police should be given major new powers to deal with demonstrations and protests before they became a public danger. Twenty people have to be gathered together in one place before the police can disperse the crowd. In England and Wales, police can intervene if just two or more people have come together. A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have noted the recommendations in the report and will engage with all parties, including Police Scotland and local authorities, to further improve the management of marches, parades and demonstrations across Scotland.” Police said no arrests were made yesterday. SDL spokesman Graham Walker, who organised yesterday’s march, claimed it had the support of people in town.
© The Daily Record

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UK: Far-Right Group Britain First’ Website, Twitter and YouTube Hacked

Deputy leader Jayda Fransen's website hacked by anonymous user threatening to bomb planned march

15/4/2017- The website and Twitter accounts of high-ranking members of Britain First have been hacked and replaced with a message threatening to bomb a planned march on 3 June. The Twitter account of leader Paul Golding and personal website of deputy leader Jayda Golding were attacked by hackers angry at the rhetoric of the far-right group. The name of Golding’s Twitter account has been changed to “racist f****** chav” and his personal details, including his home address, have been posted online. Similarly the text of Fransen’s website – which detailed her background, contact details and involvement with the group – have been replaced with a plain text warning that “several bombs will detonate and those who will march be dead (sic)”. It ordered the group to “stop being racist to Muslims” and warned “whoever goes to the march will die”. The person behind the threat is currently unknown.

The controversial group, which has been banned from entering any mosque in the country, is planning a march through Birmingham on 3 June to protest against what it calls the “Islamification of Britain”. Earlier this week Golding, Fransen, and former English Defence League (EDL) leader Tommy Robinson filmed themselves walking down a predominantly Muslim area of Birmingham waving large white crosses. They claimed they were attacked by a group of “aggressive” Muslim men but other footage from the scene showed several Muslim men, returning from a volunteering mission in Iraq, attempting to engage Robinson in debate before he was bundled into the van by the group. The group has sought to capitalise on last month’s Westminster terror attack when Khalid Masood ploughed a car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge before stabbing a police officer and attempting to enter the Houses of Parliament. The 52-year-old, who was shot dead at the scene, was a Muslim convert had been living in Birmingham before his death.

A similar march by the EDL in Birmingham at the weekend ended with a picture of anti-fascist protester smiling in the face of EDL leader Paul Crossland going viral. Saffiyah Khan later said she was not intimidated and instead all she saw “was an angry man having a rant”. A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police told The Independent the matter had been reported and was currently under investigation. When The Independent contacted Britain First they said they were aware of it but refused to comment any further.
© The Independent

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Chechnya: Gay men flee persecution and honor killings

After reports that more than 100 men suspected of being gay or bisexual were rounded up and tortured in Chechnya, the Russian LGBT Network has helped dozens escape. Many are afraid to go back.

17/4/2017- "For the majority of these men, this persecution was unexpected. And now they don't have any money, they've lost their jobs, their families, their official documents, everything," says Tatyana Vinnichenko. "So they come to us for help." Vinnichenko is the chairperson of the Russian LGBT Network. She says that as of Monday morning, 59 men are seeking the organization's help. They had to leave the southern Russian Republic of Chechnya because they were being persecuted for their sexual orientation. At the beginning of April, the Russian newspaper "Novaya Gazeta" reported that over one hundred men were arrested for being gay or bisexual in Chechnya. It says at least three of them were killed. Several Western media outlets have since reported about beatings, torture and electric shocks the men were subjected to in police custody, as Chechen authorities tried to get them to admit to their sexual orientation and to hand over the names of gay acquaintances. Vinnichenko says it's hard to say how many were really affected by what has been called an anti-gay purge, but it could be hundreds. Some of them got in touch with the LGTB network, which runs a helpline. 

Depths of despair
Around one-third of the people the organization is currently supporting were in police custody in Chechnya. Others were lucky enough to escape before they were rounded up by authorities. Their experience has taken its toll psychologically - and physically. "They are distressed, they can't sleep, they are depressed - they are in a state of panic. Some are sick, some have infections," Vinnichenko explains, adding: "Many were beaten in policy custody. And there is the trauma they suffered from being electrocuted [in custody]. All that needs medical attention." The Russian LGBT Network supports the men who fled their homes financially, helps them get new papers and provides them with therapy. The activists also try to find somewhere new for the men to live.

Fearing for their lives
After all, going back to Chechnya is not an option for them, Vinnichenko says. She explains that almost all the men are afraid of honor killings. Chechnya is predominantly Muslim and extremely conservative. If these men's families are told by the police that they are gay, that is seen as a stain on the entire family's honor. Even the extended family is seen as tainted, which can make it hard for the younger generation to marry. Vinnichenko says that the police often out the men to their families after releasing them from custody. "Essentially they call for the relatives to kill them with their own hands," she adds. "The men who've come to us say they believe that their relatives would kill them in order to clear the family's reputation." And even though the organization could often quite easily provide the men with a place to live within Russia, Vinnichenko explains that many of them fear that the Chechen diaspora in Russian cities could continue the persecution they were subjected to at home. Most of them want to leave Russia entirely.

Waiting for official action
Homophobia is not just common in Chechnya. It is widespread in the whole of Russia, where "homosexual propaganda" was officially made illegal in 2013. And the official response from Moscow to the reports by Novaya Gazeta about the round-up of gay men in Chechnya was muted. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov initially simply said there wasn't "any reliable information" about the persecution of gays in Chechnya. And though the Russian High Commissioner for Human Rights Tatyana Moskalkova stated soon after the newspaper reports came out that she would seek information from Chechen authorities about the "abduction[s]," it took more than 10 days for the Russian prosecutor-general's office to announce on Monday that Chechen authorities are investigating the claims. In the meantime, Chechen authorities have furiously denied reports that gays were persecuted in the southern Russian region. The press secretary for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov simply responded by saying that "it is impossible to detain and oppress that which simply does not exist in the republic." What the results of the investigation will be remains to be seen.

Too little, too late
For Vinnichenko, the fact that the investigation has only now been announced is a disappointment. "This investigation should have been carried out two weeks ago, when Novaya Gazeta published its first article, rather than waiting until the victims have increased exponentially." She believes the official inaction shows the Russian authorities are "covering for the criminals that carried out these acts." The activist adds that listening to the men who have sought help from the Russian LGBT Network, she believes it is unlikely that the "criminals in the police force" will be brought to justice in Russia. Instead her organization intends to appeal to the European Court of Human rights. But for now, she says only Chechnya's Moscow-backed strongman leader Kadyrov can stop the violence against the LGBT community in Chechnya. Until then, Vinnichenko believes that people who are suspected of being homosexual or bisexual have no other option but to leave.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Germany: Suspect in bus attack motivated by ‘greed’ rather than extremism

21/4/2017- German police arrested a suspect Friday in the attack on a popular soccer team and described the bombing as motivated by greed rather than extremism. A special police unit near the southern city of Tübingen arrested a Russian-German national identified as Sergei W. A statement from the federal public prosecutor said he carried out the attack on the Borussia Dortmund club in hopes of lowering its stock value. The suspect is accused of planting three bombs last week packed with metal pins near the hotel where the team was staying and detonating them as the bus left for a match against AS Monaco. Defender Marc Bartra was wounded and had to undergo surgery. A police officer, escorting the bus on a motorcycle, suffered blast trauma.

Frauke Köhler, spokeswoman for the federal public prosecutor, said the 28-year-old suspect faces charges including attempted murder and setting off an explosion. She did not rule out possible accomplices, but there are no indications that others were involved. According to the statement, Sergei W bought 15,000 so-called put options — financial instruments which would have allowed him to make significant gains if the team’s stock price had tumbled — the day of the attack. The purchase was made online from the team’s hotel. Days before the blast, the suspect moved into a room with a view of the area where he would later plant the bombs. Borussia Dortmund stock value had temporarily declined slightly after the attack and more significantly after the team was eliminated from the Champions League tournament earlier this week, but has risen again since.

Investigators had previously focused on a radical Islamist motivation for the attack because of letters found at the scene claiming responsibility and referring to the fight against the Islamic State in Syria. But there always were doubts about the authenticity of the documents. Other statements had surfaced which suggested right-wing and left-wing extremist motives. According to authorities, however, there’s no indication that these were authored by the perpetrator of the attack. “The fact that here, if the accusation is true, somebody wanted to enrich himself by manipulating stock prices by killing people is a particularly despicable kind of greed,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière told reporters.

Ralf Jäger, interior minister of the western German state of North-Rhine Westphalia, where the attack took place, said that more severe injuries and even deaths could have occurred if the bombs had been planted at a slightly different height and detonated one or two seconds earlier. He said the suspect had bomb-building knowledge because of his professional background, but gave no further details.
© The Washington Post.

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Germany: Holocaust-denying lawyer Horst Mahler on the run

One of Germany's most notorious Holocaust deniers, once loyal to leftist terrorist group RAF, has left the country despite having another jail term to serve. Horst Mahler says he wants to become an asylum seeker.

20/4/2017- Horst Mahler's checkered career has taken another sharp turn. The 81-year-old neo-Nazi and Holocaust-denier has declared that he is on the run from the judiciary and is now thought to have fled the country. In a video released on YouTube (and since removed) by the far-right affiliated network "Nordland TV," the lawyer said he would not be following an order to serve his latest prison sentence, and would instead "ask for asylum in a sovereign state that is ready to accept people." He called the charges against him "political persecution without legal basis," and accused Munich's state prosecutor Manfred Nötzel of attempting to murder him in prison. An associate of Mahler's told public broadcaster ARD that he was no longer in the country.

Mahler, one of Germany's most prominent Reichsbürger (or "Reich citizens," a loose movement that refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the modern Federal Republic) was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2009 for repeated incitement to racial hatred and Holocaust denial. He was released in August 2015 due to ill health (the lower part of his left leg was amputated as a result of an infection), but his sentence was extended for more offences committed while in prison. Further investigations are also pending - not least over the publication of an anti-Semitic book in the past few years. The Munich prosecutors' office refused to comment on the video, which was apparently recorded on April 9, on the grounds that the investigations against Mahler are still ongoing.

A repeat offender
"For a long time, Mahler was the most famous Reichsbürger in Germany," said Jan Rathje, a political scientist who specializes in tracking the far-right scene. Mahler has persistently and publicly denied the Holocaust happened, which is a criminal offense in Germany that leads to long prison sentences for repeat offenders. Mahler is certainly unrepentant, having spent his 18 months of freedom frequently speaking at neo-Nazi rallies - in January, he appeared at an event in Ludwigshafen to deliver an address denying both the existence of gas chambers and the systematic murder of Jews during World War II.

But Mahler's case is also unusual, since his political career began on the political far left in 1960s West Germany. As a lawyer, he represented many prominent leftist figures during the political unrest in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin, who later became terrorists in the group that Mahler helped to found: the Red Army Faction (RAF). Mahler took part in some of the RAF's criminal actions, including kidnappings and bank robberies, for which he was served most of the 1970s in prison. It was then that he read the works of 18th century philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, whose dialectic worldview is said to have influenced him since.

Consistent anti-Semitism
But, as Rathje pointed out, the path from violent extremism on the far-left to the far-right has been trodden by other prominent extremists, and in Mahler's case was marked by his anti-Semitism. "Already in the RAF there were anti-Semitic connotations," Rathje told DW. "Mahler simply followed this path consistently and ended up on the far-right, as he was convinced there was an ultimate antithesis between the Germans and the Jews - on an ideological level he sees Germany as distinct from Judaism." By the late 1990s, Mahler had become prominent in the far-right scene, and joined the far-right nationalist National Democratic Party (NPD) in 2000. In a press statement released at the time, Mahler described the German constitution, or Basic Law, as a "provisional document for the transitional time before the re-establishment of the legal capacity of the German Reich."

He represented the NPD in court when the government attempted to have it banned for being anti-constitutional in the early 2000s, but his fundamental opposition to the German state also led him to drop out of the NPD in 2003, on the grounds that its aim was to enter parliament, which meant that "like the parliamentary system itself," as he said, "it was doomed to destruction." "He was always very active in various groups that denied the Holocaust," said Rathje. "I don't think he represents an actual danger, but he does consistently preach anti-Semitism in Germany. In the way he is always trying to make an issue of this, by bringing up his supposed evidence against the Holocaust, he thinks he can have some kind of cultural influence in the public discourse."
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Germany: AfD's Frauke Petry will not stand as lead candidate in 2017 elections

For many Germans, Frauke Petry is the face of right-wing populism in the country. But she announced on Wednesday that she's not interested in being her party's nominal chancellor candidate in September's election.

19/4/2017- Frauke Petry, the co-chairwoman and most recognizable figure of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), dropped the latest of her patented bombshells on Wednesday via video on her facebook page. "To end all the speculation in this area, I would like to take the opportunity in this video message to declare unambiguously that I am not available for a lead candidacy on my own nor for participation in a lead team," Petry said. Petry also said that it was unclear whether a party like the AfD, which will likely end up in the hands of the opposition, needed a "largely symbolic" lead candidate. She added that this was one issue to be decided at this weekend's AfD conference in Cologne. Petry made her surprise decision amidst reports that she was becoming increasingly isolated, after making an official "proposal for the future" that the party should agree on a binding strategy for Germany's national election on September 24. Her announcement could well launch another struggle for power within a party that has seen more than its fair share of leadership squabbles

A split with the hardliners
Many people on the right wing of the AfD feel that Petry is too mainstream and power-hungry - that she is willing to compromise on the more aggressive anti-immigration, anti-EU elements of the populist movement in a bid not to scare off more moderate voters. In her video statement, Petry disputed being a divisive force. "Dear delegates, my proposal for our party conference in Cologne has raised quite a stir and created a lot of wild speculation the past few days," Petry said in her 12-minute message. "Critics of the proposal accuse me of splitting the AfD into two camps. Others fear that a democratic decision about a common strategy would exclude parts of the party and different positions. The absurd assertion that I'm interested in a coalition with the CDU has no basis whatsoever in reality."

Petry added that the AfD had suffered from the lack of an overarching strategy since the fall of 2015, when the party achieved its first major successes in local state elections. She said that the party's potential voters had sunk from 30 percent in 2015 to 14 percent now. She said the party's public image was conditioned by the statements of individuals aiming at "maximum provocation." She acknowledged that differences of opinion about whether the party should strive for power, or be part of the opposition had led to "increasing internal tensions." In recent months, Petry has been engaged in a high-profile feud with the head of the AfD in Thuringia- Björn Höcke- whom she would like to see banned from the party for alleged Nazi sympathies.

A hidden agenda?
Petry's statement portrays her as someone willing to subordinate personal ambition for the good of the party. In her video message, she repeatedly claimed that individual party members pursuing individual interests had damaged the AfD's credibility with mainstream voters. But there is certainly more to Petry's decision than just self-sacrifice. For the one thing, the 41-year-old is in an advanced state of pregnancy, which may be a factor given the strains of the campaign's final stages. Petry recently burst into tears at an event after facing criticism from detractors. Significantly, Petry did not say that she was stepping down from her position as party co-chair. In the past, the trained chemist has seemed to retreat only to beat her rivals in contests for power at AfD party events. Such was the case, for instance, at a party conference in Essen in July 2015 when she outmaneuvered one of the AfD's co-founders to become its co-chair. Petry's latest move throws wide open the question of who will determine the strategy for the party's election campaign. That will be something the AfD must sort out at this weekend's convention.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Germany: Far-right group 'claims responsibility for Dortmund bus blast'

15/4/2017- Far-right plotters have reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack on the Dortmund Borussia team bus which wounded defender Marc Bartra. An anonymous email sent to Berlin's Tagesspiegel daily newspaper said the triple blast was intended to be a "final warning" against multicultural policies. It cited Adolf Hitler and warned of a potential further attack, the newspaper said. Federal prosecutors are now examining the message, the latest in a number of claims made over Tuesday night's triple explosion on the bus. Police had earlier revealed that a letter was found at the scene suggesting an Islamist extremist was responsible, but they had "significant doubts" over its credibility. Prosecutors have questioned the authenticity of another claim posted online, suggesting a left-wing extremist motive.

One Iraqi man has been arrested over the attack, who has been named as 26-year-old Abdul Beset A. German authorities say he is believed to be a former commander with an elite unit in the so-called Islamic State - but there is no evidence to link him to the attacks on the Dortmund team. Spanish defender Marc Bartra suffered injuries to his wrist and arm caused by shattered glass from the explosion, which happened about 90 minutes before Dortmund were due to play Monaco at the nearby Westfalenstadion. He has since described the attack as the "hardest 15 minutes" of his life.
© ITV

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FRENCH ELECTIONS First round April 23

French Campaign Waged Online Adds a Wild Card to the Election

22/4/2017- In Fiscal Kombat, an online video game introduced this month by the presidential campaign of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, France’s far-left candidate, players shake down men in suits to put money into the public coffers, Robin Hood-style. It’s one way Mr. Mélenchon, 65, has been winning over young voters. His campaign has been gaining steam not only because of his energized rallies — he sometimes beams in by hologram to address multiple cities at once — and his platform. He has also been far more web savvy than his rivals, running what may be France’s first viral campaign. It’s a wild-card factor all the more potent and vital since neither he nor the centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, the front-runner by a narrow margin, represents a traditional political party or has its infrastructure.

When French voters go to the polls on Sunday for the first round of elections, they will do so after a campaign that has moved beyond rallies and other traditional events and migrated online for the first time. With some polls showing as many as 30 percent of the voters still undecided, every vote will count — and so will every “like.” Far-right websites, an ecosystem often referred to as the Fachosphère, have long given oxygen to Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front, which was the first French party to create a website. And the left has traditionally had intense ideological debates in the mainstream news media. In this campaign, however, in which the left is split among several candidates, Mr. Mélenchon, a former Trotskyite and longtime Socialist senator before breaking ranks, has more YouTube followers than any rival and a league of active online supporters eager to jump on critics.

“Marine Le Pen has made an effort for years: It’s a sociological vote; it’s a crisis; it’s people who feel shut out of the system,” said Thierry Vedel, a political scientist who conducts election research at Sciences Po, a university in Paris. “Mélenchon is more complicated. Mélenchon’s campaign is trying. We can’t rule out that in the campaign, social media has had an effect.” That’s especially true on the left, where voters are deciding among Mr. Mélenchon; Mr. Macron, a 39-year-old centrist, former banker and finance minister under President François Hollande, a Socialist; and Benoît Hamon, a Socialist who comes from the party’s leftist wing and whose flagging campaign represents that party’s implosion. Enter the video game. The idea for Fiscal Kombat came from Mr. Mélenchon’s grass-roots supporters, who created an online community, Le Discord Insoumis, or “Defiant Discord” — using the Discord gaming software — to debate ideas and find new ways to push his program. That program includes taking France out of NATO, renegotiating its treaties with the European Union, eliminating nuclear power, raising taxes and capping wages.

In the final weeks of the campaign, those supporters have been out in force. When the satirical cartoonist Joann Sfar took to his own Facebook page, which has 33,000 followers, to criticize Mr. Mélenchon, he was attacked by Mélenchon supporters. Mr. Sfar wrote in Le Monde this past week that he had actually intended to vote for Mr. Mélenchon but changed his mind after the attacks. “Obama won going door to door. Mélenchon has managed to create a kind of numerical door-to-door, to stir up his base on the internet since he’s moved people with very strong speeches,” said Vincent Glad, a journalist for the left-wing daily Libération who covers the intersection of social media and politics. “That creates a dynamic in the country that we haven’t seen before,” he added. “People are really keyed up and comment a lot.” In contrast, Mr. Macron has used the internet in a more traditional way: publishing speeches on his website and putting out information about rallies. But in a first for France, his campaign has deployed an American-style campaign tactic: using software to identify pockets of undecided voters to try to win them over.

Mr. Mélenchon, who has a history of sparring with the mainstream news media, has taken it up a notch, using the internet to bypass rules governing equal media exposure. He now has about 307,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel and 927,000 Facebook followers (compared with 1.3 million for Ms. Le Pen). He delivers long speeches on YouTube, and some clips of his media appearances have had as many as five million views. His fans have set up a web page with pro-Mélenchon graphics and GIFs for easy sharing online. He also has the support of a new generation of online political commentators. Usul, a homegrown Marxist YouTube political commentator, gave his implicit endorsement. Osons Causer, a left-wing YouTube outlet that loosely translates as Dare to Discuss and that produced some of the most viewed videos in France this election season, backed him on Friday. (Both Osons Causer and Usul have been making videos this election season for the muckraking left-wing news outlet Mediapart.)

Osons Causer and Usul are no fans of Mr. Hamon, the socialist, but they seem to have particular antipathy toward Mr. Macron, whom they see as the establishment candidate, a dynamic not unlike how supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders viewed his Democratic presidential rival, Hillary Clinton. Last Sunday, Osons Causer, which usually features Ludo Torbey, one of the site’s founders, sitting in his bedroom talking viewers through complex topics on politics and economics, published a video, “If You’re Hesitating About Voting for Macron, Watch This.” It was harshly critical of the candidate’s economic policies and his efforts to overhaul the French labor market under Mr. Hollande. By Saturday afternoon, it had been viewed 6.6 million times on the group’s Facebook page. In addition, the video “Who Really Is Emmanuel Macron?” was the most shared one in France from early February to early March, according to a study by Linkfluence, a French firm that monitors social media impact.

“It’s our moment,” said Stéphane Lambert, one of three founders of Osons Causer, who are 28 to 30 years old and attended Paris’s Lycée Henri IV, as did Mr. Macron. Started in June 2015 (the third founder is Xavier Cheung), the show has nearly 500,000 Facebook followers, up from 400,000 in January. (Le Monde, France’s paper of record, has three million.) Usul agrees. “A lot of young people are trying to discover Socialism,” he said by telephone. Even if Mr. Mélenchon loses, “we’ve entered a phase when social movements will be more important, more structured, more radical,” he said, citing Spain’s leftist Podemos party as a model. “We’ll move from defense to attack.” (In one of the more surreal twists, Usul is the pseudonym of a 31-year-old journalist in Lyon who has never revealed his name.)

These YouTubers haven’t exactly replaced the mainstream media in France, but they’ve gone viral in ways that more established media outlets have not. “The mechanics of ‘virality’ on Facebook allows a form of inequality between different media,” said Guilhem Fouetillou, a founder of Linkfluence, which he said had sold its software to more than one of the five top candidates. “You don’t need an audience a priori; sharing something on Facebook lets you create an audience that’s also as important as the old media,” he added. There are outliers. One newspaper without a website has played an outsize role in the election: the satirical print weekly Le Canard Enchaîné. In January, it broke the story that accused François Fillon, the center-right candidate, of putting his wife and children on the public payroll, leading to embezzlement charges that have dogged his campaign.

But social media kept the scandal alive — so much so that Mr. Fillon was the candidate most discussed online, according to Linkfluence. Even though social media has helped bolster Mr. Mélenchon’s campaign, Mr. Vedel, of Sciences Po, warned against drawing too direct a line between social media activity and electoral results. “Today, social media doesn’t always reflect opinion; that’s the problem,” he said. He added that much chatter during the campaign could be “filter bubbles,” in which people share information that reinforces their own ideas. The Google News Lab in Paris, a division of the search engine company, found that the most searched candidates in recent weeks were Mr. Macron and Mr. Mélenchon. Among the top questions: “Is Emmanuel Macron left or right?” and “Why vote for Mélenchon?” Of the searches for Ms. Le Pen this past week, the top question: “Why not vote for Le Pen?”
© The New York Times

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Oxford study raises alarm on 'junk' news in France

Fake news is playing a massive role on Twitter in the run-up to French and German elections, a British study has said amid concerns on Russian meddling.

21/4/2017- The study, by the Oxford Internet Institute, part of Oxford University in the UK, out on Friday (21 April), said that one in four political news stories being circulated by Twitter users in France in the run-up to Sunday’s presidential election were deliberately false or “junk” articles that voiced “ideologically extreme, hyper-partisan or conspiratorial" points of view. It said that the run-up to German presidential elections in February “found Germans sharing four professionally produced news stories for every one piece of junk”. It noted that the problem was less acute than in the US elections, where junk news, for instance in the state of Michigan, at times accounted for one out of every two links shared. It also said that the bulk of France’s junk traffic targeted Emmanuel Macron, a centrist, pro-EU, and Russia-critical candidate, but that “highly automated accounts” also circulated large amounts of traffic about Francois Fillon, a centre-right and Russia-friendly contender.

The Oxford study comes hot on the heels of a similar one by Bakamo, a private-sector internet research firm based in the UK. Bakamo said on Wednesday that 19.2 percent of links shared by users of social media in France in the past six months pertained to articles that did not “adhere to journalistic standards” and that expressed “radical opinions … to craft a disruptive narrative”. It said a further 5 percent related to “narratives [that were] often mythical, almost theological in nature” or discussed “conspiracy theories”.  The bogus news mostly favoured anti-EU or pro-Russia candidates, including also far-right leader Marine Le Pen, radical left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, the self-described "Frexit" candidate Francois Asselineau, and Trotskyist candidate Philippe Poutou. It said one in five of the “disruptive” stories had been influenced by Russian media and that one in two of the “conspiracy” articles bore Russian fingerprints.

Two of the Russian state’s biggest disinformation outlets, RT and Sputnik, both have dedicated French-language services. Research by the Atlantic Council, a US-based think tank, out this week said that “much” of RT France’s coverage was “adequately balanced”. “[RT France] has tended to report criticism of Macron, but at least mentioned the candidate’s own stance, albeit often briefly”, it said. But it said Sputnik France showed a “distinct bias” against Macron and in support of Le Pen and Fillon. It claimed, for instance, in five articles in February and March that French broadcaster BFMTV had given more airtime to Macron, whom it dubbed the mainstream media’s “darling”, than to rivals, even though the French media regulator, the CSA, said this was not true. It also claimed in a series of articles in March that polls were predicting a Fillon victory even though most polls were not.

It based the reports on figures published by Brand Analytics, a Moscow-based firm, whose methodology was said to be unrepresentative by another French regulator, the Commission des Sondages. The Atlantic Council said in an earlier report that RT France and Sputnik France had just 102,000 Twitter followers compared to mainstream media, such as the AFP news agency, which had 2.6 million. It said their users were much more active, at almost 5 tweets per follower in a sample period compared to 1.5 tweets per follower of other media, and had a “strong political bias” that was broadly pro-Russia and anti-Macron. It also said Sputnik France’s output was being circulated by automated “bots”, or Twitter accounts that gave no personal information on the user and that tweeted more than 100 times per day. It said almost one in three (28%) of Sputnik France followers were of this type. It also said the most prolific bots RT France or Sputnik France bots, such as @RTenfrancais or @heelleclech, were tweeting or retweeting content an average of 392 to 777 times each day.
© The EUobserver

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France: Le Pen lurches back to far right as race tightens

19/4/2017- Marine Le Pen was accused of reviving the toxic past of the National Front yesterday after lurching further to the right in an attempt to bolster her flagging presidential campaign. Pledging a drastic crackdown on immigration, she said she would suspend all visas for non-Europeans seeking to join family members in France. Supporters of the National Front leader responded at a rally in Paris on Monday by chanting “France for the French”, a slogan associated with Ms Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, 88, the party founder. La Croix, the Catholic newspaper, said that Ms Le Pen was trying to remobilise her bedrock support by making a link between immigration, crime and terrorism “just like in the days of Jean-Marie Le Pen”. Le Parisien newspaper said: “She is hardening her stance in a way that is unprecedented since the campaign began.”

In a radio interview Ms Le Pen, 48, said that France was being “submerged” by immigrants, adding: “Immigration is not an opportunity, it is a drama.” The far-right leader, who wants to reduce immigration from about 140,000 people a year to 10,000, said that she would impose a moratorium on family visas “for a few weeks while we study the situation”. France granted 88,010 family visas last year. She said the moratorium would be lifted once new immigration rules had been put into place, inviting comparisons with President Trump’s travel ban in the US. “Behind massive immigration lies terrorism,” she said at the rally and claimed that if she had been president, none of the terrorists who killed 130 people in Paris in November 2015 would have been allowed into France. The claim was denounced by critics because more than half the 11 jihadists were French citizens.

Until yesterday Ms Le Pen had been working to give her party a veneer of respectability, based on the assumption that she would win the first round of the election easily and needed to lure middle-of-the-road voters to obtain a majority in the second round on May 7. However, that strategy has been blown apart by polls which suggest that she can no longer be certain of a place in the second round. An Opinionway poll for Les Echos, the financial daily newspaper, put her on 22 per cent, down two points since last week and behind Emmanuel Macron, the independent centrist, who was on 23 per cent. François Fillon, the scandal-ridden centre-right candidate, was on 20 per cent and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left contender, on 19 per cent. Mr Mélenchon is rivalling Ms Le Pen’s claim to be the anti-establishment champion while Mr Fillon is pitching for the conservative Catholic vote. Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Party candidate, was on 8 per cent.

Ms Le Pen has been undermined by her pledge to quit the EU, which has unsettled elderly voters, many of whom have little affection for Brussels but fear losing their savings in a devaluation if the euro is scrapped. Her attempt to adopt a reassuring image has also been hit by ultra-left activists who have tried to disrupt her campaign. They fought with her bodyguards at a rally in Corsica this month and clashed with riot police at her rally in Paris. Two feminists disrupted her speech when they tried to clamber, topless, on to the stage. Some of the damage has been self- inflicted. Ms Le Pen is widely thought to have performed poorly in two televised debates when she was stymied by criticism from her opponents and aggressive in the presentation of her policies. She also made a gaffe when she suggested that the French nation could not be held responsible for the deportation of Jews from France during the Second World War. Her stance undermined her bid to win over Jewish voters and drew a reprimand from the Israeli government.

Ms Le Pen’s difficulties have prompted her to revise her tactics in a scramble to shore up her support. The shift of focus may enable her to get through the first round but it is likely to make it more difficult for her to win a majority in the second round when she will need moderate support. The Opinionway poll suggests that she would be defeated by Mr Macron in the run-off by 64 per cent to 36 per cent. Pollsters say that she would also lose to Mr Fillon or Mr Mélenchon. Her difficulties were highlighted by her embarrassed reaction to a tweet from her father saying that he would vote for her, even though they are no longer on speaking terms. “That makes one more vote,” she said.
© The Times

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France: Le Pen and Macron woo Paris as election enters final stretch

Just days before first round of voting in presidential race, polls show frontrunners not dead certs to face each other in runoff

17/4/2017- The French presidential election’s two frontrunners held competing campaign rallies in Paris on Monday as one of the tightest and most unpredictable races in decades entered its final frantic stretch. With polls suggesting any two of four candidates could make the runoff, centrist Emmanuel Macron packed out the 20,000-seat Bercy arena while the far-right’s Marine Le Pen addressed around 5,000 people at the Zenith concert hall later. “Do you know what’s going to happen next Sunday?” Macron demanded of a cheering, Marseillaise-roaring crowd, the largest of his campaign so far. “We are going to win, and it will be the beginning of a new France.” Despite his supporters’ confidence, however, the rollercoaster race has narrowed dramatically. Just days from Sunday’s first round of voting and with up to a third of the electorate still undecided, the result is wide open.

The latest polls show Macron and Le Pen clinging on to the narrowest of leads on 22% to 23%, while a late surge by the hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon and scandal-hit rightwinger François Fillon appears to be holding, putting both on between 19% and 21%. Overtly pro-European, Macron promised to represent an “open, confident, winning France”, in contrast with his far-right and far-left rivals, who he said wanted to isolate the country from the rest of the world. “Everywhere, we feel the temptation of barbarism ready to surge in other guises ... No, we will not let them do it,” Macron told his supporters. Implicitly referring to Fillon, who is under investigation for abuse of public funds, he suggested some were running for the presidency in order to gain judicial immunity.

About 400 protesters marched from northern Paris on Monday afternoon to near the Zenith concert hall, where Le Pen’s evening rally was held. Police used teargas to dispel a group of more violent demonstrators, but no arrests were made, officials said. Le Pen cast the election as a decision between her “patriotism” and her opponents’ “savage globalisation.” “The choice on Sunday is simple: It is a choice between a France that is rising again and a France that is sinking,” she said.

Mélenchon, a former Socialist minister and radical Eurosceptic, spent five cheery hours on Monday chugging across the capital from north to south on a canal barge, stopping off at several spots along the way to greet supporters and ending up at the national library. His late polling surge, and the prospect of him facing off against the equally anti-European Le Pen in the 7 May runoff, prompted the outgoing president, François Hollande, to urge voters and politicians this weekend to “preserve Europe instead of scapegoating it”. Mélenchon told supporters he was not seeking to pull France out of the EU, but would do so if other member states did not agree to negotiate fundamental reforms. “European treaties are destroying Europe,” he said. “I am not putting it in danger, I’m not the one who made Britain leave, I’m not the one making trouble in all EU countries, I’m not provoking nationalist feeling everywhere ... It’s Europe’s way of organising that’s pushing people that way.”

The race’s early favourite, Fillon, whose support has edged back up after plunging earlier in the campaign after allegations of a fake jobs scandal, was in Nice to talk law and order in the southern city where 86 people where killed in a truck attack last summer. Hit by revelations that he paid his wife hundreds of thousands of euros of public money for allegedly very little work as his parliamentary assistant, the centre-right former prime minister has promised to “surprise everyone” by making it to the runoff. With Le Pen also under investigation for misusing public funds, this time at the European parliament, Macron, a former investment banker and economy minister, sought on Monday to dismiss persistent rumours that he too may have something to hide.

Unnamed political rivals would try to spread fake news about him in the election’s closing stages, the independent centrist predicted in an interview with BFM TV, denying he had any money hidden away in offshore accounts. “I’ve always paid all my tax in France and had all my accounts in France,” said Macron, who resigned from Hollande’s government last year to launch his En Marche! movement and has campaigned as the candidate “neither of the left nor of the right”. Macron told the broadcaster: “I’ve heard it all, that I have a secret hidden inheritance, that I’ve got offshore accounts. Why? Because in this campaign there are two candidates with their own real legal problems … It’s all false, totally false.”

A French anti-corruption group, Anticor, raised concerns in March about supposed discrepancies in Macron’s disclosure of assets, but the country’s public transparency watchdog said it had found no inconsistencies. Several polls modelling possible second-round permutations have suggested that Macron would win the runoff whoever he is against, while Le Pen would lose. Mélenchon would defeat everyone except Macron, and Fillon lose to all except Le Pen.
© The Guardian.

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French voters disappointed, undecided days before vote

16/4/2017- French far-right leader Marine Le Pen is too extreme, but centrist Emmanuel Macron is too young. Conservative Francois Fillon cannot be trusted, Socialist Benoit Hamon is the establishment, and Communist-backed radical Jean-Luc Melenchon, too risky. Just a week before the French cast their first votes for the next president, this is how the many undecided voters view this year’s cast of candidates: with abject disappointment. Marc Jaurena lives in the northeastern city of Metz but drives nearly an hour to work in Luxembourg, 63 kilometres (40 miles) away. “For me, working in Luxembourg, my job will be directly impacted by a Marine Le Pen election,” Jaurena said, as the far-right leader has pledged that, if elected, she will pull France out of the euro currency and hold a referendum on whether the country should leave the EU. The 34-year-old Jaurena said he has also been scandalised by the fake jobs scandals that have embroiled not only Le Pen, but also Fillon.

Fillon’s campaign has been rocked by multiple scandals over expenses and conflicts of interest, including allegations that he gave his wife suspected fake jobs as a parliamentary assistant, for which she was paid a total of 680,000 euros ($725,000). As for Le Pen, the European Parliament has accused her far-right National Front (FN) of using funds allotted for parliamentary assistants to pay staff for party work in France. She has dismissed the investigation into FN’s expenses, saying it is a plot to derail her campaign bid. Jaurena is also unmoved by the ethos of the Communist-backed eurosceptic Melenchon, and by what he called Macron’s “brainwashing”. “I know who I won’t vote for, but I don’t know who I’ll vote for,” he said.

– ‘Rocked by scandals’
He is among the nearly 40 percent of voters who have yet to decide which way they’ll vote — or even if they’ll show up at on election day next Sunday. “This election is unusual. The campaign is rocked by scandals,” political scientist Richard Kleinschmager told AFP. “The situation has become too complex to get people engaged”. Voters’ indecision has reinforced the uncertainty of this year’s two-round presidential election, in which four candidates — Le Pen, Macron, Melenchon and Fillon — are neck-and-neck for the first round of voting on April 23. Polls give each between 19 and 23 percent of votes. The top two candidates from that vote will go forward to the second-round run-off on May 7. “For me, it’s unclear,” said 41-year-old Fabrice Blanchard, a commercial agent in Lorraine. “Macron, we don’t know if he is of the right or the left”. As for Hamon, “he is from the outgoing government,” which has been marked by high unemployment and low growth. Only 17 percent of voters questioned in an Ipsos poll in February gave high marks to France’s democratic system.

– ‘Outraged by scandals’ –
In the western city of Rennes, Pierre, 28, voted for the then president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012, but he is leaning towards Macron this time around, “because he’s young”. But for retired teacher Jeannette, 77, who is among the undecided voters, said Macron is “too young”. “Undecided voters are a feature of this election,” Kleinschmager said. “Voters from the two major parties have been thoroughly weakened. Francoise, the daughter of a former mayor in the eastern province of Franche-Comte, said she would have voted for Fillon “if there hadn’t been the scandals”. “Honesty in life and in politics, it’s essential,” the 54-year-old pharmaceutical worker said. “My father was mayor of a town, and when I made copies at city hall, he took out money to pay for them. “So then when we see the Fillon family… I am outraged by the scandals”.

There is a danger in having so many undecided voters at this late stage, said Kleinschmager. “The danger is when we don’t know what to hold on to,” he said. “So we grab a lottery ticket while telling ourselves ‘why not’. That lottery ticket is Marine Le Pen”. An Ipsos poll for the daily Le Monde out Friday showed Macron and Le Pen — who have been neck-and-neck for weeks at the head of the pack — on 22 percent for the first round.
© AFP

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France: Demonstrators march against Marine Le Pen

Hundreds marched in Paris on Saturday, denouncing xenophobia and racism. Some threw firebombs at police, who responded with tear gas during the small skirmishes.

16/4/2017- Hundreds of demonstrators in France marched on Sunday to protest far-right National Front leader and presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, saying that basic freedoms would disappear if she were elected. Some protesters threw firebombs at police during the march from suburban Aubervilliers to a Paris neighbourhood where Le Pen is scheduled to hold a rally on Monday. Officers responded with tear gas during the small skirmishes. Fernanda Marrucchelli said Le Pen’s anti-immigration party “is fighting our essential freedoms, our rights, no matter if we are French or immigrant.” A banner at the front of the march read “Paris-Suburbs Against the National Front. Marchers handed out tracts denouncing xenophobia and racism that they allege Le Pen and her anti-immigration party represent.

Anti-racism activist Omar Slauti said the fight against Le Pen should be in the streets, not the ballot box, denouncing the “extreme-right populism” that has spread around Europe. Le Pen, who wants to pull France out of the European Union, is one of the top contenders in France’s first-round presidential vote on April 23. A presidential runoff is being held May 7 between the top two-vote-getters. The far-right leader has worked to erase the image of racism and anti-Semitism that for years defined her party. She wants to restore a French identity that she claims has been erased by “massive immigration,” mainly from former French colonies in Muslim North Africa.
© The Toronto Star

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France: Facebook targets 30,000 fake accounts

Action precedes country's presidential election

14/4/2017- Facebook has cracked down on 30,000 fake accounts in France ahead of the country's pivotal presidential election. Facebook said the accounts were spreading fake news stories, spam, misinformation or other deceptive content. "Our priority, of course, is to remove the accounts with the largest footprint, with a high amount of activity and a broad reach," Facebook security manager Shabnam Shaik said in a blog post. The social media giant acknowledged, however, that the purge will not remove all accounts that are spreading fake news. "We know we have to keep getting better," said Shaik. "These accounts were targeted because they are fake. Full stop," a Facebook spokesman told CNNTech. He said that taking down fake accounts helps prevent hoaxes, spam, political trolling and fake news. "We routinely focus on these types of improvements. It's an ongoing effort and challenge," he said.

The spread of fake news has raised concerns in France ahead of the country's national elections. The first round of the voting, scheduled for April 23, will feature candidates including far right National Front leader Marine Le Pen. Le Pen is expected to perform well enough to earn a place in a runoff scheduled for May 7. Facebook on Thursday also took out newspaper ads with tips for spotting fake news in major publications in France and Germany. The crackdown by Facebook represents a major shift in policy from only a few months ago, when the role of fake news in electoral politics came under scrutiny following Donald Trump's surprise victory. Immediately following the vote, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said his company was not responsible for influencing people's votes. "Personally, I think the idea that fake news on Facebook -- of which it's a small amount of content -- influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea," he said.

But public pressure has forced Facebook and other social media companies to rethink their role in the public debate, and many have implemented measures in recent months designed to discourage the spread of fake news. Facebook recently began warning users that certain stories have been "disputed by fact checkers." It has also made it easier for users to report fake news and sought to undercut the business model used by publishers of fake news. In France, media newsrooms have partnered with Google News Lab and the nonprofit First Draft News to identify and quickly debunk hoaxes and false claims as part of a program called "CrossCheck." The initiative has debunked dozens of fake news and myths since it started in early February. Germany, which will also hold national elections later this year, has also cracked down on fake news. The German cabinet approved a plan earlier this month to start fining social media companies as much as as €50 million ($53 million) if they fail to quickly remove posts that breach German law.
© We Are Central PA

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France: Marine Le Pen campaign HQ building hit by arson attempt

Fire on ground floor of building that houses presidential candidate’s headquarters causes little damage

13/4/2017- A building housing the far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s campaign headquarters has been hit by an arson attempt. Only minor damage was caused. Firefighters were called at 2.40am on Thursday to the ground-floor offices on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, in central Paris. A fire service spokesman said the fire was quickly brought under control and damaged only the door and a doormat. The upper floors of the building, on one of the French capital’s most exclusive streets, close to the president’s Élysée Palace, house Le Pen’s campaign offices. The anti-globalisation, anti-EU Le Pen is neck-and-neck with centrist Emmanuel Macron in polls for the first round of the election on 23 April. A police source said the cause of the fire was “not natural and probably criminal”, adding that the graffiti slogan “FN vs KLM” was found nearby. A group calling itself Fight Xenophobia contacted AFP to claim the attack, which it said was carried out with “Molotov cocktails”. The caller, who refused to give a name, also claimed to have carried out a similar attack on a far-right newspaper and said the action would continue until the election.
© AFP

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France: Macron, Le Pen hold election lead but investors eye Melenchon surge

11/4/2017- French centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen clung on as frontrunners in France's tight presidential race on Tuesday, but the unpredictable outcome is pushing some pollsters to calculate the most extreme runoff scenarios. In a new twist in the two-round election, Jean-Luc Melenchon, a far-left veteran who for most of the campaign has been dismissed as a distant no-hoper, has surged into the top four and lies just a few percentage points behind the leaders. Though some commentators see Melenchon's challenge as a blip that may fade, his rise has injected further uncertainty into the outcome of the race for the Elysee, in which Macron has largely been seen as the favorite. Some investors are even weighing up the possibility of Melenchon making it into the second round against Le Pen, a clash between two far-left and far-right arch-rivals that would stand French politics on its head.

The turbulent presidential campaign has grown increasingly bitter in recent weeks as candidates eye the finishing line. With the first round of voting due on April 23, when a field of 11 candidates will be whittled down to two, Macron and conservative rival Francois Fillon, who are each fighting for center-right votes, sniped at each other's programs. Fillon, a former prime minister who has been holding onto the third place in polls despite a scandal over payments of public funds to his family that has hurt his campaign, called Macron a liar. Macron responded on Sud Radio: "Mr Fillon is a man of little worth." Polls showed Macron and Le Pen, leader of the anti-immigrant and anti-EU National Front, still several percentage points ahead of Fillon and Melenchon in the first round - something which would send them through to a face-off with each other on May 7.

Pollsters Elabe, in a survey carried out for media groups L'Express and BFMTV, saw them both on 23 percent, half a point down from a similar poll last week. The Elabe poll had Fillon on 19 percent, with Melenchon on 17 percent. Elabe projected that Macron, a former banker and economy minister in a Socialist government, would go on to beat Le Pen comfortably in the May 7 runoff. Other polls have shown a similar picture.

Many Undecided
An estimated one in three voters, however, remain undecided over who they will plumb for in the first round. Commentators therefore caution that the picture could easily change with the fortunes of candidates being affected by a sudden misstep on the stump or an ill-chosen word. Macron, who says he wants to transcend the left and the right in politics, leads a fledgling movement called En Marche! (Onwards!) and has never fought for, or held, elected office. But many senior Socialists have defected to his cause. Fillon, on the other hand, has the weight of the party machine of The Republicans behind him to help counter the financial scandal in the final days of campaigning.

Speaking in Marseilles on Tuesday night, Fillon said he was sure of getting through the first round and urged his supporters not to heed the opinion surveys. "They are trying to dictate your choice to you with these polls. They are suggesting to you that you don't need to vote because everything is already decided," he said. Melenchon's verve as a political showman, who uses strong rhetorical skills to call for a 100 percent tax on the rich and an exit from NATO, has made him a huge success on talk shows and televised debates. Though he has picked up most of his votes from the official Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon, whose campaign is in nose-dive, Melenchon also targets centre-left voters who are tilting toward Macron. Melenchon's advance in the polls has spooked financial markets and prompted a warning on Tuesday by the head of business lobby group Medef Pierre Gattaz. Calling both Melenchon and Le Pen's programs "an absolute catastrophe" for France, Gattaz warned on Europe 1 radio against a possible Melenchon-Le Pen second round.

Unusually, the Elabe poll of around 1,000 voters on Tuesday tested a variety of hypothetical second-round matchups. It found that Macron would beat Le Pen, Fillon or Melenchon. Melenchon would beat Le Pen or Fillon, but lose to Macron. Fillon would beat Le Pen but lose to either of the other leading candidates. Melenchon is on the opposite end of the political spectrum to Le Pen, in particular on immigration. But they both distrust the European Union, want to renegotiate France's role in it and to hold a referendum on EU membership. Their social policies, including on workers' protection, are also close. Le Pen vowed on Tuesday to take 10 concrete measures in the first two months of winning election. These included suspending France's participation in the EU's Schengen passport-free travel zone and re-establishing national border checks, and expelling all foreigners being monitored by intelligence services as possible threats to national security.
© Reuters

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France: Clashes at far-right leader Le Pen rally in Corsica

8/4/2017- Skirmishes broke out on Saturday ahead of a campaign rally by French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, prompting the removal of more than a dozen protesters and the evacuation of the hall in Ajaccio, Corsica. Latest polls ahead of the April-May French presidential election show the race tightening, with Le Pen – leader of the anti-immigrant National Front – neck-and-neck with centrist Emmanuel Macron, who is expected to beat her in the runoff. Around 50 people demonstrated in front of the venue in Ajaccio, chanting "We do not want the National Front," according to local newspaper Corse Matin. Some of them managed to enter the hall where Le Pen was expected to speak. They clashed with Le Pen's security team and fired teargas, prompting the evacuation of the hall, the newspaper said. The event was moved to another venue, French television BFM TV said. Le Pen's campaign manager David Rachline said on twitter that local authorities had not done enough to secure the venue and had allowed far-left "militia" to come too close. Rachline said a National Front activist was seriously injured during the clashes.
© Reuters

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France: The angry under-30s driving the far-Right

8/4/2017- A glance at the website of Génération Identitaire leaves no doubt about the ultra-nationalistic and anti-immigrant views of the youth group that has more Facebook followers than France’s leading political parties. Its front page calls for a ban on the country’s biggest annual gathering of Muslim groups due to start next week, laments that some “ethnic French” (“français de souche”) are homeless while the state provides housing for illegal immigrants, and invites people to join its “Get rid of the Islamists” campaign. It is the standard-bearer of France’s growing “identitaire” (identitarian) movement, the equivalent of the so-called alt-right in the United States whose reactionary legions helped bring Donald Trump to the White House. 

But one big difference between the French and the American “identitarians” - and their British counterparts - is that in France the movement, which is helping far-Right leader Marine Le Pen in her bid for the French presidency next month, is largely made up of under-30s. “This is a youth that contests the logic of globalisation,” said Alexandre Devecchio, the author of a recently published book titled “Les nouveaux enfants du siècle” (The New Children of the Century). “They are much more protectionist (than their parents) on both the cultural and economic level." What the under-30s in France - and across much of Europe - have experienced is mass unemployment, lack of job security, and both “physical and cultural lack of security” for those who live in poorer areas where radical Islam is growing, he said.

Their identitarian views are often shaped by the same phenomena - rejection of the globalised world and desire for a supposedly less mixed culture - that leads other young French men and women to embrace radical Islam. “They will have a huge influence on the (French presidential) election as the Front National is the most popular party among young people,” said Mr Devecchio. A recent video on Génération Identitaire’s Facebook page showing Muslims praying in the street in a Paris suburb drew hundreds of comments. “Yes, vote for Marine (Le Pen) so that we can get our France back for the next generations and so that we are not Islamified,” said one typical remark. “If we need to wage war then let’s fight for our country.” Opinion polls show that around a third of 18-24-year-olds plan to vote for Front National leader Marine Le Pen, who vows to ditch the euro if she becomes president and hold a referendum on leaving the European Union, in the election that takes place in two rounds on April 23 and May 7.

The centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron - who says he is politically neither left nor right - has edged ahead of Ms Le Pen in the most recent polls, but all surveys predict that both will make it through to the run-off, with Macron predicted to then easily clinch victory. The firebrand leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon is neck and neck in the polls with the conservative François Fillon, the previous front-runner whose bid for the Elysée was derailed by a “fake job” scandal centred on his British wife Penelope. But this is the most unpredictable election in decades, and after the Brexit referendum and Mr Trump’s victory in the US, many analysts warn that there is no safe bet. And a defeat for Ms Le Pen will not stop the growth of France’s identitarian movement. Activists from Génération Identitaire, which says it eschews violence, will continue to hand out leaflets that say: ”Immigration, Islamisation, Globalisation - STOP!” They see it as “cultural combat,” said Mr Devecchio. The fear of “Islamisation” of Europe is a common theme among the populist movements that have sprung up across the continent in recent years.

France has the biggest Muslim population of any country in western Europe, estimated at around five million people. That number is far too high for Jean-Yves Le Gallou, a former Euro-MP and a leading thinker of what can be considered as France’s “alt right. A video he produced titled “Being European” - which begins by stating that Europe is not “African or Muslim territory” - has been watched more than three million times on YouTube. He told the Sunday Telegraph that Islam was becoming more assertive and seeking to push Europeans into accepting its norms. Muslims are now “occupying public space by the wearing of the Islamic headscarf, demanding halal food in schools, restaurants and supermarkets, making demands about school curricula, and refusing mixed (boys and girls) activities,” he said. “And young Europeans are the most exposed to this reality. They are now demanding a return to their roots,” said Mr Le Gallou.

Their demands are increasingly being made online. Génération Identitaire may only have a couple of thousand active members, but identitarian websites get millions of readers, far more than those of mainstream politicians. Jerome Fourquet of the Ifop polling institute says that what is in abundant evidence today is the end of the long-standing left-right divide as the dominant feature of politics in France, as in many other western democracies. Ms Le Pen frequently says that what we now have is “patriots” against “globalists”, he said, noting that Mr Macron’s claim to be neither left nor right clearly put him in the globalist, pro-EU camp. The fact that these two politicians are the ones most likely to square off in the run-off presidential vote in May is proof that politics has undergone a profound change, said Mr Fourquet. “It is within that schema that we must understand the influence of this ‘alt right’ phenomenon,” he said.
© The Telegraph

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Headlines 14 April, 2017

Srebrenica’s Serb Mayor Repeats Denial of Genocide

Mladen Grujicic, the first Serb mayor of Srebrenica, has again said that he does not accept that the massacres of Bosniaks from the town in July 1995 constituted genocide.

13/4/2017- Mladen Grujicic told N1 TV on Wednesday evening that he did not believe that the Srebrenica massacres were genocide, despite the rulings of international and Bosnian courts. “Each victim has their own weight and importance and this must be respected. But I can’t agree with the qualification of the crime,” the Srebrenica mayor said in the televised interview. He also said that in international court rulings, the number of victims of the massacres, in which thousands of Bosniak men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995, were inconsistent. He added that he was involved in research into the massacres, and claimed that he had come across “a lot of evidence” that some of the people who are recorded as being buried in the village of Potocari, where the Srebrenica memorial and victims’ graves are located, are actually alive. “The list of victims should be revised and changed,” he insisted.

Grujicic, a former chemistry teacher, is the first Serb mayor of the town, elected amid some controversy in October last year because until then, the local municipality chief had always been a Bosniak. His election raised concerns among many Bosniaks, who feared that he would ignore or even actively undermine their status in Srebrenica. But Grujicic said in the interview that despite these fears, he had shown that a Serb could represent the people of Srebrenica. “Some expected that Bosniaks would leave, that this would lead to a crisis situation. But the opposite happened, I was accepted by Bosniaks and by Serbs, as their neighbour, well-meaning neighbour who lives here with his family and wants to change the environment for the better better,” he said.

Grujicic told BIRN in an interview last month that he wanted to look beyond the war and the bitterly-contested genocide debate and try to attract jobs and new prosperity to the depopulated, impoverished town. He argued that Srebrenica has often been “collateral damage” in the endless political bickering between Bosniak and Bosnian Serb politicians. He said however that he thought that the truth about the Srebrenica massacres “has not been proven”. But he also insisted that the victims of Srebrenica must be honoured, stressing that he has not changed anything in the budget for the planned annual commemoration of the anniversary of the massacres on July 11, but has only increased the money set aside for commemorating Serb victims in Srebrenica as well.
© Balkan Insight

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Swiss high court rules anti-immigration SVP ad broke racism laws

Two executives of Switzerland's biggest political party violated laws against racism with a campaign advertisement suggesting people from Kosovo are violent criminals, the highest Swiss court ruled on Thursday.

13/4/2017- The case revolved around a newspaper advert headlined "Kosovars slice up Swiss" that was part of a far-right Swiss People's Party (SVP) campaign to limit immigration. The SVP, with nearly a third of seats in parliament, created the advert after a 2011 knife attack involving an aggressor of Kosovar heritage and a Swiss victim. The Federal Supreme Court in Lausanne upheld the convictions of former SVP Secretary General Martin Baltisser and his deputy, Silvia Baer, on charges of racial discrimination, ruling their ad painted people from Kosovo as violent and undermined their human dignity. The pair had appealed against their initial conviction, contending Kosovars did not qualify as a race or ethnicity. The court rejected their argument, saying ethnic Albanians in Kosovo constituted a distinct ethnicity. "Those of Kosovaran heritage are represented as inferior and a hostile climate against them is created ... as well as the idea that people from Kosovar are not welcome," the court said in a statement. "As the lower court rightly concluded, this fulfils fundamental conditions of discrimination and disparagement and the call to hate or discrimination."

Switzerland's Kosovar population numbers 111,000, Federal Statistics Office data show. Many left the Balkans amid wars in the 1990s. The SVP is known in Switzerland for anti-immigration campaign advertisements as well as posters that some view as racist, including characterisations of white sheep kicking black sheep out of the country and women clad in black burqas. The SVP raised concern about the decision's impact on freedom of expression. "The law is being abused to silence unwelcome political opponents," the party said in a statement. "Such developments in a country that places high value in freedom of expression are a cause for concern." Baer, who not respond to requests for comment, remains an SVP official. Baltisser, who referred questions to the SVP, works for former government minister Christoph Blocher, the billionaire architect of the party's rise to power since the 1980s.

A Bern cantonal court had fined Baltisser and Baer a combined more than 23,000 Swiss francs ($22,900). Though the ad included details of the 2011 attack in the mountain town of Interlaken in smaller print, the court said most people would still interpret its message as a broad statement, not a reference to one incident. "The average reader understands the description of the individual case merely as a shattering example of the headline's general claim that Kosovars are generally more violent and more criminal," the court wrote.
© Reuters

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Italy’s Romanians Fearful After MP’s Crime Claim

A claim by a right-wing Five Star Movement lawmaker that Romania is exporting criminals to Italy has raised fears of a possible repeat of the anti-Romanian hate crime surge of 2008.

13/4/2017- Romanians living in Italy said they fear another wave of xenophobia after the deputy head of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, Luigi di Maio, a member of the Eurosceptic Five Star Movement, claimed in a Facebook post that “Italy has imported 40% of Romania’s criminals”. Di Maio blamed the failures of the Italian justice system for attracting wrongdoers from abroad, especially Romania, while the Balkan country attracts Italian companies who invest in a system where justice works. The message sparked intense controversy in Italy, home to over a million Romanians, where the community has been targeted by hate crimes in the past. The peak of the xenophobia against Romanians was in 2008, after a Romanian, Romulus Mailat, was convicted of raping and killing Giovanna Reggiani, wife of an Italian admiral. The Italian Interior Ministry expelled many Romanians under an anti-immigration decree following the murder.

Di Maio’s statement was based on figures presented by Italian deputy attorney general in Mesina, Sebastiano Ardita, but Italian national press agency ANSA fact-checked the statements and found that in 2016, the highest number of foreigners in Italian prisons were from Morocco, not Romania. The Romanian ambassador to Rome, George Gabriel Bologan, criticised Di Maio’s assertions in a letter to Italian daily newspaper La Stampa. “Many of my honest citizens are on construction sites, their employers appreciate them and want to continue collaborating with them; others are assisting and helping alone and immobilized people; others, doctors and nurses bring hope and smiles to the ills and others, engineers, professors, researchers, students, artists contribute to the development of a country they’ve chosen for its cultural and spiritual affinity,” Bologan pointed out.
However, the controversy has sparked fear among some Romanians in Italy. Italy-based Romanian Elena Petrov, a 37-year-old legal expert, said she fears more discrimination and hate-crime against Romanians, not only because of DiMaio’s message, but also because the right-wing Five Star Movement is gaining more followers. “I’m afraid that even without Di Maio’s gaffe, Romanians, especially women, have faced harassment in some regions of Italy. When you say you’re Romanian, they think you’re easy,” Petrov said. “It’s mainly the media’s fault - most news involving Romanians in this country are about criminals and prostitutes. Of course people form these kinds of opinions,” she added. Silvia Chiriac, 30, a nurse who moved to Italy with her husband to work so they could work as caretakers in a retirement home, also expressed concern.

Chiriac remembered that in 2008, after a Romanian was sentenced to prison for the murder of an Italian woman, many Romanians feared to speak their language in public. “Many Italians still have this idea that Romanians are thieves and prostitutes. The difference is that in 2017, Romanians who work in Italy have become better organised and know where to complain if they face problems,” she told BIRN. Di Maio’s Facebook post has been shared 10,000 times and received 800 comments - many from angry Romanians, but also many who condoned his stance. One of them was a Romanian, Marius Daniel Lupascu, a local council member in Pinerolo and also a Five Star Movement member. “If many criminals from Romania and from other countries come to Italy to commit crimes, it is due to the fact that our justice system doesn't work!” Lupascu claimed on Facebook. “I mean, they are almost free to commit crimes, so you know, no one ends up in jail! In Romania, I assure you that criminals are not acting without being disturbed, as happens here,” he added.
© Balkan Insight

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Muslims, Jews faced social hostilities in seven-in-ten European countries in 2015

12/4/2017- Europe in 2015 saw a rise in social hostilities involving religion, particularly against the continent’s Muslims, according to a new Pew Research Center study on global religious restrictions. Muslims faced social hostilities in seven-in-ten (71%) countries in Europe, an increase from 58% the year before. Along with sub-Saharan Africa, Europe experienced the sharpest year-over-year increase in social hostilities targeting Muslims, with both regions registering increases of 13 percentage points. But the share of sub-Saharan African countries with hostilities toward Muslims was the second lowest (38%) of five regions evaluated, while Europe had the largest share of any region. Social hostilities toward Jews, meanwhile, remained at high levels in Europe: In 2015, 33 of the continent’s 45 countries (73%) had incidents of social hostilities aimed at Jews, a slight increase from 32 countries (71%) the previous year.

Social hostilities are defined as actions aimed at members of religious groups by private individuals and social groups. These actions can include hostile rhetoric, vandalism and physical assaults. They differ from government restrictions on religion, which also increased in Europe in 2015. Some social hostilities against Muslims followed the Jan. 7, 2015, shooting at the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks at the Bataclan concert hall and various other locations throughout Paris. For instance, Muslim places of worship in the cities of Le Mans and Narbonne were attacked by grenades and gunshots the day after the Charlie Hebdo shooting. France’s Interior Ministry reported that anti-Muslim incidents more than tripled in 2015, including cases of hate speech, vandalism and violence against individuals.

In Slovakia, far-right political groups organized protests against the “Islamization of Europe and Slovakia,” drawing an estimated 3,000-5,000 people in the capital, Bratislava, in June. Similar sentiments were echoed in Poland in November, when participants in the Independence Day marches held banners saying “Poland for the Polish” and “Stop Islamization.” Prominent anti-Jewish hostilities also occurred. In Russia in April, individuals fired at a synagogue that was under construction, breaking the windows and writing anti-Semitic graffiti. And in Italy, 25 members of the neo-Nazi movement Stormfront were ordered to stand trial in July for alleged anti-Semitic hate speech. In a separate incident in Italy in October, anti-Semitic graffiti was placed on a University of Teramo wall during the visit of the Israeli ambassador, who was there to launch a course on the Holocaust.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, the Community Security Trust reported 86 violent anti-Semitic assaults. And in February 2015, a young Jewish man wearing a yarmulke was assaulted by two men in Belgium. The next month, attackers in Ukraine severely beat a Jewish surgeon, allegedly while shouting anti-Semitic rhetoric.
© Pew Research Center

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Russia sent own right-wing extremists to Estonia for 'Nazi' labeling - Security agency

12/4/2017- Sticking labels on Estonia is typical for Russian propaganda and there have been cases where right-wing extremists have been brought in from Russia to display Nazi symbols during Estonian events, Estonia's Internal Security Service (ISS) says in its yearbook for 2016 published on Wednesday. "We have noticed a tendency to delegate right-wing extremists from Russia to Estonian events in order to publicly display Nazi symbols, which leads to media coverage of this 'social problem' in Estonia. One of the best examples from last year is the attempted provocation where the St. Petersburg skinhead Aleksei Maksimov was sent to Estonia to be captured on film as a 'local Nazi activist'," the yearbook says. Maksimov crossed the border dressed in clothes that covered his arms and legs, but when going to the memorial event for the fallen in the Battle for the Tannenberg Line, he changed into clothes that revealed his neo-Nazi tattoos, including a swastika.

"The Kremlin-controlled media was naturally eager to pick this up as an example of events in Estonia. As they had to send in an activist from St. Petersburg to play the role, it showed that the label was difficult to stick and the methods suggest desperation," ISS says. The Kremlin is attempting to make greater use of the internet and social media in its anti-West, including anti-Estonian, influence operations. This is to save costs rather than to keep up with the times or pioneer novel opportunities. Remarkably, the Kremlin's anti-Estonian influence projects had financial problems in 2016, it stands in the yearbook. "Russian media projects are being created to influence the Russian-speaking people in foreign countries and also the policies of their countries of residence. Although the desired result is often not achieved, such attempts are not being waived but are rather becoming more consolidated.

The activities of the Baltnews propaganda portals, which are targeted at Russian-speaking communities in the Baltic states and have been mentioned in earlier annual reviews of ISS, are coordinated by several employees of Rossiya Segodnya," ISS says. These coordinators also regularly communicate recommended topics to the offices of Sputnik, the official sub-division of Rossiya Segodnya. Messages of Russia distributed through the entire network are coordinated in this way. Rossiya Segodnya also obliges the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian Baltnews portals to cooperate with the Sputnik offices and to support and repeat the news they publish.
© The Baltic Times

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Hungarian court repeals village ban on mosques and burkas

12/4/2017- Hungary's highest court on Wednesday (April 12) repealed a far-right mayor's decree banning the construction of mosques and the wearing of clothes such as the niqab and the burkini in his town. The decree in Asothalom, close to the Serbian border, was "unconstitutional" and "infringed fundamental rights", the constitutional court in Budapest said. The directive was introduced last November by Laszlo Toroczkai, a vice-president of the radical-right Jobbik party. He gained prominence in 2015 when he filmed an action movie-style video at a fence on the Serbian border warning asylum-seekers not to enter Hungary. The 39-year-old said last year the Asothalom decree was aimed at "protecting the community and its traditions from any mass settlement from outside". Asothalom, a town of around 4,000 people, has few migrants. The Hungarian Islamic Community (MIK), estimated to have around 40,000 members, had called the measures "xenophobic" and asked the constitutional court to examine their validity.

At the height of Europe's migrant crisis in 2015, over 400,000 people, many fleeing the Syrian civil war, passed through European Union member Hungary on their way to western and northern Europe. Right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a strong admirer of US President Donald Trump, has taken a hard line on immigration, calling it the "Trojan horse of terrorism". Last month, his government announced it would detain all asylum-seekers in container camps on its southern border with Serbia, a plan that has drawn criticism from rights groups and the UN. Budapest has also refused to take part in an EU scheme to evenly share migrants around the bloc.
© AFP

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Hungary: Detention of child refugees should be 'last resort', Brussels says

European commission says detaining children should be ‘last resort’ in what will seen as a rebuke for member state

12/4/2017- Detention of child refugees should be “a last resort”, the European commission has said, in remarks that will be seen as a rebuke to Hungary where asylum seekers, including minors, are being held in barbed-wire fenced camps. The statement from Brussels is part of a long awaited plan to protect child refugees in Europe. About 386,300 children made an asylum claim in the EU in 2016, a six-fold increase since 2010 that has left some countries struggling to cope. The EU plan comes one day after Germany announced it was halting refugee transfers to Hungary, until Budapest stops the systematic detention of all asylum seekers. Under the EU’s Dublin regulation, asylum seekers are to be returned to the first country they registered in. Routine detention of refugees is banned.

Hungary announced last month that all asylum seekers older than 14 would be kept in converted shipping containers on the border while their claims were assessed. About 110 people were living in the camps, including four unaccompanied children, and children with their families, when the UN refugee agency assessed the camps last week. The situation for asylum seekers had worsened since the new law came into effect, the UNHCR said, as the organisation also warned of “highly disturbing reports” of police violence meted out to refugees attempting to cross the border. Vģra Jourová, the European commissioner for justice, described child detention as alarming. “The detention of children ... is the last resort solution, this can be used only if it is strictly necessary under exceptional conditions, when there is no other alternative,” she told the Guardian and other European newspapers.

The commission is calling for child protection officers to be appointed in all refugee processing centres to help prevent children falling into the hands of human traffickers or extremists. Many child asylum seekers are aged between 15 and 18. “This is a group of children who are very vulnerable and could be very easily trapped by jihadist ideology,” Jourová said. The commission’s support for detaining child asylum seekers in exceptional cases, is opposed by the UNHCR, which says that detention is never in the child’s best interests and that it increases the risk of physical and mental health problems. Hungary already risks being taken to the European court of justice for failure to take in a mandatory quota of asylum seekers, a decision imposed on Budapest in September 2015. The clock is ticking towards a deadline to disperse 160,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to other EU member states (excluding the UK) by September 2017.

The EU’s most senior official on migration warned that Hungary risked being taken to the European court of justice if it failed to meet its target. “From September the relocation scheme is ending. This does not mean it is going to die. It will continue,” said Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European commissioner for home affairs, . “EU countries who do not want to be part of our policy, they will be confronted with measures we can take,” he said, in a coded reference to court action that could land governments with hefty fines. The commission is anxious to avoid this option, which is likely to lead to years of legal wrangling. So far 16,548 refugees have been relocated from Greece and Italy, barely 10% of the promised 160,000. In a sign of retreat from the headline goal, the commission said there were fewer candidates for relocation than expected - 14,000 in Greece and 3,500 in Italy - making the less ambitious target “perfectly achievable”.

Avramopoulos visited Budapest last week and said he had raised the commission’s concerns with the authorities. “We are discussing with the Hungarians but we don’t know yet what will be their final answer.” Save the Children and other NGOs have highlighted the desperate conditions encountered by asylum seekers on the Greek islands, where 14,000 are living in camps. Young children were cutting themselves, attempting suicide and using drugs to cope with “endless misery”, the researchers found. Ester Asin, director of Save the Children’s Brussels office, welcomed the EU’s new push for child rights. “These are important commitments and we hope they will be endorsed by the member states … it is high time to implement them. Detention is never in the best interest of the child, it is never the solution. We look forward to working with the commission and especially EU member states to develop alternatives to detention.”
© The Guardian.

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Hungary: Christians call on Church leaders to speak up for refugees

12/4/2017- Leading members of Catholic and Protestant Churches in Hungary are backing an online petition calling for Church leaders to follow the example of Jesus Christ and serve the gospel rather than the state in the way they respond to the refugee crisis. The open letter, signed by more than 400 leading Christians, warns of rising concern at the 'growing xenophobia' in Hungary along with a general hardening of public attitudes and laws on refugees. It all combines to make the plight of refugees even 'more acute', they warn. They have spoken out after a new law came into effect on March 28 under which all asylum seekers will be contained in a Serbian-Hungarian border container camp.

They describe abuses of power as refugees are deported, including setting dogs on them, depriving them of warm clothes and not helping them deal with cash shortages and broken mobile phones. 'Hungary treats for their guests as potential Muslim terrorists, while most are just fleeing the violent actions of Islamic extremist organisations,' they say. Their dignity is in ruins, and the fear and xenophobia being exacerbated by media reporting jeopardises the whole ethos of helping the poor and disabled. It is wrong to 'protect' one faith while rejecting refugees of another. It is also wrong to close eyes to 'cruelty' and be ruled by fear, rather than having faith in God and the exercise of mercy.

The lay people acknowledge that Church leaders are cautious because they are reluctant to engage in politics. They plead: 'We ask you to speak out publicly to our country for humane asylum procedures.... to call for procedures to be put in place that will ensure humane treatment and basic assistance in border areas, and that asylum seekers receive the necessary medical and legal assistance.' They urge Church leaders: 'Please do not serve the state, but the followers of Jesus: represent the teachings of Christ. Easter approaches. Churches especially must the plight of people who suffer, regardless of their origin or religious affiliation.'

According to The Tablet, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's centre-right government has been widely condemned for using razor fences and armed police to restrict the flow of refugees into Hungary, which granted protection to just 425 of 29,432 asylum-seekers last year. The country's Catholic Bishops Conference made no mention at its early March plenary of the new Asylum Law, which has been condemned by Western governments and human rights groups, and also denounced by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees for its 'terrible physical and psychological effects'.
© Christian Today

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Letter to Juncker, president EC and Weber, Chair of EPP situation in Hungary

Brussels, 11 April 2017
Open Letter to the President of the European Commission and Chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament
Threat to democracy and civil liberties in Hungary

Dear Mr. Juncker, Dear Mr. Weber,
The European Network Against Racism (ENAR) and its member organisations throughout Europe are deeply concerned about recent developments in Hungary aiming to shut down the Central European University and to silence civil society organisations.

The Hungarian government has passed a bill tightening rules governing foreign universities and proposed a law requiring non-governmental organisations who receive funding from outside Hungary to declare themselves as ‘foreign agents’ or risk closure. This will put Hungarian NGOs fighting racism under pressure in a country where they are badly needed. These attacks on academic freedom, freedom of speech, democracy and the rule of law are unacceptable for a Member State of the European Union.

The reluctance of the European Commission and the European People’s Party to uphold core EU values threatens the credibility and legitimacy of the European Union as a whole. What is the point of having strict criteria on democracy, the rule of law and human rights for EU membership, which can then be violated at will without facing the consequences once an EU Member State? Further delaying forceful action will send the message that the EU treaty is a toothless piece of paper and that EU Member States adopting abusive policies are given a free rein.

ENAR is calling for:
#„h The European Commission to impose sanctions on the Hungarian government for breaching fundamental EU values of freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, on the basis of Article 7 of the EU Treaty.
#„h The European People’s Party group in the European Parliament to stop protecting Fidesz, Hungary’s ruling government party and member of the EPP group, and take punitive measures if they fail to comply with the principles of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and respect the basic tenets of liberal democracies: freedom of association, freedom of research, of intellectual inquiry…

We look forward to your reply and would be happy to discuss this issue further with you.
Yours sincerely,

Amel Yacef
Chair of ENAR

Copy of this letter to:
ƒ{ Frans Timmermans, Vice-President of the European Commission
ƒ{ Vera Jourova, EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality
ƒ{ Co-Presidents of the European Parliament Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup
© EUropean Network Against Racism

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OSCE urges Russia to investigate reports gay men tortured in Chechnya

13/4/2017- Russia must investigate reports by human rights groups that dozens of men are being held and tortured in Chechnya because they are believed to be gay, the rights arm of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said on Friday. The allegations that up to 100 men are being detained prompted a protest outside the Russian embassy in London on Wednesday. Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta has reported that at least three of those men have been killed in secret prisons described as "concentration camps". "The authorities in the Russian Federation must urgently investigate the horrific reports of human rights violations against allegedly gay men in Chechnya, as well as identify, prosecute and punish any known perpetrators," the head of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), Michael Link, said in a statement.

The OSCE, once a rare forum for discussion between East and West during the Cold War, has 57 participating states stretching from North America to Russia and Central Asia. ODIHR deals with election monitoring and human rights in those states. A spokesman for Ramzan Kadyrov, president of the southern Russian region of Chechnya and a vocal supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was quoted by Russia's Interfax news agency as denying the alleged abuses have taken place. "Nobody can detain or harass anyone who is simply not present in the republic," Alvi Karimov was quoted as telling Interfax. Link said Moscow had to step in. "Given the reported unwillingness of local authorities to investigate and prosecute the serious violations alleged to have been committed by security services, it is incumbent upon Russian Federation authorities to intervene and protect all those remaining at risk," he said.

The Kremlin could not immediately be reached for comment on the OSCE's call for an investigation. Previously, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said he was aware of the reports about abuses against gay people in Chechnya but that it was up to Russian law enforcement agencies to investigate, and therefore not an issue on the Kremlin's agenda. ODIHR is a widely respected institution but the OSCE's ability to act is constrained by the fact that it tends to reach decisions by consensus, effectively granting all participating states a veto. An ODIHR spokesman was not immediately available for comment on what further steps the organization might take.
© Reuters

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Gay Chechens Give Accounts Of Roundups, Beatings, Extortion

Local authorities in Chechnya are alleged to be out for blood when it comes to homosexuality. Human rights groups and a major Russian newspaper say that in recent months gay Chechens have been rounded up because of their sexual orientation, beaten, blackmailed, and even killed.

11/4/2017- RFE/RL's Russian Service spoke to three gay Chechen men who gave their personal accounts of their escapes from the abuse they faced in the southern Russian republic, where homosexuality is stigmatized and so-called honor killings carried out by family members are not uncommon. In each case, the men's names have been changed to protect their identity.

Said
In October, Said says, he was set up by friends he had known for 1 1/2 years. They had been regular guests at his home in the Chechen capital, Grozny, and they had spoken openly about various topics. Then came the blackmail -- one day they demanded 2.5 million rubles ($44,000) from him, threatening to publish audio and video evidence of his homosexuality if he didn't pay up. He decided not to. He sold his car and fled Chechnya -- first for Krasnodar and then for Moscow, telling everyone he had emigrated to Europe. In January, however, he returned to Grozny for family reasons. He promptly left, he says, but not before he was seen by police acquainted with his blackmailers. "Mom called and told me officers were asking for me. Then they took the phone from her and [a man called and] asked where I was," he says. "I replied that I was in Krasnodar. He said, 'Let me send a car for you, come here.'"

Said says he knew exactly why they were contacting him and declined to travel to meet them. Then, he alleges, police officers took his brother hostage and threatened not to release him until Said returned to Grozny. That evening, Said says, he received a call from his sister and other relatives; they were trying to persuade him to return. "Mom didn't know anything about me and what had happened. At the beginning, I couldn't tell her, but then I admitted that I'm gay. She said: 'That's not a problem, just come here. We know you didn't do anything bad, and they're saying that if everything they say about you is untrue then they will apologize before every member of the family.' But I realized that they wanted to lure me in to obtain information from me and then simply kill me."

One of Said's relatives, an officer, called him. "I knew that he knew and I told him: 'I'm gay.' He replied, 'I know, there is nothing left but to kill you.' I told him, 'OK I'll come, but promise that you will kill me without coming near me.' He wouldn't make that promise because he knew that they needed my acquaintances' contact details." Said never returned home, and today he is in a European country. He has ceased all contact with his family. He says he used to hear news of his family through an acquaintance from Grozny. He was told that the police had, in fact, detained his brother, and that every day police and officers of the Interior Ministry's SOBR special-police unit would come to the house and pressure his relatives, demanding that they persuade him to return. Unfortunately, he says, he has since lost his connection home, and has no idea what is happening with his family. He can't phone his relatives, he says, because he is afraid their phones are tapped.

Said says that many of his homosexual acquaintances disappeared from social networks in February and March -- around the time that Novaya Gazeta and human rights groups say that a new wave of persecution against homosexuals began. Some, he suggests, must be lying low. Others, he fears, might have fallen victim to the antigay campaign. "One of my friends was arrested in December. Then they let him go, and he gave up all his friends," Said says. "The last time I spoke to him two weeks ago, he cried that they had again come for him and were looking for him. I don't know where he is now." Another acquaintance was returned to his family by officers on the condition they kill him. "His uncle killed him. I know this for sure. He was 20 or 21 years old," Said says.

Malik
Said got away without being tortured. Malik wasn't so lucky. He was detained in March after messaging a gay acquaintance, he says, and spent 10 days in a secret jail. "We lived in a big barracks -- there were 15 gays and another 20 drug addicts," he says. "But when we arrived, the status of the drug addicts rose significantly. They were allowed to torment us." Every day in the prison, Malik says, he and the other gay inmates were beaten and humiliated. They were given women's names and forced to dance in front of each other, and were individually led away to another building where they were tortured. Malik says he was kicked and beaten with sticks, tortured by electric shock through clamps attached to his toes and fingers.

He was asked to hand over the contact details of other homosexuals, but he had had time to delete all such information from his phone and gave up no names. "They constantly threatened to kill us," he says. "I knew that I might not get out alive, but I would rather die myself than ruin someone else's life." He and the other gay inmates slept on a bare floor with no covers, unlike the drug addicts, who slept on beds. "They were hot and opened the windows, but they had taken even our coats away," Malik recalls. "There was nothing for us to cover ourselves with." They were allowed to go to the toilet three times a day: morning, afternoon, evening. Malik was offered the chance to buy his freedom for 1 million rubles (about $17,500) -- money he didn't have. Nonetheless, he does not believe his captors' primary objective was extortion. "They were discussing among themselves how they must fight against people like us, and they told us not to do this ever again," Malik says. "It was a preventive action to stop [homosexuality]."

Ten days later, he says, the homosexual inmates were lined up in a row in the barracks and humiliated, one by one, in front of their relatives. Then they were handed over. Malik was taken home and hid in his room. His father came to his room with a metal pipe in hand. "I told him to wait. I took off my T-shirt and showed him that I was already entirely blue [with bruising] -- what's left to beat? He left and didn't talk to me again." Malik waited for his bruises to heal and then fled Grozny. He says he doesn't know what happened to the others. All of them, he says, have deleted their accounts from VKontakte (VK), the popular Russian social network. He learned on VK that the relatives of one were being offered condolences. Malik believes that person may have been killed by his relatives.

Khasan
Khasan, 23, left his home as he always did, carrying a small backpack. But instead of going to work, he went to the airport and flew away, leaving Grozny -- and Chechnya -- forever. Looking back at his situation, he says he had read about mass arrests of gays that reportedly took place in the beginning of March, but didn't take it seriously. He says he thought they were probably talking about past, isolated, cases of homosexuals being set up. "Then, at the end of March, a woman called, crying, sobbing, and saying that her son [a friend of Khasan's] had disappeared," he says. "[She] asked if he wasn't at my place. He wasn't at mine. He's 19 years old. He's also...in the know," Khasan adds, a euphemism he uses because he considers the word "gay" to be taboo.

Other acquaintances began to disappear, he says. "I didn't sleep for several days, I stood by the window at night, waiting for them [the police] to come for me," Khasan says. "I didn't eat a thing all day.... I had been writing to a friend on WhatsApp -- he had my number. They could have come at any moment." Khasan had already been caught in a setup. Last fall he met a man on VK, messaged him over the course of a month, and arranged to meet with him. When he finally saw him, he realized that the man had not been sending photos of himself, Khasan says. But the man gave assurances, saying that he sent false pictures out of fear. "He said, 'Let's go to my place.' He said he had an apartment in Grozny but it was not empty, and that he had a dacha out of town."

"I said, 'OK, let's go.' I got in the car. We drove. We were chatting normally. There was nothing to suggest I was being set up," Khasan recalls. "And then he turned into a forest and I saw three people. I immediately understood that this was a setup, I was shocked. I said, 'Please, you don't need to do this.' He said, 'We will discuss this now.'" Khasan says the three men in the woods were dressed in black military uniform with insignia and stripes -- he recognized them as the officers of the SOBR special-police unit of the Interior Ministry. "They stripped me naked. One filmed me on his telephone. Three of them beat me. They kicked me, broke my jaw. They said that this is a gay and that there shouldn't be defects like this in Chechnya." They took Khasan's telephone, which had the contacts of friends and relatives. They threatened to post the video of him on the Internet and asked for 300,000 rubles ($5,260) in exchange for their silence.

When he got home, he says, no one saw the bruising on Khasan's body. He says he told his family that his broken jaw was from a fight. Khasan had two months to raise the money. He sold his computer and borrowed from his relatives under various pretexts.
Translated by Tom Balmforth in Moscow, based on reporting by RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Sergei Khasov-Cassia
© RFE/RL

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The coded language of the alt-right is helping to power its rise

By Steven Petrow Columnist, Civilities 

10/4/2017- I’ve always said that I appreciate all my readers, both those who agree with me and those who don’t. But lately I’ve been puzzled by the new slurs directed at me by some of the latter. Many I didn’t even understand, so I did some digging. Apparently, tried-and-true insults such as “fag,” “fairy,” “kike” and “hebe” (yes, I’m Jewish) are old-school, especially among the alt-right. That small, far-right movement that seeks a whites-only state is developing new coded language, much as the Nazis once did, says noted linguist George Lakoff, a professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley.

For instance, in February I wrote about Milo Yiannopoulos, the now-disgraced Breitbart News editor and alt-right poster boy. I heard from many readers about that column, which took Yiannopoulos to task for his incendiary language. But one email caught my eye: “Milo is far less bigoted, misogynist, and hateful than those of you sick sociopathic and psychotic SJW’s who smear him so desperately.” Sick, sociopathic and psychotic, I knew. But SJW? I had no clue. In a personal ad it might mean “straight Jewish woman,” but two of those don’t apply to me. So what was this snarky new gem of an insult? I emailed back, “What is an SJW?” The reply: “An SJW is a social justice warrior. In the press, this particular public predator tends to be big on PC [political correctness] virtue signaling but happy to smear others viciously with false accusations of sexism, racism, white nationalism, hate speech, etc.”

Well, that was certainly clear — I’m a “public predator” allegedly guilty of smearing Yiannopoulos by referring to his very own, widely reported hateful language. I started looking into other slurs readers hurled at me. There was “libtard,” and one I really liked at first — “snowflake,” because they’re magical, in moderation. But here’s the nasty undercurrent: These new words are intrinsic to the alt-right’s rise, according to Lakoff. He connects this to the Nazis and the coded language (prime example: “the master race”) that eventually allowed them to topple governmental institutions. “The strategy is to control discourse,” Lakoff points out. “One way you do that is preemptive name calling . . . based on a moral hierarchy.”

I asked what he meant by a moral hierarchy. “God above man, man above nature, men above women. The strong above the weak. Christians above gays,” he said, continuing with even more examples. Lakoff emphasized that this is different from the Democrats’ labeling some conservatives racist, sexist or homophobic — which they do — if only because that usage is not as “canny” or strategic. Take Donald Trump’s repeated characterization of Hillary Clinton as “Crooked Hillary,” Lakoff said. Say it often enough in public, and people start to believe it, and before you know it people such as Clinton are discredited. “The whole idea is not to be civil,” Lakoff says. “The idea is to win.”

With that in mind, here’s a short primer on some of the alt-right coded language making the rounds:
œ Snowflake. This is no compliment, even if you like to think that you’re one of a kind. At best, it’s a derisive term for someone considered entitled, which to those using it includes people of color, LGBT folks, students — even Meryl Streep for her pro-kindness stance at the Golden Globes. Sarah McBride of the Human Rights Campaign told me that it’s often used against LGBT people in reference “to pronoun usage, particularly nonbinary pronoun use, and the efforts on college campuses to be more aware and affirming of people’s pronouns.” Used in a sentence, via Urban Dictionary: “Hey snowflake, Trump won, deal with it.” With one word you’re dismissed as weak, feminine, juvenile — a loser.

œ Libtard. “Lib” is for “liberal,” while “tard” is shorthand for “retard.” Bingo! If you’re two thumbs down on political correctness, then what better insult than this combination? It even allows a bonus zing at folks with special needs.

œ Cuck. I heard this one while watching Bill Maher’s HBO show several weeks ago. One of his guests kept using it. It’s short for “cuckservative,” which is a word cocktail made up of equal parts “conservative” and “cuckold.” Urban Dictionary defines it as “a racial slur for a White person that is not loyal to White Supremacy” and offers this sample of use in a sentence: “Jeb is such a cuck.”

œ Masculinist. I’m an out and proud feminist, but I’d never heard of “masculinist.” According to Merriam-Webster, it’s “an advocate of male superiority or dominance” and is often used to promote traditional gender roles. The Oxford Dictionaries use it this way, in reference to the 1990s: “The newly unified German parliament replicated the same masculinist pattern, celebrating its debut with less than 10 percent women representatives.” That’s the same as in pre-World War II Germany — and there’s that Nazi thing again.

Bottom line: It pays to increase your word power these days. There’s much more to alt-right coded language than meets the eye – or the ear. “Steven Petrow is a Social Justice Warrior, a public predator, a devotee of political correctness, and happy to tar and feather others with false accusations.” If they say it often enough, you might believe it, and then you might not believe anything I write or say. That’s their whole point.
© The Washington Post

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Czech Rep: Gov't might decide about pig farm in Lety in June

9/4/2017- The Czech government might agree on a solution to the purchase of a pig farm in Lety near Pisek, south Bohemia, which stands on the site of a wartime concentration camp for Romanies, Human Rights and Legislation Minister Jan Chvojka said on Prima commercial television yesterday. Chvojka (Social Democrats, CSSD) said he believes that the government will succeed in settling the issue by the end of its term, or after the October general election. He repeated that an expert opinion on the value of the land and buildings as well as the technical equipment on the site should be ready by April 20. "As soon as we know the value of the real estate, we will negotiate about the price with the company (AGPI which operates the pig farm) in May and it is possible that an agreement will be reached during June, that we will settle accounts with the firm and that the issue will be resolved," Chvojka said.

He said the incumbent government stands closest to completing the negotiations about the purchase of the farm and its removal from the commemorative place. Michal Kucera, chairman of the deputy group of the opposition conservative TOP 09 and Mayors and Independents (STAN), said the government promised to find a solution at the beginning of its term in early 2014 and that it has done anything for three years. But he said he believes the government will find a solution by the end of its term. The abolition of the farm has been demanded by some Romany organisations. The European Parliament and other international organisations have called on the Czech Republic several times to remove it from the commemorative place.

The camp in Lety was opened by the authorities of the Bohemia and Moravia Protectorate in August 1940 as a labour camp in August 1940. It was for men who could not prove having a source of their living. Nomads were also to be placed in it. A similar faclity existed in Hodonin u Kusntatu, south Moravia. In January 1942, both camps were turned into concentration ones and in August Gypsy camps were opened on both sites. From then until May 1943, 1308 Romanies passed through the Lety camp. They were men, women as well as children. Out of the total, 327 died in the camps and more than 500 Rmanies ended up in Oswiecim (Auschwitz). Fewer than 600 Romany prisoners returned from concentration camps after the war. The Nazis murdered an estimated 90 percent of Czech Romanies.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

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Netherlands: Teenager arrested for attacking gay couple claims they ‘provoked’ him

9/4/2017- One of the teenagers arrested for brutally attacking a gay couple for holding hands has claimed that he was “provoked”. Jasper Vernes-Sewratan and Ronnie Sewratan-Vernes were attacked by a group men who saw them holding hands in the eastern city of Arnhem during the early hours of last Sunday morning (April 2). According to the teenager’s lawyer, his client has alleged that the gay couple threw the first punch. He also denied claims that a bolt cutter was used in the attack. Bizarrely, the lawyer then went on to insist that the couple’s sexual orientation was ‘irrelevant’ to the case, reports Gay Star News. In response to the allegations, the couple told the NL Times: “We are not fighters and we can not find ourselves in that story. “We really don’t want to go into it too much. We stand behind our story and want to stay calm now. Things aren’t going too well and we are a little overwhelmed. We now want to focus on recovery.” The brutal homophobia attack sparked outrage in The Netherlands, which became the first country in the world to legalise equal marriage back in 2001, and thousands went to march through the streets of Amsterdam in protest. Despite the public outcry, the five teenagers were released from custody yesterday (April 8). “They are still considered suspects. The magistrate decided to release the boys because he saw no risk of recurrence,” said a report.
© Attitude

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Poland, New Player in Islamophobia Game

8/4/2017- Ameer Alkhawlany moved to Poland in September 2014 to pursue a Master’s in biology at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland’s second largest city. Two years later, the Polish state awarded him a scholarship to complete a PhD in the same faculty. Pawel Koteja, his professor at the institute, told Polish media that Alkhawlany was “very committed to his scientific research, to which he dedicated a lot of time and effort, and was determined to pursue an academic career.” According to activists in contact with Alkhawlany, the student had an uneventful life in Poland until last summer, when he was allegedly approached by Poland’s secret services (ABW) with the offer to inform on Muslims residing in Poland. He would have to report back from mosques and actively seek out contact with specific people. Alkhawlany refused. He said he was an atheist so he didn’t attend religious services and that some of the people he was asked to contact were from non-Arabic speaking countries so he might not have a common language with them.

In July, when the man was allegedly approached by ABW, Krakow was hosting the annual Catholic ‘World Youth Day’, attended by the Pope and an estimated three million people. Polish authorities were tightening security. On October 3, the student was suddenly arrested in the center of Krakow by officials from the Polish Border Guard. He was given no reason for his apprehension. Hours later, during which time he was not allowed to contact a lawyer, a court sentenced Alkhawlany to 90 days of detention followed by deportation to Iraq. In a letter written from detention by Alkhawlany and published in March by website Political Critique, the man said the court justified its ruling by the fact that the Polish secret services considered him a security threat.

Despite the man’s questions, the judge did not offer any explanations as to why he was considered a threat. “I have been living and studying in Poland since 2014. I have never broken the law ever,” Alkhawlany said to the court, according to his published letter. “I never crossed at the wrong light, never been in the bus without ticket! I did my master’s degree and I started my doctoral studies without any problem. I don’t want to leave Poland!” At the time of his deportation, Alkhawlany had been detained for six months without break in the detention center for foreigners in Przemysl, in the southeast of Poland. Polish authorities never explained publicly the reasons why the man was considered a security threat. However, anonymous sources quoted by Polish media claimed the secret services had information that Alkhawlany had been in touch with ‘radicals’ from abroad monitored by other countries’ services.

“The provisions of Polish national law do not provide solutions for a foreigner to defend themselves when the decision of return has been issued on the basis of undisclosed circumstances,” commented Jacek Bialas, a lawyer with the Helsinski Foundation for Human Rights. “This raises doubts as to compatibility with the Polish Constitution, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.” “It’s as if a controller gave a citation to someone waiting at the bus stop, being sure the person would go on the bus without a ticket,” Alkhawlany commented in a February interview with Wirtualna Polska. At the time of his arrest, Alkhawlany had just renewed his residence permit in Poland, which was valid until January this year. During his detention, he applied for asylum in Poland arguing that it was unsafe for him to return to Iraq, where the Iraqi military is battling ISIS in the north. He was denied asylum (the final decision following an appeal came April 4) because of confidential information provided by the security services which indicated he was a security threat.

Yet on April 5, after reviewing the same evidence provided by the secret services, the regional court in Przemysl ruled that Alkhawlany should be released from detention as he had been residing legally in Poland and there had been no solid reason for his arrest. The ministry in charge of the secret services retorted that the court ruling ‘did not undermine’ the evidence presented by ABW. To the surprise of his lawyer and those engaged in a campaign to get him released, Alkhawlany was not released from detention but instead deported on the evening of April 5. Neither his lawyer nor his brother also residing in Poland were informed about the deportation decision. Alkhawlany himself called from Iraq upon arrival to inform he had been transported to Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan. Speaking to Polish media April 6, Marek Œlik, the student’s lawyer, said “The deportation is illegal because I have not yet received any notification about his deportation. The procedure of appeal (after asylum was denied) was never completed as I never got a final notification.”

The Polish Border Guard did not respond to a request to justify the legality of the deportation. “The way the Polish secret services dealt with this case was absurd: they just picked a random person because he came from a specific country and expected him to inform on the moves of others,” said Marta Tycner from leftist party Razem, who was engaged in the campaign to free Alkhawlany. “They think that any person coming from a Muslim country is a suspect of anti-state activity,” Tycner told IPS. “They were incompetent and now they are trying to cover it up by deporting him fast.”

Law and Justice, the party governing Poland since 2015, has a nationalistic and ultra-Catholic discourse, presenting itself as a defender of embattled Poles against its various ‘enemies': the European Union, globalisation, Islam. It has overblown fears of a potential terrorist attack by Islamists – although no incidents of this kind or actual threats of it were recorded in Poland – to strengthen its control over society. Last year, Law and Justice adopted a new anti-terror law which gives authorities the power to fingerprint foreigners or listen to their phones and check their emails without any court order. It also imposed restrictions on the right to protest and online activity.

The right-wing and Catholic media, which are essential in harnessing popular support for the party, routinely associate Muslims with violence. The leader of Law and Justice, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, infamously declared last year that migrants carry ‘very dangerous diseases long absent from Europe’. Alongside Hungary, Poland has been staunchly opposed to hosting refugees under the European Union’s system of relocation quotas. Poland is one of the world’s most homogeneous countries, with over 97 percent of the population declaring themselves ethnically Pole. Despite very low rates of migration to the country, the most recent ‘European Islamophobia Report‘ showed that over 70 percent of Poles want to see migration of Muslims to Europe restricted, the highest rate among all European countries surveyed. Negative attitudes to refugees increased significantly in the last years.
© IPS-Inter Press Service

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News from France, Germany & UK- Week 15

UK: Black and ethnic minority teachers face 'invisible glass ceiling' in schools

Teachers report problems including casual racism, lack of role models for BME children, and being forced to deal with ‘microaggressions’ from other staff

14/4/2017- Teachers from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds (BME) face an “invisible glass ceiling” that limits them from being taken seriously for senior staff jobs, new figures suggest. A questionnaire sent out to more than 1,000 BME teachers revealed concerns they were being given projects rooted in stereotypes rather than encouraged to take part in wider teaching roles. Some also claimed bosses relied on stereotypes as an excuse to hand BME teachers classes with the “most challenging behaviour” The survey, for the National Union of Teachers (NUT) by race equality think tank Runnymede Trust, found a third (32 per cent) of male and 27 per cent of female teachers did not feel staff were comfortable talking about race or sexism.

Respondents said structural barriers such as racism – including assumptions about capability based on racial and ethnic stereotypes – were everyday experiences for BME teachers. In particular, BME teachers spoke about an invisible glass ceiling and a widespread perception among senior leadership teams that BME teachers “have a certain level and don’t go beyond it”. One primary school teacher of Caribbean origin said: “You can bring experiences of your own culture, get children to ask questions about culture, to lead on faith and Black History month. “[But] having to deal with difficult conversations, you become the mentor for BME, given classes with the most challenging behaviour. It’s the result of stereotypical assumptions.“ A total of 1,027 respondents completed the questionnaire – the majority working at secondary school level (51 per cent). Just more than a third (35 per cent) worked in primary schools and the remaining numbers worked in nursery, post-16 colleges and pupil referral units.

In their report, the Runnymede Trust noted that only 10 per cent of secondary school classroom teachers are of BME origin compared to more than a quarter of pupils in secondary schools being from BME backgrounds. Similarly, only 7 per cent of primary classroom teachers are of BME origin compared to just under a third (30 per cent) of pupils being from BME backgrounds. Less than 4 per cent of head teachers in both primary and secondary schools are of BME origin. “[Schools] don’t realise that ethnic minority children need role models from their own group,” one black secondary school teacher said, giving evidence for the report. “If the children see SMT [the senior management team] as being all white and the cleaning staff from ethnic minorities, that is all they aspire to be. Especially if they do not see people around them or members of their families in senior positions.”

Most of those responding to the survey agreed that role models for children were desirable, but many argued it was a necessity to protect students from being stereotyped or misunderstood. The predominant view among BME teachers was that they found the school environment challenging in that they had been forced to deal with “microaggression” from other teachers and students. Microaggression means the casual degradation of any marginalised group. “Some staff are disappointingly ignorant and do not realise they carry implicitly racist views which are usually ill thought through,” one teacher said. “There is casual racism without intention to harm, but lack of intent to harm doesn’t do much if harm is caused.” Others feared they would be labelled as potentially “challenging” or “aggressive” if they intervened in racist disputes. While many teachers reported incidences of racism – direct and indirect – within their schools, several teachers from Muslim backgrounds raised issues around Islamophobia and “existing misconceptions” about them.

On the one hand, Muslim teachers argued that it was important to have Muslims among the staff to “counter and control an Islamophobic narrative about schools being taken over by fundamentalist Muslims” and to protect Muslim students who were “trying to keep their head down during the Trojan Horse scandal”. But others said the emphasis on the Government’s controversial Prevent anti-terror strategy undermined their abilities as a teacher, or left them feeling “conflicted” about their roles as teachers, and as members of Muslim communities. “Prevent is so strong that teachers feel that disagreeing with them is seen as condoning extremism and there is pressure to ‘watch’ Muslim students and their work,” one black secondary school teacher said.

Commenting on the findings, Kevin Courtney, NUT general secretary, said racism was an issue that needed wider discussion within schools. “It is a defining feature of BME teachers’ lives and deeply affects the experience of young black people,” he said. “It is urgent we open up conversations about racism in staff rooms, in classrooms and in the curriculum. “Children come to school in a world that is not equal. BME teachers and pupils face racism in the streets, in popular culture and in employment. “Strategies to better use the potential of schools and colleges to reduce racism are urgently needed. The NUT will be using the good practice identified in schools via this research to develop practical tools for schools to challenge the effects of racism.”

Dr Zubaida Haque, research associate at the Runnymede Trust, said: “Government and school leaders should be concerned that over 60 per cent of black and ethnic minority teachers are thinking of leaving the teaching profession. “Our survey found that BME teachers were not only overwhelmed with the mountain of paperwork but they are also beaten down by the everyday ‘microaggressions’ in the staff room and the low expectations and support by senior staff in their schools. “This has led to BME teachers feeling undervalued, isolated and disillusioned with their careers.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “There is no place for any form of harassment or bullying in the workplace and the law prevents any employer from discriminating against an employee on the basis of characteristics such as race, gender or disability. “We provide a range of support to teachers from black and ethnic minority backgrounds such as the Leadership Targeted Support Fund and Equality and Diversity Fund. These fund support networks for BME teachers as well as coaching and mentoring for BME teachers in senior leadership roles”
© The Independent

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UK: Tory candidate denies BNP link despite details in database

14/4/2017- A conservative council candidate has denied being a member or supporter of the far-right British National Party after his contact details were found in a leaked BNP database. Neill Graham, who is standing in Renfrewshire’s Paisley Northeast and Ralston ward, said his name, address, and mobile number must have been included in a mix-up. The 26-year-old retail manager also insisted he would be able to represent Catholic voters if elected despite posting sharing posts from pro-Protestant groups on Facebook. Mr Graham is one of a dozen Tory candidates standing in Labour-held Renfrewshire in May. The contact details of thousands of BNP members and activists were leaked on the internet in 2008, when the party had a de facto white membership policy. The database lists Mr Graham as an “activist” using the correct spelling of his first name.

Mr Graham confirmed the address in the database was his mother’s former home in Paisley, and that he still used the mobile number attributed to him in the document. However he denied ever using the email listed, neillrfc1690nosurrender@hotmail.co.uk. Asked how the details might have ended up in the database, he told the Herald: “I have never, ever signed anything or received any information about the BNP. “The only thing I can think of is if I’ve signed a petition or something and they’ve used my name and address as if I’d joined the party. I’ve certainly never paid any money or intentionally joined a party like the British National Party. Never. Certainly I shouldn’t be on the activist list.”

In March 2014, Mr Graham shared a Facebook post by the “Proud to be a Protestant banter” group which showed a picture of the Parachute Regiment during Bloody Sunday, when soldiers shot 26 people, 13 fatally, on a civil rights march in Derry in 1972. The 2010 Saville inquiry concluded the killings were both "unjustified" and "unjustifiable". Mr Graham’s post contained the phrase “How many likes for the Paras?” He said he could not remember the post, but added: “I was probably just voicing my support for the British Army in general. The Parachute Regiment was part of the British Army, so it was nothing in particular to do with Northern Ireland, as far as I can remember.”

In 2013, Mr Graham also shared posts from the “Protestant coalition” Facebook group critical of former South African president Nelson Mandela, and joked about attending a conference of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party while on a holiday in Greece. He said: “I have no links at all to Golden Dawn. They’re clearly an anti-Semitic party and I’m definitely not anti-Semitic or anti-immigration. “I’ve done a lot of volunteer work in the Middle East and North Africa, Muslim countries. “I have nothing against Muslims or immigrants or Jews. Definitely not.”

An SNP spokesman said: “These crass and offensive posts by Neill Graham show exactly the kind of attitudes that are now deemed welcome in Ruth Davidson's Tory party. "The Tories are lurching increasingly to the right, having had to suspend three candidates for angry, racist rants on social media, apologising for candidates sharing Britain First posts on Facebook, and welcoming former UKIP members, including their former Scottish chairperson, as candidates. Ruth Davidson's party are fast becoming Scotland's UKIP." A Scottish Conservative spokesman said: “Neill Graham has never been a member of the BNP and has never supported them.”
© The Herald Scotland

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British voters discriminate candidates with foreign or ethnic minority names, study finds

An estimated 200 council seats a year could change hands due to discrimination, which declined until 2001 only to increase sharply from then on, study says

16/4/2017- British voters are biased against political candidates with foreign or ethnic-minority sounding names, an academic study analysing nearly 40 years of election results has found. Researchers estimate such discrimination could be a factor in swinging as many as 200 council seats every year – and that some types of discrimination are more intense than they have ever been. The academics examined the outcomes for 400,000 candidates from British local elections dating from 1973 to 2012 and found that “candidates whose surnames suggest a British ethnic origin perform best, while non-Europeans attract fewer votes”. “Vote share is adversely affected when British candidates are replaced by those with European and non-European surnames, while the opposite pattern of succession is associated with a boost in votes,” the analysis found. “It is clear that the outcome of some elections has been determined by the parties’ choice of candidates.”

The study, published in the April 2017 British Journal of Political Science this month after being peer-reviewed, categorised names into “British” sounding, “European” sounding, and “non-European” sounding. Using a computer programme, researchers then cross-referenced the names against Plymouth University Elections Centre's database of historic results and looked at the change in vote share for candidates relative to the party’s change in vote share in that year. In wards with more than one councillor, researchers took a different approach and looked at how candidates with specific types of names performed relative to their colleagues from the same party. The study found an average vote share penalty of over 5 per cent for foreign names. It identified a steady fall in the intensity of discrimination against non-European names from the 1970s until 2001, after which it rose again to its previous level. The level of discrimination against continental European names has been steadily rising, however, and is currently at its highest level recorded in the data.

The researchers said: “In the 1970s the impact of a candidate having a non-European name is more than 5 percentage points. This effect reduces in size by more than 1 percentage point over the next two decades, only to revert to its former size after the events of 2001 and the subsequent ‘war on terror’. “This is not yet a statement about cause and effect, but it certainly suggests that the relationship should be investigated further. In the case of candidates with European names, it appears that the level of name discrimination has steadily risen over time from half of 1 percentage point to four times that in the most recent decade.” The findings come after Parliament’s head of security warned the Home Affairs Select Committee that MPs from ethnic minorities are being disproportionately targeted for abuse on social media.

The study was conducted by political scientists Michael Thrasher, Colin Rallings, Richard Webber, and Galina Borisyuk. Mr Thrasher and Mr Rallings are well-known for their respected and long-running series of election forecasts. The study concluded: “The evidence clearly points to name discrimination among some voters participating in local elections in Britain. “As a rough estimate, if around 4,000 to 5,000 local council seats are contested annually, then the outcomes in about 200 of these are being decided, in part, by name recognition. Some of these seats will be important for determining the balance of power on the council itself. “Although the general pattern shows that candidates with names suggesting a non-European ethnic origin perform least well compared to candidates with surnames indicating a British origin, there is also evidence that other factors, including local context and time, are relevant.

“Indeed, in local authorities with a high proportion of non-Europeans it is candidates with European names that appear at a disadvantage. It is perhaps understandable that local election voters want ‘people like us’ to run their local council services. “The initial analysis of time effects provides clues that voter choices are sensitive to external events that temporarily affect attitudes towards particular groups in society.”
© The Independent

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UK: Launch Of Hate Crime Monitoring Platform For UK Sikhs

11/4/2017- Sikh Council UK is pleased to announce the formation of Sikh Aware UK, the first ever hate crime monitoring platform for the Sikh community in the UK in partnership with several supporting partner organisations including Network of Sikh Organisations, Khalsa Foundation, City Sikhs, Metropolitan Police Sikh Association, West Midlands Police Sikh Association, Home Office Sikh Association, Sikh Network, Sikh Helpline, Sikh Women’s Alliance and Gursevak Trust. Sikhs will be able to access Sikh Aware UK online to log anti-Sikh hate, discrimination, harassment and racism in all forms including all incidents of hatred where Sikhs are victims.

It is widely acknowledged there is underreporting of anti-Sikh hate crimes. In recent years Sikhs have been susceptible to attacks in particular due to their distinct identity in the form of the Sikh dastar (turban). In some cases Sikhs are the victims of hate crimes where the perpetrators are in fact motivated by Islamophobia. In response to Freedom of Information requests from the Network of Sikh Organisations the Metropolitan Police confirmed one in four victims of Islamophobia hate crimes recorded by the Metropolitan Police in 2015 and 2016 were actually non-Muslims.

Gurmel Singh, Secretary General, Sikh Council UK, said “It’s important for Sikhs that there exists mechanisms for accurately recording anti-Sikh hate crimes in order to effectively challenge them as well as provide support to victims. One of Sikh Aware UK’s aims will be to enable the effective production and publishing of research and monitoring into anti-Sikh hate crimes by Sikh organisations and others.” Ravjeet Singh, Chair of Community Safety, Sikh Council UK, said “It is pleasing to note many Sikh organisations from a cross section of the community are supporting and partnering in this initiative and we aim to increase this number over the coming weeks and months. Sikh Aware UK will be a collaborative effort and Sikh Council UK Community Safety Committee will administer a steering group of partner organisations to make this a success”.

Sarah Newton, Minister for Vulnerability, Safeguarding and Countering Extremism, said: “Hate crime is not and never will be acceptable. It has no place in Britain that works for everyone and this Government is determined to stamp it out. We have committed £2.4 million to protect places of worship from hate crime attacks and welcome applications for funding from Gurdwaras. From April 2016 we required police to collect data on hate crimes based on religion targeted, including Sikhism. And last year we published a new action plan which focuses on reducing all hate crime, increasing reporting and improving support for victims. We are seeing more people having the confidence to report hate crime, and Sikh Aware is a valuable initiative to encourage reporting and help create a better picture of hate crime against Sikhs.”

Minister for Faith and Integration Lord Bourne said “This Government is committed to preventing acts of hatred and hostility against any community. We know that all hate crime including that targeted at the Sikh community is under reported. That’s why we’re supporting this collaborative programme to encourage greater reporting. Every community in Britain should feel confident in standing up to the perpetrators of hate crime, making clear that hate and intolerance has no place in our country”.

You can visit the website at www.sikhaware.co.uk and follow Sikh Aware UK on Twitter (@SikhAwareUK) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/SikhAwareUK).
© Sikh 24

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UK: Schools turn blind eye to rise in racism, say campaigners

10/4/2017- Young Scots are experiencing a surge in racist attitudes after the Brexit vote was taken as a “green light” for prejudice, according to campaigners, who warn schools are too ready to turn a blind eye. Figures released by Show Racism the Red Card indicate the proportion of pupils reporting having witnessed or been the victim of a racist incident has doubled since 2015/2016. The anti-racism campaign says more scapegoating of minorities since Britain voted to quit the EU is the most likely explanation. However, when the Scottish Government-funded group flags up the problem to schools, they can be reluctant to fact up to the problem, according to Nicola Hay, Campaign Manager at Show Racism the Red Card (SRtRC). “When we call up the headteacher we are always met with furious hostility for bringing it up,” she said. “We are finding there is serious underreporting in schools [of racist incidents]. Schools don’t want to be tainted as racist and seem to be willing to sweep it under the rug as opposed to having an open and honest conversation with young people about it.”

SRtRC works with primary schools in the west of Scotland to deliver anti-racism education in partnership with the Scottish Government Equality Unit and Police Scotland. Workshops help young people to explore racism and topics such as Islamophobia, as well as how to challenge prejudice. However, while 18 per cent of pupils the group worked with last year reported having experienced racism, 37 per cent of those worked with this year said they had. They included white and ethnic minority pupils, including one boy who said he had been “called a Paki, being told not to wear a kilt because of my race,” and a girl who said neighbouring boys had called her a “brown b****”. Ms Hay said the figures, based on sessions with 1,500 primary school pupils over two school years, indicated a significant rise in young people’s experiences of racism. “It is likely that the spike in racist experiences is a result of Brexit almost legitimising xenophobic views,” she said.

“Young people are experiencing it more and hearing about it in the media and at home. If you ask them about migration, they associate it with people coming for jobs, housing or giros. “It is vital that we address these issues before we find them escalating any further.” In classes, 64 per cent of the young people who had witnessed an incident said it had been stressful, but most did not know what to do about it, Ms Hay said. Only around one in three reported it to an adult, 14 per cent of young people said they just ignored it, while 8 per cent said they safely challenged it. A spokesman for the GMB union said the findings bust the myth that Scotland is more tolerant than the rest of the UK. Ude Adigwe, a GMB regional organiser who himself experienced racism in Scotland’s education system, said: “These shocking figures show any idea Scotland is a haven of tolerance compared to the rest of the UK is absolute nonsense. Brexit and increasing levels of poverty have created fertile breeding ground for divisive racist poison.”
© The Herald Scotland

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UK: Victim left with 'serious facial injuries' after 'gang racially abuses and attacks him'

10/4/2017- A group of men 'racially abused another man' and viciously attacked him in Epsom town centre, leaving the victim with serious facial injuries. Surrey Police is now investigating the attack as a possible hate crime. The victim, a man in his 20s, was found unconscious on the ground with serious facial injuries at about 12.55am on Saturday, April 8, a spokesperson for the force stated. It is believed he had been attacked by a group of men near the clock tower in Epsom High Street, and had suffered racial abuse prior to the attack. The victim was taken to Epsom Hospital and has since been discharged. Detective Inspector Clare Loving from East Surrey Criminal Investigation Department, said: “This attack took place on a busy evening in the centre of Epsom. “I believe there is likely to have been a number of people around at the time who witnessed what happened and I am urging anybody who saw what happened or events leading up to the attack to contact us as soon as possible. “We are investigating this as a possible hate crime due to reports of racially offensive abuse prior to the attack.”
© Your Local Guardian

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UK: Muslim woman surrounded by 'swarm' of EDL members shouting racist abuse

Dozens of far-right demonstrators marched through Birmingham on Saturday protesting 'the Islamification of Britain'

9/4/2017- A Muslim woman has told of the moment she was surrounded by a “swarm” of angry EDL protesters at a march in Birmingham. The woman, who has asked to be referred as Ms Khan*, said she had gone to a counter-protest against a march by members of the English Defence League (EDL) because she would not allow their racist narrative to go unchallenged. Several dozens of the far-right group marched from New Street station to The Library of Birmingham on Saturday afternoon to protest against what they say is the “Islamification of Britain”. Ms Khan said she was at the back of the protest when she heard some of the comments made about Muslims and Islam, portraying them as terrorists, extremists and “a threat of some kind that needs to be tackled”.

She told The Independent: “Now me being a Muslim, I could not stay silent. I could not allow that narrative being thrown around in public in such a central location in the city of Birmingham. [It] is such a vibrant city with so many different races and we all live alongside each other really peacefully.” She said she began shouting “No to Islamophobia, no to war” when suddenly “they rushed towards me”. “It was like a swarm of them. They came at me so aggressively”, she said “They had fully surrounded me and they were trying to get past the two or three officers who were stood in front of me and the few counter protesters who were standing next to me”. She said one man tried to put an Islamophobic sign on her head while another draped an EDL flag over her face. “These EDL members were trying to get past the police officers. They were shouting things like ‘you’re not English, this isn’t your country, this is a Christian country and go back to where you came from’”, she added.

Ms Khan, who was born and bred in the UK, believes she was targeted not for what she was saying but because she was “visibly a Muslim woman”. She said: “I was so scared and so threatened by these people. “Prior to me even saying a word, when they saw me there...the sort of looks I was getting from them – they were staring right through me in a really angry sort of way. The way they were looking at me... it was like they wanted to eat me.” She paid tribute to her fellow protesters who rush to stand by her side when she was accosted by the EDL: “It was nice to see that there were some people who came and stood side by side with me and actually put their hands on my shoulders, giving me that support, saying ‘we are here with you’. I think maybe one of them was Muslim”.

A photo of one of those fellow protesters who came to her, Saffiyah Khan, smiling and unconcerned while an EDL protester shouts in her face has gone viral. She later told Buzzfeed: "I didn't feel threatened in the slightest way. Though later the 25ish individuals who were circling [Ms Khan] then came to circle me and the other individuals who had an issue with that situation." Ms Khan said the picture of Birmingham painted by the EDL and others as “the Jihadi capital of Britain” was completely wrong. “Everybody lives alongside each other in complete harmony”, she explained. “You just have to walk into Birmingham city centre to see all people of different races, different religions living side by side”.
*Names have been changed
© The Independent

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UK: Call to ban unskilled migrants for five years after Brexit

Unskilled migrants should be stopped from moving to Britain for five years to help reduce net migration, a report by a pro-Brexit group has said.

9/4/2017- Leave Means Leave, which is backed by senior Tory backbenchers, says the measure would help get net migration below 50,000. It is currently running at 273,000 a year. Anti-Brexit campaigners said such a move would cause skills shortages that would damage business and the NHS. Leave Means Leave wants to combine the Australian points-based system with plans for work permits which would come into force after the UK has left the European Union. The report is authored by independent MEP Steven Woolfe, who quit UKIP following an altercation with a colleague that left him in hospital. In a speech on Monday, Mr Woolfe will say: "We need an immigration system that is fair, flexible and forward-thinking. "It must be fair in its outlook, flexible in practice and forward-thinking for our economy. "Brexit is not about splendid isolation - it's about re-engaging with the world, without our wings clipped by the European Union."

But he said introducing "strict controls, an annual cap and a five-year freeze on unskilled migrants" would "reduce net migration year-on-year, lessen the strain on our public services and help build a more cohesive society". Asked on Sky News about claims his plan would deliver a huge blow to the UK economy, he said that view was based on the idea of a mass exodus of migrants which he did not believe would happen, adding that his plan would lead to a more gentle reduction. Conservative former Cabinet minister Owen Paterson, a member of Leave Means Leave, said the "overwhelming majority of Britons feel absolutely no resentment towards workers or students from overseas". But he added: "Mass migration at its current level has fostered resentment, depressed wages and placed an excessive burden on our public services." The report was condemned by members of the cross-party Open Britain group.

Conservative MP Anna Soubry said: "We have seen encouraging signs from the prime minister that she accepts and understands the reality facing British business - they will continue to need overseas workers for years to come. "Migrant workers contribute to our economy and to British culture - we should be welcoming them in the traditional spirit of British tolerance. "Leave Means Leave clearly don't understand why British business relies on migrant workers." Labour's Pat McFadden said the prime minister faced a choice between going "down the road advocated by this kind of plan" or taking a "more realistic and honest approach to the Brexit negotiations on immigration and other matters". Under the Leave Means Leave plan, there would be no cap on highly skilled workers, entrepreneurs or investors but unskilled visas would be halted for five years.

Work permits would only be granted if the applicant had a job offer with a minimum £35,000 salary and had passed an English language test, signed a five-year private health insurance contract and had savings in the bank. Up to 50,000 temporary work permits would be issued initially for agricultural workers, tapering off to zero by the third year. There would be no restrictions on the numbers of students who wanted to head to the UK. Exemptions would be made for health workers if they were needed from overseas but the report says the focus should be on increasing the number of Britons working in the medical profession. EU nationals already settled in the UK would have the right to remain indefinitely as long as Brussels adopted the same approach to UK citizens living in Europe, the report says. But the government should immediately announce a cut-off date for when new arrivals stop qualifying, tit added.
© BBC News.

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UK: EDL Birmingham Demo Countered By Mosque Tea Party

‘Cuppa and a chat.’

8/4/2017- Birmingham Central Mosque (BCM) is to counter a planned demonstration by the English Defence League (EDL) on Saturday afternoon with an ever-so-British tea party. Bunting, Union Jacks and a general sense of positivity will be on show in force in the hope attention will be drawn away from the far-right group’s march. The EDL will be looking to improve upon last week’s protest in London which was marred by an underwhelming turnout. West Midlands Police expect fewer than 100 protesters to attend the EDL event, taking place at the same time as a nearby counter-demonstration, reports the Press Association. Advertising the tea party on its website, the BCM said: While the English Defence League and counter demonstrators protest elsewhere in the city, the mosque will be open to all and serving tea, coffee and cakes while draped in bunting and Union Flags. The tea party will start at 11am and the general public are invited to attend and enjoy a cuppa and a chat with their neighbours.

Muhammed Afzal, chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque, said: “We would love the focus of Saturday to be our tea party rather than the protests going on elsewhere. “Our mosque is open to all and we thought the best response to the demonstrations would be to invite our neighbours round for a cup of tea.” The EDL originally planned to march in Derby but moved the event to Birmingham because the city was “frequented” by Westminster terror attacker Khalid Masood. Cross-party political leaders in the city have issued a joint message opposing all forms of extremism ahead of the march. The leaders of the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative groups on Birmingham City Council urged people to go about their business as usual during the EDL protest on Saturday.

A statement issued by the city council on behalf of party group leaders John Clancy, Robert Alden and Jon Hunt said: “The English Defence League is not welcome in Birmingham. They will never be welcome in Birmingham. “We would urge people to go about their normal everyday business. “There is no place in our city for messages of hate. There is no place for intolerance and there is no place for violence or extremism of any kind.”

An EDL march in Birmingham on July 20 2013 saw missiles, including stones, bottles and broken glass, hurled at police officers in Centenary Square, resulting in several minor injuries. More than 50 men were later convicted of violent disorder, including a 21-year-old who was jailed for three years and 10 months. Two other men were charged with violent disorder after a counter-protest held on the same day. The EDL has said its latest rally aims to highlight what it describes as a “continued increase in Islamic terrorism” linked to Birmingham.
© The Huffington Post - UK

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UK: Anger as far-right demonstration takes place in Grimsby

8/4/2017- There was anger on the streets of Grimsby, as far-right demonstrators gathered in the town centre in an attempt to make their message heard. Around 40 members of the far-right political group The National Front descended upon the town at lunchtime, after gathering outside The National Fishing Heritage Centre, before parading down Frederick Ward Way and then up Victoria Street. The demonstrators then assembled in the middle of the Riverhead Square, where they attempted to deliver their message to surprised onlookers, many of whom questioned what the group was actually doing in a town like Grimsby. A number of bystanders appeared visibly angry to see the group making speeches in the middle of the town, and a few obscenities were shouted at the group by those who felt that they were unwelcome in Grimsby.

There was a large police presence throughout the event with units ready to respond to any situation that may arise, however everything passed off peacefully, and following the commencement of the organisation's speeches, they were quickly moved on again. National organiser of the National Front Kevin Brown said: "We had thought about places to hold our rally where we may receive as little opposition as possible, and that also has a lot of heritage from the past, and we finally settled on Grimsby." However, many onlookers felt that the group should not be welcome in the town, and didn't want their "hateful" message promoted. Chris Osborne said: "It's disgusting that they are allowed to march here in the town. "My grandfather lost three brothers in the war, and I know that they would hate to see this happening in their town. "We lost thousands of soldiers fighting fascism and they would be disgusted to see a demonstration like this."

Jon Rowett was very frustrated that there was not a larger counter demonstration against the group, saying: "I think this is disgusting, we have a lot of minorities and members of the LGBT community here in Grimsby and these people shouldn't below allowed to come into town and try and intimidate them. "Their political ideology is horrible, and I am disappointed there is not more local opposition against them. If this was Lincoln or Birmingham I am sure hundreds would turn out against them. "This should never be allowed." Ryan Cook, was a little confused about why the group had actually chosen to come to Grimsby, saying: "I don't think these guys have any relevance in Grimsby, seems that they are just wasting their time. "The man is just going on and on, and while he seems to care a lot, I don't think anyone else does."

Geoff Powell felt that they should have the right to demonstrate, but said people opposing them needed to be louder in retaliation. He said: "I accept that they have the right to speak their mind, but I am positive that not one of these demonstrators is from Grimsby. "I don't believe the policies they spout, but this is a free country and they have the right to air their views. "Although we also have the right to oppose them, and to do that we just have to make more noise and drown them out." The demonstration started at about 1pm, finishing just before 2pm.
© The Grimsby Telegraph.

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Germany: Dortmund bus bomb police suspect far right activists

14/4/2017- German police are investigating far-right activists as well as Islamists after finding no evidence against an Iraqi man arrested for the attack on a bus carrying the Borussia Dortmund football team. Prosecutors called the pipe-bomb attack a “terrorist” incident and initially said they were focusing on the “Islamist spectrum” after finding letters claiming responsibility on behalf of Islamic State at the scene. They arrested a 26-year-old man identified as Abdul Beset A, and said that he would be charged with membership of a terrorist organisation for allegedly leading a unit of ten fighters involved in preparing kidnappings, extortions and killings in Iraq in 2014. He travelled to Turkey in March 2015 and remained in contact with members of Isis after arriving in Germany early last year, prosecutors said. According to Der Spiegel magazine, the man’s telephone was tapped by German intelligence and agents monitored a conversation with an unknown person last week who told him: “The explosive device is ready.” However, prosecutors said yesterday: “The investigation has not found evidence that the suspect took part in the attack.”

A second man, identified as Abdullah Al Z, 28, from Fröndenberg, about 25 miles east of Dortmund, was released without charge. Three explosive devices were detonated near the team bus on Tuesday, injuring a player and a policeman. Police said the devices were sophisticated and required detailed knowledge, suggesting military training. One line of inquiry was a revenge attack by hooligans associated with the rival football club RB Leipzig, Bild newspaper reported. Leipzig is home to a branch of the Pegida anti-Islamist movement, which also has pro-Moscow far-right leanings. Bild added: “It was said in security circles that demands for the closure of the US Ramstein airbase and the withdrawal of German Tornados from Syria in the letter [found at the scene of the coach attack] coincided with the demands of the Leipzig Pegida branch.”
© The Times

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Germany suspends migrant returns to Hungary

Hungary’s been criticized for detaining migrants in camps on its border with Serbia.

11/4/2017- Germany has stopped sending migrants back to Hungary until it can be sure that those transferred “will be dealt with according to European procedures,” a spokesperson for the German interior ministry said Tuesday, according to BFMTV. “Without such assurance,” the spokesperson said, “there would no referrals until further notice.” Hungary, which recently began to detain migrants in camps on its border with Serbia, was widely criticized by human rights groups which believe the measures violate international and EU law. Filippo Grandi, the United Nations’ refugee agency’s chief, on Monday called for a suspension of all transfers of asylum seekers “until the Hungarian authorities bring their practices and policies in line with European and international law.” According to BFMTV, Germany returned 294 asylum seekers to Hungary in 2016.
© Politico EU

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German Army Probing 275 Cases of Right-wing Extremism

In one incident, a soldier gave a Nazi salute

9/4/2017- Germany's military counter-intelligence service is investigating 275 suspected right-wing extremist offences, the country’s Defense Ministry said. Of those, 143 cases date back to 2016, with 53 new cases recorded this year, Germany's Funke media group reported Sunday, citing a response from the Defense Ministry to a parliamentary question. Hans-Peter Bartels, the parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces, reported 63 incidents to parliament last year in the areas of extremism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. Several of the cases related to propaganda offenses, such as giving the Nazi salute, while others involved making racist comments online. In one incident, a soldier attacked refugees after asking them whether they were Christians or Muslims. Eleven of these incidents resulted in dismissals and others in fines, the report said. Right-wing extremism is an issue that the German military has to observe closely, Bartels told the media group, adding that supervisors normally reacted quickly and consistently to incidents. Ulla Jelpke, a parliamentary spokeswoman for the left-wing party Die Linke party, described the German military's approach to right-wing extremists as "highly problematic." "Anyone who turns out to be a Hitler fan has to be kicked out of the German military," she said.
© DPA

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Germany: Controversial AfD lawmaker to skip party convention

Björn Höcke has said he will stay away to avoid "initiating a scandal." He has criticized Germany's culture of Holocaust remembrance and been banned from the hotel hosting the AfD's national congress in Cologne.

14/4/2017- Alternative for Germany (AfD) politician Björn Höcke has announced that he will stay away from the right-wing, anti-migration party's national convention next week, saying "I do not want to give a motive for initiating a scandal," in a video posted to his Facebook page. His message gave rise to suspicions that the right-wing populists may finally be ready to oust Höcke, a regional lawmaker in the eastern German state of Thuringia, after months of top party members waffling over statements he made in January downplaying the Holocaust. "I do not want to give a motive for polarization," according to Höcke's statement. However, even if he wanted to attend, he has been banned from any properties belonging to the Maritim hotel chain, which is hosting the party convention in Cologne. The company made the call after Höcke referred to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin as "a monument of shame." These comments were made at an event for the AfD's youth wing in January, in which Höcke proclaimed that Germany was too invested in memorializing the Holocaust. "These stupid politics of coming to grips with the past cripple us - we need nothing other than a 180-degree reversal on the politics of remembrance," he said at the gathering in Dresden.

Höcke accused of writing neo-Nazi propaganda
Although Höcke later apologized for the remarks, they have continued to haunt him. When the AfD made its first concrete attempt to oust him at the end of March (a process hampered by in-fighting, an ongoing problem for the party), a document signed by several party members including chairwoman Frauke Petry declared him "too connected with National Socialism" to be allowed to stay in the party. Höcke's problems were compounded when the daily Tagesspiegel brought back long-standing allegations that the lawmaker had written for neo-Nazi publications connected to the extreme right National Party of Germany (NPD). Supposedly writing under the pseudonym "Landolf Ladig," Höcke is accused of  having praised the Third Reich and supporting fascist ideology. "I have never written under a pseudonym for an NPD newspaper," Höcke responded. Party leadership, however, disagrees. After investigating the allegations on their own, an AfD panel announced on Wednesday that they were confident that Höcke was indeed "Landolf Ladig."

Petry seeks to scratch far-right ideas
But it may already be too late. Party leader Petry has already signaled a desire to step back an association with the far-right. In a motion signed by the chairwoman last week, the AfD leadership hopes to adopt the resolution that "there is no space for racist, anti-Semitic…and nationalist ideologies," in the party at next week's convention. How that will play out in poll numbers remains to be seen, for it was only after adopting an increasingly anti-migrant and anti-Islam stance over the past two years that the AfD saw its popularity surge. According to a report by Spiegel Online, Petry has called a secret meeting of top AfD officials to be held on Monday ahead of the Cologne summit. One of the top points of the agenda is to decide on Höcke's future so the leadership can present a united front on the matter in front of the party. Petry and party spokesman Alexander Gauland have already expressed vaguely differing opinions on the matter, with Gauland seemingly content with Höcke's apology.

The AfD will be under intense scrutiny going in to the convention. Amidst criticism that her strategies cost the AfD a much-needed victory in recent regional elections in the state of Saarland, Petry has hinted that she may step away from politics if the party no longer supports her. The populists are set to decide on the candidate for chancellor at the summit, ahead of Germany's federal elections in September.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Germany’s AfD leader wants to ditch far-right ideas

Proposal widely seen as an attempt to make the party more appealing to moderate voters.

8/4/2017- The head of Germany’s right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) wants to distance her party from far-right ideologies. When the AfD meets in Cologne in two weeks, its co-leader Frauke Petry will push for a sentence to be included in the party’s manifesto stating that “there is no space for racist, anti-semitic … and nationalist ideologies” in the AfD, newspaper Freie Presse reported Saturday, quoting a motion signed by Petry. The proposal is widely seen as an attempt to make the party more appealing to moderate voters who have been frightened off by the far-right rhetoric of other top officials including Björn Höcke, a regional party leader. Earlier this year, Höcke shocked with a comment about the Holocaust memorial in Berlin when he said that “Germans are the only people in the world who plant a monument of shame in the heart of [their] capital.”

Founded in 2013, the AfD holds seats in 11 of Germany’s 16 regional parliaments and hopes to enter the Bundestag in Berlin in the upcoming September election. In recent polls, however, the party’s approval rating has fallen to single digits, from up to 13 percent just a couple of months ago, and some AfD officials have openly questioned Petry’s ability to lead the party. Last week, she made headlines when she hinted in an interview with Tagesspiegel newspaper that she might consider withdrawing from politics. On Friday, Frankfurter Allgemeine reported that Petry was planning to fight the backlash in her party by pursuing a “realpolitik strategy,” with the goal of eventually turning the AfD into a potential coalition partner for Germany’s political mainstream, similar to Austria’s Freedom Party (FPÖ).

Petry’s distinction between this pragmatic approach and a second, more radical tendency in the party drew harsh criticism from within its ranks. AfD co-leader Jörg Meuthen shot back at Petry in Frankfurter Allgemeine on Friday, saying her initiative was doomed to fail, and that the AfD had to “close the ranks, not split them. Whoever doesn’t understand and accept that can neither lead the party nor the electoral campaign.” At its party convention in late April in Cologne, the AfD is set to decide on its campaign strategy and on whether to nominate Petry as their only candidate or to run with a team of candidates.
© Politico EU

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France: Hundreds of refugees missing after Dunkirk camp fire

About 900 people in temporary accommodation but 600 still unaccounted for, including unaccompanied children

11/4/2017- Hundreds of refugees and migrants are missing and facing a night in the open after a large fire ripped through the Dunkirk camp where they were living, destroying the wooden huts and leaving the site uninhabitable. Officials spent Tuesday trying to find new shelter for the estimated 1,500 people who had been displaced. It is feared that the destruction of the country’s only official migrant camp will result in asylum seekers returning to sleeping rough along the coast near the Channel ports. During a brief visit to the site, the French interior minister, Matthias Fekl, said the government would not allow it to be rebuilt. The housing minister, Emmanuelle Cosse, said more permanent shelter would be found in centres around the country over the next few days.

Charities made an urgent appeal for donations to help people made homeless by the fire. There was particular concern about the fate of around 120 unaccompanied children, many of whom had been staying at the camp as they tried to travel to the UK to be reunited with family members. Some were taken to temporary shelter at a sports hall in the nearby town of Grande-Synthe, but charities were struggling to account for all of them. Corenne Torre, the head of Doctors Without Borders in France, said 900 people had been evacuated to safe shelters, including local gyms, but about 600 remained unaccounted for: “We just don’t know where they are.” Despite its dramatic scale, no one was thought to have been killed by the fire which broke out late on Monday night.

At the Basroch sports hall, where around 100 men, mainly from Afghanistan, were being housed, most people were in shock. “We lost everything, clothes, mobile phones, some people lost documents,” Allahnoor Safi, from Bagram, said. The 29-year-old office manager said he left his home last year because of a problem with the Taliban. “We were very frightened [of the fire]. Everyone was running.” In the sports hall, most of the men were lying on gym mats pushed closed to the wall and volunteers were distributing food and blankets. “This is just a basketball court,” Safi said. “It’s fine for the moment, but we don’t know where we can go from here.” A number of men were injured and wearing bandages, with one having stitches in his back from a knife wound. According to several accounts, the fire followed an outbreak of violence between the Kurdish and Afghan residents in the camp and most of the injuries were sustained in the fighting. Officials believe the fire was the result of arson.

Several men at the sports hall said they had seen people deliberately spilling oil from the cooking stoves that were in most huts, and setting fire to it. “They told the women and children to get out, and then they set the huts alight,” said Ali, 21, from Kabul. The Dunkirk camp had become increasingly overcrowded since the closure of the Calais site in October, and the difficult living conditions had led to escalating disputes between nationalities. Local authorities announced in March that they planned to dismantle the camp this year because of the growing unrest. Safi said there was not enough room in the huts, and most Afghan asylum-seekers were forced to sleep in the kitchens. Only about 70 of the 300 huts were still standing after the fire. Lying among the ash were corrugated iron roofs, cooking pots, the remains of food tins (most of which had exploded), and skeletons of bicycles, the rubber tires burned away.

The destruction of the camp will intensify concerns in the UK about the ongoing migration crisis in northern France, which was not resolved by the removal of the Calais camp – just displaced to new locations. Organisations working to reunite child refugees with relatives in the UK called on the British government to transfer immediately all 80 unaccompanied children in Dunkirk who had family in the UK. Rabbi Janet Darley, spokesperson for the Safe Passage project, which helps organise legal assistance for unaccompanied child migrants, said: “The children Safe Passage are working with in Dunkirk should never have been in the camp in the first place; they have a moral and a legal right to be with their relatives in the UK. The government needs to learn the lessons of the Calais camp and the fire in Dunkirk and put a fully functioning family reunion system in place between France and the UK.”

Yvette Cooper, the Labour MP and chair of the home affairs select committee, said: “We have warned for months about the dangerous Dunkirk camp, the violent and unsafe conditions and the huge risks for children stuck there alone without parents or guardians. Yet neither the French nor the British government have done anything to sort it out. They have turned a blind eye for too long to this dangerous camp and the repeated warnings that vulnerable children and teenagers were on their own at risk of violence, exploitation, trafficking and abuse.” Annie Gavrilescu, of HelpRefugees, said she was worried about the safety of the displaced lone children, the youngest of whom is 12. “We received reports that some of the unaccompanied minors from the camp are being turned away from the family gymnasium, and faced with the choice of either staying with adult men or wandering the streets.”

The charity has set up an emergency fund and called for material donations (email: calaisdonations@gmail.com), the most urgent being sleeping bags, blankets, rucksacks, bottled water, tinned food and men’s clothing.
© The Guardian.

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INTERNATIONAL ROMA DAY, APRIL 8, 2017

Czech Rep: State expects new data on Roma to boost integration

8/4/2017- The Czech cabinet and other authorities are to gain the first overall data on Czech Romanies concerning their education, employment, housing and access to health care and social services this year, which is to help the state better target its measures aimed to improve the minority's situation. The data will be available based on new assessment methods the Government Council for the Romany Community has presented on its website. Various events in Prague and other towns mark the International Romany Day today. Experts say like in other areas, it is impossible to take targeted and effective measures in aid of the Romany minority without data describing its way of living. The Czech Republic has not had any overall data on the situation of Romanies so far, since no institutions or registries have put down clients' ethnicity.

According to the latest annual report on the Romany minority, about 226,300 Romanies lived in the 10.5-million Czech Republic in 2015, half of them in socially excluded houses or localities known as "ghettoes". In the Usti Region, north Bohemia, and in the Moravia-Silesia Region, even two thirds of local Romanies ended on the margin of society. The number of ghettoes has doubled from 300 to 600 between 2005 and 2015, the report said. The state authorities have long failed to gather the necessary data on Romanies. Ten years ago, human rights minister Dzamila Stehlikova tried to gather some but her effort met with a resistance from Romany activists asserting that "a Romany census" would harm the minority.

Efforts to map the ghettoes in the country and find out the share of Romany children among students of "special" or "practical" classes for slow learners also met with resistance in the past. The planned new gathering of data does not involve any across-the board counting of Romanies either. All data the state will gain will be qualified estimates by experts and they will serve as a basis for future comparisons. For example, an estimated share of Romanies among pre-school children and students of secondary schools and universities will be available, as will the estimated number of Romanies who finished retraining courses or gained a subsidised work position. The data are also to monitor the number of Romanies who succeed in gaining a standard house or flat instead of inhabiting infamous dormitories for low-income people.

Data about the offer of social services, access to heath care and the search for step families will also be presented. All data will be provided by Romany coordinators, schools, employment offices and social workers. Many of the data are to be available in May. The situation of Czech Romanies is to be assessed based on the Romany integration strategy, a plan the government approved in 2015 with the aim to change negative trends in the development of the situation of a part of Czech Romanies. The fulfilment of individual steps within the strategy is also necessary for the sake of the Czech drawing of money from the EU funds. The country may get billions of crowns from the EU for fighting the ghetto phenomenon. About 70 towns are to cooperate with the Government Agency for Social Inclusion within the Romany integration project.
($1=24.999 crowns)
© The Prague Daily Monitor

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The Exclusion and Structural Discrimination of Roma in Europe

For International Roma Day, three writers reflect on how Roma slave labour helped build Europe's prosperity and its legacy.
By: Szilvia Rezmuves, Isak Skenderi & Violeta Vajda


8/4/2017- We have recently seen an explosion of books, articles and reference papers finally naming the oppression of Roma as an externally constructed phenomenon, based on exclusion and structural discrimination. In part because of the painstaking work of research that goes into the Romani remembrance and identity building movement, we are seeing a momentous shift in the way Roma see themselves across Europe, as a people excluded not because of their own faults but as populations kept marginal as a matter of state policy.

These arguments are made in detail by Aidan McGarry in his new book on "Romaphobia," where he identifies the exclusion of Romani populations from public goods as part of nation building in European countries. McGarry shows how historically newly nationalist states needed to point to populations who did not belong to the mythical nation state so that by contrast, they could exalt their preferred subjects and build among them a questionable solidarity. Fomenting Romaphobia (and anti-Semitism) allowed nascent nation states to find the outsiders against whom these exalted subjects could unite.

But there is another argument that could be made for the enduring nature of antigypsyism: that far from being purely excluded, Romani people have always been part of the fabric of European societies, but have been allowed to remain on condition of fulfilling the role of the least favoured in society, lower than serfs and in some instances, legally enslaved. In this way, the exploitation of Roma labor has been (mis)used to build European societies and nations. Vast wealth has been amassed by the few — specifically the crown, the church and the landowners, but also by extension by well-to-do non-Roma — at the expense of large numbers of Roma people kept in degrading conditions and excluded to make sure they don’t rebel against their lot in life. This ensured that whatever your station in life, there was always someone lower down who could do the dirty work and who could be exploited further, so that you could still survive well enough in the stacked system of exploitation that we all live in.

Adam Ramsay has made this kind of argument brilliantly with regards to how colonialism has been used to similar effect in the UK. It is now time to confront and become accountable, morally, politically and perhaps eventually economically, for the historic theft of Roma labor that has underpinned the emergence of European states, as Margareta Matache and Jacqueline Bhabha point out in this timely and encouraging article.

Vignettes Tell a Story of Subservience
Once we, the authors of this article, started thinking about this topic, we found that the proof we need to make our argument was all around us. For a start, all Europeans can relate to the following anecdotes if we take the time to reflect on our personal relationships with Romani people and communities. Those of us who are Romani can usually tell a version of the following story, recounted from personal experience by Isak: "Even now in my small village the best Roma in the village is one guy who still works for these Serbs for morning to evening for whatever they give him. The Serbs consider him ‘the best Roma in the village,’ the rest who don’t want to work for the Serbs are ‘bad Roma’, they are seen as rebellious/traitors. You are not regarded as a good person if you don’t work as a servant."

Those of us who are non-Romani, if we care to cast our minds back to our rural childhoods, will recall our families allowing or not allowing the Roma to pass over our land, using Romani workers for the dirtiest of jobs (like cleaning out stables) and paying them a pittance or not at all, or more recently, passing by Roma begging in the streets and regarding them as non-people, arrived at this station in life somehow because of their own fault. Only recently in very polite conversation, Violeta overheard a couple of Hungarian ladies lament the fact that ‘you can no longer get any Roma to clear out the bracken in the garden, they have all gone to work abroad!’ – with the implication that they should not go and work abroad since it is their duty to stay and do the unwanted physical work of those of us who have better things to do with our time.

History of Slavery Lives on
However, the small stories above are only echoes of all-encompassing and thoroughly entrenched power relationships between non-Roma and Roma: relationships that have for centuries ruthlessly exploited the work of Roma for the benefit of non-Roma majority populations. This is evidenced by the history of Roma enslavement and the persistence of feudal relationships in many countries - institutionalized or just tacitly practiced on the ground. In one of the most stark and convincing examples, non-Roma wealth in Romania (of the crown, of the church and of landowners or even wealthy peasants) has been built on the institution of Romani slavery in a way similar that the wealth of white people elsewhere (UK and Western Europe, and the US) has been built upon centuries of exploitation of black people, whether through colonialism or enslavement. Almost identical bills of sales for Roma slaves in Romania, dated centuries apart, have been documented by Romani historians such as Ian Hancock, and show an unbroken institutionalized context for the practice of slavery.

A number of Romani activists and artists are already raising this issue through their work and they deserve a wider audience. Hopefully, everyone with an interest in the subject has watched the  film Aferim!, winner of the silver bear for Best Director at Berlinale 2015. More recently, Romanian Roma actor and director Alina Serban has won widespread acclaim for her play The Great Shame’, detailing both the history and the present day effects of Roma enslavement. The official day of February 20 that commemorates the liberation of Romani slaves in Romania is a good start to teaching us more about this history and its effects that we all need to internalize. Commemorating it might help us see how not only the memory of the institution of slavery but also an understanding of its after-effects have been erased from our contemporary reality. Because make no mistake: the modern hand of the state, through keeping Roma excluded from access to public goods in a myriad of institutionalized ways, is built on this enslavement and servitude of Roma and ensures that wealth has historically stayed and continues to remain in non-Roma hands.

The same practice of exploitation lives on at an institutional level in Hungary in workfare programs that force the (mostly Romani) unemployed to work for a pittance at the mercy of local politicians. Szilvia who has many years of experience supporting Romani communities to develop advocacy programs, has noticed the following:
"What they [local authorities] are currently doing in Hungary with people in the public employment [workfare] system is that they are putting them to work cleaning the streets, cleaning the backyard of the mayor, for pay that is about half the minimum wage and should actually be given as benefits.

Roma are organized in groups with a supervisor and they do this work every day. It is very unimaginative and degrading. This makes them depend more on the system, the mayor and the local council representatives who are the ones who will run in local elections. People are classed as low-level workers, just because they are Roma. There are some non-Romani people involved in public employment system, but they are treated differently, they get better jobs, and those are individually tailored to their skills.

How they treat Roma and non-Roma public employees is very different. Our program concluded it is because of discrimination, that stereotypes exist in all institutions against Roma. This employment system is a big trap, because there is no way to get out into the primary labor market or the open labor market. Usually, the mayor or those very close to them are treating the people as their servants and Roma people themselves who work in the system get to think that they are the servants of the mayor and the local representatives
."

Most of the Roma residents are employed in the public employment system or by local entrepreneurs (mostly farmers) for seasonal works. The public employment system does not fulfill its mission because it does not motivate for transition towards the open labor market, therefore most of the public employees stagnate in this situation. In this way the public employment system conserves poverty.

Solidarity Can Teach us a Lesson
Similarly to the subservient role imposed upon Indigenous people in other places, the oppression of Roma – called depending on your viewpoint, either antigypsyism or Romaphobia - is motivated and persists as much for the economic gain of the majority European non-Roma population as for parallel and reinforcing reasons connected to nation building by exclusion. There is much that Romani and other Indigenous movements can learn from each other about how to dismantle this history of subservience and that work is happening in many ways through activists involved in the Romani and indigenous rights movements. In the meantime, it is important, on International Roma Day, for each of us to become aware of and actively do our own learning about this subject. Going after our personal histories of how we relate to Romani communities may help us understand how we fit into the larger, institutionalized system of oppression and exclusion.

Szilvia Rezmuves studied management and leadership and was a research referent at the CEU Center for Policy Studies. Currently Szilvia works as the head of the Social Integration Unit of the Partners Hungary Foundation.
Isak Skenderi is the Executive Director of Voice of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians NGO in Pristina, Kosovo.
Violeta Vajda is a PhD researcher with the University of Sussex and the Institute of Development Studies in the United Kingdom. She writes about how non-Roma identity can be reconfigured in light of critical race theory to become empowering and transformational
.
© Telesur TV

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Anti-Roma statements in the EP and lack of EU response to Roma discrimination

As recent cases of racist speech targeting Rooma emerged in the European Parliament, the European Network Against Racism calls on the EU institutions to lead by example when it comes to tackling anti-Roma racism and defending Roma rights.

7/4/2017- On 5 April during a plenary debate on Roma in the European Parliament, three Members of European Parliament made racist, stigmatising and divisive statements targeting Europe’s Roma population. In addition, it has been revealed that the European Commission is blocking a report calling for sanctions against Italy for housing discrimination against the Roma, in breach of EU anti-discrimination laws. This sends an extremely negative signal that anti-discrimination laws can be breached at will by Member States without consequences. Indeed, the Italian municipality of Naples is set to forcibly evict hundreds of Roma from a settlement. These are not isolated cases but symptomatic of the structural discrimination which Roma face across Europe, and of anti-Roma political discourses prevalent in many EU Member States, which fuel discrimination and violence against Roma.

“It is ironic that these two instances occur just ahead of International Roma Day, which is supposed to celebrate Roma culture and highlight discrimination faced by Roma”, said Amel Yacef, ENAR Chair. “How many more cases of discrimination and hate speech will there be before action is taken?” In times of stigmatisation and scapegoating of minorities, the European Commission and European Parliament need to show leadership and vocally support and protect Roma rights. A lot has been already been done at EU level to ensure Roma inclusion and initiatives such as the EU Roma Week are positive, but inclusion programmes will have no impact if racist narratives and discriminatory practices are left unaddressed. Leaving space for toxic discourses without providing inclusive narratives and actions will undermine implementation of these programmes on the ground and erode the EU’s basic principles.
© EUropean Network Against Racism

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UK: Greater Manchester marks International Roma Day

7/4/2017- Local people are the key to building cohesive communities that stand together against hatred and prejudice, says Greater Manchester’s Mayor and Police and Crime Commissioner. Speaking on the eve of International Roma Day, which celebrates Romani culture and raises awareness of the issues facing Roma people across the world, Tony Lloyd said: "Greater Manchester’s rich culture and diversity is our strength. We are a region that has always welcomed people from a wide-range of backgrounds, bringing communities together to learn, share and celebrate.

“On International Roma Day we remind ourselves that sadly many Roma people have been victims of hatred, fuelled by misinformation and ignorance. We will not tolerate hate crime in Greater Manchester and will continue to challenge prejudice and build understanding. “As we continue on our journey to create a stronger Greater Manchester, free from hatred and fear, I encourage each and every person to join me in a renewed commitment to stand together against hate. Whether it’s speaking out against those who spew hatred, bringing neighbours together to learn about different cultures and values, or talking to your children about respect and tolerance, we can each play our part.” International Roma Day is an annual event that takes place on the 8 April.
© Rochdale Online

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UK: Commissioner: Hate crime against gypsy and traveller community ‘never acceptable’

A police commissioner has said that anyone committing hate crimes against the gypsy and traveller community in Lincolnshire will be identified and prosecuted.

4/4/2017- Humberside Police and Crime Commissioner Keith Hunter has said that the force will make “every effort” to ensure hateful comments made by residents online do not go unchallenged. The PCC said that although some problems exist when travellers arrive in an area, there would be zero tolerance of racial hatred or violence. He said: “When travellers do visit the area we are faced with the same issues year after year of some unauthorised encampments, with local residents and others reacting to both the encampments themselves and making online comments on the media reports which often accompany such activity. “Any issues that do exist or develop need to be addressed in a measured, proportionate and legal way and should be taken in balance with the lack of provision of provided stopover sites by local authorities, which is a requirement.

“It is a mark of a civilised society as to how it deals with people who live within it, perhaps with a way of life out of the norm, which may provide challenges to agencies and communities. “Such attitudes expressed by otherwise seemingly reasonable people breed an acceptance of intolerance which can lead to threatening words and behaviour by those with a propensity to such language and behaviour. “When that occurs and remains unchallenged, history shows us we are on a very dangerous path. “As Police and Crime Commissioner I will not allow it to go unchallenged, that includes threatening comments made by the public on the websites and Facebook pages of media outlets and all other forms of social media.”
© The Linconshire Reporter

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Headlines 7 April, 2017

Slovenia Urged to Ban Croatian Nationalist Singer

Politicians called for Croatian singer Marko Perkovic Thompson to be barred from playing a concert in Slovenia, alleging his nationalist lyrics incite hatred, but organisers insist there is no legal basis for a ban.

6/4/2017- The mayor of Maribor, Andrej Fistravec, said that Marko Perkovic Thompson’s concert on May 20 in the south-eastern Slovenian city should not take place, claiming that the Croatian singer promotes fascism, media reported on Wednesday. “In Maribor there is no place for iconography and symbolism causing further division after World War II, and there is no room for fascism,” Fistravec told Slovenian News Agency, STA. “World War II caused much unnecessary destruction, pain and tragedy... I can’t sympathise with any form of Nazism or fascism,” he added. Fistravec cited Thompson’s use of the Croatian WWII Ustasa fascist chant ‘Za dom spremni’ (‘Ready for the Home(land)’) in his 1991 wartime song ‘Cavoglave’, as well as his songs explicitly connected the Ustasa movement. In 2009, his performance of the Ustasa-praising song, ‘Jasenovac and Gradiska Stara’ – the names of Ustasa concentration camps – shocked Croatia and the region.

Several mayors of Slovenian other cities and towns said they agreed with Fistravec on Wednesday. Ljubljana mayor Zoran Jankovic said that the capital, “as a hero city that… rebelled against fascism and Nazism, has difficulty in accepting someone who denies respect for diversity… and peaceful coexistence among nations”.As well as the politicians, a number of NGOs said they opposed the concert taking place, while over 800 Slovenians signed an online petition, claiming that his concert breaches the constitution and the criminal code,by “glorifying fascism, Nazism and intolerance”. But Milan Trol, a Slovenian musician who is one of the concert organisers, said that critics of the event were misinformed and that there are no legal grounds to ban the concert. “He’s not banned from entering Slovenia as far as I know, so there is nothing in the way of organising his concert here,” Trol told BIRN. “If you ask me, Marko Perkovic Thompson is a great man and a great musician, plus a patriot,” Trol added, insisting that the singer does not call for violence and hatred.

Thomspon’s agent, Denis Pletikosa, did not respond to BIRN’s inquiries. Planned concerts by Thompson have been banned in the past in Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sarajevo and the Croatian coastal town of Pula. But the Lent festival hall in Maribor, where the concert will take place, told BIRN that there are no grounds for banning the event so far. But it said that “the entire responsibility for any eventual breaches of the law lie with the organiser”. Information about the concert on the website Eventim.si – where tickets can be bought – warns that “[if] the slightest suspicion is established about people who may cause and spread intolerance, hate speech and provocations… entrance to the concert venue will be strictly prohibited despite the fact that they have a valid ticket”. There is no similar warning in announcements about any of the other concerts for which tickets are being sold on the website.

Thompson is known for controversial songs like ‘Anica kninska kraljica’ (‘Anica the Queen of Knin’), which includes the lyric “I’ll set Krajina on fire all the way to Knin”, a reference to the rebel Serbs’ self-proclaimed wartime statelet, the Republic of Serbian Krajina, which was crushed by the Croatian military during Operation Storm in 1995. Some 80,000 people watched Thompson celebrate the 20th anniversary of Operation Storm in 2015, many chanting “Kill a Serb” and “Za dom spremni”.
© Balkan Insight

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Russia: After St. Petersburg bombing, a notable absence anti-Islam backlash

In the US and Europe, a terrorist attack carried out by a Muslim would drive harsh political blowback against Islam. That didn't happen in Russia – but that's not necessarily a sign of enlightenment.

6/4/2017- Monday's terrorist bombing in St. Petersburg appears to bring Russia and the West closer in many ways. Unlike past terrorist attacks against Russia's heartland, which were rooted in Moscow's savage war to subdue a local insurgency in the north Caucasus, this one was carried out by a Muslim immigrant who security services say had apparent links to Middle East extremists. That tracks pretty closely with the frequent attacks that have recently struck European countries, whose armed forces are also fighting against jihadism in the Middle East. So too does the public response of rallying around the victims and redoubling official determination to destroy the terrorists in their desert lairs. But there is one thing that looks remarkably different: the absence of the type of public backlash against Islam that is increasingly frequent in the West. There have been no public calls for a ban on all Muslim immigration, or crackdowns on local Islamic communities, or even demands to build a wall along Russia's long and porous border with Muslim-majority Central Asian neighbors.

The seeming lack of vocal, angry public anti-Muslim sentiment in Russia, even after a mass casualty terrorist assault, has even led some commentators to suggest that Russia might have something to teach the West about tolerance-driven integration. The reality may be more complicated. Analysts say that Russia's mainly white Christian population is no less susceptible to the fears and hatreds that are roiling Western societies. But they are held in check by a host of factors: a political culture that forcibly marginalizes extremisms of all kinds and limits their access to the media; a long history of war, conquest, and assimilation of Muslim neighbors into Russian-run states; a federal structure that includes several mainly Muslim republics; and a rising Russian Orthodox Church that has been very careful to retain good formal relations with Russia's three other official founding religions: Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism.

A Muslim Russia
Despite the fact that most mainly Muslim territories were spun off into independent states when the Soviet Union collapsed 26 years ago, Russia still has far more Muslims within its borders than most Western countries do. Current estimates suggest that about 16 million Russians are Muslim, along with about 4 million migrant workers from former Soviet Central Asia, making Muslims about 15 percent of the population. Ominously, polls suggest that public intolerance toward Muslims appears to be rising in Russia, with 29 percent of Russians saying they have a "favorable" attitude toward Muslims in a January 2015 survey by the independent Levada Center, compared with 50 percent seven years earlier. The numbers who said they had a "negative" view of Muslims rose from 8 percent to 14 percent over the same period, with most of the remainder expressing a "neutral" attitude.

But the brand of Islamophobia that virtually equates the Islamic faith with a propensity for terrorism – a brand which Russians identify in the US with some frequency – does remain a distinct fringe phenomenon in Russia. On the other hand, the picture that Russians and others have of the US may be distorted. Polls suggest that in the US, despite loud and bitter political polarization over the issue and repeated terrorist incidents, public tolerance toward "Muslim people" is actually on the rise. "The thing is, we don't have any big political movements of any kind in Russia, Islamophobic ones included," says Alexander Verkhovsky, the director of the independent Sova Center in Moscow, which tracks extremist trends. "We have a lot of Muslims in Russia, people interact with them on a daily basis, and they're used to it. Since terrorism that struck Russia in the past came mainly from Chechnya and the north Caucasus, people tend to differentiate on an ethnic basis rather than by religion. For instance, there are many more people who don't like migrants from Central Asia than those who don't like Muslims."

'We know them'
Russia has been at war with Islamic enemies for over 500 years. Over the centuries, it fought long battles to subdue Tatars and other Muslim tribes who are now part of Russia. It also waged wars against the Persian and Turkish empires, incorporating many of their former territories into Imperial Russia. Today, some of Russia's most "troublesome" minorities are traditionally Muslim people with long histories of conflict with Russia, such as Chechens and Crimean Tatars. But so are some of its most successful and prosperous regions, especially Tatarstan, which has found its own formula for quelling internal Islamist extremism and co-existing, sometimes uneasily, with Moscow. That's one reason why most Russians don't see Muslims as a faceless "other," but are able to differentiate between different groups of them, says Alexey Malashenko, an Islam specialist with the Moscow Carnegie Center.

"We've been living among and, yes, sometimes fighting these people for hundreds of years. We know them," he says. "The average Russian can tell the difference between a Chechen, a Tatar, an Uzbek, and a Tajik and, believe me, there are big differences. There is a great deal of xenophobia under the surface in Russia, and sometimes it comes out," as it has in occasional urban race riots between Russians and migrant laborers – who are especially numerous in big cities like Moscow. "But overt anti-Muslim political appeals, such as you do see in some Western countries, are absolutely impossible in Russia. Our authorities do not need or want the instability that could result from playing that card," he says. Vladimir Putin and other Russian leaders have been very careful to separate Islam from terrorism, and to make that a frequent public message. Two years ago Mr. Putin presided, alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdošan and the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, at the inauguration of the $170 million new Moscow Cathedral Mosque, a huge downtown temple that can accommodate 10,000 worshipers.

With an eye both to Russia's millions of Muslims and Russia's growing role in the Middle East, he used the occasion to condemn Islamist extremism. "We see what's happening in the Middle East where terrorists of the so-called Islamic State discredit a great world religion, discredit Islam by sowing hate, killing people, and destroying the world's cultural heritage in a barbaric way. Their ideology is built on lies, on open perversion of Islam. They are trying to recruit followers in our country as well," he said. The powerful Orthodox Church has also walked a cautious line. When Russia intervened in Syria almost two years ago, church officials hailed it in potentially inflammatory terms as a "holy war." But the church, too, has been at pains to stress that it is a fight against "terrorism," not Islam, and has repeatedly called for an alliance between moderate Christians and Muslims to combat extremism.

Familiar suspicions
Still, a more familiar Islamophobia bubbles not far beneath the surface. While Russia's authoritarian political culture keeps it mostly bottled up for now, any survey of the country's freewheeling social media will turn up plenty of small but clearly active groups who express the kind of militant anti-immigration, anti-foreigner, and anti-Muslim views that are familiar in the West. "Potentially, any foreign citizen coming here is a threat," says Valentina Bobrova, a leader of the National Conservative Movement, a small group in the central Russian city of Podolsk. "Islam ... is an aggressive religion. We feel that it is attacking, trying to seize territories, minds, and souls in Russia, just as it is in Europe." And the story of Ilyas Nikitin, a Russian Muslim whose photograph was mistakenly circulated as a suspect in the St. Petersburg bombing, is a cautionary signal of how quickly grassroots suspicion and ill-will can erupt.

Despite being cleared by police, he was subsequently forced off an airplane when terrified passengers complained, and arrived at his home in the west Siberian city of Nizhnevartovsk to find he'd been fired from his job. "You can't say there is Islamophobia in Russia," says Rais Suleymanov, an expert with the security services-linked Institute of National Strategy. "But when some act of terrorism is committed by radical Islamists, average people are quick to project all of their underlying fears onto that [Islamic] doctrine."
© The Christian Science Monitor

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Germany moves to eliminate state funds for far-right party

The German government on Friday announced steps to choke off state campaign finance for the far-right NPD party, after a failed court bid to outlaw the xenophobic fringe group.
7/4/2017- The initiative aims to deprive the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) of taxpayers' money, to which German political parties are generally entitled, before September elections. Handing government funds to the NPD amounted to "a direct state subsidy for far-right hate speech," said Justice Minister Heiko Maas. Germany's highest court had in January rejected a bid by the parliament's upper house to ban the NPD, ruling that although it held a similar ideology to the Nazis, it was too small to endanger German democracy. The NPD, with some 6,000 members, was founded in 1964 as a successor to the neo-fascist German Reich Party, rails against foreigners and campaigns with the slogan "Germany for the Germans".

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said his ministry had prepared changes to the constitution and to other laws that would have to be adopted by parliament with two-thirds majorities in both chambers. He said the idea that a party hostile to the democratic order receives official funding "is a situation that is hard to take". German political parties receive state campaign finance funds if they have won at least 0.5 percent of the popular vote in the latest general or European elections, or one percent in a poll in one of Germany's 16 states. The NPD garnered just above one percent in Germany's last elections in 2013, insufficient for it to win representation in parliament. It has also lost ground to the right-wing populist and anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), which currently polls at between eight an 11 percent.
© AFP

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In survey, half of respondents say Germany reached its limit for asylum seekers

A new study has revealed that a majority of Germans are unwilling to take in more asylum seekers. The country took in around 890,000 refugees in 2015.

7/4/2017- According to a representative survey conducted by the Bertelsmann foundation, 54 percent of the respondents said Germany had reached the limit as far as accepting asylum seekers was concerned. In 2015, the same survey showed 40 percent of people holding this opinion. "Many think a breaking point has been reached - the willingness to take in more refugees has diminished significantly," the study said. However, the report showed that Germans were still welcoming towards refugees in principle. Speaking to DW, migration expert at the Bertelsmann foundation, Ulrich Kober, said "I think it is very significant to see that that there still exists a robust welcoming culture in Germany after two years of extraordinary immigration of refugees." The researchers say that Germany's "welcoming culture" has passed the first "stress test," but that some scepticism has emerged. 74 percent of the survey's participants said they were open to immigrants but 59 percent said they were unable to accept more refugees. The refugee crisis and immigration have become big topics of debate for Germans, who will go to polls later this year. Chancellor Angela Merkel has come under fire for her famous statement "Wir schaffen das" - German for "We can do it" - in 2015, when she opened the country’s borders to refugees fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Germany: Architects seek to debunk spy's testimony in neo-Nazi murder trial

Forensic Architecture to present findings after rebuilding German cafe crime scene where man of Turkish origin was shot

7/4/2017- Nearly five years into the trial of a German neo-Nazi gang who went on a killing spree against immigrants, relatives of the victims have become so frustrated with the police’s inability to untangle the case they have turned to a an unlikely profession in search of clues: architects. Forensic Architecture, a London-based organisation started by architect Eyal Weizman have previously investigated war crimes in Syria, Palestine and the former Yugoslavia, using modern technology to search urban areas for evidence. “If a pile of rubble is what’s left of your crime scene an architect may be better qualified to analyse it than [the police],” Weizman said. For the 11th anniversary of the death of the ninth and final victim of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Underground attackers, Weizman’s researchers have turned their attention to the case of a western European state allegedly colluding in a brutal crime.

On 6 April 2006, Halit Yozgat, 21, of Turkish origins, was shot at close range inside an internet cafe he managed in the city of Kassel. During the trial of the surviving members of the NSU it emerged that an intelligence agent employed by the central German state of Hesse had been inside the cafe while the murder took place – and neglected to report the incident. When called as a witness for the trial in 2013, the agent, Andreas Temme, claimed he had neither heard the two shots, smelled the gunpowder, nor seen Yozgat’s lifeless body behind the till as he left the cafe. Temme told German public television that he had been simply “in the wrong place at the wrong time”. In spite of protests by the victim’s family, the presiding judge, Manfred Götzl, has so far ruled out investigating the role played by Germany’s intelligence agencies in the NSU’s extremist activities. 

After being approached in November 2016 by a citizens’ initiative aimed at solving some of the questions hanging over the NSU trial of the surviving gang member, Beate Zschäpe, and four alleged accomplices, Forensic Architecture on Thursday presented evidence that they hoped could alter the judiciary’s mind. Last month, a team of Israeli, Greek and Syrian architects built a model of the crime scene inside the House of World Cultures arts centre in Berlin. Using a leaked police video of Temme re-enacting the scene, as well as witness statements from four other people in the internet cafe at the time, the group carried out three “sensory tests” to determine whether the agent would have seen, heard or smelt evidence of the crime.

A video of Temme’s field of vision, recorded with a Go-Pro camera fixed to the head of an actor, showed that Yozgat’s body would have been visible to the 1.90-metre tall man as he paused to place his payment on the blood-splattered counter. Playing back a recording of a gun-shot fired from a CZ-83 pistol with a silencer, Weizman’s team showed that even in the adjacent room the shot still would have been audible at 86 decibels, the “equivalent noise of a freight train at 15 metres away”. Forensic Architecture will present their findings, on 10 May, at the Munich higher municipal court where the trial is being held. But if, in its previous projects in the Middle East, Forensic Architecture worked to fuse multiple witness statements into one complete account of events, its first German case concentrates on disproving a statement by an agent whose version of events has already been dismissed in court by one police officer as “incomprehensible”.

The real reason as to what Temme was doing at the crime scene at the time of the shooting remains unanswered by the architecture detectives. Had he been following a lead suggesting that an attack was planned at the location but simply failed to foil the murder? “One hypothesis that presents itself is that Temme had started researching a case on his own accord without permission from his superiors,” said Hermann Schaus, aLeft party MP, who is part of an investigative committee examining the NSU scandal. What if Temme carried out the murder himself? At the least, Forensic Architecture’s project may force the German judiciary to ask such questions, said Christina Varvia, the group’s research coordinator. “We are targeting our viewing lens not at the killer, but at a system that decided to accept a very strange and vague account of what happened.”

Weizman said: “In forensics, there a lot of work that goes into solidifying evidence. We close the gaps between what is probable and provable. If we can reduce the doubts around what happened in this specific case, then hopefully it will increase the pressure on the court to ask even bigger questions.” At a remembrance rally in Kassel, on Thursday, the victim’s father, Ismail Yozgat, said he would not accept the final ruling in the trial without the investigation being widened to cast light on the role the intelligence agencies allegedly might have had in the murder. “Let me repeat,” he said. “The government’s intelligence agent either killed my son, or he saw the murderers.”
© The Guardian.

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Germany: Far-right party claims to be one of few 'guarantors of Jewish life'

The leader of the far-right AfD has defended her party after several anti-Semitic scandals among its members, saying that in fact they are one of the few forces that will guarantee Jewish life in Germany.

6/4/2017- President of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, said last week that the entire Alternative for Germany (AfD) was a “disgrace for Germany” after several incidents in which AfD members seemingly downplayed the Holocaust, sympathized with Nazis, or suggested that the country should feel less guilty about its Nazi past. “This party cannot have a place in Germany, I hope that it disappears from the political stage soon,” Lauder said in the interview with Die Welt. In response to Lauder’s statements, AfD leader Frauke Petry told Die Welt in an interview published on Thursday that a Jewish leader such as himself should recognize the AfD’s importance in the country. “As a Jewish representative, he should above all realize that the AfD is one of the few political guarantors of Jewish life, also in times of illegal, anti-Semitic migration to Germany,” Petry said.

Petry also used US President Donald Trump as an example for why Lauder should respect her party. “Ronald Lauder said in the Welt interview about Donald Trump that ‘he was democratically elected, his opponents must accept that’. The AfD meanwhile was democratically elected in 11 German state parliaments,” Petry said. “Ronald Lauder is certainly democratic enough to recognize this will of the electorate.” The main incident that Lauder had commented on was when Thuringia AfD branch leader Björn Höcke questioned in January the way Germany reflects on the Nazis, calling the Berlin Holocaust monument a “memorial of shame” and saying that the country should do a “180-degree” turn in how it talks about its history. Höcke also blasted a former German president who famously called for all Germans to remember the country’s historic responsibility for the Nazis’ atrocities, saying the leader had made a “speech against his own people”.

Petry herself has sought to expel Höcke, and party leaders have launched an “exclusion process” against him. She told Die Welt that she therefore did not understand why Lauder would characterize her entire party by one politician’s statements. “Since Lauder surely knows about the party’s exclusion process, I do not understand how he can find the AfD jointly liable for these kind of remarks,” Petry stated. But Höcke’s comments were not the first time the AfD had been accused of anti-Semitism or Nazi sympathizing. In February the party said it was investigating a regional chairwoman in Bavaria for circulating a photo of Adolf Hitler with the caption “missed since 1945” and “Germany needs you”.

Last year it emerged that a Berlin party representative had in the past posted Facebook messages trivializing Nazi war crimes, while another member in Saarland was found to have sold Nazi paraphernalia at his antiques shop. And a row over another representative in Baden-Württemberg nearly split the party apart last summer. The now former member, Wolfgang Gedeon, had described the Holocaust in a book as “certain infamous actions”, and called Holocaust deniers dissidents. Jewish leader Lauder also bashed the AfD for its often harsh attitude towards Islam - the party has called, for example, for a general headscarf ban in public institutions. “This is in no way helpful for Jews,” Lauder said. “Whoever vilifies another religion cannot be our friend.”

But Petry also fired back against this statement. “An Islam that does not respect our legal system, or even fights and extols a claim to power as ultimately the only valid religion, that is to me not compatible with a free, democratic constitutional order,” she said, again making a connection between illegal immigration and anti-Semitism. “That is not defamation, but rather justified criticism of worrisome conditions,” Petry added.
© The Local - Germany

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Bulgaria’s far-right Ataka leader says he will not be minister in next government

5/4/2017- If negotiations on a coalition government work out, Bulgarian nationalist coalition the United Patriots will be part of Boiko Borissov’s next cabinet. But Volen Siderov, one of the triumvirate of leaders of the United Patriots and best-known in Bulgarian politics for the leadership of his Ataka party, says that he will not be a member of that cabinet. Siderov’s Ataka astonished observers in 2005 when his far-right, xenophobic party into Bulgaria’s National Assembly with more than eight per cent of the vote. In 2006, Siderov went to a second round in presidential elections. He was defeated in the contest to be Bulgaria’s head of state when voters of various stripes quelled their concerns to back Georgi Purvanov, formerly the leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, for a second term of office as President as a lesser-evil option against Siderov’s bid for the office with the commanding view in Dondoukov Boulevard.

The controversies that have attended Siderov are numerous. One of his books, The Boomerang of Evil, has been denounced by his detractors as anti-Semitic and as an alleged exercise in Holocaust denial. A Russophile, he wants sanctions against Russia for its illegal annexation of Crimea lifted, and repeatedly has mounted Quixotic attempts to get a referendum held on Bulgaria leaving Nato. Yet his political fortunes had ebbed over the years and through successive parliaments. After the election of the National Assembly in 2014, few had expected his Ataka party to return, after its mere showing that garnered no more than 11 MPs out of a legislature with 240 seats. But Siderov and Ataka reconciled with his estranged political partner, Valeri Simeonov, leader of the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria, owner of a mouthpiece cable channel that first propelled Siderov to public attention. With Krassimir Karakachanov’s VMRO, the threesome formed the United Patriots. With Karakachanov as its presidential candidate, and on an anti-migrant platform, the United Patriots came third in the 2016 presidential elections.

Siderov, once hastily written off for his series of convictions for public hooliganism, has returned to the public eye as an informal spokesperson for progress in negotiations with the GERB team led by Borissov on the formation of a new government. Borissov needs the United Patriots. His GERB got 95 seats in the 44th National Assembly. The “patriots” have 27. Together, they have a slim majority, just sufficient to get a government elected into power. Speaking to local television station bTV on April 5, Siderov said that negotiations between the United Patriots and GERB were going well. Siderov said that questions were asked about what was happening in the negotiations. “There will be a cabinet, and this is the most important,” he said. Siderov, whose first venture into politics was as the candidate for mayor of Sofia in 2003 on the ticket of a marginal party – he got all of less than half a per cent of the vote – said that Borissov had become “quite advanced in his development as a politician and a statesman”.

Borissov, in the view of Siderov, had found that partnership means political loyalty and respect. “Another thing that we have agreed with GERB is that there will be ministers from the Patriots, but we have not agreed which portfolios. But I will not be a cabinet minister because I have no such claims,” Siderov said. “We’ve been through different phases and it really has made us wiser. This is the situation, this is the reality,” he said. Siderov said that his party still opposed Nato and the EU, but the number of MPs they had were insufficient to fight for these ideas. During the upcoming Bulgarian presidency of the EU in the first half of 2018, “we will show EU leaders Bulgarian nationalists are by no means savages, and there are reasonable politicians who are patriots,” Siderov said.
© The Sofia Globe

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France: Why Muslim voters are not all panicking about a Le Pen victory

Marine Le Pen, who wants to ban the Islamic headscarf, might be threatening to pull off a shock election win but that doesn't mean France's Muslim voters are all panicking over the far-right, National Front candidate taking power.

5/4/2017- The name Marine Le Pen is routinely preceded by the words "anti-Islam". Even though she herself has moved to soften her image with Muslim voters by insisting their religion is indeed "compatible with the French Republic" (much to the disgust of some in her party), it’s not hard to see why she has a reputation for being an Islamophobe. She once described Muslims praying in the streets of French cities in protest over a lack of mosque space to being akin to the Nazi occupation and has regularly taken aim at halal food, the veil, the burkini, and various other aspects of Muslim culture. With experts refusing to rule out a shock Le Pen victory carried by the same wave of nationalist populism that swept Donald Trump to power, you would think France's Muslim community, believed to number between four and six million, would be in a panic with the election just weeks away. And while there is no doubt concern, there are reasons why France's Muslims are not all frantically preparing for the worst.

1. Because many voters distrust other candidates as much as they do Le Pen
When The Local talked to worshippers at a mosque in north east Paris not one singled Le Pen out as being worse than the other candidates. Amadou, 57, said he still doesn't know who he will vote for, but that he has no intention of voting "against" Marine Le Pen. "It's true that Marine Le Pen is an Islamophobe, but they all are, so what's the difference? She is the only one who will talk about it openly, while the rest of the candidates are Islamophobes but just keep it inside." Many Muslims in France feel the country’s politicians and political parties across the spectrum all resort to Muslim bashing in order to try and win votes. While Marine Le Pen might have made a name for herself as being "anti-Islam", François Fillon has been equally if not more critical of the religion. "In France there is a problem linked to Islam," said Fillon recently, who wrote a book titled "Conquering Islamic Totalitarianism" and who wants to impose administrative controls on the religion.

Amar Lasfar, president of the Union of Islamic Organisations in France (UOIF), blasted all the candidates in the election race. "They know nothing about Islam nor about Muslims," he said. Leftist candidates Jean-Luc Melenchon and Benoit Hamon might have something to say about that, so too the centrist liberal Emmanuel Macron, who recently blasted Le Pen for trying "to turn France’s Muslim voters into enemies of the Republic". But Henni-Moulai, the founder of the website Melting Book, which aims to amplify minority voices in the media, believes Macron will fall into the same trap as other politicians at some point. "Muslim bashing is inescapable, especially if you want to reach the Elysée palace," she told Al Jazeera news site.

2. Because Muslims, like many French voters, just feel disenfranchised altogether
As Mohammed Moussaoui, the president of the Union of France’s Mosques, told The Local, Muslim voters are first and foremost French citizens like other voters, which in 2017 means the same anger, apathy and indifference towards politics that has afflicted other sections of the population has also seeped into the Muslim community. In 2012 some 86 percent of France’s Muslim population voted for François Hollande and like other Hollande voters, particularly the working classes, many feel let down over the lack of real change. So even the threat of Le Pen is not enough to motivate them to vote, and with France set for record abstention rates, its clear the country's Muslims are not the only disenchanted ones. At the mosque in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, a middle-aged man named Ismail, originally from Algeria, told The Local he would not be voting.  "Many of the people here at the mosque aren't interested in politics. People here feel mistreated, they think the politicians are all hypocrites, why would they vote?" he said.

3. Because they know there are safeguards even if she wins
Even if Le Pen does pull off the type of shock populist win that led to Brexit and Trump, Muslims are confident that France’s constitution and its political institutions will hold her back from doing exactly what she wants. For a start Le Pen’s party, only having two MPs currently, is unlikely to gain a majority in the parliamentary elections in June and without a majority in parliament she will find it difficult passing any of the reforms she plans, including banning Muslim women from wearing the headscarf in public places. "Muslims, like other French citizens, will have confidence in the country's institutions that will put limits on her power," Mohammed Moussaoui from the Union of France’s Mosques told The Local. "There is the constitutional council which makes sure all laws are in line with the French constitution," he said.

"It will be hard for her as president. She will need the ability to unite people, which will be difficult for her," he added, pointing to the fact that other parties are unlikely to enter into coalition with Le Pen. His view was backed by an Algerian-born Muslim named Ismael, who told The Local: "Even if she does win it doesn't matter. I'm not scared of her. Why would I be scared of her? It's not as if she will have the power to change laws and make life difficult for immigrants or Muslims. That's why they have the constitution and the National Assembly."

4. Because Le Pen has successfully softened her image… even with Muslims
Le Pen has made big efforts to soften the image of her party – which under her father Jean-Marie (see photo below) was seen as a bastion of racists and colonial settlers returning from Algeria as well as apologists for the wartime Vichy regime's collaboration with Nazi Germany. Recently she has been at pains to point out that she is not anti-Islam but anti-Islamic fundamentalism and extremists. As she tries to widen her appeal and make herself more electable she has tried to appease fears among Muslims by stressing she feels Islam is perfectly compatible with the French Republic, a quote that did not sit well with many of her party members. Rachid, an Algerian-born man in his thirties, told The Local: "I'm a Muslim but I'm not against Le Pen. I honestly don't think she is actually racist - she is just against anyone who is causing problems. I don't think it matters if they're Muslims, refugees, from the Roma community, the yobs….that’s why a lot of people in France are uniting with her."

5. Because some Muslim voters will actually back Le Pen
Mohammed Moussaoui said the Muslim community, like the rest of France, is made of up of voters of all political persuasions, even those who will vote for Marine Le Pen. According to Le Point magazine some 4 percent of Muslim voters opted for Le Pen in the first round of the 2012 election, but that number is expected to jump this time round as the taboo around the party has fallen. These voters often find extremist Islam and communalism as distasteful as Le Pen does and her talk of cracking down on crime and battling globalisation appeals to voters in poor, peripheral areas, Muslims included. Some Muslim voters may be enticed to Le Pen over her desire to scrap the gay marriage bill, which many protested against in 2013. In the 2015 regional elections the National Front made a special effort to woo Muslim voters in the poor Paris suburbs. "We'll tell them they're as French as the others," was the message and observers say the National Front allows those Muslims who feel French first and foremost to express their identity.

6. Because many still believe she won't win
"Although the polls suggest she will win the first, they also say she will lose the second round," said Moussaoui. "We have to take both polls together." While no analyst will rule out a Le Pen win, there are reasons why it's still highly unlikely to happen

... But let's not pretend no one is worried.
Despite all this it would be wrong to say the Muslim community were not at all concerned about the thought of Marine Le Pen taking power. Slimane Nadour, head of communication at Paris’s Grand Mosque said the community was concerned by the election and the prospect of a Le Pen victory. "Today, we are a little afraid, of course, of having a National Front with Marine Le Pen that's very strong." "There's a push towards extreme right and xenophobic parties across Europe, but especially in France and obviously, French Muslims are worried." "Le Pen says Nous sommes chez nous (this is our home), but this is our home too. And we want to feel at home, and be on good terms with everybody no matter their religion or beliefs."

The Grand Mosque is ready to take an unprecedented step if Marine Le Pen, as expected, makes it through to the second round run-off vote. "If in the second round there's a risk of the Front National winning, we may call on French Muslims to vote against Le Pen." "Calling on people to vote is very rare, the Grande Mosquée has never called on people to vote for a candidate." "People are scared at the moment, in this climate of xenophobia and Islamophobia."
© The Local - France

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Macedonia: Another Romani Man Dies in Prison

5/4/2017- The European Roma Rights Centre is taking Macedonian prison authorities to court, in the second case in less than a month involving the suspicious death of a young Romani man. Jusinov Erdal died on the 22 March in KPD Shtip prison (known locally as ‘the Sixth’) after medical treatment was apparently withheld for hours prior to his death. Jusinov was 25 years old, married, and the father of a 3-year-old boy, and 1-year-old girl.

According to testimonies, his health condition was excellent and he had no special health requirements or treatment schedule in the days before he died. There are accusations from sources within the prison and those closest to Jusinov that he was being mistreated by the prison guards and doctors. He was reportedly not getting enough food as the guards were taking it away from him. The day before he died, he allegedly complained to the prison doctor about toothache and pain in his head. The doctor is alleged to have told Jusinov he was faking his condition, called him ‘gypsy bastard’, and refused to treat him. Our sources say that on 17th March, the doctor gave him an unknown dosage of unlabeled pills without a prescription, which he took these until the day he died. Many eyewitnesses that the ERRC talked to are unable to give testimony for fear of reprisals from individuals within the prison.

Jusinov Erdal died at 1:30 pm in the prison. His family were notified by his friends on the phone at about 3:00 pm. His brother immediately went to the prison to see him but was reportedly threatened by a guard and told that if he insisted on seeing his brother’s body he would be beaten, and was instructed to leave and return after five hours to take the body. The family noticed swelling around his forehead when they were eventually allowed to view the body. The testimonies of those close to Jusinov as well as others within the prison, indicate serious anomalies and flaws in the behaviour of the prison service and doctors. He was allegedly refused first aid for four hours prior to his death, in circumstances which bear a striking resemblance to the events at KPU Idrizovo on 11 March which saw the death of a 21-year-old Romani man, Andrias Redjepov.

“It is becoming more and more obvious that Romani lives are worth less than those of non-Roma to the people in charge of Macedonian prisons. I refuse to let Jusinov Erdal become just another unfortunate statistic of the prison system. I refuse to allow the death of Andrias Redjepov last month to become another tragic accident which couldn’t be prevented. These young men, and their families who were deprived of their sons, deserve a full and proper investigation into the competency of the people charged with their care. We will make sure that this issue does not go away for the Macedonian authorities.” said ERRC President, Šorše Jovanovię. We demand a full investigation from the authorities into the cause of death of Jusinov Erdal. The autopsy report must be released to the family, and a detailed report made by the investigative judge and forensic experts should be produced.

The evidence for institutional violence against Roma in prisons is mounting up in Macedonia. A full investigation and prosecution (if appropriate) of this incident is necessary to protect the rights and safety of the entire Romani community who are being routinely discriminated against with deadly consequences. This investigation must be properly undertaken in accordance with a number of articles of domestic legislation as well as Article 14 (right to freedom from discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights, taken with Article 2 (the right to life). The ERRC are providing legal assistance to the Erdal family, and collecting evidence to prosecute those responsible for the death of their son. If Macedonia are incapable of solving this issue on their own, we will take this further and ensure that any brutality, negligence or discrimination that is being allowed to continue in penal institutions is brought before the European Court of Human Rights.
© European Roma Rights Center

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Romania: Wave of Fake News 'Fuelling Divisions'

An article published on Sunday by Agence France-Presse claiming that fake news was flourishing in Romania has put the spotlight back on this troubling phenomenon.

4/4/2017- An article published on Sunday by Agence France-Presse, AFP, claiming that fake news is flourishing in Romania and fuelling euroscepticism, has put the spotlight back on this phenomenon. The AFP report said the Social Democratic-led government’s attempt in January to weaken anti-corruption legislation unleashed a wave of protests that forced an about-turn by Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu - but had also unleashed a wave of truth-stretching reports by pro-government broadcasters. Romanian media experts say news websites and even some national TV stations routinely make up news stories, partly because Facebook brings in easy traffic while Google brings them advertising. Journalists and activists say Romanian politicians also fuel the boom in fake stories with so-called “alternative facts”. While Romania’s audiovisual regulator, the CNA, has begun fining television stations airing fake and unverified news, civil society activists and programmers are trying to develop online tools to point out fake news sources.

The CNA received over 2,000 complaints in January and February alone, nearly 10 times the number in the same period in 2016. The body also fined several television stations for airing fake news or for allowing fake information on air without questioning the source. News channel Romania TV was fined more than 6,000 euros for airing a fake video during the election campaign in 2016, which claimed that the demonstrators who brought down Victor Ponta’s centre-left government in 2015 had been paid by wealthy philanthropist George Soros. Romania TV as well as another news channel, Antena 3, temporarily lost 70-80 of their advertisers in February during the anti-government protests for their biased coverage and for allowing politicians to spread false information without asking for any evidence.

During the past year, other fake news pieces have gone viral on social media, prompting many jokes but also raising concern. Some said former Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos and his spouse were both members of a sex cult, for example. When it comes to websites, Romania has no regulatory body to look at the quality of information. For this reason, a group of young Romanian programmers decided in mid-February to come up with a way of warning readers about websites notorious for spreading fake news. They put together a list of 70 websites and came up with a Google Chrome extension called “Not to believe”, which warns readers by displaying a message on a red banner: "Do some research before you believe it! Verify the information from other sources.” “We try to be as objective as possible in our work. We are politically unaffiliated and we don’t have any hidden agenda. We just support objective news websites,” the team said, explaining their motivation.

Fake news can fuel anti-foreigner sentiments and worsen political divisions, Cristian Pantazi, editor in chief of Hotnews website, said, explaining that the February protests in Romania showed how fake news can heavily influence the political discourse. During the protests, the ruling Social Democrats and their allies used different stories against the protesters, including that multinational companies were behind the protests or that Romania was about to break up like Ukraine. “The first idea, the involvement of multinational companies, was issued from the top by [Social Democrat chief] Liviu Dragnea as well by as the head of the Intelligence Commission [Adrian Tutuianu],” Pantazi wrote, adding that the claims were demonstrably fake.
© Balkan Insight

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Hungary: Pressure mounts over university law

6/4/2017- Pressure is mounting on Hungary over legislation that targets the Soros-founded Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, with MEPs calling for an EU probe into Hungary on Wednesday (5 April). Leading MEPs representing major political parties in the European Parliament told a press conference in Strasbourg that they want to see the EU launch disciplinary proceedings against prime minister Viktor Orban's Hungary. "Orban's actions against the Central European University are an attack on knowledge and democracy. Europe must respond firmly and decisively," said Gianni Pitella, leader of the Socialist group in the parliament. There has been an international outcry since the Hungarian parliament passed a law on Tuesday that would eventually close down the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest.

MEPs called for the launching the Article 7 procedure, which could be triggered by the European Parliament, and would allow the Council of the EU to establish that there is a risk that a member state is violating fundamental rights, and could give a warning to the EU country concerned. Hungary's government has already faced such calls in recent years over alleged breaches of fundamental rights and values. The key has always been the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), to which Orban's ruling Fidesz party belongs. The EPP has been reluctant to sideline Fidesz, which commends an overwhelming majority in the Hungarian parliament and faces only a weak and divided opposition. Only last week at the EPP Congress in Malta , Orban expressed a more nationalistic, protectionist version of EPP ideas, quite opposed to the German chancellor Angela Merkel's more open and European-centred policies.

The EPP group in the European Parliament has also been divided over Fidesz in recent years, but Orban's people in Strasbourg have so far managed to keep the party on their side during previous calls for the Article 7 procedure. On Wednesday evening the EPP group discussed the issue of CEU. Manfred Weber, the leader of the group tweeted that "freedom of thinking, research and speech are essential for our European identity" and that the EPP would "defend this at any cost." Weber, who had a phone conversation with CEU rector Michael Ignatieff on Wednesday, did not disclose what "any cost" would entail. Weber, who refrained from calling outright for the Article 7 procedure, "demanded" that the European Commission assesses the new Hungarian legislation. "EU needs an independent serious evaluation rather than party political debates," he said. "Once the @EU Commission has come to an assessment, we expect the Hungarian Government to comply with it," Weber tweeted. EPP president Joseph Daul, who often says that Orban is the party's "enfant terrible", echoed calls for a commission investigation.

'Unity'
But there is little the commission can do, since it has very limited oversight on educational matters, and has also lacked political willingness in the past to challenge Hungary on controversial legislation. Commission spokesman Alexander Winterstein said on Wednesday that the EU executive will "analyse the law" on the recommendation of vice-president Frans Timmermans. But he added that it does not amount to an official procedure against Hungary. He said the college of commissioners will have its first official discussion on CEU next week. In fact, the issue has already raised by Timmermans in last week's college meeting, with education commissioner and former Hungarian deputy prime minister Tibor Navracsics explaining the reasons behind the legislation.

On Wednesday, the commissioner responsible for research, science and innovation, Carlos Moedas, put out a statement saying he was "deeply concerned" about the legislation. "As a member of the European Union, Hungary has committed to uphold the common values of the EU, including the safeguarding of education. My concern is that this development may set an unwelcome precedent for the autonomy of academic institutions in Hungary," he said. Moedas also recalled that CEU, as a regional educational leader, has received 12 European Research Council (ERC) grants. However, even if the commission finds legal grounds to force Hungary into amending the legislation concerning CEU, it would be very reluctant to single out any member state when the EU-27 need unity more than ever ahead of the Brexit talks.

In the meantime, a "national consultation" is under way in Hungary entitled "Let's stop Brussels!", in which 8 million voters are asked about various issues where the EU allegedly wants to force Hungary into submission, from asylum to energy issues. An EU probe could be used by Orban to turn the mood further against "Brussels" to gain political capital, and warn EU decision-makers that any attempt to "discipline" Hungary would backfire and result in a strong anti-EU sentiment during his consultation drive.

More concern
Besides the numerous expression of concern from the world of academia, on Wednesday the German government also warned Hungary against threatening to shut down the university founded by George Soros. The legislation "raises the impression" that the operation of foreign universities in Hungary will be made difficult, "or in individual cases impossible," German chancellor Angela Merkel’s deputy spokeswoman, Ulrike Demmer, said. "Freedom, democracy, rule of law and human rights are not up for debate in Europe," Demmer told reporters in Berlin. "Germany will observe very closely the effects of this law on higher education in Hungary," she added. Hungarian spokesperson Zoltan Kovacs, himself a CEU graduate, fired back according to the MTI news wire by saying the Hungarian government regrets that the "lies of George Soros can mislead even the German government".

Next target: NGOs
Orban, who has centralised power in Hungary in an unprecedented way of curbing checks and balances and the rule of law, regularly accuses Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros of trying to undermine him. On Wednesday, Orban's Fidesz party said it would present a bill to parliament soon that requires NGOs with a foreign income of 7.2 million forints (€ 23,000) to register with authorities. "Support from unknown foreign sources could allow foreign interest groups to pursue their own interests via the influence of these (NGOs) in Hungary ... which threatens the country's political and economic interests," the bill was quoted as saying by Reuters. NGOs, many of which receive grants from George Soros' Open Society Foundation, often speak up for press freedom, and defend the rights of asylum-seekers, a group that has been targeted by Orban's government with various restrictive measures.
© The EUobserver

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Hungary: EU has tolerated Orbįn for too long. It has to take a stand (opinion)

The Hungarian leader’s latest target is Budapest’s critical, multicultural Central European University. His illiberal ideology must not be allowed to spread 
By Cas Mudde 

3/4/2017- When I was finishing my PhD at Leiden University in 1997, the job prospects in the Netherlands were bleak. I had never thought about leaving my country but wanted to stay in academia, so I looked for opportunities abroad. When I heard about a one-semester teaching opportunity at Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, I knew nothing about the place, but accepted because I was curious about living in “the post-communist world” and welcomed the opportunity to be closer, literally and figuratively, to my then partner, a Slovak. I worked at CEU for two years, teaching some of the most wonderful students I have ever taught. At that time, almost all of them were from former communist countries, from Armenia to Uzbekistan, while its faculty was largely from North America and western Europe. Today, my former students include a professor at Yale University and a vice president of a university in the region. They would not be where they are today without the CEU, which provided them a fully funded opportunity to get a top-notch western education.

CEU is an American-Hungarian university, accredited in both countries, which was founded and funded by the American-Hungarian investor and philanthropist George Soros. Although it is the highest-ranked Hungarian university in the world, and its facilities and faculty are important resources for scholars and students at the other (underfunded) Hungarian universities, its relationship with its host country has been complicated. Or, to be more precise, its relationship with Fidesz and its party leader, and current prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has been contentious. Orbán’s administration has just introduced draft legislation that could force CEU out of Hungary. This is in itself not that surprising, as CEU is everything Orbán detests: it is critical, global, independent and multicultural.

I was working at CEU in 1998 when Orbán came to power for the first time, leading a conservative but overall pro-western coalition government. Although a Soros fellowship had enabled Orbán to study at Oxford University, which helped him become the darling of the western political establishment, he had already become critical of the Soros network, which next to CEU also includes the Open Society Foundations, then the third-biggest investor in higher education in the region (after Germany and the US) and currently one of the most influential NGOs in the world. Orbán’s government discussed various initiatives that targeted CEU, including the revocation of Hungarian accreditation, but in the end not that much happened. But that was 20 years ago. Orbán had only started to flex his authoritarian muscles, but was still seen, and mostly acted, as a pro-western, rightwing politician. Moreover, it was a different global context.

The US was a strong defender of pro-western forces in the region, while the EU was the most revered institution in Europe. No central European leader could risk being left out of the accession process, as the illiberal democrat Vladimír Mečiar experienced in neighbouring Slovakia. Today Orbán is no longer the darling of the western establishment, but rather the role model of illiberal democrats across Europe, from Marine Le Pen in France to the current government in Poland. Having transformed his own country into an illiberal democracy, Orbán has become a European actor, directly challenging German chancellor Angela Merkel and her vision of an inclusive and integrated Europe. Emboldened by Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, he proclaimed in his 2017 state of the nation speech: “We were black sheep, but now we are a success story, and this is also acknowledged – although perhaps reluctantly – by those who don’t like what we have achieved and how we have achieved it. Nothing succeeds like success.”

Orbán believes that liberal democracy has had its day and a more nationalist illiberal era is here, obviously started by him in Hungary. In his struggle against “money, the media, global governance and an open global society” – a very clear reference to Soros, with thinly veiled antisemitic overtones – he feels strengthened by the new powerholders in the UK and US, while at the same time banking on the continued political coverage of the European People’s party (EPP), the most powerful political group in the EU. It should be clear by now that Orbán’s actions are not merely a domestic affair. First of all, Hungary is a member of the EU and should respect its laws. Second, Hungary has become a bellwether for illiberal democracy in Europe and an inspiration for illiberal democrats throughout the region. Hence, the struggle over CEU is not just about that unique university, it is about all universities, and it is about liberal democracy. If we don’t take a stand now, we will be fighting similar measures in Poland and other countries soon.

The time of accommodating Orbán must end now. It has failed. It has not moderated him, as EPP leaders continue to claim. Rather, it is radicalising others and hollowing out the very values the EU, and EPP, claim to stand for. This week, Merkel took a strong stand against Orbán, as he attacked her refugee policies in a by-now familiar Islamophobic, far-right speech at the EPP meeting in Malta. It is time the EPP chooses between Merkel and Orbán, between liberal democracy and illiberal democracy, between a worldview in which universities are encouraged to be critical and independent and one in which critical and independent universities are threatened with closure.
© Comment is free - Guardian.

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Finland: Migrant candidates face racism, death threats in local election

Last week two candidates running in Finland's municipal elections reported that they've both faced racist comments and threats of violence throughout their campaigns. They also say they've been on the receiving end of racial slurs from people who tell them to leave Finland on a daily basis.

6/4/2017- Helsinki politicians Suldaan Said Ahmed of the Left Alliance and Ozan Yanar of the Greens are both running in Finland's local elections. They both say they've suffered death threats and racial abuse since they became politically active. Said Ahmed said the taunts and violent threats are made on city centre streets as well as on social media, explaining that he received a death threat via a text message right after answering an unsettling phone call from the same number. "I answered and asked who was calling, but the caller's tone quickly became aggressive and then he began to threaten me with violence. At that point I realised there wasn't any point to continue the conversation. I wished the caller a good day and hung up. Then the death threat came by text message," said the Leftist, explaining that he reported the incident to police.

Racist hate speech on a daily basis
He said he's been threatened so many times that he feels he cannot safely walk around in Helsinki or campaign on city streets alone anymore. He said that while he's been on the campaign trail he's been on the receiving end of racist attacks several times a day, on a daily basis. The Greens' Ozan Yanar says that because he's an MP he is able to directly notify Supo, the Finnish Security Intelligence Service, about such threats, but says he's concerned about other citizens who receive similar threats. One of the epithets Yanar says he's been called is the Finnish word 'mutiainen,' which roughly translates in English to 'darkie.' "They tell me to 'go back to your country, you are not Finnish.' It's also hurtful to people who're voting for me. I'm not an outsider, this is my country," Yanar said. "If someone has something against (me running for office) they just have to get used to it. Immigrants will become ministers and business leaders and it's something they'll have to get used to. This is my country," Yanar said.

Yanar: We won't be silenced
Both Yanar and Said Ahmed said they see racism and the hateful messages as a more serious threat than to just themselves. "People have said that I shouldn't move around on my own. It's a threat against democracy if politicians are forced to limit themselves like that. It's a wonderful thing that even ministers have been able to campaign in peace, and we should stick to that," Yanar said. When asked whether the threats he's faced will lead to others not daring to run in elections in the future, Yanar said yes. "Yes, in the worst case people will be frightened by the storm of hate they may encounter. And it's not only politicians but also individuals who've experienced this. For example, people who help refugees are put up on hate sites. (The threats) are a way of trying to silence people. But we won't be silenced," Yanar said.

High threshold for migrants
Said Ahmed concurs, saying that the threshold for getting into politics should be low, also for people of different backgrounds. "But that's not how it is now," said the Leftist, saying that the number of threats he's received have increased as he's become increasingly visible in the political spotlight. "I was the first dark-skinned person elected to a leadership position in the party and after that it's been like this. It's worrying that this is the direction Finland is headed; that politicians need to think about whether it's safe to continue campaigning. The best thing about Finland is that it's always been safe to participate in societal discussions and that one can freely move around," said Said Ahmed. "I don't want to give power to fear, but of course I think a few times about which events in which I'll participate. It's obvious that would have preferred to move about and campaign alone, as well. But now I need to think about whether I'm able. (The people who've threatened me) say they know where I go and where I work. I am very concerned about where our society is headed. There are people out there who want to silence Finns like me," Said Ahmed said.

Threats often in legal grey areas
Said Ahmed said he hopes that authorities would be more attentive to hate speech and threats. He says that a large number of the negative messages he's received are in a sort of legal grey area. "They don't write 'I will kill you,' but instead 'I hope that someone would kill you.' We need lawmakers to review whether the law (regarding hate speech) should be updated," said Ahmed Said. However, Said Ahmed and Yanar both say that since they've come forward about the vitriol they've received they've gotten positive responses from the public. They characterised the racists as a loud minority - saying it's vital for the quiet majority to say that they don't accept racism. "I had to continue, I'm not one who gives up easily. I think that together we can stop it. Maybe I can be some kind of pioneer for us Finns with brown skin, and for all minorities," Said Ahmed said. Yanar says that on the campaign trail he's getting hugs and encouraging words from people now. "I think the quiet majority is beginning to wake up," Yanar said.
© YLE News.

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Finland: Prosecution presses tougher sentence for neo-Nazi assault

Prosecutors are reportedly pressing for an appeals court sentence of up to six years in prison for a member of the neo-Nazi Finnish Resistance Movement convicted of assault after drop-kicking a passerby during the group’s demonstration at the Helsinki Railway Station in September 2016. The victim sustained head injuries and died a week later.

6/4/2017- In December, Helsinki District Court dismissed prosecution charges of aggravated involuntary manslaughter against 26 year-old Jesse Torniainen and handed down a two-year prison sentence on a lesser charge of aggravated assault. At that time, the court ruled that evidence did not confirm that the death of the 28 year-old victim was caused by head injuries he sustained when he fell after the accused kicked him in the chest. The victim suffered a fractured skull, and cerebral bruising and bleeding. The court also rejected a prosecution demand for a longer sentence for the assault as a racially-motivated crime. The daily Helsingin Sanomat reported on Thursday that prosecutors in the case, which is now on appeal, are demanding that Torniainen's sentence be extended to 5.5 - 6 years. Torniainen, a founding member of the neo-Nazi Finnish Resistance Movement, has filed an appeal to have his sentence reduced and made conditional. The appeals will be heard next autumn or early next winter. Torniainen is also one of 22 defendants currently on trial in Jyväskylä on charges of violence and assault stemming from a riot which took place in the city in August of 2015.
© YLE News.

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Finland: Incitement to riot: Trial of 22 neo-Nazi group members begins

Officials in Jyväskylä were forced to move a riot trial to a bigger venue on Monday in order to accommodate all of the 22 far-right nationalist group FRM involved in the case. The accused face charges of violence and assault stemming from a riot which took place in the city in August of 2015.

3/4/2017- The trial against 22 people who allegedly took part in a far-right demonstration which became violent in the city of Jyväskylä in August 2015 began on Monday. The prosecution is seeking penalties that range from prison sentences to fines. The prosecutor has accused three of the defendants of incitement to riot, with the ringleader of the violence facing the longest potential sentence. The prosecutor also accused one defendant of inciting a riot as well as carrying homemade firearms and ammunition. Other rioters were found to be carrying items such as knives, brass knuckles, face guards and pepper spray.

One of the defendants, Jesse Torniainen, is a founding member of the Finnish Resistance Movement and was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison for aggravated assault at Helsinki's Railway Station Square last autumn. The victim of Torniainen's attack died one week after the incident. Torniainen has not yet begun serving that sentencing because the case has proceeded to the Court of Appeals. One of the accused was also involved in a stabbing incident at the Jyväskylä library four years ago. The remainder of the defendants face a range of charges including participation in a riot and assault.

Peaceful demonstration escalates into violence
The incident in question took place on August 1, 2015, when members of the Finnish Resistance Movement gathered for a demonstration in Jyväskylä. At the time local police reported that the protest began peacefully, with some 40 people in attendance. As the event proceeded, however, the protesters began to assault bystanders and aggressively prevent police from performing their duties. The trial venue was moved from Jyväskylä's Central Finland District courthouse to the larger Cygnaeus building to accommodate all of the defendants. Some Swedish nationals are also among the defendants. The trial on Monday was also delayed due to beefed-up security measures. In order to conduct security checks defendants and plaintiffs were ushered through separate entrances of the Cygnaeus building some 30 minutes before the trial started, with the building surrounded by police vehicles. The Finnish Resistance Movement is the ultra-nationalist Nordic Resistance Movement's chapter in Finland. Last month Finland's National Police Board appealed to the Pirkanmaa District Court to shut down the group.
© YLE News.

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Austrian Social Democrats move toward ending ban on far-right alliances

6/4/2017- Austria's ruling Social Democrats are responding to rising anti-establishment sentiment in a way that would be unthinkable in most European nations - by moving toward lifting a self-imposed ban on coalitions with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO). As elsewhere in Europe, the center-left has in recent years lost voters to an anti-Islam, anti-immigration party. The FPO now regularly tops Austrian opinion polls with support of more than 30 percent, surpassing even levels seen around 2000 when it entered a national coalition that lasted for several years. But even if the Social Democrats are able to overtake the FPO in the next parliamentary election due within about 18 months, they will have few options. To form a government, they would most likely need to continue an unpopular alliance with the conservative People's Party or start a new one with the FPO.

With that in mind, the Social Democrats (SPO) are drawing up a list of conditions that any coalition partner would have to meet, which would effectively end the ban put in place 30 years ago. The aim is also to help unite a party still deeply divided over whether to do business with the far right. "It will at least make it a discussion focused on the issues rather than emotion," said Peter Kaiser, SPO governor of the province of Carinthia, who heads the party's working group in charge of the project. "Everyone was annoyed by all the debate around a single issue: can we (work) with the FPO or not?" he told Reuters. Although work on what is known as the "catalog of criteria" is continuing, Kaiser said it included fundamental values such as supporting the European Union and the welfare state, as well as women's equal status in society.

Such broad principles are unlikely to prevent a coalition with the FPO. In 2000, the preamble to a coalition pact between the FPO and the People's Party voiced support for the EU and human rights to allay similar concerns. That coalition prompted street protests and was marked by several corruption scandals but also by achievements including pension reform. Within three years, however, support for the FPO had halved as internal disputes grew, and FPO leaders including the charismatic Joerg Haider later left the fold. The fact the FPO has been in national government before and has been a prominent feature of the Austrian political landscape for decades makes talk of a possible coalition slightly less toxic than it would be for similar parties in other countries.

In France, a "republican front" among mainstream parties against Marine Le Pen's National Front has eroded since her father was trounced in the second round of the presidential election in 2002. Polls still suggest, however, that she will be soundly defeated in next month's presidential run-off, and it would be taboo for the center-left Socialist Party to consider a coalition with the National Front. Before last month's Dutch parliamentary election, all major mainstream parties ruled out joining a coalition that included the far-right PVV, saying anti-Islam remarks by its leader Geert Wilders had become too extreme. The mainstream conservatives won the election but the PVV scored big gains to finish second. In contrast with those countries, two centrist parties have dominated Austrian politics for the past 70 years, often governing together in coalition. Of the 29 governments since World War Two, 20 have included the SPO. "Social Democracy in Austria has become accustomed to being in government, which leads to being willing to pay a higher price (to stay in power) than is perhaps the case in France," political analyst Anton Pelinka said.

"The Voter Is Always Right"
SPO Chancellor Christian Kern's government is implementing several law-and-order measures meant to eat into FPO support, including a ban on Muslim face-covering veils and a tightening of immigration rules. At the same time, he has taken steps toward treating the FPO like any other party, including taking part in a radio debate with its leader last November. "We have never had such a friendly discussion," Kern said at the time. "In terms of content, however, at least medium-sized worlds divide us." The FPO says it is open to forming coalitions with all parties, including the SPO. Within the SPO, however, debate continues to rage on whether doing business with the FPO is a price worth paying for power. "What is the point of being in the government if we then implement FPO policies?" said Julia Herr, head of Socialist Youth, a left-wing group connected to the party, who wants more specific criteria, like support for a wealth tax.

"I think the SPO is gambling away its credibility," she said, referring to the fact that in one province, Burgenland, the SPO and FPO have been in coalition since 2015. For now, however, momentum is with pragmatists like Burgenland's governor, Hans Niessl. His SPO-FPO government has approved a cap on benefits for recent immigrants and placed added emphasis on security in Burgenland, which borders Hungary. "The voter is always right. We practice majority politics," he said in an interview, adding that in his experience in Burgenland, voters did not object to the SPO working with the FPO. "Where's the harm?"
© Reuters

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Austria: The Future of Far Right

Its Freedom Party Threatens the European Project

3/4/2017- The defeats of right-wing populists in the Austrian presidential election in late 2016 and Dutch parliamentary elections in early 2017 have been reassuring for supporters of the European project. Over the past 15 years, Euroskepticism and anti-immigrant sentiment have attracted considerable support across Europe. Yet their electoral performance has so far been less than impressive. In turn, such parties no longer seem to constitute an existential threat to the European Union. (In Foreign Affairs, Pierpaolo Barbieri recently wrote about a “reverse domino effect” after the relative defeat of Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in the Netherlands.) Moreover, upcoming French presidential and German parliamentary elections bode well for the EU.

To be sure, the stakes in France are enormous: a victory by National Front leader Marine Le Pen in the second round of elections could mean nothing less than the end of European integration and the EU as we know them. Yet it seems unlikely that Le Pen would win the face-off. Lately, it has become conceivable that she won’t win even a relative majority in the first round of the elections; the outspokenly pro-EU Emmanuel Macron has quickly become the race’s front-runner and likely victor in both rounds of the election. In Germany, too, the overall picture for this fall’s Bundestag elections is encouraging.

It is true that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right party alliance of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) and Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU) has seen its poll numbers fall in recent weeks. To be sure, Merkel’s disappearance from European and world politics would, in view of her rich diplomatic experience and high international respect, be a clear loss for the West. However, the main reason for the CDU/CSU’s loss of support is the unexpected rise in popularity of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) under its new leader, Martin Schulz. Schulz, the former president of the European Parliament, is a committed EU integrationist. And unlike his SPD predecessor Gerhard Schröder, he fully supports the U.S.-EU alliance.

The Radical Right's Rise
Although these and other developments are encouraging, another challenge looms. In 2016, Austrian pro-EU politician Alexander Van der Bellen became the first state head from a green party elected by popular vote in an EU member state. In that race, he secured almost 54 percent of the vote and defeated his far-right rival, Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ). For many observers, Hofer came too close to victory for comfort. Public opinion polls in the summer and autumn of 2016 consistently indicated that Hofer would prevail over Van der Bellen in the second round of the election by two or three percentage points.

This was the first time since Austria regained full sovereignty in 1955 that no candidate from either of the two major parties, the Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), made it to the second round of a presidential election. The spectacular failure reflected a steep decline in trust in their mainstream parties, which have mostly ruled together in grand coalition governments since the end of World War II. In turn, the door is now open for the far-right FPÖ to enter Austria’s federal government and even the chancellery after the parliamentary elections currently scheduled for October 2018. And given Austria’s long tradition of snap elections, all this could happen as soon as this year.

To be sure, the FPÖ’s entry into government would not be totally novel. Austria’s Social Democrats formed coalition governments with the FPÖ from 1983 to 1987. Yet the FPÖ was different then: under the leadership of Norbert Steger, it was a liberal, center-right party. And that made it a tolerable coalition partner. A more controversial coalition was struck between the ÖVP and the FPÖ in 2000, with the conservative ÖVP leader Wolfgang Schüssel as chancellor and a more radically right-wing and populist FPÖ (and later its equally rightist split-off, the Alliance for the Future of Austria, or BZÖ) as the junior partner.

The formation of this coalition led to an unprecedented six-month diplomatic boycott of Austria on the part of other EU member states, which was an international disaster for the country. The FPÖ soon imploded as its poor performance in government was punished by the electorate. Support for the party dropped from almost 27 percent of the vote in 1999 to ten percent in the 2002 parliamentary elections.

Unlike when the FPÖ entered the government in 1983 and 2000, the party today is not merely one of the more popular, it is the most popular party in Austria. According to the most recent public opinion poll, the FPÖ—against the background of growing distrust toward the political establishment and the refugee crisis—would secure 31 percent of the vote in the next parliamentary election if it were held today. This standing could still change if, for instance, Austria’s conservatives decide to propose their young and popular current foreign minister, Sebastian Kurz, as candidate for chancellor. (In Austria, chancellor is usually a leader of the largest party in the lower house of the Parliament, is appointed by the president, and is more powerful than the president.) But even if the ÖVP or the SPÖ eventually wins the parliamentary elections, the FPÖ will probably have a strong showing and thus have a good chance of entering government.

Under its current leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, the FPÖ has developed a troubling new foreign policy orientation. Since 2008–09, the party has made a surprisingly undisguised turn toward Russian President Vladimir Putin. The FPÖ’s leaders have openly praised Moscow’s policies, for example justifying the Russian invasion of Georgia in August 2008 or defending the adoption of the anti-LGBT law in Russia, and have systematically called for the EU to lift the sanctions it imposed on Russia for the Putin administration’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine. Over the past ten years, meanwhile, the FPÖ has built a network of individual contacts with various Russian politicians. Members have met with Boris Gromov, former governor of the Moscow region; Yuri Luzhkov, who was mayor of Moscow; and Ramzan Kadyrov, who is the head of Chechnya, in which human rights violations became a disturbing and widespread trend.

FPÖ members have also established links with the Russian embassy in Austria and the Austrian branch of Rossotrudnichestvo (Russian Cooperation), the largest and best-funded Kremlin foreign aid agency for influencing Europe. In April 2016, two FPÖ members of Parliament took part in an economic forum organized in Russia-annexed Crimea by Sergey Aksyonov, the region’s new illegal prime minister, who faces EU sanctions. Finally, in December 2016, the FPÖ signed an official coordination and cooperation agreement with Putin’s United Russia party. The treaty announces that the FPÖ and the Russian Federation’s ruling party will “support the development of economic, trade, and investment cooperation between the two countries.”

Will The EU's Illiberal Bloc Grow?
Should the FPÖ indeed win the next parliamentary elections, Strache—as leader of the largest parliamentary party—may be asked by President Van der Bellen to form a new government. The FPÖ, to be sure, would have no chance of forming a cabinet on its own. Rather, it would have to form a coalition with either the SPÖ or the ÖVP. Strache recently conceded that he would accept the post of vice chancellor in a cabinet chaired by a Social or Conservative Democrat. Were the SPÖ to accept such a proposal, it would break with its 30-year policy against partnering with the far right. (To some extent, this already happened, though, when it formed a regional SPÖ/FPÖ governing coalition in the federal state of Burgenland in 2015.)

An FPÖ government would put Vienna on a collision course with the EU’s liberal democratic and human rights agenda. Austria could quickly start challenging European unity on the anti-Russian sanctions. The FPÖ may also attempt to facilitate money laundering for Russia’s bureaucrats and oligarchs (which, to be sure, is already happening in Austria). Moreover, the inclusion of the far right in the Austrian government would lead to a marked strengthening of the illiberal bloc in central Europe. The enlargement of this illiberal and largely pro-Russian bloc will make the EU even more vulnerable to Moscow’s subversive influence, weaken the liberal democratic consensus in the EU, and make Europe a less unified actor in the global arena.
© Foreign Affairs

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Chechen police 'have rounded up more than 100 suspected gay men'

Russian newspaper says it has evidence that at least three men have been killed in ‘prophylactic sweep’ in Chechnya

2/4/2017- Authorities in the Russian republic of Chechnya have launched an anti-gay campaign that has led to authorities rounding up dozens of men suspected of being homosexual, according to the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and human rights activists. The newspaper’s report, by an author regarded as a leading authority on Chechnya, claimed that more than 100 people had been detained and three men killed in the roundup. It claimed that among those detained were well-known local television personalities and religious figures. Alvi Karimov, spokesperson for Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, described the report as “absolute lies and disinformation”, basing his denial on the claim that there were no gay people in Chechnya. “You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic,” he told Interfax news agency. “If there were such people in Chechnya, the law-enforcement organs wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.”

A spokesman for the region’s interior ministry told the Russian newspaper RBC that the report was “an April fool’s joke”. However, Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, Russia project director for the International Crisis Group, told the Guardian she had been receiving worrying information about the issue from various sources over the past 10 days. “I have heard about it happening in Grozny [the Chechen capital], outside Grozny, and among people of very different ages and professions,” she said. The extreme taboo nature of the subject meant that much of the information was arriving second or third hand, and as yet there are no fully verifiable cases, she added. “It’s next to impossible to get information from the victims or their families, but the number of signals I’m receiving from different people makes it hard not to believe detentions and violence are indeed happening.”

Chechnya is formally part of Russia, but functions as a quasi-independent state in which the word of Kadyrov often seems to transcend Russian laws. He has overseen the rebuilding of the republic with Moscow’s money, after two devastating wars. Kadyrov has at various times endorsed polygamy, compulsory wearing of the hijab for women in public places, and collective punishment for the relatives of those involved in the Islamist underground. Chechen society is strictly conservative, meaning that unlike other cases where relatives or rights activists may put pressure on authorities when a homosexual relative disappears, those suspected are likely to be disowned by their own families. Locals say that if a family was known to have a gay member, other relatives would find it difficult to marry due to the “shame”.

Attitudes to LGBT rights are mixed in Russia, with an infamous law banning the “propaganda of homosexuality among minors” on the books. But Moscow and other big cities have a thriving gay scene, even if much of it remains underground. In Chechnya and the other Muslim republics of the North Caucasus, there is no discussion of the issue, and gay men do not even tell their closest friends of their orientation. The Novaya Gazeta article claimed that three people had been killed, and suggested others could have been handed to their families with the expectation that the family would perform an honour killing.

An LGBT rights organisation in St Petersburg has set up an anonymous hotline for gay people in Chechnya to seek help with evacuation from the republic. After years of threats and repression, almost no independent journalists or rights activists are able to work in the region, and those who do work on human rights in the republic dismissed the newspaper report. “I haven’t had a single request on this issue, but if I did, I wouldn’t even consider it,” Kheda Saratova, a Chechen activist who is on Kadyrov’s human rights council, told a Russian radio station. “In our Chechen society, any person who respects our traditions and culture will hunt down this kind of person without any help from authorities, and do everything to make sure that this kind of person does not exist in our society.”
© The Guardian.

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Netherlands: Kruidvat withdraws Hitler colouring book from sale

5/4/2017- High street chemists group Kruidvat has withdrawn a colouring book it had on sale after a client pointed out one of the pictures was of Adolf Hitler, complete with swastika. ‘Nice colouring book you’ve got there,’ client Oompie Lay said on Kruidvat’s Facebook time line, with a photo of the completed picture. The book had been on sale at selected stores for several days and on Tuesday went on general release. ‘When we realized there was an inappropriate picture in the book, we decided immediately to withdraw the book from sale, in both shops and online,’ a spokesman told broadcaster NOS. The book, Kleuren op Code, was printed in India and produced by a Belgian publisher, NOS said. It covers important people from the past and includes Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein and Abraham Lincoln. ‘We had carried out multiple checks on the contents but missed this,’ the spokeswoman said.
© The Dutch News

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Netherlands: 2000 march against homophobic violence

6/4/2017- About two thousand people walked hand-in-hand through Amsterdam to protest against homophobic violence on Wednesday night, reports ANP. The march went from the Dam to the Homomonument memorial at the Westerkerk, where protestors laid flowers. It was organised after a gay couple was beaten up in Arnhem last weekend. The two men of 31 and 35 were holding hands as they walked across a bridge, when several young men cycled by and began to abuse and hit them with implements including bolt cutters. According to one of the victims, they were targeted by ‘a group of six to eight Moroccan youths’ because they were walking hand-in-hand. One of the perpetrators has said the two men started the violence, and is reportedly making a formal police report. After the attack, Dutch media called for men to walk hand-in-hand in a show of solidarity. Meanwhile, gay rights organisation the COC has called for tougher prison sentences and other measure to tackle an apparent rise in homophobic attacks.
© The Dutch News

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Netherlands: Gay couples also attacked in Amsterdam, Eindhoven

4/4/2017- Gay couples in Amsterdam and Eindhoven also reported being assaulted because of their sexuality over the weekend. An 18-year-old man was arrested in connection with the Eindhoven incident. The Amsterdam police are still looking for the perpetrator. The couple in Amsterdam were attacked on Kerkstraat late Saturday night. They spread pamphlets in the area calling for witnesses to come forward, AD reports. The police confirmed to the newspaper that the couple reported the assault and that it may have been a hate crime. The two were walking down Kerkstraat when, according to the pamphlet, a man came out of a house and shouted 'fuck you gay'. The man hit one of the couple in the face with bolt cutters, knocking loose some teeth. The couple fled to a restaurant, where they were attacked by another man just outside the doors. The perpetrators fled when the victims called the police, according to the newspaper.

In Eindhoven two men, aged 22 and 25 years, went to police officers in the city's entertainment district and reported being assaulted, the Telegraaf reports. An 18-year-old man was arrested. He has since been released, but will have to appear in court at a later date. One of the victims wrote on Facebook: "This is certainly not the first time; I've been scolded for gay so often when I walk out of the Pallaz that I've lost track. But that it was now so physically close gives me a lot of anxiety." Another gay couple was early on Sunday morning  while walking home from a party holding hands. Ronnie Sewratan-Vernes had his teeth knocked out with bolt cutters, partner Jasper Vernes-Sewratan said to the media. . They are still in custody. On Monday night lawyer Gerald Roethof, representing one of the suspects, said that his client also pressed charges. According to his client, the gay
© The NL Times

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Netherlands: Straight male politicians are holding hands in public

Straight Dutch politicians are sending a message after a homophobic attack by holding hands in public.

4/4/2017- Politicians in the Netherlands made the gesture after two gay men were attacked in Arnhem for holding hands. Gay couple Jasper Vernes-Sewratan and Ronnie Sewratan-Vernes were set upon by a group of thugs over the weekend, while returning home from a night out. The attackers screamed homophobic abuse before launching a violent attack on the couple that hospitalised the both. A 14-year-old boy was among the men arrested over the attack. Following the shocking violent incident, politicians (and celebs and straight men in general) in the country are showing solidarity by holding hands in public. Lodewijk Asscher, the country’s Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Labor Party made a stand as part of the campaign, posting a photo to Twitter. Alexander Pechtold, leader of the Democrats 66 party, also joined in, posting a photo to Twitter in which he is holding hadns with party member Wouter Koolmees. The leader wrote: “Stop violence against gay people. #allemannenhandinhand” [allmenhandinhand]The staff of the Dutch mission at the United Nations in New York also joined in, with men holding hands on the way to a protest against homophobia. Police officers in the country also got in on the movement.









 


The King of the Netherlands recently made a historic visit to a Dutch LGBT rights group. King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, who ascended to the throne in 2013, met with activists from COC Netherlands, a Dutch advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The visit, thought to be the first time the acting monarch has made a visit to an LGBT group, came as COC celebrated its 70th anniversary. His wife, Queen Máxima has attended LGBT rights conference in the past. The Netherlands has long been a progressive beacon, becoming the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage in 2001.









© The Pink News
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Netherlands: Gay Couple Attacked with Bolt Cutters

2/4/2017- Two men were beaten Sunday by a group of youths in Arnhem. Both men were injured. One of the victims' teeth were knocked out. During the assault the attackers used bolt cutters. The couple of 31 and 35 years was walking hand in hand on the Nelson Mandela Bridge. A group of six to eight youths came cycling past and began to scold the men before assaulting them. Two suspects, a boy of fourteen from Arnhem and a twenty-year old man from Gennep were arrested. Police are still looking for other suspects and witnesses to the abuse.
© I CARE News

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UK: Man to stand trial on terrorism charges

A man accused of terrorism charges will go on trial at the High Court in Aberdeen later this year.

6/4/2017- Connor Ward, 24, is charged with possessing a cache of weapons, manuals, racist flags and videos with the intention of committing acts of terror. At a preliminary hearing, defence lawyer Drew Mackenzie said his client denied the charges, which are alleged to have been committed in Banff, Aberdeenshire, between 2011 and 2014. The trial is due to begin in November. Mr Ward was not in court for Thursday's hearing at the High Court in Glasgow. It is alleged that he had in his possession a quantity of neo-Nazi, anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish texts, images, videos, flags and audio files.

Ball bearings
He is also accused of possessing knives, knuckledusters, batons, a stun gun, a mobile phone signal jammer, a bug detection device, a catapult and ball, a ninja star, rocket tubes and a battle club. Prosecutors further claim that Mr Ward had steel ball bearings and instructions on how to use them to prepare an improvised explosive device, and had downloaded material on how to reactivate deactivated bullets. It is also alleged he had manuals showing how to manufacture explosives and chemical and biological poisons, and that he had the address of every mosque in Aberdeen. This offence under the 2006 Terrorism Act is alleged to have been committed between 26 February 2011 and 21 November 2014 at two addresses in Banff.

He has also been charged, under the 2000 Terrorism Act, of collecting or recording information likely to be useful to anyone committing or preparing to commit an act of terrorism. It is alleged he did this by downloading files about making firearms, manufacturing explosives and producing and using chemical and biological poisons, onto a hard drive, a flash drive, a pen drive memory stick and a laptop computer.
© BBC News.

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UK: Attack on asylum seeker in Croydon highlights hate crime

A 17-year-old asylum seeker of Kurdish-Iranian origin was attacked last weekend in Croydon in south London. The incident, which left him badly injured, highlights the rise in hate crime in Britain.

5/4/2017- Reker Ahmed, a 17-year-old boy, was attacked by around 30 people shortly before midnight last Friday, according to British police. He was waiting at a bus stop with two friends when the suspects walked up to him and asked where he came from. Once they found out he was an asylum seeker, they chased him and beat him up. Ahmed, as he is named by the media, suffered a fractured skull and a blood clot in his brain. Police say they have arrested 13 suspects in the brutal attack and that the teenager was lucky enough not to be killed. The attack appeared to have been without any motive, but two men and one of the teenage suspects have been charged with racially aggravated grievous bodily harm, Reuters news agency reported.

Hate crimes on the rise
Asylum seekers are not the only targets of hate crime in the UK. Immigration has been a major political issue in Britain and also one of the main factors why voters chose to leave the European Union. According to Rose Simkins, chief of anti-racism organization and helpline Stop Hate UK, anybody and everybody could be a target of hate crime, especially if they are perceived as being different. "They will be EU nationals, they will be Muslims, they will be Jewish people. All different sorts of people are targeted," she told DW. "At the moment in the UK, immigration is very much on people's agenda and for a lot of people they don’t understand the difference between someone seeking asylum, someone coming to work, someone coming to join their families," she added.

Meanwhile, the Brexit referendum also led to a spike in hate crimes. "I think there was a perception among some people that the referendum was purely about immigration and that things would change immediately. Within a day of the result, we had reports from people who were being told to leave the country, to go home and accompanied in some cases by physical attacks or intimidation," she said. "What we experienced at Stop Hate UK was an immediate change in the need for our service and the police reported the same thing," Simkins said. Many times people wouldn’t necessarily know that someone is seeking asylum, so it could reveal itself in anti-Muslim hate crimes, because Syrian refugees will almost always be thought of as Muslims by a majority of people, Simkins said.

Measures against racist attacks
For now, there is an awareness of the fact that there are hate crimes and something needs to be done about them. UK leaders have been quick to condemn the attack against Ahmed last week. British Prime Minister Theresa May called it "abominable" and "completely unacceptable." London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who said hate crime, had "no place in London, Britain or anywhere else." But more understanding needs to develop, both on the sides of the asylum seekers and the authorities, so that such incidents can be prevented in advance. According to Simkins, asylum seekers need to get over their fear of the police. "If you're seeking asylum or you come from a country where you don’t trust the police at all, then you're unlikely to report incidents, thinking that might go against your asylum claim," she said, adding that the reason why the Croydon incident was well known was because the young man was beaten up very badly and had to be taken to the hospital. Many other incidents are probably never reported.

For a long-term solution however, a different strategy is necessary. One needs to understand how things escalate from name-calling and pushing to serious attacks like the one on Ahmed. According to Simkins, it would be a good idea to look into events that preceded the attack on the teenager. "What I'd be interested in is what was going on in Croydon in the days and weeks before this attack...because if the people responsible are convicted, it would be interesting to know what they were up to in those days and weeks before [the attack] and whether there were any signs that this could well result," she said.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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UK police arrest 6 in hate crime attack on asylum-seeker

2/4/2017- UK police have arrested six people in a vicious attack on a teenage asylum-seeker in the London borough of Croydon. Authorities are questioning four men and two women, all in their 20s, on charges of attempted murder in the attack that left a 17-year old Kurdish-Iranian hospitalised with a fractured skull and a blood clot on his brain. Police say eight youths approached the teen at a bus stop on Friday night. Upon learning he was an asylum-seeker, they chased him through the streets and beat him. The attack only stopped after bystanders intervened and police sirens could be heard. Police are treating the attack as a hate crime. Britain has seen a surge in xenophobia expressed in threats, taunts and attacks after Britain's vote to leave the European Union.
© The Associated Press

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UK: Far-right demo falls flat as only 300 turn up to London march

Two groups took part in event castigated as a lame attempt to whip up Islamophobia following Westminster attack

1/4/2017- At least 14 people have been arrested after rival groups clashed during protests in central London, the Metropolitan police have said. Fewer than 300 members of the far-right groups Britain First and the English Defence League turned up for their “march against terrorism”, a turnout castigated by opponents as a lame attempt to whip up Islamophobia in the wake of the Westminster attack. The anti-Islam groups had organised separate demonstrations that finished on the Victoria Embankment, close to Westminster Bridge, where a terror attack 10 days ago killed four people and injured 50. A similar number of Unite Against Fascism (UAF) demonstrators convened a short distance away chanting “Racist scum”, but were kept at bay by several lines of police.

During the march itself, some UAF supporters got close to the Britain First marchers, among them Barry Kader, 23, from Bristol, who said: “Fascism needs to be challenged at street level. These marches can encourage people, it can help with their public support.” Paul Golding, the leader of Britain First, who was released from prison in January for breaching a high court ban by entering a mosque, addressed supporters waving some of the 400 union jack flags made by his mother on Friday night. Earlier, as the marchers moved from Charing Cross station, Golding’s mother Chris had said of the flags: “They really lift the march, they look lovely.” Following a a recital of the Lord’s prayer, Golding warned his audience about east London’s Brick Lane and its apparent “mobs”, telling supporters he was also finding it impossible to eat tikka masala now because of the preponderance of halal meat. Golding added: “We are the face of the future.”

Yet the turnout must have been a disappointment. Britain First has 1.6 million Facebook followers and more than 2,700 had expressed an interest in going to the march. Among those that did turn up was John Lillywhite, 78, who was on his debut demonstration and had turned up because he felt the the government didn’t understand the “threat” of Islam. Despite an instruction from Golding not to talk to the media, Britain First organiser Angela Holbrooks, from Timperley, near Altrincham, Greater Manchester, said: “We need to keep our streets safe for our women and children, stop them raping our kids. If anyone says anything about Muslims, then they’re attacked. But the Muslims don’t want to integrate.” Retired firefighter Steve Green, 52, from Gravesend, Kent, said he attended the march because he was scared of the growing Muslim population. “Politicians are doing nothing to protect us. They don’t want to mix. My daughter will be forced to wear a burqa at this rate.”

At the UAF counter-rally, which included representatives of trade unions, and faith and community groups, speakers praised the unity shown by Londoners following the Westminster attack and condemned attempts to use the attack to stir hatred and division. Weyman Bennett, UAF joint secretary, said: “While we recognise that this despicable attempt to use the outrage of the Westminster attack to whip up hate fell flat, this should not be cause for complacency. These groups remain intent on stirring racial and religious hatred and must be opposed wherever they rear their head. “The murder of Jo Cox, the shocking rise in hate crime, and the rise of the far right in Europe show that it is critical we unite against fascism, racism, Islamophobia and antisemitism at this time.”
© The Guardian.

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Greece: New group claims attack on Golden Dawn office

6/4/2017- An organization calling itself the Pavlos Fyssas Brigade has claimed responsibility for last week’s sledgehammer attack on the Athens headquarters of Golden Dawn and has warned of more to come. In a statement posted Thursday on an anti-establishment website, it accused the neo-Nazi party of being part of the establishment and of collusion with big business interests. Pavlos Fyssas, a leftist rapper, was fatally stabbed by Golden Dawn member Giorgos Roupakias in Karatsini on the night of September 18, 2013.
© The Kathimerini.

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Greek Holocaust Memorial Damaged Again by Anti-Semitic Vandals

2/4/2017- A Holocaust memorial that was built only one year ago in northern Greece was vandalized for the second time last week in the town of Kavala. The memorial commemorates the 1,484 Jews of the town who were deported to the Treblinka death camp and murdered by the Nazis during World War II. The anti-Semitic vandals who attacked the memorial on Wednesday, March 29 smashed the glossy marble face of the memorial by using hammers to strike the monument. Kavala Mayor Dimitra Tsanaka visited the site the next day (Thursday) to inspect the damage and then spoke by phone with David Saltiel, president of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KIS) to express her condemnation.

The KIS welcomed the mayor’s prompt reaction, saying in a statement, “At the same time we express our deep concern: these acts of desecration show that anti-Semitism – an anti-Semitism almost without Jews – racism and intolerance survive and lurk everywhere, at every moment. “Every moral, political or other act of legitimation of the nostalgic pro-Nazis increases the risk of the revival of anti-Semitism and of the expansion of such incidents that threaten the values ​​of a modern and democratic society and darken the prestige of our country. Prosecutors should take all necessary measures to arrest the vandals responsible and bring them to justice.”
© The Jewish Press

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Greece: Golden Dawn official remanded over attack on student

5/4/2017- A 42-year-old member of Golden Dawn charged in connection with the beating of a 24-year-old student last Friday was remanded in custody on Wednesday after defending himself before an investigating magistrate. The suspect, who works at the neo-Nazi party’s Athens headquarters on Mesogeion Avenue and used to work in GD leader Nikos Michaloliakos’ office in Parliament, was positively identified by witnesses to the attack though he denies any involvement. The student also identified the suspect as one of the assailants. The attack on the 24-year-old last Friday came just a few hours after unknown assailants used sledgehammers to vandalize GD’s headquarters. The 42-year-old, and another three alleged accomplices, face charges of causing grievous bodily harm.
© The Kathimerini.

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Greece: Golden Dawn official held over brutal beating of student

1/4/2017- Police on Saturday detained a 42-year-old official of Golden Dawn in connection with a violent attack on Friday on a 24-year-old student in the Athens neighborhood of Ambelokipi by a group of assailants believed to be linked to the neo-Nazi party. The 42-year-old, who works at the neo-Nazi party’s Athens headquarters on Mesogeion Avenue and used to work in the office in Parliament of GD leader Nikos Michaloliakos, was positively identified by witnesses to the attack though he denies any involvement. The witnesses told police that they saw a group of people affiliated with GD attack the 24-year-old and beat him. The assailants took his bag, which contained his cellphone and documents, according to witness accounts. The student was being treated for head injuries in the capital’s Erythros Stavros Hospital and is expected to be questioned by police when he has recovered. The attack on the 24-year-old came just a few hours after unknown assailants used sledgehammers to vandalize GD’s headquarters. In a statement, leftist SYRIZA slammed the “reappearance of Golden Dawn death squads” and said “we cannot allow the specter of neo-Nazism to return to the streets of Greece and Europe.”
© The Kathimerini.

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Norwegian Muslims plan replacement Islamic council

30,000 Norwegian Muslims could change membership to a new umbrella organisation set up to replace the controversy-hit Islamsk Råd Norge (Islamic Council Norway, IRN).

1/4/2017- The purpose of the breakaway organisation would be near-identical to that of IRN. “I see no other option than to set up a new organisation,” Basim Ghozlan, trustee at the Rabita Mosque in Oslo, told Klassekampen. IRN’s employment of niqab-wearing Leyla Hasic as an administrative consultant has sparked extensive debate on the council’s role in promoting dialogue between Muslim communities and the rest of Norwegian society. Both the Bosnian and Albanian mosques in the capital have already announced that they would leave the umbrella of Muslim organisations represented by the council. The combined membership of the two mosques is 14,000. Three other mosques – Islamic Cultural Centre and Central Jamaat-e Ahl-e Sunnat, along with the Rabita Mosque - have also begun to withdraw their memberships. The three represent some of Norway’s largest and oldest mosques, according to Klassekampen.

Ghozlan said that he had decided to start an alternative organisation because he felt that IRN in its current form was not fulfilling its mandate. The trustee said the goals of his organisation would be similar to those stated by IRN. “On one hand we want to have an ongoing dialogue with general society, fight misunderstandings and prevent distrust. On the other hand we want to strengthen collaboration between Muslim organisations,” he told Klassekampen. Ghozlan pointed out that he began the process of setting up a new organisation prior to IRN’s hiring of Hasic. IRN general secretary Mehtab Afsar told broadcaster NRK that membership of the organisation was voluntary. “We cannot force members to stay. If one or two leave, we will still be an umbrella organisation,” he said.
© The Local - Norway

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