The UN refugee agency expressed its concern today over what it called "the mounting risks to foreigners of skinhead attacks on the streets of Moscow," following an April 15 attack on two interpreters ­ a Congolese and a Russian of Afghan origin ­ working for the Moscow Regional Migration Service. The Russian citizen later died in hospital from injuries sustained in the attack. The April 15 attack was reportedly perpetrated by "skinheads" wielding metal bars. The Russian citizen of Afghan origin, Abdul Hakim Hakrizi, died the following day from his injuries. The Congolese man, who was with Hakim at the time of the assault, sustained serious injuries and was hospitalised. Both men worked for the Moscow Regional Migration Service as interpreters for asylum seekers from Afghanistan and various African nations. The Congolese victim is himself seeking asylum in Russia from his war-torn homeland and is registered with UNHCR. The incident is the latest fatality in a long string of violent racist attacks in Moscow. Another African asylum seeker ­ Massa Mayoni from Angola ­ was murdered in August 2001 in a gang attack by Russian teenagers outside UNHCR's refugee reception centre in Moscow. Since then, UNHCR has received reports from asylum seekers registered with the agency of up to 10 racist attacks a month, according to a statement from the UNHCR Moscow office. Several of the victims have required hospitalisation. There have also been media reports in recent weeks of attacks and harassment of other foreigners in Moscow, including members of the diplomatic community. The UNHCR Moscow office called the attacks "vicious" and said they are "instilling greater fear than ever among asylum seekers," who already face daunting challenges in everyday life in Russia. UNHCR has requested that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs "intervene as a matter of urgency" to enhance security for asylum seekers and staff, particularly in areas where many asylum seekers are residing.

The veteran leader of France's far-right Jean-Marie Le Pen caused a political upheaval unday when he made it through to the run-off of the country's presidential election, pushing Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin into third place. The 73-year-old leader of the National Front (FN), widely condemned for his hardline views on immigration, won over 17 percent of the vote, and will now confront his arch-rival President Jacques Chirac in the deciding second round on May 5, according to provisional results. It was the first time a far-right candidate has won through to the second round of a French presidential vote, marking a humiliating defeat for Jospin, once considered the front-runner in the poll. Jospin, 64, who has been criticised for leading an uninspiring campaign, immediately announced his impending resignation and his retirement from politics. "I fully assume the responsibility for this defeat and I draw the conclusions by retiring from political life ... after the end of the presidential election," he told an aghast audience at his campaign headquarters in Paris.

Opponents of Le Pen staged impromptu demonstrations in cities around the country. "I am ashamed that in a democratic country this kind of thing can happen. In Austria they have Haider and in Italy Berlusconi, but I thought in France we were beyond that," a young women in Paris's Place de la Republique told French television. Le Pen told a jubilant audience at his headquarters in Saint Cloud west of Paris that his victory was a "big defeat" to the country's two establishment leaders, Chirac and Jospin, who have together ruled the country since 1997. And he stressed his anti-European message to broaden his appeal to new parts of the electorate for the second round. "Don't be afraid to dream, you the ordinary folk, the excluded grass-roots, the miners, steel workers and impoverished farmers, workers in all the industries ruined by the Maastricht treaty's euro-Globalism," he said.

Chirac, who is now almost assured a new five-year term because of the vast majority of French men and women who will vote to keep out Le Pen, called for national unity in the face of the far-right breakthrough which he said was a threat to French democratic values. "I call on all French citizens to rally to defend human rights, the dignity of the nation and to restore the authority of state," he said. "France needs you." With two thirds of votes counted, the ministry of the interior put Chirac at 19.52 percent, with Le Pen on 17.41 percent and Jospin on 15.66 percent. Le Pen's triumph came on the silver-haired former paratrooper's fourth attempt at the presidency, and after he claimed to have been nearly disqualified by failing to acquire the necessary 500 endorsements. It was put down largely to the unprecedented number of candidates -- 16 in all - which meant that the vote was thinly spread and support for the two frontrunners, Chirac and Jospin, was lower than they hoped. But Le Pen consistently argued that his support was underestimated in the polls because some of his voters were ashamed to admit it, and that his energetic attacks on immigration and crime had far more of a rapport with the electorate than other candidates wished to admit.

The campaign was widely criticised for failing to motivate voters, and the abstention rate was estimated at around 28 percent -- the highest ever in the first round of a French presidential election. One of the few issues to be thoroughly aired was the country's deteriorating crime statistics. This -- as well as two shocking shooting incidents during the campaign -- was widely seen as playing into Le Pen's hands. Le Pen first appeared on the political scene nearly 50 years ago as a candidate for the small shopkeepers' party of Pierre Poujade. He founded the FN in 1972 and building on widespread anxieties about the impact of Nor ©The Tocqueville Connection

'Hygiene certificate' case takes stunning twist

Roma journalist Denisa Havrl'ová, who was asked for a hygiene certificate by a police officer who refused to shake her hand, has been charged with assault on a public official. If convicted, she faces up to one year in jail or a fine. Havrl'ová was charged with attacking Peter S. from Jarovnice on April 16. She works for the Prešov-based Romano Lil Nevo newspaper, which focuses on Roma issues. The incident in question occurred February 8, and has drawn extensive media coverage of what both Havrl'ová and senior Interior Ministry officials allege was inappropriate conduct with racist overtones. But Stanislav Ryban, spokesman for the Chief Investigator's Office, said that Havrl'ová had seriously damaged the officer's reputation by giving false information to the media and by calling Peter S. a racist. Ryban said the policeman's case was backed up by a man who claimed to have witnessed the incident, and who at the time was being questioned at the police station.

Havrl'ová denied that she had called Peter S. a racist. "What I said was, 'Don't you think your behaviour is an expression of racism?'," Havrl'ová told The Slovak Spectator. "I would never dare to say what he's accusing me of. I'm a journalist and I weigh my words," she added. She said the situation she found herself in was "absurd". "It's had a very bad effect on me. It makes me doubt whether we live in a democratic legal state. The fact that I have been charged is absurd." The incident drew Interior Minister Ivan Šimko into criticism of senior police officers after Jozef Vojdul'a, head of the Prešov regional police force, defended Peter S. by saying public officials were not obliged to shake hands with anyone and had an obligation to protect their own health. Following a police inspection of the case, Šimko apologised to Havrl'ová for the officer's conduct in March. The minister expressed his belief that the investigators would take a just stand in the proceedings against Havrl'ová. "The charges are a mockery of justice, and we will definitely appeal them," said Havrl'ová's lawyer, Ján Hrubala.
©The Slovak Spectator

Romathan stage troupe fights racism with song and celebration

In the town of Kosice in east Slovakia, not far from the famous Cathedral of St. Elisabeth, a unique cultural experiment is under way. An old, nondescript building houses the Romathan Theater, the only state-funded Romany (or Gypsy) stage troupe in Europe, and perhaps the world. It is a place filled with constant echoes of rhythm, where girls in long, flowery dresses run up and down the stairs while musicians tune their instruments. Walking into the cacophony of rehearsing violins, voices and handclaps is like entering the sometimes hidden world of Slovak and Central European Gypsy music and culture. This year marks a significant anniversary for Romathan. It was founded in 1992 through the efforts of Romany members of Parliament and persistent lobbying by Romany political organizations in Slovakia. A decade later, the company has grown to a staff of 46, including an ensemble of 34 musicians, singers, dancers and actors. Performing original music and drama, they are trying to do more than simply entertain.

"The goal of the theater is to preserve and maintain Romany culture with traditional music from not only Slovakia but also Poland, Russia, Hungary and Romania," says first violinist and director Karol Adam. Romathan also has a higher, more difficult goal: combating the persistent prejudice against Romany people and their culture. Where argument and force fail, the troupe believes, the persuasive power of music and drama may succeed. "Some people have streaks of racism, but this is about showing them something positive," Adam says. "And I think that the arts are a very good way. It's with music as a weapon that we should fight racism, because violence never pays."

Another dimension
Jan Silan, Romathan's 71-year-old artistic director, is non-Romany and a good example of the persuasive spell that Roma culture can weave. His involvement with the company came by chance. "My wife worked in the gas industry in Presov in the '80s, where many of the workers were Roma," he recalls. "She heard them singing and became fascinated with the richness of their musical culture. After the Velvet Revolution, she persuaded me to be a part of this project." It didn't take long to unearth a treasure trove. "We traveled all over Slovakia, going to folklore festivals to find talented people, which we found in abundance," Silan says. "The amount of Roma talent in this country is huge and truly unique." But bringing that talent to the stage was no small challenge. Just scheduling rehearsals was a major hurdle at first. "When it comes to conception of time, the Roma have a different mentality, and in the beginning this was a problem," Silan says. "We would have a rehearsal scheduled for 9, and people would show up until 11 or 12. They lived in another dimension. We had to be very strict and gradually discipline was improved." The music also had to be brought up to professional standards, as few of the performers had formal schooling. "There was never any lack of musicians," says Adam, 49. "But a lot of the violinists had learned to play from their fathers at home." Funding also poses a perennial problem. Romathan will receive about 6.1 million Sk ($130,000) in government funds this year -- a hefty subsidy in a financially strapped country, but a 2.4 million Sk drop from original funding levels. The company generates another 700,000 Sk in annual operating income from ticket sales and other sources, but that's still not enough to keep a talented ensemble together. Turnover is constant and Adam says he could easily use another 10 performers. Such hurdles have never dampened Romathan's energy or ambition. The company stages about 150 shows a year and tours constantly throughout Slovakia and Europe. It has performed in London, Paris, Budapest, Brussels, Strasbourg and Prague.

Musical drama
Romatha and spread the joy and beauty of Romany music. Still, in any discussion of the theater's work and goals, it doesn't take long for the conversation to turn political. "What kind of democracy do we have in this country when, for example, neither I nor my wife were allowed into the best hotel in this city?" Adam asks. "I was well dressed, but they had orders not to let in Roma. In some places, this happens frequently. "I am neither for segregation nor separation. On the contrary, I want us to live well together. But human rights have to be respected for Roma."

Image problems
A walk on the main square in Kosice, a stone's throw from the protected world of the theater, reveals little ethnic tension for the casual visitor. The Roma on the street seem as integrated as any other citizen. But that can be as illusory as any stage production, according to the younger members of Romathan, who reinforce Adam's comments about pervasive discrimination. "We want to go out and enjoy ourselves like everyone else," says Marian Balog, 29. "We usually go to bars where the waiters know us. But if we want to go elsewhere, we're just not let in. No matter how well dressed and 'adjusted' a Romany is, he won't get in. A Gypsy always remains a Gypsy." It's impossible to determine what percentage of the population is Romany. Many register under Slovak or Hungarian nationality and live mainstream, middle-class lives. Not far from the city, though, other Roma live in settlements of squalor and poverty. That is the image that characterizes Romany culture for many outsiders, a problem cast members are keenly aware of. "We Roma have also contributed to this bad image," says Ondrej Ferko, 25, singer and choirmaster of the ensemble. "We, the young generation, are now trying to correct this image that the older generation has created of us. We are trying to show that all Roma are not the same." Romathan also works from within, staging shows in poverty-stricken Romany settlements, hoping to foster pride and confidence in audience members. "We Roma should really help each other more and resolve internal problems within the community," Ferko says. "We should show the world that we know how to take care of ourselves."

Starting young
Prejudice against Roma often starts early. Consider one of the most common threats parents thoughtlessly make: "Be good or I'll give you to the Gypsies." "This is often said to children in this country," Silan says. "It is this intolerance which we are trying to fight." Even with that kind of upbringing, children have proven to be a receptive audience. The young, impressionable minds that unconsciously adopt the prejudices of an older generation are also fertile ground for new ideas. "Often when they arrive they are churlish, like teenagers are when they have to go to the theater with the school," says Silan. "But then they get absorbed by the performance and go home with an entirely different view on Roma." Adam recalls seeing skinheads at Romathan shows. "Before the performance they would shout, 'filthy Gypsies.' But when we started to play, the shouts silenced and there was applause instead. When people were on their way out, I heard with my own ears: 'These are not that kind of Gypsy. These people are artists.'" While generations of prejudice will not change overnight, anecdotal evidence suggests that Romathan is succeeding not only in preserving an important musical heritage but also in reducing racism. "This is our goal: to influence the majority so that they will not look negatively on Roma," says Adam. "Because we all live here, in Slovakia. We are all born here and this is everyone's country."
©The Prague Post

Much fewer foreigners were granted asylum in the Czech Republic last year compared to 2000, according to a last year's Interior Ministry report given to CTK by Blanka Travnikova from the ministry asylum and migration police department. The report showed that it were most often asylum-seekers from European countries who were granted political asylum in the Czech Republic last year, with natives of Belarus who left the country ruled by authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenko making the largest group - 23. In all, 75 refugees were granted asylum last year, which is 58 less than in 2000 and four less than in 1999. More than 18,000 people asked for asylum last year, the largest number since 1990. Apart from Belarusians, nine citizens of the former Yugoslavia, three Russians and three Ukrainians were granted asylum, making the number of Europeans who obtained asylum in the Czech Republic 38. Twenty-eight refugees from Asian countries who received asylum last year were the second largest group and eight refugees from Africa were the third largest group. Most number of refugees who asked asylum last year - more than 10,000 - were from Europe and almost 7,000 were from Asia, to be followed with a considerable gap by refugees from Africa and America...

A new asylum law, which has been valid since 1 February, is designed to lower the number of asylum seekers. According to the law asylum-seekers, for instance, cannot be employed in the Czech Republic during one year since the start of the asylum proceedings. The numbers of asylum applications registered in February and March have decreased by half compared to January.
©The Prague Post

About 50 skinheads attacked shortly after midnight a group of punks and "sharp skinheads" who are against racism, local police said. The skirmish resulted in two lightly injured people beaten into head by a baseball bat by the racist skinheads. The brawl started at the moment when participants in a rock concert were leaving a local pub. However, many participants in the concert say that the police could prevent the attack by the skinheads. "Everyone in Brno knew that neo-Nazis were about to assault the 'sharps' and punks," an eye-witness said. "The police were on the scene of the act and monitored the situation. No special forces were called and the situation was resolved by police patrols," a police officer said.
©The Prague Post

The far right's strong showing in the first round of France's presidential elections is the latest example of the general turn to the right across Europe in the last few years. Center-left governments and coalitions have lost office in Italy, Norway, Denmark and Portugal, and strong challenges have been mounted by conservative candidates in the campaigns for coming elections in Germany and the Netherlands. But this mirrors the traditional pendulum swings of European politics. More alarming, in the view of many analysts, is the recent shift of far rightist parties from the periphery to the center of political debate. While specific circumstances vary from country to country, extreme rightists appear to have benefited from voters' anger that mainstream parties have ignored the perceived link between rising crime and immigration. Some far-right parties, like Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front, have campaigned aggressively against political elites and exploited disillusion with the European Union.

Austria's far-right Freedom Party was the first to join a government coalition in 2000. Two strongly rightist parties now belong to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's conservative government in Italy. And Denmark's anti-immigrant People's Party supports a center-right government in Parliament. Le Pen's National Front has long been marginalized by France's main parties and media, with the country's complex two-round voting system insuring that it is barely represented in Parliament. But for the next two weeks, Le Pen will stand at the heart of French politics, his strong showing Sunday for the first time earning him legitimacy if not respectability. A recent wave of attacks on Jewish targets in some countries, notably France, has raised fears that a revival of European anti-Semitism is accompanying the extreme rightist surge. So far, desecration of some Jewish cemeteries and the firebombing of a synagogue in Marseille appear to be the work of gangs of young Arab immigrants protesting the Israeli offensive in the West Bank. If anything, these attacks have deepened anti-immigrant sentiments.

The rise of a far right in the Netherlands is perhaps most surprising. Coalition governments there have always been built around a liberal consensus. But since municipal elections in Rotterdam in February, the debate has been transformed by a far-rightist movement headed by Pim Fortuyn, a former Marxist sociology professor, who is as hostile to Muslim immigrants as he is supportive of Israel. After he and his followers won 36 percent of the vote in Rotterdam, Fortuyn has brought his anti-immigrant views to the campaign for parliamentary elections on May 15. Like other right-wing populists in Europe, he is trying to appeal to voters who are tired of rising crime which, in the Netherlands, is often attributed to gangs of immigrants from Morocco, Turkey and the Caribbean. Another of Fortuyn's pitches - that immigrants should accept the customs of the countries that receive them - also echoes the views of voters in other European countries, notably France, Britain and Germany, where people were stunned to discover that Islamic extremists linked to Osama bin Laden were operating with apparent impunity before Sept. 11. Although far rightist leaders no longer propose repatriating immigrants, there are signs of growing public impatience with new waves of asylum-seekers. Britain has been swamped by asylum-seekers slipping through the Channel Tunnel, while Italy and Spain have become favorite entry points to Europe.
©International Herald Tribune

When will the violence in Gujarat stop? Judging by the horrific events of this weekend, not yet. Nearly two months after communal rioting first broke out in India's most infamous state, there were more deaths in Gujarat. Some 17 people were killed and at least 100 injured in fresh Hindu-Muslim clashes. The state's main city Ahmedabad continues to burn. A group of Muslims dragged a police constable into a lane and stabbed him to death on Sunday. The police responded by going on a killing spree, shooting dead at least six Muslims in the Gomtipur area of the city. They included an 18-year-old girl, Nazimabanu Mehmood Hussain, and her 42-year-old father. She and the other victims of what is euphemistically known as "police firing" were shot in the head at point blank range. The depressing cycle of violence follows a now-familiar pattern in which Gujarat's partisan Hindu police force - instead of trying to stop the violence - trains its guns on India's minority community.

The response of Gujarat's unrepentant Hindu nationalist chief minister, Narendar Modi, has been to blame the media. In full-page adverts in Sunday's Indian newspapers Mr Modi accuses his critics of "malicious propaganda". They have tarnished Gujarat's reputation by spreading "untruths", he says. Few people outside India's ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) - of which Mr Modi is a member - share this view. Last week a leaked report compiled by senior diplomats at the British high commission in New Delhi squarely pointed the finger of blame for the violence at Mr Modi and his administration. The report also suggested that the official death toll - 800 - was a gross underestimate. A truer figure was 2,000, with the vast majority of dead Muslims, the report noted. Extremist Hindu organisations began preparing an attack against the state's Muslim community well before the Godhra tragedy, in which a Muslim mob burned to death 56 Hindus on a train, the report added.

In a declaration to be made public this week, the European Union compares events in Gujarat since February 27 with the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany. "The carnage in Gujarat was a kind of apartheid ... and has parallels with Germany of the 1930s", the declaration says. While secular Indians have been appalled by the epic scale of the retaliatory destruction in Gujarat, Mr Modi has become a hero among hardliners within the BJP and its Hindu revivalist allies. It is this, perhaps, which explains why India's BJP prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had refused to give in to persistent demands from the opposition to sack the defiant Mr Modi. It seems that many in the BJP and its revanchist sister organisations feel that India's Muslims have finally got the beating they deserve. "The Muslims have to be taught a lesson, once and for all", Pravin Togadiya, the secretary general of the extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), opined on Sunday. Mr Vajpayee clearly finds the violence embarrassing. India's reputation internationally has suffered badly. New Delhi's previously plausible argument that the problem of extremism was one that only affected its archrival Pakistan now seems hollow. But with the BJP in deep electoral trouble, many within the ruling party believe that continuing Hindu-Muslim unrest is the best way to consolidate its Hindu vote bank and bounce back to victory in a general election scheduled for 2004.

India's ultra-nationalist home minister LK Advani - seen by many as a successor to Mr Vajpayee - has defended Mr Modi. The bodies have continued to pile up, but Mr Advani has maintained a sphinx-like silence, which appears to hint at approval. Several of the prime minister's secular coalition partners, meanwhile, have also demanded Mr Modi's dismissal. But they have refrained from pulling the plug on the government, realising that loss of office, which an early general election would bring, means loss of influence, power, and ©The Guardian

A Norwegian was sentenced to prison on Tuesday for posting racist and anti-Semitic propaganda on a Web site — a rare conviction for hate speech on the Internet. The Anti-Racism Center in Oslo filed a police complaint against Tore W. Tvedt, founder of the Vigrid right-wing extremist group, in November after finding possibly illegal material on the group's Internet site. The Asker and Baerum District Court, on the outskirts of the capital, found the 59-year-old Tvedt guilty on five of six counts of violating Norway's anti-racism law. It also convicted him of a weapons violation and interfering with police. The ruling said it put special weight on Tevdt's efforts to draw children and young people into anti-Semitic and racist beliefs. He was sentenced to 75 days in prison, with 45 days suspended, and two years probation. Tvedt's lawyer, Vidar Lind Iversen, said he would appeal.

Activists welcomed what they said was Norway's first conviction for racism on the Internet. ``This is historic because it is the first time someone has been sentenced to prison and has to serve jail time for making racist statements,'' said Henrik Lunde of the Anti-Racism Center in Oslo. He said the case also was precedent-setting because the Norwegian was held responsible for the contents of his home page, even though it was posted on a server that was based in the United States and out of Norway's jurisdiction.

In neighboring Sweden, the tabloid Aftonbladet was fined $3,400 on March 7 for allowing racist remarks on its Internet chat site, while a French court will hear a lawsuit against Yahoo Inc. involving auctioning of Nazi paraphernalia next month. Lunde said it has been hard to get racism convictions in Norway, a Scandinavian nation of 4.5 million people, especially for propaganda often anonymously spread on the Internet. ``He was convicted for many reasons, which was possible because he stood up and clearly identified himself as the responsible publisher of the material,'' Lunde said. On its Internet site, Vigrid professes a doctrine that mixes neo-Nazism, racial hatred and religion, claiming to worship Odin and other ancient Norse gods. Lunde says the site included harsh, often extremely vulgar, anti-Jewish and racist statements, articles and even fairy tales for children. The size of the group is not known, probably only a few youths, he said.
©Associated Press

The Justice Ministry has only one thing to say about President Vladimir Putin's announcement that legislation aimed at cracking down on racial violence will be sent to parliament. It's about time. In early 1999, when Putin was head of the Federal Security Service, the ministry noticed an alarming growth in racism among teenagers and drew up an anti-extremism bill for the State Duma. Communists and their supporters, who at the time dominated the Duma, quickly dumped the bill, fearing it would somehow be used against them once they passed it. The new Duma with a pro-Kremlin majority fished the bill out of the scrap heap last year but, faced with the need to update it to comply with new related legislation, sent it back to the government for reworking and soon forgot about it. "The bill was not an issue, and the Communists were strongly against it," said Sergei Nikolin, the Justice Ministry's top official for state security and law enforcement legislation. "Now the situation has changed. The president has shown his interest," he said in an interview.

Putin may have had little choice but to pull the Justice Ministry's bill out of legislative limbo and declare in his state of the nation address Thursday that the Cabinet would soon submit it to the Duma. The embassies of about a dozen countries had sounded the alarm bell in the week before his speech, responding to a rash of skinhead threats and attacks over the previous two months. But some Duma deputies and analysts said there is little need for such a bill; existing laws already allow tough charges to be brought against skinheads and others responsible for racial violence. The problem in enforcing the laws lies in an ineffective police force and a lax court system, they said. Despite Putin's comments last week, he had not completely forgotten about the Justice Ministry's anti-extremism bill. Earlier this year, he asked the ministry to rework the bill and submit it to the presidential administration for approval before being sent to the Duma again. But the legislation got stuck once again, this time in the presidential administration. Justice Minister Yury Chaika said shortly after Putin's address that the bill would allow charges to be brought against both attackers and the parties deemed as having inspired them.

Nikolin said the bill bans groups, parties and movements whose activities or remarks incite national or religious hatred. The bill also allows the prosecution of ultra-nationalist organizations and their members who remain active after being banned. He was reluctant to give further details, saying it may be undergoing a drastic revision at the hands of the presidential administration. Experts said that violence committed by skinheads and anti-extremism legislation are two separate issues. They said racially motivated attacks can only be averted by jailing offenders on a charge of a hate crime rather than hooliganism, as is usually the case now. "Racially motivated crimes are usually combined with other crimes, which judges usually pick as the main charge when they announce a verdict," Pavel Krasheninnikov, a former justice minister and the head of the Duma's legislative committee, said in interview. "It is important to have anti-extremism legislation, but it is wrong to say that its absence gives us no instruments to fight against extremists," Krasheninnikov said. Andrei Ryabov of the Moscow Carnegie Center said law enforcement agencies also must be held more accountable. "[Further violence] can be avoided only by putting constant pressure on law enforcement," he said. "The system just will not work without a firm hand."

A number of Western countries, including Germany, Sweden and the United States, have met success in preventing and fighting hate crimes by holding various counseling programs for offenders. One such program has offenders sitting face to face with members of the groups they dislike. Bu the Caucasus for high crime rates. Lawmakers as recently as Wednesday refused to put the anti-extremism bill on the Duma agenda, apparently still fearing that one day it would become a tool their opponents could use against them. "There is a common apprehension that the law may be used by one political force against another," Ryabov said.
©The Moscow Times

Far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen was jeered as he took his bid for the French presidency to the heart of Europe Wednesday while rival Jacques Chirac warned of the danger to France of his firebrand policies. Tens of thousands marched through French cities for the fourth day to protest against Le Pen, a fierce anti-immigration and anti-EU campaigner whose emergence on the political scene has stunned France. In Brussels, scuffles broke out as the National Front leader and Euro MP arrived to take his seat in the European Parliament, where he was heckled by fellow lawmakers and later forced to cancel a planned press conference. Le Pen, who has vowed to pull France out of the EU if he is elected president, had to run the gauntlet of 1,000 protesters in the Belgian capital who held aloft placards reading "Le Pen out" and "Fascism will not pass". Despite his fiercely eurosceptic and anti-immigrant views, Le Pen has been a member of the European Parliament since 1984, thanks to the fact that its deputies are elected by proportional representation.

The 73-year-old ex-paratrooper was in characteristically bullish form the day after Chirac, 69, refused a customary television debate with him before the May 5 run-off election. But Chirac, who is seeking a second term in office, scoffed when a television interviewer asked if he refused the debate out of fear. "I don't fear him. But I have fear of the extreme right, for France," he told state-run France 2 television He said France's principles and its image abroad had already been shaken by Le Pen's unexpected success and that, if his rival took his job, the country would be on "a dangerous path". Polls indicate Chirac will easily win the next round after left-wing parties pledged their vote for him purely to keep out Le Pen, who leapt past Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and 14 other candidates in qualifying elections last Sunday to win the right to challenge Chirac. In an effort to attract voters swayed by Le Pen's tough law-and-order message, Chirac emphasised his own platform which called for a reinforced judiciary and police and a "ministry of security" that would have a direct line to the presidency. Le Pen had said Chirac's refusal to debate him was "intolerable" attack on democracy. But a former prime minister under Chirac, Alain Juppe, said a televised debate would have degenerated "into a wrestling match" between the president and his pugnacious challenger. "It would have been fun for those who like theatre, but counter-productive on a political level," he said. However, Le Pen's disappointment was shared by the French, according to a survey in the Le Parisien newspaper which showed 69 percent of the population wanted to see a debate between the two. That has been the only public display in Le Pen's favour since he swept over a widely dispersed left-wing vote and record abstention in qualifying elections last Sunday to grab second spot in the run-off against Chirac with 17 percent of the ballots.

The shock result knocked Jospin out of the race, who immediately announced his resignation and who bade farewell to his cabinet Wednesday. His party and its left-wing partners have called for a massive vote for Chirac just to keep Le Pen's score low. Surveys indicate Chirac will win with around 80 percent of the vote, to 20 percent for Le Pen, though analysts say complacency with this prediction may lead left-wing voters to stay home on the day of the election, pushing up Le Pen's share of the vote. Since Sunday, daily protests involving up to 100,000 people have erupted in most of France's cities and towns against Le Pen. Riot police in Paris have fired tear gas to clear bottle-throwing demonstrators three nights in a row. More street protests are planned, with huge, nationwide rallies organised for the weekend and a climactic show of opposition scheduled for May 1, a pub ©The Tocqueville Connection

The Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has leapt to the defence of the Northern League, one of his coalition allies, after it was described as "racist and xenophobic" in a Council of Europe report. Its conclusions are particularly embarrassing for Mr Berlusconi - whose government contains three of the party's ministers - in the wake of Jean-Marie Le Pen's success in the first round of the French presidential elections.

Drafted by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), the report was approved by the council last June and published in Strasbourg on Monday. "ECRI is alarmed by the participation in the governing coalition of political parties whose members have resorted to xenophobic and intolerant propaganda," it says. The anti-immigrant Northern League is singled out as an organisation whose members "have made a particularly intense use of racist and xenophobic propaganda". Publication of excerpts in the Milan daily Corriere della Sera forced Mr Berlusconi to defend his ally, denying that it was racist or xenophobic.

The party's founder, Umberti Bossi, has also been at pains to distance himself from Mr Le Pen, whom he described as a "fascist" in an interview in the Corriere yesterday. "Le Pen wants to throw immigrants into the sea, while we want a clear law on immigration," he said. "Regular immigrants, immigrants who work, honest immigrants - we're ready to help them." But Mr Bossi has spoken of the need to put up a net along Italy's northern border to keep out illegal immigrants from eastern Europe. He has also suggested that only a quarter of legal immigrants actually worked. "Another 800,000 don't do squat," he told a rally last year.
©The Guardian

Here in this run-down city, where police in bulletproof vests patrol against drug dealing and outbreaks of racial violence, a right-wing party is using an economic slump and post-Sept. 11 distrust of immigrants to build a power base. On May 2, Britons will closely watch local elections in Oldham and other cities to see whether the British National Party can make good on its promise to establish a political foothold. Oldham is fertile ground for hatred after fighting between teen-agers of white and South Asian descent left one white dead in February. Last year, there were racial riots there and in three other northern cities. In some of the poorest neighborhoods of Oldham, dominated by abandoned buildings and shoddy public housing, the BNP and its main opponent, the Anti Nazi League, were handing out leaflets door to door last week.

Few observers expect to see the British National Party gain the kind of political support that similar right-wing extremist groups have in other European countries such as France, Austria, Denmark, Italy or the Netherlands. Historically, the far right has never won much support in Britain. But the surprisingly strong showing by extreme nationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen in France's presidential election Sunday has raised concerns in Prime Minister Tony Blair's government and the British media. It also prompted Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, to predict that his party could ``follow the same trajectory'' as Le Pen's French National Front. In Britain's last general election in June, the BNP, which advocates sending immigrants back to their countries of origin, sharply increased its votes over the previous ballot  but received less than 1 percent of the total. Currently, the party holds no legislative or council seats. The May 2 balloting will fill 6,000 council seats in 174 local bodies, and the BNP is fielding 68 candidates. Its campaign has focused on racially divided areas such as Oldham, Burnley, Bradford and Leeds, the four cities where last spring's race riots occurred, allegedly with the support of BNP activists.

``The BNP wants to send us all home,'' said T. Ullah, 45, who lives in Oldham's South Asian neighborhood of Glodwick. ``Why? Because it doesn't like our color.'' Not far away, on a bus in downtown Oldham, Trevor Burke, a 67-year-old white resident, said: ``I voted for the BNP last time, and I will again this time. We must keep the existing immigrants under control, and keep all the new ones out.'' After last year's riots, a government analysis concluded that too many whites and members of ethnic minorities were leading separate lives with no sense of shared nationality. It urged immigrants to become active British citizens. In February, Home Secretary David Blunkett urged minorities to speed the integration process by adapting British ``norms of acceptability.'' He proposed that newcomers take an oath of allegiance, study British history and culture, and embrace ``our laws, our values, our institutions.'' In Oldham, Burnley, Bradford and Leeds, the BNP has promoted suspicions among poor whites that Asian minorities are getting too big a share of scarce redevelopment aid in decaying industrial areas. ll four cities once thrived on prosperous textile mills that drew immigrants from Muslim countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh to work the night shifts that the local people didn't want. But many of those mills have closed, leaving most of the cities with struggling economies.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, the BNP also has gained some support among whites by reminding them that Britain has been a breeding ground for some Islamic radicals linked to terror groups. Mike Treacy, a leading BNP candidate in Oldham, where minorities make up about 11 percent of the 220,000-strong population, has told voters the Quran says Muslims are superior to all other people. New riots were barely averted ©Associated Press

A group of lawmakers -- including Russia's main representative to the Council of Europe -- say they have begun a campaign to shore up the morals of the country by recriminalizing homosexuality. Four State Duma deputies -- Dmitry Rogozin, who heads the Russian delegation to the Council of Europe, Gennady Raikov, Vadim Bulainov and Gadzhi Makhachev -- have introduced an amendment to the Criminal Code that punishes sodomy with up to five years in jail. If passed, the legislation would mark a return to the repression of the Soviet era, when thousands of men accused of being homosexuals were sent to jail, opponents said Wednesday. However, few deputies expected that the amendment would become law, and some called the initiative a blatant publicity stunt. Raikov, head of the pro-Kremlin People's Deputy faction, said it was high time that homosexuality be punished. "You need to punish homosexuality for three reasons: the spread of AIDS, the destruction of spiritual morals and the existence in Russia of four religious confessions that ban it," he said in televised remarks Tuesday night. "It's all blue," said a supporter of the amendment, Communist Deputy Vasily Shandybin, using the slang term for homosexuals. "All around there are blues, in the presidential administration and in the government and in the Duma. ... Who is running us?"

The bill, which was filed in the Duma last Thursday but only made public this week, provoked sharp criticism from the political mainstream. "If there are people with a different sexual orientation, as acknowledged by psychologists and doctors, we must take care of their rights," said Russia's human rights ombudsman Oleg Mironov, Interfax reported. "It will cause laughter in Europe," said Oleg Morozov, a deputy with Russia's Regions. "If you want to fight against such a phenomenon, you cannot do it with the help of prison. That would be an uncivilized move." "It's naked populism," said Alexander Barannikov, a Unity deputy on the Duma's law committee, which has to decide whether to send the amendment to the Duma floor for a vote. He said Rogozin, as a representative to the Council of Europe, the human rights body which actively supports gay rights, should lose his post. "I think that a person with such homophobic views cannot represent Russia in the Council of Europe," he said by telephone. Rogozin's office denied that he co-authored the bill. "He simply supports it. He didn't prepare it," said Rogozin's spokesman Sergei Butin. However, the amendment, a copy of which was obtained by The Moscow Times, identifies Rogozin as a co-author. All four authors are members of People's Deputy. Officials at the Council of Europe refused to comment. Vladislav Reznik, deputy head of Unity, predicted the bill would cause outrage in the Council of Europe. "It's difficult to look at the amendment as rational," he said in remarks shown on RTR and NTV television.

Gay rights activists said Russia's desire to join the Council of Europe led it to scrap clause 121.1 of the Soviet-era Criminal Code that criminalized homosexuality. "This violates Russia's commitments to the Council of Europe," said Nikita Ivanov, legal adviser to gay.ru, Russia's biggest gay web site. Male homosexuality was criminalized in 1933, while there was never a law penalizing lesbians. Among the thousands of men sent to prison were singer Vadim Kozin, director Sergei Paradzhanov and writer Gennady Trifonov. Although politicians and the authors of the amendment itself are talking about the legislation as the recriminalization of homosexuality, it only outlaws sodomy. The amendment stresses that other sexual acts between men and all acts between women would not be criminalized. Although the stated aim is to prevent the rise of AIDS, most of those infected in Russia contracted the virus through drug use rather than homosexual sex. Reznik said the amendment has little chance of being approved, and Barann ©The Moscow Times

Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov said Wednesday that authorities would begin keeping tabs on all foreigners who enter the country in an effort to crack down on illegal immigration. Gryzlov said police would soon conduct a thorough check of all foreigners "to determine whether they are living in our country legally," Interfax quoted him as saying. Speaking at a conference on migration policy, Gryzlov also called for the creation of a national database to track foreigners from the moment they cross the border. The measure appears to be aimed mainly at halting the flow of illegal immigrants from Central Asia and the Transcaucasus.

"There is no way to say exactly how many foreigners are living on Russian territory," Gryzlov said, according to Itar-Tass. "At border checkpoints, people entering the country are checked only in a database of people whose entry is undesirable. After that, the information about those entering disappears from the computer." He added that under the current system expired visas are only detected if police happen to stop someone for a document check or detain a foreigner for a separate violation. He estimated the number of illegal immigrants in Russia at 1.5 million. Gryzlov said his ministry would ask the government for additional funds to create the new database. He said the country also needed three times as many border checkpoints than it has. Gryzlov also suggested raising the duty paid by Russian companies who hire foreigners, Itar-Tass said. Currently, companies pay 140 rubles ($4.70), while two years ago they paid 3,900 rubles ($130 at the current rate), Gryzlov said.

During his more than two years in office, President Vladimir Putin first liquidated the country's Migration Service and later the Nationalities Ministry, which he had put in charge of migration. Now the issue is wholly in the realm of the Interior Ministry, which oversees police. Human rights organizations and liberal lawmakers strongly criticized the transfer of migration enforcement to the Interior Ministry, saying police are biased against foreigners. But an Interior Ministry spokeswoman, who refused to be identified, played down the importance of the campaign announced by Gryzlov, saying that it was just the Interior Ministry's way of making its presence felt. "The Interior Ministry must do something since it has received responsibility [for the Federal Migration Service]," she said.
©The Moscow Times

A group of about 50 youths attacked the central synagogue in Kiev, beating three people with stones, hurling bottles and breaking windows, the rabbi said Sunday. Kiev's chief rabbi, Moshe-Reuven Azman, said the mob marched down the Ukrainian capital's main boulevard shouting "Kill the Jews!" before attacking the synagogue shortly after 9 p.m. Saturday. The assailants knocked the rector of Kiev's yeshiva to the ground and beat him with stones, Azman said. The rector, Tsvi Kaplan, was hospitalized overnight and released Sunday. Azman said his own 14-year-old son, Jorik, and a security guard were also injured and that the attackers broke 20 windows in the synagogue. "I call this act a pogrom," Azman said. "It's a miracle that it was not worse." The attack occurred after Saturday evening services, and many worshippers had already left the building. "We didn't understand what was happening. All of a sudden, we saw a crowd running toward us with rocks," Azman's son Jorik told Russia's NTV television.

Broken glass covered the floor of the synagogue Sunday, and police stood guard outside. Police denied the attack was anti-Semitic, saying it was a case of soccer-related violence. A soccer game had just ended at a stadium near the synagogue. "The act was not motivated by anti-Semitism, but was an act of brutal hooliganism," Ukraine's Interior Ministry said, according to the Interfax news agency. Most of the attackers had fled when police arrived about 20 minutes after the synagogue alerted them, Azman said. Police detained eight people, all soccer fans ages 18 to 20, Echo of Moscow radio reported. Attacks on ethnic minorities by rowdy soccer fans, many with shaved heads, are fairly common in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics, where anti-Semitism is widespread. There has been a wave of anti-Semitic attacks in France and other European countries this month amid Israel's offensive in the West Bank. Azman would not speculate on whether the attack was linked to tension in the Middle East, saying only that it was prompted by "the general situation."
©Nando Media

Moscow city police said on Monday they planned to tighten security before April 20, the anniversary of Adolf Hitler's birthday, which skinhead nationalist gangs have met with violence in the past. Last week, the U.S. embassy warned its citizens in Russia to avoid crowds where gangs of shorn-headed nationalist youth gather. Violence by so-called skinheads peaks in April and May, and foreigners may be a target, the embassy said. Last April 20, Russian skinheads went on a rampage in an ethnic Azeri street market, trashing stalls and beating merchants. A Chechen man was stabbed to death in another part of Moscow. A few days after the late Nazi leader's birthday in 1998, a group of youths broke the teeth of a black U.S. Marine embassy guard in an attack in a park. "Of course the police are preparing," Yevgeny Gildeyev, spokesman for Moscow city police said by telephone. "Operational intelligence has been gathered and we are planning to guarantee security. The plan will probably be announced in the next few days," he said. Skinhead gangs, modeled on nationalist organizations in Western Europe, have spread among disaffected and poor youth in the former Soviet Union, especially in the past four or five years. Spring is also the peak of the soccer season, often accompanied by skinhead violence. A league match between bitter cross-town rivals CSKA and Spartak is scheduled for Sunday, April 21. Both teams' fans include gangs of extremist youth who have clashed in the past. Police usually deploy thousands of officers at city matches. On Sunday, about 50 youths attacked a synagogue in Kiev, capital of neighboring Ukraine, shouting "Kill the Jews," beating up Jewish worshippers and smashing windows. Police believe the attackers were soccer fans returning from a match.

Several thousand left-wing demonstrators have clashed with police in the Austrian capital, Vienna, as they tried to disrupt a protest by far-right groups against an exhibition that blames the German army, the Wehrmacht, for World War II atrocities. Throwing bottles and stones, and chanting "Nazis out", the demonstrators tried to break through police barricades into Vienna's historic square, Heldenplatz, where about 100 far-right activists were staging their protest. Police used water cannon to disperse the left-wing groups, who have strongly criticised the a protest to go ahead on Heldenplatz, where in 1938 vast crowds cheered Adolf Hitler's annexation of Austria. The far-right protesters said they wanted to defend the memory of more than one million Austrian soldiers who fought for the Wehrmacht, claiming that the exhibition's evidence contained numerous falsehoods. About 800 police officers with dogs and riot gear were deployed, and a police spokesman said there had been several arrests.

Controversial exhibition
The exhibition challenges the widely-held belief, particularly among Germans, that the Nazi SS and Gestapo were exclusively responsible for such atrocities. It provides documentary and photographic evidence to support the view that between 1941 and 1944, the Nazi German army systematically starved, tortured and murdered civilians on the Eastern front. When the exhibition was first staged in Germany and Austria in 1995, it was engulfed by disputes over its accuracy, and was withdrawn two years later when some of its photographs were shown to be fakes. The new show was put together by 11 historians whose decisions were vetted by a panel of experts. It places less emphasis on photographic evidence and includes sections showing that in some - albeit rare cases - army officers did refuse to carry out their orders. These changes were not enough to prevent demonstrations by right-wing extremists in Berlin and other German cities when the new exhibition opened late last year. When it opened in Berlin, police used water cannon, tear gas and batons to keep apart extremist groups. Vienna's Jewish community has distanced itself from the left-wing demonstration, saying that its rhetoric has fuelled anti-semitism in Austria.
©BBC News

The Independent Television Commission (ITC) has criticised commercial television channels for a "glaring" lack of ethnic minority stars on screen. The ITC, in its annual report, also called for more imagination in TV scheduling - especially in daytime - and highlighted a 40% drop in arts programming in peak hours over the last four years. But the TV watchdog was positive about other aspects of commercial TV and praised Channel 5 for producing better quality factual programmes, after having accused it last year of concentrating on "human interest, disasters, and dysfunctional behaviour". The commission also praised the reporting of the 11 September attacks on the US, singling out Sky News for its comprehensive coverage. The representation of the UK's multi-ethnic communities was particularly poor in ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5's entertainment programming, said the report. "The absence of any comedy or light entertainment shows led by, or significantly involving, ethnic minority personalities is glaring across all three networks," it said. The ITC said that broadcasters recognised the need to improve multicultural representation. But the absence of systematic monitoring of their performance in this area threatened to undermine their good intentions. And, the report noted that though Channel 4's "excellent" multicultural programming exceed the channel's three hours a week requirement, they were rarely shown at peak time. Channel 4's new show with Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan, previously of ITV1's This Morning had, the ITC said, "failed to live up to expectations" and there has been a steady decline in audience figures.

The report also concluded:

  • Daytime TV showed a lack of imagination
  • Reality TV shows dominated the evening schedules
  • Channels relied too much on programmes "observing and revealing coarse behaviour" in their pursuit of the 16-34 age range
  • Channels had exhausted the "Top 10" and "From Hell" formats instead of trying to build more diverse schedules.

    But the report noted that complaints about violence, sex scenes and language all fell last year. And their had been significant progress over 2001 in creating a "digital Britain" with around 40% of UK homes now connected to digital services.
    ©BBC News

    The first thing the agents at Germany's domestic intelligence service, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, did for one right-wing extremist was to buy him a down jacket. The young man had fled from his comrades clad only in a T-shirt. The officers also found the young man an apartment. They have helped others get treatment for their alcoholism. For almost a year now, the domestic intelligence service has carried out the Interior Ministry's policy of assisting skinheads and neo-Nazis who are seeking a way out of the scene. Since April 17, 2001, the service has operated a telephone hotline for neo-Nazi dropouts. Out of a total of 750 callers, the agency reports, 170 were initially judged to be interested in leaving their milieu; 66 are receiving intensive attention; and support has been discontinued in only 27 cases. Considering that the Office for the Protection of the Constitution estimates Germany had close to 50,000 right-wing extremists in 2001, the success may seem meager. But a spokesman for the agency says the dropout program should be viewed as a signal. He says the program demonstrates that the state is willing to give individuals a second chance and helps undermine the right-wing scene. The 66 would-be dropouts are a representative cross-section of that scene, he says. According to agency statistics, more than 90 percent were men, 40 percent came from eastern Germany and only 10 percent had no police record. Two-thirds were between the ages of 18 and 30.

    The domestic intelligence agency assigns to the defectors officers from its Cologne headquarters who are experienced in recruiting right-wing informers and evaluating information about the scene. They say their new assignment has, in some cases, provided insight into previously unknown extremist groups. But using their wards as long-term sources is considered taboo, since the program is designed to remove people from their right-wing milieu, not to develop sources. Some callers are only interested in money or lighter prison sentences, so the Cologne agency first tries to gauge the seriousness of their desire to reform. After initial telephone contacts, a right-wing extremist is asked to come in for a personal talk. If the person provides misinformation about crimes or debts, then he or she will not be allowed into the program. "There is no legal entitlement to assistance," the officers stress. The program is a way out, but it is up to individuals to cease contact with their right-wing comrades and accept basic rules of conduct. Unlike some other dropout programs, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution does not try to convert anyone or demand that people grapple with ideological issues. "We are interested in activities, not convictions," a spokesman says. The agency regards right-wing extremists as dangerous when they commit violence in groups. So, its goal is achieved if skinheads or neo-Nazis leave the scene.
    ©Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

    The French far right has bounced back from a damaging split four years ago, to the consternation of its many enemies, and is on course to win almost 16 per cent of the vote in the first round of presidential elections on Sunday. Latest polls show the National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen attracting as much as 14 per cent. Support for his former deputy and author of the 1998 schism, Bruno Mégret, who advocates an unashamedly racist and anti-immigration platform, is running at between 2 and 2.5 per cent. A total of 16 per cent would represent a remarkable comeback. In the European elections three years ago, the two achieved barely 9 per cent between them. The new poll figures gave Mr Le Pen an unexpected boost on the eve of his final campaign rally in Paris tonight, a rally that will probably also herald the end of his presidential ambitions. Although still bursting with energy at 73, he is visibly ageing and unlikely to stand again.

    In Marseille this week, before a doting southern audience, he bade his real farewell – and made his last, fighting, stand. The poor outer suburbs of Marseille have been a bedrock of National Front support over the years, and on Tuesday night Mr Le Pen did them proud. His convoy, with outriders, cut a screeching swath through the blocked rush-hour traffic of inner Marseille. Mobbed by dark-suited protégés on arrival, he was serenaded into the hall by a cabaret singer, who led a calypso chorus: "With Jean-Marie/we are carefree..." An ecstatic audience lit sparklers and chanted "Le Pen – President", to produce the nearest thing they could to a torchlight procession without leaving their seats. Four huge "eternal flames" on the podium changed from orange to National Front yellow and he launched into a 75-minute performance – part-lecture, part-tirade and part-stand-up comedy routine, with some vicious mimicry of his rivals. The main target was President Jacques Chirac. "To see a prime minister of the left behaving like a man of the left was unfortunate," he said of the Socialist, Lionel Jospin, "but nothing out of the ordinary." But "to watch a President of the right behaving like a man of the left, was nothing short of betrayal." But Mr Le Pen also dissociated himself from the "xenophobia" of his further-right rival. Attacking Mr Chirac and Mr Mégret is a political tightrope that Mr Le Pen has had to walk throughout this campaign. "People ask what I stand for?" he has taken to asking rhetorically. And he answers with just a flick of the old race card: "On social policy, I'm on the right; on economic policy, I'm on the left; on nationality issues, I'm French." A storm of applause is assured.

    The rebound of the far right has shocked the mainstream parties and now worries them as much as the fragmentation of the rest of the vote. In their "nightmare" scenario, a united National Front (or far-right party) candidate could squeeze into the two-person run-off for the Presidency. This would happen only if Mr Le Pen could overtake one or other candidate in the first round, but with some polls giving Mr Jospin as little as 17 per cent and Mr Chirac 18.5 per cent, nothing can be excluded. In practice, this would only guarantee a landslide victory for Mr Le Pen's second-round opponent (of whichever party). But it would raise once again a question that has eaten at Mr Le Pen and his supporters for more than 20 years. How come a party that speaks for so many has not been invited to join a government of the right? Mr Le Pen blames Jacques Chirac. If only, he says, Mr Chirac had allied the Gaullists with the National Front, they could have defeated François Mitterrand in 1988. Instead, he says bitterly, the then-Gaullist leader preferred to cede power to the left.
    ©Independent Digital

    A group claiming to represent Russian skinheads has sent threatening electronic mail messages to foreign embassies in Moscow, warning that foreigners should leave the country or face attacks. Officials in the embassies of the United States, Japan, India, the Philippines, Italy and Sweden confirmed Friday that they had received the English-language messages, and many more foreign missions were reported to have been recipients as well. On Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy issued a warning to U.S. citizens to "exercise caution and to avoid large gatherings and areas frequented by 'skinhead' groups." U.S. Consul General James Warlick said the warning had been prompted by the e-mail threat, as well as the upcoming anniversary of Adolf Hitler's birth on April 20 and several recent skinhead attacks. Two U.S. citizens were assaulted last month in the southern city of Krasnodar, and Americans were harassed this month in Moscow, including at such major tourist sites as Red Square and the Arbat pedestrian mall. "Our advice is to be vigilant and prudent," Warlick said, adding that the embassy had expressed its concern to the Foreign Ministry and the Moscow police. "We've said ... this kind of violence can't be tolerated," Warlick said. "When there are incidents of this kind of violence, we ask that the authorities pursue the attackers and prosecute them."

    Russia has a small but occasionally violent far-right nationalist movement, whose members normally target dark-skinned people. The message sent to the embassies was addressed "to the ambassador" and signed by "Ivan," the president of what was called the Skinhead Group of Russia, embassy officials said. A contact member on the message turned out to be the number of another extremist organization, Russian National Unity, which claimed to have no connection with the threatening e-mail. "You are hereby warned now: We are not responsible for any killings of your citizens or your diplomats," the message said, according to Warlick. A spokesman for the Moscow police said the force would take steps to prevent extremist acts in the run-up to Hitler's birthday, Interfax reported. "Radical youth organizations have their own way of celebrating it," he was quoted as saying. He added that police would take "tough steps" to ensure calm. The prosecutor general also has ordered extra measures be taken to prevent illegal acts against foreign nationals, Interfax said, citing a spokesman.
    ©The Moscow Times

    Mayor: Violent groups have no legal right to assemble

    York City Mayor John S. Brenner yesterday rejected an application by the Idaho-based Aryan Nations to celebrate Adolf Hitler's birthday near the York County Courthouse. Without a permit, Brenner said, the Aryan Nations has "no legal right to assemble" and will not be allowed to deliver speeches espousing racial hatred. The mayor said he hopes white supremacists accept his message that they are not welcome in York City and that they do not force police to shut down an illegal rally. Still, as Saturday nears, city, county and state law enforcement officials continue to organize plans to handle up to 400 white supremacists and up to 1,000 protesters. To prepare for violent clashes like those during a Jan. 12 visit to York by white supremacist groups, police plan to close the 100 block of East Market Street near the courthouse to isolate the white supremacists from the public and from expected counterprotesters, Brenner said. Closing a one-block downtown area would help police control the white supremacists, rather than allowing them to wander unchecked, and would give police the option of shutting down an unpermitted rally, he said. "I don't want to lay out in detail how we will deal with this. But I will say this: If they violate the law in any way, they will be dealt with accordingly," Brenner said. Abe Amoros, the city's spokesman and director of community affairs, declined to say what consequences might befall the group if they attempt to assemble without a permit. "We're just not going to get into tactics," he said. But the city does not intend to shepherd any supremacists who do show up into the confined area on East Market Street, Amoros said. The white supremacists "are not going to be pampered," he said. Shaun Winkler, a former Dallastown man and a representative of Aryan Nations, said the racists' free-speech rights are being violated. He said the group plans to sue the county and city after the rally.

    Court battle likely
    "We are all going to end up in court. But I can live with that as long as I did everything I could to protect lives and property," Brenner said. "We want to isolate and control these individuals who have a history of violence. "We are not in any shape or form assisting hate groups," Brenner said. The city's decision to reject the Aryan Nations' permit mirrors an April 10 county ruling denying the organization use of the courthouse steps and Rocky Ridge County Park.

    Rights forfeit?
    Brenner said he supports the decision of county officials, who say white supremacists forfeited their First Amendment right to free speech when some members openly advocated coming to York armed and ready for violence. Yorkers already have a bitter taste from white supremacists after the Jan. 12 visit -- which cost the city $25,000 in police overtime -- left several people injured and resulted in 24 arrests, Amoros said. City officials plan to bill the Aryan Nations for the cost of overseeing Saturday's event, he said. "If they show up, they will not be welcome or protected. They are on their own," Amoros said. City officials notified Winkler of the rejected permit application by mail last week, he said. Winkler, who was driving to York yesterday from his home in Idaho, said he plans to have some Aryan Nations members at Rocky Ridge Park to direct attendees downtown.

    County prepares
    York County Sheriff Bill Hose said anyone found at Rocky Ridge or John C. Rudy county parks or the courthouse will be arrested for trespassing. "We aren't going to put up with any nonsense from anybody on either side of the fence," Hose said. "The arrests are going to be swift and certain." All of the county's 50 deputy sheriffs will be working Saturday. Buses and vans at the county prison will be available to transport a large number of people, if necessary, Hose said. ©The York Dispatch

    Call for financial penalties as report finds black and Asian actors, directors and designers inadequately trained, neglected and blocked

    The English theatre world is so choked by institutional racism that arts bodies should consider penalising theatres that do not properly train and promote black and Asian talent, it was suggested yesterday. A new report into combating racism, Eclipse, compiled by the Arts Council of England in conjunction with the Theatrical Management Association and regional theatres, has found that black and Asian actors, directors, designers and theatre staff are being inadequately trained, neglected and halted by a glass ceiling. Leading black theatre figures associated with the report have suggested financial penalties might be the only way to reverse the trend. The report noted that 4% of the 2009 people employed in English theatre - including actors, prop-makers and front of house - were black or Asian. Non-white actors were being denied opportunities, black and Asian programming was seen by white board members as "risky", very little new black writing appeared on big stages and black audiences were not adequately catered for. At senior levels, only 3.5% of theatre board members were black or Asian. Where efforts had been made to recruit and train people from non-white backgrounds, theatres had not provided "meaningful training", but encouraged staff to work in kitchens and cloakrooms. Of a survey of 19 arts organisations, more than half the limited non-white staff worked in catering or front-of-house. Only one worked in senior management.

    Felix Cross, artistic director of the Nitro theatre company and a member of the Arts Council touring panel and the Black Regional Initiative in Theatre, said: "Theatre can no longer use the old excuse that there aren't enough good black people out there. I have been a member of thousands of theatre boards. "The board members turn to me for anything that is not to do with the mainstream. That is the problem - black people are made to think they are not qualified to talk about anything else. They are seen as the people who deal with marginal issues." He added: "There have to be some sort of penalties, otherwise plans for improvement won't work. The history of equal opportunities for all has been hampered by people hiding behind 'equal opportunities policies'. Arts organisations are all required to have a policy. They hide behind it and in reality do very little."

    Peter Hewitt, chief executive of the Arts Council, denied penalties would be necessary. He said there there was goodwill on the part of regional theatres as well as large publicly-funded houses, such as the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre, to put in place "positive action" schemes. This involved researching, developing and monitoring training opportunities for black and Asian theatre workers as well as marketing and developing work among non-white communities. "There is a strong feeling of commitment on the part of the theatres to turn this around themselves," Mr Hewitt said. He stressed that what the report was not saying was that any individual theatre or individual manager was racist. "What this industry-led report does say is that there is a distinct lack of representation of black and Asian communities at board level, on the staff, in the programming and in the audiences of regional theatres." He added: "The aim of the Eclipse report is to change the mindset and artistic theatre practice to reflect the diverse society of England in the 21st century."
    ©The Guardian

    The streets with their Georgian row houses and Victorian clock towers have names that have long been thought of as typically British - Queen, Wellington, Duke, Bank, Castle. The shops and storefronts nestled among them have names that are fast becoming typically British - Marcia's Caribbean Takeaway, Imran's Southern Fried Chicken, the Kebab House, the Somalian and Mediterranean Food Hall. But the 40,000 nonwhite residents of this city of 530,000 in the heart of Britain, many of them born and raised here and speaking in the distinctive broad vowels of a Yorkshire accent, identify themselves as anything but British. They do not even say Afro-British - it's Afro-Caribbean; not Asian-British, simply Asian. This self-definition strikes a nerve in Britain, where the government has made the acquisition of a common sense of British nationhood by the immigrant population a critical measure of progress in its push for racial integration and assimilation. Experience in cities like Sheffield proves that it is one thing to transform churches into mosques, tea rooms into curry houses and old depots into ethnic community centers, and something else again to turn people who feel foreign into self-proclaiming Britons.

    "The only times I call myself British are when I go to get a passport and when someone asks me where my accent comes from," said Jenni I'Anson, 33, a mental health aide of Jamaican parentage who was born in Sheffield. "Otherwise I would never class myself as British. There is no sense of belonging here. I would only say that I am African-Caribbean." Her nephew, Theo Hamilton, 15, a third-generation Sheffielder, said, "British to me means white, and I don't get treated like a white person, so I don't think of myself as British." European countries are experiencing profound changes in their population mixes, and Britain's reputation as one of the region's more stable multiethnic ocieties was shaken during the summer by a series of riots in cities with substantial immigrant populations. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, the country also found that it had been a breeding ground for young Islamic radicals linked to terror groups and committed to jihad against the West.

    According to the Office of National Statistics, Britain is 7.1 percent nonwhite, with 2.2 percent of the population categorized as black, 3.4 percent from the Asian subcontinent and 1.5 percent Chinese and "other groups." Of the 82,000 people granted British citizenship in 2000, 27 percent were from Asia, 35 percent from Africa and the Caribbean and 8 percent from the Middle East. A government report on the summer outbreaks concluded that whites and ethnic minorities in Britain were leading separate lives with no social or cultural contact and no sense of shared nationality. It urged immigrants to become active British citizens. In February, Home Secretary David Blunkett recommended that minorities speed the process of integration by adopting British "norms of acceptability," and he proposed that newcomers take an oath of allegiance, study British history and culture and embrace "our laws, our values, our institutions."

    Sheffield, England's fourth-largest city, would seem to be a place where that project would enjoy more success than elsewhere in Britain. Race relations have been less combative here than in cities with histories of rioting, like London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Bradford and Leeds. But even nonwhite people in Sheffield who have had success in getting an education, finding jobs and building stable lives say they still do not feel they are part of the same nation inhabited by white residents, and they resent the official entreaty to think otherwise. "Of course it's the wrong thing to be asking of us," said Zahid Hamid, 46, who came here from Pakistan in the early 1960s. "What a lot of so-called English want us to want is leafy Oxfordshire. But what we want is a job, a decent pl the City Council who came here in 1971 from Yemen. "Not one black manager has made it onto the ladder." Uttering a lament common to minority workers in immigrant societies, Raja Shaffique, 44, a Pakistani-born housing officer, said, "We have to be twice as good as our white colleagues to get the same job." While Sheffield has largely segregated residential patterns, that form of separation upsets minority residents less than the blockage in workplace advancement. "Even after 40 years here, I like to see a black face close by," said Gosling of his Afro-Caribbean neighborhood. "It's a kind of comfort. But I have to add that if society had shown us years ago that it wanted us, it wouldn't have driven us into this kind of protectiveness." I'Anson said young people were even less interested in integration. "The young generation is more segregated than we were," she said. "They're more aware of the issues."

    Isadora Aiken, 50, a Jamaican-born business manager who came here in 1967, said: "People are simply not integrating. I go out onto the High Street and into the downtown department stores, and black people are not visible there at all." Angela Baugh, a 39-year-old filmmaker of Jamaican background who was born here, said she was reminded of her outsider status every time she came back to Britain from abroad and went through customs. "When I go into the European Community line, I'm stopped and quizzed and made to feel like I'm either an asylum seeker or a refugee," she said. "So how am I expected to ever feel British?"
    ©International Herald Tribune

    When a war is going on somewhere in the Middle East, the effects in Germany are highly visible: Police presence outside synagogues and Jewish community centers is reinforced, and vigils for peace are held at churches or the Israeli Embassy in Berlin. But what do people from the Middle East living in Frankfurt think when they watch the news and see the Israeli Defense Forces moving into previously autonomous Palestinian cities? When they hear that places of worship -- churches as well as mosques -- are under fire?

    A Fear of Attacks In Germany
    Benny Graumann had planned to be in Israel right now. In recent years, he celebrated Passover with friends and relatives there. But not this year. "Living here, you can hardly imagine the mood in Israel at the moment," he says. Mr. Graumann is a 20-year-old student of economics and a member of the Jewish community in Frankfurt. He summarizes the feeling he gets from his phone conversations with family and friends in Israel: "Everybody that comes home in the evening is considered a survivor." Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is to blame for the conflict, Mr. Graumann says, pointing out that Mr. Arafat failed to grasp the chance to make peace at negotiations held at Camp David in July 2000 and so lost much of his credibility. "Then, the planned intifada began," says Mr. Graumann, who supports the Israeli government's current action, which began last week after a series of suicide bombings during the Passover holiday. "This is about the very existence of Israel," he adds. Mr. Graumann does not think it is about taking back land or establishing permanent settlements; he says the infrastructure of terrorism has to be destroyed. The weapons found in Mr. Arafat's headquarters served to strengthen suspicion that attackers received support there. The attacks on Jewish institutions in France and Belgium, a statement by a Hamas representative saying that every Jew on Earth was an enemy, and anti-Semitic outpourings in the Arab world: All these have increased Mr. Graumann's fear of attacks in Germany. He says that at the moment he is not afraid to go to the synagogue or to the Jewish community center, "but I am afraid of what might happen in the future." He says this is a feeling shared by most of the Jewish community. "I always thought my generation would never have to face anti-Semitism," he adds.

    No One Here Will Carry Out Attacks
    The place is called Palestine, and it belongs to the Palestinians, according to Muhammad al Salmi. "The Israelis forced their way in," he says. He was born in a Palestinian refugee camp 37 years ago. He has been living in Germany 17 years and became a German citizen in 1999. He is currently studying data communications in Frankfurt and plans to write his doctorate. Mr. Salmi is deeply affected by the violence in the Middle East. "I went through a similar experience," he says. In 1967, as a small child, he was driven out of the province of Nablus along with his family. It has been a long time, he says, since he heard from an aunt who still lives there in miserable conditions. He says he gets angry with the media for concentrating on the fate of Mr. Arafat rather than on the Palestinians who are suffering and dying. In his opinion, the Palestinians have "never done any wrong" to Israel. And the terrorist attacks on Israel? Mr. Salmi thinks for a moment, then says it is not a simple matter to decide whether they are right or wrong. "What do you expect of a child who survived a massacre and has grown up with those images in his head?" he asks. Under these circumstances, he says, it is easier to understand Palestinian reactions. Mr. Salmi says it is "just impossible" that the conflict in the Middle East could lead to Palestinian attacks on Jewish or Israeli institutions in Germany. He knows around 200 Palestinians living in and around Frankfurt. He meets them at parties, sporting events, and that kind of violence cannot be tolerated. "No one can be allowed to attack innocent people," he says. He believes the Middle East conflict can be solved "only through justice" -- by recognizing "the Palestinians' absolute right to all of their land."

    No Way Out, Says Professor
    Micha Brumlik grew up in a Zionist family. In his youth, when Israel was, for him, "the central identity project," conflicts in the Middle East used to affect him at a deep, existential level, he says. But today that is no longer the case, he say, though he still finds the current developments extraordinarily depressing. "I can't see any way out," Mr. Brumlik says, adding that he still identifies emotionally with Israel, while disagreeing with its government's policies. "What the Israeli government is doing in the Middle East is definitely wrong," he says. Mr. Brumlik is a professor of education in Frankfurt. He was born in Davos, Switzerland, in 1947 and came to Frankfurt at age 5. He has felt that Israeli policy has been wrongheaded for many years. He dropped out of Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1969 because he disagreed with Jewish settlements in the West Bank. He says the Jewish community in Frankfurt feels "helplessness" and "great concern," and that some of its members are "under a great deal of pressure." But Mr. Brumlik does not believe there is any immediate danger of anti-Semitic attacks in Frankfurt like the ones in France and Belgium, or that Jews are threatened in any other way. The "subjective security efforts" and the "public awareness" in Germany are much greater, he says. Mr. Brumlik finds it difficult to respond to the events in the Middle East. He says all he can do is give more support to symbolic gestures such as prayer, inter-confessional events and the like. But "politically, all that means nothing," he says. All that can make a difference now is whether the United States lets it go on, according to Mr. Brumlik. He believes nothing will change unless the superpower intervenes. He adds that it is generally hard for Jews outside Israel to comment on the conflict: "They don't have to deal with the consequences of their own opinions."
    ©Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

    Just a few weeks ago, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was stirring up speculation in the press by skirting questions about his intentions with regard to the country's far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP). For months, he refused to rule out cooperation with MIEP and in February, he did not shy away from speaking at a rally attended by thousands of MIEP supporters including skinheads. His flirtations with MIEP, a small party known for its anti-Semitic rhetoric and xenophobic attitudes, raised ire among the mainstream media and various opposition parties, and even raised the hackles of some foreign officials and journalists. Many observers were concerned that Orban would turn to MIEP for support to form a majority government after the elections. Meanwhile, MIEP leader Istvan Csurka, a self-avowed nationalist who has gained notoriety for denouncing "global financial circles" as the enemy of the Hungarian people, seemed thrilled by the speculation, declaring openly that his party stood ready to help Fidesz. But that was a few weeks ago. Since then, the intense and often bitter Hungarian election campaign has moved on, and the picture has changed substantially. After persistent badgering from the press, Orban himself confirmed the position that some Fidesz officials had already taken in the past, telling the daily Nepszabadsag in early March that there would be no "deals" with MIEP after the elections. And, perhaps most importantly, a handful of polls released last week showed Fidesz pulling ahead of its main rival, the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), and suggested that Orban's coalition could well win enough votes to form a majority government on its own. The polls also showed that MIEP's support had fallen to around 3 percent, which is below the minimum 5 percent threshold necessary for gaining entry to parliament. Moreover, MIEP could also be hurt if the polls prove correct in their predictions of a large turnout for the elections, a damaging development for a party that relies on a relatively small core of disciplined voters. True, the far-right party managed to stage its largest-ever rally for the 15 March patriotic celebrations on Heroes' Square in Budapest, with some 50,000 people showing up, but its support base is as limited as it is active. The party does not have many more voters outside of that contingent. So despite MIEP's haughty pledges to support any future government formed by Fidesz, it seems that the notorious far-right party will have to prepare for a minor role on the Hungarian political scene--most likely played outside the parliament.

    Still a tough call
    Nevertheless, many analysts are unwilling to rule out possible surprises in the Hungarian elections. The country's complicated electoral system makes it notoriously difficult to predict the outcome. Under the mixed system, a total of 176 seats in the country's 386-member parliament are elected by direct vote in single-member constituencies; 152 seats are elected from regional party lists according to a proportional representation system; and 58 seats are allotted as compensation according to votes cast for the parties of candidates that did not win in the constituencies and for the parties that did not win enough support on the regional party lists to gain representation. Pollsters have found it difficult to predict the results of the single-constituency votes and the compensation votes. While polls indicate that Fidesz could win an outright majority, it is far from a done deal. If it did not win enough to govern on its own, MIEP could still play a role as king-maker, since the other major small party, the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), has been leaning toward supporting the Socialists. In the 1998 elections, MIEP won only three seats on the regional lists but scooped up 11 seats in the compensation round. But to repeat such a result this year, the party would first need to win at l voter base. Hungarian political analyst Istvan Schlett says Fidesz may have been leaving the door open toward MIEP, but the main aim of the governing coalition was to appeal to MIEP voters. "I don't believe Fidesz will settle with MIEP in any way: Fidesz does not need such a settlement. MIEP's voters will ultimately support the strongest anti-socialist candidate, so their ballots are in Fidesz's pockets without a commitment. This is how Fidesz gained votes from MIEP at the 1998 elections as well. Fidesz will not move an inch to get them this time, either. MIEP is not wanted in government circles--their votes are," says Schlett. "Fidesz use the far right's rhetoric but only to remain attractive as a second choice for extremist voters." A Szonda-Ipsos poll seems to confirm the trend, suggesting that Fidesz's gains in recent days have come at the expense of MIEP. Analysts believe that more MIEP supporters can be expected to switch to Fidesz in the second round of the constituency votes. Nevertheless, some Fidesz officials are not above engaging in off-the-record speculation about using MIEP's help in a worst-case scenario. "If the results make it necessary, Fidesz will form a minority government. In that case we will need the backing of every other party," one Fidesz official told TOL on the condition of anonymity. But the possibility of cooperation between Fidesz and MIEP might raise some eyebrows abroad. While Western officials have generally refrained from officially taking sides in the election, some displeasure has trickled through. The co-chair of the U.S. Congress's Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Lantos, made it clear recently that Washington considers the Hungarian government's attitudes toward MIEP to be "crucial." But Mary Scholl, the spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, said the United States "does not want to interfere with the election in any way." Similarly, European Union officials have also insisted that they do not want to take sides in the vote, although some have said they are keeping an eye on the issue.
    ©Transitions Online

    The Danish government was under growing international pressure last night to water down new hardline immigration rules which critics say are racist and will turn the country into a fortress. The row is a severe embarrassment for the country's centre-right coalition, which swept to power last November, because it comes as Denmark is trying to burnish its image before taking over the EU's rotating presidency in July. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has written to the government, questioning the legality of the plans under international law. The governments of Sweden, Belgium and France have also sent a joint letter expressing their "profound concern" about the legislation. The draft bill currently before parliament would give Denmark some of the toughest asylum rules in the EU and put paid to the country's famous liberal credentials.

    Permanent resident permits will be granted after seven years instead of three at present, and full welfare benefits will be denied for the longer period. Denmark's definition of a refugee will also be changed. From now on it will only accept those it is legally obliged to under international conventions. It will also seek to return the few refugees it agrees to accept to their country of origin "if the situation changes so that they will no longer be persecuted" and will do all it can to ban the practice of family reunification (immigration by marriage). If, as expected, the new legislation is passed by parliament there will be no legal right to reunification with a spouse at all, and no immigrants under the age of 24 will be allowed to bring their wife or husband into Denmark.

    The UNHCR has sent a 10-page critique of the proposals, seen by the Guardian, to the Danish government. The report savages almost every aspect of the new laws. Officials say they are worried by "just about everything" and the critique says that the new hardline policy "gives rise to an overall concern". "Our concern stems from the aspects of the proposal which together cast refugees and immigrants in a negative light," it says. "UNHCR has already expressed its preoccupation about the tone of the asylum debate in Denmark. It is important to... avoid feeding into prejudices and generalisations about immigrants." "Specific aspects of the bill and commentary appear inconsistent with international refugee and human rights law."

    Denmark, where immigrants account for just 5% of the 5.3 million population, has traditionally been one of Europe's strongest supporters of refugees. It was the first country to sign the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its foreign aid budget is among the highest in Europe. But the arrival in power of a Liberal-led coalition backed by the far-right Danish People's party has changed all that, and Bertel Haarder, the country's new hardline integration minister, has alarmed refugee groups. The government has already tried and failed to shut down the Copenhagen-based Danish Centre for Human Rights. (After a public backlash, it was allowed to stay open with a much smaller budget.) And earlier this month Mr Haarder suggested that immigrants themselves should be blamed for their inability to integrate into society. "Integration problems are more often than not caused by the intolerance of the immigrant parents themselves who reject the thought of their children becoming fully integrated into mainstream Danish daily life," he said. Mimicking the late US president John F Kennedy, he said that immigrants should "ask not what Denmark can do for you but what you can do for Denmark". A spokesman for Mr Haarder said last night that the growing international criticism was based on "misunderstandings".
    ©The Guardian

    The neatly clipped bushes along a winding lane of Les Caillols, a low-income neighborhood on the northern edge of this city, suggest a certain peace and order; then the buckled metal and ashes of the synagogue come into view, revealing the sudden violence. The Or Aviv Synagogue, with its library, prayer hall and classrooms, was a modest, prefabricated compound. It was built by Jewish families from North Africa who came here in the 1960s, and on most Sabbaths it was full - that is, until March 31, when deep in the night it was set aflame. "This surely happened because of the crisis in the Middle East," said Patrick Guedj, one of those who attended the synagogue, searching for meaning amid the debris and scorched shards of prayer books. Like other Jews here, he had lived in the nearby public housing project for years, mingling easily with its Arab majority. "I never heard a bad word against Jews here," he said. "It's very painful. It's so hard to understand."

    The ruined temple in Marseille is only one of a series of Jewish sites - synagogues, classrooms, school buses, a clubhouse - that have been attacked over the past week in almost a dozen French cities. All over France, politicians and religious leaders have quickly and loudly condemned the violence. Many appear convinced that it is the product of Arab anger at Israel's military actions against Palestinians. "This is not anti-Semitic violence, it's the Middle East conflict that's playing out here," said Charles Haddad, a Marseille lawyer and longtime president of the region's Jewish Council. The attacks, the worst spate of anti-Jewish violence in France since World War II, have happened at night, and so far no one has been hurt. But they have deepened the concern that this could spell a more fundamental rupture in the traditionally peaceful relations between two groups that for generations have been identified with this country. Home to some 600,000 Jews and 5 million Muslims, many of them from North Africa, France now has more Jews and Muslims than any other country in Western Europe. Even as attacks continued and pro- and anti-Israeli demonstrators took to the streets in recent days, religious leaders at a number of mosques and synagogues have appealed for calm, pleading that the crisis in the Middle East not intrude further into France's cities.

    "We must not be pulled into this," said Xavier Nataf, a close aide of the chief rabbi of Marseille. "The Middle East is one thing. But Marseille is another. It has its own special spirit." Marseille is different indeed, which is why the burned synagogue here has come as such a shock to the city's self-image. This ancient Mediterranean port, France's second-largest city, may long have struggled with the image of gangsterism, drugs and graft. But it has also thrived as a rich cultural blend, absorbing refugees, exiles and immigrants with little ethnic or religious strife. Its people, its food and its worship smoothly adapted to earlier waves of Spanish, Italian, Armenian and West African newcomers. The shift became even bigger in the 1960s, when tens of thousands of Jews and Muslims poured in as French domination ended in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Often the port was just the gateway to France, but many people stayed here. North African couscous has become as common a dish as the local bouillabaisse. Algerian pop music is all over the radio. One measure of the religious diversity of this city of 800,000 people - among them 80,000 Jews and 150,000 Muslims - is that the once overwhelming number of Christian churches has been joined by 35 synagogues and 51 small mosques, even though many are just modest, makeshift prayer halls.

    Clement Yana, head of the Jewish Council of Provence, said that until the recent attacks, it was not a surprise that Jews and Muslims on the whole had gotten along in France. "We've coexisted with mutual respect violence and, with other Muslim leaders, immediately went to the burned synagogue to express solidarity. Their gesture was not unexpected. Muslim leaders here regularly meet their Jewish counterparts at an interfaith council created by the city government in 1990. The council, Marseilles Esperance, brings together Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist leaders for monthly meetings to promote tolerance and mutual respect. Some people credit the council with calming spirits at critical times here, such as during the aftermath of the firebombing at the Or Aviv Synagogue. The council's members, including Muslims, accompanied the procession that carried the damaged Torah scrolls for burial in the Jewish section of the local cemetery.
    ©International Herald Tribune

    Makau Mutua thinks it's about time that America paid its due for the damage it did when the nation enslaved its own people. "You don't get away with murder just because you did it 100 years ago," said Mutua, a law professor and director of the University at Buffalo's Human Rights Center. "People should be infinitely responsible for their wrongs." Just down the hall, constitutional law expert Lee Albert wonders if the idea of slavery reparations divert attention from pressing problems that face African-Americans today. Besides, "A lot of people are just a little tired of victimization and the seeking of recompense," Albert said. Just as there's no agreement between the two law school colleagues, there's no agreement in America on whether the nation should pay reparations to African-Americans to compensate for the nation's horrific treatment of its ancestors. That question hovered on the fringes of public debate for nearly 140 years. But now, a new generation of civil rights activists is pushing America's courts for a clear answer. And while the courts might take years to decide, plenty of people already have their minds made up. So far, it looks very much like a black-and-white issue. In a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, 55 percent of blacks said the government should make cash payments to slave descendants, but nine out of 10 whites said it should not.

    Conversations around Buffalo reveal a similar divide. In recent interviews with seven minority Buffalo State College students, all seven supported some degree of reparations. No amount of money could ever be enough to compensate for the damage done by slavery, said Vierge Rousseau, a senior from Brooklyn. "That's like asking if someone kills your sister, how much money would you take?" Rousseau said. But in random interviews at the Walden Galleria on Monday, nine out of 10 whites interviewed said they - and the federal government - shouldn't be held responsible for the sins of much earlier generations. "I don't think that the reparations at this point are warranted," said Dave Swilley, a 34-year-old electrician from Rochester. "The people that were affected (by slavery) are long gone." The reparations debate is growing now for one simple reason. Two weeks ago, a New Yorker named Deadria Farmer-Paellmann - a descendant of slaves - filed lawsuits against three major corporations, charging that they profited from slavery. The giant insurance company Aetna sold insurance policies on slaves and thus ought to pay damages, one lawsuit says, though the suits do not yet specify an amount. Another says that a predecessor of FleetBoston Financial Group lent money to slave trader John Carter Brown. Another charges that predecessors of the CSX railroad company used slave labor. The debate over those lawsuits echoes the one in the streets of Buffalo.

    Farmer-Paellmann's lawsuits say those companies are guilty of "crimes against humanity" and thus should create funds that could be used for humanitarian purposes that would benefit the descendants of slaves. But in response, Aetna and CSX said said the lawsuits shouldn't, and won't, go anywhere. "We do not believe a court would permit a lawsuit over events which - however regrettable occurred hundreds of years ago," Aetna said in a statement. Expect that argument to be voiced over and over again in the coming years. For one thing, Farmer-Paellmann has said as many as 1,000 other companies benefited from slavery, too, and they could become the target of legal action as well. For another, the Reparations Coordinating Committee, headed by Harvard law professor Charles J. Ogletree Jr. and including attorney Johnnie Cochran, plans on introducing its own set of lawsuits against the federal government and major private institutions - this fall. "As a question of law, this is uncharted territory," said Mutua, who has worked with Og reluctant to open that door. They're not likely to see it as a contribution to justice." Reparations advocates insist, though, that there are strong moral reasons why the United States - and companies that benefited from slavery - should be forced to make some payback. "I believe in it very strongly," said Arthur O. Eve, deputy speaker of the New York State Assembly. "We did it for Japanese-Americans who were interred during World War II. We've made provisions for Native Americans, giving them land and so forth. It's time that we recognized the descendents of slaves, too." The Rev. G. Stanford Bratton, co-executive director of the Network of Religious Communities in Buffalo, said the nation has a "moral obligation and responsibility" to deal with the legacy of slavery. And corporations that profited clearly remain liable. "You can't simply say that because so much time has passed, there's no responsibility," Bratton said.

    Even advocates of reparations acknowledge, though, that the issue is difficult and complex. Most difficult of all is the question of how such reparations would be paid. Few reparations advocates say the government or individual corporations should make payments to individuals whose ancestors were slaves. Eve, echoing a common suggestion, stressed that reparations money should should be used for social programs "to make up for the psychological damage done by slavery." Yet even that suggestion raises more questions than it answers. What type of social programs? Should only descendants of slaves be eligible for help from such social programs, or should all African-Americans? And above all, how much money is sufficient to compensate African-Americans alive today for the atrocity perpetrated on their ancestors? Estimates range as high as $1.4 trillion, which is the approximate current market value of the slave labor performed in the United States. The current year's federal budget totals about $2 trillion. Reparations advocates stress that they don't want to press for a solution that would damage the economy, and thus hurt African-Americans in the process. "You don't want to destroy the cow; you want to milk it," Mutua said. Nevertheless, the difficulty of structuring reparations makes even some of the concept's supporters very nervous. "In many ways, it's an easy call to make: to acknowledge slavery and the damage it did, the deaths of a million people and the suffering of many more," said Ira Berlin, a professor at the University of Maryland who has authored several books on the history of slavery.

    "The legacy makes this a no-brainer, yet the practical questions involved are kind of insuperable," Berlin said. "Who are we trying to help in a time when even the question of who's black and who's white can be difficult to figure out? . . . And what exactly are we talking about? Is it $20 for each person or $20,000 for each person? And is even that amount meaningful, given what slavery was? I have concerns up and down the line." Frank B. Mesiah, president of Buffalo chapter of the NAACP, said it's too soon to talk money. Instead, Mesiah advocates the kind of in-depth study of slavery and its economic and social legacy that Conyers suggested in his bill in Congress. Mesiah said the reparations issue, if studied thoroughly, could prompt the kind of national dialogue on race that the country needs to finally put the issue to rest. "We need a discussion that gets into the hearts and minds of people," Mesiah said. "If the only thing is money given, I don't see where that would solve the race problem in the United States. A thorough investigation and discussion would be a lot more effective."
    ©The Buffalo News

    Permanent tribunal will police abuses worldwide

    An international criminal court able to prosecute human rights abusers anywhere in the world will become a reality today, despite the fierce opposition of the United States. The treaty establishing the court needs the ratification of 60 countries and that number will be surpassed when the latest seven add their signatures at a ceremony at the UN headquarters in New York today. The court will come into existence on July 1. A long-cherished dream of human rights campaigners, the court will, in theory, be able to bring prosecutions against world leaders, army officers and others thought responsible for war crimes or crimes against humanity. "There's been so little holding to account on so many horrific offences and crimes committed around the world - in Cambodia, Iraq, Chechnya," said Richard Dicker, international criminal justice director for Human Rights Watch. "This changes all that." Temporary ad-hoc courts have been established, in the past to deal with Nazi war crimes and currently with ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and genocide in Rwanda. But the ICC will be a permanent court Its powers will not be retrospective, so it will only be able to act on human rights abuses committed after July 1. The ICC will be based in the Hague and those it convicts can be held in prisons in any of the signatory states.

    Despite the US hostility to the project, Britain has been an enthusiastic supporter. Parliament ratified the treaty to establish it last year. President Bill Clinton endorsed the concept but, under pressure from Congress, the US government has decided against ratification. Congress and the Pentagon are strongly opposed to the ICC, fearing that US servicemen could be forced to stand trial on politically motivated grounds for military operations overseas. President Bush is understood to be considering "unsigning" the treaty, an unprecedented act that would delight the Republican right. "They're throwing a big juicy piece of meat to the right, promising to side with them against the big black UN helicopters," Mr Dicker said. The main opposition is from the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who is being backed in Congress by the rightwing senator Jesse Helms. "I don't think a final decision has been taken, but it's clear that this administration has no intention of ratifying the treaty," a national security council official told the Guardian yesterday. "Even an Al Gore administration probably wouldn't have done. We all knew the initial signature was a bit of a gesture, given the known concerns of Congress."

    The seven countries due to ratify it today are Bosnia, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Ireland, Mongolia, Romania and Slovakia. They will bring the total to 66. Jordan, Niger, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Gambia are expected to sign in the next few weeks. But only a handful of Asian countries have ratified, and China and Israel are opposed to the court. The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, welcomed the latest ratifications last night. "Today we are working to establish the principle that the global rule of law is greater than the rule of tyrants," he said. "The ICC will be a permanent court acting as a permanent deterrent for all potential tyrants." The Foreign Office hopes that once the US sees the court in actionit will come round. "They know perfectly well that we shared their concerns at the outset, about political and malicious misuse of the court, that this might constrain them in their international operations," a UK diplomat at the UN said yesterday. "But we believe there are sufficient protections from that kind of malicious misuse ... The court would have been stronger with them, but we know the US position isn't suddenly going to shift."

    For a case to be eligible for the court it will have to have occurred in one of the ratifying countries or been committed by one of their natio ©The Guardian

    A near-daily series of anti-Semitic attacks in France linked to the violence in the Middle East showed no sign of abating on Thursday, threatening to divide one of Europe's most racially mixed countries. Members of the country's 700,000-strong Jewish community were starting to develop a fortress mentality in the face of the authorities' inability to stop the assaults, graffiti and swearing directed at them, sociologists and anti-racist groups warned. At the same time some marginalised youths from North African immigrant families, who make up the bulk of France's five million Muslims, are increasingly seeing it as their role to defend the Palestinian cause by targeting symbols of Judaism -- synagogues, Jewish schools, even homes and individuals. "It's getting very dangerous," Patrick Gaubert, the head of anti-racist group LICRA, said. "The feeling in the Jewish community is that some don't dare talk about attacks against them and others want to create their own security militia," he said. His group announced on Thursday it was lodging a lawsuit to get authorities to react to an "extremely serious" attack that occurred on Wednesday, when a masked gang wielding metal bars and shouting anti-Jewish insults beat up a group of footballers from a Jewish club in the Paris suburb of Bondy. "Enough impunity. This goes beyond swearing and spitting," Gaubert said. That incident is only one of many. It is part of a rising wave of violence that started around the time of the Palestinian intifada in September 2000 and which suddenly surged when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered tanks and troops into Palestinian towns at the end of March in a rough reprisal for suicide bombings against Israelis.

    Also on Wednesday, a bus transporting kindergarten and primary school children from a Jewish school in a racially mixed eastern district of Paris was pelted with stones. The missiles shattered one of the windows and a young girl received slight facial injuries. Paris' Socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoe said he was "deeply shocked" by the incident and stressed the city was working to improve security around schools and synagogues. Other attacks have occurred around France in recent days -- the destruction of a synagogue in the southern city of Marseille, anti-Semitic graffiti in several towns, attacks against a Jewish family in a Paris suburb by a gang of men of Arab background, Molotov cocktails thrown against Jewish schools and cultural centres. On Monday, a man who was sentenced to two months' jail for writing anti-Semitic slogans on the walls of a hotel and town hall in the Alps said he was acting because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ali Guia, 36, said he had been "traumatised by the events in the Middle East". Last Sunday presented intense scenes before television cameras, when a pro-Israeli march by around 50,000 people in Paris turned ugly. A demonstrator stabbed a policeman after scuffles erupted between rival Jewish factions, while Jewish youths assaulted media they accused of being biased towards the Palestinians. The march -- replicated in several other French cities -- took place a day after thousands joined a pro-Palestinian march through the French capital to condemn Israel's military assault on the West Bank. At least 39 people have been arrested in connection with attacks on Jewish people and property. The authorities have struggled to prevent the acts of hatred. Armed police stand watch outside 44 of the 59 Jewish schools in Paris. Others have hired private guards. France's political leaders, meanwhile, have pleaded for the communities to restrain their extremists. A group calling itself Young Muslims of France issued a statement on Thursday condemning the "criminal acts" against Jews in France, saying all French citizens must be "vigilant in the face of attempts to exploit the events related to the Israeli-Palestinian war". A sociolog ©The Tocqueville Connection

    Helmut Schmidt, the former German chancellor, has stoked a political row over immigration by claiming that a multicultural society will not work because Germans are instinctively xenophobic. Mr Schmidt, now 83, makes the outspoken comments in a new book Hand on Heart to be published next month. In it he criticises the philosophy that guided Germany's post-war policy on immigration, saying politicians overreacted after the Nazi era. "We brought in far too many foreigners as a result of idealistic thinking that resulted from the experience of the Third Reich," he writes. Germans, who do not naturally warm to foreigners, then found themselves in the uncomfortable position of playing host to more than seven million of them, out of a total population of 82 million. "We have seven million foreigners today who are not integrated, many of whom do not want to be integrated and who are also not helped to integrate," says the former Social Democrat chancellor. "We Germans are unable to assimilate all seven million. The Germans also do not want to do this. They are to a large extent xenophobic." His remarks are not helpful for Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, also a Social Democrat, who last week pushed an immigration bill through the upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat. The bill paves the way for Germany to accept more skilled foreign workers on a permanent basis and lays out new policies on improved integration for those already there. It angered opposition parties, which say that Germany needs fewer, not more, immigrants.
    ©Daily Telegraph

    A gay youth fighting for the right to bring his boyfriend to the school prom said Wednesday he will take the case to court. ``I'm sorry that we have to be here,'' Marc Hall, 17, told a news conference at the Ontario legislature. ``I don't want to be suing my school. I just want to go to the prom with my boyfriend.'' Hall's lawyer, David Corbett, is seeking a court injunction to force the Durham Catholic District School Board to allow Hall to attend the prom with his 21-year-old boyfriend. Corbett also asked the Ontario Superior Court for an injunction to stop the school board from canceling the prom if Hall wins the case. The school board banned the pair from attending, saying it supports Hall's right to be homosexual but refuses to support a homosexual lifestyle. Corbett said the board's position violated Hall's constitutional rights and the Ontario Education Act, which he said calls for fair and equitable treatment of students without regard to sexual orientation. At a meeting earlier this week, Hall asked school trustees to overturn a decision by the principal at Monsignor John Pereyma Catholic high school forbidding him from bringing his male date to next month's prom. The trustees turned him down. The federal constitution requires the Ontario government to help operate Catholic schools in the province. Hall's supporters say that means those schools must uphold his rights under Canada's Charter of Rights. ``There is no question that the Constitution provides protection and institutionalizes the Catholic schools in Ontario,'' Corbett said. ``They have a special status where they receive funding and they are constitutionally recognized. Does that mean, we ask, that their rights are absolute? ... We say no.''
    ©Associated Press

    A pillar of Shenzhen's thriving gay community, Mr. Wu networks his way through the noise and smoke of the packed club in this high-powered business town, bestowing greetings, drinks and hugs on men who refer to themselves, with a touch of irony, as "comrades." Gone are the days when gays in China's cities lived completely closeted lives, and the Galaxy Club  whose large glass doors open unapologetically onto the lobby of a government office building  is a giddy, liberated kind of place. Young men in tight jeans swoon together singing karaoke. Androgynous types drink beer and throw dice. Men sporting baseball caps search for love or sex. Mr. Wu, an entrepreneur in his 30's who considers himself an activist of sorts, talks comfortably above the disco beat about being gay. But when the doors close at 2 or 3 a.m., he will cross the border to the other world also inhabited by the vast majority of China's gay men, that of husband and father, as he returns to the apartment he shares with his wife and school-age child.

    "In China there is a very strong tradition that to be a man you must get married and have a child, so I did," explained Mr. Wu, who refused to give his full name. "We also respect and obey our parents' wishes, so I did it for them, too." As gay clubs, newsletters and Web sites multiply in mainland China, gay men in a few places like Shenzhen are enjoying choices and a kind of freedom that was unthinkable only a few years ago. China effectively decriminalized homosexuality only in 1997. It came off the list of mental illnesses just last year. But now that it is practically possible to live as a gay man in China, the vast majority still exist in a strange sort of limbo. The norm in the gay community is to get married, play it straight at work and shuttle regularly between two lives. "The first question you ask when you meet a new friend isn't `Do your parents know?' because in China 99 percent don't. Instead it's `Are you married?' " said Chung To, founder of the Hong Kong-based Chi Heng Foundation, which deals with issues of sexual discrimination. "Even people who are out and very active socially can't utter the word homosexual," he said. "There's a lot of denial."

    For gay men, the increasingly open atmosphere has made it possible to air long-suppressed issues, evident in the chat room postings by gay men who are married or under pressure to find a bride. More important, the emergence of this partly closeted, partly liberated, sexually active gay community at the same time that AIDS cases are rising quickly in China has created unique challenges. Chinese doctors are just beginning to investigate and deal with AIDS in this poorly defined high-risk group, whose members are sometimes still unclear about their sexuality and frequently have sexual relations with men and women. "AIDS education is very complicated among gays in China because the group of men who have sex with men overlaps considerably with the heterosexual community," said Mr. Chung To, whose foundation has taken up the cause on the mainland. In part because so many of the men involved do not identify themselves as homosexuals, there are almost no statistics on infection rates among gays here, although small samples from Beijing and Shenzhen have suggested that rates may already be as high as 5 to 10 percent. Even in the far northeastern province of Jilin, which is not known to have many H.I.V. cases, a recent study found that 1.5 percent of gay men were already infected there.

    For two years Mr. Chung To has labored tirelessly to raise awareness about H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, among mainland gays, using his own money to buy and distribute condoms and safe-sex messages at clubs, for example. Xiao Wang, 19, is a male hustler in Shenzhen, a city where some government researchers estimate that up to 9 percent of gay men may carry H.I.V. and less than 30 percent of sex wor change how people think," Dr. Ma said. "So I'm afraid most do get married and they have a child, but these relationships are very hard to maintain." The simplest solution for those who can afford it is to lead two lives — homosexual in the city, heterosexual in the hometown — since there is a long tradition of Chinese businessmen moving to big cities to work, leaving wives and children as well as parents behind. Because of China's system of residency permits, families are often not allowed to make the move anyway.

    Shenzhen, a city of transients and traders established by the government in the late 1970's to foster foreign trade, is the perfect safe haven for an estimated 150,000 gay men who live here. Ordinary Chinese need a permit even to enter this "special economic zone," and its morals are drawn less from the mainland than from nearby cosmopolitan Hong Kong. More important, almost everyone here works for private companies and there are no government work units tracking personal lives. "A lot of gays come to Shenzhen because life is freer here, parents and families are far away and it's normal to rent or share and apartment," said Peter Zhou, who started a popular gay Web site here two years ago. At clubs like Galaxy there is no sense of shame about being gay. Many men are not bothered by the compromise of marriage, which they regard as necessary for their survival. While Mr. Wu, the businessman, says that while his relationship with his wife is not very "passionate," he is nonetheless a proud papa. "How does it feel to be married?" Mr. Wu said. "I can't tell my wife. I can't tell my child. I can't tell my parents. Some people avoid it by fleeing overseas. But if you stay in China there's no choice, really."

    But outside big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing and Shenzhen, a double life is less feasible, and China's more than 250 gay Web sites serve as a sort of virtual therapist for men who have no other outlet. "They tell us how painful their lives are," said Mr. Zhou. "They want to tell their wives and parents the truth, but they don't dare." He has solved the problem for himself by moving here and having little contact with parents, who "ask few questions." Yi Yu, a 19-year-old from a small town in China's distant north, has been living in Beijing for more than a year, working as a waiter, a security guard and, more recently, a part-time hustler. He says 80 percent of his clients are married. He now totes a white cellphone and wears sleek silk shirts with large cuff links. He has come to accept that he is gay, but recalls arriving in Beijing as "a country bumpkin," a high school dropout, unqualified for most jobs and sexually confused, having heard in school that men who have sex with men are "perverts." "My ideal is to take the money I've earned here and go home to set up house and a store — with a partner," he said. "But of course that's not even really possible in Beijing right now, and forget it in the kind of place where I'm from."
    ©The New York Times

    French police say vandals crashed two cars through the main entrance of a synagogue in the city of Lyon early on Saturday, then parked one of the vehicles and set it on fire. There were no injuries in the attack, and firefighters were able to extinguish the burning car before the synagogue was seriously damaged. The attack, which occurred two days into the week-long Jewish holiday of Passover, came amid a rising number of anti-Semitic attacks in France. Mr Alain Jakubowicz, chairman of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF) in the south-eastern region of Rhone-Alpes, denounced the attack as "a commando action" against the synagogue which proved the reality of anti-Jewish acts in France. The wave of anti-Jewish violence in France broke out after Israeli-Palestinian fighting escalated in the Middle East and has increased further since the 11 September attacks on the United States.
    ©BBC News

    The Belgian Government on Monday condemned the overnight firebombing of a Brussels synagogue, saying the worsening situation in the Middle East was not a reason for "acts of violence and intolerance". Militants threw firebombs overnight Sunday into a synagogue in a working-class Brussels district, causing some damage to flooring and pews, police said Monday. There were no injuries. Police stepped up surveillance of the synagogue in Anderlecht, as well as at another Jewish place of worship in the Forest district, in the wake of the attack, the Belga news agency reported. In a statement released Monday, the government condemned the attack and declared it was "against all forms of anti-semitism. "Neither the situation in the Middle East, nor indeed any other circumstances, should serve as a pretext for acts of violence and intolerance towards a community that has always been well-integrated." The government said measures had been taken to ensure the security of Jewish places of worship and all efforts would be made to find those responsible for Sunday's attack. Anderlecht's mayor, Jacques Simonet, whose west-end district has a large Muslim and immigrant population, deplored the incident, saying "the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is exporting itself to difficult neighborhoods." Police said a total of five firebombs had been thrown through the windows of the Anderlecht synagogue, at around midnight Sunday. Jewish community organizers said they were planning a demonstration Tuesday outside the Israeli embassy, both to denounce the attack and to express solidarity with Israel. A synagogue in the French Mediterranean port of Marseille was burned to the ground overnight in a suspected arson attack. It was the third such attack on a synagogue in France in two days.
    ©The Tocqueville Connection

    France deployed riot police to guard Jewish buildings Monday after a synagogue was burned down in the latest of a spate of anti-Semitic attacks linked to the escalating Middle East crisis. The overnight arson attack in Marseille was the third such blaze in a weekend of incidents which some Jewish leaders had already compared to pre-war Nazi atrocities, and pushed anti-Semitic violence onto the political agenda three weeks ahead of presidential elections. "These acts are completely unimaginable, unpardonable, indescribable and should be investigated and punished as such," President Jacques Chirac said Monday on a visit to the northern city of Le Havre. Touring a synagogue, Chirac called on the government of his main rival in the coming poll, Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, to do more to protect France's 700,000-strong Jewish community, Europe's largest. Police and prosecutors said Monday's fire, which totally destroyed the Or Aviv synagogue serving 600 families in a quiet Marseille neighbourhood, was almost certainly deliberately set. "It's the first time in the history of French Judaism that a synagogue has been wiped from the map in this way," said Zvi Ammar, head of the Jewish Consistory in Marseille. "It is time that those carrying out these anti-Semitic attacks are arrested and that the members of our community are protected correctly." Following the attacks, police in Paris, Marseille and Bordeaux stepped up their protection of Jewish schools and places of worship, with additional riot police drafted in to guard them and patrol sensitive areas, officials said. Israel's siege of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the West bank has stirred anger at Jews among France's four-million-strong Arab population, leading to protests which officials believe are linked to the attacks.

    Three weeks ahead of the first round of voting in the presidential election, France was already mesmerised by a wave of violent crime and the latest attacks cast an ugly cloud over the tense law and order debate. Even before the latest synagogue attack, the Central Jewish Consistory in Paris had demanded that the government do more to protect its community. "Without this we would have no choice but to consider the Jewish community as living through the beginnings of a new Kristallnacht, with the government totally passive," the Consistory said in a statement. In Germany on November 9, 1938 -- since known as Kristallnacht -- mobs launched a wave of anti-Semitic violence, encouraged by Hitler's Nazi regime. The latest French attack came on the same night as a synagogue was firebombed in Brussels in neighbouring Belgium, sparking fears of a more general European wave of such violence. Violent crime in general has already established itself as the main issue in the French presidential vote, and Chirac, a conservative, has seized on the issue to attack the record of Jospin's government. Its record on law and order was already under intense pressure after a lone gunman last week shot dead eight local councillors at a town hall meeting in a Paris suburb in an attack which had no racist or anti-Semitic overtones. Jospin was Monday to meet with Interior Minister Daniel Vaillant and Roger Cukierman of France's Jewish Representative Committee (CRIF) to discuss how to respond to the attacks. Anti-Jewish attacks are especially embarrassing to France, which has been trying to downplay accusations from Israel and Jewish advocacy groups that it is an increasingly anti-Semitic country. The Marseille fire was the latest in a weekend spate of anti-Semitic acts:

    -- Synagogues in the central city of Lyon and the eastern city of Strasbourg were severely damaged in separate arson raids.

    -- A Jewish couple were roughed up by an anti-Semitic mob in Villeurbanne near Lyon.

    -- A man fired two shots from a shotgun at the front of a kosher butcher's in the s ©The Tocqueville Connection

    The South African government has condemned the anti-Semitism at the non-governmental conference against racism held in Durban last August. Referring to the "disgraceful events," Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Aziz Pahad said the conference was hijacked and turned into an anti-Semitic event. Pahad made his comments in a speech earlier this month at the annual conference of the South African Zionist Federation in Johannesburg. Pahad also used the speech to confirm what he said were "immutable pillars" of South African policy: "unequivocal and unchanging support" for Israel's right to exist within defined borders, in peace and security with its neighbors; utter condemnation of terrorism against Israeli civilians; and total support for an independent Palestinian state. The South African stand carries considerable weight because of the country's post-apartheid moral voice and its leadership role in Africa and the non-aligned movement.

    The anti-Semitism in Durban, described by Jewish participants as the most virulent seen in public since the 1930s, shocked Jews throughout the world. It caused grave anxiety among South Africa's own 80,000-strong Jewish community, especially because of the rise of militant Muslim groups in the country. The South African government kept silent at the time, to the dismay of those who applauded its commitment to fight group hatred. The conference of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) immediately preceded the United Nations World Conference against Racism. The events of September 11 overtook the Durban conferences and has pushed them into the background. But the anti-racism declaration issued by governments is an enduring message and is being pursued. At the same time, the NGO declaration which labelled Israel an "apartheid state" and Zionism as "racist" is being picked up by some to attack Israel.

    Pahad said that he wanted to make it "unequivocally clear" that his government recognized that the NGO part of the conference "was hijacked and used by some with an anti-Israeli agenda to turn it into an anti-Semitic event." It was why the world's governments had refused to take the NGO statement into their final document. "Additionally, the South African government as chair worked hard to ensure an acceptable and honorable outcome of the final document which avoided singling out Israel for exclusive criticism in regard to the current crisis in the Middle East. So successful were our efforts in this regard, that our president was personally thanked for South Africa's role in ensuring that outcome by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres," he said.

    A wave of anti-Muslim sentiment has bolstered far-right parties in some European countries since Sept. 11 and left the Continent's large communities of foreigners wondering how long their welcome will last. The changing mood has found its fullest political expression here in Denmark, where an anti-immigrant party won 12 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections in November, nearly doubling its showing from the previous election. Its campaign posters featured a picture of a young blond girl and the slogan: "When she retires, Denmark will have a Muslim majority." Now the Danish Parliament is considering a bill that would close many doors to the country, long known as one of Europe's most receptive to foreigners. It is host to about 300,000, most of them Muslims.
    Danes have a long history of tolerance of other religions and lifestyles, Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a group of Washington Post reporters and editors in Washington this week, citing the country's protection of Jews during World War II and its accepting Cold War refugees. But today Denmark is having serious problems integrating its immigrants, he said. Roughly half are unemployed, he said, and many have no education. Moreover, there is cultural friction. "Many Danes feel that too many immigrants do not respect Danish values," he said. Opinion polls show that increasing numbers of the 5.3 million citizens of Denmark, an affluent, predominantly white and Lutheran country, resent foreigners' heavy reliance on the welfare system. Many also blame the newcomers for crime and worry that their communities harbor terrorists. Immigrants counter that they are being targeted unfairly and routinely face discrimination. "We all just feel uneasy and afraid," said Ali Khan, 34, who moved to Denmark from Pakistan in 1998 but has not found steady work. "People just want to get out of here, to Britain or Canada or the United States." Some refugees are becoming desperate. In December, a 16-year-old who had fled to Denmark from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan set himself ablaze with gasoline after he was ordered deported. He is recovering from his burns.

    Elsewhere in Europe, anti-immigrant parties have also gained support. A branch of the Livable Netherlands party won 17 of 45 seats on the Rotterdam local council this month, attracting more votes than any of the three parties in the national coalition. In Italy and Germany as well, anti-immigrant groups are growing in strength as they tap long-standing fears about security and the dilution of national identity. Advances by the far right have exerted a gravitational pull on establishment parties, which are responding to perceived public demands to increase internal security, curb the arrival of newcomers - especially nonwhites - and limit the rights of migrants already in the country.

    Long before Sept. 11, many white Europeans had deep-running concerns that their countries were involuntarily becoming multicultural as guest workers and refugees, mostly Muslim, established themselves in residence. There are about 15 million Muslims in Europe, making Islam the leading non-Christian religion. The post-Sept. 11 concerns underscored a paradox that has cycled through European politics for years: The Continent needs foreign workers to gird an aging work force but is queasy about accepting them, especially if they are Muslim. "There is this fear for national identity combined with a fear of Muslims that has fueled this debate on immigration," said Jan Niessen, director of the Migration Policy Group, a research organization in Brussels. In a report on the fallout in the European Union from the terrorist attacks against the United States, the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia in Vienna said the decision by some countries to link immigration and anti-terrorism measures had created "an atmosphere of insecurity and intolerance, especially in cases where Muslim Parliament after elections this year.

    In Hamburg, where some of the Sept. 11 hijackers lived, the Party for a Law and Order Offensive got 20 percent of the vote in state elections after the attacks on the United States. Its leader, Judge Ronald Schill, became the state interior minister. The German magazine Der Spiegel quoted Schill as saying during his campaign that he wanted to bring the "black African drug dealers and the knife-stabbing Turks" to justice. Schill now says he may start a national campaign. The main conservative opposition in Germany is threatening a court challenge after passage last week of the country's first major immigration bill, saying it does not do enough to curtail the influx of foreigners. About half of the 7.3 million foreign residents in Germany are Muslim. In Italy, the government of Silvio Berlusconi has introduced a bill calling for the expulsion of immigrants who enter the country illegally.

    In Denmark, the far-right Danish People's Party aimed much of its campaign for the November elections at a foreign-born population that is 70 percent Muslim. Its member of the European Parliament, Mogens Camre, was quoted in the newspaper Politiken as saying, "All countries of the Western world are infiltrated by Muslims - some of them speak to us politely, while they wait until they are enough to kill all of us." Denmark's mainstream parties rejected the language of the People's Party during the campaign. But the conservatives swept out the Social Democratic government on the promise of clamping down on immigration. "The message is clear: Stay out," said Mohammed Hassan Gelle, a Somali who is head of the Ethnic Minorities Federation in Denmark.
    ©International Herald Tribune

    Playing to anti-immigrant feelings among Italians, the government has issued a decree empowering it to destroy any ships used for the illegal transport of refugees. The announcement of the decree, which is part of broader legislation to deal with immigrants, was made one day after Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi warned that Italians faced the menace of being thrown out of their own country "by a wave of immigrants." "Nobody is thinking about firing cannon at a ship full of people," Berlusconi told a television interviewer this week, "but something has to be done."

    The conservative government declared a state of emergency over the immigration issue this month, after a rusty merchant vessel carrying more than 1,000 Kurdish refugees arrived at a Sicilian port. At the time, Italian coast guard police said the immigrants ere carried on a merchant ship believed to be registered in the South Pacific kingdom of Tonga. Claudio Scajola, the interior minister, warned in a recent address to the Senate, the upper house of Parliament, that Italy faced "exponential growth" in the number of illegal immigrants. Citing official statistics, Scajola said 6,500 immigrants had entered the country illegally in the first three months of this year, nearly double the 3,400 that arrived in the same period last year.

    European neighbors to the north have often complained that Italy does too little to seal the porous borders of its long coastline to illegal immigrants, most of whom seek ultimately to cross into Germany or France. While foreigners make up 9 percent of the population in Germany and 6 percent in France, they account for only 2.2 percent of the Italian population. The measures in the decree issued Thursday are part of a broader bill allowing the authorities to take steps to deport illegal immigrants, like those found without valid visas or working papers. Approval of the bill has been held up by the need to adjust some of its provisions to international asylum standards.

    Though Berlusconi's broad government coalition includes disparate groups like the Northern League, led by Deputy Prime Minister Umberto Bossi, which originally favored the secession of wealthy northern Italy from the poorer south, and the National Alliance, a conservative party that grew out of Italy's postwar neo-fascist movement, they are united in their distaste for immigrants. Yet Italy, with the lowest birth rate among the nations of the 15-member European Union, relies heavily on immigrant labor in many of its major industries. Steel mills in northeastern Italy employ thousands of immigrant laborers, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa. Similarly, the tanneries of central Italy that supply products for the luxury goods industry rely on foreign laborers because they are unable to find Italian workers willing to toil in the unpleasant working conditions of leather tanning.
    ©International Herald Tribune

    There's another racial divide in educational performance - among teachers. Black and Hispanic teachers are three times more likely to be uncertified than white teachers, explosive new data obtained by The Post shows. Nearly 30 percent of the minority instructors have either flunked the state Education Department's two competency exams, have yet to sit for the test or have not obtained the necessary course credits for a teacher's license. The bombshell figures come just days after the state released test-score results indicating that three times as any white and Asian kids met the state's math and English standards as black and Hispanic students. Board of Education figures reveal 10 percent of white teachers are uncertified. By comparison, 28 percent of black instructors are unlicensed. The figures are troubling as blacks represent a far smaller portion of the entire work force. Blacks make up 22 percent of the teachers; 60 percent are whites. Meanwhile, 29 percent of Hispanic teachers are uncertified. Hispanics make up 14 percent of the teachers.

    State Education Commissioner Richard Mills has said teachers don't belong in class if they can't pass the two license exams. Those are the Liberal Arts and Science Test - a general-knowledge reading and writing comprehension - and the Assessment of Teaching Skills Test. Under a new Education Department order, teachers who fail to meet the criteria to obtain their state licenses by the fall of 2003 could lose their jobs. These requirements could result in a large number of black and Hispanic teachers getting booted out of the system, reversing a Board of Ed trend of "diversifying the work force."

    Catie Marshall, a spokeswoman for Schools Chancellor Harold Levy, attributed the disparity in certifications to the changing racial and ethnic makeup of the teaching force. Many of the newer teachers are minorities. The older, mostly white veteran teachers had more time to obtain their certification, while the newer instructors are still in the process of doing so, she said. But that doesn't tell the whole story, critics say. A group of minority teachers who are uncertified have sued the state in federal court, alleging the state teaching exams discriminate against black and Hispanics. But state education officials maintain their teaching tests are unbiased. The Education Department has a 15-member bias-review committee that scrutinizes all questions on the teaching exams, said Charles Mackey, executive coordinator of the state Office of Teaching. "We have taken every step humanly possible to make sure these tests aren't biased," he said. Mackey, asked why minorities have a higher failure rate than whites, said the college teacher-education programs "weren't as rigorous as they should be" in preparing graduates in the past decade - although the programs are beginning to improve.
    ©The New York Post

    Aspiring Black and Asian MPs are being forced out of politics by racism in selection meetings that prevents them being chosen to fight winnable seats, a conference will be told next week. The three main political parties will all stand accused of failing to match promises of reforms to increase thnic minority representation. Of the 659 MPs in the House of Commons, only 12 are of black or Asian origin and all of those are Labour. In the House of Lords there are just 24 ethnic minority peers out of 699 members.

    Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are all sending speakers to the Race Into Parliament event at Brunel University, Uxbridge. "The parties constantly claim to be better than each other in fielding and supporting ethnic minority candidates, yet no party has shown the leadership or commitment to raising minority representation in Parliament to truly reflective levels," said Sameena Khan, chairman of the conference. "Potential candidates have come forward and been made to feel welcome in the early stages of the selection process. However, they soon encounter hard realities: they are made to feel unwelcome or find that they are used to make up the numbers on a shortlist. Many now say they are put off and that the process is a waste of time."

    Jan Etienne, a Labour activist and former councillor, has been on six constituency shortlists in London but has never been selected to fight a seat. Miss Etienne said she had encountered more racism in Labour selection meetings than on doorsteps up and down the country. "I have had people say to me after I have lost a vote, 'We had to get a woman in before we could try a black person'," she said. "You get accused of being 'single issue' and they ask things like, 'What about the constituency as a whole?' "I sometimes feel I am knocking my head against a brick wall, but when you are ambitious then the knock-backs just make you more determined." Rabiner Martins, a Liberal Democrat spokesman on race issues who will address the conference, said he applied for selection in six seats in 2001. He was not chosen in the four with the best prospects but was shortlisted in the other two and ended up fighting an "unwinnable" seat. "There is a fear in constituency parties that an ethnic minority candidate will not win the support of the population," said Mr Martins, 56, a councillor in Watford. "That fear drives their thinking and it is unwitting and indirect racism. We need to educate local parties. There is a hell of a long way to go."
    ©Daily Telegraph

    Holocaust hero has few admirers in Moravia's Svitavy

    To many who've seen Steven Spielberg's 1993 film Schindler's List, Oskar Schindler is a hero. The Oscar-winning production describes how the Czech-born World War II industrialist saved 1,200 Jewish slave laborers from Nazi gas chambers. But in the neighborhood pubs of his hometown of Svitavy, north Moravia, Schindler is remembered quite differently -- sentiments that come to the forefront as the nearby village of Brnenec finalizes plans to erect a Holocaust memorial on the site of his wartime munitions factory. "Schindler is the shame of this city," says Svata, a 52-year-old ceramist, gripping a pint of the local brew. "He only used those [workers] for his own purposes. Now it's all become politically inflated. It's bullshit." While not all of Svitavy's residents feel as strongly as Svata, many are skeptical of the portrait Spielberg presented on the screen. After all, they ask, wasn't Schindler a devoted Nazi until the very end, when he knew the war was ending badly for the Germans? Didn't he grow rich off his Schindlerjuden and then use them once again to save his own reputation? As if to emphasize the point, local officials state clearly that a planned Holocaust memorial in Brnenec (Brunnlitz) -- where Jews were employed to manufacture cannon shells, sparing them from extermination -- is not a celebration of Schindler's charity. "We don't want to build a memorial to Schindler," said Brnenec Mayor Radek Dirr, "but to those who died."

    For Czechs, Schindler remains an ambiguous figure out of a bitter wartime past -- a fact highlighted earlier this year when local officials finalized a list of notable natives of the Pardubice region, which includes Svitavy. Though first included on the list, Schindler's name was stricken after a deluge of complaints from citizens calling him a war criminal and a traitor to his country. Milan Novak, assistant to the regional governor, said the debate made Schindler unfit. "I wouldn't want him to be on the list," he said. "There shouldn't be any controversial people there." Recent outrage over the Benes Decrees hasn't helped Schindler's persona non grata status. Under the decrees, signed by the postwar President Edvard Benes, more than 2.5 million of Czechoslovakia's ethnic Germans lost their citizenship -- including Schindler. Despite heavy pressure from neighboring Austria and Germany in recent months, Czech officials refuse to revoke the decrees.

    Radoslav Fikejz, a local historian at the Svitavy City Museum, says many would prefer to forget those who were expelled under the decrees. "It's as if this is a place without a history," he said. Schindler was born to a middle-class family in 1908, when Svitavy was under the Austro-Hungarian empire. Then the industrial city was known by its German name, Zwittau. Its inhabitants were 97 percent ethnic Germans. In his hometown, Schindler was known as a hard drinker and an incorrigible womanizer -- habits that stayed with him all his life. After the 1918 Treaty of Versailles placed Zwittau in the newly formed Czechoslovakia, ethnic Germans lost many of their former privileges. Most, like Schindler, joined the Sudeten German Party after Adolf Hitler's rise in Germany. Schindler was also an agent of the Abwehr, the Nazis' military intelligence unit, and spied on his own country and Poland for a handsome salary.

    After Hitler occupied Czechoslovakia and much of Poland, Schindler moved to Krakow, Poland, to seek his fortune. He cultivated close contacts with high-level Nazis and eventually acquired a factory formerly owned by a Jew, where he made pots and pans for the German army using Jewish slave labor. According to his workers, as the years passed Schindler began to view them as friends. In autumn of 1944, with the eastern front crumbling, his Krakow factory was closed and his workers threatened with working his broom against the fallen leaves. Asked whether Schindler deserves such a testimonial, he pauses. "I guess I don't know," he says with a shrug. "He saved all those people. At least that's what they say. That was a good thing, wasn't it?"
    ©The Prague Post

    Foreign nationals living in Greece who are convicted of any breach of the law will be automatically stripped of their residence and work permits, under draft legislation tabled in Parliament yesterday. The draft amendment presented by Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis also imposes a three-month limit on the detention pending deportation of foreign nationals who are deemed to pose a threat to public security or who are considered to be potential escapees. Furthermore, if the amendment is passed, immigrants destined for deportation for having broken the law will not be able to appeal against their expulsion. At the same time, all foreign nationals who have been granted temporary residence permits but were included on immigration authorities' lists of undesirables will be automatically struck off the lists. The amendment will also make it easier for ethnic Greeks from the former Soviet Union and for their children to acquire Greek nationality.
    ©International Herald Tribune

    Police were investigating attacks over the weekend on two restaurants, one in Haugesund on the West Coast and one near Drammen. Both are owned by immigrants but police hadn't established any links between the attacks. The first attack was on a Chinese restaurant called Asia House in Vestfossen, an otherwise quiet town between Drammen and Kongsberg. At 2:30am on Saturday, two masked men drove up to the restaurant, broke a window and threw three open gas cannisters into the restaurant. The restaurant's manager was still on the job, and fled outside in time to witness the two men take off in a dark car. The assailants failed to set fire to the gas cannisters, so the restaurant escaped serious damage. The second attack was on a cafe run by an immigrant just outside the downtown area of Haugesund, a few hundred miles away from Vestfossen on the West Coast of Norway. It occurred about 2am Sunday, when a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the cafe. Police refused to speculate whether the attacks were racially motivated. The owner of the Vestfossen restaurant claimed he had no conflicts that could explain the attack, nor had he had any troublesome diners on the night of the attack. Police in Haugesund and Řvre Eiker told Aftenposten's web site that they likely would exchange information in the two cases. The national crime unit Kripos is examining evidence collected at the scene of both attacks.

    Two Jewish Americans were attacked Sunday on one of Berlin's main streets, the German police announced Tuesday, as the German government stepped up security around sites associated with Judaism, like cemeteries and synagogues. The attack was the first violent anti-Semitic incident in Germany to be publicized since the increase in violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians. In a separate incident, a swastika was painted early Tuesday morning on a memorial to Jewish victims of Nazism in Berlin's Tiergarten. The police said that two Jewish men, both 21, from New York, were attacked on Sunday evening about 9:30 P.M. on the Kurfuerstendamm by a group of young men with "southern" features. "Southern" is a euphemism here for darker-skinned, like people from southern Europe, the Middle East or north Africa. The men asked the bearded New Yorkers if they were Jewish and then pushed them to the ground, the police said. One of the victims, whose names were not made public, had facial wounds requiring treatment in the hospital. The two victims were dressed in long black coats associated with Orthodox Jews, the police said.

    There has been a surge in anti-Semitic incidents in France and attacks in recent days on synagogues in France and in Belgium. A leading German Jewish official called on the government Tuesday to increase its protection of Jews and Jewish sites. Michel Friedman, vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, also cautioned that the conflict in the Middle East was no justification for anti-Semitic acts. "To extend this to include all Jews shows the true, grotesque face of fanatical Islamists, who ultimately want to dump Israel in the sea and see Judaism as public enemy No.1," Mr. Friedman told Berlin's Radio Eins. Later Tuesday, the German interior minister, Otto Schily, said that security had already been stepped up around sites of Jewish interest across the country. Security was heightened after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, and heightened again after the series of incidents in France, he said. Armed policemen normally guard major Jewish sites in Germany, and some sites, like Berlin's New Synagogue, are barricaded as heavily as the American Embassy here after Sept. 11. Policemen in an armored personnel carrier equipped with water cannon are on guard at the synagogue around the clock. The Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper said that the various anti-Semitic incidents in Europe were "a direct response to the escalation of violence in the Middle East." It called for greater European efforts to end the fighting between Palestinians and Israelis.
    ©International Herald Tribune

    Tension between Hungary, The Czech Republic and Slovakia over Hungarian calls for the annulment of the 1945 Benes Decrees (which forced the ejection of ethnic Hungarians and Germans from Czechoslovakia) and Hungary's Status Law (giving preferential treatment to ethnic Hungarians resident in neighboring countries) remained last week, with no evidence of a shift in official positions.

    Following a meeting in Brussels with EU Commission President Romano Prodi and EU Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen, Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said his country continued to stand by the Decrees which, he said, were "a part of history" and any issues related to them were of a political as opposed to a legal nature. Speaking during a State visit to London where he met Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, President Ferenc Mádl repeated the official Hungarian position on the Benes Decrees, stating they were "at odds with European values" and a violation of basic anti-discrimination laws. He added, however, that Hungary would not insist on the abolition of the Decrees before endorsing Slovakia's application for NATO membership.

    The Czech Republic's chief EU negotiator Pavel Telicka, said a Czech government analysis of the Benes Decrees found the legislation to be irrelevant to current EU law, adding that the Czech Foreign Ministry would soon present its findings to the EU. Petr Jezek of the Czech Foreign Ministry's legal department argued that the aqui communautaire (the EU's system of legislation) had no retrospective effect and the Decrees could not be applied in the Czech Republic which now has its own legal system separate to that of the former Czechoslovakia. Dzurinda also told the EU Foreign Affairs Committee that the Status Law remained unacceptable to Slovakia due to its extraterritorial impact, despite previous reassurances from the Hungarian Foreign Ministry that the law would only have effect in Hungary. Prodi told reporters a settlement should be negotiated in accordance with the findings of the Venice Commission (which issued a report on European ethnic status legislation last year). "It is a problem that should be solved between the two sides," he said.

    Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Németh and Slovak Foreign Ministry State Secretary Jaroslav Chlebo agreed to a meeting of the Hungarian-Slovak Joint Committee on Minority Issues to settle the two countries' continuing differences over the Status Law. Speaking in Komarno, Slovakia, Németh told Hungarian news agency MTI that he saw no solution other than to continue reassuring Slovakia that the legislation did not impinge on Slovakia's sovereignty, nor did it discriminate against Slovakians. "In Europe, supporting a minority does not qualify as discrimination," he said. "It is unfortunate that the Hungarian benefit law has been blown up as an issue in the Slovak election campaign."
    ©The Budapest Sun

    In unprecedented verdicts, two courts - one in Prague and the other in Hradec Kralove - sentenced two neo-Nazi skinheads to seven and thirteen years in prison respectively for violent attacks. Both have appealed and their cases will be ruled in higher courts, but the sentences were unusually high. First, a court in Prague sent 23-year-old Frantisek Sobek to prison for seven years for assaulting two men and a pregnant woman in the centre of Prague in May 1999, after the Czech ice-hockey team's victory at the World Championships. The court based its ruling on the fact that Sobek had been sentenced several times for similar crimes, but always received only suspended sentences with a probation period. The judge said the suspended sentences had proved entirely ineffective. nd a skinhead in Hradec Kralove in Eastern Bohemia received 13 years in prison for murdering a Roma man at a discotheque. After a sharp exchange of words, Vlastimil Pechanec stabbed the Roma man in the abdomen. 30-year-old Ota Absolon died in hospital soon after, leaving behind two small children. Although Pechanec maintained that he had split from the skinhead movement six years ago, shortly afterwards a poem celebrating the killing was circulating among neo-Nazis.

    So why have the courts begun acting more strictly - was the question I put to Vaclav Trojan from the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly:

    "I think the situation in the Czech Republic, especially in justice, has changed a bit, hopefully in a positive direction, it seems that the present government has more interest in solving racial crimes and the problems concerning xenophobic tendencies in the Czech society. Part of that is a more strong and more serious solution of racially motivated crimes. Unfortunately, years ago racially motivated crimes were not punished adequately. I don't think that this is the only thing which we can do now, I think that we should do much more, we should change the society, of course, it's a long-term problem, but the fact that justice in the Czech Republic is recognising racially motivated crimes with more respect, I appreciate."

    Do you think now it could be a political pressure?
    "I think it can be partially, because there was strong international pressure on the Czech Republic, especially because of the wave of migration of many Roma people asking for asylum in different countries because of racial struggles in the country, and I think part of this is really politically motivated. Unfortunately I think it's not even coming from inside of the society, it's rather an outside measure."

    Can those high sentences prevent skinheads from committing more racially motivated crimes?
    "I'm afraid that just to persecute some group usually does not help. I think that it's more important to create some kind of policy, some kind of a long-term action, education, to reduce skinheads' activities. Also, one of their motivations is coming from tensions in the society. The society is often pushing the Roma people outside of towns, creating ghettos and so on. I think all those things are bound together and we must step by step do something against the existing tensions we have in the country."
    ©Radio Prague

    Britain is opposing European moves to make denying or trivialising Nazi atrocities a criminal offence. Proposals by Brussels would make racism and xenophobia serious crimes in Britain for the first time, carrying a prison sentence of two years or more. Europe wants to harmonise laws before a new arrest warrant comes into force in 2004. This will allow police to send citizens of the 15 member states for trial anywhere in the EU without old-style extradition procedures. Among the crimes for which the warrant would be issued are racism and xenophobia. But these do not exist as specific offences in Britain or in some other EU states. The draft plans define racism and xenophobia as an aversion to individuals based on "race, colour, descent, religion or belief, national or ethnic origin". An offence of "public denial or trivialisation of the crimes dealt with by the international military tribunal established in 1945" is also proposed.

    Holocaust denial laws are in place in seven countries, including Germany, France and Austria. But they would be a big departure for Britain, where a risk of fomenting public disorder is needed before a thought becomes a crime. Before the 1997 election, Tony Blair said there was "a very strong case" for a holocaust denial law. But the Government has told the Commons European scrutiny committee that Britain is opposed to the creation of such an offence. Angela Eagle, a Home Office minister, said: "Whilst we recognise the significant degree of offence that this kind of material causes to many people, particularly the Jewish community, the Government does not support the idea of an absolute offence." She said the Government also opposed the proposed extent of the law. It could cover many stand-up comedians and even Anne Robinson, who said on BBC television that she regarded the Welsh as "irritating".

    The proposals need the unanimous support of the 15 states, so Britain can veto them if further negotiations fail to meet its objections. There have been several prosecutions in Europe in the past few years for holocaust denial. In Germany a historian who claimed that Auschwitz prisoners enjoyed cinemas, a swimming pool and brothels was sentenced to 10 months in jail; and an American served three years of a four-year sentence for distributing anti-holocaust material. In 1991 the controversial historian David Irving, who lost a High Court libel action two years ago, was fined by a German court for breaking holocaust denial laws and "defaming the memory of the dead".
    ©Daily Telegraph

    Irish people must embrace people from different races and cultures who have been drawn to the country by the republic's economic success, a government minister said yesterday. People needed to accept what had been for some "unexpected, bewildering and unsettling" changes in recent years, said the justice minister John O'Donoghue. "Our economic success is due to our successful integration into the global economy," he said. "Part of that economy is an increasingly global labour market. "Ireland is now and will remain a country with a significant minority born outside Ireland, coming from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Our task is to integrate these diversities successfully." Mr O'Donoghue referred to a number of attacks on young men which police have described as racially motivated. The Irish Parliament deputy for Cork North Central, Noel O'Flynn, provoked outrage earlier this year when he described immigrants as "spongers" and "wasters". Mr O'Donoghue was speaking at the opening in Dublin of an anti-racism conference charged with taking the first steps in drawing up a National Action Plan against Racism.
    ©Daily Telegraph

    Two-thirds of British women believe their race can limit their career choice and progression up the employment ladder, according to a new survey. he findings, carried out by the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) and published in She Magazine, also show only 50% believed Britain is a society based on equal opportunity. Only one in four were in favour of positive discrimination at work, but more on grounds of age than race. Beverley Bernard, the deputy chairman of the CRE, said the study should serve as a warning to companies. "Women clearly feel that race is a barrier to career choice and career progression," she said. "Employers should take note. They cannot afford to ignore the concerns of half of Britain's workforce. "It is still a fact that women do less well in the workplace. They are paid less. They are promoted less often and they face greater harassment and bullying at work." She added: "Ethnic minority women face all of these problems, with the added dimension of racial discrimination on top." More than 1,100 women aged over 16 were questioned for the research, which studied British women's attitudes to racial issues, including employment and relationships. It follows a series of CRE seminars last year with ethnic minority women who said they were being excluded from the public policy-making process both at a national and regional level.

    For some women in the Czech Republic, Easter is a time to dread. Because today, all over the country, men will be beating women in public, without fear of arrest or prosecution. They are upholding one of Europe's more bizarre  and controversial  traditions: the Easter beating of women. It's an old fertility rite that dates back to the Middle Ages; the only thing is that, in the Czech Republic, it's not confined to the history books. It is a ritual still assiduously practised by Czechs today. On the morning of Easter Monday, men and boys whip women of all ages, around the legs with special whips made out of twisted willow branches. The women reward the men for this with a painted Easter egg. The symbolism is pretty clear: the whipping, say Czechs, ensures the woman stays fertile and beautiful. No woman escapes: women of all ages get a whipping, from children to grandmothers. In fact, it's considered rude to leave one of the women in a gathering out, even if she's 70 years old. The whipping is supposed to be symbolic, more a gentle tap.

    But a lot of Czech women complain that men are abusing the tradition. "I've hated Easter since I was a child," says Barbora Gomezova. "When I was 11 I was with a group of girls; we were attacked by a group of older boys, around 16 years old. They had been drinking, and, instead of willow branches, they were using electric cables as whips. They hit us a lot around the legs; I had bruises all over my legs. "The worst thing was that I felt so powerless, they were hitting me with electric cables and I had no way to fight back." Traditionally, women get their revenge for the whipping by chucking cold water over the men. This is supposed to ensure good health. But sometimes the women end up getting the cold shower as well as the whipping. Vesna Brabic, 35, found that out a few years ago when she was unceremoniously picked up and thrown into a fishpond by a group of drunken Czech men on Easter Monday. Her stepmother was thrown in with her. "And there was ice on the pond," she says. "We were so cold. It's all right if they stick to the tradition, but these days you get men who are frustrated, who get really drunk and don't do it properly." But, alarming as this sounds to Western ears, many Czech women defend the tradition. "I look forward to it every year," says Daniela Furthnerova. She says there is a sexual edge to the tradition. "Young women wait for the special man, the one they like to come and whip them," she says. Sarka Rausova agrees: "It's a tradition and people don't think about it as something that shouldn't be done."

    Michaila Marksova-Tominova, of the Prague Gender Studies Centre, an NGO that campaigns for women's rights, says: "I think it depends. I can imagine we could support the idea in a society where to beat a woman is OK." Domestic violence is a serious problem in the Czech Republic, says Ms Marksova-Tominova. Under Czech law, beating your marital partner is not a crime unless she (or he) is so badly injured that she cannot work for at least seven days  and parliament has repeatedly rejected proposals to change the law. It is all part of the difficulty Czech women face in tackling feminism  so much so that there is a serious debate over what Western-style feminism can offer Czech women. The problem is that in some ways, Czech society was ahead of its time on women's rights. More than 90 per cent of Czech women are in full-time employment: a legacy of communism, under which women were forced to work by law. And since the First World War more than half of university degrees go to women every year. But behind that lurk shortcomings, says Ms Marksova-Tominova, like the skewed law on domestic violence. Women are generally paid less than men, especially in the public sector. Even women's names are a source of controversy. By law, women must add to their surnames the suffix -ova. © Independent Digital

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