NEWS - Archive April 2006

Headlines 28 April, 2006

CLASHES ERUPT AT POLAND GAY MARCH

28/4/2006- A gay tolerance march in the southern Polish city of Krakow has been attacked by a rival demonstration of young nationalists. Police using riot shields and batons kept the two demonstrations apart. Several arrests were made after members of the far-right All Poland Youth Group began throwing stones and eggs at the participants of the tolerance march. More than 1,000 people, including an ex-deputy PM, took part in the march to promote tolerance to gays and lesbians. At the same time, activists from the nationalist All Poland Youth were holding what they called a "tradition" march. Some held banners daubed with the words, "Stop deviation". Others chanted, "Lesbians and gays, all of Poland is laughing at you". The tolerance demonstration changed its route to avoid a clash, but some members of the tradition march ran after it, hurling stones and eggs. Two years ago, a gay march in Krakow was also attacked. Homophobia is not uncommon in this staunchly Catholic country. And gay rights groups say the situation has deteriorated since the conservative Law and Justice Party came to power last September. It campaigned on traditional, family and Catholic values. Shortly after he became Prime Minister, Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz said in an interview that homosexuality is unnatural. According to surveys, nine out of 10 Poles agree with him.
BBC News

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AN AFRICAN MUSLIM IN WARSAW (Poland, interview)

Mohamed Kabba is a young man, a radio journalist by profession, who has been living in Poland for only a year. Mohamed is originally from Sierra Leone, but today Warsaw is his home.
By Gabriel Stille

26/4/2006- Even though his time here in Poland has not always been easy, on the whole, Mohamed thinks that Warsaw is a city more open to foreigners than one first would think:
Warsaw is a very big city, with different kinds of people. On one hand it's OK, on the other hand it's not OK. But on a percentage basis, Warsaw is much OK as it is now. Because according to some people, you'll meet different kinds of people in everyday life, along the streets, on the busses, but I think Warsaw is OK.

Poland and the Polish society sometimes have the reputation of being closed to foreigners, especially for people from cultures from far away, such as Africa. But, Mohamed applies a historical view and thinks that things can only get better:
Well, Polish people are good, to my knowledge. I was not here for the past years, but in order to compare the situation 15 or 20 years ago with the present Polish situation now, I think it is better because one should have in mind that the Polish are not so far away from the communist system historically, but now you find out that Poland is from my point of view more in the Western civilisation. When you talk about the youth, I think there are great changes. Although you still have one or two things along the way. There are some bad things you will meet in terms of colour, race; but not in the way people are expecting it to be. So it's a little bit better.

Of course there is a lot of things for an immigrant to do in order to get into society. The most important aspect, according to Mohamed, is language:
The Polish language is difficult, but on the other hand, the Polish language is a really, really nice language. It's difficult with all the "szcz", sorry... In other words, it is a very sweet language, I find it very interesting every time I go to school, and my teacher is very good, you know. It's really good for me to learn the language, and I like the language.

Being a Muslim, like Mohamed, is rather rare in Poland, although Muslim immigrants an a small ingenious Polish Tartar minority makes up about 30.000 people. Also, the fact that Poles generally cares a lot about religion, even though they are mostly Roman Catholic, can make them respectful of other creeds, Mohamed thinks:
Well, Poland as a whole is a very conservative country, with strong religious beliefs, mostly Catholic, but I think they have respect for one another's religion. Because, I find it very interesting: Whenever I go to the mosque, the sermon is read in Arabic and then translated into Polish, which is very very interesting. I was surprised on my first day in the mosque. And I have seen so many Polish being Muslim, because I was thinking "There are no Muslims who are Poles." But it is different, to be honest with you, and all the time I come across more Poles. It is quite interesting. One of the main things I think - they have respect for each other's religions, which is very good.

Mohamed doesn't wish to talk about his past life in Sierra Leone, but is set to contribute to his new country in every way he can, and also continue to pursuit his carrier - as a radio journalist.
Polskie Radio

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FOR SECOND YEAR MOLDOVAN ATHORITIES DENY LGBT COMMUNITY THE RIGHT TO DEMONSTRATION(Press release)

28/4/2006- The city authorities of Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, have refused to authorize a peaceful demonstration in support of the adoption of anti-discrimination legislation for sexual minorities. The demonstration was planned to take place on 5 May in front of the Moldovan Parliament as part of the Fifth Moldovan LGBT Pride festival, organized by the Information Centre GenderDoc-M. In the rejection letter the interim city mayor Mr. Vasile Ursu states that the decision was made in order to avoid public disorder with serious consequences for society. The decision Nr.417-d reads: "Based <….>on the statements of religious organizations that they will organize protest actions if the demonstration organized by GenderDoc-M is allowed, and also based on letters of complaint from individuals living in Chisinau and registered in the city, which also say that protest actions will be organized, <…> the demonstration in the form of a solidarity march, planned by Information Center "GenderDoc-M" for 5 May 2006, will not be authorized".

GenderDoc-M considers these arguments irrelevant and developed for the sole purpose of justifying the refusal to authorise the demonstration. Moreover, the refusal violates the basic human rights of freedom of expression and assembly guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights. The decision of the city authorities undermines the Moldovan authorities' commitments under the EU-Moldova Action Plan, which include the adoption of anti-discrimination legislation in line with European standards. GenderDoc-M is challenging the ban before the Court of Appeal which it hopes will deliver a rational judgment. We also call upon representatives of the European institutions and the EU Member States to raise the subject of LGBT rights, and particularly this incident, with the Moldovan authorities.

Despite this event the Fifth Moldovan Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Festival, "Rainbow over the Nistru - 2006" will take place as planned from 5 - 7 May 2006. All the events will be organized in a peaceful manner. The Pride programme includes a movie week, an international conference on anti-discrimination issues, a football match between lesbian teams, legislative theatre, colourful concerts, etc. Guests from Sweden, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, the Netherlands, Belgium, and other countries will take part.
GenderDoc-M

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FAR-RIGHT LEADER REFUSES INTEGRATION WORK(Belgium)

28/4/2006- The leader of Francophone extreme-right party Front National FN has refused to perform a community work order assisting immigrant integration projects. The Brussels Court of Appeal convicted Daniel Féret on 18 April on charges of inciting race hatred. The politician was banned from running for office for the next 10 years. The court also imposed a 250-hour community work order on him, ordering him to assist immigrants integrate into Belgium. But Féret said at a press conference on Friday he has refused to perform the work order in the integration sector. "The court went too far. It will be a no. I don't see why Féret should have to succeed where everyone else has failed," he said, referring to efforts aimed at integrating immigrants into Belgian society. Féret also repeated that he will appeal the court's ruling. He cited two reasons for the appeal; firstly due to his political immunity. He claimed it is impossible to withdraw his immunity in the federal Parliament, but not in the Brussels or the French Community's Parliament — where he has also won office. Féret also claimed that Socialist PS leader Elio di Rupo had gained access to his judicial dossier via lawyer Marc Uyttendaele. If Féret wins his appeal in the Supreme Court, he will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. He will then apply for asylum in Russia, a statement he has previously made. "If I go to Moscow, that will not be an escape, but a way in which I can ensure that I can continue to put forward my opinion. People will never succeed in silencing me," he said. Despite his conviction, Féret remains the FN leader. Party members who were present at the press conference on Friday confirmed their faith in the party chairman.
Expatica News

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IMMIGRANT HUNGER STRIKERS STOP DRINKING(Belgium)

27/4/2006- Some 24 illegal immigrants who started a hunger strike on 7 April in Saint-Gilles in Brussels also stopped drinking on Wednesday night. Support organisations have raised grave concerns about the desperation and hardening of the protestors' action. The 24 illegal immigrants come from Mauretania and Algeria and are campaigning under the slogan '[Residency] papers or a death certificate'. "What is happening in Saint-Gilles is very serious," a spokesman from CRER, the group demanding an amnesty for illegal immigrants and protesting against their expulsion. "Whoever stops drinking water can die in three days' time." CRER spokesman Oscar Flores said the sit-in protestors at the Saint-Gilles church believe their protest is not yielding results. "They are desperate and have decided to harden their hunger strike," he said. Another spokesman Thierry Delforge said the situation is dramatic and two or three people have already been admitted to hospital. "They are prepared to go through to the end and request a meeting with the Minister of Interior Affairs or with an official from the immigration service," he said. Church sit-ins are taking place at various locations across the country in protest against Belgium's immigration laws. Several hunger strikes have also been carried out in recent weeks, but this is the first time that protestors have stopped drinking.
Expatica News

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NO APOLOGY FROM JUDICIARY FOR BLAMING NORTH AFRICANS(Belgium)

26/4/2006- Despite a storm of criticism, the Brussels public prosecution is refusing to apologise for describing the killers of Joe Van Holsbeeck as North African youths. This is despite the fact the suspects have since been identified as Polish nationals, one of whom was arrested on Monday. The main suspect is believed to have fled to Poland. A spokesman for the prosecution, Jos Colpin, has since told Expatica "we regret but do not apologise" for the fact that it publicly said North Africans were the suspects. "But we made that statement based on witness accounts. Nearly all of those spoke about North Africans or culprits of North African origin. We therefore do not apologise," Coplin said. However, the judicial director of the federal police, Glenn Audenaert, did apologise on Tuesday. "We think it is very regrettable that shortly after the murder the North African community was immediately accused, certainly now that it appears the culprits were not from that community," Audenaert said. "I must point out though that the federal police never said that the suspects were definitely North Africans". Besides the prosecution, Belgian media also described the suspects as North Africans, which according to Flemish daily newspaper 'De Standaard', "painfully demonstrated how we have prejudice, even without us knowing it". Witnesses to the killing, Joe Van Holsbeeck's friend who was with him at the time of his stabbing and repeated media reports described the suspects as North Africans. The video footage of the suspects also appeared to indicate youths of darker skin. Left-wing Spirit Brussels MP Fouad Ahidar then urged for a silent march and said "many North African youth are consciously bullying and robbing Belgian youths".

Amid the controversy imams urged Muslims to turn the killers into police and issued anti-violence sermons. The Muslim Executive now regrets the fact that the media said the suspects were North African, stressing that a rash conclusion led to speculation about the religion of the killers. It said stigmatisation of the Muslim community had only increased as a result. The statement broke the Muslim Executive's silence over the killing. In doing so, the executive congratulated police on the arrest of the co-suspect and expressed its sympathy for Van Holsbeeck's family. Meanwhile, a psychologist with the Catholic University of Leuven, Vera Hoorens, has been quoted saying that prejudice can influence witness statements and what people believe they see, sometimes even confusing the race of a victim or attacker. She said this phenomenon can be heightened if an authority, such as the public prosecutor, says that the portrayed suspects are North African. A spokesman for the Centre for Equal Opportunities, Jozef De Witte, also warned against prejudice, advising against making conclusions without all the facts being known. He said crime is crime, whether it is committed by Polish, Belgian or North African culprits.
Expatica News

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CONCERN OVER INCIDENT AT INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL(Netherlands)

27/4/2006- The authorities at the International Secondary School in Eindhoven (ISSE) have vowed a renewed focus on security after some pupils were assaulted by local teenagers. "It is particularly a matter for concern that local children entered the school grounds during this very unfortunate incident," headmaster David Garner said. He stressed that a a CCTV camera recorded the confrontation and the police say the images are of good enough quality to catch the culprits. The ISSE, on the Venetiestraat, is part of the Stedelijk (City) College Eindhoven and has pupils from dozens of countries, aged between 11 and 19. The parents of some of the children work at the airbase in Eindhoven. The school's curriculum is the seven-year Geneva-based International Baccalaureate. The incident took place on 21 April when four ISSE pupils, all girls aged 12 to 14, went to a nearby chip shop between 4.50 and 5pm. Some local girls came in and one commented on the fact the ISSE pupils were speaking English. This sparked pushing and shoving on the part of the local teenagers. The ISSE pupils went back to the school grounds but were followed by the original protagonists and other young people from the neighbourhood. Some of the pupils, including two other girls who happened to be passing, were pushed to the ground and kicked. Michael Santangelo, the father of the pupil confronted for speaking English, said it took two phone calls before the police arrived. His daughter was grabbed by the throat during the incident in an attempt to take her bike. Santangelo said pupils are have already revealed previous incidents of harassment. He said parents had been asking for extra security at the school for at least a year.

Expressing concern tension had been building up for the last few years, Santagelo said steps have to be taken to guarantee unauthorised people cannot enter the school grounds and that the pupils are free of harassment in Eindhoven. Garner acknowledged there has been an atmosphere of heightened sensitivity in the Netherlands in general in recent years. But noting that the spark seems to have been the pupils use of English, Garner said, "the curious thing is that the majority of the local children were clearly not of Dutch origin themselves." He said he hoped the trouble last Friday was an isolated incident and an unfortunate manifestation of "teenage territorialism". "There has been a running discussion with the local authority about the location of a bus stop. It used to be at the front of the school, in view of the office, but not it is at the rear and is more isolated." The ISSE, he said, is on the edge of a nice neighbourhood, with apartments and social housing some distance further to the south which has been a traditional source of problems. He said international students, anywhere in the world, often have to resign themselves to having comments directed at them by local children. But the school wanted to guarantee everyone feels secure, safe and welcome. Therefore the pupils have been asked come forward with any accounts of incorrect treatment. Garner said Friday's incident had led to a renewed focus on what can be done to improve security, in particular to control who enters the school. He said some progress had been made but the emphasis in Dutch schools tends to differ from the needs of an international one. "In light of attacks on teachers and pupils in recent years the focus in Dutch schools is mainly on the internal atmosphere. As an international school our security concerns are of a different nature".
Expatica News

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PUBLIC THINKS HOLOCAUST SPARKED WW II(Netherlands)

26/4/2006- Dutch people generally know more about World War II than is often thought, according to a report published ahead of the Remembrance and Liberation Days next week. The Nationaal Vrijheidsonderzoek (National Freedom Study) conducted by the 4 and 5 May national committee found most people have a clear understanding of Nazi ideas, the causes of the conflict and the persecution of the Jews. But the report warned the level of knowledge about the war among under 25s is a cause for concern. Some 900 Dutch people, aged 13 and older, were questioned. Not surprisingly people aged 65 and older were more knowledgeable than younger people. Men also seemed to know more about the period than women, but this might be because men are more interested in war and are more prepared to gamble on an answer, the researchers said. Strikingly, the persecution of the Jews was the most cited as a cause of the war, and 83 percent thought incorrectly that the Holocaust led to war between the Axis and the Allied powers. The researchers said this indicated that the Nazi attempt to destroy the Jews and other groups has become synonymous with the war itself. More than half of the people questioned were able to put the major events of the war in the right order. But many underestimated the scale and the magnitude of the conflict, with estimates of the number of countries involved ranging from five to 20. In reality more than 50 took part in the war. There was also ignorance about how many citizens of the Soviet Union died during WWII. Some 22 percent of the people questioned thought the Netherlands was among the five countries that suffered the most casualties. The five with the highest combined civilian and military losses were the Soviet Union (in the region of 25 million), China (11 million), Germany (7 million), Poland (6.8 million) and Japan (1.8 million). The Netherlands suffered 14,000 military and 236,000 civilian casualties, including over 100,000 Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Dutch people also overestimate the number of collaborators and resistance fighters in the occupied Netherlands. In reality about 5 percent of the population worked with the Nazis and with another 5 percent active in the Resistance.
Expatica News

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REPRESENTATIVES BRASILIAN NATIVES DEMAND ACTION FROM NORWAY

27/4/2006- Two representatives from Brazil's indigenous tribes traveled to the Norwegian parliament to lodge a formal protest against oppression. The problem is Aracruz Celulose, the world's leading producer of bleached eucalyptus pulp, and a company the native tribes have been fighting for over 30 years. Norway's Government Pension Fund - Global, formerly the State Petroleum Fund, has NOK 34.6 million (USD 5.5 million) worth of shares in Aracruz. King Harald's brother-in-law Erling Lorentzen owns 28 percent of Aracruz. The Swedish king sold all of his shares in the controversial company in February. "Aracruz has taken our land, and destroyed the forest and rivers. In this way they also destroy a part of our life and our culture. Norway must use its influence on Aracruz," said Paulo Henrique Vicente de Oliveira of the Tupinikim people. He delivered a demand to Norway's parliament, the Storting, to pull out of the company or to get Aracruz to return an area of 11,009 hectares (27,200 acres). The natives in the area live on a tiny area of 50 hectares (123 acres) and have the support of FUNAI, the Brazilian directorate for indigenous peoples, in their claim for this land. Five Norwegian MPs representing the Labor, Socialist Left (SV) and Christian Democrat parties met with Oliveira and Wera Kwaray. The politicians promised to take the message to the government and that the petition would not be ignored. "You have our full sympathy. I would urge you to take this to the Ethics Council so that they can examine the investments made by Norges Bank (Norway's central bank)," said SV MP Magne Berger. The Brazilians will meet both the central bank and the ethics council for the Government Pension Fund - Global on their visit. They are guests of ethical watchdog group The Future in our Hands (FIOH), which named Aracruz Celulose the least ethical Norwegian company in 2003. "There has been a Norwegian link to the company all the time, both through Erling Lorentzen and the money invested by the petroleum fund," said FIOH manager Arild Hermstad. Norway's Finance Committee is headed to Brazil in a few weeks, and a first-hand look at Aracruz activities is one of the reasons for the choice of destination.
Aftenpost

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HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS DEMONSTRATE OUTSIDE BELARUSSIAN EMBASSY(Czech Rep.)

26/4/2006- Some 20 people outside the Belarussian embassy in Prague today to protest human rights abuses by Alexander Lukashenko's regime in Belarus and to try to deliver an open letter criticising the situation in Belarus. The letter also calls for the observance of the principle of the Declaration of the United Nations on Human Rights Defenders. The demonstration was organised by Amnesty International (AI). "The first two attempts at handing the letter to the embassy staff have failed. We were told that we should cast it into a post-box," AI spokeswoman Eva Dobrovolna told CTK. "However, we will be trying to hand the letter in person until 19:00 and then we will stay here until someone accepts it, maybe even till the morning," Dobrovolna said. The petition is designed to acquire as many signatures as possible for the letter for Lukashenko. "We want to point to the oppression of the freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Belarussian authorities are trying to clamp down on civic society and political dissent, using such methods as intimidation, arbitrary detentions and long prison sentences," Dobrovolna said. AI says that after the February presidential elections in Belarus, in which Lukashenko scored a landslide victory, some 900 people were detained in anti-government demonstrations in Minsk, while roughly half of them ended up in prisons. Among the Prague demonstrators, there were some young people from Belarus. They said that they were grateful for the event, but did not believe in any change for the better in their home country.
Prague Daily Monitor

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