NEWS - Archive September 2007

Headlines 28 September, 2007

TURKEY AND ISLAM: SECULARISTS' LAMENT

Time to pray? Or to despair?

27/9/2007- A bus travelling from Samsun to Istanbul on September 2nd stopped at a mosque when passengers insisted on saying their daily prayers. Similar demands are heard all over Turkey, says Milliyet, a daily that was bombarded with hate mail from religious hotheads for reporting the Samsun case. In another incident, Gulcan Kose, a 28-year-old divorcee who was wearing a knee-length tunic and leggings, was detained by Istanbul police for “indecent exposure” as she stood with a fellow fisherman on the Galata bridge; she faces charges of resisting the authorities. Many restaurants that once served customers during the Ramadan fast no longer do so. Turkey's secularists feel cornered. Ataturk's republic, some say, is becoming “another Iran”. Their fears have grown since the Justice and Development (AK) party's election victory in July and the subsequent elevation to the presidency, over the army's objections, of Abdullah Gul, a former AK foreign minister. Mr Gul's wife wears the Muslim headscarf, banned in government offices and schools.

Now Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, has said that the headscarf ban should be scrapped in universities. A new constitution planned by the AK to replace one written after the military coup of 1980 includes this change. Many fret that pressure on women to wear the veil, particularly in conservative areas, will intensify if it is allowed on campuses. Is Turkey turning an Islamic shade of green? AK's first five years in office suggest not. Mr Erdogan did once try to outlaw adultery, and some AK mayors attempted to create alcohol-free zones. But faced with an outcry, such efforts were soon dropped. Even feminists concede that some of the most radical improvements in the lot of women since Ataturk were introduced by AK. And many agree that to deny a woman an education because she is veiled contradicts Ataturk's vision for women. AK's supporters say the real reason for the secularists' despair is not a fear of Islamism, but because their own power is fading. A new and pious Anatolian bourgeoisie is rising up. The generals are losing their grip. “They are using the headscarf to create an atmosphere of panic in which they [the secular elite] can regain lost ground,” argues a senior AK man. If the constitution is adopted in its current form, the army will lose more influence—and Turkey will be a more democratic place.

Yet even liberal intellectuals now sound nervous. Yesim Arat, a political scientist at Bosporus University who dislikes the headscarf ban, laments the use of the new constitution to repeal it. The headscarf is worn in keeping with Islam. “By inserting it into the constitution you are forming law based on religious dictates,” Ms Arat says. “This is very problematic.”  Some women are similarly spooked by the removal of a clause saying that the state is responsible for ensuring equality between the sexes. There is only one woman in Mr Erdogan's cabinet. AK women, who played a big role in wooing voters, are now being sidelined: one of them, Ayse Bohurler, who opposed Mr Gul's presidency, complained of being labelled “a bitch” by male colleagues. And instead of trying to allay secular fears, Mr Erdogan has told critics to “shut up and mind your own business.” Mr Erdogan says he has no immediate plans to get rid of article 301 of the penal code, which was used to prosecute various writers, including Orhan Pamuk, for “insulting Turkishness”. But keeping article 301, say opponents, just confirms that AK is interested only in promoting Islam and defanging the army. The government remains “selective about democracy”, claims Umit Kardas, a former army prosecutor and critic of the generals.

When Festus Okey, a Nigerian refugee, was shot dead in an Istanbul police station, no official rebuke was uttered. Mr Kardas blames a law restoring the police's ability to act with impunity for other alleged abuses. None of this augurs well for Turkey's hopes of joining the European Union. It may fall to Mr Gul, a Europhile and undoubted democrat, to restore calm and bolster the AK's secular credentials.
© The Economist

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FIRST 'RACIST MURDERER' ON TRIAL(Belgium)

25/9/2007- In the criminal trial against Hans Van Themsche that starts next week the young man will not only be tried as a murderer, but as a racist murderer. It is the first time in Belgian legal history that this qualification is being used: racism as an aggravating circumstance. This is contained in the bill of indictment, to which VTM news has access. Hans Van Themsche will have to appear before a jury on Monday. He is accused of shooting and killing Malian nanny Oulematou and her charge little Luna on the streets of Antwerp last year. Oulematou because she was black, Luna because she was crying. He then turned his weapon on a Turkish woman in Islamic dress who was sitting on a nearby bench reading a book. That woman survived the shooting with serious injuries. His actions were motivated by racism, the bill of indictment reads. "Van Themsche had deliberately looked to shoot people of foreign background. Murder is already premeditated. Racism as motivation makes the charges even more serious. That is why the public prosecution department refers to article 405, fourth section, which was recently adapted in response to the anti-discrimination act," the bill reads. VTM news says it is the first time that a defendant in Belgium has been charged with "racist murders." Van Themsche was fully accountable when he went on his shooting rampage. He had not been drinking, because he did not want to compromise his aim, the bill of indictment states. To the public prosecution department Van Themsche is a weapon-obsessed murderer. Searches of his home turned up a hunting rifle, an air carbine, a sword, a catapult and knuckledusters, as well as a book on weapons. On Monday Van Themsche will appear in criminal court in Antwerp and could face life in prison.
© Expatica News

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GERMANS FINED FOR RIPPING UP FAR-RIGHT LEAFLETS

27/9/2007- Three German men were fined by a court Thursday for snatching leaflets from a far-right election worker and throwing them in a rubbish bin. The three landscape gardeners accosted the rightist last year as he was handing out leaflets and compact discs. Music by neo-Nazi bands has been used to expand the appeal of the National Democratic Party (NPD) among German young people. The rightist, who was campaigning at a school in the town of Waren, 100 kilometres north-west of Berlin, later won in the election an NPD seat in the assembly of Mecklenburg West Pomerania state. The trio, who threatened the man, seized his leaflets, tore and crumpled them and threw them in the bin, were fined a total of 2,600 euros (3,700 dollars) by the Waren court. Judge Michael Klasberg said, "It's not an issue of political sympathies here, but of who has authority to utilize such force." The NPD politician laid a police complaint against the trio and prosecutors initially posted the three an instant fine totalling 6,000 euros, but this was reduced at the court hearing. The NPD, which campaigns against foreigners, has scored its biggest electoral successes in formerly communist eastern Germany, but has never won seats in Germany's federal parliament.
© Digital Journal

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STUDY: HOMOPHOBIA HIGH AMONG IMMIGRANT CHILDREN IN GERMANY

26/9/2007- A new study has found that young people from immigrant backgrounds are more prone to reject homosexuality than their peers in Germany. That's because of cultural factors, including, but not restricted to religion. The study, which was carried out by the University of Kiel, surveyed the attitudes of some 1,000 high-school students between the ages of 14 and 20 in Berlin. It found a clear link between homophobia and cultural background. For example, when asked whether they would be disgusted by the sight of two people of the same sex kissing, 79 percent of respondents with a Turkish background said "yes." Seventy-six percent of those with a Russian background also answered in the affirmative -- compared with only 48 percent of respondents with a German background. A spokesperson for the German Association of Gays and Lesbians, Günter Dworek, said he was alarmed by the study's findings.
"Homophobia is not a harmless misdemeanor," Dworek told the AFP news agency. "It has negative effects on people's ability to live together in society." The head of the study, Bernd Simon, said homophobia was likely even more prevalent in Germany as a whole since Berlin is known for its relative tolerance toward non-traditional lifestyles.

Masculine norms
The study revealed that male respondents of all backgrounds tended to be more homophobic than females. Two key factors appear to be ideas of masculinity and religion. The study underscored "the significance of traditional masculine norms and religiosity in the development of anti-homosexual attitudes," Dworek said. A spokeswoman from the Turkish Association of Berlin-Brandenburg, Eren Ünsal, said she was not surprised by the results of the study but cautioned against making generalizations that all Muslims are homophobic. She said she hoped young Muslims could be encouraged to rethink their attitudes step-by-step. "The point is what sort of beliefs get passed on to the next generation," Ünsal told the DPA news agency. The German Association of Gays and Lesbians said it would invite immigrant advocacy groups to meet with them in an attempt to find ways of combating the problem.
© Deutsche Welle

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ANTI-DISCRIMINATION BILL PASSES FIRST READING(Czech rep.)

26/9/2007- The Chamber of Deputies Wednesday sent an anti-discrimination bill to the committee level and the deputies will take a final vote on it in the months ahead. The bill is to ensure an equal access to education, work, health care, social advantages and housing irrespective of age, race, sexual orientation, health handicap, tongue and religion. The left-camp deputies, however, say the bill does not take the fight against discrimination as far as it should. "We will try to shift it towards the European standard," deputy Anna Curdova (Social Democracy, CSSD) said. The senior government Civic Democrats (ODS), on the contrary, do not conceal their opinion that the bill alone is unnecessary and that they will make its passing only unwillingly in order to avoid EU sanctions. The Czech Republic should have passed an anti-discrimination bill still before it entered the EU in 2004. Minister Dzamila Stehlikova (Green Party), in charge of human rights and minorities, said previously the Czech Republic faces four administrative proceedings. If the case were brought to the European Court of Justice, the country could be fined tens of millions of crowns, she said. If the parliament passes the bill and the president signs it into law, it would take effect as from the beginning of next year. Its observance will be supervised by the ombudsman, which will extend his powers to include the private sphere. The previous governments also prepared the bill, but it has never made it through.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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CZECH NEO-NAZIS TO MARCH THROUGH JEWISH QUARTER

25/9/2007- Czech neo-Nazis want to march through the Prague Jewish Quarter on November 10, the anniversary of the Nazi anti-Jewish pogrom Kristallnacht, the daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) writes today. Officially, this will be a "march in protest against the war in Iraq," organised by Young National Democrats, HN writes, adding that some 150 demonstrators are expected to come. The civic group Tolerance and Civic Society, that has alerted the Prague Jewish community about the planned march, says that the extreme rightist National Resistance was behind the march. The neo-Nazis have chosen the anniversary of the Kristallnacht in Germany in 1938 when tens of Jews were murdered, 30,000 were deported to concentration camps and Aryanisation of their property started, activist Ondrej Cakl from Tolerance and Civic Society said. The neo-Nazis planned the same march on December 9, 2006, on the anniversary of the Nuremberg trial of war criminals. However, the Town Hall had cancelled it, arguing that it "could disturb public traffic and health." However, organiser Erik Sedlacek, one of the most active figures of the neo-Nazi movement, challenged the decision in court that eventually consented to its complaint. As a result, the November march is legal, HN writes. "The fact that an organiser is connected with some ideology is not sufficient for a ban. For this, the purpose of the event would have to be linked with it," Prague Town Hall lawyer Pavel Stefanak said. The planned march is to lead through the streets Maiselova, Brehova, Platnerska and U Stareho hrbitova to the Franz Kafka square, HN writes. The neo-Nazis plan to carry flags with the Third Reich's black-white-red colours so that "the rabbis see the flags after 60 years," HN writes. According to the Czech BIS counter-intelligence, the neo-Nazi movement is backed by some 3,000-5,000 Czechs, it adds.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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PRAGUE CANNOT BAN EXTREMISTS' MARCH(Czech rep.)

25/9/2007- Prague City Hall cannot ban the march through Prague's Jewish Quarter scheduled for November 10 since the organisers have officially called it a "protest against the Czech Republic's participation in the occupation of Iraq," City Hall spokesman Jiri Wolf told CTK Tuesday. However, the daily Hospodarske noviny writes today that neo-Nazis actually want to march through the Prague Jewish Quarter, though officially the protest is being organised by Young National Democrats. "The protest is declared to be a demonstration against the Czech participation in the occupation of Iraq. This is a legal reason that does not allow us to ban the demonstration," Wolf said. The authority may, however, ban the protest on the spot if law is violated, Wolf added. It plays no role that a person considered a neo-Nazi activist, Erik Sedlacek, is linked with the organisation of the march, Wolf said. The march is to be held on the anniversary day of the Nazi anti-Jewish pogrom Kristallnacht in Germany in 1938 when tens of Jews were killed and tens of thousands of them were deported to concentration camps. The neo-Nazis planned a similar march in January 2003 in protest against the alleged Holocaust committed by Israel on Palestinians. The march against which about 150 anarchists, anti-fascists and members of the Jewish Liberal Union protested was banned by a city official on the spot then.
© Prague Daily Monitor

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NO ROOF OVER THEIR HEADS(Slovakia)

Evicted Roma camp in town square while government and town shuffle blame

24/9/2007- Up to 50 Roma people in Nové Zámky have been sleeping in the square in front of the Town Hall in unsanitary conditions. It's their protest against being evicted from their homes for not paying rent. The Town of Nové Zámky sold two apartment buildings where the non-payers used to live to the Mediation KMCH company for one crown. The company then evicted the tenants and deported them to nearby villages. The head of the Town Office, Peter Ágh, said the company was chosen in a tender. It took over the buildings on the condition that it set up substitute accommodation for the buildings' residents. The debt from the unpaid rent climbed to Sk350 million (€10.3 million), the ČTK newswire reported. More than 200 Roma were evicted. The Roma considered their new lodgings in neighbouring villages to be inadequate. And the locals did not accept them. On the night of September 13, the Roma relocated to Tekovské Lužany, Šalov and Čaka had their homes or possessions burned. "I spotted flames before midnight," one of the Roma in Tekovské Lužany told the Sme daily. "I got a hose and started extinguishing the fire. "We poured the most water on the gas valve, so that it would not explode. Even the power lines caught fire. We were afraid they would fall. The cables bubbled, the windows cracked. "The firemen fought the fire for about an hour. If they had not come, the neighbouring building would have burned down as well." He said he didn't want to give his name because he was afraid of the Mafia. Police have not yet solved the crime.

Even community officials from the villages where the Roma moved didn't hide the fact that they simply did not want the Roma there. "I told them to get on the bus and go to Levice, then return to Nové Zámky, and the town of Nové Zámky must give them substitute accommodation," Oľga Kolárdiová, mayor of the community of Mýtne Ľudany, told the private TV channel Markíza on September 14. The Roma, fearing for their lives, refused to return to their burned homes and went back to Nové Zámky, though they had lost the roofs over their heads there. Up to 50 of them gathered in the square on September 14. At press time, that had decreased to one-tenth of the original number. Sleeping in the street was driving them to desperation, they told the media. "I'm sleeping in the street with a seven-month-old baby, I'm sleeping outside," a woman told the TA3 TV news channel. "We have nowhere to wash or to bathe, we have no food, nothing," another woman added. "We have been lying here since September 14, can you imagine?" a third said.

The blame game
The town administration in Nové Zámky is denying respons-ibility for the situation. "This is not the task of the Town Office as such, to solve the problem of moving individual town citizens," Ágh told the private TV Markíza. Anna Botošová, the government proxy for Roma communities, did not hide her feelings of helplessness about the situation. "The unrest and the rage have taken on monstrous dimensions, and I really do not know how we will solve it," she told Markíza. As of press time, her office had not responded to requests for comment from The Slovak Spectator. Klára Orgovánová, the former governmental proxy for Roma communities, told The Slovak Spectator that the situation in Nové Zámky was just one example of how the Roma housing problem has not been solved. Moreover, she said the government of Prime Minister Robert Fico pays almost no attention to Roma issues. "This is a complex issue, which can take no delay," she said. "The situation in town of Nové Zámky is also the result of one year of inactivity by Deputy Prime Minister Dušan Čaplovič, who is responsible for solving Roma problems." Orgovánová said the town representatives' actions could be explained to a certain extent by the government's inactivity. "Many of them are really in a desperate situation, they see no help," she said. "And if they see no help, they try to solve it once or twice. But if they fail the third time, they make a firm step. And these are the methods that towns usually tend to resort to."

Čaplovič, who also holds the ethnic minorities portfolio for the Smer party, pins the blame for the stalemate squarely on the town officials. He claims that in Nové Zámky, some problems with Roma apartment buildings appeared as early as three years ago. "In spite of this, the mayor and the Town Office did not do a thing about it," he told TA3 on Sept-ember 17. He also blames the inactivity of the former government, especially Pál Csáky, his predecessor in the position and the current chair of the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK). Čaplovič said Csáky's actions favoured ethnic Hungarians at the expense of other minorities. "In the previous term, the problems of the one biggest minorities were solved, but other minorities did not interest former deputy prime minister Csáky very much," he claimed. Former labour minister Iveta Radičová of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) objected that so far, she has only heard criticism about the previous government's projects from Fico's government officials, but she has not seen any sign of new ideas from them. "Tensions are enormous, especially in settlements where the concentration of segregated Roma communities in a disadvantaged social position is very high, and they show in various ways - for example, even in the unwillingness to enrol non-Roma children in integrated schools," she told the Sme daily. Orgovánová does not agree with Čaplovič's opinion, either. She said when she was the proxy, one of the government's priorities was to solve Roma housing problems. "Čaplovič repeatedly claims things that are not true," she said. "We succeeded in solving provisional substitute housing measures, community programmes, and so on." She named programmes that started under the previous government of Mikuláš Dzurinda. "So far, this government has not accepted a single programme in addressing this issue," Orgovánová concluded. She also said the ministry gave subsidies for Roma housing during her term, but nothing like that is happening now. "In the last two years, suddenly there is no money for construction," she said. "And the community social workers programme is endangered, too."

Kristína Magdolenová, the chair of the Roma Press Agency non-profit organisation, is convinced that the eviction of the Roma was the result of the fact that they are persecuted in Slovakia. "The Roma are considered second-class citizens here," she told The Slovak Spectator. This is why nobody defends them even when they are wronged, she said. Moreover, some companies acquire lucrative property through transactions like the one in Nové Zámky, which are often unjust for the Roma, she said. "The town sold those apartment buildings for one crown, and the property is located in the centre of Nové Zámky," she said. Mediation KMCH refused to comment to The Slovak Spectator. With no sign of the Roma leaving the square, town officials turned to the Office of Labour, Social Affairs and the Family to ask if it would be more appropriate to take the Roma children from their parents in the street and send them to social institutions. "This is terrible," Orgovánová said in reaction. "In order not to give such a bad impression, with the Roma sleeping outside with their children, they take the children from them and send them to institutions. "I feel terribly sorry for the people." She added that the solution of the Roma issue requires enormous patience, a lot of work, and a lot of money. "These problems will not solve themselves, they have to be treated systematically," she told The Slovak Spectator. "And the government's task is to make instruments for the best, and the least painful solutions." Meanwhile, on September 16, after the Roma had been camping in the square for several days, the Council of Roma Communities NGO awarded Fico for his contributions to Roma issues. They said Fico was chosen because he was the first Slovak PM who has ever apologised for the Holocaust of Roma during the Second World War.
© The Slovak Spectator

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WALKOUT OVER NAZI TAUNTS(uk)

22/9/2007- Hundreds of workers building one of Wales’ biggest engineering projects downed tools last night because one was allegedly taunted with Nazi salutes. An estimated 300 people at the coastal terminal for the trans-Wales liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline, near Milford Haven, took action in support of worker Omar Mohammed. Mr Mohammed’s colleagues stopped work at the South Hook site on Thursday, with some walking off site yesterday, after claims that management repeatedly failed to act on his allegations of racial harassment. It has been alleged that two workers made Nazi salutes at him, spoke to him in a mock German accent and pointed a hammer at him as if it were a gun. Union leaders yesterday said fellow workers had been left “aggrieved” at a perceived lack of action from the two men’s employer, Taylor Woodrow. The Western Mail understands the two have been suspended on full pay pending inquiries. “For nine days I went through the proper channels,” Mr Mohammed, 65, from Cardiff, said yesterday. “We had meeting after meeting. There were two witnesses to the incident, a superintendent and an apprentice. The three of us have made statements but the management say we have no evidence. “I have spent nine days trying to get justice. “I was going to have to go off work with stress but the men downed tools and marched on the offices of CB&I [Chicago Bridge & Iron Company – the construction giants overseeing the project]. “The men are totally disgusted.” His colleagues at Shaw’s UK, who are among those subcontracted by US firm CB&I, said yesterday that most of Shaw’s workers employed on site had joined in the action. However, a site spokesman said other subcontractors were still working. One of Mr Mohammed’s workmates, who asked not to be named, said, “One of our workmates has been racially abused. There have been Nazi slurs and slights made to him. He is 65 years old and he has taken this to heart. It has upset him terribly.

“We don’t know why people are doing it to him and we are currently banging our heads against a wall trying to get something done about it.” GMB regional organiser Alun Rappell, who was called to the site early yesterday morning, said his biggest criticism was the delay in adequate action being taken. “Our member was born in the UK, like his father and grandfather before him. He has put up with abuse in the past but some of the gestures used really upset him and clearly he had the support of his workers,” said Mr Rappell. “This is not about pay or any other issues. They believe an injustice has been done. “I was requested to attend at 7am. The men had ‘cabined up’ over a racist incident that took place on site. “I left the site after the matter was looked at and two individuals were suspended pending a full investigation. “We decided quite clearly that the people responsible should be removed off site. “I will be going down again next week. The incidents took place nine days ago and the member felt aggrieved that nothing seemed to be happening. “His own company, Shaw’s UK, is blameless.” The GMB’s suggestion that 300 workers were involved in the action was disputed by a site spokesman, who claimed the figure was far lower. Workers were expected to return to the site today. More than 2,000 people are currently working on site at the South Hook LNG terminal, which will be the biggest of its kind in Europe when completed in early 2008. It is expected to provide up to 20% of Britain’s liquefied natural gas. Gas will be shipped there from Qatar and will be transported along a 190-mile long pipeline through South and Mid Wales to Gloucestershire, where it will join the National Grid’s main network.
© IC Wales

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TREVOR PHILLIPS GETS DEATH THREAT(uk)

24/9/2007- A violent, racist thug has threatened to kill former Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) head Trevor Phillips and dump his body into the River Thames. The threat was made on a forum hosted by the fascist website Blood and Honour, which is operated by the Nazi fundamental group Combat 18. Phillips, who is the new head of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) has reported the matter to the police, who are conducting an investigation. The threat was made last Tuesday by a forum participant who goes by the name 'Adolph the Geordie'. The poster ranted: "I've just been reading in the paper about the CRE being wound up, and some f****king new human rights creation taking its place. "Does anyone know where its new offices are going to be? I suggest we burn the f****ker to the ground, and that worthless piece of c**n filth, Trevor Phillips along with it. Kill the c**nt and throw him into the f***king Thames."

condemned
The threat against Phillips' life has been condemned by race campaigners. Joint Secretary of Unite Against Fascism, Denis Fernando said: "These comments show the true function of fascist websites - they allow violent racist thugs to organise and proliferate unchecked. Thousands of people have supported our campaign to remove fascists from Facebook. Ultimately, the Government must act now to close the legal loopholes and shut down fascist sites. It is grotesque that fascism is being allowed to organise itself openly in a modern society." The development has once again brought into focus the need for more stringent regulation of the Internet in the UK. Organisations like Searchlight have been demanding tougher action by the government against persons who operate such websites. A spokesman said: "Searchlight does not accept that nothing can be done against these websites because they are hosted outside the UK. Most of the people who run the hate websites and provide information to them live in the UK." He continued: "The authorities have been repeatedly informed about certain individuals but no action has been taken." It is believed the sites are fun by neo-Nazi groups operating across the country. Among other things, they offer advice on how to make bombs similar to those used in the July 7, 2005 terror attacks. A spokeswoman for Phillips said he was not prepared to comment beyond saying that the matter was in the hands of the police.
© The Voice

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