NEWS - Archive October 2007

Headlines 26 October, 2007


26/10/2007- A large concert event is expected to be held by the international neo-Nazi group Blood and Honour in Flanders on Saturday. As usual the location of the concert will not be announced until sometime during the day on Saturday. The Anti-Fascist Front (AFF) reported this in a press release on Friday. The organisers tried to rent sport hall De Groene Meersen (which can accommodate more than 2,000 concert goers) in Zedelgem near Bruges, but an employee of the facility would not allow the event to be hosted there. Blood and Honour was founded in 1987 by Ian Stuart Donaldson, singer for the band Skrewdriver. Donaldson was killed in a car crash six years later. The name of the group, infamous for being extremely violent, is taken from the slogan from the Hitler youth "Blut und Ehre". Ten music groups have been announced for the concert, which will be in honour of Donaldson. "In the past the police have only checked to make sure that there was no commotion outside the venue," the AFF claims.  "The police did not see that a VTM cameraman was abused inside the venue at a concert in Vremde. The claim that they could not take action because it is a private party is just nonsense," says the AFF, which stresses that the music from most of the groups scheduled for the event is aimed at inciting hate towards Jews, freemasons, and the multicultural society. The Anti-Fascist Front send an open letter to ministers Dewael (home affairs) and Onkelinx (justice) and government formateur Leterme asking that the gatherings be stopped.
Expatica News



Plans for a new place of worship in Sofia are raising anti-Islamic concerns as local elections approach.
By Vesselin Dimitrov, writer for Capital weekly in Sofia. 

24/10/2007- On the telephone, Hussein Hafuzov is very polite. “At your service,” the spokesman for the Islamic leadership here says upon answering. But mention the Islamic community’s request to build a second mosque in this capital city of 1.2 million and his attitude quickly changes. “I am really sorry,” Hafuzov tells a reporter seeking an interview, adding: “No, you see, it is not the right time. You can write that we need not one, but two new mosques and you are welcome to talk about the issue in a few weeks.” Hafuzov then disconnected. With municipal elections approaching on 28 October, the city’s Muslim minority’s hope for a new place of worship has become a campaign issue. Adding to the controversy over a second mosque is the local Islamic community’s request that the city provide a plot of land for its construction. Only one of the 30 candidates for mayor is in outright opposition to a new mosque, but others – including the incumbent – are capitalizing on public skepticism. Islam is the second largest faith in Bulgaria after the dominant Orthodox Christianity, accounting for 12 percent of the country’s 7.3 million citizens. Islamic leaders say one mosque is not enough to serve Sofia’s estimated 30,000 Muslims. The nation’s other Muslims live mainly in the northeast and south. At the busiest times during Friday prayers, the city’s Banya Bashi Mosque is so crowded that the faithful spread prayer rugs outside on the ground and pavement. Built in the 1500s when Sofia was an outpost of Ottoman rule, Banya Bashi is one of the oldest mosques in Europe. The city’s landmark Buyuk Mosque, build a century before Banya Bashi, houses the Archaeological Institute and Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. On a recent Friday, Dincer Kadjam, a 20-year-old student at the Technical University of Sofia, arrived early enough to find a place inside Banya Bashi. “We need a new mosque,” he says. “You can see on your own how crowded this one is.” “Excuse me, but I should go now,” he smiles before removing his shoes and entering Banya Bashi, named for the thermal springs it was built over, hoping to find a good spot for prayer. Hussein Hafuzov, who was also attending Friday prayers, agreed that the overcrowding at Banya Bashi shows the stark need for a new mosque.

Public prejudice
But as the upcoming election shows, religion has also become an issue in elections that normally deal with more parochial details of local governance. Momchil Grigorov from the Center for Near East Studies says there is evident public antipathy to religion and a feeling that there is no need for any new places of worship, “either Orthodox or Islamic.”  At times, the public attitudes have been ugly. Angel Djambazki, a youth leader of the nationalist party VMRO, calls the building of a new mosque part of the strategy of extremists in Bulgaria. “Their goal is to Islamize Bulgarian politics and society,” he says. Not far away from the Banya Bashi Mosque, Vania Maximova, a 27-year-old public relations consultant, was taking her lunch break. She opposes a new mosque in Sofia. “Muslims are dangerous,” she says, “and there are getting to be far too many of them here in Bulgaria. If they want to pray, they should go back to Turkey.”  Banya Bashi itself has been a target. In 2006, Sofia Mayor Boyko Borisov demanded that the mosque reduce the volume of loudspeakers used to call faithful to prayer. The mayor’s demands followed a noisy campaign against the loudspeakers organized by the ultranationalistic party Ataka. In the end, nothing happened. The volume remains the same today. The U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report notes that most Bulgarian faiths live in relative harmony and that the government has treated all religions with an even hand. But Krassimir Kanev, chairman of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, an independent human rights organization, says politicians are catering to public prejudices against Islam. “In fact, when I think of the negative attitude of Bulgarians towards the Islamic or any other kind of minorities in the country, I could see huge political opposition to the building of a new mosque,” Kanev says.

“Some might not like the people that call their children Hassan or Muhammad, but everyone should have the right to do it, despite social attitudes,” said Kanev. “It is the same with religious rights. If the existence of a house of prayer does not harm the social order, the believers should have the right to build it.” Aside from the question of granting city land for its construction, there is little politicians can do to stop a new mosque. Georgi Krustev, councillor in the national directorate of religious affairs, says approval is a less a political decision than a bureaucratic one. “As soon as the religion has the required accreditation, there are only a few requirements for the construction itself. Otherwise everyone is free to build.” Mayor Borisov, who is a strong favorite in the upcoming election, was recently quoted by the Dnevnik newspaper as saying he would allow the construction of a new mosque in Sofia if an Orthodox church were built in the Turkish capital Ankara. His statement appears designed to appeal to popular sentiments. Slavi Binev, the Ataka candidate for mayor, is blunt about his position. “A new mosque? No way! This is a European capital, not an Asian one,” he says.
Transitions Online



26/10/2007- A far-right Danish political party controversially depicted the prophet Muhammad on election material yesterday. Now a high-profile Danish-Muslim politician has hit back with a poster lampooning the move. The ad by the Danish People's Party, the country's third largest political force, showed a hand-drawn picture of the Islamic prophet under the slogan "Freedom of expression is Danish, censorship is not". The ad was condemned as a "provocation" by at least one Danish-Muslim group, as Islam forbids representation of its most important prophet. Now Asmaa Abdol-Hamid, a Danish-Muslim politician who could become the first MP to wear the hijab in the Danish parliament if elected in next month's poll, has hit back with a poster showing a hand-drawn picture of the DPP leader, Pia Kjaersgaard, under the slogan "Freedom of expression is Danish, stupidity is not". "It is ridiculous [of the DPP] to do that kind of thing," Ms Abdol-Hamid told Guardian Unlimited. "It's not clever, there is no point to it." "You have to think before using freedom of expression," said the town councillor for Odense, and a member of the leftwing Red-Green Alliance. Ms Abdol-Hamid believes the current controversy will not reignite the Muhammad cartoon crisis, when 12 caricatures of the Islamic prophet published in the daily Jyllands-Posten in 2005 caused anger across the Muslim world. "People won't react to it because they have decided not to. Nobody wants to talk about [the Muhammad cartoons crisis]. It is no longer an issue," she said.
The Guardian



25/10/2007- A Danish political party is using a drawing of the prophet Muhammad on election material, in a move described as a "provocation" by at least one local Muslim organisation. The far-right Danish People's party today unveiled an election advertisement showing a hand-drawn picture of the Islamic prophet under the slogan "Freedom of speech is Danish, censorship is not", followed by the words "We defend Danish values". The material will be used during the campaign for next month's general election, which was called yesterday by the prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. The DPP is the third-largest political force in Denmark. It is a key parliamentary ally for the centre-right, minority government of Mr Fogh Rasmussen. The row comes two years after the Muhammad cartoons crisis, when the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten printed 12 caricatures of Muhammad after an author of children's books said he could not find an illustrator for his book on the life of the prophet. The drawings sparked violent protests across the Muslim world, culminating with the burning of the Danish embassy in Damascus and its consulate in Beirut in February 2006. "[The ad] is a part of an election campaign centring on Danish values, which we want to push forward," the DPP leader, Pia Kjaersgaard, told the newspaper Nyhedsavisen. "Among them are gender equality and solidarity. The ad clearly falls under the issue of freedom of expression." Asked why she chose to use this ad in the light of the Muhammad cartoon crisis, Ms Kjaersgaard answered: "Why shouldn't we? Is it forbidden? Self-censorship is bad." The ad has been condemned by at least one Danish-Muslim organisation, which called it a "provocation". "We work all the time for calm and peace on both sides, and the Danish People's party is pulling us back with this kind of provocation," Ahmed Harby, a spokesman for the Islamic Faith Society, a loose network of Danish-Muslim organisations, told Guardian Unlimited. Islam forbids the depiction of its most important prophet.

"We want respect and calm. This is a step back," said Mr Harby. Last July, a Danish court acquitted Ms Kjaersgaard of libel after she accused some members of the Islamic Faith Society of "treason". The representatives had travelled to the Middle East to publicise the publication of the cartoons in Jyllands-Posten. The court said the word "treason" was not libelous because it had often been used in public debate. The Muhammad cartoon crisis has continued to cause controversy in Scandinavia. This summer in Sweden, the artist Lars Vilks received death threats after one of his drawings, depicting Muhammad's head on a dog's body, was published in the local daily Nerikes Allehanda. The Danish general election will take place on November 13.
The Guardian



25/10/2007- Two men with neo-Nazi connections have been given lengthy jail sentences for their involvement in a knife attack during a clash between right and left wing extremists in Stockholm last month, Dagens Nyheter reports. A 22-year-old man has been sentenced to six years in prison for attempted murder, while a 32-year-old man has been given two years as an accessory to the attack. The younger man was convicted despite denying that he had stabbed a 20-year-old man in the neck. The 22-year-old is a member of the extreme right-wing group Svenska Motståndsrörelse ('Swedish Resistance Movement'), according to Dagens Nyheter. Fighting broke out when the neo-Nazi group was attacked by left-wing counter-demonstrators. The 32-year-old man admitted to having a neo-Nazi past but claimed that he had left the ideology behind him. He said that he just happened to be walking through the Slussen area on September 1st when he noticed the demonstration. He had recently been given granted conditional release from prison, where he was serving a nine year sentence for an attack that resulted in the death of a dark-skinned man on New Year's Eve in 1999. He will now serve the remaining two years of that sentence along with a further two years for encouraging the 22-year-old to stab an anti-fascist demonstrator. There was no forensic proof tying the men to the crime. The court instead based its verdict on the testimony of a man who claimed to have witnessed the attack and heard the 32-year-old shout at the younger man to stab the victim.
The men have been ordered to pay the 20-year-old 109,000 kronor in damages.
The Local



25/10/2007- Fishermen said they discovered a boat off West Africa with seven dead migrants and one survivor on board. Spanish authorities said Thursday about 50 others were missing. The Spanish fishing vessel found the boat off West Africa on Wednesday night, Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said at a news conference. He said at least six migrants were dead, and that a survivor said 50 people were missing. However, skipper Jose Maria Abreu earlier told Cadena Ser radio that he counted seven dead, with the lone survivor in deplorable physical condition. "The stench was unbearable. They must have been dead six or seven days," Abreu told the radio station. The boat was trying to reach Spain from Cape Verde, Perez Rubalcaba said. He said the number of would-be migrants caught this year trying to sail from Africa to Spain, either to the mainland or the Canary Islands, is down sharply to 13,000 from 35,000 last year. Perez Rubalcaba attributed the drop to a new European surveillance system with aircraft and ships posted off the coast of Africa which he said was discouraging people from setting out on the dangerous journey to Spain.
International Herald Tribune



25/10/2007- The poster of a baby wearing a wristband labelled "homosexual" in an advertising campaign against homophobia has sparked a row in Italy. The image of the rosy-cheeked newborn, with the slogan "Sexual orientation is not a choice", will soon go up on billboards across Tuscany as part of a drive by its regional government to curb discrimination against gays and lesbians. The Vatican and conservative politicians were quick to criticise the advertisement, images of which have already appeared in Italian newspapers. Christian Democrat lawmaker Luca Volonte said using a newborn to suggest that homosexual tendencies were innate was "misleading and shameful". Opposition Senator Maria Burani Procaccini said heads should roll over the matter. The Vatican, which does not consider homosexual tendencies sinful but condemns homosexual acts, called the matter strange. "There is no need for an advertisement of this kind," the Vatican's top diplomat and Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone told reporters. Italy's main gay rights group Arcigay said the ad was at the vanguard of the struggle for equal rights. "I'm very much in favour of the advertisement because it expresses a concept that I've been convinced of for some time -- that homosexuality is not a choice," said gay lawmaker Franco Grillini. "The only choice possible for a homosexual is to accept their sexuality or live unhappily." Not all gay activists were enthralled. Philosopher Gianni Vattimo said the ad risked suggesting gays and lesbians were a race apart. Transgender leftist lawmaker Vladimir Luxuria said he was perplexed by the choice of the image. The brainchild of Canadian foundation Emergence, the controversial campaign was used previously in Quebec. Consultant Agostino Fragai was involved in picking the campaign for the wealthy and historically progressive Tuscany region, and he said he knew the image was provocative but felt it was important to raise awareness. "We chose it because it was a strong but tender poster, with a baby in it," Fragai said. The region was not interested in joining the debate on whether sexual orientation was determined at birth, he said. "This is a poster, not some scientific treatise."



24/10/2007- Access to justice is a luxury for many victims of discrimination, the head of the new equalities watchdog warned last night. Trevor Phillips urged the government to allow group actions so that more people could seek redress. The existing tribunal system is under strain due to a sharp increase in the number of cases, with many more women bringing equal pay claims. Mr Phillips argued that allowing his organisation to bring representative cases would benefit those who have suffered discrimination and free the system to concentrate on fewer cases. "We know that many people face discrimination, but fail to act because they feel that the trouble involved for them as an individual far outweighs the potential gain. They nurse their hurt and sense of injustice, which is bad enough. "But even more importantly, the offender gets away with it. The National Employment Panel reported last week that 83% of employers now believe they will never face any sanctions for discrimination," he warned. Employment tribunal figures released earlier this month showed equal pay claims increased by 155% in the last year, to 44,000. But equalities campaigners say the system is overburdened, takes too long and is so complex that many complainants struggle to understand it. In his first major speech as chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Mr Phillips urged the government to develop a "new vision", arguing that its green paper on equality laws did not go far enough. Campaigners welcomed Labour's manifesto pledge to introduce a single equality act. They hoped it would simplify a highly complex area of law, making it easier for businesses and public bodies to understand their responsibilities and for people to seek redress where necessary. But many have been disappointed by the current proposals, arguing that they are at best unambitious and at worst could actually turn the clock back for some groups facing discrimination.

Giving the Bevan Foundation annual lecture in Cardiff, Mr Phillips said the commission should be allowed to bring claims on behalf of a number of identified individuals. "Many victims of unequal pay are women working alongside other women doing the same kinds of work - school catering assistants; local government administrators - and it really doesn't make sense to deal with this kind of situation as a series of disconnected individual claims. It disadvantages the citizen and clogs up the tribunals," he said. "Access to justice through the courts is a luxury good for many of those experiencing discrimination. Many cases are meritorious, many have had an experience which has been intolerable, and should have their day in court - but there is just no way to fund them. "More importantly, going to a tribunal takes patience, resource and fortitude - and these qualities are demanded at the very moment when an individual has been made to feel small and impotent. In truth, taking action against discrimination today is the business of heroes. It should not be." Mr Phillips also argued that public bodies should have a specific obligation to use its purchase of goods and services as a way of promoting equality. But he added that the government also needed to "change the weather" and establish the importance of equality not just by tackling instances of discrimination, but also by placing the value at the heart of a written constitution. "We want equality to be elevated to the status of a constitutional principle, superior to all other pieces of legislation... independent of the changing fortunes of politics, which conditions parliamentary sovereignty, and to which parliament itself is subject," he said.
The Guardian



23/10/2007- A new immigration bill introducing possible DNA tests for foreigners who want to join relatives in France has been adopted by parliament. The controversial bill was passed in both the country's National Assembly and in the Senate. Supporters say it will speed up the process for genuine applicants and cite similar laws in other European nations. Critics have attacked the law as racist and question the use of genetics as a basis for citizenship.

Court challenge
The bill passed by 282 votes to 235 in the lower National Assembly and by 185 votes to 136 in the upper Senate. The bill has been hugely controversial, prompting thousands of people to take part in street protests across the country last weekend. It sets out tougher condition for immigrants to be reunited with families in France that could include DNA tests to prove kinship. France's Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux dismissed the fears, saying 12 other European countries already had similar testing procedures. The opposition Socialists say human rights principles, not genetics, should determine who can get visas, and vowed to challenge the measure in the Constitutional Court. Socialist deputy Arnaud Montebourg said: "This law violates the fundamental principles of the republic which do not define family and affiliation by biology." An opinion poll in the daily Le Parisien showed 49% supported the bill and 43% were opposed.
BBC News


25/10/2007- The Czech Republic and Slovakia are among the European countries that violate the right to housing in the case of Romanies, EC Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg and U.N. rapporteur for housing rights Milun Kothari said in a joint statement Thursday. The number of complaints about Romanies' housing has increased lately. Most cases concern official evictions of Romany individual tenants and families, the UN and EC officials say. They expressed regret at the procedures of many local public offices, including the Czech and Slovak ones, in such cases, which, the say, supported the escalating hatred against Romanies. The officials point out that transfers of Romanies from city centres have become part of the public policy in some countries. Such a stance provokes fears about social justice in Europe, the statement says. Among other criticised countries cited in the statement are Albania, Bosnia, Britain, Bulgaria, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia and Turkey. Kothari and Hammarberg call on the respective countries' governments to secure that local authorities respect the international law incorporating on the right to decent housing as a necessary condition for other civic rights.  In the Czech Republic, relocations of Romanies were recently in focus in connection with Deputy Prime Minister Jiri Cunek (Christian Democrats, KDU-CSL, chairman). As mayor of Vsetin, north Moravia, Cunek relocated local Romany rent-defaulters from a dilapidated house in the Vsetin centre to a new house made of tin container-like flats on the town's outskirts, while further Romany families were sent away from Vsetin and resettled elsewhere in Moravia. These steps were opposed by some human right activists.
Prague Daily Monitor


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