NEWS - Archive February 2008

Headlines 29 February, 2008

WILDERS FURIOUS WITH BALKENENDE AFTER THREATS(Netherlands)

Geert Wilders is angry about the lack of support from his political colleagues in The Hague.

29/2/2008- Geert Wilders is angry about the lack of support from his political colleagues in The Hague. On Wednesday Al Qaeda called for a jihad against the leader of the Freedom Party PVV. "I had expected that Jan-Peter Balkenende would condemn the call from Al Qaeda, but he has done nothing at all. While the threat has been confirmed by the National Coordinator for Anti-terrorism. Where is the prime minister?" Wilders said in an interview with NU.nl. "Reading in the newspaper headlines that a jihad has been called against you, that's something you don't wish even on your worst enemy. I've never experienced a threat like this before." The Telegraaf reported on Wednesday that a posting on an Al Qaeda-affiliated website (al-ekhlaas.net) called for the PVV politician to be "slaughtered" for his insults to Islam and the prophet Mohammed. Geert Wilders is outraged at the passive stance taken by Prime Minister Balkenende, who said in January that the Koran film could lead to a "serious crisis situation." "Balkenende announced a crisis while no one knows what the film contains." "As an elected politician I am making use of democratic instruments within the framework of the law, while a group like Al Qaeda calls for undemocratic actions, like murdering people. It is scandalous that so much effort is being made to fight this film, it doesn't befit a prime minister," Wilders said. "The fear of the film's effects has ensured that Balkenende now stands far removed from his democratic values." The PVV leader accuses his colleagues in Parliament of "complete disinterest" regarding the threats to his person. "If this were to happen to an MP like Jan Marijnissen then I would have gone to him. Rita Verdonk was the only one who sent me a text message wishing me strength. For the rest it has been worryingly silent." Wilders says the film should be ready by 1 March. It is not yet known when it will be released however, it could be several weeks after this date.
Expatica News

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DUTCH PM WARNS OF ATTACKS DUE TO ANTI-ISLAM FILM

29/2/2008- The Netherlands risks economic sanctions and attacks on its citizens and businesses because of a plan by a right-wing politician to broadcast an anti-Islamic film, the Dutch Prime Minister warned on Friday. Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders, who has called for the Koran to be banned and likened it to Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf, has made a film in which he presents his views about Islam's holy text. "Dutch products have been rejected at an exhibition, the Taliban (in Afghanistan) announces actions against Dutch soldiers, stewardesses are afraid to work on certain air flights," Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende told journalists during a televised briefing. He did not rule out the possibility people could be killed. In 2006 demonstrations and rioting erupted in many Muslim countries after Danish cartoons, one showing the Prophet with a turban resembling a bomb, appeared in a Danish newspaper. At least 50 people were killed and three Danish embassies attacked. Balkenende did not call upon Wilders to stop his broadcast plan but emphasized the Dutch government does not share Wilders' views. He said the cabinet was obliged to point out the risks of transmitting the film and had talked to Wilders. Wilders said on his Web site: "Our Prime Minister is so afraid of the consequences of the film that he seems to give in to Islam instead of defending our democratic values and rights. Let me make one thing clear: the film will be broadcast." Wilders, who is the target of death treats on Islamic militant Web sites, said he had completed the film and was in negotiations with TV stations for its broadcast. Media reported he expected it to air in March or April.

Wilders' party has nine of the 150 seats in the Dutch parliament, and has gained support in recent opinion polls. He has warned of a "tsunami of Islamisation" in a country that is home to nearly one million Muslims. Three Dutch employers organizations called upon Wilders to not broadcast the film, saying it would harm trade. "We reject insulting statements and a lack of respect," said the chairman of the VNO-NCW employers' group, Bernard Wientjes. Elsewhere, Turkey has voiced concern about the film, the Iranian government has called it a "provocative and Satanic" act, while Pakistan this week condemned all efforts to denigrate Islam. In 2004 the Netherlands was plunged into turmoil when an Islamic militant killed director Theo Van Gogh over a television film accusing Islam of condoning violence against women. Wilders has called his film "Fitna", an Arabic term used in the Koran and sometimes translated as "strife".
Reuters

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OPPOSITION LEADER'S HARD-LINE STANCE DESCRIBED AS 'XENOPHOBIC' (Spain)

Mariano Rajoy's suggestion that Spanish immigration policy is too weak drew a sharp backlash Thursday from immigrant groups and leftist politicians

29/2/2008- Mariano Rajoy's suggestion that Spanish immigration policy is too weak drew a sharp backlash Thursday from immigrant groups and leftist politicians, who accused the Popular Party (PP) candidate for the 9 March general election of playing the "xenophobia" card. At a political rally on Wednesday, Rajoy had argued that "everyone" should be stopped from entering the country. "There is not enough room for all of us," he said. The comments came days after the PP promised to force immigrants to sign an "integration contract" and ban girls from wearing Muslim headscarves in schools if it wins the election. "Rajoy is positioning himself on the far-right of European politics," the governing Socialist Party said in a statement. Pedro Zerolo, a party spokesman, said the PP's policies "whiff of xenophobia and racism." Former Socialist Prime Minister Felipe González told supporters in Málaga that only an "imbecile" would claim to be more moderate than Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, as Rajoy did in a recent interview.
Expatica News

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BULLYING 'HIGHER AMONG MIGRANTS'(uk)

29/2/2008- First generation migrant children in the UK are 25% more likely to be bullied at secondary school than non-migrant children, research shows. Nearly half of UK pupils think bullying is a problem in their school, according to a study by the British Council. Adopting religious holidays from other faiths and more discussion of different cultures could remedy the situation, say the children. Researchers polled 3,500 pupils in 47 schools in seven countries. When asked if bullying was a problem in their school, 48% of pupils in England, 43% in Scotland and 32% in Wales said "yes". The reasons given for bullying included language difficulties, skin colour, race and religion. Stephen Roman, British Council regional director for West Europe, said: "Research out earlier this week showed that bullying is endemic in schools. "By working with young people we are finding ways to change this. "They know - as we do - that learning about other people and understanding different cultures is the key to a better school experience for everyone." The children (aged 12-18) were part of a wider European study of 3,500 pupils from 47 schools also taking in Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Portugal and Spain.

European comparisons
The research is part of a project to kick-start a Europe-wide improvement in diversity and integration in schools. Schools taking part were chosen for their mix of children from different backgrounds. In the UK (England, Wales and Scotland for the purposes of this study) 12% of non-migrant children said they had been bullied in the last three months, compared to 15% of first generation migrants. In Italy, the figures were 5% and 7% respectively, Portugal - 4% and 4%, Netherlands - 7% and 5%, Belgium 9% and 21%, Germany - 19% and 20% and Spain - 3% and 4%. Beatbullying chief executive Emma-Jane Cross said: "These pupils are telling us that there is a bullying problem in their schools – we have a duty to respond and run prevention programmes to tackle the issue swiftly and effectively. "The research is not surprising. We know young people are bullied because of their race, religion and cultural background, and Beatbullying is the only charity funded by the Department of Children, Schools and Families to deliver specific prevention programmes around interfaith bullying to reduce the problem." The survey will be repeated next year to measure change across Europe's schools.
BBC News

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IMMIGRATION POINTS SYSTEM BEGINS(uk)

29/2/2008- The government has launched the first stage of a new points-based system for migrants from outside the EU. It will initially only apply to highly skilled workers already in the country who want to extend their stay. But by the end of 2008, every graduate with good English, on £40,000 or the local equivalent, will potentially have enough points to seek work in the UK. Skilled workers in shortage occupations will also be able to enter provided they have a job offer. But low skilled workers from outside the EU will be barred from entering for the foreseeable future, as the government believes it can fill all manual work vacancies from within the EU.

'Biggest change'
Migrants from EU countries - with the exception of Romania and Bulgaria - face no restrictions on working in the UK. The government says the points-based system is the biggest change in UK immigration policy "in a generation" and will attract migrants with the right skills to boost Britain's economy while easing pressure on local public services. But the Conservatives say the changes are "over-hyped" and will not make a significant difference to the numbers entering the country. They have called for an annual limit on immigration. Tier One, which is being launched first, will replace the existing highly-skilled migrant programme, which is also based around points. It is designed to attract entrepreneurs with significant sums to invest in British business as well as highly qualified people who the government believe will boost the economy. All applicants will have to pass an English test - unless they have £1m or more to invest.

Labour gaps
Skills and earning potential will also be taken into account - although much will depend on the country in which applicants live. For example, someone applying for entry from a poor country, such as Nigeria or Afghanistan, will have to prove annual earnings of at least £4,000, while somebody applying from a wealthier country will have to have a previous salary of £40,000 or more. Tier two, which will be launched later this year, will focus on filling gaps in the labour market - an independent committee will advise ministers on how many points to award to certain skills to reflect economic conditions. Businesses who want to bring in skilled workers will need licences. Other tiers covering temporary workers, young people and students will be introduced later.

'Skills crisis'
Immigration minister Liam Byrne said the changes, which he says are based on Australia's immigration system, offer enough flexibility to respond to changing economic conditions. "If and when we need to raise the points score that a migrant needs to come to Britain we can do that and do it instantly, rather than setting an arbitrary number," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. He rejected Conservative calls for an annual cap on immigration, which he warned could create "chronic skills crises". Mr Byrne has also said the new system will ease pressure on services and community tensions in parts of the UK experiencing high levels of immigration, even though many of the new arrivals are from Eastern European countries not covered by the points-based system. He told Today: "If you look around the country, in some communities like my own constituency in Birmingham I think the pace of change over the last ten years has been too fast. "But when you look at the national picture actually overall migration has absolutely been good for our economy."

'Over hyping'
Asked repeatedly if he thought there were too many immigrants in Britain, he said "it can't be reduced to such simplicities". Mr Byrne has also introduced new fines for those found to be employing illegal immigrants as part of a move towards more managed migration. But shadow immigration minister Damian Green said the government was "over hyping" the change and a "sensible" policy would include a cap on the number of migrants who can come to the UK. He said: "We've seen real strains in some areas on housing, on police, on hospitals and on school places and the new system makes no attempt to address that at all. "You still don't know whether you're getting the right number of people that the social services, the public services, can absorb." He said the government had got its figures "hopelessly wrong" when calculating how many new EU citizens would come to Britain in 2004, when it said just 13,000 migrants would arrive annually. Mr Green said it was important to control "what you can control" - economic migration from outside the EU - through annual targets.
BBC News

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OBAMA VICTORY WILL PROLONG US RACIAL DIVIDE, SAYS BRITISH EQUALITY CHIEF

29/2/2008- One of Britain’s most influential black figures today accused Barack Obama of cynically exploiting America’s racial divide and gave warning that he could prolong, rather than heal the rift. Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, claimed that the Democratic front-runner would ultimately disappoint the African-American community and dismissed the notion that he would be "the harbinger of a post-racial America" if he becomes the country’s first black President. Writing in Prospect, the monthly current affairs magazine, Mr Phillips suggested that guilt over transatlantic slavery was behind Mr Obama’s support from middle class whites. "If Obama can succeed, then maybe they can imagine that [Martin Luther] King's post-racial nirvana has arrived. A vote for Obama is a pain-free negation of their own racism. So long as they don't have to live next door to him; Obama has yet to win convincingly in white districts adjacent to black communities," he wrote. Mr Phillips compared Mr Obama to Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey, prominent black “bargainers” – those who strike a deal with white America not to make an issue of historical racism if their own race is not used against them.

But, in a warning to the Democratic candidate, he added that Cosby now cut a “sad and lonely figure” because he had abandoned the moral weapon used by figures such as Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X and Jesse Jackson in insisting that “in the end, salvation for blacks won’t depend on the actions of whites.” "In truth, Obama may be helping to postpone the arrival of a post-racial America and I think he knows it," Mr Phillips wrote. "If he wins, the cynicism may be worth it to him and his party. In the end he is a politician and a very good one: his job is to win elections." He added: "If he fulfils the hopes of whites, he must disappoint blacks – and vice versa." Mr Phillips said that there was no “British Obama” in part because the black British community was much smaller and therefore less likely to produce such high-achievers, and because “Black Britons can't bring centuries of white guilt to bear with the devastating impact that African-Americans have done for two generations”. The equality chief, a former Labour politician and broadcaster said he did not expect Mr Obama ultimately to win the Democratic nomination, although he conceded it was possible. However, if he did come to power, Mr Obama would not emulate JFK, he predicted, but Bill Clinton, with all the "charm, skill and ruthless cynicism" that entailed. Mr Phillips is no stranger to controversy, having drawn criticism for past comments on multiculturalism in British society. Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, once said he was a prime candidate for the far right British National Party and his appointment to the CEHR was bitterly opposed by a number of black organisations.
The Times Online

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ALLIANCE AND FAR-RIGHT GAIN IN POLL(Sweden)

29/2/2008- The governing parties are gaining ground on the opposition, but support for the Christian Democrats has dropped to 3 percent according to the latest figures from polling firm Synovate, below the threshold for representation in parliament and on par with support for the far-right Sweden Democrats. Support for the Christian Democrats fell 0.4 percent and the Sweden Democrats gained 0.9 percent compared with figures from January, leaving both parties with equal levels of voter support. Not since January 2005 has support for the Christian Democrats been so low, as measured by Synovate. The February Synovate poll, published in newspaper Dagens Nyheter (DN), shows combined support for the Social Democrats, the Greens, and the Left Party at 55.3 percent. The four parties making up the Alliance government register support of 40.3 percent. The different between the two blocks has fallen from 20.6 percent to 15 percent since January. All of the other changes since the January survey are within the margin of error. The Social Democrats have lost support in large cities and suburbs, said Synovate analyst Niclas Källebring to DN. With the exception of the Christian Democrats, the governing parties each gained 0.9 percent compared with figures from January. Support for the Moderates is now 22.6 percent, with the Liberal Party at 7.8 percent and the Center Party at 6.8 percent. The Social Democrats lost 3.1 percent, bringing their level of support to 43.7 percent. The Left Party dropped 0.5 percent to land at 5.1 percent, while the Greens gained 0.4 percent, bringing the party to 6.4 percent overall. The number of uncertain voters is also large, at 17 percent of the 1,962 people who were interviewed in the two week spanning February 14-27.
The Local

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NGOS CALL FOR IMPROVED HUMAN RIGHTS POLICY(Switzerland)

26/2/2008- More than 30 Swiss non-governmental organisations have raised concerns about human rights practices in Switzerland in a report addressed to the United Nations. The coalition's comments come as Switzerland prepares the first ever account of its domestic human rights policy for the UN. The NGOs' report, released on Tuesday, pointed in particular to the lack of institutional mechanisms to ensure the effective implementation of human rights conventions already ratified by Switzerland. "Switzerland has not yet established a national human rights institution that would accompany the Swiss federal and cantonal authorities in this implementation process," Sandra Imhof, coordinator for the coalition of NGOs, told swissinfo. "The second point is that Switzerland has not yet set up a UN national action plan for ratified human rights conventions," she added. In response to the institution idea, Lars Knuchel, spokesman for the foreign ministry, said that the government had set up a working group in January 2007 to examine the necessity and benefits of the idea as well as possible models. He added that talks on the issue are ongoing. The idea was first mooted by the foreign ministry six years ago and proposals have since been launched in parliament, he explained. Another problem flagged up by the NGOs is federalism and the dividing up of duties between the federal and cantonal authorities. With the 26 cantons each having their own systems, differences ensue, they say.

Migrants
One area singled out was the treatment of migrant women who had been subject to sexual violence. They were found to face different levels of assistance in cantons and even the threat of being expelled from the country, said Imhof. Another issue was disabled children. Under federal law they should be integrated into non-specialist schools, "but in practice very few cantons have implemented this obligation," she added. The coalition is calling on Switzerland to ratify the UN conventions on migrant workers, enforced disappearances, and disabled people. It also wants the law against discrimination to be tightened, including the strategies against racism and xenophobia. Switzerland has come under criticism in the past by the UN over its asylum policy and allegations of racism.

Human rights review
The NGOs released their comments ahead of the examination of the official Swiss report into domestic human rights by the UN's Geneva-based Human Rights Council in May. This is the first time, according to Imhof, that Switzerland has had to report on this issue. NGOs may also contribute to the Universal Periodic Review, which is being extended to all 192 UN members. On Tuesday representatives from the large coalition of NGOs held talks with Swiss foreign ministry officials on the official report. Imhof said the meeting had been "constructive". "We are of course the first to admit that we live in a country where human rights are widely accepted. Switzerland does a lot at an international level. In its foreign policy human rights play a very important role, but it is not the case in its internal policy," Imhof told swissinfo. "It's a question of credibility in the international arena and it's a question of coherence. To have this coherence ensured within the state is one of the major challenges for Switzerland."
Swissinfo

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ARBOUR TO QUIT UN JOB

Rights commissioner frustrated by politicking

28/2/2008- Louise Arbour is expected to announce in the coming weeks that she will not seek a second four-year term as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The former Canadian Supreme Court justice, a Montrealer, was picked for the job by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan but his successor, Ban Ki-moon, cleared the decks of a number of senior staffers after he took the helm last year. The end of Arbour's term on June 30 provides the first opportunity for Ban to nominate his own pick - the post is officially filled by the UN's 192 member states. Arbour's pending departure also comes as she experiences increasing frustration over attempts by a powerful group of countries in the UN's 47-member Human Rights Council to extend their influence over her officially independent office. Leading that charge have been Algeria, China and Cuba, but all involved have poor human rights records. Their aim, observers say, is to try to gain as much control as possible over who's hired and the work they do. It is part of a wider campaign that has seen them structure the council's rules so that only Israel can easily be singled out for criticism when the body - of which Canada is a member - meets. Arab and Muslim countries lobbied for Israel to be made the exception. Arbour first became well known on the international stage in the 1990s as chief prosecutor of the UN war crimes courts for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Her office's 1999 indictment of former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic marked the first time a sitting head of state had been charged with war crimes.
The Montreal Gazette

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GERMAN POLICE RAID HOMES IN FAR-RIGHT INTERNET PROBE

28/2/2009- Police in eight German states raided the homes of 23 suspects on Thursday as part of a lengthy probe into the illegal sale of right-wing extremist literature and audio material, the Federal Crime Office (BKA) said. A further 70 suspects had been identified in the investigation, which began in August 2006 after the German unit of U.S. online auction company eBay Inc (EBAY.O: Quote, Profile, Research) reported the sale via the Internet of far-right material, the BKA said. Twenty-four computers, around 50 memory devices and some 3,500 right-wing extremist CDs and LPs had been seized in Thursday's raids, it added. "The measures are a continuation of ... the fight against right-wing extremism on the Internet," the BKA said. "They show that the Internet is not a law-free zone and that online auctions are also checked from incriminating content." German laws ban Nazi emblems like the swastika but grant public funds to the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD), whose followers implicitly back racist and some Nazi ideas. The German government follows a so-called "four-pillar" strategy against right-wing extremism that was agreed in 2002. It seeks to educate on human rights, strengthen civil society and promote civil courage, help integrate foreigners and target suspected far-right extremists.
Reuters

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