NEWS - Archive October 2012

Headlines 26 October, 2012

Poles More Tolerant

Czechs, Slovaks and Westerners are the most liked foreigners in Poland. Poles are the most negative towards Arabs and Roma, researchers have found. In general, there is much more positive attitude towards foreigners in Poland now than 20 years ago. However, racism is still present in some circles, especially among soccer fans.

26/10/2012- Every year the Polish Public Opinion Research Center (CBOS) publishes a report on Poles’ attitudes towards foreigners. According to its 2012 study, it appears that Poles divide strangers into four groups. The first category is composed of people from Western countries, Poland’s southern neighbors from the Visegrad group and Japan. This year, for the first time, Czechs and Slovaks are the most liked nationalities in Poland, with 58 percent and 57 percent of Poles respectively expressing a positive attitude towards them. They are closely followed by Italians, Britons, Spaniards and Frenchmen. The second category includes countries from southeastern Europe and Germany. About half of Poles have a positive attitude to them and positive attitudes are twice as frequent as negative ones. Poland’s eastern neighbors, with whom relations have been troubled in recent history, (Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians), as well as Jews, Chinese and Vietnamese, belong to the third category. Poles are as likely to feel negative as positive towards them.

Arabs and Roma comprise the last category. Only 23 percent and 24 percent of Poles have a positive attitude towards them and twice that number of Poles perceive them in a negative way. Poles no longer idealize the West, while their perception of their neighbors has improved considerably compared to 20 years ago. Positive attitudes to Western nations have decreased over the last two decades. Meanwhile, perceptions of Jews, Germans and Russians have improved dramatically, even though these are still less positive than in Western countries. “You can’t generalize but some Poles idealized the West until the early 1990s,” says Marcin Kornak, head of the anti-fascist association Nigdy wiÍcej (Never More) and editor-in-chief of the magazine of the same name. “Western Europe and the U.S. were considered a better world... When Poles started traveling around the world after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 and after Poland entered the EU in 2004, they became aware that not all Americans were that great and that not all French were that romantic.”

The Polish Institute of Public Affairs (ISP) also studies Poles’ attitudes to foreigners, comparing these with the situation in other EU states. It appears that Poles are neither particularly racist nor very tolerant. An ISP study shows that only one Pole in ten thought that foreigners should be allowed to work in Poland in 1992, while one in two thought so in 2008. This rate climbs to 70 percent among people who knows at least one foreigner. “The ‘theory of contact’ explains that when you are in contact with someone, you are more inclined to accept him and you have less stereotypes about him,” says Agata Teutsch from the Autonomia Foundation, a nongovernmental Polish group that fights discrimination and violence based on gender and sexual orientation. The ISP report underlines that only 2 percent of the Polish population were born abroad (the lowest rate in the EU), that 75 percent do not know any foreigner living in Poland and that 96 percent have never employed a foreigner.

Row over BBC documentary
BBC journalist Chris Rogers sparked controversy with a documentary entitled “Stadiums of Hate,” screened shortly before the recent European soccer championships hosted by Poland and Ukraine. Rogers argues that many Polish fans are racist and intolerant. Many politicians, fans and others in Poland were outraged by such accusations. “Chris Rogers went maybe too far in his conclusions,” said Kornak. “But racism in stadiums is an incontrovertible fact. The scenes of racist violence that he filmed really occurred.” Teutsch says that “fascism really exists in our country and many soccer fans are involved in neo-fascist movements, which are even more powerful than 20 years ago.” Teutsch believes there is generally a lack of tolerance towards “difference” in Poland, not just in terms of race and ethnicity but also terms of religion and sexual orientation. “It’s an educational problem. Polish schools don’t teach tolerance for other people. They don’t teach that being different isn’t necessarily bad and that diversity is something valuable,” she adds.
© The Warsaw Voice

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By Fotis Filippou, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Fotis Filippou is regional campaign coordinator for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International. The views expressed are the author’s own.

26/10/2012- A new memorial in Berlin to commemorate hundreds of thousands of Roma who were systematically murdered by the Nazis during World War II is an important official step towards marking the atrocities of the past. But given the treatment of Roma in today’s Europe, the monument near the Reichstag should give current political leaders pause for thought about the 12 million Roma who continue to face prejudice and persecution across the continent. And we’re not talking about some vague sentiments here. Anti-Roma feeling in many European countries still translates into official policies that result in segregation of Roma from the rest of society, deepening and exacerbating their existing poverty and marginalization. In some instances, discrimination bubbles over into racist violence, when hatred espoused by extreme right-wing parties is acted out by youth mobs and vigilante groups. Even as German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the new memorial this week, local authorities in Germany have proposed measures that may block access to a fair asylum procedure for Serbian and Macedonian citizens – the majority of them Roma.

Across Europe, Roma who are often poor, socially excluded, and discriminated against are easy targets when governments carry out plans to clean up slums and informal settlements. More often than not, this is done while turning a blind eye to international obligations. Such requirements include proper consultation with residents ahead of an eviction, advance notice about any such plans and full arrangements for adequate alternative housing that meets basic international standards. In the rare instances where Roma are provided with alternative housing, it is often segregated, poor, in the margins of cities, and next to garbage dumps, or industrial and toxic areas. A string of recent operations to dismantle Roma camps across France continued to fall short of the international legal protections against forced evictions. In an op-ed earlier this year, the French minister of interior called for “firmness” in dealing with the settlements and an inter-ministerial meeting on the issue in August seemed to mark the government’s will for a new approach, but has so far failed to lead to new policies backing adequate consultation, notification and alternative housing for Roma facing evictions. By dismantling camp after camp without providing sensible alternative housing solutions, the authorities are merely kicking the problem down the road.

Roma living in Italy face a similar situation. So-called “Nomad Emergency” legislation that came into effect in 2008 has allowed local authorities in Rome, Milan and other cities to be heavy-handed in closing Roma settlements. Such operations continue, despite a November 2011 ruling by the Council of State (Italy's highest administrative court) that the emergency plan is unlawful. The forced eviction of more than 350 Roma from the Tor de’ Cenci camp in Rome, completed just a few weeks ago, sends a signal that it’s business as usual. In the cases when alternative housing is provided, it generally consists of moving families to another authorized camp on the false assumption that all Roma want to live in camps. Such settlements, like La Barbuta – a segregated Roma camp that opened alongside the noise and bustle of Rome’s Ciampino airport in June – are typically in remote areas with no easy access to services, cutting Roma communities off from the rest of society.

Elsewhere, forced evictions have other harsh ramifications. In Serbia’s capital Belgrade in April, city authorities forced more than 1,000 Roma out of the downtown Belvil settlement without giving a reason. Around 124 of the evicted families were moved into metal containers in segregated settlements around the capital, where they have no access to work. Another 133 families were forced to return to inadequate housing in poor municipalities in southern Serbia, while 94 families from Belvil still await eviction before construction of a new bridge funded by the European Investment Bank. Many Roma experience discrimination from a young age – thousands of Romani children across Slovakia,for example, remain trapped in substandard education as a result of widespread discrimination and a school system that keeps failing them. They often face outright segregation in special schools for children with “mild mental disabilities” or are ethnically segregated in mainstream schools and classes, sometimes even being locked in separate classrooms or corridors to prevent them from mixing with non-Roma pupils. The new national government, in power since March, has dropped previous references to ending such segregation and now talks of setting up separate boarding schools for "marginalized communities".

In neighboring Czech Republic, very little progress has been made to guarantee Romani children equal access to education, five years after the European Court of Human Rights found that the country discriminated against Roma by placing them in special schools without the necessary safeguards. In some parts of Europe, stigma against Roma has become a pervasive part of public office. Before winning a landslide election victory in June, the new mayor of Baia Mare in northern Romania stated that “dismantling Roma shacks” in five informal settlements was his main campaign priority. He previously built a wall to partition one of the town's Roma housing estates. And in Hungary¸ the discriminatory attitudes of the far-right party Jobbik has allegedly on more than one occasion stoked intimidation and violence against Roma communities. This included in August, when police were accused of standing by while some 1,000 people on a march organized by Jobbik and vigilante groups violently attacked the homes of Roma families living in the western village of Devecser.

It is imperative for governments across Europe – at the local, national and EU levels – to set about changing public attitudes and policies that fuel the ongoing human rights violations against the Roma. EU member states have yet to follow through on promises made in Brussels earlier this year to improve the lives of Roma children, women and men – the EU Commission must weigh in and make things right. During the opening of the Roma Holocaust memorial, German Chancellor Merkel paid an emotional tribute to the victims, stating that: “Every single fate in this genocide is a suffering beyond understanding. Every single fate fills me with sorrow and shame.” Commemorating the horrendous abuses suffered by Roma during the Holocaust is a key step, but Europe’s politicians must also be ashamed about the racism and discrimination that continues to affect millions of Roma today.
© Global Public Square - CNN Blogs

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Greece to be fined over migrant detention center conditions

25/10/2012- Greece is to face fines for conditions at migrant detention centers which do not comply with EU regulations. Overcrowding and cramped conditions have resulted in outrage by human rights groups and protests by those detained. The migrant detention center in Corinth opened just two months ago but has already drawn criticism from migrant advocates. The center, sited in the barracks of the 6th Infantry Regiment of Corinth, attracted local opposition when it opened, with members of Golden Dawn protesting against the transfer of undocumented migrants to the camp. Left Gr. reports that migrant advocates now demand not only the "immediate closure of the concentration camp at Corinth" but all detention centers in every corner of Greece, which they claim "challenge any notion of democracy and humanism." Complaints include cramped conditions; no continuous and sufficient presence of interpreters; lack of payphones and inadequate mobile phone coverage; incomplete medical care; no hot water; and no provision made for religious requirements.

Migrants at the detention center in Igoumenitsa have protested against their cramped conditions. According to Ekathimerini eleven migrants had to be hospitalized after banging their heads and bodies against the bars of their cells in protest. The detention center at Igoumenitsa was built to accommodate the hundreds of migrants who attempt to use the port to sneak onto ferries bound for Italy. According to Transmar the center was deemed necessary as local residents were "particularly concerned about the frequent outbreaks of violence between ethnic groups, usually Afghans and Iraqis, as they seek to get the best position at the port, in order to try to board the ferries." As the center was planned it was acknowledged that the area needed more detention centers to cope with numbers.

Under Dublin 11 regulations Greece has an obligation to prevent illegal migrants from progressing into other European countries. Although Greece receives help from the EU agency Frontex to police its borders the FT reports that it will soon "face problems in financing increased patrols" and needs to draw funds more quickly from the EU to improve conditions in detention centers.
© The Digital Journal

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Hungary's far right party gains as it targets Roma

Decades of animosity between Hungarians and ethnic Roma in this small town in western Hungary had attracted little attention until the far-right Jobbik party saw an opportunity to score a few political points.

25/10/2012- A protest rally organized by the party, a little after a brawl between a Roma family and some local people, turned into a running street battle that has left the town thoroughly shaken but which Jobbik was able to exploit for its own ends. It is a strategy that has worked well for Jobbik, a party that once made use of a "Hungarian Guard" of vigilantes dressed in fascist-style uniforms to target the Roma. Support for Jobbik, or the Movement for a Better Hungary, is strong and the party could well hold the balance of power between the ruling Fidesz party and the left wing opposition after parliamentary elections in 2014. That could allow Jobbik to wield a decisive influence over the government, pushing pet issues such as a rethink of European Union membership and a realigning of economic ties towards countries of the east.

Recession-hit Hungary may be forced to accept aid from the International Monetary Fund if economic conditions get worse. That would compel the government to introduce unpopular austerity measures and could mean more votes for Jobbik. Fidesz insiders deny it, but pressure from Jobbik is widely seen as already influencing the government's agenda, pushing it towards unorthodox and widely criticized economic policies. The conflict between Roma and Hungarians is Jobbik's principal means of achieving the support at the ballot box it needs to push its policies in Budapest. Fidesz has lost more than a million voters since 2010, the opposition remains weak, and more than half the electorate is undecided. Jobbik meanwhile has retained its base and is the third strongest political force in Hungary.

Devecser Flare-up
The party is skilled at making national headlines out of local flare-ups, which is what happened in Devecser. About a third of the 5,000 inhabitants are Roma. They make a living largely from collecting second hand goods in Austria and Germany and selling them at a giant flea market just outside the town. Many local Hungarians take a dim view of the practice. One day in July, Ferenc Horvath, a stocky Roma furniture dealer, was driving his van along a narrow street when a car blocked his way. He told the driver, who was staying at a nearby house, to move. Words were exchanged and Horvath drove on. Two days later Horvath's family and friends returned to the house. In circumstances that remain unclear, a bloody fight ensued. Both sides, Roma and Hungarian, used spades and baseball bats, even a knife. A crowd gathered, mostly local Roma. According to a report by the interior ministry, the police booked 17 people and started an investigation. To some in Devecser that was not enough. They asked for help on a far-right online news portal, and someone also called Jobbik. The party obliged, and organized a protest to demand better public safety. On posters announcing the event extremist groups were listed alongside Jobbik, raising fears of violence.

According to witnesses and a video recording of the August 5 protest, speakers invoked the darkest periods of Hungarian history. Zsolt Tyirityan, the leader of a group called the "Army of Outlaws", told the crowd to get tough with the Roma, even citing the Nazi idea of Lebensraum, or living space. "Force demands respect," he bellowed. "What will we show against these people? Only force! There will be no Gypsy Martin Luther King, no Roma Malcolm X, because we will stamp out this phenomenon that wants to eradicate us from our living space!" Some of the 1,000 protesters then marched to the Roma part of town, threatening people, throwing rocks and yelling insults. The video shows thugs throwing half-bricks into the yards of Roma houses and the Roma hurling the bricks back. By chance there were no serious injuries. "They attacked everyone they saw," Ferenc Horvath said a few weeks later at the flea market. "They called us genetic rejects, or worse. People are still scared out of their wits." Jobbik denied responsibility for the violence. However, Jobbik MP Gabor Ferenczi, who put the protest together, later took credit for an increased police presence in the town.

Wooden Crosses
Jobbik registered as a political party in October 2003; by Christmas, it had 2 percent voter support after erecting wooden crosses to protest against the holiday's commercialization. In September 2006, violent protests erupted when a recording leaked of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany admitting that his Socialist party had lied for years about the state of the economy to gain reelection that year. Jobbik took to the streets. It campaigned against police brutality, held rallies and began a meteoric rise. "There was no way to do politics the traditional way any more," Jobbik chairman Gabor Vona said on a 2010 propaganda DVD. "Local chapters, a board, a program ... it was too little." "It was just before Christmas that year that I came up with the idea of the Hungarian Guard."

Later banned, the Guard was a uniformed voluntary vigilante group that bore a resemblance to the fascists of World War II. Unarmed but belligerent, it helped the party target a new political scapegoat: the Roma. In October that year, a teacher was lynched by a Roma mob in eastern Hungary, provoking nationwide outrage. Jobbik coined the term "Roma crime" and began to vilify the country's 700,000 Roma as free-loading, lazy, and criminal. The party insists it only targets criminals, but the public perception is far less nuanced and supporters viewed the Guard as a sort anti-Roma defense force. The media took up the story, but the critical coverage served only to launch Jobbik into the mainstream. "We could never have bought the air time to promote Jobbik and fill the ranks of the Guard the way this coverage did," Jobbik executive director Gabor Szabo said in the party video. Success came in 2009. Jobbik scored 14 percent at European Parliament elections. Then in 2010, it became the third biggest party in Hungary's parliament, polling 17 percent and winning 45 of the 386 seats. The gains could easily continue in 2014, said historian Rudolf Paksa, an expert on the far-right, who said that in an extreme case the party could get 30-35 percent of the vote.

Summer Camp
At a Jobbik summer camp in Velence, 60 km (40 miles) west of Budapest, about 100 activists gathered this year for a two-day political session and a morale boost by Vona. "We are normal people in a screwed-up world, even if some see us as screwed-up people in a normal world," Vona told them. "The Jobbik brand right now is dark, violent and gloomy. We did not paint it dark, but we cannot win a majority like this. We need to refine it to gain a brighter, younger brand." Most of the audience were barely of voting age, but young people are Jobbik's strongest asset, and its communications strategy is largely built on the internet and its young users. Jobbik says it has good relations with a far-right web site called Kuruc.info, which features a column called "Gypsy Crime" and often runs pieces by Jobbik leaders. Some opinion polls suggest Jobbik is already neck-and-neck with Fidesz in the age group below 30.

If Jobbik had its way, Hungary would be a lot harsher on its Roma. It may not be a member of the European Union. And it would definitely not be talking about loans and aid deals with the West, pursuing instead engagement in the Middle East and Asia. "It was a grave mistake of the post-Communist era to naively tie Hungary's fortunes to the mast of a sinking ship and pursue 100 percent Euro-Atlanticism," Jobbik's foreign policy chief Marton Gyongyosi told Reuters. Gyongyosi, whose office is decorated with Iranian and Turkish souvenirs, said Hungarians are the descendants of Turkic peoples and should cultivate those ancient ties. Jobbik has protested against EU membership, even burning the EU flag outside the Union's Budapest offices.

Gyongyosi said the IMF has "bled Hungary dry for decades" through loans and austerity requirements, so Jobbik will call for financing from eastern countries such as Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan or China instead of the IMF or EU. Jobbik also uses anti-Semitic language and some of its deputies espouse such ideas. The party does not embrace this openly but does little to dispel the image. One Jobbik MP went as far as invoking the centuries-old blood libel - the accusation that Jews used Christians' blood in religious rituals - in a speech in parliament earlier this year. Fifty U.S. Congressmen then wrote to Prime Minister Orban to complain about anti-Semitism in Hungary. This compelled Vona to reply, rejecting the charge. But for the liberal members of parliament who sit next to Jobbik deputies, this is empty talk from a party that basically shrugs when it is labeled anti-Semitic.
© Reuters

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Roma activists call for government to move against Jobbik-allied groups (Hungary)

24/10/2012- The heads of three Roma rights organisations called on Hungary’s government and the authorities to prevent “extreme right organisations and criminals” from disturbing the residents of Hungarian villages and incite hatred. Jeno Zsigo of the Roma Parliament, Aladar Horvath of the Civic Rights Movement for the Republic and Jeno Setet of the We Belong Here – Roma Community Network signed a statement in reaction to a demonstration by the radical nationalist Jobbik party held in Kerecsend in northeast Hungary on Sunday. The Roma rights activists demanded that the authorities should enforce a government decree issued last April designed to penalise civil guard activities conducted without prior approval by the police or feigning a right to act as a keeper of public order. They called on the authorities not to allow “banned organisations” to march around threatening law and order in Hungary. In protest against Sunday’s Jobbik demonstration, the Roma in Kerecsend and nearby areas have organised a mass pray for “peaceful and liveable Hungary,” the statement said. Some 500 people joined the demonstration on Sunday organised by Jobbik against what it said was “a tide of crime” hitting the village of Kerecsend.
© Politics Hungary

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Parents voice support for teacher facing racism charges (Denmark)

Teachers and parents defend teacher who admits to using racially charged language to admonish a group of minority students

24/10/2012- Teachers and parents at an Odense school embroiled in racism allegations face an environment of harrassment and verbal abuse at the hands of minority students, according to the head of the school's parent's association. “The students behave in a completely unacceptable manner,” said Peter Julius in a letter written to Fyens Stiftstidene newspaper on behalf of school staff and the school board. It is this tense environment, Julius claims, that contributed to an incident in which Birgitte Sonsby, the headteacher of the school, was reported to the police and still faces possible disciplinary action from the council after reportedly using racially charged language when reprimanding a group of boys who had disrupted her class. “I’m so bloody tired of you Muslims ruining the teaching lessons,” Sonsby reportedly said to the boys.

Sonsby later apologised to the families for her choice of words, but said that she didn’t believe that her outburst was racist. “A situation arose in the classroom and some children needed to be reprimanded. They started laughing at me and I lost control. I said some things that I deeply regret and I apologise,” Sonsby told Fyens Stiftstidende. Julius said that he did not approve of the Sonsby's choice of words, but understood her frustration that a small group of students could disrupt an entire class. “We are not racists. But we must have the nerve to stand up and be honest about what is happening within the school’s walls,” said Julius. He added that students involved in the bullying and name-calling “lacked the standards and values needed to succeed in a normal Danish school”.

By writing the letter, Julius said he hoped to encouge something to be done about behavioural problems and suggested that the group of minority currently concentrated at Ejerslykkeskolen could be broken up and distributed throughout other schools in the area. Stina Willumsen (Socialistisk Folkeparti), who heads Odense City Council's children and youth committee, believes closer co-operation with the parents of minority children should be the first step. “I think that it's very much about the parents,” she told Fyens Stiftstidende, ”Students who have difficulty accepting the school’s values need better support from home.” Sonsby, who had no comment, is scheduled to continue be interviewed by the superintendant of schools in Odense pending a decision.
© The Copenhagen Post

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Far-right party wants exclusive nationality (Ukraine)

24/10/2012- A far-right movement is likely to enter Ukraine’s parliament in the upcoming elections, polls indicate – for the first time. Yet the “Svoboda” party has historic origins. Its programme is focused on protecting the rights of Ukrainians as a national group, with tough anti-immigrant provisions. The party’s leader Oleh Tyahnybok explained why. He said: “We want to pass a law on citizenship like the one they have in Israel.” Our correspondent in Kiev asked if he thinks Ukraine bears a geopolitical similarity to Israel. Tyahnybok said: “Absolutely. Even worse, because Ukrainians have lived through mass political repression. More than 20 million Ukrainians were killed in the 20th century, for ethnic reasons.” “Svoboda” wants formal recognition as legitimate veterans for the Ukrainian Insurgents who fought in World War Two and afterwards against both the Nazis and the Soviet Red Army. The east of the country, however, identifies closely with its Soviet past and Russian cultural heritage.

German political expert and researcher of far-right movements Andreas Umland says: “Ukrainian nationalism is ambiguous. It doesn’t represent the whole Ukrainian political nation. It is mainly concentrated in the Western part of Ukraine, the region of Galicia.” Ironically, the far right has knitted an alliance of expedience with the centre-left, in spite of sharing no ideological common ground. The far-right-centre-left link is confined to their desire to defeat the parties which currently govern the country: the dominant Party of Regions, the Communist Party and the centrist People’s Party.
© Euronews

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New LGBTI Support Centre in Skopje Attacked (Macedonia)

The Centre for Support of the LGBTI Population, opened one-day earlier by the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Macedonia in Skopje’s Old Bazaar, was found stoned and its windows broken yesterday morning, October 24, 2012. The Kanal 5 TV reported that three masked persons attacked the Centre under the cover of the night

25/10/2012- Uranija Pirovska from the Helsinki Committee said to the media that the organization will not give up its plans to use the Centre to provide assistance to homosexual and trans-gender persons, in spite of the attack and previous threats received in the days before the opening of the Centre. „The attack on the facility is a form of pressure which we expected, having in mind that the citiyens and the local community don't know what is really going on. I repeat that the whole idea is based on equalitz and freedom, but we obviously have to overcome the early problems and to prove this is a human idea“, Pirovska told the press. The Centre was officially opened last Tuesday, October 23, in the presence of Marriet Schuurman, the Ambassador of the Netherlands in Skopje.

“This project is of crucial importance for the LGBTI persons in Macedonia. I have spent several years working on the project and I finally see it materialized. The latest events involving institutional homophobia, followed by homophobic reporting in some media, only emphasized the need for such a Centre. The hatred incited artificially by some persons and entities cannot be sustained over the long run. For that reason, I am convinced this Centre will prove successful in its aim to ensure the equality of all people living here”, KoŤo Andonovski, Programming Director of the Centre said at the opening.

The main goal of the Centre is to represent the LGBTI community. It will also work to organize self-help groups, and will offer support and assistance to other formal and informal groups and associations working in the area of human rights.
©

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Muslims treat Paris to pastry protest on Eid (France)

26/10/2012- Muslim rights activists distributed chocolate croissants at a Paris mosque at the start of the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha, after a French MP’s controversial comment that thugs snatched children’s pastries during Ramadan. In an amusing response to a conservative French politician’s incendiary comment that thugs snatched children’s pastries during the holy month of Ramadan, a French Muslim rights group distributed chocolate croissants outside the Paris Grande Mosque on Friday, the start of the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha. The chocolate croissants - called “Copé” after French politician Jean-Francois Copé - were made with the same ingredients as the classic “pain au chocolat”- but baked in the shape of a crescent, according to Muslim rights activists.

Earlier this month, Copé sparked a controversy when he claimed that Muslim thugs were enforcing the Ramadan fast in some neighbourhoods. “I can understand the exasperation of some of our compatriots when there are some neighbourhoods where a mother or father will come home from work in the evening to learn their son has had his pain au chocolat snatched out of his hand by thugs, telling him it is forbidden to eat during Ramadan,” said Copé at the time. About 2,000 “Copés” were distributed Friday, according to Abderrahmane Dahmane, head of the Council of Democratic French Muslims, Paris-based Muslim rights group. Speaking to FRANCE 24 outside the Grande Mosque, Dahmane – who was also a former aide to ex-President Nicolas Sarkozky – called the protest “a great anti-Copé success”. The chocolate croissant stunt, he claimed, was “an overall victory against the racism and stigmatisation [of Muslims].”

Copé, who is running to replace Sarkozy as head of the conservative UMP party, has been criticised for his increasingly inflammatory rhetoric concerning Islam. Following what was dubbed “pastry-gate” in the press, the French Council for the Muslim Faith filed a lawsuit against Copé for defamation, citing “severe damage” to the community. Friday’s protest came amid signs of a hardening attitude towards Muslims in France, which is home to Europe’s largest Muslim community. An opinion poll published Thursday found six out of ten French people believe the influence of Islam in France is “too big” and 43 percent saw the religion as a “threat” to national identity.
© France 24

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French minister accused of clearing out tramps and gypsies in stylish part of Paris 'so wife can go shopping in peace'

Anne Gravoin was reportedly confronted by drunk down-and-out in street; The classically trained violinist previously caused controversy by mocking the prime minister's wife; She regularly visits fashionable stores with first lady Valerie Trierweile 

25/10/2012- The French interior minister has been accused of ordering police to remove tramps and gypsies from his neighbourhood 'so his wife can shop in peace'. Manuel Valls, 50, reportedly told officers to show 'zero tolerance' in evicting homeless people from the stylish district around the Place de la Bastille near his home in Paris. According to a satirical weekly, Le Canard Enchaîné, Mr Valls ordered the clean-up at the request of his glamorous wife, Anne Gravoin, after she allegedly complained of being accosted by a drunken down-and-out on a trip to supermarket. Officers have now been stationed outside the Franprix store, and managers told the magazine police had now been outside for two weeks, moving loiterers on. Yesterday, Mr Valls said 'categorically' denied he was behind the police clean-up operation, saying the claims were 'unfounded', according to the Daily Telegraph. Paris police said the forceful approach was in response to complaints by right-wing politicians and petitions from residents over the past three months. But local officers reportedly said the move came 'because Madame Valls was very shocked by women begging with their babies. It was a humanitarian response.'

Ms Gravoin, a classically trained violinist, is no stranger to controversy. She was criticised in August after saying of prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault’s wife Brigitte: 'It has to be said that a musician is a little more glamorous than Mrs Ayrault, a German teacher from the suburbs of Nantes!'  She is said to regularly accompany first lady Valerie Trierweile 'to choose dresses and outfits in the capital’s top fashion stores.' This is not the first time her husband's heavy-handed treatment of gypsies on his own doorstep has come under scrutiny. In August, the minister ordered police to destroy a Roma camp in his political powerbase and to deport illegal immigrants living there. Officers armed with truncheons and shields moved into the settlement in the Paris suburb of Evry, where Mr Valls was mayor for 11 years from 2001. He was said to have acted because the camp was 'dangerously close to a commuter railway line' and could create public health problems. Police arrived at 5am, and by 7am, young children could be seen dragging suitcases, bags and bicycles away from the site. More than 70 people were evicted from caravans and makeshift huts, with most expected to be returned to Romania.

The raid was said to show that the Socialist firebrand was determined to ‘clean up illegal immigrants in his own back yard’, according to a party colleague. The source added: 'By breaking up a camp in his constituency he is showing he means business.’ Mr Valls said the camps were a ‘challenge’ to ‘people living together’ and insisted the police would uphold all court orders aimed at dismantling them. His tough stance on crime and illegal gypsy camps has seen him nicknamed the 'Nicolas Sarkozy of the Left'. Mr Sarkozy started a purge on Romas in the summer of 2010, pointing to the fact that up to 15,000 were living in camps across France, and proposing that police go to Romania to fight trafficking and other crime. Roma groups accused Mr Sarkozy of ‘ethnic cleansing’, pointing to the fact that gipsies had been targeted by the Nazis during the Second World War. Mr Valls is currently the most popular politician in France, with a 75 per cent approval rate, according to Ifop. Shortly before tackling the suburb of Evry, he ordered the destruction of numerous Roma camps across France, with sites broken up in Lille, Lyon and Marseilles, as well as Paris.
© The Daily Mail

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