NEWS - Archive June 2013

Headlines 28 June, 2013

Minister: refugee hunger strike is blackmail (Germany)

Concern grew on Thursday over a group of refugees on hunger strike in central Munich demonstrating for humane treatment. Several are in hospital - but authorities have made their lack of sympathy with the cause clear.

27/6/2013- Members of a group of around 100 refugees camping out in central Munich - who have refused food for the past five days and water since Tuesday - have been taken to intensive care, wrote the Süddeutsche Zeitung late on Wednesday. The group, who call themselves the “Non-Citizens” set up camp last Saturday in a protest for rights and better treatment. They and their supporters are calling for an end to policies which see refugees confined to a limited area, refused work permits and given food packages rather than cash, while subsisting in mass accommodation, waiting months in often squalid conditions for a decision to come through about asylum applications. As the hunger strike grew serious on Wednesday, representatives met regional politicians, but the newspaper said little progress was made, with both sides showing little willingness to compromise.

“Here in this country politics is not open to blackmail, we live in a state under the rule of law, where people can't force preferential treatment through hunger strikes,” the paper quoted Bavaria state social affairs minister Christine Haderthauer as saying. Ignoring Haderthauer's appeals for them to eat, the group seems set on getting their message across in a high-profile protest which has already become life-threatening for some. On Tuesday the first demonstrator was taken into intensive care after losing consciousness, with a further three admitted on Wednesday. In September last year several hundred left refugee centres in Bavaria and walked to Berlin to camp out and demonstrate – yet they failed to attract much political reaction. Now, they are ramping up the stakes. “The fate of these people affects me personally,” protest supporter Karin Gerber told the paper. “We are such an incredibly rich country!” But Munich's rich are part of the problem, wrote the paper, who often go to great lengths to prevent new refugee housing being built in their back yards.
The Local - Germany

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Asylum surge expected in ill-equiped Croatia

28/6/2013- An anticipated rise in asylum seekers is expected in an ill-equipped Croatia after it becomes the EU’s newest member state as of 1 July. US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Croatia’s reception centres are already overcrowded with hundreds of unaccompanied children in need of specialised protection standards. “Zagreb should see the accession as an incentive to further improve rights protection, rather than a signal to slow down,” said Hugh Williamson, HRW Europe and Central Asia director on Friday (28 June). The Brussels-based Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) drew similar conclusions in a study out this week. The group found Croatian centres are under an additional strain because of a dysfunctional asylum system in Macedonia. “What happens in one country in the Balkans has consequences for the region,” said JRS Europe senior policy chief Stefan Kessler at a press event in Brussels on Wednesday.

Deplorable conditions and violence at Skopje reception centres are forcing arrivals to seek protection elsewhere. Macedonia has not granted anyone asylum since 2011. JRS says hundreds of so-called forced migrants are using the remote Macedonian village of Lojane as a staging point for a perilous journey by foot across snow-capped mountains into Serbia as they head on to Hungary, Slovenia or Croatia. Unlike asylum seekers and refugees, forced migrants are remnants of the some 300,000 people displaced internally in the wake of the 1990s Yugoslav wars. More than 200,000 remain in limbo, with some 100,000 in Bosnia alone, says the UN agency for refugees. Many have opted to transit in Macedonia with Croatia set to become a new pull factor as it joins the EU. Meanwhile, the number of detected irregular border crossings into Croatia doubled from 2,193 in 2011 to 5,066 in 2012, says the UN. The EU as a whole reported 13,600 irregular crossings in the last three months of 2012.

The European Commission, for its part, says Croatia has met EU asylum standards but recognizes some areas could be improved. “We first need to monitor it should the numbers increase,” said a European Commission policy officer from DG home affairs, present at the JRS press event. She noted Croatia has access to financial support from EU funds should it run into trouble as well as additional aid from Frontex, the European Asylum Support Office or the EU police agency Europol. Member states may also voluntarily take in extra asylum seekers from Croatia should the need arise, she says. But JRS says conditions at asylum centres in Croatia are far from satisfactory because they lack staff and funding. “If Croatia cannot cope with migrants coming through the Balkans, then it will not be able to cope with the raft of EU asylum laws that it will have to adopt as a new member of the EU,” said Kessler.

The European Parliament voted in the common European asylum system package in June. The package revised a raft of laws aimed to improve member state’s asylum conditions, including the Dublin regulation. The regulation lays out a set of criteria that determine which member state is responsible for processing an applicant’s claim. In most cases, the member state where the applicant first entered Europe is responsible. If the asylum seeker is apprehended in another member state, then they can be transferred to the member state where they first entered. Kessler says it is unlikely Croatia’s asylum system in its current state will be able to deal with asylum seekers transferred to it from other EU countries.
The EUobserver

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Denderleeuw adopts "Flemish Manifesto" implementing strict language rules (Belgium)

The local council in the municipality of Denderleeuw (East Flanders) has approved the so-called "Flemish Manifesto".

28/6/2013- The text was adopted by the coalition partners N-VA, CD&V and Open VLD, and also had the support of the far-right Vlaams Belang. The Flemish nationalist Burgomaster says that the text, dubbed controversial by some, is nothing more than a strict application of language legislation. The Flemish nationalists (N-VA), Christian democrats (CD&V) and liberals (Open VLD) all gave their go-ahead to apply the manifesto and even had the support of the far-right Vlaams Belang that is on the opposition benches. "The manifesto carries out a positive message", says N-VA Mayor Jan De Dier. "People coming to Denderleeuw to live here, should be able to integrate, and we think that a basic knowledge of Dutch is of the utmost importance, also to improve chances on the labour market."

The local council will draw the attention of newly-arrived residents, who speak a different language from Dutch, to the Flemish character of the municipality and the efforts that are being made to highlight this. Street nameplates will bear the logo of a Flemish lion, street signs at the municipal borders will mention that motorists are entering "Denderleeuw: a Flemish municipality!" and all municipal buildings will have a Flemish flag in front. All contacts between the local authorities and cultural organisations will be in Dutch, and social or cultural initiatives should be taken only using Dutch. In general, local tradesmen or anyone in a profession that involves a lot of social contacts, should use only Dutch. A special register will be opened to collect all types of complaints about people who are not following the rules. Every year, a report will be compiled to evaluate the situation and "to take the necessary steps" if this is needed.
Expatica News

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Far-right party invades state TV broadcaster (Bulgaria)

28/6/2013- Reporters Without Borders is appalled by yesterday’s forcible invasion of Bulgaria’s state-owned TV broadcaster, BNT, by the leader and members of the far-right party Ataka, who occupied the station for several hours. The operation followed claims by Ataka, which supports the ruling party in parliament, of media “bias” against it. Yesterday’s events began with an improvised meeting in the morning when Ataka president and parliamentarian Volen Siderov, addressing supporters from atop a pickup, announced that he would visit all the state and privately-owned TV stations to obtain “more positive” and “balanced” coverage of his activities. “We are going to throw stones, tomatoes and eggs at the offices of BNT, bTV, Nova TV and Canal 3,” he announced.

Siderov arrived outside BNT with a group of party members in the afternoon and, proclaiming his parliamentary immunity, forced his way through the police barriers protecting the entrance. He and his supporters occupied the premises for several hours, partially disrupting operations but without taking control of the station’s broadcasting. They finally left after a short meeting with the management and verbal exchanges with staff members. “We strongly condemn Ataka’s actions,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Using force to enter a TV station and abusing parliamentary immunity is not appropriate behaviour for the leader of a political party, especially one who is a parliamentarian. “Bulgaria is a member of the European Union. Regardless of their politics, its parliamentarians cannot behave with such contempt for media editorial independence. The example they are setting is deplorable and unacceptable. They could have obtained a meeting with BTN’s management through normal channels.

“We call on Siderov and his party’s members to abandon their announced intention of ‘visiting’ all the other TV stations. Other procedures are available to them if they want to make their views known.” Reporters Without Borders is also alarmed by National Assembly speaker Mihail Mikov’s comments on BNR and BTV on 26 June, when he accused “several TV stations” of fuelling a rise in social tension, called for “responsible behaviour” on the part of journalists and reminded them of “the appropriate way to cover the situation in the capital and in the country.” “We urge Mikov to rectify these comments,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Such interference in the editorial freedom of the broadcast media is inconceivable in a democratic state that is a member of the European Union, all the more so when the person responsible is the National Assembly speaker.”

Mikov’s comment elicited a quick reaction from Bulgarian journalists, who sent him an open letter that has already been signed by more than 100 media personnel. Bulgaria is ranked 87th out of 179 counties in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. This is the worst ranking of any European Union member state.
Reporters Without Borders.

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Norwegian Democrats Nominates Breivik Sympathizer to Parliamentary List

The Democrats in Norway (Demokratene) includes in the election list the politician Kjersti Margrethe Adelheid Gilje. The controversial politician had called the 22 July terrorist Breivik as "visionary."

28/6/2013- Gilje is on the top of Democrats list in Rogaland. The politician is known with the following statement on his Facebook page after Breivik’s speech on last 22 June: "I think that Anders Behring Breivik’s speech is absolutely enormous. He is sharp and I support him fully in his views. But of course I take distance from the action." Gilje has a background from Norwegian Defence League (NDL), Stop Islamisation of Norway (Sian), the Christian Democrats and the Christian Coalition Party. Talking to TV2, Gilje says she still supports what she previously said. - I think Breivik is sharp, although what he did was insane. There is difference between supporting his ideals and what he did, says she.

About The Democrats in Norway
The Democrats in Norway (Norwegian: Demokratene i Norge, DEM), formerly and commonly known as the Democrats, is a Norwegian political party. The party was established in 2002, chiefly by former members of the Progress Party. Its current leader is Elisabeth Rue Strencbo. The party advocates a more restrictive immigration policy, tougher law and order measures, improved health care and reduction of taxes. The party considers its values to be based on Christianity and Norwegian heritage. The party has no representation in the Norwegian Parliament, although MP Jan Simonsen (who had been elected with the Progress Party) became aligned with the party upon its creation, ending when his parliamentary term expired in 2005. The party claimed 2,000 members in 2009, and 3,000 members in 2011. As of the 2011 local elections, the party has eight representatives in five municipal councils, and one representation in a county council (Vest-Agder).
The Nordic Page

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Freedom of Expression Grant to Far-Right Blogger Stirs Debate in Norway

Culture Minister Hadia Tajik supports Freedom of Expression grant for the controversial blogger Peder Nøstvold Jensen, best known by the nickname Fjordman.

25/6/2013- In June, Peder Jensen Nøstvold, Norwegian blogger who writes under the pseudonym Fjordman, received 75.000 NOK grants from Fritt Ord (the Freedom of Expression Organization) for a book he is writing on 22 July terrorist Anders Behring Breivik. In an article on Tuesday, VG wrote Norway’s Pakistani-origin Culture Minister Hadia Tajik supports the decision of the organization. - What I fear most is not the opinions of Peder Jensen Nøstvold alias Fjordman. It is our own inadequacy to respond to them. Therefore I support Fritt Ord’s financial support to the blogger, writes Tajik. On the other hand, Journalist Bjørn Stærk finds the decision wrong because his ideas are dangerous, bordering on fascism. Stærk writes in Aftenposten that his ideas are so extreme that it is only a short step to pick up weapons. - Words can be dangerous. All political actions begin with words. We do not play dumb and pretend that we do not realize what can happen when someone appoints millions of people to an existential threat to Europe, he wrote.

Previously, The Labour youth party leader Eskil Pedersen said that Fritt Ord is an organization that provides a platform for "gay-haters and racists," referring to both the support for Fjordman and previous support for other controversial causes and individuals. Member of Parliament Snorre Valen accused Fritt Ord of "mockery of all those killed and injured" in the 2011 Norway attacks, stating that Fritt Ord provides funding to a writer "so that he can publish a book about the terrorist he inspired.

Who is Fjordman?
Peder Are Nøstvold Jensen is a Norwegian blogger who writes under the pseudonym Fjordman and who has been characterised as far-right and Islamophobic.Jensen wrote anonymously as Fjordman starting in 2005, until he disclosed his identity in 2011 after the claims on his connection with 22 July terrorist Anders Behring Breivik. He has been active in the counterjihad movement, which argues that multiculturalism, particularly Muslim immigration, poses a threat to Western civilization. Notably, he has advocated the ’Eurabia’ conspiracy theory in a self-published book titled Defeating Eurabia, and argued that all Muslims should be deported from Europe. Anders Behring Breivik quoted him extensively in his manifesto. According to the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, Fjordman is "considered a ’hero’ among the bloggers and debaters constituting the new far right."

About Fritt Ord
Fritt Ord is a Norwegian private foundation, whose self-proclaimed aim is to support freedom of expression and a free press. It was established on 7 June 1974 by Narvesen Kioskkompani’s leaders Jens Henrik Nordlie and Finn Skedsmo as well as the lawyer Jens Christian Hauge. Fritt Ord has significant funds and is playing a part in supporting various journalism and literary projects in Norway and on abroad. In addition it awards scholarships to students within media and journalism, awards the Fritt Ord Prize, and supports writing competitions. The organization was criticized by some when it threatened the Norwegian Festival of Literature with withdrawing financial support if the controversial British author David Irving was allowed to speak at the festival. Also, the organization was criticized for its last support to Fjordman.
The Nordic Page

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Sweden Democrat has close ties to far-right site

Sweden Democrat politician Kent Ekeroth is closely involved in the running of a notorious anti-immigrant website and exerts influence over editorial content, according to media revelations on Thursday.

27/6/2013- Ekeroth, who retained his parliamentary seat despite being one of the protagonists in the so-called "iron-bar scandal" involving leading Sweden Democrats, has previously claimed that he only assists Avpixlat with fundraising. But an email correspondence published by the Aftonbladet daily on Thursday shows that Ekeroth communicates with editors regarding the content and presentation of the website that typically publishes a strongly anti-immigrant bias. "Come on now - make the site more interesting and alive. It looks dead at the moment," reads one of the email sent by Ekeroth to Avpixlat. Ekeroth has also provided Axpixlat with links to YouTube clips which have appeared on the site shortly after, Aftonbladet revealed. The Local reported last week that Ekeroth had been ordered to pay 160,921 kronor ($25,000) in taxes for money sent to his bank account as donations to Avpixlat and its predecessor Politiskt Inkorrekt.

While Ekeroth stated in correspondence with the Tax Agency that he had neither insight nor influence on how the funds are used, the money was classified as income, with tax authorities deeming the set-up to be a "passive business". Avpixlat's main administrator Mats Dagerlind has repeatedly denied that Ekeroth has any central role in the management of the website. The site's name literally translates as "unpixelated", but is also a Swedish colloquialism meaning to "reveal" or "unmask" and one of the most common recurring themes on the site is publish photos of suspected criminals of foreign origin. The website furthermore contains material which echoes the Sweden Democrat party's negative line on immigration, multicultural society, and the mainstream Swedish media. The Local's attempts to reach Kent Ekeroth and the Sweden Democrats for comment on Thursday were unsuccessful.
The Local - Sweden

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Far-right 'more active' in Sweden: report

Far-right and anti-immigrant groups in Sweden have become increasingly active, according to a new report published by anti-racist foundation Expo on Tuesday.

25/6/2013- "The Party of the Swedes (Svenskarnas parti) has managed to collect well-known individuals within the movement and has built up a relatively stable organisation. The strategy is to attract Sweden Democratic voters by presenting themselves as a more radical alternative," said Anders Dalsbro, editor of the magazine Expo, in a statement. The report indicates that the Party of the Swedes is behind a development which has led to the highest level of activity among far-right groups since 2008. Some 1,824 activities connected to the racial ideology movement were reported in 2012, an increase of 24 percent on 2011. The activities concern everything from dealing out flyers, badges to meetings and demonstrations. The number of groups active within the movement has however decreased, from 25 in 2011 to 18 in 2012, Expo reported. "The Party of the Swedes has increasingly come to dominate the racist movement and taken over a large part from the other groups and also recruited a large part of their activists," Anders Dalsbro told Sveriges Radio. The big city areas and the counties of Stockholm, Västra Götaland and Skåne saw the most activity overall, while Värmland, Dalarna and Västmanland topped the per capita list.
The Local - Sweden

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Ultranationalist Ukrainian political party leaders banned from U.S.

27/6/2013- Two leaders of Ukraine’s ultranationalist Svoboda Party have been banned from entering the United States for their open anti-Semitism, a Ukrainian daily reported. Svoboda leaders Oleh Tyahnybok and Igor Miroshnichenko were declared persona non grata in the United States earlier this year, following talks with Jewish leaders including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, according to a report published Wednesday in the Kiev-based Sevodnya daily. The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine declined to comment on the reports when contacted by Sevodnya. A U.S. State Department report this month singled out Ukraine, along with Hungary and Greece, as places of “concern” because of growing anti-Semitic political parties. A Svoboda spokesperson said the reports were false and part of an attempt to “by foreigners to discredit” the party.

Founded in 2004, Svoboda – which means “freedom” in Ukrainian – is rooted in the Social-National Party, a far-right movement ideologically aligned with Nazism. Svoboda garnered more than 10 percent of the vote in the 2012 elections, becoming the country’s fourth-largest party. Tyahnybok has praised supporters for being the “worst fear of the Jewish-Russian mafia,” and has called Jews “kikes” - a pejorative also used regularly by Miroshnichenko. Vadim Rabinovich, the Ukraine-born co-chair of the European Jewish Parliament, urged European countries to ban Svoboda officials in the same way that the U.S. reportedly has done.
JTA News

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Supreme court's voting rights decision 'deeply disappointing', Obama says (USA)

Justices say discrimination in US no longer sufficient to justify 'extraordinary measures' as they strike down part of landmark act

25/6/2013- The US supreme court struck down 48-year-old protections for minority voters in states with a history of racial discrimination on Tuesday, in a decision lamented by campaigners who argued that it gutted the most important civil rights law ever passed by Congress. President Obama said the ruling, which invalidated a key provision of 1965 Voting Rights Act, was "deeply disappointing" and overturned decades of bipartisan agreement on measures to prevent voting discrimination. The conservative-dominated court argued the act had largely served its purpose in encouraging equal access to the ballot box and said it was unconstitutional to continue singling out southern states for extra scrutiny without new legislation to determine signs of ongoing discrimination.

For nearly 50 years, the law forced certain, mostly southern states to seek permission from federal authorities in Washington for any changes to electoral rules, such as introducing literacy tests to reduce voter registration among minority groups. However, chief justice John Roberts ruled on Tuesday that although there were some signs of continued racial discrimination, it was no longer sufficient to justify legal discrimination against the southern states caught up by the rules. "Voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that," Roberts wrote, in the majority opinion. "The question is whether the act's extraordinary measures, including its disparate treatment of the states, continue to satisfy constitutional requirements."

The logic was rejected by four of the nine justices who split along the ideological lines that increasingly divide the supreme court. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the minority, read out a stinging dissent from the bench: "The sad irony of today's decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective," she said. "Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet." The court did not strike down the core of the act, the advance approval requirement itself, in section five. But it invalidated section four, which sets the conditions under which parts of the US must submit voting changes to federal monitoring. Unless Congress comes up with a new formula, which it has repeatedly failed to do in the past, section five cannot be enforced.

The five justices in the majority pointed to evidence showing that voter registration among African Americans was now higher than white voters in four of the five original states targeted by the legislation. "Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically. Largely because of the Voting Rights Act, voter turnout and registration rates in covered jurisdictions now approach parity," the majority opinion said. "Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare and minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels." Roberts said Congress could pass new legislation to modernise tests determining which states should abide by the pre-clearance rules. But previous attempts to do this have failed despite a far less polarised political climate.

Barack Obama and other leading Democrats sounded a gloomy note. Obama said: "I am deeply disappointed with the supreme court's decision today. For nearly 50 years, the Voting Rights Act – enacted and repeatedly renewed by wide bipartisan majorities in Congress – has helped secure the right to vote for millions of Americans. Today's decision invalidating one of its core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent. "As a nation, we've made a great deal of progress towards guaranteeing every American the right to vote. But, as the supreme court recognised, voting discrimination still exists." He called on Congress to pass new protections for minorities.

Speaking soon after the ruling, attorney general Eric Holder also said he was "deeply disappointed" by the decision and joined president Obama in calling on Congress to act quickly to fix the legislation. "As Congress correctly recognised in the hearings held in 2006 – racial and language minorities face significant voting discrimination in some parts of our country," said Holder. "Given the successful decisions in the department's Voting Rights Act cases over the last 18 months, the need for a vital – and intact – Voting Rights Act remains clear." Senator Pat Leahy, the Democratic chair of the Senate judiciary committee, promised "immediate" action. He said in a statement: "section five of the Voting Rights Act has protected minorities of all races from discriminatory practices in voting for nearly 50 years, yet the supreme court's decision to overturn the coverage formula effectively guts the ability of section five to protect voters from discriminatory practices. I could not disagree more with this result or the majority's rationale."

Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which represented a black resident of the Alabama county that challenged the law, said: "The supreme court has effectively gutted one of the nation's most important and effective civil rights laws. Minority voters in places with a record of discrimination are now at greater risk of being disenfranchised than they have been in decades. "Today's decision is a blow to democracy. Jurisdictions will be able to enact policies which prevent minorities from voting, and the only recourse these citizens will have will be expensive and time-consuming litigation."

But it was welcomed by Frank Ellis, the attorney for Shelby County, which brought the challenge. He said that areas covered by the act had changed in the past 50 years. He said that Alabama in 1965 "was a different time, a different place. It didn't resemble what it is now. I know there was discrimination in 1965, but I also know that what we were doing then is not a relevant barometer of what we are doing now in 2013. It's not fair to over-ride our sovereign jurisdiction based on a formula that is almost 50 years old."
The Guardian

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