NEWS - Archive March 2017

Headlines 24 March, 2017

Headlines 17 March, 2017

ELECTIONS IN THE NETHERLANDS March 15, 2017

Headlines 10 March, 2017

Headlines 3 March, 2017

Headlines 24 March, 2017

Swedish neo-Nazis disrupt lectures by Holocaust survivors

A diplomatic cable from Israel’s ambassador to Sweden describes provocations by the Nordic Resistance Movement and claims that local police won’t provide security at the events.
18/3/2017- A neo-Nazi organization active in Sweden has been disrupting lectures from Holocaust survivors throughout the country, but the police are refusing to provide security at the locations of such talks, according to Israel’s top envoy to the Nordic country. Ambassador Isaac Bachman, who has 29 years’ experience with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, wrote of this situation in a diplomatic cable to the MFA in Jerusalem. The neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement is known in Sweden for its extremely provocative activities, despite it being a small organization with no more than 200 activists. It has a clearly racist and anti-Semitic ideology, and its members make sure to plan their activities to cause the most friction and receive the highest amount of media coverage. As one would expect from such an organization, the Nordic Resistance Movement denies the Holocaust and deems the eyewitness accounts of its few remaining survivors to be preposterous.

As part of their campaign to interrupt lectures by survivors, they went to a talk given three weeks ago by a Holocaust survivor who has lived in Sweden for decades and who frequently shares his personal experiences with the public. Members of the organization protested outside the hall where he was speaking and distributed flyers to attendees that spread their Holocaust-denying ideology. The “informational materials” claimed that lecture being given was entirely bogus. The ensuing verbal confrontations deteriorated into a physical brawl. Describing the event in his telegram, the ambassador wrote, “This incident is one of similar others in which the organization interferes with the running of lectures being given by Holocaust survivors…  “A similar and aggressive disturbance took place last April in another city in which the Holocaust survivor’s lecture barely continued, in spite of members of the neo-Nazi organization entering and interfering during. And all this (took place) after the police were called to the location.”

Due to such talks having become targets for provocation, the schools that organize them have tried to obtain security from the police. So far, they have been unsuccessful. Bachman wrote that the police refuse to provide security at the events because the member of the Nordic Resistance Movement “do not yet appear to innately provoke violence.”
© Ynet News

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Headlines 17 March, 2017

Turkey: Erdogan accuses EU of 'crusade' against Islam

The Turkish president has also said Europe is regressing to the pre-World War II era. German Chancellor Angel Merkel called for an end to the exchange of "insults."

17/3/2017- In a speech given to supporters in the western Turkish city of Sakarya, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan invoked the medieval religious wars between Christian Europe and the Islamic Middle East in the context of present-day escalating tensions between the European Union and Turkey. "My dear brothers, a battle has started between the cross and the half moon. There can be no other explanation," Erdogan said on Thursday. The Turkish president also stated the European Court of Justice's (ECJ) Tuesday ruling, which permits companies to ban the Islamic headscarf as part of policies barring religious symbols in the workplace, was the start of a "crusade" by Europe.

Erdogan has recently upped his antagonistic rhetoric towards Europe after Germany and the Netherlands both canceled campaign appearances by Turkish politicians. The events were intended to drum up support for an April 16 referendum that, if approved, would vastly expand Erdogan's presidential powers. Erdogan has repeatedly compared the behavior of German and Dutch politicians to that of "Nazis" and accused Europe of hosting the "spirit of fascism." "Europe is swiftly rolling back to the days before World War II," he said in his speech in Sakarya.

Post-election attacks on the Netherlands
Erdogan and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also took aim at the Netherlands on Thursday despite the previous day's election result, in which Dutch voters rejected right-wing populist Geert Wilders and his Islamophobic and anti-immigration platform. "Hey Rutte! You may have emerged as the number one party in the election but you must know that you have lost Turkey as your friend," Erdogan said in his televised speech. Many analysts believe Rutte's hardline approach to prohibiting Turkish politicians from campaigning in the Netherlands helped him gain the support of undecided voters who buoyed him to victory over Wilders.

Despite Turkey's previous criticism of the virulently anti-Islam Wilders, Cavusoglu told a Turkish broadcaster on Thursday that there was "no difference" between the liberal Rutte and "fascist" Wilders. The antagonistic rhetoric and authoritarian power expansions, as well as Ankara's threats to suspend the 2016 migration agreement with the EU, has thrown the EU neighbor's long-standing bid for entry into the bloc into question. However, Cavusoglu later said in a different interview that "no reason" existed for Turkey to "move away from Europe."

Merkel: 'The insults need to stop'
For her part, German Chancellor Angela Merkel denounced Erdogan's latest round of accusations. The Turkish president accused Merkel this week of supporting terrorists in the anti-Erdogan Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). "I don't intend to participate in this race to trade provocations," she told the German regional newspaper "Saarbrücker Zeitung." "The insults need to stop," she added in comments printed in the paper's Friday edition, referencing Turkey's Nazi comparisons aimed at the Netherlands. Merkel stated that Turkish political leaders are permitted to appear in the country under certain conditions: they must disclose who will appear and for what goal, and the foreign politicians must abide by Germany's laws and constitutional principles. "We do not give anyone a carte blanche for the future," she added. The chancellor's comments came the same day the city of Hannover scrapped a Friday rally organized by the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD) at which a senior Erdogan government official was set to appear. The last-minute cancellation indicates tempers could get hotter and the Turkish-German relationship perhaps even cooler.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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French restaurateur fined over Islamophobic attack on Muslim women

17/3/2017- A French restaurateur was ordered to pay 7,000 Euros compensation on Thursday for insulting two veiled Muslim women and forcing them to leave his restaurant in August 2016. The French man was charged with "discriminating people based on their religions in a business place open to public." The court also ordered him to hang the court order on his restaurant's window as well as to pay one 'symbolic' euro to the Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), an activist group supporting the women. Last August, the encounter at Le Cenacle restaurant in Tremblay-en-France outside of Paris was filmed by one of the two women and posted online which showed the other saying "We don't want to be served by racists." The man in the smartphone clip responds that "racists like me don't plant bombs and don't kill people". He added that "terrorists are Muslim and all Muslims are terrorists. I don't want people like you in my place. Now [that] you know it you can get out". The owner later issued an apology to all Muslims on BFM television.
© The Daily Sabah

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France: Global financiers line up to engage with Le Pen

Bankers and fund managers factor in possible French presidential victory for far right

17/3/2017- Fund managers, bankers and foreign diplomats are hurrying to meet France’s far-right National Front to learn more about its programme, in a sign of how seriously the party is being taken six weeks before the presidential election. Analysts at banks and funds including UBS, BlackRock and Barclays have met FN officials to discuss its economic plans, according to people close to the party. Representatives from dozens of governments including the US, Argentina, Sweden and Denmark have also met FN officials or attended party events, many for the first time. “We have had people queueing up to talk to us about our programme,” said Mikael Sala, an economic adviser to Marine Le Pen, party leader and presidential candidate. The interest underlines how markets and governments are considering the possibility that Ms Le Pen might win power, potentially putting her in a position to take the eurozone’s second-largest economy out of the single currency and hold a “Frexit” referendum on leaving the EU.

While polls still suggest the FN leader will lose the second round in May, investors have been pricing in the increased likelihood of a victory as a rival on the centre-right, François Fillon, is weakened by a scandal about jobs for his wife and children. The US, Argentine, Swedish and Danish embassies in Paris confirmed that either their ambassadors or domestic political specialists had held meetings with senior FN officials in recent months. The embassies said the meetings were part of their role to speak to all big parties in France. The Argentine embassy said its ambassador’s meeting with the FN was a chance to discuss its “vision” for Europe. Their approach is in sharp contrast to the line taken by the UK and Germany, neither of which talk to the far-right party. “We have a policy of not engaging. There is a longstanding policy,” Ed Llewellyn, the UK ambassador to Paris, told a UK parliamentary committee in January.

A spokesperson for BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, said: “As part of election fact-finding research conducted earlier this year, a team of investment strategists from the BlackRock Investment Institute met the economic teams of the main French presidential candidates to better understand their economic policy proposals.” Barclays and UBS declined to comment. Florian Philippot, the FN’s chief strategist and one of Ms Le Pen’s main advisers, has met diplomats from five European countries and three from Asia in recent weeks, according to Bertrand Dutheil de La Rochère, a member of the FN’s strategic committee. “People want to talk about our programme to leave the euro as well as our immigration policy,” said Mr de La Rochère. “They see that victory is now likely.” Three weeks ago Ms Le Pen also laid out her international vision in a speech attended by representatives of 42 countries, according to the FN.

While Ms Le Pen is almost certain to get through to the second round, most pollsters assume she will then be beaten by any opponent — just as her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was defeated by an anti-FN coalition when he reached the second round of the election in 2002. However, Ms Le Pen is seen as likely to do much better than Mr Le Pen because she is more moderate, while French politics has become more unpredictable. Voters in the largest centre-left and centre-right parties chose surprise candidates during the primary elections. Thomas Guénolé, a lecturer at Sciences-Po university, said diplomatic and investor meetings with the FN showed the growing fear of a victory by Ms Le Pen. He said he had also been contacted by several “major US investors” to ask about the chance of a Le Pen victory. “The meetings do not show that the FN’s ideas have more credibility . . . but that everyone is scared of Ms Le Pen winning,” he said.
© The Financial Times*

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Le Pen foes relish Dutch vote, but French election may be different

16/3/2017- Adversaries of Marine Le Pen expressed relief on Thursday after her ally Geert Wilders won fewer seats than expected in a Dutch election, but analysts warned against reading too much into the result ahead of France's tight presidential race. They said far-right leader Le Pen's campaign in France is better planned and targeted than that of Wilders' party, while a standoff between the Dutch and Turkish governments had given a "one-off" boost to incumbent Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte. Centre-right Rutte's decisive victory over anti-immigrant, eurosceptic Wilders delighted European Union leaders and others concerned about rising populism across the bloc in the wake of last year's shock Brexit vote. Le Pen's rivals for the presidency were quick to welcome the Dutch result, which centrist Emmanuel Macron said showed that "a breakthrough for the extreme right is not a foregone conclusion and that progressives are gaining momentum".

Polls suggest that Macron, 39, an independent, will make it through the election's April 23 first round before comfortably beating the National Front's Le Pen in the run-off on May 7. Conservative Francois Fillon, an ex-prime minister who has slipped behind Le Pen and Macron after being the frontrunner, said the Dutch result underlined that opinion polls are flawed. "We were all being told this was going to be a triumph for the extreme right," he said. "And yet again the outcome shows that it's the (political) center and right that provide the best bulwark against populism and extremism." Outgoing Socialist President Francois Hollande referred to a "clear victory against extremism". Le Pen and Wilders were pictured together in a series of light-hearted "selfies" in January when they met with other far-right politicians who hope rising anti-establishment sentiment across Europe will give them a lift at the ballot box.

The Dutch result drove the euro higher and analysts in the banking and investment industry, where many see Le Pen as a grave danger because of her plans to quit the single currency and probably the European Union too, also took heart. "To whatever extent this vote is a signal on France, the high turnout and rally towards the mainstream center look bad for her (Le Pen)," said Anna Stupnytska, Global Economist at Fidelity International. "The structure of the French presidential election also creates additional obstacles to any far-right victory in France. As such, the Dutch result may be remembered as the turning point in the popularity of populism for 2017." Although Wilders' party came second in the vote and actually gained seats, it fell short of its best performance in a national election and has no chance of joining a coalition government as rival parties have shunned it.

With Le Pen conspicuously silent, it fell to National Front secretary-general Nicolas Bay to put a positive face on Wilders' showing. He said the rise in the number of seats won by the party, to 20 from 15, was a "partial victory even if not the final victory". He said Rutte's campaign had undoubtedly been boosted late in the campaign by the confrontation with Turkey, which saw him ban Turkish government politicians from staging rallies in the Netherlands for expatriate voters. Mabel Berezin, professor of sociology at Cornell University in the United States, said the French election would still provide the key test of anti-establishment power in Europe. "That is where the populist action is and that is what we should be focusing upon," she said.

Le Pen, 48, has built up a solid following by appealing to working class voters dismayed by five years of left-wing rule, a 10 percent jobless rate and restraints on public spending. Surveys regularly show that upwards of three-quarters of pro-Le Pen respondents are already absolutely certain they will vote for her. For Macron, that share is closer to one in two. And while Fillon has crashed from first to third place in polls after a scandal over payments from public funds to his wife, Le Pen has shrugged off complaints about her payment of European Union funds to bodyguard and assistants.
© Reuters

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Is Trump Dragging Down the European Far-Right?

Worse-than-expected results for the Netherlands’s Geert Wilders are only the latest sign that the American president’s poor standing is harming politicians aligned with him.

16/3/2017- Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election in November was heralded as the latest in a series of triumphs for the populist right: First there was Brexit, followed by a series of gains for right-wing, anti-immigration parties in Europe. When Italians voted against a referendum backed by Prime Minster Matteo Renzi in December, it looked like proof of the populist wave’s continued surge. But a poorer-than-expected showing by Geert Wilders’s Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), with nearly 80 percent turnout, in elections on Wednesday complicates the picture. While Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy lost eight seats, it will be the biggest party in the 150-seat Dutch parliament. Wilders’s party won 20, short of the 30 it hoped to pick up. It’s too soon to declare the populist wave dead, but with Wilders’s stumble, it’s worth at least raising the question of whether Trump’s victory may have been the high-water mark for the right-wing populist movement.

Rutte, who is expected to remain in power, is hardly a dove on immigration, but he’s not as hardline as Wilders. And unlike the platinum-pompadoured populist, he is favorable toward European integration. Wilders has been styled in the press as the Dutch Donald Trump, a comparison that he has at times courted—Wilders dropped by the 2016 Republican National Convention, where Trump was formally nominated, even as many top Republicans stayed away. He contributes to Breitbart, the court organ of the Trump administration. Even his campaign slogan was a variation on Trump’s. But as the Dutch campaign ramped up, Wilders grew much more cautious about invoking the U.S. president. This was no coincidence: By mid-February, when the race in the Netherlands began, Trump had been in office for several weeks, and Dutch voters had gotten a chance to observe him as president.

They didn’t like what they saw. “It’s a hard start for Wilders—he’s losing momentum, and this is partly because of Trump,” pollster Gijs Rademaker told The Wall Street Journal. Among poll respondents who had backed the PVV in December but no longer did by February, 60 percent thought Trump was doing a bad job. Wilders’s caginess about Trump doesn’t seem to have saved him; although PVV gained seats on Wednesday, it fell short of expectations, as well as his own prediction of a surprisingly strong result. And if Wilders is in fact a victim of Trump backlash in Europe, he might not be the last. While immediate reactions tend to be overly rash, Bloomberg’s Joe Weisenthal noted that immediately after preliminary results came in from the Netherlands, betting markets became much more bearish on the electoral chances of Marine Le Pen, the French presidential candidate who is aligned with

Wilders, and who consciously tried to associate herself with Trump. In Germany, meanwhile, Martin Schulz of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) has found his fortunes surging ahead of September’s general election. The SPD has been lost in the political wilderness for years, finding little purchase against the once-invincible Chancellor Angela Merkel. While Merkel has shown little use for Trump, or his disdain for the EU and NATO, Schulz has seized on the American president as a perfect foil, using him as a vehicle to make the case for European cooperation. The far-right Alternative for Germany party, meanwhile, remains far back, and has seen its standing fall somewhat in recent months. There’s a danger of overstating Trump’s effect on European politics, especially when viewing the situation from the United States. Internal dynamics play an essential role in each of these elections, and each country has its own problems. But there are good reasons to believe that Trump is playing some role in these contests.

Even before he was formally nominated, Trump was deeply unpopular in Europe. A June 2016 Pew poll found just 9 percent of Europeans had confidence in the Republican. With a few more months to evaluate him, they’ve hardly changed their minds. A YouGov/Handelsblatt poll at the beginning of the year found that sizable majorities in several European countries expected Trump to be a poor president; in France, the only country where a majority did not feel that way, a plurality did. A November poll found rising approval of the EU across the board, another sign of the pendulum potentially beginning to swing back. The bad polling for Trump, and the apparent damage that he’s doing to candidates associated with him, is all the more striking because when Europeans were polled on a Trump-style immigration ban in February, support averaged 55 percent across 10 countries, with majority support in eight of the 10.

In other words, it appears that even when Europeans are sympathetic to at least some of the proposals put forth by the far right, Trump’s poor personal reputation may be dragging down the politicians in Europe who have aligned themselves—and in some cases styled themselves after—Trump. This change of fortunes is particularly interesting because Trump continues to invoke Muslim immigration and terror attacks in Europe to justify his policies. During the presidential race, he campaigned with chief Brexiteer Nigel Farage and remains in touch with him. In one recent slapstick moment, Trump lamented the havoc terrorism was wreaking in Sweden, to the consternation of Swedes who had no idea to what he referred. American politicians who are aligned with Trump contend that there is a civilizational struggle in Europe, and that the struggle could spread to the United States next.

These lines of argument depend to a great extent on politicians in Europe kicking up a fuss about immigration and cultural change that provides fodder for the American discussion. In other words, the European far right is very good for Trump, but there are growing signs that Trump is not good for the European far right.
© The Atlantic

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Greek neo-Nazis retain swagger despite two-year trial

Nearly two years in the dock over an anti-fascist rapper's murder have done little to blunt the swagger of Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn.

16/3/2017- The ultranationalist party remains the fourth largest in parliament, and the Greek authorities continue to grapple with how to confront the aggressive actions of many of its leading cadres. Thirteen Golden Dawn lawmakers -- and another four ex-MPs -- have been on trial since April 2015 accused of membership of a criminal organisation over the fatal stabbing of rapper Pavlos Fyssas in a street clash in 2013. Fyssas's murder shocked the country and sparked an investigation into the actions of Golden Dawn, which until then had not faced justice despite being linked to a campaign of violence against migrants and political opponents. First elected to parliament in January 2012, Golden Dawn's lawmakers continue to occupy an ambiguous role in a country that for years denied it had a problem with racism. In January, Golden Dawn lawmaker Yiannis Lagos stormed into a school in his local Athens constituency of Piraeus to protest at the teaching of refugee children on the premises. Another lawmaker, Panagiotis Iliopoulos of Volos, was photographed brandishing a wooden rod outside a local TV station where a protest against his party was taking place last week.

- 'Lack of coherence' -
In the Fyssas trial, the prosecution is trying to prove that Golden Dawn operated as a full-blown, tightly regimented criminal outfit that allegedly encouraged beatings and even killings. But the Greek authorities appear unable to take firm action against party members who have not been convicted of any crimes. In December, for example, Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, head of the nationalist Independent Greeks (ANEL) party, was not able to prevent a neo-Nazi delegation from making a "patriotic" visit to islands facing Turkey. The delegation included Golden Dawn's chief ideologue Christos Pappas -- a noted admirer of Hitler -- and party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, who has a swastika tattoo on his arm. "There is a lack of coherence in the state's response," said Costis Papaioannou, a professor and activist who was until recently the justice ministry's general secretary for human rights. The trial "keeps pressure on the party but also sends the message that state institutions are not very alert to the problem", he told AFP.

- 'No lines to follow' -
"When it comes to deciding what to do with a parliamentary party whose leadership is on trial for crimes, there are no definite lines to follow," added Papaioannou, who has written a book on Golden Dawn. Pappas, Lagos, Kasidiaris and Iliopoulos are among the 13 Golden Dawn members on trial including party chief Nikos Michaloliakos. Another four defendants are either no longer MPs or have left the party. Thanassis Kabayiannis, one of the prosecution lawyers, says the ambiguity has given the accused "room for manoeuvre". In recent weeks, Golden Dawn lawmakers -- including some of those on trial -- have travelled to Greek islands hosting large populations of refugees to whip up anti-foreigner sentiment. But other commentators say the murder trial has nevertheless put a lid on the party's momentum, limiting its popularity to around seven percent in opinion polls. "For the first time, we see a kind of sanitary cordon put in place" against Golden Dawn, said Vassiliki Georgiadou, a political scientist who has also studied the group. And there are other signs that it is losing clout.

At a February demonstration against austerity measures staged by police, generally seen as some of the party's most enthusiastic supporters, police union members asked Golden Dawn MPs to leave. And a court in the western city of Patras acquitted the local Communist mayor who refused to grant the party municipal space in the last electoral campaign. Golden Dawn's top leaders were arrested in 2013 immediately after Fyssas's death but were eventually released after a maximum 18 months in pre-trial detention. Even the man who confessed to stabbing Fyssas, retired truck driver Yiorgos Roupakias, was conditionally released a year ago. In the last parliamentary election in September 2015, the neo-Nazis lost about 9,000 votes nationwide from their tally in the previous vote in January, but still finished third with 18 lawmakers. Golden Dawn recently dropped to 17 lawmakers and fourth place in parliament behind the Socialists after one of its MPs defected over a local constituency row.
© AFP

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Employers' Hijab Ban not 'Direct Discrimination,' European Court Says

14/3/2017- A Muslim woman who was fired over her wish to wear an Islamic headscarf at her job in Belgium did not suffer from direct discrimination, according to the highest court in the European Union. Because her employer had a general rule against religious or political displays, the court says, the woman wasn't treated differently than other workers. The decision by the European Court of Justice is among the most high-profile developments in a string of public and legal debates in Europe over the hijab — debates that have played out against a backdrop of rising nationalism and anti-Muslim sentiment. The dispute at the heart of today's ruling began more than 10 years ago, when receptionist Samira A. was told not to wear a hijab by her employer, security company G4S. That company and others have argued that they should be able to accommodate their customers and clients who don't want to deal with an employee who wears a headscarf.

When she was hired in 2003, Achbita did not wear a hijab to work. But when she told her bosses three years later that she wanted to begin wearing one, they refused to allow it, citing an unwritten rule meant to present neutrality to the firm's clients. Two months after the dispute began, G4S' unwritten rule became a company policy that stated, "employees are prohibited, in the workplace, from wearing any visible signs of their political, philosophical or religious beliefs and/or from engaging in any observance of such beliefs." The official rule was approved on May 29, 2006; one day before it went into effect on June 13, Achbita was fired. Achbita challenged her firing in court, saying she had been discriminated against based on her religion — and the case began winding its way toward the EU's highest court.

In its ruling, the court found that the company's rule "refers to the wearing of visible signs of political, philosophical or religious beliefs and therefore covers any manifestation of such beliefs without distinction." Saying that there's no sign the rule was applied differently to Achbita than any other employee, the court stated, "Accordingly, such an internal rule does not introduce a difference of treatment that is directly based on religion or belief." In its findings, the court noted that "it is not, however, inconceivable" for a Belgian court to conclude Achbita was the victim of indirect discrimination. The key, the court wrote, would be if a company rule "introduces a difference of treatment" that results "in persons adhering to a particular religion or belief being put at a particular disadvantage." "However, such indirect discrimination may be objectively justified by a legitimate aim," the high court said, such as an employer's desire for neutrality that prompts a ban on political, philosophical and religious symbols.
© NPR

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Spain: Why far-right populism hasn't caught on

Europe’s far-right is on the rise. The trend is nationalist and anti-immigrant. Extremist parties are poised to make gains in elections across the continent, from France to Holland to Germany.

14/3/2017- But in Spain, no such movement has gained traction. And you’d think it would, given years of recession, high unemployment and an influx of foreigners. To understand why Spain bucks the trend you might want to visit Villacañas, south of Madrid. This flat, dusty village was once abuzz with the sound of ... doors. Door factories. During Spain’s home-building boom in the 2000s, Villacañas was the main door supplier for the country, cranking out tens of thousands of them a day.

Then the bubble burst.
As you drive into town there are signs of a ruined economy everywhere: huge abandoned factories line the road, their windows busted out, their loading docks shuttered. Villacañas’s mayor, Santiago Garcia, says it’s been like this for the ten years he’s been in office. He worries about high unemployment and all the young people who continue to leave town. But one thing that’s not even on his radar, he says: the possibility of a far-right backlash at the polls. “I think a far-right, xenophobic, populist movement has to have effective leadership to gain ground,” he says. “And its messages [need to] coincide with what people are feeling.” In Spain, apparently, the far-right has neither an effective message nor messenger. There is one far-right party, Vox, running candidates. But it has a tiny following. “Here in the last local elections,” Garcia says, “Vox got three or maybe five votes. Not more.” Nationwide, Vox fared just as badly.

Given the hard-right swing across the European continent, what makes Spain different?
Folks outside Villacañas’s busiest lunch spot offer their take. Jesus Higueras, a 52-year-old handyman living on unemployment benefits, gets by on about $450 a month and free food from the town’s food bank. He says far-right ideas remind people of Franco — as in General Francisco Franco, the dictator who ruled Spain for half a century until 1975. “No one wants to return to those days,” he says. “It took a huge effort for this town to recover. A huge effort.” They had to recover from the oppression, but also from the poverty and isolation that marked Franco’s reign, he adds. Spain welcomed immigrants during the boom years that briefly made Villacañas rich. And even though fortunes have changed, no one here seems to blame outsiders.

Elena Justo, who’s also waiting outside the food bank, says she doesn’t care if someone’s Roma, Romanian, Ecuadorean or Peruvian. “We are all human beings in a bad situation,” she says. “These are not times to start discriminating.” But there’s another reason the far-right is having trouble rallying against non-Spaniards, says Mayor Garcia. “Most of our immigrants came from the east, from Romania,” he says. “We also had people from all over Latin America. Then the crisis hit and they just left.” Today, Garcia says, immigrants might make up about one percent of the town and are well-integrated. At a door factory that’s still open, called San Rafael, general director Miguel Angel Cepeda tells me they have just one foreigner on staff, from Argentina. Out of 241 employees. Business, Cepeda explains, is on the upswing, but not enough to lure foreign labor back — especially with so many locals still unemployed. Some locals, out of desperation, have returned to what they did before doors: farming. But with a twist.

In a small warehouse on the outskirts of the village, Angeles Pontes loads her organically grown lentils into a packaging machine. The lentils are bound for Germany. “Some 120 farmers are getting support to expand and diversify into crops like this,” she says, “and to embrace sustainable practices, like creating wetlands on parts of their land.” The underwriter? The European Union. The EU has also pumped nearly $1 million into worker retraining here, churning out plumbers, electricians, forklift drivers — all of which makes the EU very popular in Villacañas. “I’m sure that Spain is still thrilled to be in EU,” says Benita Prous, sitting at a downtown café. “Even if they set all the rules, it could be that being a member boosts our self-esteem a bit.” Self-esteem, and savings accounts. For populists preaching against the EU and immigration, this is hardly fertile ground.
© Public Radio International

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German Neo-Nazi group jailed for terror attack plans against refugees

A court on Wednesday sentenced members of a neo-Nazi group to up to five years in prison for forming a "terror organisation" that planned to attack a home for asylum seekers.

15/3/2017- The four - three men and a 24-year-old woman identified as Denise Vanessa G. - were arrested in May 2015, two days before they planned to strike at the migrant shelter in the eastern state of Saxony. Known as the "Old School Society", their choice of weapon was modified "pyrotechnic explosives, particularly in the form of fire and nail bombs", which they were planning to hurl into a refugee home, the prosecutor had said. The group had therefore "accepted that people could be killed," chief prosecutor Jörn Hauschild had told the court. The ringleader Andreas H., 58, was sentenced to four and a half years in prison while his second-in-command Marcus W., 41, got five years. The group's "spokesman" Olaf G., 31, was given three years while the only woman obtained three years and 10 months. The sentences were however more lenient than the four and a half to seven years sought by the prosecutor.

The four met on the internet in 2014. In preparation for the attacks, they bought large quantities of banned fireworks from the Czech Republic and subsequently decided to cover the explosives with a layer of nails to make them more lethal. Hauschild described their plan for the Saxony attack as very concrete, adding that the authorities had learned the details from chat logs and phone intercepts. Media websites show group emblems popular in the neo-Nazi scene, such as bloody hatchets and skulls with the slogan: "One bullet is not enough." Amateur videos posted on YouTube and attributed to the group also use racist and xenophobic slurs in appeals for new recruits.

A record influx of asylum seekers to Germany has fuelled a sharp rise in the number of far-right attacks, with Saxony state gaining special notoriety for such violence. In 2016, there were about 3,500 attacks against refugees and asylum seekers in Germany - ten each day, on average - injuring 560 people including 43 children, interior ministry data show. Saxony, with just five percent of the German population, was the scene of 437 attacks last year, according to the RAA, a victims' assistance organisation, after 477 in 2015. Another extremist group in Freital, Saxony is currently on trial for five different attacks targeting refugee homes and left-leaning politicians. The seven men and one woman face charges of starting a terror cell, attempted murder, causing grievous bodily harm, causing explosions and property damage.
© The Local - Germany

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Germany plans to fine social media sites over hate speech

14/3/2017- Germany plans a new law calling for social networks like Facebook (FB.O) to remove slanderous or threatening online postings quickly or face fines of up to 50 million euros ($53 mln). "This (draft law) sets out binding standards for the way operators of social networks deal with complaints and obliges them to delete criminal content," Justice Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement announcing the planned legislation on Tuesday. Failure to comply could see a social media company fined up to 50 million euros, and the company's chief representative in Germany fined up to 5 million euros. Germany already has some of the world's toughest hate speech laws covering defamation, slander, public incitement to commit crimes and threats of violence, backed up by prison sentences for Holocaust denial or inciting hatred against minorities. It now aims to update these rules for the social media age.

The issue has taken on more urgency amid concern about the spread of fake news and racist content on social media, which often targets more than 1 million migrants who arrived in Germany in the last two years, as well as members of the Jewish community. The Central Council of Jews in Germany welcomed the new law. "We do not want an internet police or thought control," the council's president, Josef Schuster, said. "But when hatred is stoked, and the legal norms in our democracy threaten to lose their relevance, then we need to intervene." In late 2015, Germany pressed Facebook, Twitter (TWTR.N) and Google's (GOOGL.O) YouTube to sign up to a code of conduct, which included a pledge to delete hate speech from their websites within 24 hours. The draft rules would turn the code of conduct into legal obligations to delete or remove illegal content, to report regularly on the volume of filed complaints and they also demand that sites make it easier for users to complain about offensive content.

Rush To Respond
A survey by the justice ministry's youth protection agency, released on Tuesday, found that YouTube was able to remove around 90 percent of illegal postings within a week, while Facebook deleted or blocked just 39 percent of content deemed criminal under the law and Twitter only 1 percent. Social networks have raced to improve technology and user feedback on their sites to detect and remove abusive content. "The draft law has only just been announced and we are analyzing the details now," a YouTube spokesman said in a statement. "We will continue to improve our systems to ensure that illegal hate speech is dealt with quickly." Twitter declined to comment on the proposed law. It has responded in recent months with automated tools to identify profiles engaging in abusive behavior, new filtering options to screen out anonymous profiles or to block offensive content, and by responding directly to user complaints.

Facebook was not immediately available to comment on the draft law, elements of which had been signaled previously. In January, Facebook announced a partnership with German third-party fact-checking organization Correctiv, promising to update its social media platforms in Germany "within weeks" to reduce the dissemination of fake news. Maas and other members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling coalition have called for social networks to be held to higher content standards demanded of media broadcasters instead of hands-off rules applied to telecom operators. Among Germany's political establishment, there is concern that fake news and racist content on social media could influence public opinion in this year's election campaign. The government, however, would have to move very quickly if it wants to get the law passed before campaigning for the September election begins.
© Reuters

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Germany: Thousands demonstrate in Saarbrücken against NPD extremists

Thousands of people have joined peaceful protests against the convention of the far-right NPD party in the western German city of Saarbrücken. The party had almost been banned earlier in the year for its extremist views.

12/3/2017- The anti-NPD (National Democratic Party) rallies drew support from local residents and representatives from churches, unions, interest groups and other parties. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the premier of the small federal state of Saarland, of which Saarbrücken is the capital, was among those protesting against the NPD convention. She told reporters that she was there to oppose right-wing extremism, racism and anti-Semitism. Earlier in the day, a number of demonstrators attempted to block NPD politicians from accessing the party conference, resulting in a delay for attendees of the convention.

'Hostile' towards the constitution
Considered the most extremist among far-right parties, the NPD was almost banned at the beginning of the year. The highest constitutional court stopped just short of an all-out ban while still remarking that the party and its activities were hostile towards the German constitution. The party convention was expected to deal with the ramifications of this assessment, and evaluate what strategy the small party wants to adopt moving forward. The NPD has attracted many neo-Nazis in the past, as the far-right continues to harbor violent individuals; however, its more moderate adherents might defect to the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party when general elections take place in September. The AfD is currently trending above 10 percent.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Malta: Escaped migrant was kicked as he resisted re-arrest, witness recalls

14/3/2017- Gordon Pickard, a former soldier who was charged with the murder of an escaped detainee, has this morning appeared in court testifying against two other soldiers who are facing the same charges over an incident which occurred in 2012. The 37-year-old Lance Bombardier from Zabbar was called to testify before magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera in the case against Sergeant Mark Anthony Dimech and Gunner Clive Cuschieri. The case revolves round the investigation into the death of escaped Malian migrant, 32-year-old Mamadou Kamara. Mr Kamara had died in the back of a detention service van after being repeatedly kicked in the groin. Forensic expert Mario Scerri had established that the Malian had died as a result of the blunt trauma he sustained, which in turn triggered a vasovagal attack.

Back in November 2015, the Court of Criminal Appeal presided by Judge Edwina Grima, overturned Mr Pickard's conviction for suppressing evidence, holding that he had been convicted of the wrong offence. Taking to the witness stand this morning, Mr Pickard said that at the time of the murder, he was stationed at Hal Safi detention centre and had been in charge of the 12 man shift on duty at the time of Mr Kamara's death. He explained that the staff included detention officers and members of AFM. He told the court that Sergeant Mark Anthony Dimech was the lance bombardier in charge of that shift. Asked to explain what actions would be taken against inmates who caused trouble, he said that usually, troublemakers would be put in isolation, a small cell with iron bars. He said this would be used both for medical isolations and misbehaviour cases.

It would be the person in charge who takes the decision to put someone in isolation, in this case, Mr Dimech. It appears that on the day of the alleged murder, Kamara was causing trouble and the other inmates would not want him close to them. He told the court that on that day, his shift started at around 6:20pm at block B. Mr Casha had given him a hand over and told him they were taking care of an immigrant who was mentally unstable. He was told the migrant was "crazy, taking people's things and at one point even asked for a joint." Questioned by Inspector Keith Arnaud, the man said he did not inform Sgt. Dimech of the trouble which erupted as he wanted to investigate the case himself. He informed Mr Dimech of the matter at around 8:30pm. The witness recalled how Mr Kamara had asked to be taken to the polyclinic. Pickard, Dimech and Cuschieri had driven the man to a polyclinic. The detainee was placed in a cage in the back of the van.

When asked to describe the man's behaviour, Mr Pickard said that the Malian was misbehaving. After 45 minutes the doctors certified him as healthy but made an appointment for a psychiatrist to see him the next day. When they returned him to B Block, a commotion broke out because the other immigrants didn't want him back. They said, the witness explained, they were scared that he was going to hurt them. Mr Pickard said that it was Mr Dimech's decision to have the man locked up in the isolation room. "I opened the gate to let him out while another immigrant was talking to Mr Dimech. At this point I had the gate keys in my hand. Then, Mr Kamara suddenly ran off." The witness said he chased the detainee for around 200 metres but Mr Kamara had then jumped over the fence. The officers had gone out in a detention centre van to try and recapture the escaped migrant.

Mr Pickard joined the search team some ten minutes later using his personal car. On his way back, he saw Mr Kamara climbing a wall in a side street. He stopped to tell him to halt. Mr Kamara said something which the witness did not understand and he leapt over the wall. At this point, he told Mr Dimech to go around because he was going to go over the next wall. The search carried on until he saw gunner Cuschieri kick the man twice in the abdomen and head. "I told him to slow down while Kamara had been lashing out at the officers with his arms and legs", he explained. The migrant was eventually placed in an armlock as they had no handcuffs available at the time. "Kamara struggled as he was being placed in the van. Dimech held his legs while I held one of his arms. Cuschieri closed the cage. Sgt. Dimech and I put him in the back of the van. When we sat him down in the van he attacked us again."

The witness then called the detention centre to ensure handcuffs were ready at the gate. When they arrived at Safi detention centre, Dimech had cuffed Kamara's feet whilst the other soldiers cuffed his hands. They drove to Paola polyclinic after that. Mr Dimech went to see a doctor as he had bruises to treat. Mr Pickard, in the meantime, went to get a wheelchair. He got back to the van some time later and saw that the immigrant lay unresponsive. "With experience we know that sometimes immigrants don't answer and wait for us to open the door to escape. I called the doctor down and when he arrived he said the migrant's dead." The witness said that Clive Cuschieri kicked the immigrant as he was trying to get up, he said. Defence lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell objected to the prosecution making reference to a statement made by Cuschieri in the absence of a lawyer.

But inspector Arnoud said he had released the statement after consulting with a lawyer. "I had released a second statement after being reminded about something which I left out of the first statement", said Pickard. Asked to clarify what it was that he had been reminded about, he said that it was about Cuschieri kicking the immigrant. He insisted that he had forgotten to mention it the first time. Lawyer Joe Giglio then led the cross-examination and asked about Dimech's decision to put Kamara in isolation. "10 years of experience had taught us what to do in these circumstances. We didn't have time to consult our superiors. Mr Dimech came down to try and calm the situation down as the immigrants were all shaking the bars and banging on them aggressively." "If we hadn't placed him in isolation, I don't know what would have happened," the witness insisted. The lawyer then asked about the escape. Mr Pickard explained that the victim had ignored orders to stop. When specifically asked about the kicking, he said it was all very confusing. The case continues in April.
© The Malta Independent

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Hungary: Hunger strike in migrant detention centre

13/3/2017- Nearly 100 migrants began a hunger strike on Monday at a detention centre in Hungary, demanding that they be allowed to leave, the country's immigration authority said. The Immigration and Citizenship Bureau said 94 of the 102 migrants in the Bekescsaba camp on the Romanian border were taking part. "Most of the hunger strikers are under Dublin proceedings as they unlawfully left the country of first entry into the European Union," the bureau told Reuters in an emailed statement. "The hunger strikers signalled their demands in writing, primarily complaining about being detained and asked to be allowed to leave," it said. "They complained about being fingerprinted as they have no intention to stay in Hungary."

An online plea for help by "Zanyar Faraj", claiming to be a spokesperson for the migrants in Bekescsaba, called for better conditions there. It said many inmates were sick and depressed. "Our lawyers went on a human rights monitoring mission to the Bekescsaba detention camp a month ago," said Marta Pardavi, co-chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, an asylum rights group. "Most (migrants) come from circumstances that makes it likely they suffer from psychological trauma. As far as we know the situation in the camp is calm for now." Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been a vocal opponent of the wave of migration into Europe, which he says threatens the socioeconomic makeup of the continent, and his government is building fences to keep migrants out.
© Reuters

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UK: Yorkshire Post wins ruling after complaint by English Democrat leader

17/3/2017- The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), has backed the Yorkshire Post, following a complaint by English Democrat chairman, Robin Tilbrook. Tilbrook claimed that the paper had breached Clause 1 (accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in a report about the Batley and Spen by-election. In the article, the journalist stated that the vote was “made all the more fraught by the involvement of far-right groups”, continuing “the English Democrats and the National Front are both fielding candidates”. The party’s chairman said that the article created the “inaccurate impression that the English Democracts were a ‘far-right’ political party.” He said that they had membership “originating from across the political spectrum”, all of whom were “converts to moderate, reasonable and patriotic English nationalism.”

The paper argued that a line-break in the print article, meant that the party hadn’t been directly labelled as a far-right organisation and that their inclusion in the article was in the context of the wider reporting of wider tensions in the local community. It also provided example of how the activities of the English Democrats and “individuals closely associated with it” had demonstrated that the party could “reasonably be defined as ‘far-right’.” While IPSO didn’t accept the line break argument, it did rule in favour of the newspaper because:

“… the newspaper had provided sufficient examples, of activities and speech associated with the English Democrats in support of its characterisation of the party as ‘far-right’. Given this, and in light of the context in which the reference to the English Democrats was made, the Committee did not consider that the reference to the party was significantly misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1.”
© Prolific North

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UK: The reality for asylum seekers in Glasgow

Hate crime, hunger and sexual exploitation

16/3/2017- The desperate plight of destitute asylum seekers in Glasgow has been told to MSPs. Race and religious hate crimes, homelessness, hunger and risk of sexual exploitation is the reality described for men and women refused the right to remain and left with no access to public funds. The Equalities and Human Rights Committee at Holyrood has heard from the group Scottish Faith Action on Refugees, who gathered evidence from people providing support for asylum seekers in Glasgow. The MSPs were told that people are dependent on the shelters and on foodbanks but even then much of what they are given cannot be cooked because they are homeless. While there is a night shelter for men there is no equivalent facility for single women leaving them reliant on the charity of friends or often strangers to offer them shelter.

A volunteer at the Glasgow night shelter for destitute asylum seekers, told of the help offered to men in the city. The volunteer said: “We have the overnight use of a tv/dining room, a kitchen, washing facilities and a large hall where the men sleep on good quality mattresses with plenty of bedding. “We would very much like to offer the same provision for destitute women but we have had enormous difficulty finding premises which will accept women. We will not give up in our search.” The charity said many of the asylum seekers spend the day in trying to find refuge at warm places like public libraries around the city. It said: “This can make libraries places for racist and xenophobic hate crime.”

Lynnda Wardle, Director of Interfaith Glasgow, said: “For those who are destitute. Most will not have access to cooking facilities to cook their own meals and to cook food that they like to eat.” She said for women there is less support and they are a great risk of exploitation. She said: “Single women are really at risk in this enforced destitution cycle. At the moment there is no official shelter for women. “Positive Action in Housing can help with temporary short term accommodation and there are two flats for women that can be used for destitute asylum seeking women but these can only accommodate four women.”
© The Evening Times

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UK: Banned Neo-Nazi group to 'relaunch' as National Socialist Network

British far-right group proscribed by the government under terrorism laws to rebrand itself

13/3/2017- Neo-Nazi group National Action, who became the first British far-right group to be banned by the government under new terrorism laws, is set to relaunch under a new name, according to reports. The group, described as a "racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic organisation" by Home Secretary Amber Rudd, are planning an imminent rebranding under new name the National Socialist Network, reports the Hope Not Hate charity. The new group is being set up by Ben Raymond, a former leading member of National Action who hopes to create a "nationalist revolution". A website for the group has reportedly already been registered in Panama.

The move to recreate a new group away from National Action follows on from the government making it will be illegal for anyone to recruit for it, be a member of, or in any way support National Action, including displaying National Action flags, posters or banners. The group previously garnered attention in 2015 after staging a series of "White Man Marches" in UK cities and for praising the murder of Labour MP Jop Cox by white Nationalist Thomas Mair Speaking to IBTimes UK following the government ban in December 2016, Raymond described his plan to recreate a new group as National Action as a brand is "not a hill any of us are willing to die on". He added: "If you are asking if the ban will prevent our former supporters from continuing political activity then obviously not ... People who were in National Action knew what it meant to face heavy adversity."

Matthew Collins, Research Director at Hope Not Hate, said: "We have always been concerned that those behind National Action posed a very real danger when it came to influencing young people. Ben Raymond, we believe, helped push people to the very edges of terrorism before pulling himself back and allowing others to be trapped by their stupidity. "We have also long held concern about the sexualised nature of the group and its attitude towards things like the use of rape as punishment. A look into the 'interests' of Raymond has done little to dissuade us of that."
© The International Business Times - UK

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Ireland: Populism is flowing into Irish mainstream (comment)

From water charges to public service pay policy, our largest parties are shifting ground in the name of expediency, writes Colm McCarthy

The mainstream European media have been venting about the rise of a new populism, concerned that far-right anti-EU parties will do well in elections in the Netherlands this week, in France in April and May, and later on in Italy. But they are downplaying an important political truth: populism is as old as the hills, nothing new anywhere in Europe, Ireland included.

12/3/2017- Comparisons of Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump and the UK Independence Party to the fascist movements of the inter-war period are overblown. There have long been populist parties, and populist tendencies in the mainstream parties. France's Front National made its first electoral breakthrough as far back as 1987. Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party first propelled him to the prime minister's office in 1994 while in the Netherlands, where the Freedom Party is polling well ahead of Wednesday's election, its precursor first polled strongly in 2002. The Austrian Freedom Party attained participation in government two years earlier. The economic downturn since 2008 has fuelled the rise of right-populism in Europe but did not summon it into existence.

Populism in its current manifestation in these countries has an anti-immigrant tinge and increasingly an anti-EU dimension too. The distinguishing feature in economic policy is, and has always been, a short time-horizon and simple solutions to complex problems (build a wall, take back control, keep out imports). In Italy, there is a real prospect of a right-populist majority whenever the election is held - it cannot be later than May 2018. Parties opposed to Italian membership of the eurozone, the European Union, or both, have been receiving the support of around half the electorate in recent opinion polls. But the greatest significance of the populist drift is in the impact on the policy positions of mainstream parties. Even where the insurgent parties fail to win power, they already exercise profound influence on those parties already in government.

This has been most dramatically illustrated in Britain, where today's Tory party has embraced a narrow English nationalism beyond anything contemplated by Margaret Thatcher. The price of marginalising the UK Independence Party has been the adoption of its policies, including the hardest form of Brexit and an anti-immigrant stance. The Republican Party in the United States is now overtly protectionist for the first time since the 1930s. In Germany, the threat from the new right-wing Alternative für Deutschland party has provoked a rightward shift in Angela Merkel's centrist coalition, which faces national elections in September. Something similar has happened in the Netherlands and elsewhere. A degree of capitulation appears to be the preferred strategy of the European centrist parties in the face of the populist onslaught.

Since no significant voices in Irish politics favour anti-Europe policies, or have taken an anti- immigrant stance, the populist advance seems to have passed Ireland by. The diminished popularity of mainstream parties at recent elections has seen voters turn to new groupings on the left, or to non-party independents. Despite the severity of the economic downturn from 2008 to 2012, there has been no new Irish right-populist party. But there is more to populism than a dislike for immigrants or the EU. Since this country's exit from the Troika bail-out programme at the end of 2013, there has been a markedly populist shift in the economic policy positions of all mainstream Irish political parties.

This is best illustrated by the water charges debacle. No serious person believes that water supply and wastewater disposal is anything other than a natural monopoly utility, to be organised along the same lines as electricity or gas and paid for by users. Ireland is the only EU country to have declined to organise some form of user charging for residential water supply. But the three largest parties in Dail Eireann, Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein, have now completed, with varying speed and elegance, a full 180-degree pirouette on the issue. All three were at one stage in favour of residential charging. Sinn Fein was first to reverse engines, followed by Fianna Fail, and Fine Gael now appears to have embraced the indefinite deferral of a proper charging scheme. The Greens and Labour seem to be sticking to their earlier support for charges but that will make no difference to the outcome. There will be no scheme of charging sufficient to fund even half the costs of the system for many years, or until the EU enforces compliance with its rules.

Irish Water must now be utterly demoralised: its funding model has been undermined and nobody seems to know how its capital programme is to be financed. The Exchequer will presumably have to fund the cost from general taxation, along with whatever fines may be imposed from Brussels for non-compliance with the Water Framework Directive. Decisions in principle to extend charges to urban residential users were first taken in the early 1990s, a quarter of a century ago. This has been one long and shambolic exercise in capitulation to political expediency. A more recent example has been the unwillingness of all parties to face down the challenges to public service pay policy, initially through the mishandling of the Garda pay dispute. The concessions made to gardai have undermined the Lansdowne Road Agreement and threaten the control of public spending in the years ahead.

Since the minority Government assumed office last year, there has been a complete disappearance from political discourse of any concern about the continuing additions to state debt. The recent regime of very low borrowing costs for government is likely to come to an end during 2017. The European Central Bank has been purchasing government debt on a large scale in the secondary market, driving down debt service costs. This has been particularly beneficial to the heavily-indebted countries, which can re-borrow maturing debt at low cost. This ECB policy cannot last forever, interest rates for government have already risen and further rises are inevitable, as the chief executive of the National Treasury Management Agency pointed out to a Leinster House committee last week.

The level of outstanding state debt is about 2.8 times the Government's annual revenue. This is one of the highest ratios in Europe, lower than Greece but similar to Italy. A comfortable ratio would be about half the current figure and it will take a decade of decent economic growth and a period of budget surpluses to achieve the necessary reduction. But the political class appears to have concluded that Ireland's public finance crisis is over, and that future budgets will feature tax reductions and expenditure giveaways. If Brexit goes poorly from an Irish perspective, and the interest costs on re-borrowing continue to rise, the need for fiscal restraint could become urgent very quickly.

Without benefit of an actual populist party, the Irish political leadership, in Government and Opposition, has reverted rapidly to type, and has slipped back into a distinctly populist style of thinking about economic policy. The external threats from Brexit and from corporate tax changes are substantial and there is little an Irish government can do to avert them. But the damage can be contained by ensuring sustainable public finances, ideally without a return visit from the Troika.
© The Irish Independent

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Italy: Anti-far right clashes in Naples trigger political storm

Italy's government vowed on Sunday to defend far-right Northern League leader Matteo Salvini's right to free speech after violent clashes marred his first rally in Naples, proud capital of the country's poor south.

12/3/2017- "Something very significant happened yesterday which we have to reflect on," Interior Minister Marco Minniti said after the violence between masked protesters and riot police erupted on the margins of an otherwise peaceful demonstration in the sprawling port city on Saturday. "In a democracy it is fundamental that everyone has the right to speak and it is even more fundamental for those whose views are furthest away from our own," Minniti said. Minniti's intervention came amid a row over whether Naples's leftist mayor, Luigi de Magistris, had encouraged activists bent on preventing Salvini speaking. Saturday's violence came after a handful of demonstrators broke away from a protest march. They began hurling stones, flares, smoke bombs and Molotov cocktails at the police, who replied with baton-and-shield charges and tear gas. The confrontation continued for over an hour, during which cars and rubbish carts were vandaliZed or overturned. Police made three arrests and were looking for three other people reported to have been involved.

Mayor 'should quit'
Salvini, an anti-immigration, anti-euro populist who attracts protests whenever he ventures out of his base in Italy's wealthy north, accused de Magistris of trying to censor him and threatened to file a legal complaint for defamation. In the run-up to Saturday's clashes, the independent left-winger had branded Salvini a fascist xenophobe with contempt for southern Italy. He also tried to use his mayoral powers to deny the far-right leader a venue for his first rally in Naples. He was overruled by the local prefect, acting on the orders of the interior ministry. "De Magistris should resign instead of accusing me of being a Nazi-fascist," Salvini said on Sunday. "Nothing like this has ever been seen in Naples and the worst thing about it is the mayor's support for it." De Magistris's handling of Salvini's visit also came under fire from the media, constitutional experts and former premier Matteo Renzi. "Handing Salvini the stamp of being the defender of free speech and the right of political leaders to voice their opinions was, frankly, an unthinkable short-circuit," Francesco Casavola, a former president of Italy's Constitutional Court, told La Repubblica. Renzi accused the Naples mayor of flirting with the violent fringe of left wing politics.

Black Bloc and Ultras
De Magistris, who had voiced support for the anti-Salvini protesters earlier in the week, rejected the charges as "lies". "I have never supported violence but I do stand with the people of this city who have been betrayed by powers who have blood on their hands." He refused to retract his attacks on Salvini. "We didn't try to stop him speaking but we did not want him in any city building because his politics are offensive to this city, racist ad xenophobic."
© AFP

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ELECTIONS IN THE NETHERLANDS March 15, 2017

In Dutch Vote, First Of 3 Key European Elections, Populism Takes Second Place

16/3/2017- Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte dealt a sharp defeat to right-wing nationalist Geert Wilders in what was seen as the first of three electoral tests of populism on the European continent this year. Rutte's center-right VVD party took 33 out of 150 seats in the lower house of the Dutch parliament. Wilders' Party for Freedom got 20 seats and came in second. The left-leaning Dutch Labor Party, took a major hit, losing 29 seats. The Green Left Party gained 10. A new coalition government will be formed, but most Dutch political parties have said they won't work with the Party for Freedom. Wilders had hoped to notch a third big populist victory in the West since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union last summer and Donald Trump won last November in the U.S. Wilders ran on an anti-immigrant, anti-Islam platform, which included vows to close all mosques and ban the Quran. He had led in the polls for nearly two years before slipping in the last week or so before the election.

"The Netherlands, after Brexit, after the American elections, said 'whoa!' to the wrong kind of populism," Rutte said Wednesday. Still, Wilders' party picked up five additional seats in parliament — and the man known for his bleached-blonde pompadour vowed he would not go away. "It's not the 30 seats I hoped for, but we have gained seats," Wilders said. "This patriotic spring will happen." Even as he voted Wednesday, he warned, "The genie will not go back into the bottle." Many Dutch who voted for parties other than Wilders' exhaled when they awoke to the news of his defeat this morning. Waiting for a bus in The Hague, Tamara Venema said she was happy to see Rutte come out on top and the Netherlands not follow the path of the U.K. and the U.S. "I'm very glad that happened, because I was afraid Wilders would win and — after Trump and after Brexit — we were going to be the next polarized country," she said.

In the end, Wilders' policies and rhetoric – he had called Moroccans "scum" and suggested the Netherlands deport some – proved too extreme for voters in a small country that was built on foreign trade and immigration and has been traditionally viewed as liberal and tolerant. Wilders' second-place finish also played well in European capitals. Wilders had repeatedly said he wanted to pull the Netherlands out of the EU. French President Francois Hollande called Rutte's win a "clear victory against extremism." The next electoral battle focusing on populism will take place in France, where Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, is running for president. The first round of voting is set for next month.
© NPR

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European leaders breathe sigh of relief over Dutch election results

Co-opting of far-right sentiments, combined with an aggressive police dispersal of a protest by Turkish-Dutch, could have buoyed the centrist candidate. But European leaders are very relieved Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte won reelection.

16/3/2017- Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte won reelection by a wide margin on Wednesday, defeating anti-Islam and Euroskeptic candidate Geert Wilders in a vote that was seen across Europe as a crucial test of democratic liberalism. With turnout at 80.8 percent, the highest in a decade, Mr. Rutte’s center-right VVD Party captured 33 of the 150 parliamentary seats – down from 41 in 2012 – while Mr. Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) took 20 seats and centrist Christian Democrats and D66 parties won 19 each, giving shape to what will likely become the governing coalition. Wilders said that while he had fallen short of the victory predicted by many polls for weeks leading up to the election, his was “not a party that has lost.” “We gained seats. That’s a result to be proud of,” he said, according to Reuters.

The results triggered an outpouring of relief and congratulations from European leaders, many of whom echoed Rutte’s declaration of an “evening in which the Netherlands, after Brexit, after the American elections, said 'stop' to the wrong kind of populism.” European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker called the outcome “an inspiration.” German chancellor Angela Merkel said it was “a good day for democracy.” And leaders from Sweden, Norway, Estonia, and Lithuania also offered congratulations. But others may see plenty of reason for sobriety, as the election run-up saw Rutte and other mainstream politicians take what some saw as a worrisome turn, as The Christian Science Monitor’s Sara Miller Llana reported this week:

[N]ow the mainstream politicians have been criticized for adopting an “us versus them” sentiment to pander to far-right voters. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte penned in a national newspaper in January: “People who refuse to adapt, criticize our customs, and reject our values. Who harass gays, yell at women in short skirts, or call regular Dutch people racists. I completely understand that people would think: ‘If you reject our country so fundamentally, I’d prefer you’d leave.’ Because I feel the same way. Act normally, or get out.”

Cas Mudde, a Dutch expert on far-right populism at the University of Georgia, says this language and media coverage of it keep Islamophobia a central issue, even though polling shows Dutch Islamophobia is average for Europe. He sees a mismatch between Wilders’s rhetoric and public attitudes. And almost no politicians offer an alternative narrative today, he says, “or actually point out that overall the multicultural society works pretty well, that the vast, vast majority of Muslims are integrated.” Others raised questions about whether the outcome should be read as a signal of Europe’s direction.

Mabel Berezin, professor of sociology at Cornell University, told Reuters that Wilders, who has served in parliament for two decades, “does not represent a populist wave.” “Rather, he is part of the political landscape and how his party fares does not tell us much about European populism,” she told the news agency. “The real bellwether election will be Marine Le Pen's quest for the French presidency, starting April 23 – that is where the populist action is and that is what we should be focusing upon.” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavužošlu, who was blocked from entering the Netherlands last week in what quickly turned into a fierce war of words with Dutch authorities, issued dark predictions about the results. “There is no difference between the social democrat [party] and the fascist [Geert] Wilders. They are of the same mentality,” he said, according to the Associated Press. The Islamophobia of European parties, he added, was taking the continent “toward an abyss.”
© The Christian Science Monitor

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Exit poll: Dutch anti-Muslim leader fails to capture top spot in elections

15/3/2017- The Dutch political establishment appeared Wednesday to fend off a challenge from anti-Muslim firebrand Geert Wilders, according to initial exit polls, potentially blunting the momentum of anti-establishment politicians across Europe. The result, if confirmed by the actual election results, meant that Wilders would remain a powerful voice on immigration issues in the Netherlands. But it would leave in place Prime Minister Mark Rutte and do little to alter the fundamental dynamic in a country unhappy with the status quo but deeply divided among many political parties.  Wilders faded after topping opinion polls for most of the past 18 months, as Dutch voters appeared not to fully embrace an election message that described some Moroccans as “scum” and called for banning the Koran and shuttering mosques.

His muted showing was likely to comfort pro-European Union leaders in France and Germany who face political insurgencies after years of economic stagnation and strain from a refugee influx. Italy may also hold elections this year with similar dynamics. But Wilders still gained seats, reconfirming his role as a sharp thorn in the side of the nation’s more centrist leaders. “Rutte is far away from rid of me!!” Wilders wrote on Twitter shortly after the initial exit polls were released. He appeared to acknowledge that he had not bested his rival. Taken together, the initial results appeared to show a nation that agreed that it disliked the status quo — but not about an alternative direction. The ruling center-right Party for Freedom and Democracy remained the largest party in the exit poll, but it was on track to lose nearly a quarter of its seats in parliament, forcing Rutte to broaden his coalition across the political spectrum. His coalition partner, the center-left Labour Party, may be wiped out as a political force, plummeting in initial forecasts from 38 seats to nine out of a total of 150.

Even as Wilders confronted limits to his ballot-box appeal, his agenda-setting power remained evident after many mainstream politicians tacked rightward during the campaign to advocate for stricter limits on immigrants. His Party for Freedom was forecast to build slightly on its current 15 seats in the lower house of parliament, tying it with the centrist Democrats 66 party, and the center-right Christian Democratic Appeal. The center-left Green-Left party also appeared to do well, potentially quadrupling its seats. The likely formation of a broad, weak coalition across the political spectrum could give extra ammunition to Wilders even if he is shut out from power. Rutte has repeatedly said he would not work with the peroxide-haired firebrand. Rutte also significantly toughened his stance on immigrants during the campaign in a bid to capture Wilders’s supporters, telling immigrants in January to “act normal or go away.”

But the Wilders’s showing will still probably slow the momentum of French anti-immigrant leader Marine Le Pen, who, if she captures her nation’s presidency in May, would try to lead France out of the E.U., shattering the bloc in the process. German leaders also face a challenge as the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party stands to capture seats in parliament. The initial results were greeted with relief outside Dutch borders. “Large majority of Dutch voters have rejected anti European populists. That's good news,” the German Foreign Ministry posted on its official Twitter account. The tone of the Dutch campaign dispirited some citizens who want a welcoming attitude toward refugees and immigrants.

“They’re not making the point what they want to do. They’re just saying what they’re against,” said Arieke Maljaars, 32, a teacher at an elementary school in the heavily immigrant Schilderswijk area of The Hague, where Turkish kebab stands are close to Surinamese grocery stores. She said she planned to vote for the small, centrist Christian Union party. She said some of her 8- and 9-year-old students, most of whom are immigrants or their children, “were really scared.” “One of them said, ‘Maybe I’ll have to go to Turkey, and I really don’t want to go there.’ For children in the neighborhood, it can feel frightening,” Maljaars said. In a final debate Tuesday night, Wilders attacked his opponents for allowing in too many immigrants. “Every day we’re confronted with the mess of this,” Wilders told deputy prime minister Lodewijk Asscher of the center-left Labour Party. “This is your scum. I hope you’ll learn lessons, because to what has your policy led?”

The campaign has upended old notions about Dutch tolerance and inclusiveness, and the influx of immigrants starting in 2015 has created the perception of new strains on society. There was a net increase of 56,000 people in 2015, and 88,000 in 2016, many of them Syrian, according to the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics. About 10 percent of the Netherlands’ 17 million people are non-Western immigrants or their children. The refu­gee crisis has helped fuel the Dutch debate. The push-and-pull comes at the same time as Trump’s triumph in the United States, the British rejection of immigrants after the decision to leave the E.U. and the fiery immigration-focused election campaigns in France and Germany. Many Wilders supporters said Wednesday that they resented that refugees who came to their country were provided housing and health care even as Dutch people struggled to make ends meet.

“I understand they don’t have anything, but I have to pay for all that,” said Bep van Beele, 66, who lives in the working-class Duindorp area of The Hague, a bastion of Wilders’s support. “It creates jealousy. There’s not much left for the Dutchman.” Polling stations closed at 9 p.m. local time, 4 p.m. Eastern, with initial exit polls released immediately. Full results are expected early Thursday local time.
© The Washington Post

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General election 2017: high turnout across the country

15/3/2017- By 3pm, turnout in the Dutch general election was well above that of the 2012 vote, and in some polling stations, extra booths were being added to cope with demand. In Amsterdam, almost 26% of those eligible to vote had cast their ballots by 1pm, almost double the 2012 total. There is a similar picture across the country, with long queues at popular destinations, such as the top of the Adam tower on the IJ waterway and on an uninhabited island on the Markermeer lake, which included a 3.5 hour boat trip. People wishing to vote in the parliamentary complex in The Hague had to queue up in front of a long line of foreign journalists who are in town to cover the results. In Amsterdam, city officials have intervened at a mosque in the east of the city where Turkish flags and nationalist posters were on the walls even though it is being used as a polling station, the Telegraaf said. Political statements are not allowed in polling stations.

Exit poll
The Netherlands is electing 150 members for the lower house of parliament and a new government. The polling stations close at 9pm and an early exit poll will be published shortly afterwards but it will not be until around 11pm that a clear idea about the result is likely. The vote is being seen as a test of whether Europe really will swing to the right, in the wake of the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election as US president and ahead of key elections in Germany and France. Even if Geert Wilders does not win, and the polls show this is unlikely to be the case, his impact on the debate in terms of immigration and identity cannot be ignored, the New York Times wrote.
© The Dutch News

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Dutch go to polls in test of far-right strength

Millions of Dutch voters go to the polls Wednesday in key elections overshadowed by a blazing diplomatic row with Turkey, with all eyes on the fate of far-right MP Geert Wilders.

15/3/2017- Following last year's shock Brexit vote and Donald Trump's victory in the US presidential polls, the Dutch general elections are being seen as a litmus test of the strength of far-right and populist parties ahead of other polls in Europe this year. Amid the tussle between outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his anti-Islam, anti-immigration rival Wilders, many of the 12.9 million eligible voters remained undecided on the eve of the ballot. Most polling stations opened Wednesday at 0630 GMT, and are to close at 2000 GMT with exit polls expected shortly after. "When people look for leadership, they look to me," Rutte told a final debate late Tuesday. The leader of the Liberal VVD party, he is bidding for a third term as premier of the country of 17 million people -- one of the largest economies in the eurozone and a founding father of the European Union.

Wilders slipping
Final polls released late Tuesday appeared to show Rutte pulling away from Wilders, crediting the VVD with coming top with 24 to 28 seats. Wilders was seen as slipping yet again and barely clinging on to second place with between 19 and 22 MPs. That would however still be well up on the 12 MPs his Freedom Party (PVV) has in the outgoing parliament. Seeking to mark his differences with the fiery, Twitter-loving Wilders, Rutte has been highlighting the country's economic growth and stability during his six years at the helm. Complicating the political landscape, Turkey has gatecrashed the scene with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erodgan unleashing a string of invective at the Dutch for barring his ministers from addressing a pro-Ankara rally in Rotterdam. Rutte's firm handling of the crisis -- barring one Turkish minister from flying into the country, and expelling another -- appears to have boosted his image here.

Snapping at the heels of Wilders were long-standing Dutch parties such as the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), credited with 19 to 21 seats, and the Democracy Party (D66) with around 17 to 19 MPs, the polls said. Both the CDA and D66 would be natural coalition partners for Rutte, who like most Dutch parties, has refused to work with Wilders, turned off by his incendiary rhetoric. Wilders has pledged to close the borders to Muslim immigrants, shut mosques and ban sales of the Koran. He also wants to pull the country out of the EU in a so-called Nexit. While Wilders's radical views have won support on the back of Europe's refugee crisis, many Dutch still find them unpalatable. "He has the right to voice his opinion, but he doesn't give any solution to anything. He just creates fear," said 26-year-old Niels, who was watching the debate in a bar in The Hague. And if the PVV does becomes one of the largest parties in parliament, Wilders may be hard to ignore.

Angry tweets
The Dutch pride themselves on their consensus politics, and reportedly it takes an average of three months of hard-bargaining to cobble together a coalition. Observers predict this time round however, four or even five parties may be needed to reach the 76-seat majority. The leader of the Labour Party, Rutte's coalition partner in the outgoing government, hit out at Wilders in some of the fiercest exchanges of Tuesday night. "You've been a member of parliament for 20 years. You've sent thousands of angry tweets, but you have provided zero solutions. You weaken and divide The Netherlands," said Labour leader Lodewijk Asscher. While traditional Labour has fallen sharply this year in the polls, the left-wing GroenLinks and its charismatic young leader Jesse Klaver are enjoying a huge boost. The 30-year-old Klaver said it was "time for a new leadership" and called for The Netherlands to welcome more refugees. He has boosted his party in the polls, and may win 16 to 18 seats, which could place him in a powerful kingmaker role.
© France 24.

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Dutch Mainstream Parties Shun Coalition With Far-right

14/3/2017- Mainstream Dutch political parties continue to rule out a possible coalition with the Freedom Party of far-right leader Geert Wilders, despite the fact his party is predicted to come in second in Wednesday’s elections. During a debate between current Prime Minister Mark Rutte and far right leader Wilders, Rutte repeated once again that he “will not work together” with the Wilders’ Freedom Party. He added that even asking Wilders to support a possible minority coalition, as happened between 2010 and 2012, will not be an option. The prime ministers’ party is not the only political party stating publicly that it will never form a coalition with the far right leader. Wilders labeled the pre-election exclusion as “undemocratic” but also said he doesn’t believe the prime minister will shun him in the end.

Some Wilders’ supporters, interviewed at a campaign event say it is unfair that other political parties will not even agree to preliminary discussions. Jurgen Faber, a truck driver who supports the far-right leader, says it’s not fair to voters. “I don’t think Dutch voters will let themselves be sidelined.” Coalitions of two or three parties are needed to govern in the Netherlands as no party has ever won an outright majority. The current ruling cabinet is made up of the conservatives, liberals and the Social Democrats. 28 parties are fielding candidates in the upcoming elections. Due to the fragmented electorate and the exclusion of Wilders’ party, a new ruling coalition could possibly involve four or more political parties.

Parallels in Belgium
Parties in neighboring Belgium have ruled out coalitions with far-right parties ahead of elections since the late eighties. The so-called "Cordon Sanitaire" was introduced after nationalist party Flemish Interests, previously known as the Flemish Bloc, won big. A resolution signed by the remaining political parties read that “no political agreements or arrangements” would be made with the far-right movement which “fails to acknowledge human rights and the principles of democracy.” Herwig Reynaert, a Belgian political science professor at the University of Ghent, says a cordon sanitaire is not undemocratic because the remaining parties forming a coalition do have a democratic majority. “Still, this is not always clear to the voter. That is why it’s important that political parties and political leaders clearly explain why they don’t want to work together with a certain party.”

One of the reasons Dutch Prime Minister Rutte gave for excluding Wilders during the Monday evening debate, was that he felt Wilders had “radicalized” on some issues. Wilders has called for the closing all mosques and for banning the Quran. Reynaert says the Belgian cordon sanitaire has succeeded in excluding a far-right party, but not in excluding its ideas. “The political agenda of Flemish Interests led to themes such as security and immigrants being more prominently discussed by other political parties. So in a way, those who are excluded can still influence the ones in power.” In Belgium, many issues discussed by Flemish Interests termed too far-right years ago, are now included by other political parties. One of them, the New Flemish Alliance, is even a member of the current Belgian ruling coalition.

Situation in France
In France, the far-right party Front Nationale is expected to win the first round in presidential elections this spring. In the final round of a vote in 2002, a nationwide effort to block Front Nationale was among the factors enabling incumbent president Jacques Chirac to get reelected. This year, Front Nationale is again expected to make it to the final round but many of its priority issues are also adopted by other French politicians. In the Netherlands, the prime minister's party has also been blamed for trying to attract Wilders supporters by using more right-wing rhetoric. A full-page ad by Rutte in several newspapers during the campaign urged people “to act normal or leave” the Netherlands. Last year, Rutte also called for Turkish-Dutch demonstrators to “get lost,” a statement he refused to renounce. Many believed these statements were made to appeal to voters supporting the Freedom Party.

The only political party that has not ruled out teaming up with Wilders’ is 50Plus, a party focused on pensioners and seniors. 50Plus leader Henk Krol, expected to win 10 seats, wrote in an opinion piece that Freedom Party voters shouldn’t be excluded beforehand, because “everyone will understand what impression that will leave and how the Freedom Party can grow stronger from this.” But the two are unlikely to find common ground on the issue of allowing Muslim refugees into the country.
© VoA News.

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New Dutch party seeks to root out racism

The Dutch have long had a reputation for being tolerant, open and laid-back. But the leader of the country's newest political party Sylvana Simons believes if you scratch the surface, you'll expose deep-seated racism.

14/3/2017- After being bombarded with death threats and hate mail for calling out a TV show guest for a racist remark, the well-known former TV presenter decided the country needed a new kind of political tone and message -- one of inclusiveness and equality. In a little over three months since its launch in December she has garnered enough support to field 20 candidates in Wednesday's elections with her new party -- Artikel 1. It's named after the first article of the Dutch constitution which states "that all persons in The Netherlands shall be treated equally" and that there shall be no discrimination based on race, religion, and sexual orientation. "We feel the first article of our constitution is under pressure. It's in danger and it needs to be defended and rightfully executed," Simons told AFP. Leaving behind a two-decade successful TV and radio career was a tough decision, she acknowledged, particularly to enter the harsh, unforgiving battleground of politics.

 "I just couldn't deny any longer that we have structural and institutional problems with inequality regarding male-female issues, black and white issues, immigration issues. I just couldn't let it go any more," she said. But she was still surprised by the intensity of the backlash once she started questioning some of the country's most cherished traditions -- such as a Christmas blackface character. For the Dutch, Black Pete is just a jolly person who accompanies Saint Nicolas to hand out sweets to the children. But foreigners are often surprised to see dozens of Black Petes, men and women, walking the streets in early December, faces blacked up, bright red lips, black curly wigs and garish, gaudy clothing. And the image is everywhere, from special chocolates to cakes, and food labels. Artikel 1 wants to abolish Black Pete and establish July 1 as a day to mark the abolition of Dutch involvement with the slave trade. It also wants people not to have to state their gender when they register with the authorities.

- Image of lynching -
But Simons came under virulent attack on social media -- images of her face superimposed on that of a slave being lynched, or as the butt of a racist song. Prosecutors are now investigating whether to bring charges. The Netherlands has long been a multicultural society, welcoming people not just from former and current Dutch territories such as Indonesia, Suriname, Curacao and Aruba, but also refugees from Eritrea, Somalia as well as the Middle East. Some 3.6 million people out of a population of 17 million are counted officially as having at least one parent born outside The Netherlands. Among them just over two million are classified as non-Westerners -- primarily coming from Turkey, Morocco and Suriname. Amid Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II, far-right anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party (PVV) have seen his popularity rise. He could now land as the second-largest party in parliament.

"I think we've come to realise that tolerance is not the same as acceptance. Tolerance just means that you don't really care, but OK, you tolerate. And I think that we've now reached a stage where it needs to be about acceptance, it needs to be about equality," said Simons. Polls suggest her fledgling party could win at least one seat in the new parliament. The youngest of the party's 20 candidates is just 18, the oldest is 82. The top three candidates on their party list are women, including Simons, and they also have a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian and an atheist among their ranks. Sixty percent of the candidates are also from the LGBT community. "We think emancipation starts with representation, so it was very important to us that our list reflected society," Simons said, adding "what brings us together is a different way of looking at people, looking at society." "For us one seat is a big, big win. The mere fact that we exist and we are uniting people, and mobilising people and activating people is already a big win."
© AFP

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Campaign trail: final opinion polls, CDA wants Maxima’s passport

14/3/2017- The Netherlands goes to the polls on Wednesday to elect 150 members for its lower house of parliament. Here’s a round up of news from the final day of campaigning.

End sprint
An opinion poll for I&O Research suggests the ruling VVD is sprinting away from the other parties and is now 11 seats ahead of Geert Wilders’ PVV. The poll suggests the VVD is on target to win 27 seats while the PVV would be in fifth place with just 16 seats, one more than the party won in 2012. The poll gives GroenLinks and D66 each 20 seats and the Christian Democrats 19. The polling company suggests the VVD has benefited from the diplomatic row between the Netherlands and Turkey, with considerable backing for prime minister Mark Rutte’s tough approach.

CDA wants queen’s second passport
Christian Democrat leader Sybrand Buma told a radio programme on Tuesday that queen Maxima should renounce her Argentine nationality. ‘If it was up to me, everyone would have just one passport,’ Buma said. ‘And that means the queen as well.’ Dual nationality makes it difficult for people to integrate into Dutch society, Buma said. ‘If you want Dutch nationality… you are making a considered choice. It is more than a piece of paper. It is a choice which joins you to a country.’

Denk ducks out
Denk campaign leader Tunahan Kuzu said on Tuesday afternoon he will not take part in the final television debate of the campaign after all. Kuzu said he had no wish to debate with Jan Roos, leader of right-wing party VNL, describing him as xenophobic and homophobic. ‘Jan Roos earlier came out with speculative news that Mark Rutte is gay and the way he has denigrated Tofik Dibi’s sexuality is the lowest of the low,’ Kuzu said. In addition, the way he stigmatises Muslims is contributing to growing xenophobia in the Netherlands, Kuzu said.
© The Dutch News

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Dutch Election round-up

Krol takes to the skies, Asscher meets Turkish organisations, Denk criticised

13/3/2017- The leader of the pensioners’ party 50Plus, Henk Krol, has set off on a one-day helicopter tour of the country with less than 48 hours to go until the election. Krol set off from Lelystad airfield at 9.30am and is visiting 10 locations from Limburg to Friesland. At his first stop, the Amsterdam ArenA, he was handed a petition supporting his plan to bring the pension age back down to 65. Krol scaled down his campaign a week ago after a series of TV blunders over the cost of his pension policy saw his opinion poll ratings fall sharply, but the 50Plus leader recovered some ground with a spirited performance in the opening leaders’ TV debate a week ago.

Asscher attacks Nazi gestures in Amsterdam
Labour party leader and deputy prime minister Lodewijk Asscher has attacked demonstrators who gave Hitler salutes and used other Nazi references as they protested against the Dutch government’s handling of the diplomatic row with Turkey. Asscher met Turkish community leaders at his ministry to call for them to help ‘de-escalate’ the dispute, which has led to protests on the streets of Rotterdam and Amsterdam on successive nights. ‘Everyone round the table felt hurt by the suggestion that Nazi practices are happening here.’ Asscher told NOS he was shocked to see Nazi gestures and slogans on the capital’s Plein 40-45, whose name commemorates the wartime occupation by Germany. ‘If you do that there’s something wrong with you between the ears,’ he said. Muslim community leaders have accused Denk of using ‘aggressive campaigning methods’ to secure votes from the Muslim population.

Muslims ‘under pressure’ from Denk
The Council of Moroccan Mosques in the Netherlands said the party, founded by two former Labour MPs of Turkish origin, used emotional language and was polarising the debate by insisting that Muslims should vote for them because of their belief or ethnic origin. ‘You cross a line if, like Denk, you tell people they should vote for you or otherwise they’re traitors,’ said spokesman Saïd Bouharrou. Denk candidate Farid Azarkan dismissed the council’s criticisms as unfounded.
© The Dutch News

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Stocks up as Dutch far-right party retreats in polls

13/3/2017- European equity markets were slightly higher on Monday as investors looked to the Dutch elections, while oil prices continued to fall. The benchmark Stoxx Europe 600 index was up 0.38% to 374.64, Germany’s DAX rose 0.22% to 11,990.03 and France’s CAC 40 was 0.13% firmer at 4,999.60. In currency markets, the euro was at 1.0662 against the dollar, off by 0.16% for the day, and down 0.71% versus the pound at 0.8715.

Investors were eyeing Wednesday’s election in the Netherlands, although polls showed far-right candidate Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) losing ground and unlikely to be the next Dutch prime minister, and with rival parties vowing to not join a coalition with him, events at the weekend have raised some concern. Two Turkish ministers were barred from campaigning in the Netherlands for a referendum to boost Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s power, which analysts at Monex Europe said appeared to be another attempt by Erdogan to destabilise the European Union, as the Netherlands is now in a blackout period before voting starts. "Diplomatic tensions flared, with Erdogan claiming that the ban shows ‘Nazism is alive in the west’, comments which were met with criticism from both the Dutch Prime Minister and Germany’s foreign minister," Monex Europe said.

Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at IG said that the diplomatic spat between Turkey and the Netherlands gives the Freedom Party a new lease of life. "The complex nature of Dutch politics means that markets are not unduly concerned at present, but it will be a worrying signal ahead of the French first round next month." Elsewhere, European Council president and former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has been summoned for questioning on Wednesday by Warsaw for a case concerning ex-secret service officials. Tusk was recently reappointed for a second term with Poland, the only country to vote against his extension. The pound rose following news that Scotland's first minister would table a section 30 order in Holyrood, which is a provision in the existing devolution legislation that allows for powers normally reserved to Westminster to be given to Scotland's parliament, as a first step on the path to a second referendum.

Meanwhile, oil prices traded lower after Baker Hughes reported on Friday that the number of US oil rigs rose by eight to 617, the highest since September 2015. Craig Erlam at Oanda said: "Of course, these changes take time to have an impact and non-OPEC compliance is still a little low but with an extension to the deal in doubt, prices are reverting back towards pre-deal levels, although I doubt we’ll get close to the lows any time soon." Brent crude was down 0.04% to $51.35 a barrel and West Texas Intermediate was 0.31% weaker at $48.34. In corporate news, Amec Foster Wheeler climbed 11.61% as it agreed the terms of an all-share offer from oilfield services company Wood Group that values the engineer at around £2.2bn. HSBC was up 0.81% after it hired ex-Prudential boss Mark Tucker to replace Douglas Flint as chairman after 22 years at the world's fourth largest bank.
© Digital Look

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Geert Wilders loves Hungary and had coffee with Viktor Orbįn

12/3/2017- Will far-right populist “peroxide-blond crusader” Geert Wilders be the Netherlands’ new prime minister? And why does he spend so much time in Hungary? On March 15th the Netherlands will elect its new Parliament, the Tweede Kamer or Lower House. According to opinion polls the far-right Freedom party might come out ahead and Wilders has a good chance to become the next prime minister. Some call the 53-year-old Wilders the Dutch Donald Trump; their politics and even their hair colors are similar. “These elections are historic, because the Netherlands can choose on the 15th of March if we want to give our land away further or if we are going to recapture it,” Wilders said. The most likely scenario is, that the Freedom party will win the election by becoming the largest party in the Lower House, but still won’t be able to form a government. His opponents will try to patch together a multiparty coalition to prevent a far-right coup d’état.

“Dutch values are based on Christianity, on Judaism, on humanism. Islam and freedom are not compatible,” thunders Wilders. He is a Eurosceptic, hates Brussels bureaucrats and wants to close all mosques. He calls Islam an ideology that poses an existential threat to core European values and wants to ban the Quran, seal the nation’s borders and allow absolutely no immigrants from Islamic countries. His views are a shared by Mr. Orbán, Hungary’s authoritarian Prime Minister, although Wilders’s rhetoric is more poisonous. He recently called young Dutch immigrants from Morocco, “scum.”

Wilders was born in 1961 and after completing high school he moved to Israel. He worked in a bakery in Jerusalem, and later at kibbutz Yad Mordechai close to the town of Ashkelon and at agricultural Moshav Tomer north of Jericho. He openly calls himself a Zionist and travels frequently to the Jewish State. In the past he was investigated by the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service over his “ties to Israel and their possible influence on his loyalty.” Wilders also maintains close ties to Hungary. In 1992 he married a Hungarian woman, Krisztina Márfai, and together they spend summers at Lake Balaton and visit his wife’s village, Nyírparasznya, a small hamlet in Szabolcs-Szatmár county close to the Ukrainian border. Wilders feels safe there although his body guards are with him all the time. He does not take chances since Pim Fortuyn, another far right Dutch politician, was assassinated in 2002.

“I have one message to the Dutch people, and that is, if you want to regain your country, if you want to make the Netherlands for the people of the Netherlands, then you can only vote for one party.” This is almost verbatim the same message Hungarian voters hear from Viktor Orbán and I was not surprised when in a Facebook entry Wilders mentions his close relationship with Orbán; they even had coffee together.
© The Hungarian Free Press

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Netherlands: Islam becomes lightning rod for Dutch fear and loathing

11/3/2017- By all international measures of happiness and prosperity, the Dutch should be a contented nation — but anger and anxiety are the dominant emotions as an election that could determine Europe’s future comes to a head. When Geert Wilders, the far-right leader who has set the tone of the campaign and led opinion polls, took to the streets of Breda, the rage and deep divisions were on open display. Last month Mr Wilders, the country’s most controversial politician, launched a one-page manifesto pledging to ban mosques, the Koran and Muslim immigration with a ranting speech denouncing “Moroccan scum who make the streets unsafe”. Among the crowds and police surrounding the bleach-blond populist on the campaign stop before the polls on Wednesday, was a first-time voter.

Furkan Erdogan, 18, a third generation Muslim of Turkish origin, came from Rotterdam to the city in the country’s south because he wanted to talk, debate and argue with supporters of Mr Wilders and his PVV Freedom Party. In the liberal Dutch tradition, the earnest student wanted to explain that Muslims, or descendants of immigrants like him, were not a “problem”. His idealistic mission did not go to plan. Within minutes of engaging a middle-aged former skinhead in heated but civilised debate, things got ugly. Another middle-aged PVV supporter with two thuggish men in tow loomed up bellowing and jabbing his finger: “You are the problem, you are a Muslim, a big problem. Islam is not welcome here,” he said. “This is Holland. Windmills, clogs, not mosques and Islam.”

Mr Erdogan burst into tears, rapidly gaining a protective cordon of teenage locals and the attentions of a Dutch TV crew. The PVV supporters, who have been instructed by party bosses not to talk to the press, beat a hasty retreat. Mr Erdogan, who has a white Dutch girlfriend and dresses like any other teenager, was bereft. “I try the best I can to be part of this country. I am proud to be Dutch,” he said. “I have been here for my whole life. My father has been here for his whole life. I am just trying to be a good citizen, to take part in my first election and people do not accept me.” Using the conventional metrics used to measure wealth and happiness, it is difficult to explain Dutch discontent and support for Mr Wilders. Opinion polling puts him in second place, two percentage points behind the government party five days before polls open.

Conventional wisdom has it that populist or far-right leaders only make the running amid economic downturn, high unemployment and the misery of 1930s-style social collapse, none of which applies to the Netherlands today. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s life satisfaction index, the Dutch score 7.3 per cent, well above the 6.5 per cent average for the world’s wealthiest economies and societies. Eighty-two per cent of the Dutch working-age population is in work, compared with 68 per cent in Germany, and incomes are 21 per cent higher than in Britain. The Dutch mood is not about economics but a broader and deeper discontent driven by a profound distrust in a political system that is seen by many as being run by a “cartel” of politicians.

This perception is fuelled by decades of coalition government in which parties have dropped manifesto promises in the name of compromise and consensus, resulting in the same economic and social policies whoever was elected. Multiculturalism is seen not as a product of the tradition of religious tolerance, following the wars of the counter-reformation, but as a licence to Muslims, who account for 6 per cent of the population, compared with 4.8 per cent in Britain, to live by different rules. Islam has become the lightning rod by which 35 per cent of the Dutch people define their fears and the feeling that the system does not work for them.

With his slogan to make “the Netherlands ours again”, Mr Wilders’ speeches revolve around “Henk and Ingrid”, an imaginary couple suffering at the hands of a corrupt elite and immigrants privileged above Dutch natives. Embodying the Muslim threat, he lives apart from society and has not left his safe house without armed police protection since his name was found on a Islamist terrorist cell’s death list in 2004. Watching Mr Wilders work the Breda crowd in the rain, posing with shopper for selfies, Jan, a builder fitting out a nearby restaurant dismissed him as a “crazy bigmouth” but admitted that many people he knew would vote for the PVV. “He says what people think but do not dare to say out loud,” he said.

Lizzie Vliegenthart, a Breda student, had come to see what all the fuss was about because some of her friends had expressed support for Mr Wilders. “They shout a lot but don’t really say anything of substance,” she said. “It’s not worked out or reasoned, it’s just rage.” Over lunch in Venlo, Mr Wilders’ hometown on the German border, a businessman who knew him as a young man said that many of his supporters felt “neglected” in a world that they no longer understood. “Until the end of the Cold War, people had secure identities via their churches or jobs that lasted for life at companies like Philips and strong sense of a Dutch national community,” he said. “There was a common enemy, the Soviet Union. That has all gone. There are no certainties. Dutch people are conformists and they want certainty, security. Geert has given them that. A common enemy, Islam.”
© The Times

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Dutch Campaign trail: the Muslim vote, foreign media frenzy and the king

10/3/2017- Just five more days campaigning and the Netherlands will go to the polls to elect the members of its 150-seat second chamber. Here’s a round up of the latest campaign news.

Muslim call to vote
In total 62 Muslim organisations in the Netherlands, mainly mosques, have issued a joint statement urging their followers to use their vote in next week’s election. Imams are also reinforcing the message in Friday prayers. ‘Voting is something a Muslim cannot ignore,’ the statement said. By not voting, it could disadvantage their presence in the Netherlands and boost parties which want to ‘limit the rights and freedoms of specific Muslims and encourage racism and discrimination’.

Former prime minister defects
Former Christian Democrat prime minister Dries van Agt has turned his back on his former party because of its support for Israel’s illegal settlements. The CDA voted against a motion calling for the treaty of association with Israel to be suspended until Israel stops its building programme. ‘I can no longer embrance this half-baked blind-eye policy towards Israel’s occupation and colonisation,’ the former prime minister says.

Get out and vote
A group of five young Dutch creatives have put together a short film to encourage the four million under-30s in the Netherlands to vote. ‘Don’t fuck up’ features young British and US voters urging their Dutch counterparts to use their voting rights with a warning about what happened in Britain (Brexit) and the US (the election of Donald Trump as president).
© The Dutch News

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The Netherlands election: in the words of Dutch voters

Residents across the country on immigration, globalisation and the political elites

9/3/2017- As part of our special series The Europopulists, the Financial Times collaborated with Algemeen Dagblad, the Netherlands’ biggest daily newspaper, to ask Dutch residents whether they have seen political attitudes change in their neighbourhoods. We received more than 200 submissions from residents of more than 100 towns across the country. A few trends emerged from the responses: many who wrote in had noticed a rise in populist sentiment or were shifting that way themselves. Some felt that the political landscape was too fragmented, with 28 parties on the ballot, many of which were single-issue.

A lot of respondents described themselves as “floating voters” who planned to decide how they will vote strategically, based on election-day polling. And though many respondents from rural areas expressed concern about immigrants and assimilation, the vast majority of those who had direct interactions with refugees described their experience in very positive terms. Here is a snapshot of the responses — those who took part requested varying levels of anonymity.

Frustration with politics

Carla has lived in Eindhoven, the country’s fifth-largest city, for her entire life. She has seen a clear shift in political preference over the past decade.
œ People are angry at the elite in The Hague. They do not feel heard. This will cause them to cast a protest vote for [anti-immigration candidate Geert] Wilders. I am voting for Wilders. Hopefully he will not be prime minister, but I definitely consider it an opportunity to put the elite in The Hague in its place. I have always been a steadfast [centre-right] VVD voter, but that’s over now because of the breach of promises by the VVD. Something has to change in The Hague. It is time that they listen to the population.

An administrator in Rotterdam expressed a similar view.
œ Unlike 20 years ago, I have lost all political preference. National politics has become an independent bubble and has nothing to do with the everyday life nor the furious Dutch society.

Entrepreneur Ronald Smallenburg, who lives in multicultural Amsterdam, has seen a growing trend of voters reacting against populist sentiment. Mr Smallenburg is a longtime member of the progressive pro-EU party D66.
œ I see a slowly growing countermovement from people who are increasingly annoyed by the populist right and want to do something to resist it: respond in the media, demonstrations, debates. I see this both in my city and across the country. Over the past few weeks, I have noticed that [Mr Wilders’ Party for Freedom] PVV is slowly falling in the polls and growing outrage about the PVV has increased. It may be that I exist in the Amsterdam bubble where I never encounter PVV voters. It is also possible that Brexit and [US President Donald] Trump have strengthened this development. More and more people are tired of the polarisation.

Effect of the media
Thijs, a caterer and computer repairman, lives in the small village of Koudekerke. Koudekerke sits in the Netherlands’ Bible Belt, a strip of land that runs diagonally across the country and is home to a predominantly conservative Calvinist population.

œ The church has a clear influence here and that is reflected in the voting. The small Christian parties have the upper hand, but the PVV has started to grow. Though hardly any Muslims live here, people see Islam as a threat. There is a fear that increased immigration will lessen the influence of their church and that scares them. I feel this change came about 10 years ago with the rise of social media. Suddenly, people were reading news reports about incidents elsewhere, when hitherto their news remained local. After the banking crisis, when homes’ values fell ​​significantly here and many jobs were lost in the nearby industrial town of Vlissingen-Oost, there was a clear shift to the right. There has been a crisis shelter here. For a few days, there were refugees from Syria. There has not been any nuisance and both the residents and the refugees have had a positive experience.

René Romer, a marketing adviser born and raised in Rotterdam, believes the media’s portrayal of diversity is increasing polarisation.
œ I was born in Rotterdam in 1959. Rotterdam was still a white city. Now Rotterdam is a city where the majority has its roots outside the Netherlands. These changes have gone so terribly fast that it inevitably brings tensions with it, but I see that these tensions are often whipped up enormously by the media. Last December, I accompanied a group of students from the hotel school in Maastricht. They were tasked with finding out how entrepreneurs in this city are responding to its multicultural society. They were stunned. In the media these students heard mostly negativity about multiculturalism, but in the two days they spent in Rotterdam, they saw the convenience, flexibility and naturalness with which shops, restaurants and other businesses operate, and how they also profit from this superdiversity. It gave them a totally different perspective. What is very clear is that politics and media as a whole are not mirroring the multicultural society which people of Rotterdam experience daily. Politics and media are whiter than white. The gap between the Dutch media and the Dutchman is massive.

Economic changes
Retired physiotherapist Jeanette lives in Molenwaard, a rural town in South Holland also in the Bible Belt, and believes the economic dislocation caused by globalisation and the eurozone crisis has sparked support for nationalism and populism.
œ This has always been a conservative Christian environment, but I have seen my neighbourhood swing right. It is more nationalistic, about putting our own people first. Many [orthodox Calvinist] SGP voters also welcome Trump’s ideas. Because there have been so many job cuts in large regional steel and shipbuilding companies people are looking at which political party will do something for them. They also feel the threat of terrorism and think that the government is doing too little to tackle it. These things have led to a certain feeling that they have to take matters into their own hands.

Dirk Buningh is a ferryman from the tiny village of Velsen-Zuid, population 930. He also cites globalisation, which has brought foreign workers into the country to work in major industries, as a cause of political upheaval.
œ Tata Steel is one of the largest employers in this region. There have been people with non-Dutch backgrounds working here since the 1970s. Now that the number of employees are falling, the “original” inhabitants look at the others with suspicion and jealousy. I myself live on a ship. I am currently, despite the presence of gravity, a floating voter. I say vote with your mind, not your emotion. Otherwise you will need a psychologist after the elections to keep your emotions in check.

Concerns around immigration
A respondent working in healthcare describes Turkish protests, which became national news in the Netherlands in July, as having an affect on her political views. She lives in Zwijndrecht, a suburban area south of Rotterdam.
œ Ten years ago, I was more trusting — I thought the integration of Muslims would go well here. I did not begrudge anyone his or her existence in our beautiful country. But I now know that for many Muslims, this integration will not happen. As an example, there were big Turkish demonstrations in Rotterdam to protest the [attempted] coup in Turkey [in July]. Demonstrating Turks who have been living for years or were born here, I found frightening. They seem to feel absolutely no affinity with the Netherlands.

A Muslim postal worker living on the outskirts of Amsterdam in Nieuw-Vennep says she also notices a new tension between communities, saying she now feels less welcome.
œ At the last municipal and national elections, we saw great support for PVV. That means, bluntly, that several neighbours and other people who live in our street who kindly greet us vote for the party that wants to see us leave. I’m a white leftist elite, but I’m also Muslim. I worry about increasing polarisation. Will my kids, with tinted appearance and foreign names, have a fair chance? Can they live in the Netherlands, where they and I were born and raised? And if not, we only have Dutch nationality. Where should we go?

Bert Lock, a schoolteacher, lives in the town of Papendrecht, in South Holland. His school has had a more positive experience with migrants and refugees.
œ Papendrecht has always been a refugee village. In my school, the classrooms have about 20% foreign children from 20 nationalities. There is never one dominant minority group, but instead a bit of everything. They usually do not speak each other’s language and rely on Dutch. Refugee children are often very motivated. We are generally pleased with them. Last year, our town received about 50 refugee families [status holders]. The children are mostly from Syria, with a few from Eritrea. The parents are all good people, very motivated to take courses in Dutch themselves. Because Papendrecht has extensive experience with refugees, the arrival of these people has been almost noiseless.

Leni is a manager from Lage Zwaluwe, a small village in the southern Netherlands. It has a population of 4,209. She argues that the Dutch have forgotten just how good they have things.
œ In this town, nothing happens. Life moves on. One day, the police came to tell us that our neighbour’s outdoor chairs had been stolen. Now we have a WhatsApp group, where we inform each other when something happens. People act scared, though in reality we live in a safety bubble. With the rise of [assassinated populist leader] Pim Fortuyn, people have become aware of potential fear. I do not know who said this, but it is applicable to the Netherlands: fear is like rabbits. It nests and starts multiplying. When it rains, we keep our feet dry, the infrastructure is good, everybody has healthcare. The biggest issue during election time is a question of our identity. This is pure luxury.
© The Financial Times*

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Dutch prime minister: Voters must stop Trump-style ‘chaos’ from coming

10/3/2017- When Dutch voters go to the polls Wednesday, far-right leader Geert Wilders is hoping they will deliver the West its third major populist jolt in less than a year — and the first since Donald Trump won the U.S. presidency in November. But there are growing indications that Trump may be more hindrance than help to Wilders’s campaign. After leading the polls for nearly all of last year and seeming to be in commanding position as 2017 got underway, Wilders’s Freedom Party has fallen sharply in the past two months — a period that coincides with the tumultuous dawn of the Trump presidency. In surveys conducted in recent days, the Freedom Party has even fallen out of first place, slipping just behind the center-right party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

In the hyper-fragmented world of Dutch politics — there will be 28 parties on the ballot Wednesday — analysts emphasize that the campaign remains fluid, and Wilders could still wind up on top. Wilders’s own backers say they believe fervently that the polls are underestimating his support, just as they did with Trump in the United States. But increasingly, his competitors are using unfavorable comparisons to the U.S. president to attack Wilders and to try to halt the populist wave that began with Britain’s vote last June to exit the European Union. “This is our chance to stop this trend,” Rutte said in a brief interview as he recently campaigned at an Amsterdam shopping mall. “There’s still a big risk that [Wilders] will be the biggest party. But we’ve seen the chaos after Brexit and after the elections in America. And we can’t have that here.”

Trump is deeply unpopular in the Netherlands, as he is across Western Europe. And although Wilders’s hardcore supporters are unlikely to be deterred by the comparisons to Trump, they may be effective among those who want to shake up the system — but not quite in the seemingly disordered way Trump has during his first weeks in office. “Trump is the biggest antidote to Wilders,” said Geert Tomlow, a former Freedom Party candidate who still agrees with much of the party’s agenda. “People are aware that a Wilders type of person won’t give them the change they’re looking for.” The drop in the polls for Wilders is just the latest evidence that a Trump backlash in Europe may be helping the political establishment fight back against the spread of nationalistic far-right movements across the continent. In Germany — where parliamentary elections are due in September — the long-beleaguered center-left Social Democrats saw a pronounced poll bump after leader Martin Schulz went on the attack against Trump.

In France — with a presidential vote just around the corner this spring — centrist Emmanuel Macron has been gaining on the far-right’s Marine Le Pen in measures of first-round support. Trump and Wilders have much in common. Both delight in bashing the political establishment, and seek to mobilize voters with nativist, anti-immigrant appeals. Both also relish doling out bombast in 140-character bites. “Wilders took a cue from the U.S. elections as to how Donald Trump has done this. The whole point is to denounce people, the media, the establishment,” said Sijbren de Jong, an analyst at The Hague Center for Strategic Studies. “It’s politics on the basis of emotion. It’s completely devoid of content.” Early in the campaign, Rutte seemed intent on stealing some of Wilders’s emotional thunder by mimicking his message. In an open letter, Rutte called on people in the Netherlands to “act normal or go away.”

The letter appeared aimed at immigrants who fail to integrate, referring to people who are “attacking our habits and rejecting our values, who attack gay people, who shout at women in short skirts, or call ordinary Dutch people racist.” But in the recent interview, Rutte said the letter was targeted more broadly at anyone who fails to “act normal,” including those who take extreme positions that demonize immigrants and refugees. Joost Sneller, a candidate for the centrist D66 party, said it was up to Wilders’s opponents not to try to co-opt his message — but to convince voters that there’s a better way. As a small country, he said, the Netherlands has only succeeded when it’s engaged with the world with commerce, art and ideas. “It’s open society versus closed society,” he said. “We’ve been strong by being open.” That message, Sneller said, is getting out. His party has been gaining in the polls as Wilders and his allies decline, and has edged into a virtual tie for third place. “What we hear on the doorstep is ‘We can’t have Trump-like things happen here,’” Sneller said. “It’s time to stand up.”
© The Washington Post.

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Court rules against Dutch expats with missing ballot papers

9/3/2017- Judges in The Hague have rejected a plea from a number of Dutch expats to be given more time to submit their votes in the general election. By law, ballot papers which have been sent abroad must be returned by March 15, the date of the national vote. But around 1,000 of the 78,000 Dutch expats who registered to vote had not received their papers with a week to go. Eelco Keij, a D66 parliamentary hopeful who has been campaigning on behalf of Dutch expats, says the state has been negligent in not sending voting papers out six weeks prior to the vote. ‘A serious number of Dutch voters abroad are being robbed of their voting rights,’ he said. The court will publish its full reasoning later.
© The Dutch News

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Dutch 'Trudeau' Aims To Stem Far-Right Election Hopes

8/3/2017- Some call him the "Justin Trudeau" of Dutch politics, others see an echo of a young John F Kennedy, while his detractors call him arrogant. But GroenLinks (Green-Left) party leader Jesse Klaver is on a mission to put his own stamp on the Dutch political landscape in the March 15 polls as an antidote to rising right-wing xenophobia. As the only child of an absentee father of Moroccan descent and a Dutch-Indonesian mother, Klaver, 30, knows what growing up in The Netherlands as an outsider is like. "I was shocked to be told on Twitter to go back to my own country, or told 'I will not vote for you because you are Moroccan'," Klaver said during a debate late Sunday. "So many people have faced these kinds of comments. We should be judged based on what our future represents, not on the basis of our origins." While far-right politician Geert Wilders campaigns on an anti-immigrant, anti-Islam platform including calling some Moroccans here "scum", Klaver is sending a message of tolerance. Since taking over as party leader in May 2015, he has boosted his party's fortunes. Polls predict it may leap from six MPs in the outgoing parliament to possibly 18. Although unlikely, some even give the bright-eyed Klaver an outside shot at becoming the next Dutch prime minister depending on how coalition talks go.

'Immigrant country'
The country's youngest-ever party leader, Klaver was raised mainly by his grandparents in social housing, in a sprawling flatlands suburb of the southern city of Roosendaal. Unlike "what certain politicians will lead you to believe, The Netherlands is an immigrant country," Klaver told AFP in a recent interview. "I am a product of that immigration," added the curly-haired, olive-skinned Klaver. His campaign mainly focuses on stopping what Klaver calls "the right-wing wind that's blowing through all of Europe". And the Dutch vote is being seen as a key litmus test of the rise of populist and far-right parties ahead of other national elections in Europe this year. Klaver first rose to prominence in 2009 when at just 23 he was elected the youngest-ever member of the influential Social and Economical Council of The Netherlands, which advises government and parliament on key policy.

Six years later, he was elected unopposed as the leader of GroenLinks, which had been haemorrhaging voters since a disastrous 2012 campaign. With Prime Minister Mark Rutte's Liberal VVD party only slightly ahead of Wilders's Freedom Party in the polls, the young Klaver could emerge in a "kingmaker" role. He has already called for closer cooperation between leftwing parties like Labour, the progressive D66 and the Socialist Party, seeking to form a powerful bloc against any potential government led by Rutte's Liberals, who will need a majority coalition to reign in the 150-seat house.

'JFK'
Often compared to Canada's liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to whom Klaver bears a striking resemblance, he calls John F. Kennedy his biggest inspiration. Even his full name, "Jesse Feras Klaver" echoes the initials of the famous US president, assassinated in Dallas in 1963. Kennedy "was a man who said you should stand by your norms and principles," said Klaver, who has several pictures of a youthful Kennedy on his office walls alongside those of his own wife and two young sons. But some of his critics are not impressed by his youthful assertiveness -- Labour Party leader Lodewijk Asscher has called him a "touch arrogant."

Klaver subscribes to many of the ideas of celebrated French economist Thomas Piketty -- the author of an unlikely bestseller on capitalism -- including that globalisation has created an unequal society and an unequal concentration of wealth. "We need to make Europe work for everybody, not just for a small group of rich people who have been lucky and are just getting richer," Klaver said. He is reminded every morning of his mission as he clasps his coffee mug, engraved with JFK's words: "One person can make a difference, and everyone should try."
© AFP

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Geert Wilders’s Far-Right Dutch Party Sees Drop in U.S. Money

8/3/2017- As concern grows that Dutch politics is being influenced by American money, a new campaign disclosure report released in the Netherlands on Wednesday provided a twist: The spigot of American cash seems to have been mostly shut off. The report, coming a week ahead of contentious national elections and amid a Dutch experiment with campaign finance disclosure, showed that the burst of money donated in 2015 to the far-right leader Geert Wilders has dropped sharply. Yet in Europe, where disclosure laws are porous, loopholes in the Dutch laws still prevent a full picture of the scope and influence of foreign money.

The report showed that Mr. Wilders and his Party for Freedom, which has been running first or second in Dutch polls, received about $25,000 last year from the David Horowitz Freedom Center, run by David Horowitz, an American activist with strident views on Islam. In addition, a Buffalo-based company, listed in the new Dutch records as FOL Inc., appeared in the records as giving roughly $7,400 in November. The company could not be immediately identified in New York State records. That is still a sharp drop from 2015, when Mr. Horowitz’s center donated nearly $120,000 to the Party for Freedom, making it the largest individual donation that year in the Dutch political system, which is small and parochial compared with American politics.

Over all, the largest individual donor listed in Wednesday’s filing appeared to be Metterwoon Vastgoed, a real estate agency led by Chris Thunnessen, a businessman from The Hague. The firm gave about $158,000 this year to 50PLUS, a small party representing the interests of older voters. The firm gave nearly $106,000 last year to the same party. With political populism surging across Europe, the Party for Freedom has been a polarizing presence in Dutch politics, with inflammatory views of Islam, and the party’s financing has been largely mysterious. Political campaigns in the Netherlands are usually funded with public money or from party membership fees. But unlike other parties, the Party for Freedom has only one official member, Mr. Wilders, allowing it to avoid internal budget disclosures to a broader membership.

The Dutch have tightened their disclosure system in recent years, but gaps still leave it open to outside manipulation. Donations totaling less than 4,500 euros annually, about $4,750, do not have to be made public or reported to regulators. And foreign donations are also permitted, though legislation to ban such gifts has broad support in Parliament. The Party for Freedom listed only three donors in the latest filing, two of which were American. Few other foreign donations have surfaced in Dutch records in recent years. One exception was Chris Rufer, an American who founded a California-based company that produces tomato paste and other tomato products in bulk. He gave nearly $5,000 to the tiny Libertarian Party in 2015. According to federal records, he has been an active donor to libertarian candidates and groups in the United States.

Elections this year in the Netherlands, France and Germany are considered pivotal for the future of the eurozone and the European Union. Anxiety about outside influence has grown, usually centered on Russian hacking or disinformation efforts. Neither France nor Germany will disclose recent campaign contributions before elections. Mr. Wilders has continued to focus on arousing voter anger over issues involving Muslims. At a demonstration in front of the Turkish Embassy in The Hague on Wednesday, he criticized Turkey for trying to influence locals of Turkish descent to vote on a referendum granting more powers to the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “The government has to make Turkish ministers persona non grata until after the referendum,” he said.
© The New York Times

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This is Geert Wilders, the Dutch populist who could win but not rule

Will Brexit and Trump be followed by a Dutch populist upset and then victories for the radical-right in France and Germany? We’ll learn on March 15 whether Geert Wilders wins the general election in the Netherlands. But let’s focus on who he is. Dutch daily NRC explains this blonde firebrand in nine questions.

8/3/2017- ‘The blonde phenomenon from the Low Countries.’ ‘The far-right rabble-rouser who hijacked Dutch politics.’ ‘The anti-Islam crusader.’ ‘The man who invented Trumpism.’ ‘The reclusive provocateur.’ ‘The polder populist.’ Dutch politician Geert Wilders, the joint front-runner in the national polls, has been described in bombastic terms in the international media. All eyes are on the March 15 general elections, and not just for what they could mean for the Netherlands, the small country below sea level long known for its tolerant liberalism. The results will also say something about populism in Europe: will Brexit and Trump be followed by a Dutch populist upset and then victories for the radical -right in France and Germany later this year? But first, let’s focus on the man at the center of it all: Geert Wilders. Dutch daily NRC will try to answer who he is, how he operates and what his international role is, in nine questions. If you have others, please let us know at denhaag@nrc.nl and we’ll try to answer more in the last week before the elections.

1. Who is Geert Wilders and how did he get involved in politics?
Geert Wilders (1963) was born in Venlo, a southern town on the German border. Venlo was an industrial transport hub where employment largely depended on the local printing and copying factory where Wilders’ father worked. His stay-at-home mom, who had been born in the then Dutch colony of Indonesia, took care of Geert and his two older sisters and brother. Not much is known about Wilders’ childhood. He was raised as a Roman Catholic, did not excel in school and has referred to himself as “a rebel” in young years. His brother Paul, who recently sought the limelight, said in a Der Spiegel interview that Wilders was “a horrible pest, egocentric and aggressive”. After high school Wilders completed his military service and spent time in a kibbutz in Israel.

He started working for the government and moved to the central city of Utrecht. Living and working in a multicultural city, he saw how people, often immigrants, benefited from the Dutch welfare system and thought it needed to be revised. He joined the right-wing liberal party VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) in 1989 and started working for them as a parliamentary aide the next year. In 1998 he was elected to parliament himself. He has been there pretty much ever since. After the March election, only two people will have been in the Second Chamber, as the Dutch lower house of parliament is called, longer than he has.

2. Did he ‘radicalize’?
Wilders was always on the right of what was then the most substantial right-wing Dutch party, and conservative both in his socio-economic and his cultural thinking. He expressed concern about Muslim extremism before the 9/11 attacks. He saw the rise and death of Pim Fortuyn, a flamboyantly gay professor who emerged on the political scene with his own populist party early in 2002, only to be killed by an animal-rights activist days before the May election. After this incident, which upset Dutch politics, basically ended political correctness in the Netherlands, and invigorated anti-immigration and anti-Islam discord, Wilders and a fellow VVD-member Ayaan Hirsi Ali took center stage.

Wilders had hoped his party would give him a position in the administration. In 2002 he was passed over for the desired post of deputy minister of social affairs in favor of Mark Rutte, the current prime minister. When Rutte moved to education in 2004, Wilders failed to get the job again. A month later, he and a fellow MP wrote an internal 10-point memo insisting the VVD should swing to the right. One of their demands was that Turkey should never join the European Union and this caused the situation to escalate between Wilders and VVD parliamentary leader Jozias van Aartsen. On September 2 Wilders left the VVD but held on to his seat in parliament to try his political luck on his own.

He named his party PVV (Party For Freedom) a year later and ran a successful campaign against the European constitution that was subject to a referendum in the Netherlands. A year later he participated in the elections and won nine out of the 150 seats in parliament. Islam became his core target, both in parliament, in op-eds sent to national newspapers and infrequent television appearances. He went from thinking there were problems with radical Islam to proclaiming Islam itself to be a reprehensible, totalitarian ideology. He started comparing the Koran to Mein Kampf and said it should be banned. (Mein Kampf is banned in the Netherlands). He has called for a tax on women wearing a hijab, targets Moroccan youth, has called for deporting millions of Muslims from Europe and leaving both the euro and the EU. He also blamed ‘the elite’ in general and ‘the media’ specifically for many problems.

More than anything Wilders became a star at packaging his message. He has added words to the Dutch language such as ‘kopvoddentaks’ (head rag tax), ‘testosteronbommen’ (bombs of testosterone – referring to male immigrants coming into Europe) and ‘nepparlement’ (fake parliament). But there is often little content to his rhetoric. He gained international fame before the launch of what was supposed to be a controversial short film Fitna (2008), but it turned out to be little more than a compilation of known video excerpts, albeit insulting to many Muslims. His manifesto for the current elections fits on a single page and does not come with any (financial) details about how it would be put into practice. But he has really found his voice on Twitter.

3. How much power does actually he have?
Wilders’ main power comes from just being a strong anti-Islam, anti-immigration, anti-EU and anti-establishment voice and thereby dragging the whole Dutch political spectrum to the right. “Policy debates, political language, media attitudes, party landscape — all have been affected by Wilders’ politics”, NRC political columnist Tom-Jan Meeus wrote in a contribution to Politico Europe. The Netherlands doesn’t need to have Wilders in power for him to get – some of – his way. In this election other parties on the right, his old VVD and the Christian Democrats of the CDA, have adopted some of his demands and rhetoric. There is resistance even on the left to taking in an unlimited number of refugees and accepting Eastern Europe migrant workers.

Wilders did rule, sort of, between 2010 and 2012. The 2010 election presented him with his largest victory so far: 24 seats or one in six votes. He could not make a deal with the VVD and CDA to form an actual coalition, but they did agree on a Danish style minority cabinet with Wilders’ support. It was a law and order-focused government that struck a very different tone in Brussels and the rest of the world from its predecessors. But it didn’t last. Confronted with the effects of the financial crisis the government had to cut its budget and Wilders refused to agree with the measures needed, forcing new elections. The current government has been in office since 2012.

4. So what’s with the blonde hair?
There are some older photographs of Wilders where he had curly, dark hair, but he has been dying it blond at least since the mid-1990s. There has been speculation that he did so to deny his Indonesian roots, but whatever the reason it has been his main trademark long before anyone heard of Boris Johnson or thought Donald Trump would go into politics. He used to get his hair done in a barber shop near Utrecht Central Station but that is no longer possible because of security issues. His dark roots have been showing less and less in recent years, because Wilders has gone gray underneath the blond. 

5. What about that security?
Soon after Wilders split from the VVD in 2004, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered on a busy street by a Muslim extremist. He was stabbed several times and the killer pinned a note to his chest with a knife saying Ayaan Hirsi Ali would be next. Wilders, who had been threatened before, was put under 24/7 surveillance and has been so ever since. He’s had to live in different safe houses, can only move around in an armored car, has probably not been inside a grocery store or attended a concert in over 12 years and hardly ever meets voters. Wilders has said that, given the situation, he and his wife Krisztina are better off without children.

Few details are known about his security. The government does not publish the costs, nor how many people are involved. Wilders recently tweeted a picture of himself surrounded by more than 20 guards. The only place where he can move around freely is the sealed-off corridor which is home to the PVV offices in parliament. He is guarded when walking to the parliament floor and the bathroom. The Dutch government is responsible for his security and does not want to take any risks with its most vocal politician who is on an Al Qaeda death list. However, last month NRC got word of a leak within Wilders’ security detail. A member involved with selecting places Wilders could visit was arrested for sharing information with others. It then emerged two others had been fired for fraud related charges. This caused Wilders to initially abandon his already minimal election campaign and stay inside. Now he is slipping in the polls, he has since planned a few campaign stops.

6. How does Wilders fit into the realm of international populism?
Wilders has often been compared to Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage and other celebrities on the radical right. They share similarities. Wilders and Le Pen even founded the populist group in European parliament: Europe of Nations and Freedom. Wilders is a leader and an example for many in the nativist world, but he is also different from all of them. First of all, Wilders does not lead a party. His PVV only has one member: Wilders himself. The other 12 PVV MPs have no say about the course of the party; there is no transparency or internal democracy. Wilders has said he learned from the party of the late Pim Fortuyn, which fell apart after his death due to internal bickering and issues with political fortune hunters. Wilders knows he is vulnerable and wants to carefully select anyone who can represent his party. He has so far only participated in national, European and provincial elections, but in only municipalities. The few people he surrounds himself with are basically gagged and any news coming out of the PVV is leaked anonymously.

But there are also issues he and other populists disagree on. Unlike Le Pen’s Front National or the Austrian FPÖ there is no history of anti-Semitism in Wilders’ politics. He is a staunch supporter of Israel and will even say so in front of a crowd unwilling to hear that message, as he did at a recent meeting of European populists in Koblenz. He is also very liberal on gay rights. He has copied Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ by taking ‘The Netherlands Ours Again’ as the motto for his current campaign. They also share a target audience of disillusioned white men. Like Trump and others, he has labeled the established media as ‘the enemy’. But unlike Trump he is not calling into or taking part in talk shows during his campaign and he does not hold mass rallies to fire up his supporters. He has cancelled most of the political debates he has been invited to. Wilders uses Twitter as his main source of communication but, unlike Trump, he does not shoot from the hip, but calculates every tweet.

Wilders is very concerned with his international reputation. He allows foreign journalists more interviews than Dutch reporters and he often travels to other western countries to give speeches on the dangers of Islam. He denies any connection with fascism or the extreme-right. Although he has predicted a revolt or revolution, Wilders has never called for violent action, so those labels do not fit him.

7. Wasn’t he convicted for hate speech?
Wilders has been prosecuted twice. In 2011 he was cleared of charges of group defamation, hate speech and incitement to discrimination. In 2016 he was in court again, this time for promising his supporters at an election event two years earlier that he would “take care” of reducing the Moroccan population in the Netherlands. This time he was found guilty under a Dutch law that protects groups from defamation, as well as for inciting discrimination. There was no punishment but he does now have a criminal record that could prevent him from visiting certain countries. Wilders’ appeal is still pending.

8. How does he pay for all this?
Political parties in the Netherlands get quite a lot of government subsidies but Wilders fails to qualify for most of them, because the PVV is not a member-based democratic party. He only gets money to support his parliamentary party, but these funds cannot be used for campaigning or to pay for his legal defense – although there has been evidence that he has done this. A Dutch law that came into effect in 2013 requires all political donations over 4,500 euros to be reported. His records for the past three years show only one major donor: The David Horowitz Freedom Center. This center, based in California, has given Wilders at least $175,000, but probably more. David Horowitz, who has been called “the godfather of the modern anti-Muslim movement”, has told NRC that he doesn’t care how Wilders spends his money. Because there is no transparency about the PVV’s spending, there is no saying how he pays for his legal defense, campaigning or other unknown activities. Wilders literally runs a poor campaign. He doesn’t have the money to pay for a venue for supporters to get together. He only campaigns online or on the street, where he relies on the security and crowd management paid for by the government.

9. So, will he rule the Netherlands after March 15?
This is very unlikely. The Dutch do not elect a president, they vote for a new 150-member parliament. No fewer than 28 parties are participating in the March 15 election and Wilders is now polling around 23 seats. This means between 80 and 85 percent of the Dutch do not plan to vote for him. The PVV could still become the largest party, which will allow it the initiative to form a coalition government. However, almost every other party has ruled out working with Wilders. They believe his ideas are too extreme and discriminatory, but also that he is unreliable, after he walked out of the budget negotiations back in 2012. Many believe Wilders doesn’t even want to govern. Why else would he do little campaigning, avoid debates and not have any sort of program to build policy on? Being a part of a coalition would force him to vet suitable people to be a part of the cabinet and most of all it would force him to do something he hates: compromise.

A longer version of this explainer was published in Dutch: Wie is Geert Wilders en wil hij wel regeren?
© The NRC

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Netherlands: Refugees living in ‘floating hotel’ face rocky waters

Dozens of refugees who have been given temporary shelter in a former hospital ship in The Netherlands face uncertainty, as a wave of anti-immigrant far-right sentiments grows ahead of the country’s federal election

10/3/2017- Dozens of asylum seekers who have been given temporary shelter at a former hospital ship in a Dutch canal face uncertainty, as a far-right anti-immigrant wave sweeps the country ahead of its federal election. Polls have suggested that Dutch populist Geert Wilders, leader of the far-right Party for Freedom, is running neck-and-neck with Prime Minister Mark Rutte as the 15 March election closes in. Refugees who have been living on the canalside ship, called the “Amanpuri” are awaiting decisions on appeals made after the government rejected their asylum applications, according to Reuters. They have been offered shelter aboard the ship from the city of Groningen as part of a “Bed, Bath, Bread”  (BBB) program for asylum seekers.

Groningen opened the facility to 100 asylum seekers in January after Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government cut off funding for the BBB program. It hopes to expand its capacity to provide shelter for as many as 300 people later this year, Reuters reports. Thousands of asylum seekers are living in similar makeshift BBB shelters, run by at least 30 Dutch cities and towns. Their futures have become increasingly uncertain, with the Rutte government enforcing some of the toughest immigration policies in the European Union since 2012. In January, Mr Rutte said he understands calls for people who ‘don’t integrate’ to leave The Netherlands. In a full-page message published in several newspapers, the Prime Minister said: “we have to actively defend our values” against those who refuse to integrate or act antisocially. “Behave normally or go away,” he said.
© The Independent

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Headlines 10 March, 2017

Finland: Helsinki police on alert over planned neo-Nazi protest

Afghan and Iraqi asylum seekers have protested against the deportations of unsuccessful applicants for several weeks in central Helsinki.

10/3/2017- The threat posed by the far-right protest scheduled to take place in Helsinki on Saturday is being taken seriously, assures the Helsinki Police Department. “Police officers are, if necessary, prepared to break up the demonstrations in the event that they cause considerable danger to public order and security, to people or to property,” a police spokesperson said in a press release on Thursday. The protest is being orchestrated on social media with the objective of dismantling the protest camp of asylum seekers that was relocated from the front of Kiasma to Helsinki Railway Square in mid-February.

The organisers of the protest state in the event description that local authorities have until 10 March to dismantle the protest camp. Otherwise, they write, “we will arrive at the site on 11 March, 2017, and make our thoughts known to those who are in the country illegally”. Rumours on social media indicate that the participants will also include people from Estonia and Poland. One of the organisations advertising the so-called Puhdistus (Eng. purge, cleansing) protest is the Nordic Resistance Movement.

The Helsinki Police Department assures that it has taken the necessary precautions and is monitoring the preparations for the protest. Both police officers and security cameras, it reminds, are monitoring the area constantly. “We’re aware of the discussion on social media and we’re keeping tabs on how it develops. We’ll take action according to the threat assessment we’ll compile during the week,” Jari Taponen, the chief inspector in charge of preventive action at the police department, told Helsingin Sanomat on Wednesday. The social media debate has picked up in the past couple of days after an asylum seeker attempted to hang himself from a tree at Helsinki Railway Square on Wednesday. The suicide attempt was prevented by bystanders, and the man was taken to a hospital for treatment.

The Helsinki Police Department also reminds that it cannot intervene in the long-running protest by asylum seekers or the counter-protest by Suomi Ensin (Eng. Finland first) in central Helsinki unless the protests are deemed to pose a threat threat to public order or security, traffic safety, people or the environment, or if it is asked to do so by the City of Helsinki. “The City of Helsinki has not asked the police to intervene in the situation, but discussions between the city and police are ongoing,” it says. “The grounds for breaking up an assembly or demonstration must be particularly strong.”
© The Helsinki Times.

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Croatia: Far-Right Role in Domestic Abuse Law Alarms Feminists

The inclusion of conservative groups with no known experience in the issue of domestic violence in the working group for Croatia’s ratification of Council of Europe Convention on preventing domestic violence has angered activists.

10/3/2017- Women’s right activists expressed dissatisfaction with the Croatian government's decision to include right-wing activists in the working group for drafting the law on the Croatia’s ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women. The Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy Ministry has now published the composition of the working group for drafting the law – which is expected this year – which includes different experts in the field. However, it also includes a member of the ultra-conservative "In the Name of the Family" NGO, Ivan Munjin, as well as Ivan Prskalo, from the civic initiative Ordo Iuris.

Sanja Sarnavka, a veteran human rights expert with over 20 year's work on violence towards women, another member of the group, told BIRN that the two organisations had “never dealt with the issue of victims of violence to the best of my knowledge. “When you look at their CVs, they are also quite young. Munjin started only in 2016 to deal with volunteers for his NGO, while Prskalo is a lawyer, but not human rights one, but working in some sort of a corporation,” she noted. She said she was even more surprised that they were named to the working group without a public tender. Sarnavka said that she was even more shocked that someone from an informal NGO like Ordo Iuris, with no visible expertise in the field, had been included. She said it was unacceptable for individuals and organisations that oppose signing the Istanbul Convention to work on drafting the law for the ratification of the Convention.

Munjin, on the news site Narod.hr – connected to In the Name of the Family – wrote an opinion text in February in which he said the Convention would result in “a new sort of violence” towards women and victims of violence “by imposing gender ideology” on them. His NGO played a role in triggering the referendum in 2o13, which effectively ended the possibility of introducing gay marriage in Croatia. Ordo Iuris's branch in Poland opposes the Convention, due to its definitions of gender, while the position of its informal branch in Croatia is unknown. But the conservative group was one of those that called on leftist Croatian theatre director Oliver Frljic to be banned from entering Poland, because his play, "The Curse", criticised the Catholic Church and late Pope John Paul II.

Prskalo was also a speaker at a panel that criticised gender ideology and sexual education in schools during Trafest 2016, a traditionalist conservative gathering held in the coastal city of Dubrovnik in October. Minister Nada Murganic, on the "Otvoreno" TV show on Wednesday, defended the choice of members of the working group, saying it was politically “plural … because we wanted to include people of different orientations”. But Sarnavka said the issue of violence against women and domestic violence should not be seen as an issue of political ideology, left or right, "but a non-ideological issue of expertise”. She said other conservative associations and individuals that also deal with the issue might have been included instead.

Another member of the working group, Neva Tolle, from the Autonomous Safe House in Zagreb, which offers shelter and help to women and children victims of violence, told BIRN that she was also unpleasantly surprised. “It’s highly unusual for the working group for drafting a proposal for ratification of the Istanbul Convention to contain people who publicly declare themselves as against the ratification,” she said. Tolle said she was sceptical about what these two members could do to contribute, fearing that they may just “obstruct the process”. Following BIRN’s inquiry to the ministry about the two members on Thursday, the Ministry replied by offering an official reply “at the beginning of next week”.
© Balkan Insight

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Serbian LGBT Activists Report ‘Offensive’ Vucic Video

LGBT campaigners allege that the latest promotional video for PM Aleksandar Vucic’s presidential campaign breaches the law on advertising because it uses a derogatory term for gays.

9/3/2017- A collective of Serbian LGBT NGOs called Da se zna (Let it be Known) have sent an official complaint to Serbian Regulatory Body for Electronic Media, REM, alleging that the latest promotional video released by Aleksandar Vucic in his campaign for the presidency contains offensive speech. The video shows Vucic in a bar being quizzed by a young man about the achievements of his government. Each time Vucic lists a success, everyone in the bar raises their glasses. At the end of the video, a TV in the corner of the bar is broadcasting a football match and fans can be heard shouting “Vucic, faggot!” The video aims to mock an incident in October 2014, when football fans chanted the phrase at an incident-marred international match between Serbia and Albania in Belgrade. Dragoslava Barzut from Da sezna told BIRN that the video promotes homophobic language and urged the REM to take action.

“We think that the ruling [Progressive] party [led by Vucic], which supports European values, should not bring vocabulary stigmatising LGBT people into political discourse,” Barzut said. Milos Stojkovic, a lawyer who participated in drafting the laws on advertising, electronic communications and electronic media, said that Vucic’s video contravenes the Law on Advertising, which says that adverts cannot spread hate or intolerance. “This specific message has the potential to be offensive to people of an alternative sexual orientation; aggressive chants [of this phrase] could be offensive to the LGBT community,” Stojkovic told BIRN. Stojkovic says that if a TV station broadcasts the video, the REM should take action on its own, not just to react to complaints.

If the video is only seen online, the trade ministry’s market inspection unit should sanction it, he said. He said the unit should ask YouTube to remove the video because of the offensive wording, and also order the removal of the offensive wording from the clip. Neither Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party nor the REM responded to BIRN’s questions regarding the video by the time of publication. The REM has told news website Insajder that it has not made any specific decision about monitoring the presidential election campaign, but if anyone complains, it will consider their grievance. The REM is obliged to ensure that broadcast media obey the law during the election campaign. It has no legal powers to punish violations, but must report them to the state Anti-Corruption Agency. The REM told Insajder that it still hasn’t published its monitoring report on the last elections in April 2016 because it is understaffed.
© Balkan Insight

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Czechs fail to take modern approach to gender equality, foreign minister says

8/3/2017- The Czech Republic is not among the EU's progressive and cultivated countries in ensuring gender equality, and it has even been one of the worst due to the pay differences and the conditions of mothers, Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said at a conference yesterday. The whole society pays dearly, also financially, for the worse position of women, Zaoralek (Social Democrats, CSSD), told journalists during the 22% Towards Equality conference. The conference, marking the International Women's Day, highlighted the pay differences between Czech men and women, which rank among the deepest in Europe. In the Czech Republic, women's pay is 22 percent lower on average than men's. In addition, the employment of mothers of children under six is the third lowest in Europe.

Zaoralek called the unequal conditions for men and women "a display of backwardness and parochialism." "It is a shame and I feel ashamed of it," he told the conference. Labour and Social Affairs Minister Michaela Marksova (CSSD) said the 22-percent pay difference corresponds to some 6,700 crowns a month. Women's lower incomes afflict not only them but also their offspring, and they negatively influence women's pensions that are 20-percent lower than men's, Marksova said. The pay differences persist in spite of the government's effort to eliminate them. In the private and the state sectors, women's pay were 24 and 17 percent lower than men's, respectively, in the first half of 2016. In 2016, the Labour Ministry launched a five-year project 22% Towards Equality, which offers a pay audit programme to firms and institutions.

"We do not want to campaign by means of tough measures and fines, but to explain employers whether the wages they pay are just...The employers are often surprised after checking the situation," Marksova said. She said the introduction of children's groups and small nurseries helped improve the gender equality in the Czech Republic in the past several years. The position of small children's parents might also improve based on a planned new provision in the Labour Code, which would bind employers to explain in writing why they would not grant a part-time job to applicants from among parents, Marksova said. Zaoralek said Czechs should not only discuss the problem of inequality and undignified conditions but also seek a change in this respect. He said the causes of the Czech approach to gender equality originate back in the period of the communist regime. At the time, gender equality only meant that "women could work as hard as men, and they obtained a carnation once a year, on the International Women's Day," Zaoralek added.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

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Czech region refuses to write report on Roma

8/3/2017- The Liberec Region will not send a report on the state of its Roma minority to the Government Office as its methodological instructions are inhumane, deputy regional governor for social affairs Ivan Langr (Change for Liberec) told journalists yesterday. The report has been serving as a basis for a national report for years. Langr asked the human rights minister and ombudsman to adopt a stance on it. "We want to be assured whether it is really acceptable to base monitoring documents of a similar type on anthropology and on a generalisation of social patterns," Langr said. "We want to know whether all of this is in accordance with the official human rights policy in the Czech Republic," he added.
Langr said he was opposed to the remarks in the methodology he had sent to the media.

Langr said they advised social workers, civil servants, school principals and teachers to identify members of the Roma ethnic group "on the basis of real or imaginary (anthropolo-gical, cultural and social) indicators." Langr said he was of the view that the government officials incited to create one's own sample of visible physical signs to determine who is a Romany. Such results should be recorded in official statistics. "We cannot create any false statistics of members of a minority according to some imaginary visible features, generalised patterns of behaviour of social habits and to push those who may be consistent with this into a category they themselves refuse," Langr said. He mentioned a Soviet film on the war in which an SS member examined the prisoners of war to determine who is of Jewish origin according to their faces and noses.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

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Norwegian Nazis On The Rise

Nazis are becoming more active and organized in the Nordic countires. Several of the 20-30 members of the Resistance Movement in Norway have criminal records related to violence.

7/3/2017- About 70 years have gone by since the Norwegian resistance movement was fighting against Nazism and the occupation of Norway. Today, Nazis in the Nordic countries, or National-Socialists as they call themselves, have formed their own so-called resistance movement. They plan on starting a political party, according to NRK.

The Resistance Movement
The resistance movement (Den nordiske motstandsbevegelsen) believes that Norway has secretly been occupied of a Jewish-Zionist foreign power and that Norwegian democracy is therefore illegitimate. They believe that the Holocaust is a lie, homosexuality in public and same-sex marriage should be forbidden, and that schools should have nationalistic core values. They want a “racially customized” form of government where anyone who is not of Northern European or similar ethnicity will be thrown out of the country.

Not A Political Threat
Terje Emberland who is a senior researcher at the Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities told NRK that he doesn’t worry about Nazism becoming a political threat in Norway because we have experience with having been occupied. However, he points out that they are a threat to the groups that they target. That could be Jews, asylum centers, journalists and other groups. When NRK asked “How much impact can such an organization have? Are they trying to hide that this is something that they stand for?” Emberland replied “No, they’re not trying to hide it. They are on the contrary, standing up for their values and honoring Hitler, denying the Holocaust, harassing Jews, and so on. So that in that respect, this organization is so extreme and so evident in their old Nazi ideology that in many ways, it is unlikely that they’ll get any kind of political support.”

Nazis On The Shooting Range
NRK has identified 30 Norwegian activists of the movement. Seventeen of them have been sentenced a total of 24 times in Norwegian courts in the past decade. Many of these sentences were for serious crimes. Six of them were for violence and three of them were for breaches of the Firearms Act, according to NRK. Several members of the Nordic Resistance Movement have legal weapons and are actively training to use them. At least 3 members practice shooting at a shooting range in Elverum. These 3 people have lost permission to have private weapons but are still allowed to rent guns for target practice at the shooting range, according to NRK. The owners of the shooting range are not allowed to deny individuals access to their facilities unless the police has given them a reason to do so.

Demonstrating Again
The National-Socialists, as they liked to be called, have had protests in Sweden, where most of their members reside. Now, they are planning a demonstration in an unknown city in Norway this summer to protest against LGBT rights. Jakob Ravndal who researches extremism warns not to make this into a bigger problem than it is. “They have to be taken seriously, but at the same time, we shouldn’t exaggerate their significance- neither politically nor with regards to violence. We’re talking about a very, very small group of people with an ideology that will have great difficulty gaining a foothold in this country,” he told NRK.
© The Nordic Page

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Austria threatens EU funding cuts over Hungary's hard line on refugees

Chancellor to raise issue of contributions to Hungary and Poland at summit this week

8/3/2017- Austria has warned that net contributors to the EU budget will refuse to continue paying unless beneficiaries in central Europe take their quota of refugees. Austria’s chancellor, Christian Kern, said he would raise the issue of cutting EU contributions to countries such as Hungary and Poland at an EU summit this week. Hungary has taken a hard line against refugees and on Tuesday passed a law to force all asylum seekers into detention camps while they wait for their cases to be heard. The country’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, welcomed the move in a speech to border guards in which he called migration “a Trojan horse for terrorism”.

Kern told Die Welt: “The money from the EU budget must also be spread more equitably among the member countries in the future. If countries continue to avoid resolving the issue of migration, or tax dumping at the expense of their neighbours, they will not be able to receive net new payments of billions from Brussels.” He said some countries expected solidarity on economic development, security interests or sanctions against Russia but refused it on other issues. “Selective solidarity should in the future also lead to selective payments among the net payers. Solidarity is not a one-way street,” he said. So far 13,500 refugees have been redistributed under an EU scheme. Poland has not yet accepted a single migrant out of its allocated 6,182 and is the largest net recipient from the EU budget, at €9.5bn. It is followed in the region by the Czech Republic (€5.7bn), Romania (€5.2bn) and Hungary (€4.6bn). As many as 98,000 refugees are due to distributed by September.

The issue of EU budget contributions is becoming more politically controversial in the wake of the decision of the UK, a net contributor, to leave the EU. Kern said the absence of UK contributions after Brexit would require efficiency savings to stop the sums paid by remaining member states from rising. The UN high commissioner for human rights, Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad, on Wednesday accused Orbán of promoting “toxic notions of ethic purity” and said detaining asylum seekers fell short of international norms. “Yesterday, the Hungarian parliament passed a bill requiring all migrants to be transported to an area outside the country’s border fence. All asylum seekers would be held in detention in this same area for the entire duration of the country’s asylum procedure, which falls far short of international norms. As is also the case in Poland, the Hungarian government has continued to undermine civil society and judges, and increase government influence over the media.”

The Hungarian government has remained defiant in the face of criticisms from the United Nations and human rights groups, saying it was not interested in those who advocated solutions that led to anarchy and chaos. Foreign affairs spokesman Tamás Menczer rejected criticism of the measure. “The idea that Hungary should disregard both Hungarian and international law and allow illegal immigrants, about whom we know nothing and who have travelled through a host of safe countries just because they want to live in Germany or Sweden, into the country is nonsense,” he said. The Hungarian measure has been welcomed by European far-right parties, including Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland, but has also led some mainstream politicians to call for similar measures.

Stephan Mayer, the interior spokesman for Angela’s Merkel’s CDU/CSU, urged coalition partners the SPD to agree to the construction of transit centres at which asylum seekers would undergo identity and security checks. “The SPD should no longer be closed to this proposal,” Mayer said, adding that it was the best way to prevent a repetition of the influx of migrants in 2015. The SPD rejected the proposal, saying it was at odds with humanitarian and legal principles.
© The Guardian.

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France: Marine Le Pen would quit presidency if French people voted against leaving EU

8/3/2017- Marine Le Pen reportedly told a group of entrepreneurs on Tuesday that she would leave the Elysée if French people voted to stay in the European Union, French newspaper Ouest France reports. The leader of the far-right Front National said that if she were elected president of France, her first move would be to start negotiations with the countries of the European Union. "These negotiations are aimed at regaining our economic freedom... If the negotiations do not work, I will say to the French: we must leave the European Union and build a Europe of nations and co-operation," Le Pen said. "What will happen if I tell [the French public] we need to leave and they decide to stay? Well, they will decide, the people are right." "What do you want me to do? I'll leave," she said. "My entire project can only be implemented if we have the means, the levers."

Le Pen was talking to entrepreneurs gathered by the employers' movement Ethic. One of the main points of the far-right candidate's programme is to organise a referendum on the EU, to leave behind the euro and to bring back to French franc, yet only 22% of French voters agree with her idea of leaving the Eurozone. Even among her supporters, only 64% are in favour of the idea. Polls currently show Le Pen narrowly beating independent Emmanuel Macron in the first round of the elections, but ultimately losing out to either Macron or embattled conservative candidate François Fillon. The first round of voting will take place in April, while the second will take place in May.
© The Business Insider

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France's Fillon wins party backing after Juppe rules out election bid

Francois Fillon fought off a rebellion that had threatened to end his candidacy for the French presidency on Monday as party leaders swung behind the center-right former prime minister despite allegations that he had misused public funds.

7/3/2017- Hours after party heavyweight Alain Juppe ruled out challenging Fillon, the conservative Republicans' party leadership unanimously backed their beleaguered candidate, Senate leader Gerard Larcher said. "The Republicans are united around Francois Fillon," Larcher told reporters, after telling fellow party officials behind closed doors: "The debate is over". The conservatives are re-launching Fillon's campaign, party chief Bernard Accoyer added. Less than 50 days from the election, opinion polls show 63-year old Fillon - once the election frontrunner - crashing out in the first round. They also show an overwhelming majority of French wanted him to drop out of the election. But despite growing calls within the party against his candidacy, challengers failed to convince Fillon to step down voluntarily and could not agree on an alternative candidate. The allegations that he paid his wife lavishly from taxpayers' funds for doing little work as his parliamentary assistant have badly damaged Fillon and also rattled foreign investors who fear it could boost far-right leader Marine Le Pen's election chances. Fillon denies any wrongdoing. The euro fell on Monday after Juppe announced he would not challenge Fillon.

"What a Waste!"
Juppe, a former prime minister like Fillon, said he had considered stepping in but decided against it because he felt his camp was too divided for him to be able to unite it. "As for the right and the center, what a waste!" Juppe said of his party's chances in the election. Before the scandal, Fillon had been favorite to return the right to power against a backdrop of high unemployment and sluggish growth under Socialist President Francois Hollande. But now his predicted poor showing in the first round on April 23 would leave centrist Emmanuel Macron to face Le Pen in a runoff on May 7. Macron, 39, a former investment banker who has never run for elected office, is forecast to win. Polls have shown that Juppe, who is 71 and lost to the more right-wing Fillon in their party's primaries, would have made the second round comfortably. They also indicated that Juppe would have beaten Le Pen more easily in the second round than Fillon, given his greater appeal to centrist voters opposed to the anti-euro, anti-European Union, anti-immigration stance of the National Front candidate.

"Francois Fillon... had a boulevard (to the presidency) in front of him," Juppe said in the city of Bordeaux. "The instigation of judicial investigations against him and his defense based on a supposed plot and political assassination have brought him to a dead end." Fillon has complained of media and judicial bias against his candidacy that he says amount to a "political assassination". Juppe's uncharacteristically harsh words for Fillon, whom he called obstinate for staying on, exposed the depth of frustration within France's mainstream political right, which has never failed in postwar history to reach the second round of a presidential election but is now forecast to do so.

But Fillon was unfazed, telling the emergency meeting of party officials: "It is time for everybody to get their act together and come back to their senses." "I call on all women and men of good will to rally, to respect the message our voters sent during the primaries and to unite behind my candidacy, which is the only legitimate one," he said, according to a transcript of his speech. Fillon revealed last week he was to be summoned by a judge later in March with a view to being put under formal investigation.
© Reuters

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France: Franēois Hollande: Far right poses a ‘threat’ to France and EU

Europe is likely to ‘explode’ unless it is reformed, the French president also said.

6/3/2017- Marine Le Pen poses a “threat” to France and the European Union, outgoing French President François Hollande said Monday. If the far-right presidential candidate were to win, “it would immediately open a process of exit from the eurozone and even from the EU,” Hollande said in an interview published by six European papers. “It is the aim of all populists to leave Europe … My last duty is to do everything possible so that France is not convinced by such a project.” Hollande also endorsed the idea of a multispeed Europe and warned that if it isn’t implemented, “Europe will explode.” “The Europe of 27 can no longer be a uniform Europe,” the French president said. “For a long time, the idea of a differentiated Europe, with different speeds, has aroused much resistance. But today it is an idea that is imposing itself. If not, Europe will explode.” Hollande is set to host the leaders of Germany, Spain and Italy at Versailles on Monday to address European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s five scenarios on the future of the EU. The outgoing president chose not to contest the upcoming elections due to low approval ratings. Recent polls show Le Pen neck-and-neck with centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, with Macron predicted to defeat Le Pen in the runoff vote.
© Politico EU

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Breitbart Drags Feet on German Expansion

The American far-right news company Breitbart is still eager to set up shop in Germany, yet serious challenges lie in the way of its build-up in Europe.

7/3/2017- Far-right media company Breitbart was preparing a media offensive in Germany ahead of this September’s parliamentary elections, but those plans appear to have been postponed. German online magazine Telepolis is reporting that the controversial American news outlet is ailing from sinking revenues, amidst a medley of scandals and allegations of faulty reporting, and a German-language version won’t be available online by voting time. Breitbart already has European offices in Rome and London, and is keen to expand into Germany and France, presumably to cheer on far-right candidates in elections as it did for U.S. President Donald Trump.

Both Germany and France have seen a rise in far-right, anti-immigrant sentiment over recent years, with support growing for the National Front party led by Marine Le Pen and the Alternative for Germany (AfD). Since last summer there has been a constant increase in the number of visitors to German far-right sites such as Politically Incorrect, which has now entered the list of the 500 most-visited addresses in Germany. According to German newspaper Die Zeit, a sister publication of Handelsblatt, Breitbart’s expansion is also hindered by logistical problems, such as various German URLs featuring the company’s name in the address being snapped up by activists. Similarly, the media outlet would also need to decide whether it would publish in German or English.

Breitbart also has a poor reputation in Germany thanks to its former chief executive, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon, who is vocally anti-European Union and has reportedly been linked to neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups in the United State. A recent Breitbart article about an alleged attack in Dortmund reported false and highly-exaggerated facts, leading to a tongue-lashing from various German news sources. Breitbart’s Rome correspondent Thomas Williams told Die Zeit that a first round of interviews for the German editorial office had already been conducted and the goal continues to be opening the office in six to eight months. However, Mr. Williams also recently told German far-right publication Junge Freiheit that plans for a German-language edition have been postponed indefinitely because of the many associated complications.

According to analytics company Alexa, Breitbart.com is one of the 250 most-visited internet addresses in the world, and lies ahead of even the Washington Post among the U.S.’ most-clicked news websites.
© Handelsblatt Global

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Russia gives Beauty and the Beast adults-only rating over gay character

Disney live-action romance will be released with 16+ rating to prevent children from watching, after pressure to ban film over ‘perverted sexual relations’

6/3/2017- After pressure to ban Disney’s live-action take on Beauty and the Beast over a minor gay character, the film will instead be released with a 16+ rating. The family movie, starring Emma Watson, will be given the restricted certificate to prevent children from watching because of the studio’s first “exclusively gay moment” involving a character played by Josh Gad. Certification in Russia is decided by the ministry of culture. Last week ruling party MP Vitaly Milonov called for a ban, referring to the film’s content as “perverted sexual relations” that would be in direct opposition to a Russian law that cracks down on “gay propaganda against minors”. “I’m convinced that the main task of the state regarding children is to protect childhood and youth from the filthiness of the world, to preserve children’s purity, to block our children off from harmful and dangerous phenomena,” he said. “And in this case, our shared task is to not allow the release of this musical on the screen under any guise.”

Last week it was revealed by the film’s director, Bill Condon, that the character of LeFou, played by Gad, would be gay and this would be confirmed at the end after he spends the film pining for his friend Gaston, played by Luke Evans. “It’s somebody who’s just realising that he has these feelings,” he said. “And Josh makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that’s what has its payoff at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.” The film has also been taken off the schedule by an Alabama cinema because of the scene. Since making the announcement, their Facebook page has been flooded with complaints and has now been taken down. Beauty and the Beast is on track to make $120m on its opening weekend in the US alone.
© The Guardian.

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UK: Far-Right and neo-Nazi terror arrests double

9/3/2017- Terror arrests of suspected Right-wing extremists and neo-Nazis more than doubled last year amid fears of a growing threat of political violence from far-Right groups, new Home Office figures show. A total of 35 people were arrested on suspicion of "domestic" terrorism in 2016, which security sources said was dominated by threats from the far-Right. The arrests followed only 15 for domestic terrorism the previous year and come after a warning from the Government’s terrorism watchdog that far-Right extremists now account for one-in-four of those reported to counter-radicalisation schemes. Figures also showed that one-in-three terrorism arrest suspects is now white, up from a quarter in 2015. The increase in domestic terrorism came as arrests for international terrorism including threats like Islamic State and al Qaeda fell slightly and arrests for Northern Ireland-related terrorism remained largely unchanged.

A neo-Nazi group called National Action in December became the first extreme Right-wing group to be banned as a terrorist organisation. The anti-Semitic and white supremacist group had celebrated the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox by Right-wing extremist Thomas Mair. A report from counter extremism campaign group Hope Not Hate, last month concluded there was “a growing risk of violence and even terrorism from ever smaller but more extreme far-Right groups”. In February, David Anderson QC, then the Government’s independent terror law watchdog, said far-Right terrorism could be as dangerous as Islamist violence. Extremists were also increasingly seeking to “feed off the tension” caused by Islamist terror to plan violence of their own, he warned.

He said: “The threat from extreme Right-wing terrorism in the UK is currently fragmented but the massacre perpetrated by Anders Breivik in Norway is a warning against underestimating the threat. “Both the Government and the courts treat the threat with the seriousness it deserves. Extreme Right-wing ideology can be just as murderous as its Islamist equivalent. A sophisticated network is not a prerequisite for mass slaughter.” A 17-year-old member of National Action was last month given a three-year youth rehabilitation order after building a homemade pipe bomb. The teenager from Bradford, who cannot be named, had also praised Mair online.

The total tally of terror arrests, 260, was down by eight per cent on 2015. International terrorism, such as suspects linked to Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (Isil), accounted for 203 of the arrests. Earlier this week it was revealed that UK security services had foiled 13 potential attacks in less than four years, while counter-terror units were running more than 500 investigations at any time. The official threat level for international terrorism has stood at severe, meaning an attack is "highly likely", for more than two years.
© The Telegraph

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UK: Concern as Fife targeted by far right fascist propaganda

Authorities in Fife have strongly condemned the actions of a far right fascist organisation which has focused its attention on the region to spread hate-filled propaganda.

8/3/2017- Members of the British Movement, which was founded in the 1960s and became synonymous with violence and extremism over the decades, have targeted the Kingdom with a series of fly posters popping up particularly in the Dunfermline and Kirkcaldy areas, and the group has also taken to social media in a bid to get its message across. Bus stops have been plastered with material featuring the infamous neo-Nazi ‘sunwheel’ logo which calling on Fifers to “Reject Multiculturalism”, while others have referenced ’14 Words’, which is the most widely-used white supremacist slogan in the world. The sudden rise of the propaganda in various parts of the region has left many people sickened, and police are investigating who is driving the British Movement’s cause.

Chief Superintendent Colin Gall, divisional commander for Fife, confirmed action is being taken to find those promoting the controversial messages. He said: “Posters such as these promote racism and intolerance, neither of which we will tolerate in Fife. “I would urge anyone who spots materials such as these to contact us immediately so we can ensure they are removed and progress inquiries to trace those responsible.” A social media blog entitled ‘Central Belt Fife BM’ was the subject of a complaint to Facebook and was subsequently closed down, but a statement on the British Movement’s main website bemoaned an “unprecedented level of interference by left-wing opponents”.

The website went on to criticise those using “underhand methods” to “censor the truth and prevent the British NS (National Socialist) message getting out to the British public”, adding that the organisation’s priority in 2017 is to “create, develop and broadcast as much BM propaganda and public information as widely as possible”. “It will take more than some ‘internet-armchair’ warrior to silence BM activists,” the website warned. Councillor Margaret Kennedy, chair of Fife’s safer communities committee,said: “This is most concerning indeed. It is not acceptable to have any form of racism displayed.” Ms Kennedy added that the council’s policy, once advised of these posters, is to remove them within 24 hours as they are viewed as “unacceptable graffiti”.

Mark McCall, safer communities service manager with Fife Council, commented: “Everyone has the right to live safely and without fear. Experiencing any abuse, harassment or violence can be devastating. “Hate incidents can include verbal abuse, jokes, written abuse, threats, assault, property damage, incidents online and graffiti. “We work hard to reduce crime and the fear of crime and would encourage anyone who experiences or sees it happen to get in touch with the police or call Fife Council on 03451 55 00 22. “Similarly if anyone sees anyone fly-posting they should also call us on the same number so we can arrange for any posters to be remoAved.” The British Movement, which started life as a political party, became increasingly known for its violent attacks on minorities in the 70s and 80s in England, although it was thought to have collapsed in 1983. However, the movement has since re-emerged, albeit with a much smaller membership, and has had a growing presence on the internet.
© The Courier

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Ukraine takes Russia to UN court for terrorism and racial discrimination

The International Court of Justice in The Hague is hearing a case brought by Ukraine against Russia, accusing Moscow of illegally annexing Crimea and illicitly funding separatist rebels.

6/3/2017- Ukraine is seeking compensation for what it describes as terrorist acts committed on its soil. They include the shooting down in 2014 of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, which killed all 298 people on board. Russia has repeatedly denied sending troops or weapons to eastern Ukraine. It also denies bringing down MH17. However the US military has said thousands of Russian troops have been operating in eastern Ukraine since the beginning of the crisis. Dutch air accident investigators meanwhile say a Russian-made missile fired from territory held by pro-Russian rebels hit flight MH17. In their opening remarks, lawyers for Ukraine have accused Russia of making it "impossible for Ukrainian citizens to feel safe anywhere in their country". They have asked the court to issue Russia with an order to "cease and desist". The legal action is being brought under UN anti-terrorism and anti-discrimination conventions.

Russia is expected to challenge the jurisdiction of the court, says the BBC's Anna Holligan in The Hague. Ukraine says Russia is in breach of the Terrorist Financing Treaty by supporting armed groups in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic, the ICJ reports in a press release. It also accuses Russia of mistreating members of the Tatar ethnic group in Crimea and banning their representative organisation, the Majlis of the Crimean Tatar People, after annexing the territory, which it says is a breach of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), Russia has said it took control of Crimea to protect ethnic Russians living there from discrimination. There will be four days of hearings in total, with Ukraine and Russia given two each. More than 10,000 people have lost their lives in nearly three years of conflict in eastern Ukraine.
© BBC News.

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UK: Police announce misogyny is to be recognised as a hate crime

Misogyny is to be recognised as a hate crime by North Yorkshire Police.

8/3/2017- Deputy Chief Constable Lisa Winward has released a blog on the North Yorkshire Police website today, announcing the forces decision to adapt their hate crime policy to include misogyny. Echoing a move made by Nottinghamshire Police in July 2016, from later on this year North Yorkshire Police will recognise misogyny as a form of hate crime and over the coming months will be training officers in the recognition and prosecution of the offence. The definition of the crime that the force will follow is any criminal offence which is perceived by the female victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice based on her gender.

Speaking about the inclusion of misogyny DCC Winward said: “Unfortunately, the reality is we live in a world where some women have to take extra measures such as carrying rape alarms or avoiding certain routes, to avoid harassment or potential attack. "The feeling of vulnerability is real for some women within our communities. The role of the police is to identify and protect those who are vulnerable and I hope that this move will encourage women who are subject to verbal and physical harassment simply because of their gender, to come forward and report it to us. "We know through our work with the North Yorkshire Youth Commission that physical and verbal harassment is an issue that is of concern for young women in North Yorkshire, with some of them experiencing it first-hand. I think this makes our decision even more relevant in the fact that our younger generation are having to consider this matter, that in 2017 misogynistic behaviour is still something that women are experiencing.”
© The Northern Echo

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UK: Far right forgot mosque attacker's criminal past while spewing bigoted bile against his sentence

Dozens of far right protesters marched on Saturday against the jail sentence handed to a man who tied bacon to the door handles of a mosque. Bristol Post journalist Lewis Pennock gives his opinion on the demo.


 


6/3/2017- A far-right group marched in fury this weekend against the one-year jail term handed to a man who tied bacon to the door handles of a mosque in Bristol. About fifty demonstrators, some masked, gathered in condemnation of the 'outrageous sentence' handed to Kevin Crehan after he threw bacon at Jamia Mosque in Totterdown and abused elderly worshippers. They furiously denounced the British justice system, chanted Islamophobic slogans, and clashed violently with an anti-fascist counter-march. They claimed to be angry because Crehan died in prison while serving a sentence they felt was unjust; he was found dead in HMP Bristol in December, with police later calling the circumstances 'not suspicious'. The demonstration was encouraged by the likes of former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson, who fuelled the fire when he tweeted that Crehan 'should never have been' in prison.


The consensus was Crehan was handed such a harsh punishment by a 'politically correct' justice system because his crime was against a mosque – and that a Muslim in a similar position would be treated much more leniently. But in taking to the streets and spewing their bigoted bile – at one point chanting 'f*** Islam' – the horde seemed to forget his string of previous convictions, which undoubtedly influenced the term. The 35-year-old was a convicted football hooligan. Among other things, he had previous for assaulting a police officer, he had once been caught carrying a sawn-off pool cue down his trousers and he was banned from going within a mile of Ashton Gate, Bristol City's football ground.

Crehan had been before the courts for these crimes. This isn't a comment on his character – but the angry mob should consider his criminal past before using this sorry episode to protest against a supposedly corrupt judiciary. Their response to Crehan's sentence, after news of his death broke, slammed 'liberal politically correct judges'. Some used social media to complain of 'one law for us and one law for them' ('them' presumably referring to non-white people), while others bemoaned the fact 'you can burn poppies and get away with it' – which, by the way, you can't. There are plenty of lenient jail terms which leave the public scratching their heads, but this shouldn't be one. The truth in this case is the court was presented with a man who had a long criminal past – and it dealt with him accordingly. Tommy Robinson and his followers should consider that before using the case to fuel their barmy conspiracy about a justice system – and a country – pandering to Islam.



© The Bristol Post
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Romania: Bill Targeting Ethnic Hungarians Criticized

Lawmaker insists that his proposal to criminalize attempts at 'changing the constitutional order' isn’t aimed at protesters.

6/3/2017- One would think that this was not the best time to introduce controversial legislation in Romania – just weeks after the largest protests in post-1989 history made the government backtrack on a law decriminalizing some instances of corruption. Yet Tudor Ciuhodaru, a parliamentary member from the ruling Social Democrat Party (PSD), has been attempting to push through a new law that has human rights activists on edge, Balkan Insight writes. The bill, cited by Mediafax, carries jail sentences of between six months and three years for actions “carried out with the aim of changing the constitutional order, or hindering or preventing the state from wielding its power.”

Ciuhodaru told Digi24 that his aim was to fill a gap in existing legislation, related to “extremist and separatist movements.”
Extremist and separatist movements are condemned throughout the entire world (…) especially when it comes to desecrating national symbols, and the laws need to be very strict,” Ciuhodaru said according to Digi24.

Ciuhodaru also stressed in a Facebook post that the law didn’t target protests such as the recent ones against the government, and that he had first presented the idea in 2012, after episodes of unrest in the Szekler community, a subgroup of the country’s 1.2 million Hungarian community in central Transylvania. According to Balkan Insight, Ciuhodaru said he wrote the bill before the recent disturbances, with the proposed legislation only reaching the Senate last week. Social Democrat spokesperson Adrian Dobre said that his party doesn’t support Ciuhodaru’s proposal, which has several flaws related to its constitutionality, according to a different Digi24 article.

Ethnic politics in Transylvania can prove a tricky subject, as U.S. Ambassador to Romania Hans Klemm discovered last fall. Klemm found himself in hot water over a photo appearance in Romania featuring the official flag of the Szekler minority group. At the end of January, 10 ethnic Hungarians from Romania started gathering signatures for a bill for the independence of Szeklerland, Hotnews writes. The initiative needs at least 100,000 signatures from at least 10 out of the country’s 41 counties to spark a debate in parliament.
© Transitions Online.

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UK: Driver dragged from taxi in racist attack in Edinburgh

A gang of about 10 people dragged a taxi driver from his vehicle and attacked him in what police are calling a racially-motivated assault and robbery in Edinburgh.

6/3/2017- The attack happened in West Pilton Place at about 18:55 on Sunday while the taxi was stationary. One of the gang jumped onto the taxi's bonnet and smashed the windscreen.  A three-figure sum of cash was stolen from the taxi. The attackers were male and female aged between 14 and 20. The man who jumped on the taxi is white, tall, of slim build and was wearing a red top. The same youths had earlier stepped out in front of his taxi at the junction with Crewe Road Gardens and West Pilton Place, forcing him to stop and stealing an item from his boot. Barbara Beaufoy, secretary of Tenants and Residents in Muirhouse (TRIM) and Friends of West Pilton (FOWP), said: "Trim and Friends of West Pilton were appalled to hear of the assault and robbery of a taxi driver. "We believe that everyone, going about their normal daily lives, has the right to do so in safety and not fall victim to anti-social or criminal behaviour." Det Con Euan Hair, of Police Scotland, said: "We are treating this assault and robbery as racially-motivated and are determined to track down these suspects as quickly as possible. "This man was simply going about his legitimate business and he has a right to do so without being assaulted. "There is no place for racism in our communities and we will use all resources available to deal with those responsible swiftly."
© BBC News.

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Germany: Terror trial in Dresden for Freital neo-Nazi group

Eight people are on trial in Dresden for bomb attacks on homes for asylum applicants. Hundreds of similar assaults occur in Germany every year, but they had never been tried as terrorism in a federal court.

6/3/2017- A major trial against the eight far-right extremists known as the Freital Group began in Dresden on Tuesday. The seven men and one woman, aged between 19 and 38, face a marathon 62 days in court as federal prosecutors seek to lay out a complex case showing that the organization amounted to a terrorist cell. The group, based in the small Saxony town of Freital, is accused of carrying out five separate attacks beginning in summer 2015 and planning more. The targets of the attacks included several refugee homes, the offices of left-wing politicians and a car belonging to a local Left party leader. Though no one was killed, the terror charges - and the fact that federal rather than state prosecutors are involved - makes this one of the most significant trials in recent German history and could act as a precedent for other such trials.

Long charge sheet
The charges include counts of attempted murder, grievous bodily harm, causing an explosion and property damage, though not all members are accused of each act. Only two people were injured in the incidents, though prosecutors say that deaths were only avoided because people were able to get to safety before the homemade explosives went off. In 2015, the leaders of the group, 27-year-old Timo S. and 25-year-old Patrick F., founded the so-called citizens' defense group, which quickly began planning violent attacks. "The aim of this group was to carry out bomb attacks on asylum-seeker shelters, as well as on the apartments, offices and vehicles of those with differing political views," federal prosecutors said in a statement released in November 2016. "In this way the accused wanted to create a climate of fear and repression."

The Freital Group (which also called itself Citizens Defense FTL/360) stockpiled fireworks - bought in the Czech Republic and illegal in Germany - that members used to manufacture pipe bombs in September 2015. That month, Patrick F. and one other unidentified member of the group attached one of these homemade explosives to the outside of a kitchen window of a local refugee shelter and detonated it. According to the prosecutor's statement, the only reason the eight people living there survived was because they weren't in the kitchen when the bomb exploded. The following month, prosecutors say, the entire group attacked an "alternative living project" in Dresden, throwing cobblestones and small homemade explosives through the windows, injuring one of the inhabitants. Another bomb attack on a residence for asylum applicants followed that month, leaving one person with facial injuries from broken glass as another homemade bomb went off.

'No confidence' in Saxony justice
For Matthias Quent, director of the Thuringia-based Institute for Democracy and Civil Society, the most significant aspect of the case is the fact that it is being taken so seriously by the authorities. "It's a bit of a test case for the federal prosecutors to work with a terrorist charge," Quent said. "For me, it's an accurate charge because the aim of the perpetrators was to spread fear. The fact that it was aimed not at the state, but against individual groups - refugees and those who helped refugees - diminishes neither the gravity of the crime nor the message it is sending out."

This is likely to be the central issue in the trial, as the defense attorneys aren't denying the crimes, only their categorization as terrorism. For Quent, this categorization is vital - not least because it represents a reaction by the authorities to the botched investigations into the murders carried out by the National Socialist Underground: a series of ten racist killings committed over the course of a decade. "For a long time, they didn't see this - now they are more alert, and see terrorism even when it is not primarily directed at the state, but against immigrants," he said.

Quent even called the federal prosecutors' decision to take the case as a "vote of no confidence" in their state counterparts and the local judiciary in Saxony - "because at least three police officers are under suspicion of at least having contact with the group." All this may only be the tip of the iceberg. "Very few of the perpetrators of attacks on asylum-seekers' homes are found and prosecuted," Quent said. Federal police statistics show that there were 921 attacks on asylum shelters in Germany in 2016, with suspects identified in only about 20 percent of the cases. "We just don't know who is behind them - whether they're individual perpetrators or organized structures," Quent said, "but experience suggests that it is often very similar structures to those standing in court in Freital."
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Dutch back Muslims as far-right MP vows to close mosques

5/3/2017- Hundreds of Dutch citizens met at an Amsterdam mosque Sunday to show solidarity with the country's Muslim population, as an anti-Islam MP again vowed to shut mosques and ban the Koran should he win upcoming elections. Some 200 people representing a broad coalition against racism in The Netherlands gathered at the central Al-Kabir mosque, saying they were deeply worried about the rise of discrimination against Muslims in the European country. "It's very important that we make our voice heard. We as a Muslim community pose no danger whatsoever to society," said Najem Ouladali, one of the organisers of the meeting which also included members of Amsterdam's gay and lesbian community. "In fact, we are victims too of Islamic extremism," added another speaker, Abdou Menebhi, who chairs a Moroccan organisation in The Netherlands. Various estimates put The Netherlands' Muslim population between 840,000 to 960,000 people, or around 5.0 percent out of a population of some 17 million people. Most Muslims are from Turkish or Moroccan descent, according to the Dutch central statistics office.

- 'Dangerous to society' -
Talk during the meeting, which was paused for afternoon prayers, constantly returned to Dutch firebrand far-right MP Geert Wilders, who is campaigning ahead of elections on an anti-Islam ticket. The 53-year-old Wilders has courted controversy with his hardline anti-Islam, anti-immigrant stance and his incendiary insults against Moroccans and Turks. He has vowed in his party's one-page manifesto that if elected he would ban the sale of Korans, close mosques and Islamic schools, shut Dutch borders and ban Muslim migrants. Support however for Wilders and his extreme stance seems to have withered in recent days according to the latest polls. "We believe that what Wilders is doing is very dangerous to our society," Ouladali told AFP after the mosque meeting, speaking in Dutch. Ineke van der Valk, a researcher at the University of Amsterdam told the meeting that incidents of hate crimes against Muslims were on the rise in The Netherlands. Since 2015 incidents involving discrimination have almost doubled and there were at least 54 incidents involving mosques -- like threatening letters displaying Nazi symbols she said. "There has been a worrisome rise in this kind of activity in our country," Van der Valk said.

- 'Mosques to close' -
Meanwhile the firebrand Wilders again vowed to close mosques, should he become prime minister after the vote, seen as a key litmus test of the rise of populist and far-right parties ahead of other national elections to be held across Europe later this year. "Closing mosques may be more difficult but you can do it," Wilders told journalists in an industrial suburb of Amsterdam earlier at a press meeting. "You have to change the Constitution. It takes time, certainly in Holland... but I am a lawmaker and if anyone can change the constitution and propose this, it's me," Wilders said. Just 10 days before elections Wilders and his Freedom Party (PVV) appears to have slipped into second place behind the Liberal party of incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte after months of leading the opinion polls.

"I am confident we will all have excellent results," Wilders told a gaggle of mainly foreign journalists, referring also to France's far-right presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen. "Even if that will not be the case, the genie will not go back into the bottle... certainly things will change in Europe," he insisted. Boosted by the polarising debate over immigration, and initially by the victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential race, Wilders had been leading polls since late last year. But the latest collated polls by the Dutch website Peilingwijzer (Poll indicator) from seven different agencies on Saturday showed Rutte's VVD party would now win 23 to 27 seats in the 150-seat lower house of parliament, with the PVV set to garner 22-26 seats if elections were held today.
© AFP

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Bulgarian court acquits vigilante migrant tracker

7/3/2017- A Bulgarian man who posted a video showing three Afghan migrants lying tied up on the ground near the Turkish border was acquitted on Tuesday of illegally detaining them, after a court ruled there was insufficient evidence against him. Petar Nizamov, 31, nicknamed Perata, was arrested last April after posting the video on social media. It showed two men lying on the ground with their hands tied behind their backs. A third man lay flat on his stomach, restrained with long plastic cable ties, while an unidentified voice shouted in English: "Go back. Back Turkey. Now. No Bulgaria, go Turkey immediately".  All three men were later found by border police, no longer tied up, and were taken to an accommodation center for migrants. The video was included as evidence but the regional court in Burgas said it could not confirm Nizamov's participation since witnesses said they could not remember who tied up the migrants.

National television bTV reported that Nizamov thanked the judge, who he said was "one of the few courageous judges who oppose the organized trafficking of migrants". He also told the court he intended to continue to patrol at the border. Prosecutors plan to appeal against the court's decision. Tough measures to restrict asylum seekers and migrants are supported by all political parties in the Balkan country, which has built a wall along its border with Turkey. Figures from Bulgaria's Interior Ministry show the number of people officially detained at the Turkish border dropped to 64 in January, compared to 712 in January 2016.
© Reuters

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Bulgaria: Roma Marginalization 'Remains Most Pressing Human Rights Problem'

The marginalization of "and societal intolerance towards the Romani minority remained the country's most pressing human rights problem", alongside anti-refugee sentiment and deteriorating media environment, the US Department of State says.

4/3/2017- In its annual human rights report on Bulgaria, it says: "Other reported human rights problems included police violence; harsh conditions in prisons and detention facilities; and long delays in the judicial system. There were reports of religious discrimination and harassment; shortcomings in refugee integration processes and policies; election fraud; gender-based violence and discrimination against women; violence against children; increasing online anti-Semitism; trafficking in persons; discrimination against persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and social stigma against persons with HIV/AIDS. Child labor and discrimination against members of minorities in employment and occupation were also reported."

The State Department recalls that in 2015 the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) issued a statement concluding police brutality was a systemic problem, based on a significant number of allegations of deliberate physical mistreatment of persons detained by police. Conditions in most prisons were "harsh, with inadequate sanitary, living and medical facilities" as of 2016, according to the report. Another area of concern is the judiciary, as "the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but corruption, inefficiency, and a lack of accountability continued to be pervasive problems. Public trust in the judicial system remained extremely low because of the perception that magistrates were susceptible to political pressure and rendered unequal justice."

In the section about "corruption ald lack of transparency in government", the text reads: "While the law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials in all branches of government reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corrupt practices included bribery, conflict of interest, elaborate embezzlement schemes, procurement violations, and influence trading." Human rights "form an essential foundation of stable, secure, and functioning societies. Standing up for human rights and democracy is not just a moral imperative but is in the best interests of the United States in making the world more stable and secure." The reports also "reflect the concerted efforts of our embassies and consulates to gather the most accurate information possible. They are prepared by human rights officers at U.S. missions around the world who review information available from a wide variety of civil society, government, and other sources."
The report is available



here.
© Novinite
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Poland: Faith, flag and football: how the game developed a white supremacist fringe

Among the colours and badges of Polish football clubs is a banner declaring, “Death to the enemies of the fatherland”.

6/3/2017- Poland’s Catholic churches rarely want for colour, but even the gaudiest frescoes and stained-glass windows struggled to compete with the sea of striped hats and scarves on show at the 14th-century Jasna Góra Monastery, as fans of football teams from across Poland gathered there in January. This is Poland’s holiest shrine, and the crowds were here to celebrate faith, family and football. As in other European countries, pockets of nationalist and white-supremacist football fans have long been a presence on the margins of Polish society. In recent years, they have grown in number, as many Poles turn their backs on what they regard as the unfulfilled promises of a liberal European future.
Although much international attention has been given to Poland’s authoritarian turn since the election of the populist-nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party in 2015, nationalist and xenophobic sentiment had been on the rise for some time. It was accelerated by a frustration with Poland’s uneven economic growth and fears relating to the refugee crisis and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As nativist sentiment has risen, so have the fortunes of the parties to the right of PiS. This poses a dilemma for a party that styles itself as the natural home for Polish “patriots”, in contrast to its pro-European rival, Civic Platform. In the run-up to the Uefa European Championship in Poland and Ukraine in 2012, Poland’s then Civic Platform-led government (which was headed by Donald Tusk before he became president of the European Council in 2014) clamped down on organised hooliganism. It was feared that violence or instances of racism could disrupt the tournament and damage the country’s reputation abroad.

That provided an opening for far-right and right-wing politicians to adopt the nationalist fans’ cause, portraying them as ordinary patriots enduring harassment from a liberal government hostile to “traditional” cultural values. Their cause has also been adopted by hardliners within the Polish Catholic Church, who share PiS’s view that the country’s values and identity are under sustained attack by decadent, Western cosmopolitanism and the racial diversity imposed from above by Brussels. This alliance is cemented each year by the “Fans’ Patriotic Pilgrimage” to Jasna Góra. At the latest meeting in January, Holy Mass in the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was presided over by Father Jaroslaw Wasowicz, a cleric with connections to the fanatical supporters of the Ekstraklasa league team Lechia Gdansk.

After the Mass, the fans lined the streets of the monastery compound, waiting in temperatures of -15°C to be blessed by priests wearing football scarves over their cassocks. Among the colours and badges of Polish football clubs were a wide array of nationalist slogans, ranging from garden-variety patriotism to radical right-wing and white-supremacist symbols. They included banners demanding the restoration to Poland of lands now in Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine, and the ubiquitous slogan of “Death to the enemies of the fatherland”. “This bizarre ceremony is encouraged by the Church and illustrates the increasingly xenophobic climate in Poland, especially among young people,” said Rafa³ Pankowski, a scholar and anti-racism campaigner based at the Collegium Civitas in Warsaw. In his sermon, Father Wasowicz told the fans that PiS had ensured that the “shining light of hope is never extinguished in our country”. “We want a Christian Europe, because only by appealing to fundamental values can we defend the continent against annihilation,” he declared. A theme of the sermon was that the fans embodied the spirit of the so-called Cursed Soldiers, Polish fighters who died resisting the imposition of communism in the 1940s.

An increasingly mainstream belief on the Polish right is that Poland, its culture and traditions are threatened by the “leftist” notions of multiculturalism, in much the same way that they were once threatened by Soviet domination. That argument has given many young nationalists the impression that they represent a new generation of Cursed Soldiers. They are, they claim, the vanguard of a new movement to defend Poland from foreign invasions of a different kind, whether it be godless liberalism, the “Muslim terror” imposed by refugee quotas from Brussels, or even the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who have sought economic opportunities in Poland. “We are inspired by the values of those who defended our homeland,” one fan said, his arms crossed and his face hidden from the cold. “For eight years, under the previous government, us patriots were provoked by the authorities. But now things are more comfortable.”

The right-wing fans’ self-confidence is reflected in the rise in popularity of “patriotic street wear”: clothing brands with names such as “Red Is Bad” (the “Red” apparently stands for communism) or “Patoriots” (sic), which combines love for the homeland with an enthusiasm for the art of rioting. These brands specialise in tracksuits, caps and hoodies bearing patriotic slogans and gruesome depictions of foreign occupations. As the sun went down, fans gathered in front of the monastery for a display of fireworks launched from the walls, which were covered from top to bottom with red and white banners. They joined in by firing red flares that lit up the winter night’s sky, as they broke into smaller groups, chanting nationalist slogans.

“White Uni(a)ted” declared a banner hung on the side of the monastery by the self-described “skinheads” of Unia Tarnów. While under the protection of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, a revered Byzantine icon, this place is said to have withstood a 17th-century siege by Swedish invaders. Now, an invocation of white supremacy hangs outside the home of what can be seen, in essence, as Poland’s only symbol of black power.
© The New Statesman

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Polish MEPs wash their dirty linen in Parliament

8/3/2017- Absent from his AFET Committee this morning, the hapless Polish migrant MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, who yesterday had resigned from the EPP, was mercilessly savaged today by compatriots, among whom the former Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski, for having betrayed the EPP by villainously accepting Jaroslav Kaczyński’s proposal to replace the current president of the Council Donald Tusk. Polish MEPs hostile to the Eurosceptic Jaroslaw Kaczynski-dominated PiS government in Warsaw underlined in the Parliament today, in front of other AFET MEPs, that Tusk is backed by 56% of Poland, while Saryusz-Wolski by only 20%. There is a long lasting feud between Lewandowski and Saryusz-Wolski. In 2009, Saryusz-Wolski had tried hard to become Poland’s Commissioner, but Tusk, then prime minister, had backed Lewandowski, who is now paying him back.

As for Jaroslav Kaczyński he personally hates Tusk, whom he holds morally responsible for his twin brother’s death in the 2010 crash of Poland’s presidential jet in Smolensk, Russia, in which Lech, his brother, who was then head of state, died along with 95 other high-ranking officials affiliated with the party. The rivalry between Tusk and the Kaczyński twins was always a permanent political show in Poland. In 2008, at the October EU summit, both Tusk and the late president Lech Kaczyński fought for the right to sit at the table in Brussels with the other leaders. Tusk refused to let Kaczyński have an official plane and headed himself for Brussels, but Kaczyński chartered his own flight and appeared at the Council, like the ghost of revenge in Hamlet, embarrassing Tusk and everybody else around the table. Most capitals back Tusk’s re-election as European Council President, be it only to spite the Eurosceptic government in Warsaw and their permanent assault on justice at home.
© New Europe

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Petition to suspend 'sexist' far-right European lawmaker goes viral

10/3/2017- More than 700,000 people had by Thursday (March 9) signed a petition demanding the European Parliament suspend a Polish far-right MEP who said women should be paid less because they are weaker and less intelligent than men. Global civic movement Avaaz launched the online petition against MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke on Wednesday, which was International Women's Day. "We ask the European Parliament to suspend the Polish MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke following his hateful remarks about women and migrants, and after making a Nazi salute in the chamber," the petition says. "These acts are in violation of the Parliament's rules and betray the values of the entire EU which our Parliament is elected to defend."

The European Parliament on Friday launched a probe against Korwin-Mikke, 74, for "sexist remarks" that could result in a fine or suspension. He has previously been sanctioned by the EU assembly for making racist comments and remarks about the Holocaust. "Of course women must earn less than men, because they are weaker, they are smaller, they are less intelligent, they must earn less, that's all," Korwin-Mikke told parliament on March 1. The bowtie-wearing, moustachioed Korwin-Mikke made the comments after interrupting a speech by a female Spanish MEP, Iratxe Garcia-Perez. He first made remarks about women in sport and added: "Do you know how many women are in the first 100 of chess players. I tell you: no one." Garcia Perez then shot back: "According to what you are saying... I would not have the right to be here. "I think I have to defend European women to men like you."

Korwin-Mikke has previously courted controversy by claiming Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was "not aware of the extermination of the Jews", calling refugees "human garbage" and using a racist term to refer to black Americans.
© AFP

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Polish MEP: 'Women must earn less'

Polish MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke is under fire for his sexist comments during a debate on gender pay gap. He could face sanctions.

4/3/2017- A Polish politician is facing substantial backlash for comments he made in the European Parliament this week -- unequivocal remarks that said women are inferior to men. While speaking in the European Union's lawmaking body Wednesday, MP Janusz Ryszard Korwin-Mikke defended the pay gap between working women and men. "Do you know how many women are in the first hundred [class] of chess players? I tell you -- no one," he said. "Of course, women must earn less than men. Because they are weaker, they are smaller, they are less intelligent. They must earn less. That's all," he continued before sitting down, smiling. Korwin-Mikke's remarks were met with audible gasps and looks of disgust in the Brussels, Belgium, chamber. "Well, according to what you're saying, and according to your theory, I wouldn't have the right to be here as a member of parliament," MP Iratxe Garcia-Perez, of Spain, said. "I know that you are very upset, and very concerned about the fact that we women can represent citizens on an equal footing with you."

Garcia-Perez, clearly irked, stood up and pointed her finger directly in Korwin-Mikke's direction during her reply. "I am here to defend all European women from men like you," she shot back. Greater attention was paid to the lawmaker's remarks on Thursday after footage of the comments was released. That afternoon, the embattled lawmaker made light of the controversy on his Facebook page. "Women are smarter than the average men. How do we know? Because I haven't seen a woman throw herself at a man because he has nice legs," he wrote, adding that women seem to "have a complex." An investigation has been opened to determine whether Korwin-Mikke violated parliamentary rules that require members to show mutual respect and refrain from "defamatory, racist or xenophobic language or behavior."

If the parliament concludes that rules were violated, Korwin-Mikke could be fined, suspended or disciplined, The Washington Post reported Friday. Wednesday wasn't the first time Korwin-Mikke has stirred controversy. His colorful political career includes a protest of high taxes in Poland, in which he ate his tax return in front of a government revenue office, and his giving a Nazi salute while shouting fascist rhetoric in the EU chamber in 2015.
© UPI

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Hungary Approves Plan To Detain Migrants And Refugees In Shipping Containers

Human rights groups have called the move a flagrant violation of international law.

8/3/2017- Hungary’s parliament approved measures on Tuesday to detain asylum seekers for the duration of their application process, and transfer refugees and migrants in the country to repurposed shipping containers for housing. Human rights groups have blasted the policy as illegal and inhumane, in what they argue is part of Hungary’s continued crackdown on refugees and migrants. These latest measures, they say, mark an escalation of the government’s already draconian measures to deter people from crossing into Hungary. “Plans to automatically detain some of the world’s most vulnerable people in shipping containers behind razor wire fences, sometimes for months on end, are beyond the pale,” Gauri Van Gulik, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Europe, said in a statement on Tuesday.

Amnesty claims that blanket detentions are in violation of international and EU laws, and such measures should instead be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. “Detention of asylum-seekers should always be a last measure and should not be applied arbitrarily and without judicial review and access to remedy. Children must never be detained solely on the grounds of their immigration status,” Amnesty stated. The U.N. refugee agency also voiced its opposition to Hungary’s plan, saying that it was “deeply concerned” about the new law. “In practice, it means that every asylum-seeker, including children, will be detained in shipping containers surrounded by high razor wire fence at the border for extended periods of time,” the agency said in a statement.

Hungarian parliament approved the plan by a vote of 138-6, with 22 abstentions. It calls for all current and future asylum seekers to be held in detention camps along the border with Serbia. Children traveling with parents, as well as all adult migrants regardless of gender and vulnerability, will be subject to the measures. The only exceptions are for unaccompanied minors below the age of 14. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban claimed at a ceremony for hundreds of new border guards on Tuesday that the forced detentions would keep borders safe, and said the country was “under siege” from immigration. Orban has made opposition to immigration a key part of his populist platform, appealing to ethno-nationalist sentiment and calling migration a “poison” for Hungary.

Hungary has long been antagonistic toward European Union asylum policy, and has repeatedly opposed EU attempts to mitigate the migration crisis through refugee resettlement plans. Hungary held a referendum in October of last year in which voters overwhelmingly opposed EU migrant quotas, but the vote was deemed invalid because of the extremely low turnout. In recent months, Orban has become even more adversarial toward the EU in both his actions and rhetoric. Orban met with Russian President Vladimir Putin early last month and denounced Western sanctions put on Russia. Weeks later, Hungary began construction on a second border fence to keep out migrants in mid-February, which added to the initial barrier it erected in 2015. 

Orban also made an inflammatory speech last week in which he told a crowd at the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry that “ethnic homogeneity” was key for economic success. “Too much mixing causes problems,” Orban claimed during the speech.
© The Huffington Post

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Hungarian border guards 'taking selfies with beaten migrants'

Border fence being built as new law considered to strengthen powers against asylum seekers

4/3/2017- “When they beat us, they were laughing with each other. The policemen, when they beat us, they are taking selfies with us.” This account given by Shahid Khan, a Pakistani asylum seeker, is among countless reports of abuse by police guarding Hungary’s heavily reinforced borders. He said he was attacked before being photographed and then chased away using police dogs, adding: “They treat us like animals, and we are humans.” Humanitarian organisations say the treatment has become a feature of Hungary’s policy on refugees, with warnings from the United Nations falling on deaf ears in the country’s right-wing government. Farhad, a 34-year-old man from Iran, described how he was among around 30 refugees including women and children who crossed Hungary’s border fence before being surrounded by dozens of police.

Uniformed men ordered them to sit on the ground with their hands on their heads – then a two-hour attack began. “I haven’t even seen such beating in the movies,” Farhad said. “Five or six soldiers took us one by one to beat us. They tied our hands with plastic handcuffs on our backs. “They beat us with everything, with fists, kicks and batons. They deliberately gave us bad injuries. We asked why they are beating us but they just said: ‘Go back to Serbia’.” He also reported officers taking selfies on their mobile phones and laughing during the assault, when asylum seekers were sprayed with tear gas. Ehsan, a 28-year-old from Iran who was also part of the group, said they were eventually ordered to crawl through a hole made in Hungary’s barbed wire fence border. “I was the last in line to cross the fence back to Serbia – they let the dogs on me,” he added. “I fell to the ground trying to grab his collar and a police officer struck a blow to my face from the side.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) obtained a photograph showing Ehsan bleeding from an injury next to his eye, with his face covered in bruising that lasted more than a fortnight. Lydia Gall, the group's Balkans and Eastern Europe researcher, said it has received numerous reports of police taking selfies with abused migrants and filming them, compounding the beatings with humiliation. After a new law was implemented in July to allow refugees caught within five miles of the Hungarian border to be forced back into Serbia, she said a policy was introduced for police to film the operations. “They made people stand in front of a camera holding up a piece of paper listing that they had irregularly crossed into Hungary,” Ms Gall added. “Part of that statement on film would say police officers have behaved nicely and appropriately. “Once they stopped filming, a lot of migrants said the beatings would ensue so there would be no marking on the official video.”

She said the “staged” filming was allowing the Hungarian government to refuse to properly investigate the allegations, adding: “The the fact nothing is being done to stop it is completely unacceptable.” As extreme cold swept Europe at the start of 2017 and temperatures in Hungary plummeted to -20C, a new form of torment was reported. Refugees said border police would take their drinking water and pour it over them before abandoning them in the snow, sometimes taking coats, clothes and shoes. “They were dumping them at random points at the border in the middle of the night and exposing them to potential death by hypothermia,” Ms Gall said. “We had people showing up [in Serbia] completely naked.”

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have crossed into Hungary on their way from the shores of Greece to western Europe but the right-wing government has spared no expense to stop their journeys. Thousands of guards have been deployed to patrol the country’s 100-mile southern border with Serbia, where soldiers and prison inmates are expanding a barbed wire fence into an electrified 13ft barrier. Armed with heat sensors and cameras, it features loudspeakers blaring messages in English, Arabic and Farsi. “Attention, attention. I'm warning you that you are at the Hungarian border,” the messages say. “If you damage the fence, cross illegally, or attempt to cross, it’s counted to be a crime in Hungary. I’m warning you to hold back from committing this crime. You can submit your asylum application at the transit zone.” But the “transit zones” allow just a handful of migrants to cross each day at two designated border posts, leaving at least 7,000 people trapped in Serbia in dire conditions and increasing desperation.

The country’s right-wing government has dismissed criticism over its migration policies, approving a new draft law that would see refugees locked in border camps made of shipping containers while their cases are decided. Applications will be declared inadmissible for anyone who entered the Hungary from Serbia or a “safe third country”, while the appeal period will be cut to just three days and migrants may have to cover the costs of their own imprisonment. The new bill would also allow authorities to detain all adult asylum seekers in its territory and summarily return those refused to the Serbian border as part of “crisis” measures in place until September.

The European Commission opened infringement proceedings against Hungary in December 2015 but no progress in the case has been made public, while the UN Refugee Agency’s opposition to push-back operations has gone unanswered. “As long as there is this complete and utter silence it sends a really bad message to the police officers at the border because they know they can get away with it,” Ms Gall warned. “It’s all part and parcel of the Hungarian government’s policy of keeping people out or making their lives as miserable as possible.” The crackdown is intensifying despite a dramatic fall in the number of refugees journeying to Hungary after the EU-Turkey deal was implemented a year ago to prevent boat crossings to Greece. Viktor Orban, the anti-immigration Prime Minister, has dubbed migrants “poison” and claimed they are a threat to security and European culture that must be held back. “If we can’t do it nicely, we have to hold them back by force,” he said. “And we will do it.”

Update:
A spokesperson for the Hungarian government said: "The Government of Hungary utterly rejects allegations which are once more seeking to discredit personnel on duty at the border. From the beginning of the current migrant crisis, Hungary was one of the first Member States to enforce EU rules, and has been protecting the EU’s Schengen borders, stopping, registering and separating out genuine refugees from economic migrants. Hungarian police officers and soldiers are protecting the EU’s Schengen borders lawfully and in compliance with EU and Hungarian regulations. "The police are performing their duties lawfully, professionally and proportionately, and they place special emphasis on treating migrants humanely and with respect for their human dignity. Migrants on Hungary’s borders are not being harassed, and the significant numbers of unaccompanied minors who have been arriving are being provided with protection, health care and education. "Hungary treats those in genuine need humanely, and those waiting on its borders or on its territory receive fair treatment. Migrants are also expected to abide by EU and Hungarian laws, however.
© The Independent

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Headlines 3 March, 2017

Sweden: Daniel Friberg, mining tycoon bankrolling the alt-right's global media empire

Daniel Friberg has sponsored websites, think tanks and publishing houses to spread white nationalist ideology.

3/3/2017- As hipsters partied in Stockholm's liberal Sodermalm district on Saturday (25 February) night, a secret venue was hosting a meeting for some of the leading figures of the alt-right white nationalist movement. Billed as the largest alt-right event in the world, the mood was triumphant, with 374 guests gathered to hear speakers celebrating the election of US president Donald Trump, and mark what they claim is an historic opportunity to spread their ideas and consolidate their influence. "I believe we have some momentum right now we should not waste, so need to step up our game and be more active," event organiser Daniel Friberg tells IBTimes UK over the telephone, and boasts about holding the event under the nose of leftists who he said had forced him to cancel four previous venues.

He says that at the meeting a "momentous" alliance was formed between the European "new right", a self-consciously scholarly white nationalist movement, and the US alt-right, the Trump-loving US provocateurs. "I believe it is a time to come together and bring these different qualities together under one single umbrella," he says. In his book The Real Right Returns he declares: "After more than a century of retreat, marginalisation and constant concessions to an ever more aggressive and demanding left, the true European right is returning with a vengeance." Friberg is virtually unknown in his native Sweden, but is regarded by experts at Searchlight anti-racism group as one of the most influential figures in the global far right. 

The well-spoken entrepreneur and mining executive has created websites, founded publishing houses and started think tanks that have become among the most important institutions in the movement. Friberg sees his project as one removed from the day-to-day drudgery of party politics and activism. He wants to effect a revolution at a deeper level – ideas, values, and culture – to overcome liberal taboos and reassert nationalist values. "There are a lot of parties doing a good job, and politicians, it has never really been appealing to me to get into party politics – it is a little too dirty – I prefer the world of ideas, it is more pure," he says.

Neo-Nazi past
In his youth, Friberg had his head shaved, hung out with members of neo-Nazi group the Swedish Resistance, and had several run-ins with the law, spending time in prison for crimes including weapons offences. In contrast with the clichéd image of the angry young man from a deprived background drawn to neo-Nazi subculture, Friberg is well-educated and comes from a middle-class, left-wing family, writes US musicologist Benjamin Teitelbaum in his book Lions of the North. Friberg claimed he was drawn to the far right after witnessing immigrant children targeting whites at a multicultural school where he was educated. His CV is that of a successful young European executive. He earned an MBA from Gothenburg University in 2006, working in finance and management consultancy before becoming CEO of Wiking Mineral, a precious metals mining company.

Since his early 20s Friberg has distanced himself from the thuggish image of neo-Nazi subculture, replacing boots and crew cut with expensive suits. He has devoted his efforts to detoxifying and revitilising far-right ideology, and spreading it among a young, educated and elite audience. He has adopted the Marxist concept of "metapolitics", which he defines as a "a war of social transformation, fought on the level of worldview, thought, and culture". He wants to oust the so-called "cultural Marxists" who he claims have infiltrated culture with left-wing ideology. "He wants to create a generation of educated, well-dressed, upstanding nationalists and leaders," says Teitelbaum, who knows Friberg personally. "It is about the view that you can't change politics at the polling booth, you have to change the culture, you have to have people who can write, speak and produce art and media to go out and change culture before you have a political movement. That is what he wanted to do."

Friberg's renewed bid to spread white nationalism comes with Sweden and much of Europe engaged in fierce debate about mass immigration and its consequences. Long a bastion of liberal values, Sweden has in recent years seen a surge in support for the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats, as immigration rose to record levels in 2013 and the country accepted hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers. Friberg has claimed in an interview that the Sweden Democrats can pave the way for a more radical position he calls identitarianism, which he argues is about defending the rights of whites to form their own communities and embrace their own culture. He insists that his is not a vision of an exclusively white Sweden and Europe.

"I'm not an absolutist in that regard. It is not part of our ideology to make all of our countries 100% white," he says. "I'm advocating for functioning societies – and as we have seen over the past few decades, that can't be multicultural. That doesn't mean we can't have a normal level of immigration – all European countries had a number of immigrants come to their countries before – this new concept of mass migration is harming our societies."

'Rebranding fascism'
For critics though, Friberg's identitarian project is simply an attempt to rebrand fascism for a new generation. "The new right is very much about the idea that Italian fascism or German National Socialism are not presentable as something new and radical now, they need rebranding, they need repackaging," says Jonathan Leman, from Sweden's anti-racism magazine Expo. "The key factors are anti-liberal democracy as we know it, and to create a homogenous Sweden and Europe which is white – and that is compatible with the views of neo-Nazis," he says. In previous interviews Friberg has expressed his belief in the key importance of ethnicity. "The identitarian point of view is centered around ethnicity rather than culture and underscores the evident link between culture and biology," he told Swedish far-right news site Fria Tider in 2013.

When pressed, Friberg says that he is not actually a so-called "cultural nationalist", who believes that people from any race can be integrated into Sweden, "because I do believe that ethnicity is important". He continues: "I don't believe in integration, I do believe in assimilation – that is how it has always worked." He goes on to claim he supports the right of Muslim women to wear headscarves in Sweden, highlighting the strange tension between his belief in homogenised societies, and his attempt to present a vision of a sanitised nationalism in which all traditions are respected.

Red Ice and anti-Semitism
Friberg has created a close-knit network, with publishing house Arktos disseminating ideas, think tank Motpol providing a forum where they are discussed, and a media network popularising them in slickly produced viral videos. Saturday's conference was livestreamed by Red Ice, a key member of Friberg's alt-right media network. The video and radio streaming service is geared to an audience of media-savvy millennials in the US and Europe. Its two hosts, Henrik Palmgren and Lena Lokteff, provide a heady mix of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and white nationalist ideology, alongside bizarre features on traditional Nordic crafts and cookery. When asked about about notorious Holocaust denier Michael Hoffman being interviewed on the channel, and of the presence of US alt-right video blogger Paul Ray Ramsey (aka Ramzpaul) at Saturday's event, who has questioned why one should feel sorrow for the victims of the Holocaust, Friberg pleads ignorance.

He says he does not get time to watch all Red Ice programmes, and was not aware of Ramsey's anti-Semitism. "I don't think the Holocaust has a special privileged place in this tragedy [of WWII]. The whole thing is awful, it was the worst thing that happened in Europe last century", he says, citing German and Ukrainian victims of Soviet violence. Friberg was also closely involved with setting up Nordisk.ru, a messaging board that attracted nationalists and far-right supporters from throughout Scandinavia, including Norwegian far-right mass killer Anders Breivik, who murdered 77 people, most of them children, in a series of attacks on 2 July 2011. Breivik claimed he was targeting "cultural Marxists" undermining white identity in the attack.

He claims that Breivik only logged into the site once and immediately informed the Swedish secret service when news of the atrocity broke. Friberg maintains that far-right ideology had nothing to do with the killings. "In every given society you have some insane people and it is wrong to blame an ideology for that unless that ideology explicitly promotes violence and terrorism. We have done exactly the opposite. I don't feel any guilt, in fact what we do may have had a positive impact," he argues. He goes on to claim that incidents such as the Breivik killings are something that only happens "once every 100 years", whereas Islamist killings are frequent. In fact, Sweden has been subjected to both Islamist plots and far-right violence in recent years, with 21-year-old Anton Lundin Pettersson murdering two teachers and a student in a racially motivated attack on a Trollhättan school in 2015, while four were injured in a neo-Nazi bomb attack on a refugee centre in Gothenburg in January.

Political mission
In early 2016, Friberg reportedly quit as Wiking Mineral CEO, a seeming declaration of his intent to devote himself to his political mission. He has in recent months published his book, created the alt-right.com website with notorious alt-right ideologue Richard Spencer, published key alt-right figures at his publishing house Arktos Media and organised conferences where European and US right-wing radicals appear side by side. Teitelbaum tells me that though the young Friberg is already a veteran of the white nationalist scene, having played a key role in its transformation, and is well-placed to supervise its renewed bid for power. "He's one of the few people in Sweden who grew up in the decade of the skinhead movement and made a career out of it, stayed afloat. I mean it destroyed the lives of so many people, that subculture. His is a noteworthy figure, he really is," he explains.
© The International Business Times - UK

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European Parliament votes to end visa-free travel for Americans

The passing of the non-binding resolution comes after the US failed to agree visa-free travel for citizens of five EU countries

3/3/2017- It comes after the US failed to agree visa-free travel for citizens of five EU countries – Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania – as part of a reciprocity agreement. US citizens can normally travel to all countries in the bloc without a visa. The vote urges the revocation of the scheme within two months, meaning Americans will have to apply for extra documents for 12 months after the European Commission implements a “delegated act” to bring the change into effect. The Commission discovered three years ago that the US was not meeting its obligations under the reciprocity agreement but has not yet taken any legal action. The latest vote, prepared by the civil liberties committee and approved by a plenary session of parliament, gives the Commission two months to act before MEPs can consider action in the European Court of Justice.

Australia, Brunei, Japan and Canada were also failing in their obligations, but all four have lifted, or are soon to lift, any visa restrictions on travel for EU citizens. The Commission is legally obliged to act to suspend the visa waiver for Americans, but the European Parliament or the Council of the European Union have the chance to object to the “delegated act” it uses to do so. In December, MEPs pressed for the move in order to “encourage” Washington to play its part, according to a statement by the parliament. But Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos warned of “consequences”, including potential “retaliation” and a drop in visitor numbers precipitating substantial losses for the continent’s tourism industry.

Just days ago the Council said it would liberalise the visa regime for citizens of Georgia travelling into the EU. Georgians can now, subject to final approval of the regulation, stay in any EU country for 90 days in any period of 180 days without needing a visa. Carmelo Abela, Malta’s minister for national security, said: “This agreement will bring the people of Georgia and the EU closer together and will strengthen tourism and business ties. It follows the completion of the necessary reforms by Georgia, addressing document security, border management, migration and asylum.” Last month it was reported that the EU was considering the adoption of a US-style electronic travel permit scheme – a move that could create a new administrative hurdle for British tourists after Brexit.

Immigration minister Robert Goodwill told Parliament the EU was discussing the possibility of introducing a version of America’s Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA). Currently foreign travellers must pay a fee of $14 (£11) when they complete ESTA, an automated online system that determines their eligibility to travel to the US. “British people are now used to the US ESTA scheme and, therefore, we view with interest how the European scheme might develop and what similarities, and differences, there may be to the US scheme,” Mr Goodwill said. “This type of scheme is generally there to help enhance security. To get to know as much as possible about the people who are intending to travel. “It isn’t just flights, it could be people using ferries, or other border crossings into the European Union.” Alan Brown, an SNP member of the European Scrutiny Committee, pointed out that Leave advocates in the referendum campaign had said there would be no need for visa-like travel schemes after Brexit.
© The Independent

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EU General Court unable to decide on legality of EU-Turkey migrant deal

2/3/2017- The EU’s top court refused to hear a challenge by three asylum seekers to the bloc’s deal with Turkey to stem the flow of migrants, saying it lacked the jurisdiction to hear the case. The three men — an Afghan and two Pakistanis — had contested the validity of the March 2016 accord in a bid to avoid being sent back to Turkey from Greece. The case, filed last April, argued the agreement was made between the European Council and Ankara, which violated the bloc’s rules on sealing international agreements. But the European Court of Justice on Tuesday ruled that the deal was made by leaders of European member states, which meant the court could not hear the case. “The court does not have jurisdiction to rule on the lawfulness of an international agreement concluded by the member states,” it said. Under the controversial deal, Ankara pledged to take back all illegal migrants landing in Greece in exchange for financial aid and eased EU visa rules for Turkish citizens.
© AFP

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European Parliament to cut broadcasts containing racism or hate speech

The European Parliament has taken an unusual step to crack down on racism and hate speech in its own house.

26/2/2017- Representatives have granted special powers to the president to axe live broadcasts of parliamentary debate in cases of racist speech or acts, and the ability to purge any offending video or audio material afterwards. However, the rules on what is considered offensive are not clear and there are concerns about manipulation and censorship. "This undermines the reliability of the Parliament's archives at a moment where the suspicion of 'fake news' and manipulation threatens the credibility of the media and the politicians," said Tom Weingaertner, president of the International Press Association. After Britain's decision to leave the European Union, the rising popularity of anti-immigrant candidates such as Geert Wilders in the Netherlands or far-right Marine Le Pen in France is worrying Europe's political mainstream. Ms Le Pen, who is running for the French presidency this spring, has promised to follow Britain's lead.

At the European Parliament, where elections are due in 2019, many say the need for action against hate speech and strong sanctions for offenders is overdue. The assembly - with two seats, in the Belgian capital of Brussels and Strasbourg in France - is often the stage for political and sometimes nationalist theatre. Beyond routine shouting matches, members occasionally wear T-shirts with slogans or unfurl banners. Flags adorn some members' desks. "There have been a growing number of cases of politicians saying things that are beyond the pale of normal parliamentary discussion and debate," said British MEP Richard Corbett, who chaperoned the new rule through the assembly. "What if this becames not isolated incidents, but specific, where people could say: 'Hey, this is a fantastic platform. It's broad, it's live-streamed. It can be recorded and repeated. Let's use it for something more vociferous, more spectacular'," he said.

In a nutshell, rule 165 of the parliament's rules of procedure allows the chair of debates to halt the live broadcast "in the case of defamatory, racist or xenophobic language or behavior by a member". The maximum fine for offenders would be around 9,000 euro (£7,600). Under the rule, not made public by the assembly and first reported by Spain's La Vanguardia paper, offending material could be "deleted from the audiovisual record of proceedings". That means citizens would never know about it unless reporters were in the room. Mr Weingaertner said the IPA was not consulted on that. A technical note outlines a procedure for manually cutting off the video feed, stopping transmission on in-house TV monitors and breaking the satellite link to halt broadcast to the outside world. A tape in four languages would be kept running to serve as a legal record during the blackout. A more effective and permanent system was being sought.

It is also technically possible to introduce a time delay so broadcasts appear a few seconds later. This means they could be interrupted before offending material is aired. But the system is unwieldy. Members have the right to speak in any of the European Union's 24 official languages. An offending act could be over before the assembly's president Antonio Tajani has a chance to hit the kill switch. Misunderstandings and abuses could crop up. During a debate in December, Gerolf Annemans, from Belgium's Flemish independence party Vlaams Belang, expressed concern about the rule. He said it "can be abused by those who have hysterical reactions to things that they qualify as racist, xenophobic, when people are just expressing politically incorrect views".

Even those involved in the move acknowledge it is a sensitive issue. Helmut Scholz, from Germany's left-wing Die Linke party, said EU lawmakers are elected - indeed the EU parliament is the bloc's only popularly elected institution - and must be able to express their views about how Europe should work. "You can't limit or deny this right," he said. He worries about fake news too, but of the kind made from selective extracts of debates. "If you are following the whole debate that is one thing, but if you have certain media who are taking out individual sentences you could falsify the whole issue," he said. Still, Nazi rallying cries and racist obscenities are relatively rare but not unheard of. "We need an instrument against that, to take it out of the record, to stop distribution of such slogans, such ideas," Mr Scholz said.
© The Associated Press

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Finland: Police move to shut down neo-Nazi Finnish Resistance Movement

The National Police Board has appealed to the Pirkanmaa District Court to dissolve the Finnish branch of the Nordic Resistance Movement. The police board describes the group as "violent and openly racist".

2/3/2017- Finland's National Police Board has filed suit against the ultra-nationalist Nordic Resistance Movement's Finnish chapter. The police board says it has appealed to the Pirkanmaa District Court for the shut-down of the neo-Nazi organisation. "We consider the Nordic Resistance Movement's activities to be intrinsically unlawful and contrary to accepted principles. We consider this to be grounds for proposing the dissolution of the group," Police Commissioner Seppo Kolehmainen said back in December. The Nordic Resistance Movement is a multinational conglomeration whose agenda includes the creation of a national socialist state spanning the Nordic countries. The neo-Nazi group is openly racist, police say. "There is no place for violent and openly racist groups in Finnish society," Kolehmainen said last December. One of the founders of the Finnish branch of the Nordic Resistance Movement, Jesse Torniainen, was sentenced to two years in prison for aggravated assault in December, following a sequence of events at Helsinki Central Railway Station that lead to a man's death. That case is moving on to the Court of Appeal at the prosecutor's request.
© YLE News.

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Hungary building second fence to stem migrant flow

1/3/2017- Hungary has started to build a new fence along its southern boundary with Serbia. A 10 kilometer (6.2 mile) experimental stretch of the second fence has already been built near the first one. Some of it is equipped with cameras, motion and heat sensors and other surveillance tools. On March 1, rolls of fence and barbed wire could be seen laid out for further construction. Hungary built a barrier along the length of its borders with Serbia and Croatia in 2015. The government says the second fence, costing over 120 million euros, is needed because it expects another surge of migrants this year. About 7,000 migrants have been stranded in Serbia looking for ways to reach western Europe. Many have tried several times to cross to Hungary or Croatia.
© RFE/RL

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Hungary: Budapest Roma and Jews use alternative JCC to fight right-wing populism

Although she lives in the undisputed nightlife capital of Central Europe, Andi Angelip knows of only a handful of bars here where she is truly comfortable bringing a date.

27/2/2017- Angelip, a 19-year-old student and activist for lesbian and gay rights, said she avoids “rainbow” establishments that cater only to homosexuals. Yet in a country where violent far-right activists regularly intimidate gays and lesbians, she also avoids romantic situations in mainstream clubs. “It’s not so comfortable to be a minority in a country whose politicians preach for discrimination on a daily basis,” she told JTA last month. Two years ago, Angelip found at least one place where she does feel comfortable: an avant-garde Jewish community center called Aurora. Since its reopening in 2014 in a poor neighborhood of Budapest, it has become one of the city’s hippest coffee bars – and a major hub for social and opposition activists fighting the policies of Hungary’s right-wing government. “I come here because it’s just a cool place, but also because I feel safe and comfortable here, like I belong,” said Angelip, who is not a part of Hungary’s Jewish population of approximately 100,000.

She is not the only minority rights activist who regards Aurora, a 6,500-square-foot center located in a small building in the crime-stricken 8th District, as a sanctuary from reality in Hungary. Critics of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government here say it is mainstreaming hate crime and Holocaust revisionism, as well as promoting censorship of the press. Marom, the Jewish association that runs and owns Aurora as part of its outreach mission to young unaffiliated Hungarian Jews, provides office space and facilities to about a dozen non-Jewish activist groups committed to fighting these perceived trends. They include the Roma Press Center, Budapest Pride, the Migszol refugee advocacy group and the Zold Pok agency for social activism. While Angelip and a female friend chatted over beer on a recent Monday in the Aurora bar – a cozy space with 1970s décor and music by the French protest singer Manu Chao — Marom’s staff of about 12 met in their upstairs office to review last year’s activities, including the group’s weekly Shabbat services in their small egalitarian synagogue and celebrations of Jewish holidays.

In addition to religious services, Marom also organizes educational activities in schools about the Holocaust, programs for street children, and cultural events like film screenings and experimental music concerts. It also hosts political discussions, such as a sold-out Jan. 30 debate on populism featuring László Majtényi, an outspoken critic of Orban. “We work with non-affiliated Jews who would never go to a synagogue or even the Balint Center,” said Adam Schoenberger, the president of Marom, referring to the Jewish community center in central Budapest funded by the Joint Distribution Committee. “So we try to sneak Judaism into our programming, just to give them a taste and whet their appetite: a klezmer concert here, a Hanukkah candle lighting there.” As Schoenberger talks to a visitor, in an adjacent room three activists from the Roma Press Center hammer out a strategy for covering the landmark trial at the European Court of Human Rights on the role of Hungarian police in allowing hundreds of rioters in 2012 to attack the home of a Roma family in the village of Devecser.

The court’s Feb. 8 ruling against the police – one of hundreds of hate crimes against Roma, or gypsies, recorded annually in Hungary – was hailed by Amnesty International as a “drop of hope in a sea of fear.” “Not only is the far right party, Jobbik, the third largest in parliament, but the ruling Fidesz party has drifter further and further in its negative attitudes towards Roma,” the group said. Against this backdrop, and amid a government-led crackdown on independent media, the Roma Press Center is “the only outlet that will bring the news about assaults in the countryside to the few news portals that are still not muzzled by the government,” Schoenberger said. “We find it very important that they be a part of Aurora.”

The press center, a nongovernment organization with a shoestring budget, receives a significant discount on rent from Marom. The cooperation with Marom revolutionized the work of the Roma center, which was founded in 1995, according to the organization’s president, Szilvia Suri. “We were renting office space in the center before we came here,” she said. “It was more expensive but more crucially, we were isolated there, whereas at Aurora we are better connected not only to the other organizations working here, but to the many Roma people who live in the 8th District.” The Jewish-Roma partnership at Aurora is unusual in a country where the two minorities rarely act in unison, according to Eszter Hajdu, a Hungarian filmmaker who has studied that relationship.

“While both groups encounter some xenophobia, the Roma are far more vulnerable,” Hajdu said. And while Jewish groups at times participate in educational and charitable activities to assist Roma, “I can’t say the Jewish community is the first one to offer help” to the other minority, she added. She also said that part of the problem are negative biases each group holds of the other in Hungary. The discounts that Marom offered its partner groups last year on using Aurora facilities and utilities amounted to $25,000 — a substantial sum in a country where the average monthly salary is about half that of the United States. Marom generates 90 percent of its annual budget and receives the rest from donations by JDC, the UJA-Federation of New York, Masorti Olami and others.

Building an alliance of liberal groups would be unremarkable for a Jewish organization in most other Western countries. But in Hungary, it places Aurora squarely at the center of opposition to a government-led campaign to root out foreign-funded grassroots organizations that do not conform to the party line, and to significantly limit the work of nongovernmental groups to local funding only. Officials from Orban’s Fidesz party have already vowed to root out the network of NGOs that receive funding from the liberal Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros, who is Jewish, and have limited the work of other groups with funding from Norway. Now, most other local groups with a progressive agenda are bracing for intervention by the government.

Marom has experience with such intervention. In 2014, Budapest officials kicked the group out of its former site in the city center on a building safety pretext. The eviction notice came two days after opposition activists used the space to plan an anti-government sit-in. It was one of several opposition activities hosted by Marom in recent years, including in the 2013 student protests. Marom’s previous site was also the birthplace that year of the LMP Green party. Mazsihisz, the umbrella group of Hungarian Jewish communities, has objected in recent years to perceived attempts by the government to whitewash Hungarian authorities’ complicity in the Holocaust, including by celebrating known anti-Semites. But Mazsihisz has remained nonpartisan. And with good reason, according to Slomó Köves, a Chabad rabbi and leader of the local EMIH Jewish group, which is not part of Mazsihisz.

The government funds Jewish community life with hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, supports Israel in international forums and protects religious freedoms, Koves said. And while “it can be argued that it needs to be firmer on anti-Semitism, progress is being made there, too.” Ultimately, he argued, Hungarian Jews are safer and more secure about their future than their brethren in France. But for Marom, which began in 1998 as an apolitical group, the penchant for opposition activism is inescapable, according to Schoenberger. This is partly because “most unaffiliated Jews in Hungary seem to be liberal,” he said. But ultimately, “our opposition activism owes to the government’s war on core Jewish values of tikkun olam,” a Jewish concept of “repairing the world” and helping the needy, Schoenberger said. “We did not choose to become political,” he added. “But when the government is targeting the poor, the different, the foreign – then we have no choice.”
© JTA News.

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Czech anti-Islam group to promote Zeman's presidential candidacy

27/2/2017- The Bloc Against Islam group will start collecting signatures supporting the candidature of incumbent President Milos Zeman in the Czech direct presidential election due next year on March 10 when Zeman is to announce whether he will be defending his post, the group said yesterday. In the press release, the Bloc writes that it considers Zeman the only person who defends the country against illegal migration and the Islamisation of Europe. The Bloc Against Islam was founded by anti-Islam activist Martin Konvicka, but the opposition movement dissolved itself due to internal disputes in May 2016. However, some of its members later established the Bloc Against Islam group, a marginal grouping.

To be allowed to run for Czech president, politicians must win the signatures of at least of 50,000 people or those of 20 lower house deputies or 10 senators for their candidature. The presidential election is likely to be held in January 2018. Candidates need to be nominated by mid-November. Zeman, 72, has been president since March 2013 and his mandate will expire in March 2018. He is widely expected to officially announce his second candidature next week. If running, Zeman would be the clear favourite of the election now as no other experienced top politician has been running for the post so far. Sciences Academy chairman Jiri Drahos, former diplomat Petr Kolar and MEP Jiri Pospisil are considering their candidature. Multi-millionaire Michal Horacek and performer Milan Kohout officially announced their plan to run for president.
© The Prague Daily Monitor

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Croatia far-right leader arrested after Zagreb march

Police arrested a Croatian far-right party leader on Sunday after dozens of supporters marched through the capital Zagreb chanting pro-Nazi slogans.

27/2/2017- Supporters of the far-right A-HSP party, which has no presence in parliament, marched through downtown Zagreb before gathering at the main Ban Jelacic square. There they chanted 'Za dom spremni' ('For the Homeland ready'), the slogan used by Croatia's World War II pro-Nazi regime, and took an oath "to the homeland." The Ustasha regime persecuted and killed hundreds of thousands of Jews, Serbs, Roma and anti-fascist Croatians. The participants of Sunday's march, who were dressed in black, waved a US and a Croatian flag, as well as the flag of the German far-right NPD party. They also voiced support for US President Donald Trump.

Police said they arrested a 53-year-old man, whom local media identified as party leader Drazen Keleminec. A police statement said the suspect was held for "violating public order" and that a probe was ongoing. The government strongly condemned the far-right gathering and said in a statement it opposed "all forms of hate speech, intolerance and discrimination." It also slammed anti-Serb posters which have recently appeared in the eastern town of Vukovar, labelling them "offensive and shameful." The posters, put up at Vukovar bus stations Friday, featured a picture of a tree with bodies hanging from it with the caption "'Serbian family tree" written in English. Police on Sunday also arrested a 19-year-old man suspected of putting up the offending posters.

Relations with ethnic Serbs, who are Croatia's largest minority, remain fragile since the 1990s war between Zagreb and Serb rebels. Conservative Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, who came to power after a snap election in October, has pledged to move away from extremism. The previous centre-right government was accused by critics of turning a blind eye to a far-right surge in the country, a European Union member, including nostalgia for a pro-Nazi past. But critics say the current administration has not done enough to move away from its predecessor's policies, thus encouraging extremists. Earlier this month unknown attackers released tear gas in a Zagreb nightclub which was hosting a gay party. Croatian Jews boycotted an official ceremony on International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, accusing authorities of downplaying the Ustasha crimes.
© AFP

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Spain: Anti-trans bus banned by authorities

An anti-trans bus campaign has been pulled off the streets by Spanish authorities, who said it could incite hatred.

1/3/2017- The side of the orange-and-white bus is emblazoned with the message: “Boys have penises, girls have vulvas. Do not be fooled.” Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena said on Wednesday that police stopped the bus returning to the Spanish capital’s streets in order to prevent a hate crime, according to the Associated Press. The adverts were launched by Hazte Oir (Make Yourself Heard), a Catholic organisation which also has a history of anti-abortion protests, against campaigns to allow children to legally change their gender. Campaigns to raise awareness of issues faced by trans children in Spain have seen one group spread the message: “There are girls with penises and boys with vulvas. It’s as simple as that.” Plans had been drawn up for the bus to visit seven other Spanish cities before this development.

Ignacio Arsuaga, president of Hazte Oir, wrote on Twitter that impounding the bus was “illegal,” adding that this was the result of a “totalitarian LGTB [sic]” approach which was “agreed with a totalitarian party by a totalitarian president.” The Equality spokeswoman for the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, Angeles Alvarez, branded the bus tour “a hate campaign based on intolerance”, reported Spain’s El Pais newspaper. The Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, warned she would not tolerate the bus entering her city, writing on Twitter: “In Barcelona there is no place for LGBT-phobic buses. We want our children to grow in freedom and without hatred.”
© The Pink News

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Italy: Hundreds rescued in Mediterranean as migrant arrivals outpace 2016

3/3/2017- Rescuers plucked around 900 migrants from boats in the Mediterranean on Friday while hundreds more were brought to Sicily, as Italian figures showed far more people are braving the crossing from North Africa this year than last. A Norwegian ship working for European Union border agency Frontex and a vessel from aid group SOS Mediterranee rescued migrants packed into four large rubber boats and six smaller vessels on Friday, Italy's coastguard said in a statement. Meanwhile more than 800 people from African countries including Eritrea and Somalia, who were rescued on Thursday, were brought to the port of Augusta in southeastern Sicily. "These people had a very difficult journey," Save the Children spokeswoman Giovanna Di Benedetto said at the port. "Many of the minors are unaccompanied, including small children. Some of them are very small indeed." Since the beginning of the year, 14,319 migrants have been brought to Italy, according to the Interior Ministry. That compares with 9,101 in the same period of 2016, a year in which a record 181,000 arrivals were recorded.
© Reuters

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Italian court recognises gay parents in landmark ruling

1/3/2017- An Italian court has ruled for the first time that two gay partners should be legally recognised as the fathers of two surrogate children. In a landmark ruling, the Court of Appeal in the northern city of Trento decided that both men can be officially named as the father - not just the parent who is biologically related. The children, now aged seven, were born to a surrogate mother in Canada through artificial insemination and neither they nor their fathers have been identified. In their decision, the judges said in Italy parental relationships should not be determined only by the biological link. "On the contrary, one must consider the importance of parental responsibility, which is manifested in the conscious decision to raise and care for the child,” they said. Details of the decision were published on Tuesday on Article 29, a website that refers to an article regarding family in the Italian Constitution.

It said the decision made on February 23 had "great significance", as it is the first time an Italian court has ruled that a child has two fathers, while also recognising the need to safeguard the needs of the child. “This is a recognition of full parenthood, in other words, not adoption,” said the couple’s lawyer, Alexander Schuster. “It has recognised for the first time a foreign provision that gives the second father the status of a parent.” The ruling was immediately hailed as an important precedent by gay activists and support groups. “In the absence of clear laws we hope now that all Italian courts follow the same path,” said Marilena Grassadonia, president of gay parents’ group, Famiglie Arcobaleno (rainbow families). “It is the only way that we can safeguard our children.” Italian law currently prevents couples from using a surrogate mother, and in theory, anyone caught entering into a surrogacy arrangement faces up to two years in prison and a fine of up to a million euros.

Two years ago, a child was removed from parents who had paid a surrogate mother in Ukraine. The couple were charged with fraud and the child put up for adoption. In 2016, during debate over Italy's same-sex unions bill, the current foreign minister, Angelino Alfano, sparked outrage when he said that surrogacy should be treated as a “sex crime”. The Italian parliament approved civil unions between homosexuals last May despite fierce resistance from the Catholic Church and conservative politicians.
© The Telegraph

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Norway court decides on Breivik’s ‘inhumane’ isolation

Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik has not been treated "inhumanely" by being held in isolation in prison, an Oslo appeals court ruled on Wednesday, overturning a lower court ruling.

1/3/2017- "Breivik is not, and has not, been subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment," the appeals court wrote in its verdict. The 38-year-old right-wing extremist, who killed 77 people in 2011, will appeal against the verdict to Norway's highest court, the Supreme Court, his lawyer Oystein Storrvik announced immediately after the verdict was published. In April 2016, an Oslo district court stunned the survivors and families of the victims when it found the Norwegian state guilty of treating Breivik "inhumanely" and in a "degrading" fashion, in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The lower court judge noted in particular Breivik's lengthy isolation regime. He has been held apart from other inmates since his arrest on the day of the attacks, and his lawyers argued that has been detrimental to his mental health. The state appealed against that ruling and on Wednesday it won its case. "There are no clear indications that Breivik has been subjected to isolation damage during his prison sentence," the appeals court found.

In July 2011 Breivik, disguised as a police officer, tracked and gunned down 69 people, most of them teenagers, at a Labour Party youth camp on the island of Utoya, shortly after killing eight people in a bombing outside a government building in Oslo. The appeals court also upheld the lower court's ruling that Breivik's right to privacy, as guaranteed by Article 8 of the Convention, had not been violated. He had argued the strict controls on his correspondence with the outside world breached his rights.
© AFP

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Swedish asylum shelter in Vanersborg hit by blaze

Up to 20 people have been hurt in a fire at a shelter for asylum seekers in Sweden, officials say.

26/2/2017- Two residents were badly injured jumping from windows of the building in Vanersborg, about 80km (50 miles) north of Gothenburg. The cause of the fire is unknown though police have opened an arson inquiry. Sweden is still debating controversial comments last week by US President Donald Trump on crimes related to its immigration policies. The fire broke out on the third floor of one of the buildings at the Restad Farm shelter shortly after 04:00 local time (03:00 GMT). Most of those hurt in the fire suffered minor injuries or smoke inhalation but two were taken to hospital. The fire was quickly extinguished and the building cordoned off as an investigation got under way. Figures from May 2016 said about 1,200 people were living in the accommodation. Some 160 people lived in the affected building, the Goteborgs-Posten reported, and they were evacuated to a local gym.

Fox segment
On 18 February, President Trump referred to Sweden in a speech on immigration problems, baffling Swedes about a non-existent incident. He suggested Sweden could face the kind of terrorist attacks that have hit France, Belgium and Germany, saying: "You look at what's happening in Germany, you look at what's happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this. Sweden. They took in large numbers. They're having problems like they never thought possible." He later tweeted that his statement "was in reference to a story that was broadcast on FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden". Some people suggested Mr Trump might have been referring to a clip aired on Fox News on the night before of a documentary about alleged violence committed by refugees in Sweden. Sweden, with a population of about 9.5 million, saw a sharp increase in asylum seekers in 2015, with more than 162,000 people claiming asylum. With the influx, tensions also rose with some isolated attacks on immigrants, as well as pro- and anti-migrant demonstrations. There have been no terror attacks in Sweden since the country's open-door policy on migration began in 2013.
© BBC News

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France: When will France admit that police racism is systemic? (opinion)

Through hashtag activism French society is waking up to police brutality towards minorities – but addressing the impunity the force enjoys is another question 
By Rokhaya Diallo


2/3/2017-  “Black lives matter” was the slogan chanted last July at a demonstration against police violence in Paris. While the world’s eyes were on the US, where two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, had been killed by white police officers, thousands gathered in the French capital to protest about the death of Adama Traoré, a 24-year-old Frenchman who suffocated after being arrested by gendarmes during an identity check. In recent weeks, another young man from a Paris banlieue has made the headlines. It’s alleged that on 2 February in Aulnay-sous-Bois, Théo Luhaka, 22, attempted to intervene when a friend of his was the victim of a violent identity check. Officers allegedly punched and spat at him, subjected him to racist insults and pushed a baton into his rectum. Despite his condition and the fact that he had committed no crime, Luhaka was taken to the police station. But he woke up in a hospital, where a doctor discovered a 10cm-long wound in his rectum and gave him 60 days’ sick leave.

It feels as if French society is suddenly discovering the banal cruelty of police brutality, although such allegations come as no surprise to those who live in the country’s poorer neighbourhoods. From Rodney King to Michael Brown, victims of racism by American police appear regularly in French media. But similar events in France are not given much coverage – and when they are, the racial aspect isn’t mentioned. Social networks, however, are challenging this. Hashtag activism has proclaimed what the media has struggled to make obvious: Traoré and Luhaka are black. Studies by the NGO Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture show that each year in France 10 to 15 people die following police action. Typically these are young men of black or north African origin, living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

The anthropologist Didier Fassin has revealed the gulf between the police and citizens of poor neighbourhoods: 80% of police officers are from rural areas or provincial towns, where the socio-ethnic makeup is radically different. According to the Défenseur des Droits (Defender of Rights, responsible for protecting citizens from official discrimination), young men perceived as Arab or black are 20 times more likely to have their identities checked. Abusive identity checks feel like a permanent injustice and are often what sets off unrest. After the Luhaka scandal, several demonstrations ended in violence. At a rally outside the court in Bobigny and at high school blockades in Paris, the initial calm gave way to rage reminiscent of the protests in Ferguson in the US.

The far right is seizing the opportunity to score points in the presidential campaign. The Front National launched a petition to support the police and its leader, Marine Le Pen, has refused to condemn police behaviour. President François Hollande visited Luhaka in hospital, probably in an attempt to prevent poorer neighbourhoods being set ablaze. The threat of unrest looms large, with memories of the 2005 riots not far away. Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré, two teenagers who had done nothing wrong, were chased by police officers, hid in an electrical substation and were electrocuted. An unprecedented wave of unrest shook France for three weeks. In 2016 the UN committee against torture expressed its concern about “allegations of excessive use of force by the police and the gendarmerie, which has in some instances led to serious injuries or death”. In 1999 the so-called country of human rights was convicted of torture after police subjected a young man of north African heritage to a “particularly cruel and serious” assault.

But these condemnations have not led to a reassessment of police practices, and in most cases impunity remains the rule. Ultimately, there is a deep-rooted problem that plagues France’s police forces: systemic racism that is neither recognised nor addressed.
© Comment is free - Guardian

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French court upholds Jean-Marie Le Pen's fine for anti-Roma remarks

A French appeals court has upheld an earlier guilty verdict over racist remarks by National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen. At a 2013 rally, he described Roma as having a 'foul-smelling presence' in Nice.

27/2/2017- The court of appeal in the southern French commune of Aix-en-Provence ruled on Monday that National Front (FN) founder and former-leader Jean-Marie Le Pen should pay a 5,000-euro ($5,300) fine, levied 10 months ago over his depiction of Roma people as "irritating" and "smelly." Judges agreed that the 88-year-old, who now holds the post of honorary president of the far-right party, was guilty of racism and provocation to hatred after he told a public meeting in the city of Nice that "several hundred Roma in this town are a foul-smelling presence." The latest court ruling follows the European Parliament's decision last October to strip Le Pen of immunity to allow another French trial to proceed, where the life-long politician is accused of anti-Semitism.

Xenophobic remarks
Le Pen, who handed the party's leadership to his daughter Marine six years ago, was originally found guilty by a court in Nice last April over the comments about Roma, made in 2013. He had also warned that because the EU was opening up the right of free movement to Romanian citizens, the French city was likely to see 50,000 nomadic newcomers imminently. During campaign rallies elsewhere in the country, he had also told supporters that the Roma people had a propensity to steal. Three groups including "SOS Racisme" and "The League of Human Rights" launched legal actions and are set to receive several thousand euros in damages following the failed appeal, in addition to the fine. Le Pen is no stranger to divisive rhetoric. He has been found guilty on at least eight occasions for racist or inflammatory remarks since the early 1990s, including holocaust denial. After reiterating in 2015 an earlier suggestion that the Nazi gas chambers were a "detail" in World War II history, he was expelled from the National Front, a decision he fought against and won in court. Subsequently, he continued to hold the title honorary president.

History repeats itself
In 2002, Le Pen's popularity gave the French political establishment a scare when he won enough votes to qualify for the second round of the presidential election. Although, he lost the run-off to incumbent Jacques Chirac, the party's popularity has remained strong ever since. His daughter Marine, who has led the National Front since 2011, has sought to distance the party from her father's most controversial comments. But similarly, on an anti-immigration, anti-EU ticket, she is predicted to secure enough support in this year's presidential election first round to make it to the run-off vote in May. However, two opinion polls on Sunday showed she would lose to centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron in the second round. A poll by Odoxa/Dentsu-Consulting showed 39-year-old Macron, a former economy minister in Francois Hollande's government, would beat Le Pen in the runoff with 61 percent of the vote, versus 39 percent for her. Another poll by Figaro/LCI showed Macron winning the runoff by 58 percent to 42 percent for Le Pen.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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French historian Henry Rousso nearly deported from US

A French historian on his way to a conference in Texas was detained for 10 hours by US border officials and threatened with deportation.

26/2/2017- Officials at Texas A&M University said Henry Rousso was going to be returned to Paris as an illegal alien "due to a visa misunderstanding". The university stopped the deportation with help from a law professor, local news website The Eagle reported. President Donald Trump has pledged to tighten US border controls. "I have been detained 10 hours at Houston International Airport about to be deported," Mr Rousso, 62, confirmed in a tweet on Saturday. "The officer who arrested me was 'inexperienced'," he added. The Egyptian-born Jewish scholar, a senior researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research, is a specialist on French World War Two history.

Texas A&M University had announced to the conference on Friday that Mr Rousso had been detained upon arriving at Houston airport on Wednesday. Senior official Richard Golsan said there had been a misunderstanding regarding the parameters of his visa, The Eagle reported. "When he called me with this news two nights ago, he was waiting for customs officials to send him back to Paris as an illegal alien on the first flight out," Mr Golsan told the meeting. He said the university enlisted the help of law school professor and immigrant rights expert Fatma Marouf. "Due to her prompt and timely intervention, Rousso was released," Mr Golsan said.

Ms Marouf described the behaviour of customs officials as an "extreme response". "It seems like there's much more rigidity and rigour in enforcing these immigration requirements and the technicalities of every visa," she said, quoted by The Eagle. Mr Rousso went on to attend the conference and thanked his supporters in a post on Twitter. "Thank you so much for your reactions. My situation was nothing compared to some of the people I saw who couldn't be defended as I was," he said. Last month, President Trump issued an executive order imposing a temporary entry ban for citizens of seven Muslim majority countries, although the list did not include Egypt. The ban was later halted by a US federal court.
© BBC News

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Germany: Police take on Islamophobic trolls after car attack in Heidelberg

Twitter trolls fabricate refugee connection after German driver kills pedestrian

1/3/2017- Minutes after the attack on Saturday afternoon, the trolling began. A 35-year-old man driving a rented car crashed into pedestrians in the southern German university city of Heidelberg, killing a 73-year-old passerby. Leaving two others injured at the scene, the driver bolted from the car, wielding a knife. He was soon cornered by police, shot in the stomach and taken into custody. As the perpetrator underwent an emergency operation and police worked to establish his identity, the trolls were already on the case. “According to friends at the police, the shot perpetrator from Heidelberg is a so-called #refugee,” tweeted one. Local police shot back on Twitter immediately: “Nope, he’s not.”
Another Twitter troll called “ludwig felsenkiefer” demanded to know about the perpetrator’s appearance, writing: “Tell the full truth or shut your mouth.” To which the police replied: “Forgotten your childhood manners or never had any?” All evening, as the investigation continued, so did the trolling. One troll went to the trouble of copying the official press release from the police website, adding a new line about the perpetrator “shouting in Arabic”. After uploading a screenshot of this version, with the fictitious additions highlighted, the troll declared this the “proof” of a cover-up. By 9pm on Saturday, the avalanche of tweets about a supposed Islamist perpetrator continued, including one from an account called “Brexit Means Brexit”, reading in English: “he f**k German. He’s a f**king Muslim. F**k the lot of them out of the West.” To which local police intervened in English: “WTF are you talking about?”

German national
Even after the identity of the car’s driver emerged – he was a 35-year-old German national – the trolling continued. One conceded that the perpetrator was a German, adding: “with immigrants one would have kept that quiet for months”. Again the police intervened: “No, ‘one’ wouldn’t have, at least not us.” And later: “For once and for all: Suspected perpetrator German WITHOUT migration background.” Police spokesman Norbert Schätzle said the troll army had caused frustration but also amusement among social-media staff. Asked about the rather direct response to “Brexit Means Brexit”, Mr Schätzle cited positive feedback. “Some things can’t be answered with political correctness or police correctness,” he told the Süddeutsche Zeitung, announcing plans to examine all tweets from the evening, with a view to pressing charges against the problematic posters. The 35-year-old driver, shot in the stomach, is recovering in a Heidelberg prison hospital. Two injured passersby were treated at the scene.

Attacks on refugees
While German police battle online trolls spreading news of fictional Islamist attacks, the real world poses a real threat to asylum seekers in Germany. Official statistics for 2016 recorded 3,533 attacks on refugees or refugee accommodation last year, averaging almost 10 attacks a day. Amid a social-media buzz about reports of asylum seeker attacks on German women, some real federal interior ministry figures show that 560 asylum seekers, including 43 children, were injured in attacks last year. In addition, some 217 aid-agency workers and volunteers were also attacked. The figures, though preliminary, show a slight reduction in absolute terms on the number of attacks in 2015, when 1,031 attacks were carried out. However, almost 900,000 people filed for asylum in Germany in 2015, compared with about 200,000 last year. In the last quarter of 2016 alone, police recorded 525 attacks nationally on asylum seekers or their accommodation. “These attacks are almost 10 a day,” said Ulla Jelpke, interior spokeswoman for the opposition Left Party. “Does there have to be deaths before right-wing violence is viewed as a central problem of domestic security?”
© The Irish Times.

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UN experts accuse Germany of 'structural racism'

In Germany, people of African descent experience racism and discrimination on a daily basis, UN experts found. The UN is calling on the German government to take appropriate action.

28/2/2017- Flying back from a holiday in Spain, Oumar Diallo's had a disagreeable experience at a Berlin airport. "I was the only black on board. All passengers were German. I was the only one who was stopped and checked by the police," Diallo told DW. Diallo is from Guinea. He has been living in Berlin for more than 20 years. At the airport, police officers told him that the check had nothing to do with the color of his skin. But Diallo's experience is not uncommon. The United Nation's Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent is "very concerned" about the situation of people of African descent in Germany, chairman Ricardo Sunga said. He was speaking at the end of a week-long fact-finding visit to Germany. According to Sunga, black people are routinely discriminated against. They are the victims of racism, prejudice and hate crimes, Sunga said while presenting the commission's preliminary report. "They fear for their safety and avoid certain places, as they will be attacked. They are subjected to racial discrimination by their classmates, teachers, workmates and the structural racism by the government and criminal justice system," Sunga said.

Commission demands abolition of 'racial profiling'
Racial profiling is one example of structural racism mentioned by the working group. It is likely that Oumar Diallo was a victim of this controversial practice at the Berlin airport. Racial profiling means that the police stop and control people according to certain characteristics like skin color, religion or nationality. The commission found that the practice was widespread in Germany, despite official denials. "Stop and search controls by police are usually targeted at minority groups, including people of African descent. Boys and young men experience day-to-day confrontation with law enforcement, with higher risk of imprisonment," Sunga said. 63 percent of Germans believe racial profiling is necessary for reasons of security. But experts said the practice should be abolished by amending the federal police law. They also called for effective complaint mechanisms. Presently, complainants almost never stand a chance of having their grievances addressed.

While in Germany, the experts talked to government representatives, members of parliament and officials form several state governments. They also met with civil society representatives, who complained about the everyday racism experienced by people with African roots. "People are so prejudiced that they believe we are not capable of doing a job and won't even invite us for a job interview. Prejudice also means that we are discriminated against when looking for housing," student Karen Taylor told DW. "There are aspects of discrimination you experience every day," she added. Taylor's parents are from Ghana. She is an activist from the Black People in Germany Initiative.

On the 'lowest' rung of society?
"People of African descent are on the lowest rung of German society," chairman Sunga said. "They end up with jobs which nobody else wants, like cleaning toilets. They drive people of African descent into poverty, forcing them into depression." The Commission called for a national action plan to improve the situation of black people in Germany. More people of African descent should be employed in the public sector. The education system must be rid of discrimination. Germany should also deal more thoroughly with its colonial past, the experts recommended. Among other things, the UN working group called for representatives of the Herero and Nama to be allowed to participate in talks between the Namibian and German governments on colonial crimes. Oumar Diallo has also been fighting for a change of attitude towards blacks in Germany. In 1993 he opened a meeting space, the "Afrika-Haus", in Berlin, where debates, concerts and readings about Africa take place. Diallo said he hoped that would encourage Germans to learn about the importance of Africans for Germany. "We are a gain and a chance for this country. That is my approach," he said.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Germany: Suspected Islamist 'used to be neo-Nazi'

A suspected German Islamist, arrested last week for planning a terrorist attack, reportedly used to post hate-speech online against Muslims. De-radicalization experts say switching extremist movements is not uncommon.

27/2/2017- The suspected Islamist terrorist, arrested in the central German town of Northeim last week, previously expressed neo-Nazi sympathies, a press report has revealed. Citing anonymous insider information, news magazine "Der Spiegel" said that investigators had tracked down a YouTube channel and a Facebook profile belonging to Sascha L. that showed he had previously railed against Muslims and anti-fascists in the country. In 2013, the now 26-year-old posted videos in which he spoke of a "creeping death of the people," because of Muslims trying to impose sharia law in Germany. "Even a dog knows where it belongs. And where do you belong? Don't be stupider than a dog and save the German population from this planned extinction!" he was quoted in "Der Spiegel" as saying.

The "death of the people" rhetoric, as well as a specific white mask he wore in some of the videos, suggested that Sascha L. then identified with the neo-Nazi campaign known as the "The Immortals," which carried out a series of flash mobs in Germany around 2012. There was another video dated May 2013, entitled "Tips for fighting cockroaches," which called for attacks on immigrants in Germany. But it appears that Sascha L. converted to Islam some time in 2014, when he faced a court charged with spreading "Islamic State" messages online. State prosecutors in Celle refused to comment on the "Der Spiegel" report to DW, saying only that an investigation was currently under way. Sascha L. was arrested on February 21 on suspicion of planning a terrorist act and storing "items and chemicals" for manufacturing explosives. "The accused belongs to the Salafist scene," a state prosecutor's statement said, referring to the conservative Islamic movement. "During his first questioning, he admitted to planning to lure police officers or soldiers into a trap and then kill them with a home-made explosive."

Switching radical sides
This is not the first time that an individual has switched extremist groups. In 2012, Bernhard Falk, a former member of the leftist "Anti-Imperialist Cell" who converted to Islam while in prison, published a document calling for attacks on the Ramstein US military air base in Germany, after having apparently pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda. Most famously, Horst Mahler, a lawyer for the leftist Red Army Faction (RAF) terrorist group, later turned to far-right extremism. These examples illustrate why Thomas Mücke, head of the Violence Prevention Network, an organization that runs de-radicalization programs in Germany, was not surprised by Sascha L.'s story. "Whatever extremism is concerned, it's always about marginalizing other people, seeking out a homogenous community opposed to democracy," he said. "The ideologies of far-right extremism and religious extremism are very similar." "If there is no basic acceptance of human rights, they either stay in their scene or switch to another problematic scene," he added.

Psychology or social conditioning
Michaela Glaser, who runs a Halle-based research unit on preventing violent extremism at the German Youth Institute (DJI), thinks a tendency towards extremism is less about psychological patterns and more about social conditions:
"It's a combination of someone's experiences out of which certain things become plausible," she told DW. "Of course that has something to do with the individual and their needs, but 'psychological patterns' makes it sound too mechanical. There are certain socialization experiences that people have, that lead to extremist options becoming generally more attractive." "There are very different motives as to why people join such groups, but among those motives are definitely compensating for a lack of appreciation, a lack of a sense of belonging, a search for clarity, for knowing where you stand," she said. "And those are things that those ideologies always cater to. They do it differently, and of course they belong to different social groups. For example, it's obviously a lot more difficult for someone with an immigrant background to access a far-right extremist group."

Glaser argues that what all extremist ideologies offer people is a clear distinction between good and evil and a sense that its adherents belong to a special, chosen group - and that a sense of self-worth is imparted through belonging to the group. In other words, whereas far-right extremism works by making distinctions between race, Islamist extremism functions by dividing people between believers and non-believers. But the structure is similar.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Germany: Data: Nearly 10 anti-migrant attacks a day

Germany recorded more than 3,500 attacks against refugees and asylum shelters last year, according to new interior ministry figures, amounting to an average of nearly 10 acts of anti-migrant violence a day.

26/2/2017- The assaults -- coinciding with the country's bid to cope with a record influx of newcomers -- left 560 people injured, 43 of them children, the ministry said in a written reply to a parliamentary question. The government "strongly condemns" the violence, according to the letter seen by AFP on Sunday. "People who have fled their home country and seek protection in Germany have the right to expect safe shelter," it read. A total of 2,545 attacks against individual refugees were reported in 2016, the ministry wrote, citing police statistics. There was no immediate comparison with previous years as it was only introduced as a separate category of politically motivated crimes in 2016. Additionally, there were 988 instances of housing for refugees and asylum seekers being targeted last year, the ministry said, including arson attacks. That was slightly down on 2015 when there were just over 1,000 criminal acts against refugee shelters. In 2014, there were only 199 such cases.

- Cheers as shelter burns -
Separate figures not included in the police statistics meanwhile showed that there were 217 attacks against organisations and volunteers who work with asylum seekers, the ministry added. The sharp rise in hate crimes came after Germany took in some 890,000 asylum seekers in 2015 at the height of Europe's refugee crisis. Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to open the doors to those fleeing conflict and persecution deeply polarised the country and fuelled support for the rightwing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. The number of arrivals fell sharply in 2016 to 280,000, mainly thanks to border closures on the Balkan overland route and an EU deal with Turkey to stem the inflow. A lawmaker for Germany's far-left Die Linke party, Ulla Jelpke, blamed the anti-migrant violence on far-right extremists and urged the government to take stronger action.

"We're seeing nearly 10 (criminal) acts a day," she told the Funke Mediengruppe, a German regional newspaper group. "Do people have to die before the rightwing violence is considered a central domestic security problem and makes it to the top of the national policy agenda?" she asked. Earlier this month, a German neo-Nazi was sentenced to eight years in jail for burning down a sports hall that was due to house refugees, causing damage worth three and a half million euros ($3.7 million). In another case that shocked Germany, dozens of onlookers cheered and applauded as an asylum shelter was set alight in the eastern city of Bautzen last February. People were heard shouting "Good, that's up in flames", while police described the crowd as showing "unashamed joy" at the blaze. The challenges faced by Germany in integrating the flood of newcomers are expected to become a hot-button topic on the campaign trail as the country heads for a closely-fought general election in September.
© AFP

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Dutch paradox: Voters head for far right amidst rising prosperity

3/3/2017- The Dutch fishing village of Volendam hardly seems like a hotbed of discontent: tidy, prosperous, little crime or unemployment. Yet a third of its voters are likely to back anti-immigrant nationalist Geert Wilders in the March 15 general election. His appeal highlights a paradox that is challenging the status quo in Western democracies and fraying the European Union: voters are spurning the mainstream in favor of anti-establishment populism in times of economic wellbeing. The trend is especially striking in the Netherlands, where the economy is set to be the best performer in the euro zone this year and the people consistently rank near the top of global measurements of happiness and material comfort. Dutch anti-establishment sentiment is "first and foremost about culture and identity and less about economics", said Sarah de Lange, a University of Amsterdam political scientist studying the rise of far-right parties in the EU.

It echoes the dissatisfaction that fueled Britain's vote to quit the EU and Donald Trump's election as U.S. president, and the Dutch vote looks like the next chapter of the populist backlash, even if Wilders does not win big enough to gain power. Polls show Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV) will more than double its seats in parliament to 26, almost even with Prime Minister Mark Rutte's conservatives who stand to tumble from 41 to 27, with his coalition partner Labour plunging to 14 from 38. But because centrist parties rule out any alliance with Wilders, he will probably end up in the opposition again. Still, he has already succeeded in pushing mainstream politics toward the hard right, with centrist parties now endorsing an immigration ban. Anger at pro-EU metropolitan political elites over years of liberal immigration policy is a major driver of Wilders' appeal.

Non-Western immigrants comprised 7.5 percent of the Dutch population in 1996, and that figure rose to 12.1 by 2015, according to Statistics Netherlands (CBS). Around five percent of the population of 17 million is now Muslim. "Imagine what a mess it would be in the zoo if all the cages were left open," Volendam retiree Willem Veerman said when asked why he has embraced Wilders' anti-Islam, anti-EU agenda. "Well, that's what's happening currently in Europe." The Dutch were long renowned for multicultural tolerance rooted in their history. But immigration has become the pivotal election issue regardless of whether voting districts are high- or low-income or have large or small numbers of foreigners.

Wilders Strongholds
Volendam is a largely white, middle-class community with small but freshly painted houses and spotless streets. Non-Western immigrants are a largely invisible 2 percent of its 8,000 population, joblessness is 3 percent, the crime rate 3 per 1,000 people and the median home price 325,000 euros ($343,800). De Lange said anti-immigrant feeling in places like Volendam often arises from fears that "big city problems" like crime will spill into their tranquil neighborhoods. Volendam is a half-hour drive from the cosmopolitan, heavily immigrant Amsterdam, the Netherlands' largest city. A second Wilders redoubt, Nissewaard, is ethnically mixed and less well-off. Fourteen percent of its 85,000 population is foreign, there are 7 crimes per 1,000 people, unemployment is 5.9 percent and the median house price 189,000 euros. The PVV scooped nearly 25 percent in Nissewaard in 2015 regional voting.

Mattijn van de Stroop, 45, said while watching Wilders on the stump in Nissewaard that he supports him because of his plan to lower the retirement age to 65 - raised to 67 under Rutte. Another reason is "Moroccans," he said. "You see it in the crime here. The other parties don't do as much and you see Wilders is standing up." In Rotterdam, the second-largest Dutch city, white voters have long gravitated to Wilders or other far-right parties. Thirty-eight percent of its 631,000 population is immigrant and the jobless rate exceeds 12 percent - both nationwide highs.

Immigration, Austerity - Potent Mix
An austerity campaign under Rutte also eroded respect for mainstream leadership because it hit middle- and lower-income Dutch much harder than the rich, stoking perceptions of unfairness and inequality on which Wilders has capitalized. Though the Dutch economy is buoyant now, spearheading euro zone growth, it stagnated at zero growth from 2008 to 2014 as the government cut spending to comply with EU budgetary rules in the wake of the 2008-09 financial crisis. Austerity bred much resentment - above all, over cuts to health services and care for the elderly. Together with ongoing immigration, the cuts deepened a sense among many that the country was deteriorating while politicians seemed oblivious.

"What people often say is, 'I'm doing fine, but things are not going well in this country'," said Julia van Rijn, a minister in Amsterdam's Protestant Church. "Until now, every generation has had it better than the previous generation. But now people have the feeling that it's stagnating, and they're afraid for their children." While most of the Dutch are positive about their personal situation, seven of 10 are pessimistic about the country as a whole, citing social divisions and diminishing national character, a recent poll showed. Wilders' campaign slogan, "The Netherlands Ours Again", plays to traditional Dutch patriotism and nostalgia. "(There's a) perceived threat to Dutch identity, Dutch values and the Dutch way of life, that it will be eroded by migration and the size of the Muslim population," de Lange said.

The election is the first of three in EU founding-member states this year, with populist parties in France and Germany also counting on anxieties over immigration and identity to bring them gains that could transform the continent's politics. The roots of populist revolt in the Netherlands actually date back almost two decades. The country's first right-wing populist, Pim Fortuyn, rocketed to popularity on an anti-immigrant platform before he was shot dead by a leftist activist in 2002. Wilders' own popularity took off after the 2004 murder of anti-Muslim filmmaker Theo van Gogh by an Islamist militant.

Immigration Down But Insecurities Up
The number of asylum seekers actually fell by 50 percent in 2016, thanks to an EU deal with Turkey that curbed a large influx of mainly Muslim migrants via that country into Europe. But a central complaint of Party for Freedom voters is that the Dutch welfare system simply cannot afford more newcomers. As of June 2016, 15.2 percent of non-Western immigrants were jobless, compared to around 6 percent for native-born Dutch. Carla Dekker, a Wilders voter in Hendrik-Ido-Ambacht, a Rotterdam suburb and PVV stronghold, said she had no problem with legitimate refugees, but she opposes economic migrants who claim welfare benefits. "It's a kind of parasitism," she said. Accompanying worries about the cost of immigrants is an emotional national debate about their perceived failure to adopt Dutch cultural norms, such as women's rights and acceptance of homosexuality.

Recognizing the political capital Wilders has made from such resentment, mainstream party leaders have begun aping some of his themes. Last month, Rutte published a letter to the nation summoning immigrants "to conform or go home". The center-left Labour Party has proposed making it a crime to "follow and hinder, hiss at or make sexual proposals toward" women in the street - behavior associated by many Dutch with Muslim immigrants. Dekker said she regards such moves as mere gestures. "In any case it comes across to me as very unconvincing." She said mainstream politicians have had plenty of time to address problems linked to immigration, and they still had not accepted Dutch voters' emphatic rejection of European unity projects in referendums in 2005 and 2016. "It's time for a fresh wind," she said. "If Wilders comes first and they shut him out of government, I don't know. I almost think there will be a rebellion."
© Reuters

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Dutch nationalist Wilders slips to second in poll ahead of March 15 vote

Just two weeks ahead of the Dutch election, Geert Wilders, leader of the right-wing populist Party for Freedom, has slipped into second place. The vote will be the first among three of the EU's founder members this year.

1/3/2017- According to the Peilingwijzer poll, published Wednesday, far-right party leader Geert Wilders has fallen behind the conservative VVD party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte for the first time since November 2016. Anti-Islamic and eurosceptic Wilders is now on 15.7 percent, while Rutte's VVD leads him on 16.3 percent.

Calls for mosque closures
With its key campaign promises including a ban on Muslim immigrants, the closure of all mosques in the Netherlands and a Brexit-styled departure from the EU, the Party for Freedom has established a strong supporter base with Holland's anti-immigrant, anti-EU voters.

Hate incitement conviction
Launching his election campaign last month, Wilders - who was convicted in December of inciting hatred- showed no sign of letting up his racist rhetoric, describing Holland's Moroccan population as "scum." Days into his campaign, however, Wilders - who is constantly escorted by his own personal bodyguards - announced that the PVV had suspended public events indefinitely. The decision followed the arrest of a law enforcement agent for leaking sensitive information to a criminal organization. Authorities, however said the right-wing politician's safety had not been compromised by the security breach. "What we know up to now is that Wilders' safety was not in question," said Dutch police chief Akkerboom.

Reshaping Europe's political map
Scheduled to take place on March 15, the Dutch parliamentary election will mark the first of three elections among European Union founder members this year. Like the PVV, right-wing populist parties in both France and Germany are hoping that concerns over national security and immigration will help them to make electoral gains that could reshape Europe and its politics. However, even if Wilders were to claim election victory on March 15, the far-right leader is unlikely to be able to found a coalition. Almost all opposition parties have ruled out forming a coalition with him.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Netherlands: Wilders cancels yet another election TV appearance

27/2/2017- Geert Wilders has pulled out of a TV interview with late night news show Nieuwsuur because he ‘doesn’t like it’. It is the latest walkout by the PVV leader, who was absent from last night’s television debate on RTL4 and the Radio 1 leaders’ debate on Friday. Wilders has also declined the regional TV debate on March 11 and withdrew from the March 5 debate in Amsterdam’s Carré theatre in protest after RTL Nieuws, one of the organisers, broadcast an interview with his brother, Paul. Wilders cancelled all public engagements last week after it emerged that a member of his security team had connections with Moroccan gangsters. However, a spokesman said that the decision not to appear on Nieuwsuur was not security-related. Wilders had decided ‘only to do things we like, and this isn’t something we like,’ the party spokesman explained.

Nieuwsuur has been running individual interviews with all party leaders in Parliament in the two weeks running up to the election on March 15. Programme editor Joost Oranje said: ‘We’re running the rule over 13 parties and it’s a real shame if one of those parties declines because they “don’t like it”.’ Wilders is still due to take part in a head-to-head debate with Rutte in EenVandaag on March 13 and the final leaders’ debate on NOS the following night. Prime minister Mark Rutte said on Monday that there was no increased threat to Wilders’s safety and his decision to cancel public events was down to him alone. ‘If he wants to, we’ll make sure he can,’ Rutte told NOS.
© The Dutch News

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Netherlands: Who is Geert Wilders? Former globetrotter with anti-Islam agenda

More than 13 years of protective seclusion have helped define Wilders’ politics

1/3/2017- Since the evening in 2004 when policemen arrived unannounced to escort him and his wife to safety, Geert Wilders has lived in safe houses under 24-hour guard to protect him from Islamist militants who threatened to kill him. Film-maker Theo van Gogh had been shot, stabbed and nearly beheaded by a militant Islamist earlier that day, and Mr Wilders, another prominent critic of Islam, was seen as a likely next target. Nearly 13 years under protective seclusion have only strengthened his convictions. Mr Wilders, 53, now wants to halt Muslim immigration, close all mosques and ban the Quran, which he compares to Mein Kampf. He is on Taliban and al-Qaeda hit-lists, and blames Islam for the long confinement that ended his life as a cosmopolitan globetrotter.

“I can hardly remember what it’s like to cross the road alone,” he said in February. “I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. But at least I know why I do what I do. My mission is to make sure the Netherlands, unlike my own life, remains free.” With a flare for the limelight – he wears his hair in an instantly recognisable platinum bleached-blond quiff – Mr Wilders is within a whisker of leading the largest party in the Dutch parliament after next month’s elections. Other parties have ruled out a coalition with him, which is likely to keep him out of government, especially since he was convicted in December of inciting discrimination for leading a crowd in a chant for “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!” Moroccans. Two weeks ago he repeated calls for a crackdown on “Moroccan scum”.

Centre-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who once led a minority government that excluded Mr Wilders but relied on his support, now says he will never work with him again. “He’s against the freedoms and values of our society,” Mr Rutte said. But the prospect of Mr Wilders gaining stature even while shut out of power has alarmed Dutch Muslims, who make up 5 per cent of the population. “It’s not about him burning Qurans or literally closing mosques, because we know that’s very unlikely,” said Dounia Jari, a Moroccan-Dutch activist who helps young gay, lesbian and transgender Muslims come to terms with their identities. “But with him spreading hatred, he won’t be targeted, but I can be targeted on the streets by someone who shares his ideology.”

Though often compared to outsiders like French nationalist Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage or Donald Trump, Mr Wilders emerged from within mainstream Dutch politics. When Mr Van Gogh was killed in 2004, Mr Wilders had just quit the main centre-right liberal party over his opposition to Turkey joining the EU. In February, 2006 he founded his Party for Freedom (PVV), which combined libertarian promises to raise speed limits with harsh anti-Muslim rhetoric. Most Dutch people see openness and religious tolerance as essential national traits of their cosmopolitan seafaring country. Holland has served as a European haven for refugees since the 16th century, when the mainly Protestant Dutch broke away from Catholic Spain, dedicated their new state to religious freedom and offered protection to minorities including Spanish Jews.

Mr Wilders says it is precisely that tolerance that is threatened by Islam’s “totalitarian ideology”. Passionate about the Middle East since he spent time on an Israeli cooperative farm as a teenager, he says his opposition to Islam came from contrasting Israel’s openness with its neighbours. Even as his party has grown, its opposition to Islam has strengthened. A third of the party’s one-page manifesto is devoted to it. When he entered politics in 1990 without a university degree after a stint working for a health insurer, it was as a social policy specialist, advising the liberals on ways to cut back on the Netherlands’ then very generous out-of-work allowances. Colleagues remember a driven expert with a skilled politician’s command of his technical brief, with little time for socialising. His party started in that technocratic tradition, advocating pro-business, Atlanticist neoconservatism.

Over the years of his isolation, anti-Islamism usurped most of that agenda. Under his security regimen, his entire party sits in a secured corridor in parliament, isolated from easy contact with other lawmakers, forbidden from visiting the parliamentary bar. Two armed guards stand in front of his office door. Even when he is in Budapest visiting the family of his Hungarian wife, safe houses are kept ready for emergencies. “He’s been under guard 24/7 for 13 years,” said Cas Mudde, a University of Georgia specialist in populism. “If your whole life has been put on hold because of what you perceive as a religion – it’s an existential threat to him.” His isolation translates into a willingness to go it alone in politics. He triggered the collapse of Mr Rutte’s minority government in 2012 by refusing to back social spending cuts needed to meet European Union deficit spending rules, alienating a political class that prizes constructiveness above all else.

Despite polling around 17 per cent, enough for the PVV to emerge as the biggest party, Mr Wilders has the wrong mentality to enter government, said Frits Bolkestein, who led the liberals when Mr Wilders worked there on policy. He “isn’t prepared to make the changes needed to govern, because of his mental make-up”, Mr Bolkestein said. “If we wanted to cut him down to size, the thing would be to give him responsibility. If he ran a large ministry, he’d probably fail.” His own brother, Paul, has taken to Twitter and given interviews distancing himself from his policies. “Political exploitation of social unrest is a dangerous thing,” Paul Wilders told RTL Nieuws. “Those with the shiniest fruit on the market often sell the most poisonous oranges.”

Geert Wilders grew up as the youngest child of a family in predominantly Catholic Limburg, a south-eastern prong of the Netherlands that juts out into the borderlands between Belgium and Germany, an ancient crossroads. His father was a middle manager for printing equipment maker Oce, a proud Dutch multinational later sold to Japan’s Canon. His mother, a soldier’s daughter, was born in Indonesia when that mainly Muslim country was a Dutch colony. He says her parents were Dutch but he had mixed-race Indonesian cousins and that international background influenced his upbringing. Mr Wilders became an inveterate traveller after his first trip to the Middle East, roaming eastern Europe and visiting Iran repeatedly while working for the liberals.

He was personable in the years before his confinement, remembers Laszlo Maracz, a Dutch-Hungarian academic who helped Mr Wilders write a report in the 1990s on the rights of ethnic Hungarian minorities in eastern Europe. He liked to play high-stakes dice games to relax. “Yahtzee was his favourite,” Maracz said. “He always knew how to go all in on a bet, managing to throw a high enough number against the odds.”
© Reuters

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Dutch immigrants' party challenging the far-right

With anti-Islam Dutch MP Geert Wilders topping the polls ahead of next month's elections, one small group is hoping to buck the trend: the country's first party led by immigrants.

2/3/2017- Denk, or "think" in Dutch, wants to fight what it calls "institutional racism" by setting up a national register of racist phrases and expressions; replacing the idea of "integration" with "acceptance" and calling for an official apology for the country's past links to the slave trade. Launched in 2015 by two MPs who were thrown out of the Labour party amid a row over its immigration policies, it has positioned itself ahead of the March 15 vote as the only true response to the anti-immigration, anti-Islam stand of Wilders and his far-right Freedom Party (PVV). "It is unique in The Netherlands to have a party led by Dutch people with foreign roots," said political expert Sjaak Koening, from Maastricht University.

Critics say it employs some of the same bulldozer tactics as Wilders, and accuse it of cosying up to Turkey and its controversial President Recep Tayipp Erdogan, and seeking to divide the country which has gained a reputation for tolerance. But the accusations are dismissed by a leading party member Farid Azarkan, who insisted Denk wants to be "the party of all Dutch people". "If Geert Wilders publishes a Photoshopped picture of a rival, is that not polarisation? If a Christian party says their God is better than ours, is that not polarisation? If young people are excluded from society because they are Muslims, is that not polarisation?" he asked. "We want to write history, under the leadership of the children of immigrants," he told AFP. "We want to take our place in democracy, and that happens via parliament."

- 'Demonised?' -
There are 28 parties competing for the ballots of 12.9 million eligible voters in March -- a particularly fractured political landscape in a country already used to coalition governments. Denk is hoping to win the support of some of the two million Dutch people who have at least one parent born outside of The Netherlands and the EU. And opinion polls say it could emerge with one to two seats in the new 150-seat lower house of parliament. Denk's "core argument is the idea that Muslims are demonised" after years of slogans and attacks by Wilders, said Geerten Waling, from Leiden University. According to a poll by the EtnoBarometer institute some 40 percent of people of Turkish origin and about 34 percent of people with Moroccan roots will vote for Denk. While Wilders's party "is the party of the angry white man, you could say that Denk is the party of the angry brown man," said political researcher Aziz el Kaddouri, quoted in Dutch media. "They feel they have been abandoned, and say, 'we are doing our best, but it is always suggested that our integration has failed'."

- Shock tactics -
Azarkan rejects Kaddouri's label saying rather they are a party of "disappointed voters" fed up with traditional politics who finally "have the impression that there is a party which can make their voices heard." Although Denk and PVV are ideologically poles apart, there are parallels. Both were founded by MPs who left traditional parties. Both are very active on social media with large followings. Denk also regularly attacks the media, like Wilders, and resorts to shock headline-grabbing phrases. The party is also not afraid of confrontation to push its agenda -- its leader Tunahan Kuzu created headlines last year when he refused in the name of Palestinians to shake the hand of visiting Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

"They certainly have a populist approach, but I wouldn't say yet that they are a populist party. They would have to go much further for that," said Koening. Waling believes Denk represents "quite a conservative Muslim group, mostly from Turkish conservatives in the Netherlands" who reject for example any moves to monitor Muslim organisations here, or to put forward motions referring to the "Armenian genocide". "But at least they are bringing new themes to politics and that is always good for democracy," said Koening.
© AFP

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Why Dutch voters are about to set the stage for Europe’s elections (opinion)

Whatever the outcome of polls in the Netherlands, populism looks set to emerge as the winner 
By Cas Mudde 

26/2/2017- The Dutch will vote in parliamentary elections on 15 March and, whatever the outcome, will set the stage for key elections across Europe this year – starting with the first round of the French presidential election on 23 April. Seldom has Europe followed Dutch elections so closely, and seldom have they been so unpredictable. So what can Europe expect from the Netherlands and what can we learn? For decades Dutch elections were the most boring in western Europe, with the vast majority of people voting for the same party their whole life, creating only small electoral shifts. This changed in 2002, because of the shock effect of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the rise of the populist Pim Fortuyn, cut short by his murder nine days before the 2002 general election. Although the political party that Fortuyn founded, the LPF, existed for less than six years, it fundamentally changed the political system. Dutch elections are now more volatile, the tone is harsher, and the issues broader – with immigration and Islam now dominating most campaigns.

While unconnected to the LPF, Geert Wilders has in many ways taken Fortuyn’s role of enfant terrible, transforming himself from a conservative backbencher into a populist radical-right leader. Today, no article on Dutch politics is written without at least a mention of “the firebrand MP with the peroxide-blond hair” who has been in a neck-and-neck struggle for first place with his former party, the conservative VVD of prime minister Mark Rutte, for months now. The former political allies – Wilders supported the minority government of Rutte from 2010 to 2012 – have become political enemies. Wilders has been attacking Rutte and his policies for years now, while Rutte has categorically excluded Wilders from a future coalition government.

The Economist recently wrote that Dutch politics are a bellwether for Europe, arguing that developments in the Netherlands tend to be followed in other European countries a few years later. In a similar way, Politico described Wilders as “the man who invented Trumpism”. Both claims hold some kernel of truth. Wilders is a relative latecomer to the European radical right; Austria’s Freedom party (FPÖ) and France’s Front National (FN) are decades older and their first electoral successes date back to the 1990s, years before Wilders split from the VVD and founded his Party for Freedom (PVV). At the same time, Wilders is literally a one-man show who was dominating Dutch politics through Twitter well before Donald Trump even considered running for president. And while the Netherlands has set some trends in European politics, most notably in mainstreaming Euroscepticism and Islamophobia, it was not always alone – Denmark has undergone a fairly similar development – and still has specific Dutch features.

Across Europe, we can see three trends in elections, which can be described in the famous terms of the German-American economist Albert Hirschman: exit, voice and loyalty. In two of these the Dutch lead the way, but one bucks the broader trend. To start with exit (non-voting), throughout Europe turnout in national and European elections has been dropping. Although the trend is not universal, the past 10 years has seen a sharp drop in several countries. Perhaps most shocking is the situation in Greece, a country that has compulsory voting, although it is not really enforced. In 1985 the abstention rate in national elections was “just” 16.2%, in 2004 it was 23.4%, and in the last elections, in September 2015, it was a staggering 44%. In other words, in a country with compulsory voting a modest majority of 56% turned out. Compared with that, the decrease in turnout in Dutch national elections is modest: in 1986 turnout was 86% and in the last two elections it was still a commendable 75%. Expectations are that turnout might actually go up in this year’s elections.

With regard to loyalty (the vote for established parties), the Netherlands is very much in line with the European trend. Most European countries have seen a sharp decline in electoral support for established parties. While this development is related to societal changes that date back to the 1960s and 1970s, such as secularisation and a shrinking working class, the decline of the established parties only became a broader issue in the 1990s, and has significantly increased during the great recession. The process has been particularly pronounced in the Netherlands. Throughout the 1980s the three established parties – the Christian democratic CDA, the social democratic PvdA, and the conservative VVD – received around 80% of the vote. In 2002 that dropped to about 60% as a consequence of the rise of Fortuyn’s LPF, and it stayed like that until 2012 – although Rutte’s VVD is now bigger than the CDA and the PvdA. However, in the most recent polls the three parties only have some 40% of the vote, half of what they had in the 1980s.

At the same time, voice (the support for populist parties) has increased significantly. In the 1980s populist parties barely got more than a few seats in parliament, whereas in 2002 the left populist SP and Fortuyn’s right populist LPF together gained more than 20%. In the latest polls Wilders’s PVV is the largest party, or at least running neck-and-neck with the Rutte’s VVD, while the SP is struggling a bit – and has become less populist. Together they are close to 30% of the vote, of which the PVV would get almost two-thirds. The combination of decreasing loyalty and increasing voice leads to fragmented and polarised party systems, which make it more difficult to form coalition governments – as we have seen in Greece and Spain, where new elections were necessary to break the deadlock. This is certainly a possibility in the Netherlands, where forming a coalition is almost impossible.

The two most likely outcomes of the Dutch elections are either a very broad coalition of four or five parties, with or without Wilders’s PVV, or a minority government, dependent upon temporary coalitions to get some policies through. Whatever the outcome, it will only strengthen political dissatisfaction, creating more fragmentation and polarisation, leading to even less loyalty and even more voice. That is the main European lesson of the Dutch elections.
Cas Mudde is associate professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia and the author of The Populist Radical Right: A Reader (2017)
© Comment is free - Guardian

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UK: Romanians in UK Worried by Suspected Hate Attack

After five Romanians were wounded in London by a drunk driver in a suspected hate crime, others said they feel worried about an increase in anti-immigrant feeling in Britain.

1/3/2017- Reports that five car-wash workers were injured when a car ploughed into them in South London on Sunday have worried fellow Romanians working in the UK, amid wider fears of increased racism as the British government continues its preparations to leave the EU. Police said it wasn’t a terror attack and arrested the perpetrator for drunk driving. They did not suggest that it was a hate crime. However, witnesses told journalists that the driver had deliberately hit the Romanians. Tommy Tomescu, a Romanian dentist who founded the Alliance Against Romanian and Bulgarian Discrimination in 2014, said the incident was bound to create anxiety among Eastern Europeans because it came right after the UK’s Office for National Statistics announced that Romanian and Bulgarian immigration had reached a record high. “It just came at a strange moment,” Tomescu said. “However, in order to be able to label something like this a hate crime, the perpetrator has to admit it,” he added.

Oana Mihalache, a 35-year-old domestic worker, said she had heard about the incident. “The police haven’t said anything about any hate crime, at the moment all we have is speculations. But there are areas where the anti-Romanian and anti-Bulgarian sentiment is pretty obvious,” said Mihalache. She said that she had been treated disrespectfully many times by some of her employers who resented her nationality, but that nobody was ever violent towards her. “They just make you feel you’re a lesser person because you come from Eastern Europe,” she said. Romanians have been targets of hate crimes in the months after the Brexit referendum, according to Tomescu. He said that a woman had stones thrown at her in northern England and a shop belonging to a Romanian was burned in Norwich. He explained that cases of crimes against Romanians cases were not as prominent in the media as recent attacks on Polish citizens because they were not as dramatic.

Embassies of Eastern European countries reported a rise in alleged hate crimes in the two months following last June’s Brexit vote, The Guardian newspaper reported - most of them attacks on Poles. The Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the embassy in London have many times appealed to Romanian citizens to report any incident that might be labelled as discrimination or hate crime, but none of the five Romanians who were wounded in the incident asked for consular assistance. However, the ministry said in a press release that diplomats were keeping in contact with the British police to follow the investigation. News on Monday that British PM Theresa May is mulling imposing restrictions on immigration for EU citizens as soon as the Brexit negotiations start in March has also worried the Romanian community.

Tomescu said there are plenty of Romanians who are being exploited by employers, paid very little and do not have time to register with the authorities. Many live on the premises at car washes, like the five people who were wounded by the drunk driver in London. Tomescu said that at the community centre he runs, out of 40 people who seek help or come to have a meal, only two have proper documentation. “Their situation will be dramatic when the Brexit happens. And they are many,” he said.
© Balkan Insight

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UK: Government considers cutting migrant benefits

But foreign workers in key jobs could get multi year visas

25/2/2017- Ministers are reportedly considering plans to limit benefits for new immigrants and give multi-year visas to migrant workers in key sectors as part of efforts to stick to the pledge to bring net inward migration down to the tens of thousands. The plans being discussed by senior ministers could also see the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) advising the Government on how many visas should be issued to take the political sting out of the issue, according to The Sunday Times. Under the proposals for a post-Brexit Britain with full control over immigration, new arrivals could be given five-year working visas if they have a job but be banned from claiming any benefits during that time. The MAC would decide how many visas need to be issued for workers in key industries such as software engineering, health and social care, farming and hospitality, which are heavily reliant on immigrants.

The Prime Minister reportedly ordered ministers to make preparations for a new system at a meeting of the Cabinet's Brexit committee on Thursday. According to the newspaper, Mrs May will also attempt to guarantee the rights of all EU nationals who are resident in the UK on the day she triggers Article 50 to begin exit negotiations, if she can get a similar agreement for British expats in Europe. This is because Home Office lawyers have warned the Government would face a legal challenge if it made the cut-off date the day of last year's EU referendum, the report said. A Government spokesman said: “We said we would use the opportunity of leaving the European Union to take control of our immigration system and we will do exactly that. “Our plans will be published in due course but this is just speculation.”
© The Independent

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UK: Two far-right bands from Wales have been named in a 'hate report'

The report has named Redneck 28, from Swansea, and Blackout, originally from Merthyr, as part of a growing hate-based music scene

25/2/2017- Two far-right rock bands from Wales have been identified as being among “the most influential groups and individuals disseminating hate in Britain”. The State of Hate report 2017 has named Redneck 28, from Swansea, and Blackout, originally from Merthyr, as part of a growing hate-based music scene. In the report – which was written by charity Hope Not Hate – Redneck 28 are described as one of the UK’s most extreme bands. In October it was confirmed they were investigated by South Wales Police after their lead singer, Chris Lewis, performed at an event in Budapest last year wearing a KKK hood. The band also posed next to Ku Klux Klan members who “lynched” a golly puppet at a far right demonstration in 2013. In addition to borrowing the controversial imagery of the American South, the band’s lyrics also include multiple references to Nazism and white power. In one song, they sing: “This is our land in which we are proud, we will stand and fight and raise our right hand, Sieg Heil, Sieg Heil.”

The four-piece’s back catalogue contains songs supporting the Holocaust and about lynching black people. Their repertoire includes tracks called Jew Jew Train and N****** Love Chicken. The band features singer and banjo player Lewis and his wife Debra Lewis, who plays drums. The number two and eight in the band’s name represent the position of B, for ‘blood’, and H, for ‘honour’, in the alphabet. Blood and Honour is the name of a neo-Nazi organisation with links to the band. Both Chris and Debra Lewis were confronted by the Daily Mirror in September 2015 about their relationship with the organisation. Confirming their close links to far-right extremism Mr Lewis, 54, said: “I’d be a fool to deny it but I need my name left out of it. I need to keep myself protected.”

Swansea East MP Carolyn Harris said she was “ashamed” of the views and behaviour of the band – members of whom live within her constituency. She said: “I have been aware of this group for a while and struggle to understand how such offensive behaviour can be considered entertainment. “Recorded hate crime has increased 10% in the South Wales Police area since last June. I would like to hope that this means that more people are now reporting it to police rather than an increase in hate crime itself. “Swansea is the first City of Sanctuary in Wales so I am ashamed to hear of such hateful behaviour taking place.”

The second Welsh band highlighted by the report was Blackout, who originally formed in Merthyr Tydfil. Formed in 1990, the band has had a rotating cast but since 2005 has been centred around the trio of David Braddon, Andrew Heggie, and Stephen Deverall. The group have links with fellow far-right bands Celtic Warrior and Brutal Attack, with members of Blackout appearing on their albums. Blackout’s lyrics include: “My land has fallen to foreign hands so many times before and the time has come to take a stand against the filthy whores.” In a text interview with a far-right music website, the band described their political allegiances. They wrote: “None of the band members are active in any political parties but we do support any-pro white party that is trying to promote the 14 words.” The 14 words is a neo-Nazi slogan that says: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” Both Mr and Mrs Lewis, along with Mr Braddon, Mr Heggie, and Mr Deverall, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

A spokesman for South Wales Police said the force would not comment on specific investigations but added: “South Wales Police will not tolerate hate crime and will take robust action to prosecute wherever possible. “While the numbers across Wales are few we are committed to ensuring that those who show support for proscribed or extreme-thinking organisations and spread hate in our communities are pursued and, with the support of the CPS, put before the courts. “People who witness or are the victim of hate crime are encouraged to report the incident to the police as soon as possible.
You can do this by calling 101 or contact Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555111.”
© Wales Online

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UK: Far-right Polish priest detained at Stansted airport

Jacek Miźdlar held by UK authorities hours before he was supposed to address Britain First rally in Shropshire

25/2/2017- A notorious Polish priest accused of spreading antisemitism and Islamophobia has been detained by UK authorities hours before he was due to address a far-right rally in Shropshire. Jacek Miźdlar, a leading figure for rightwing extremists in Poland, was held by UK border officials after landing at Stansted airport, Essex, to prevent him attending the controversial event in Telford. The rally was organised by far-right group Britain First. Anti-racism campaigners described Miźdlar’s scheduled appearance as further proof of the growing links between British extremists and nationalists abroad. Branded a “fanatical hate preacher” by anti-racism campaigners in Poland, the 28-year-old attacks his critics as “leftists” opposed to “Polish patriotism”. Telford was reportedly chosen for the anti-Islam march because of a 2016 Daily Mail report that insinuated the market town was “the new Rotherham” owing to alleged child sexual exploitation in the area. The deputy leader of Britain First, Jayda Fransen, last week tweeted: “Come and stand with us against Muslim grooming gangs!”

The protest has been broadly condemned by the town’s residents, including the Conservative MP, Lucy Allan, who accused Miźdlar and Britain First of attempting to “hijack” the experiences of child sex abuse victims for political traction. Miźdlar, from Wroc³aw in west Poland, has cultivated a sizeable following in his country and despite being suspended by his local Catholic church for the content of his nationalist sermons, has addressed tens of thousands people at rightwing rallies. His speeches target the political left, “Islamic aggression” and immigration and are often accompanied with calls for the “warriors of great Poland” and chants of “God, honour, fatherland”. Anti-racism campaigners have warned he could radicalise some of the 830,000 Poles living in the UK and called on the UK authorities to intervene before his arrival. On Saturday, UK Border Agency officials reportedly held Miźdlar shortly after his flight landed specifically to prevent him from travelling to Telford on the grounds of hate speech.

Last year, Miźdlar was accused of calling Jews a “cancer” who had “swept Poland” during one address to a far-right rally in Bia³ystok, north-eastern Poland, although prosecutors later absolved him of alleged hate-speech offences. Maciek has stated that he accepted Britain First’s invitation to speak in Shropshire in a move to “pool our strength to rebuild a Christian Europe”. Britain First, whose founder Jim Dowson has extensive contacts to far-right networks in eastern Europe, can count 1.4m Facebook followers. However, it struggles to attract significant crowds and is believed to have a membership of between 800 and 1,000 people. Miźdlar’s invitation to speak in Telford, where at least 2,000 Polish speakers in and around the town make it the most spoken language after English, follows a report by anti-rascist group Hope not Hate that a number of Polish far-right groups had become active in the UK.

Hope Not Hate warned last week that Miźdlar’s visit to the UK would bring “rabid extremism to Telford” and warned that Miźdlar had once claimed that the “biggest enemies of the world are Jewish imperialists and masons”. The Home Office said: “An individual was detained at Stansted airport at 8.40am this morning by Border Force officers working closely with Essex police. “All passengers attempting to enter the UK are subject to checks by Border Force officers against police, security and immigration watch lists. Where we believe someone poses a risk, Border Force officers can – and do – refuse them entry.” Hope not Hate tweeted: “Bad news for Britain First: Jew-hating priest Jacek Miźdlar has been held and prevented from entering the country.”

Rafa³ Pankowski of Poland’s leading anti-racist organisation Never Again said Miźdlar was “exceptionally” strident when delivering his hate-filled speeches and that news of his detention had triggered headlines throughout the country’s mainstream media. He said: “He’s exceptional in terms of the intensity of his hatred, which is a core part of his message.
© The Guardian.

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Ireland: To fight far right we must help Muslims to fit in

We have three upcoming elections in France, the Netherlands and Germany where immigration - and Muslim immigration in particular - will be the main issue. In America, Donald Trump has declared his hand. Anti-Islam was one of his central campaign messages. And in Britain, immigration was probably the issue that swung the Brexit vote.
By David Mc Williams


25/2/2017- Your tolerance or otherwise of mass immigration depends on many factors. Are you threatened? Do you benefit economically? Do you believe that multiculturalism is a good thing? Do you believe that we should take responsibility for the poor? Most of us do not take extreme positions on immigration and are typically somewhere in the middle. It is common to hear people saying the success or otherwise of immigration depends whether the immigrants "fit in". Integration is what politicians call it, but to most of us the expression "fitting in" does just grand. Integration is Orwellian-sounding. It is the sort of term a European Commission bureaucrat would come up with. So immigration is about fitting in, being one of us. No matter how different the parents are, most of us believe that the children of immigrants to Ireland will become Irish and will share our values. In this scenario, immigration does not lead to segregation. In other words, time heals all. We Irish are the living embodiment of this.

In the US of the mid-19th century, mass Irish and German immigration, particularly Catholic immigration, prompted the virulently anti-Catholic "Know Nothing" movement. The Know Nothings were a Nativist American movement - a kind of precursor of Mr Trump - that warned against the dilution of Protestant America by these new Catholics. In 1855, 52pc of New York's 622,925 citizens were foreign-born. Of these foreigners, 28pc were Irish and 16pc were German. In all, from 1847 to 1860, 1.1 million Irish immigrants docked at the Port of New York, as well as 900,000 largely Catholic Germans. The Know Nothings claimed these Catholics, particularly the Irish, would never fit in. They were seen as foreign and un-American. The Know Nothings called for a 21-year naturalisation rule to prevent the Irish from voting. Only after this time could the immigrant be American enough to gain the right to vote.

In the end, the opposition to Catholics - and later Jews - proved to be transitory. Both groups fitted in, eventually. This ability of the immigrants to fit in is crucial to the gradual acceptance of new neighbours in any society. But if "fitting in" is a natural process, why is a massive resistance to Islamic immigration sweeping across the West? This is new. It is violent and it is dangerous. But is it understandable?

Are Muslim immigrants different?
I was thinking about this while watching coverage of the Dutch elections because the Netherlands has been traditionally a very open, tolerant country. Yet on March 15, Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom, or PVV, is likely to become the biggest political party in the country. Among his proposed policies are zero new immigration and - more inflammatory - closure of all Mosques and a ban on the sale of the Koran in The Netherlands. This to me is outrageous stuff, but indignation is not a strategy. The question is whether Mr Wilders and French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen are both tapping into something real or are they simply demagogues. If Muslims fit in like all previous immigrants before them and if the children of Muslim immigrants become just like the locals, surely this opposition is simply racist?

In considering this question, I re-examined a paper I read a few years ago published by respected economists in Germany, based then on up-to-date evidence from the UK. This research suggests that Muslim immigrants could be an exception. The Institute for the Study of Labour in Bonn suggested, in a research paper "Are Muslim Immigrants different in terms of Cultural Integration?" (www.ideas.repec.org) that the evidence shows many Muslim migrants are exceptional. This territory - as we all know - is a minefield, so let's stay as close as possible to the data. Using the UK Fourth National Survey of Ethnic Minorities, the German researchers arrive at definitive but explosive conclusions. If these conclusions were incendiary 10 years ago, think about the political reality today.

In a nutshell, the data shows that in Britain, Muslims integrate less and considerably more slowly than non-Muslims. A Muslim born in the UK and having spent more than 50 years there, is likely to have a much stronger, separate identity than another non-Muslim immigrant who has just arrived. This includes Chinese, Caribbeans and non-Muslim Indians. The first finding of the report, which is based on comprehensive survey data and interviews carried out in the UK, found that "Muslims do not seem to assimilate with the time spent in the UK, or at least they seem to do so at a much slower rate than non-Muslims". For example, 79pc of Muslims stated that religious identity was very important to them as opposed to 42pc of non-Muslims. Meanwhile, 70pc of Muslims said that they "would mind very much" if one of the family married a non-Muslim person as opposed to 37pc of other faiths.

The second finding blows a hole in one of the central economic arguments about financial progress and fitting in. Most economists, social scientists and political commentators say that integration is a matter of opportunity. But this finding reveals that for British Muslims, "Education does not seem to have any effect on the attenuation of their identity; and job qualification, as well as living in neighbourhoods with a low unemployment rate, seem to accentuate rather than moderate the identity formation of Muslims". Bizarrely, therefore, the richer the area, the more "Muslim" the Muslim resident becomes. The third observation, which is particularly interesting as it goes against the presumed wisdom, is that "for Muslims more than for non-Muslims, there is no evidence that segregated neighbourhoods breed intense religious and cultural identities". This is relevant because it is normal to hear politicians warn (whether they mean this or not) against "creating ghettos". This report suggests that ghettos don't matter in terms of affecting the extent of Muslim integration.

These findings indicate that "fitting in" isn't always something that we can assume just happens. Granted it is just one paper and it singles out the UK, but it is fascinating and instructive. The lesson is that if we want to counter the anti-Muslim feeling whipped up by the likes of Mr Wilders and Ms Le Pen, we can't simply be indignant or merely affronted. If Europe wants less anti-Muslim political movements, policies to encourage "fitting in" need to be the most pressing issue of the day. It also means that Muslim leaders have to be honest about whether they are playing their part in coaxing their own communities to fit in. In the long-run this can only be beneficial for everyone, but right now the omens are not good.
© The Irish Independent

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