NEWS - Archive October 2017

Headlines 20 October, 2017

Headlines 13 October, 2017

Headlines 6 October, 2017

Headlines 20 October, 2017

EU Parliament: EU migrant quotas do have a future

19/10/2017- Asylum seekers arriving in Europe would likely end up in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia under the latest proposal put forward by the European Parliament. MEPs on the civil liberties committee on Thursday (19 October) overwhelmingly backed a proposal that is likely to pivot the parliament against a small group of migrant-hostile EU states, led by Hungary. The proposal seeks to impose mandatory migrant quotas and strip non-complying member states of EU funding in an effort to revamp a key EU asylum law. Steered through the parliament by Swedish liberal MEP Cecilia Wikstroem, the reform aims to completely revamp the so-called 'Dublin' asylum rule, which is supposed to determine the country responsible for processing asylum claims.

The vote came ahead of a gathering of EU leaders and heads of state in Brussels and followed comments by Donald Tusk, the European Council chief, who had outright dismissed any future for mandatory migrant quotas. "The person being isolated today is basically Donald Tusk," she responded. Wikstroem maintains her proposal would likely be accepted by most member states should it go to a so-called qualified majority vote in ministers' meetings. "There is no blocking minority in Council [on the issue] and I know because I have had more than 50 conversations with ministers all over Europe," she said. A qualified majority vote is unlikely given the preference for unanimity decisions when it comes to asylum rules among EU states.

The committee vote gives MEPs a mandate, unless struck down by the plenary, to start negotiations with member states in an effort to unblock a legislative bill that has riled governments in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.  All four, along with others, have balked at a two-year EU relocation scheme to take in asylum seekers from Greece and Italy. Diplomats in Brussels among other EU states have told reporters that the Dublin reform is at a standstill and unlikely to shift anytime soon. "Migration is the crisis on which the EU is building its future. How we solve it will define the future," said one EU official.

Mandatory relocation, EU funding fines
But the EU parliament proposal demands a "permanent and automatic relocation mechanism without thresholds" calculated on GDP and population size. People deemed eligible for asylum will be able to choose where they want to go if they have family or other "genuine" links like a previous job or a university degree in that member state of choice. No link means they'll have an option to choose among the four EU states allocated the least number of asylum seekers. Although EU states would be given a three-year phase-in transition for the new plans to work, the countries likely to be the initial hosts of new arrivals with no links are also the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. "It means if the person enters Greece, chooses to go to Hungary, God forbid, then that person is then allocated to Hungary," said Wikstroem.

Should Hungary refuse, then its access to the EU funding may be pulled or limited. The Dublin overhaul also removes its current key provision that requires the member state of first entry to process asylum claims. "This system is not only unfair, it is also ineffective, as the recent migration crisis has demonstrated only too clearly," said European Parliament president, Antonio Tajani. Italy and Greece, which are overwhelmed with asylum seeker claims compared to most EU states, would no longer be held responsible for processing their claims. Over the years, many have slipped through the countries and fanned out towards northern EU states like Germany and Sweden. The moves have seen the rise of internal border checks amid broader fears that the passport-free Schengen area is at risk.

Iverna McGowan, director of Amnesty International's Europe office, has described the proposal as a step in the right direction. "Today's vote paves the way towards a system that will provide dignity to asylum seekers, by prioritising their family ties, as well as fair distribution between European member states," she said. MEPs from centre-right EPP, socialist S&D, liberal Alde, Greens/EFA and the far-left GUE/NGL voted 43-16 in favour of Wikstroem's draft report.
© The EUobserver

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Netherlands: Muslim police trainee asks for right to wear headscarf in uniform

19/10/2017- A police cadet from Rotterdam has gone to the Dutch human rights commission to ask for the right to wear a headscarf with her police uniform. The woman, a new recruit who has not been named, believes she is suffering from religious discrimination in being forbidden from wearing the Muslim head covering. She is asking for a ruling on her case, but also in the interest of others, according to a police press release on Wednesday. Police lawyers are arguing that she can wear a headscarf in the office, but when in contact with the public, she must ‘comply with uniform rules’ and – the body argues – the uniform is ‘neutral’. ‘The police code of conduct is clear, the [woman’s] employer believes,’ says the release. ‘Visible expressions of beliefs and opinions are not permitted.’

Diversity
But the woman’s lawyer claimed that the police are selective in applying this ruling, allowing wedding rings – for instance – which are arguably an indication of lifestyle and belief. According to NU.nl, the woman in question also believes that allowing headscarves with police uniform will encourage more diversity in the police – something acknowledged by the head of the service as an aim, after evidence of ethnic profiling. In May, Amsterdam police considered making a headscarf an option with police uniform to attract more people from ethnic minorities. But police chief Erik Akerboom opposed this. In addition, an Amsterdam police woman who went on patrol wearing a headscarf under her cap later that month was heavily criticised for her action. A verdict from the human rights commission is expected on 14th November.
© The Dutch News

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Dutch soccer fans ridicule child Holocaust victims on Twitter

Soccer fans in the Netherlands used a picture of child victims of the Holocaust to taunt a rival team in what Dutch activists against racism called a new low for anti-Semitic rhetoric in sports.

19/10/2017- The photo featuring two toddlers wearing a yellow star was widely circulated on Twitter under the hashtag #anti020week. The digits are the Amsterdam-area dial code, which in soccer jargon references the city’s main soccer club, Ajax. The picture, in which one child appears to be nearing tears, also featured the caption “When 020 had only one star.” The children pictured, Avram and Emanuel Rosenthal, 5 and 2 years old respectively, were rounded up to be murdered shortly after their picture was taken in Lithuania in 1944. Shared by many supporters of the Feyenoord team of Rotterdam, the photo offers an extreme example of how fans of Ajax rivals mock the memory of the Holocaust. Ajax players and supporters are often called “Jews” in recognition of the large Jewish community that had existed in the Dutch capital before 80 percent of its members were murdered in the Holocaust by Germans and Dutch collaborators. Some Ajax fans self-identify as Jews.

Past incidents included songs about burning Jews and the SS, and the use of gas and Hamas, but using archival photos of individual victims is unusual.  Erik de Vlieger, a Dutch industrialist and longtime opponent of hate speech in sports, denounced the imagery on Twitter, calling it on Wednesday “a new low point for anti-Ajax expressions by Feyenoord supporters.” Ronny Naftaniel, the executive vice chair of CEJI, a Brussels-based Jewish organization promoting tolerance through education, also expressed his “shock” at the imagery. “Feyenoord supporters, for once leave Jews alone if you must taunt Ajax,” Naftaniel said. Another image shared on Twitter en masse features text resembling the health notice on cigarette boxes that reads “smoking will kill you, so free packs for any Ajax Jew!”
© JTA News.

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France: Thursday briefing: plight of Calais child refugees revealed

Chaos and distress for unaccompanied minors brought to UK ... calls for heads to roll at FA ... dog race gets first drug scandal

19/10/2017- A year after the gesture that brought unaccompanied asylum-seeker children from Calais to the UK, many remain in limbo and face precarious living conditions after a disastrous lack of planning by the UK government. Many are still waiting to hear if they can even stay in the country, something lawyers and charities say is causing huge distress and is reflective of wider failures that see some applicants homeless or sleeping on floors. “On 9 December we had 20 young people arrive into Manchester airport. We had no notice,” said solicitor Kate Ormsby. “The Home Office did nothing [to prepare social services] and social workers were taken by surprise. They had no idea what was going on, what their obligations were.” Lord Dubs, the Labour peer whose legislative amendment paved the way for the new arrivals in the autumn of 2016, told the Guardian there was no excuse for the treatment of the minors. “It’s just awful, they have had so much uncertainty, any more uncertainty is so wrong,” he said. There have also been concerns about children who came under EU Dublin regulations, which allow for family members to be reunited. People working with these young people say some were placed with family members they barely knew or hadn’t seen for years.
© The Guardian.

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Hate crimes in Ireland: exhausting, normalised and unacceptable

Violence on the basis of difference is still a real challenge for both parts of this island. A new book documents victims’ experiences and government responses

18/10/2017- Northern Ireland and the Republic occupy different positions with respect to criminal justice responses to hate crime. Northern Ireland has introduced legislation which provides for an aggravation of sentence where hostility towards the victim’s race, ethnicity, religion, disability or sexual orientation is established. This legislation has had a decade to “bed in” and Northern Ireland has moved on to enhancing its implementation.

In the same time period, the Republic in contrast began to scale back on its structures to address discrimination and ensure equality, with radical cuts to anti-discrimination action plans and equality bodies. Thankfully the scale back now appears to be in the process of being repaired. An energetic Human Rights and Equality Commission has been established with many initiatives under way, and recent State migrant integration and disability strategies have been developed. That said, there is only brief reference in recent strategies to hate crime, and government action to date to progress hate crime legislation has been lamentable, making Ireland one of the only western European countries without standard hate crime legislation.

As a society, Ireland is becoming more open and inclusive. The last couple of years have seen some well publicised advancements. In 2015 the citizens of Ireland came out in force in favour of marriage equality. In the same year, the Government of Ireland passed legislation confirming the right of trans people to have their gender identity legally recognised. Last year the then Taoiseach formally recognised the Traveller community as an ethnic minority group. The structures of the State are incrementally coming to terms with a more cosmopolitan population, as the population itself demonstrates growing expressionof difference. But there are other sides to contemporary Ireland. There remains a minority of peoplewho not only harbour prejudice towards diversity, but feel that they have the right to act on the basis of that prejudice, using violence, hostility and aggression as a means to push those among us who don’t conform to their personal standards of acceptability, to the outer margins of society. When people commit criminal acts against individuals because of their identity, it is a hate crime.

Contributors to our recently published collection, Critical Perspectives on Hate Crime: Contributions from the Island of Ireland, address the manner in which hate crime presents itself in the “Republic of opportunities”. The young learning disabled man who was kicked to the ground, and told by his attackers that they were going to set him on fire and rape him. The man with a Yes Equality badge who was punched in the head. The taxi drivers who have been assaulted while doing their job because of the colour of their skin. In all these cases, the attacker used language during the course of the offence which made it clear to their victim that they did not consider them welcome in our society.

Hate crime does not just happen in the streets. A Traveller family had racist terms spray-painted on their windows. A Black family had similarly racist slogans painted all over the front of her house. For such families the violence rarely takes the form of a single incident, but is usually part of a pattern of intimidation, which denies them a sense of safety even in their own homes. The impact that these types of crimes have on their victims is significant. In many cases these families leave their home to escape the constant sense of threat. Their children carry with them the effects, not merely of the acts of vandalism or property damage, but perhaps equally impactfully, the rejection – of their identity, of their belonging.

The violent targeting of difference often forces its victims out of the public sphere – off public transport, off the streets – and compels a retreat out of society to spaces they perceive as safe. Many victims talk about trying to change who they are, and trying to hide their difference, to reduce the risk of future attack. Families of learning disabled people, who have struggled for so long to empower their loved one to have autonomy and liberty, feel forced to retract that freedom in order to ensure their safety. The contributors to this book have documented the experiences of individuals and communities in Ireland who have been victims of hate crime, the work of the advocacy groups who support them, and the State’s response to the phenomenon. The book presents contributions from academics, activists, policy makers and practitioners, and perspectives from a range of disciplines including sociology, law, social policy, criminology and equality studies.

The range of identity groups whose experiences the book addresses includes racialised minorities; disabled people; Traveller and Roma communities; lesbian, gay and bisexual people; the trans community; sex workers; and communities affected by sectarianism. The evidence presented makes it clear that violence on the basis of difference continues to be a real challenge for both parts of this island in the 21st century. While prejudice can manifest in a local dialect, patterns of nonsectarian hate crime victimisation north and south of the border share commonalities which reflect the current globalised stratification of social statuses.

In 2016, An Garda Síochána recorded a hate crime nearly every day. Research suggests that these figures are unrepresentative of the true prevalence of hate crime, and that the real statistics are likely to be much higher. For some communities, hate crime becomes something they expect to happen, something that, instead of reporting to the Garda, they just brush off. It is exhausting. It is normalised. It is unacceptable.
Critical Perspectives on Hate Crime: Contributions from the Island of Ireland , edited by Amanda Haynes, Jennifer Schweppe and Seamus Taylor, is published by Palgrave Macmillan and is launched tonight at 6.30pm at the Royal Irish Academy, 19 Dawson Street, Dublin, with guest speaker Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission
© The Irish Times.

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French police arrest far-right militants suspected of plotting attacks on mosque, politician

French anti-terror agents arrested 10 people on Tuesday over a suspected plot to target mosques and politicians, including a government spokesman, a source close to the investigation told AFP.

18/10/2017- The arrests of suspects aged 17-25 were made in the Paris region and southeast France as part of an investigation into far-right activists, the source said. The nine men and one woman are suspected of links to 21-year-old Logan Alexandre Nisin, a former militant of the far-right group Action Francaise Provence who was arrested in June, the source said. One source said the woman arrested Tuesday is Nisin’s mother. Police investigations had unmasked “intentions to commit violent action” of which the details remained unclear, a judicial source said, but that involved “a place of worship, a politician, a migrant, drug trafficking”. Another source named the targeted politicians as government spokesman Christophe Castaner and radical left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon.

A Melenchon spokesman complained that the former presidential candidate “was not informed and requests for protection during the legislative elections was rejected”. The suspects, taken into custody for “association with terrorist wrongdoers”, were also thought to be plotting to target migrants as well as mosques. “They were only in the earliest planning stages,” one source said. Nisin was arrested near Marseille on June 28 after posting that he planned to attack blacks, jihadists, migrants and “scum”. One of the probe sources said investigators had determined that Nisin, who possessed arms and practised shooting, had the intention of following through with his threats. Nisin came to the attention of the French authorities as the administrator of a Facebook page glorifying neo-Nazi Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in a bomb and gun rampage in 2011 in Norway.
© AFP.

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Austria's Muslims react to rise of right: 'Concerned but not afraid,'

On the streets of Vienna, Muslims say they are confident state institutions will protect them.

17/10/2017- “I’m concerned, but not afraid”, Omar Al-Rawi, a Bagdad-born member of the Vienna’s city council, observes as the results of the snap election in Austria are relayed across the country. Two right-wing parties, the conservative ÖVP and far-right FPÖ, both of which relied heavily on anti-Muslim rhetoric prejudice in the campaign, came first and third respectively. Now, they’re expected to form a government together. “To see that Austria has a majority of nearly 60% of right wing voters is not something that would make me happy. I think anti-Muslim rhetoric will continue, but I know Austria is strong enough to manage it“, Al-Rawi adds. His mixture of anxiety and optimism is understandable as he was a candidate of the left-wing SPÖ party, which despite better-than-expected results in Vienna will likely have to relinquish its hold on power in the country after finishing behind ÖVP nationally. His view is reflected by others who share his religion and have confidence in Austria’s ability to protect their rights.

‘A Christian country’
The Favoriten is a working-class district which is home to one of the largest Muslim populations in Vienna. In the Attaysir mosque Dawid, an eloquent student from Chechnya, who fled conflict to come to Europe recalls how things have changed since he arrived in 2008. “Things looked different [Then]… now, people don’t like us”, he claims, adding, surprisingly, that he can understand the tensions. “This is a Christian country. They do what they want. If you go to Turkey or Saudi Arabia, and start to discredit Islam, the reaction will be the same”. “If I can study and work, that’s ok. If they try to touch me or my family, I will tell them to step back”, he adds admitting that he himself has never experienced any sort of prejudice. In Austria, there are around 700,000 Muslims from a range of different ethnicities and backgrounds.

Unlike many other countries in Europe, Austria has long history of integration with Islam. As early as 1912 Austro-Hungarian empire formally recognised the religion within its legal system. The Muslim community has been rooted in the nation’s society since the 1960s when workers began moving from the south and east. “The public mood changed in the late 1990s, when politicians discovered that the Muslim issue is effective to mobilize voters”, said Carla Amina Baghajati, spokeswoman for the Austrian Islamic Religious Authority. “I’m not afraid either”, she admits. “I have trust in the rule of law”. But what Baghajati is concerned about is that terrorism or the refugee crisis are being mixed up with the situation of Muslims in general. “It should be the other way round. Those who have a longer history in Austria should be used to help to solve these problems, not labeled as enemies”. The far-right FPÖ has always relied on attacking Islam, whether in the person of Jörg Haider twenty years ago or more recently Norbert Hofer, narrowly edged out in the 2016 presidential election. During the past few months, though, the conservative ÖVP took a similar line.

‘Islamisation must be stopped’
Just before the election, as part of the new Islamic law, ÖVP pushed for enforcing a burqa and niqab ban, despite the fact that it will affect only some 0.03% of the Muslim population in the country. In the race against the FPÖ – whose campaign slogan was “Islamisation must be stopped” – conservatives were vocal about protecting the country’s borders, fighting political Islam and limiting immigration. They used as ammunition methodologically questionable reports which highlighted issues like the supposed teaching of radical Islam in kindergartens. But, even though some reports were clearly misleading, it doesn’t mean there’re no reasons to be concerned, critics say. Around 300 Muslims have left from Austria to join ISIS in Syria. And, according to data provided by email from the Austria’s Criminal Intelligence Service, in 2016 some 22,000 asylum seekers were suspected of committing a crime in Austria, which is more than twice than in 2014 (10,416) and almost three times more than in 2007 (8,679)

The intelligence service didn’t respond to further questions about the number of asylum seekers suffering from any sort of crimes. “Not all asylum seekers are Muslims”, says Astrid Mattes, a scholar on race, ethnicity, and politics at the University of Vienna, recalling that Austria stopped counting religious affiliation in 2001. “Regarding the high numbers of criminal charges, a lot of factors come into play. This is partly due to structural reasons and the limited possibilities these people have. There’re many men coming and they’re legally not permitted to work”, she adds. According to Mattes, it was relatively easy to heat emotions against the Muslim community as in Austria distrust of strangers and even xenophobic attitudes are widespread. “These are popular feelings that have been here for decades, and the right-wing leader played on them”, she claims.

Strangely enough, Sebastian Kurz, ÖVP leader, who will likely become the youngest prime minister in Austria’s history, was previously known as the liberal face of his party. In fact, at the start of his political career, he was put in charge of the newly-established integration office at the interior ministry, a position which allowed him to get to know the community very well. “He was very encouraging”, Baghajati of the Austrian Islamic Religious Authority, recalls of Kurz from that period. They’ve worked on several integration projects together. “I remember that during one meeting, he stayed longer to listen to a group of Muslim women who asked him to help with some issue. To their surprise, the same evening they received calls from his office saying the issue will be solved”.

But as soon as he became a leader of the ÖVP, he set a new tone. “You must always do politics in accordance to the situation you are in”, said Josef Höchtl, veteran ÖVP politician, and former chairman of ÖVP’s youth team, a position that Kurz also held. In 2015, with strong public support, Austria took in roughly 90,000 asylum seekers, more than 1 percent of its population. A year later, with backing for the policy falling away sharply, Kurz, as a foreign minister, contributed to closing the Balkan route. “If we continued taking them, it would ruin not only our cultural system but also our system of social security”, Höchtl says. “One must differentiate normal Islamic religion from radical Islamism, and yes, the latter will be thrown out from the country”. In the Favoriten district, only a few seem to care. Older men sip tea on the benches in front of the mosques, children jump around. Those who participated in the election mainly seem to have voted for the left-wing SPÖ, or at least that’s what a straw poll on the street suggests.All see dialogue and reconciliation as the way forward after the sound and fury of the campaigns have passed.
© Euronews.

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Austria: Another Far Right Party Has Won Voters' Hearts in Europe With Anti-Islam Message

16/10/2017- The far-right Freedom Party—an ally of Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France and one of the emboldened cluster of populist right-wing parties making big gains across the Continent—took as much as 26 percent of the vote in Austria's elections this weekend. The result could see the Freedom Party enter into a coalition with the right-wing Austrian People’s Party, led by Sebastian Kurz, 31, who is set to become the world’s youngest sitting head of government. But what is the Freedom Party? And what will the result mean for the future?

Long-Established Outsiders
The Freedom Party is one of Europe’s older surviving right-wing populist parties. Founded in 1955, it has even had one spell as a partner in a coalition government. It joined the center-right People’s Party in power in 2000, which led to Austria briefly facing European Union sanctions. Like many other European populist parties, the Freedom Party is strongly anti-immigration. “Austria is not a country of immigration,” the party says in its program statement. “This is why we pursue a family policy centered around births.” Its policies include freezing migrants out of welfare payments. Unlike some extreme-right groups, however, it does not campaign for legal immigrants already in the country to be repatriated.

The Freedom Party is strongly anti-Islam. It has long campaigned for a ban on face veils—and this year it got its way, with a ban going into force in Austria on October 1. In the European Parliament, the party is aligned with two fellow anti-Islam parties, the National Front in France and Alternative for Germany, which also made significant gains in the recent German elections. The Freedom Party has been able to capitalize on the European refugee crisis and topped opinion polls throughout much of 2015 and 2016 as it picked up protest voters unhappy with an influx of asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa. Also a factor in the group's recent strength has been its promotion of clean-cut, superficially charming figureheads adept at making its positions seem reasonable. In the country’s presidential election last year, the party came in a close second (the winner was an independent Green politician) with its candidate Norbert Hofer, a man one critic described as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Current party leader Heinz-Christian Strache, blue-eyed and inoffensively handsome, dismissed reports from Süddeutsche Zeitung about his past ties to the neo-Nazi scene as youthful folly, saying he now condemns all extremism. "I was a seeker, I saw a lot of things," he said.

Growing Influence on Government
What the party would do in a coalition would partly depend on what it is able to extract during negotiations. Aside from pushing for a crackdown on immigration and Islam, the party has strong views on Austria’s policy toward the EU. It is strongly Euroskeptic and is opposed to deeper EU integration. It would also like Austria to align itself more closely with the Visegrad Group—an alliance of central European countries whose intolerant line on refugees sets it apart from some more liberal Western European states. Alternatively, Kurz could choose to reignite his party’s previous coalition with the center-left Social Democrats, albeit with a shift in the balance of power. (Before the election, the Social Democrats were the largest party.)

Even if that’s the case, the Freedom Party will wield influence and will be listened to some of the time when it shouts from the sidelines. It has already helped to shift the debate in Austria on immigration and integration firmly to the right. Kurz achieved electoral success partly by adopting some of the Freedom Party’s positioning on the issue, and his proposals include new funding and rules designed to regulate mosques. As Cas Mudde, a political scientist who studies right-wing populism, put it on Twitter: “Copying radical right policies does NOT marginalize radical right parties. It keeps them relevant.”
© Newsweek.

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Austria: The triumph of the far-Right is not surprising. It has never atoned for its Nazi past

15/10/2017- Germany just escaped a far-Right populist party moving into power. In Austria, however, a neo-Nazi party has just moved into second place according to exit polls. It will probably soon end up as a powerful part of the government – an outcome which paints a gloomy picture not only for Austria but for Europe as a whole. As the country of Wiener Schnitzel, Sachertorte, skiing holidays and “The Sound of Music”, Austria is all too often forgotten on Europe’s political map. That is about to change. Just a year after narrowly averting a far-Right presidency, Austria’s politics seem to be swerving considerably to the Right. True, it looks like 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz of the centre-Right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) will emerge as the winner of the election, and become Austria's Chancellor. But the far-Right populist Freedom Party (FPÖ) under their leader Heinz-Christian Strache is currently in second place – a position which would make them the pivotal element in any coalition talks.

While Europe has recently witnessed the somewhat unexpected surge of far-Right populist parties in several countries, the success of Austria’s Freedom Party is not all too surprising, at least for those who have watched the country’s politics closely over the years. Austria always had a liking for similar parties, and it would be wrong to claim that the country’s swerve to the Right only happened recently or is merely a result of the refugee crisis. The events following 2015 have certainly given the FPÖ a boost, but Austria’s love affair with the far-Right exceeds this date and goes deeper. Compared to its northern neighbour, Austria never underwent the same form of de-Nazification after the Second World War. When Nazi Germany finally capitulated in May 1945, Austria already had a new anti-fascist government. The blame was on Germany. A strong culture of atonement does not exist today. The stigma usually associated with far-Right nationalist parties never fully came to bear in the Alpine nation.

Founded by Anton Reinthaller, an ex-Nazi functionary and SS officer, as a party by former Nazis for former Nazis, the FPÖ long lingered at around five percent. It was only in the 1980s that the late party leader Jörg Haider turned the FPÖ into a successful Right-wing populist party. Opening itself up to the frustrated parts of Austria’s middle and lower middle class, the Freedom Party eventually formed part of a government in a coalition with the ÖVP in 2000 – the first far-Right party to do so in postwar Europe. Nevertheless, due to internal struggles and the death of Jörg Haider in a car crash, the party tanked a few years later. Now, in 2017, the FPÖ is back in full force. The party dictated the tone of an election campaign largely focused on fear of radical Islam and immigration, and will likely be kingmaker in any coalition talks. That the “Blues” were able to gain such a strong foothold – one exit poll has them on 27 percent, while another has them on 29 – is shocking, but not exactly hard to explain.

The major topic on which the FPÖ thrives is rejection of immigration and a smouldering xenophobia in a significant part of the population, mixed with fears of losing social status. The cultural angst that has helped the far-Right AfD succeed in the German election is also very much present in Austria – a fear of losing one’s “Heimat” to the imagined Other. It’s an ironic twist of fate that Austria’s booming tourism industry is strongly dependent on foreign labour for jobs Austrians don’t want to do. Yet while many FPÖ voters hail from rural areas and predominantly have not achieved a higher level of education, it would be wrong to describe the FPÖ only as a party of the “left behind”. Austria is a rich country, inequality is moderate compared to other nations, and many voters who root for the populists are financially well-off. Seen from this angle, the vote for the far-Right is just as much a vote of fear and disappointment as it is a vote of conviction.

In this political climate, it hasn’t helped that the traditional centre parties, ÖVP and the social democratic SPÖ, have not only been engaged in a dirty campaign war but themselves moved considerably to the Right in an attempt to halt the FPÖ’s rise and win back voters. And while Austria’s likely next chancellor Sebastian Kurz was able to hurt the FPÖ with his staunchly conservative campaign, in which he reiterated time and time again that he was responsible for closing the Balkan route and thus bringing the refugee crisis in Austria to an end, his tactic comes at a heavy price. The result was a race to the bottom which the established parties cannot win. Every inch Austria’s mainstream parties move to the Right will be matched by the FPÖ, who can always go a step further in this struggle for votes.

As things stand at the moment, Kurz’s ÖVP will most likely enter into a coalition with the Freedom Party, giving the populists the unique chance to shape and frame Austria’s political debate at a crucial point in time. It is questionable whether Kurz will be able to reign in a party that demands that migrants be denied access to welfare, wants to stop integration and generally sees the EU as an enemy. Still, the election is not only an explosive issue for Austria. While the land of Mozart and Red Bull does not have much power, a country with yet another far-Right voice in power would be a continuation of a worrying trend and make things more difficult for an EU already riddled by inner divisions. Austria’s vote may not only mean the end of its tolerant, liberal image but also provisory goodbye to the vision of a united Europe.
© The Telegraph

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In Austria, It's the Burqa Ban vs. Halloween on Election Eve

As elections approach, with the right and far-right poised to take power, a ban on full-face veils that affects 150 women is being used as a rallying cry.

14/10/2017- The guy in the shark suit last week was just the beginning. A student working part time, he was waddling around at the store opening of the Austrian Apple computer reseller McShark when the police showed up. They ordered him to take off his stuffed shark head in the name of a new law meant to stop Muslim women from wearing full-face veils known as burqas or niqabs. But the law, trying unconvincingly to disguise its intent, bans all full face coverings, even a toothsome joke like this one. “I’m just doing my job,” the young man protested. Since then, parodies and challenges have multiplied. “Come on, buddy,“ one police officer said to the other on Monday morning, encouraging him as they approached the French Algerian millionaire activist, Rachid Nekkaz, who was posing for the press in front of the foreign ministry. Nekkaz wore an orange Halloween mask over his eyes with a poster of Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz pulled up under his nose more or less like a veil with, for good measure, five 100-euro notes stuck to it.

The object of Nekkaz’s satire was well chosen. Kurz, 31, is the boy wonder on track to become chancellor in Sunday’s elections. In this country with a magnificent history but a small population (fewer than 9 million), the shark spectacle and the Nekkaz incident were not the only times Austrian police have been ill at ease doing their jobs. So anxious was the government to avoid being sued for discrimination, and so broad is the law as a result, that now the interior ministry has to reassure Austrians that fines won’t be imposed on Halloween costumes. But for some, the ban is a very serious matter indeed. “This is a demonstration of power and is being seen as such by the Muslim community,“ says Carla Baghajati from the Austrian Islamic Religious Community in Vienna.

As the cops walked Nekkaz toward the police station to pay a 100-euro fine for covering his face in public, Nekkaz got his iPhone out to take a selfie. On the sidelines, a young man in a blue suit was watching the scene. He lit a cigarette and said that he has only seen a woman wearing a full-face veil one single time in Austria. “You don’t need a law to forbid it,” he shrugged. “But—it’s not normal.” (Just so: It’s an extreme rarity in Austria.)
© The Daily Beast

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Protests by Polish Anti-Fascist Group Lead to Withdrawal of Antisemitic Figurines From Parliament Gift Shop

One of Poland’s leading anti-racist organizations has successfully prevented the continued sale of antisemitic figurines at a gift shop inside the Polish Parliament building in Warsaw, following several weeks of quiet protest.

17/10/2017- Rafal Pankowski — a Warsaw-based scholar and cofounder of the anti-fascist organization “Nigdy Wiecej” (Never Again) — told The Algemeiner on Thursday that his group had raised the issue earlier this year, after he noticed that the figurines — which depicted Jews as wealthy moneylenders and financiers — were on sale at the shop. Among those with whom the issue was raised was Warsaw’s deputy mayor, Micha³ Olszewski. However, a subsequent visit to the shop by one of Pankowski’s associates revealed that the figurines were still on sale. Last week, at a meeting at the office of Polish Human Rights Commissioner Adam Bodnar, Pankowski again publicly protested the sale of the figurines, notifying the Polish media and a number of Polish MPs as to their availability at the Parliament shop. According to Pankowski, the dolls were removed from sale following the intervention of the speaker of the Polish Parliament, Marek Kuchcinski.

Pankowski said the figurines “represent a deeply-rooted negative stereotype of the greedy Jew in the Polish culture.” “They have become widespread in Poland in the last two decades or so; in fact, they were not widespread before that,” he noted. A Vice investigation published earlier this week observed that such figurines are regarded by many Poles as a positive good luck charm, with one wood-carver claiming that he made the figurines to “honor” of the memory of Poland’s Jewish population, 90 percent of whom were murdered during the Nazi Holocaust.

Abraham Foxman, the national director emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League and the head of an antisemitism study program at the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York, told The Algemeiner on Tuesday that the figurines were “classic antisemitism, cultural antisemitism.”  Foxman recounted that he had met two years ago with the Polish education minister, who told him that the figurines should be seen as a compliment. “I said, ‘That’s a compliment that led to Auschwitz,'” he recalled. Foxman pointed out that the antisemitic association of Jews with financial greed was not restricted to the Nazi period. “Even after the war, Jews were killed in Poland because they were seen as having money,” he said.

Antisemitic crimes in France over the last decade were a more recent example of where the association of Jews with money can lead, Foxman went on to say. In 2006, Ilan Halimi, a young French Jew, was kidnapped, tortured and eventually murdered by a gang that confessed to seizing him because “Jews have money.” Just last month, Paris Jewish community leader Roger Pinto, his wife Mireille, and their son David were taken hostage in their own home by a gang whose leader told them, “We know that the Jews have a lot of money and you will give us what you have.”

Pankowski said that while there were worse examples of contemporary antisemitism in Poland, the ongoing social acceptance of the figurines was “very symbolic.” “It shows a climate of tolerance of antisemitism by some Polish institutions,” he added. “Despite the climate, we at ‘Never Again’ are determined to monitor and fight antisemitism in Poland now and in the future, too.” Foxman stressed that the problem of the figurines’ continued sale at outlets all over Poland could not be resolved by a ban. “You have to educate about it,” he said. “They need to educate at the schools, and then maybe this problem will go away.” Today, Foxman said, “you walk outside the Parliament building, and there it is.”
© The Algemeiner

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Victim of Chechnya's 'gay purge' calls on Russia to investigate

Maxim Lapunov alleges he was held captive for 12 days and beaten by security forces who demanded names of gay men

16/10/2017- A Russian man who alleges that he was kidnapped and tortured in Chechnya’s ‘gay purge’ has appealed to the government in Moscow to properly investigate the actions of Chechen authorities. Maxim Lapunov is the first person to go public with torture allegations without hiding his identity. At a press conference in Moscow on Monday, he said he was held in a basement for 12 days in March and beaten by Chechen security forces, who demanded to know whether he was gay and for him to give the names of his sexual partners. Lapunov, an ethnic Russian who had lived in Chechnya for two years, said his interrogators told him they would not beat him as badly as ethnic Chechens, but forced him to watch them beat other detainees. “I want to ask the government to investigate, because we are all people and all have rights,” said Lapunov, adding that he had worked as an events organiser in Chechnya and did not live an openly gay lifestyle.

Authorities in Chechnya, led by the Kremlin-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, are accused of earlier this year rounding up and torturing dozens of gay men or those suspected of being gay. The story was first reported by the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and confirmed by the Guardian, which spoke to four victims of the anti-gay campaign, one of whom said he had been subjected to electric shock torture. All asked to hide their identities, for fear of retribution from authorities or their families. Lapunov has put a name to the allegations. He said he was grabbed from the street by two men in plain clothes. He was taken to what he believes was a police facility, where he slept on the floor in a cell with others. “I often heard people shrieking or groaning with pain,” he said. He was punched and kicked regularly. Kadyrov has repeatedly denied reports of a purge, based on his claim that there are no gay people in Chechnya. He told one interviewer that if there were any gay people in the region, they should be removed “to cleanse our blood”.

Igor Kochetkov, an activist with the Russian LGBT network, said that since April, 79 people have been evacuated from Chechnya after calling the organisation’s hotline to help those caught up in the purge. They included 27 men who had been detained and tortured, as well as relatives and partners of detainees who also feared for their safety. Privately, federal Russian investigators have said they want to get to the bottom of the allegations, but analysts say the case shows the limitations to Moscow’s sway over Kadyrov, who pledges loyalty to Putin but often appears to operate outside Russian law with no consequences. Kochetkov said he believed at least 15 people who were detained “were released to their relatives and have since disappeared without a trace”, raising widespread fears of “honour killings”.

Over the summer, activists were confident that there appeared to be motivation to investigate the allegations, particularly by Tatyana Moskalkova, the Kremlin’s human rights commissioner. Lapunov, as an ethnic Russian not originally from Chechnya and without family links in the region, was willing to submit an official statement. Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch said: “Since we appealed to Moskalkova at the end of August, we have not spoken about this case in the press in any way. We wanted to give the state bodies a chance to do their work properly.” She said the group of activists working on the case felt the time was right to go public because it was clear there were no serious attempts to investigate.

Igor Kalyapin of the Committee to Prevent Torture, which has handled a wide range of rights abuse cases in Chechnya and been targeted for its work, said: “There has not been any kind of serious investigation to check the veracity of what he has written on 26 sheets of paper. There has been absolutely nothing.” Kochetkov said he believed the actions of Chechen authorities constitute the legal definition of a crime against humanity. “On the European continent, nobody has tried to destroy people based on their sexual orientation since the time of Nazi Germany,” he said.
© The Guardian.

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Migrant Surge Complicates Romania’s Schengen Plans

Romania’s new place on the migration route to Western Europe is hindering its plans to join the passport-free Schengen zone – despite support from the European Commission.

15/10/2017- A surge in migrants crossing Romania towards Western Europe, and the increasing number of migrant and refugees being detained on the country’s border, may delay Bucharest’s plans to join the passport-free Schengen area. EU justice and interior ministers agreed on Friday to allow Bulgaria and Romania to consult, in read-only mode, the Visa Information System data. The VIS connects consulates in non-EU countries and all external border crossing points of Schengen states, processing data and decisions relating to applications for short-stay visas to visit, or to transit through, the Schengen area. The European Parliament last week gave the green light for the two countries to have access to the visa database. But both Bulgaria and Romania are still only candidates for the Schengen zone, and will only get access to the data after they have successfully completed comprehensive tests carried out by a European agency, and once it has duly notified the European Commission of the results.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for Bulgaria and Romania to be admitted to the Schengen area in his State of the European Union address in September. However, three Schengen area countries - Austria, Germany and the Netherlands - have opposed the move. The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte voiced concerns over corruption in both countries, but also mentioned concerns over border control, especially mentioning a new migration route that seems to have opened up in the Black Sea region. Romania recently became the only way for migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Central Asia to reach Western Europe, after Balkan countries closed off the so-called Western Balkan Route last year, and after both Turkey and Greece vowed to cut the route in the Aegean Sea. Over 4,000 people have crossed the border into Romania so far in 2017, three times the number in 2016.

Romanian border police have been reporting at least two groups of asylum seekers every day in the past month trying to cross from Bulgaria and Serbia, on their way to Hungary. Romania together with Turkey have made efforts to curb a new migration route opening up in the Black Sea, that saw scores of people drown on September 22, when a boat sank off the Turkish shore on its way to Romania. But the number of migrants and asylum seekers trying to cross into Romania on land has also increased, with the local border police reporting up to three groups a day last week. In the latest incident, two Iranians were detained on Friday at Bucharest airport trying to enter Romania with fake passports. A day before, 12 Iraqi asylum seekers were caught trying to walk into Hungary after they had crossed the Danube from Bulgaria. The Romanian authorities tried to return them to Bulgaria, under the terms of an EU agreement, but Sofia refused to accept them. The same night, a family of five Iraqi asylum seekers in Romania tried to cross into Hungary using fake Hungarian passports.

On a visit to Romania at the beginning of October, Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, said Budapest would rather help Romania protect its eastern border than build another fence on the Romanian-Hungarian border like it did on its frontiers with Serbia and Croatia. “Sooner or later, we will need effective protection of Romania’s eastern border, or else Romania will be overwhelmed by migrants and we will be forced to build a fence. We definitely want to avoid that,” Orban said.
© Balkan Insight

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Switzerland: Lausanne residents demonstrate against Islamophobia

Following the vandalism of Muslim graves at a Lausanne cemetery, more than 500 people joined a demonstration in the city on Wednesday in support of Muslim people.

19/10/2017-Organized by left-wing parties and other associations and bringing together people of all faiths, the demonstration paraded through the town centre, with participants carrying banners saying ‘Stop Islamophobia’. The event was a response to the vandalism of 15 Muslim graves at the Bois-de-Vaux cemetery at the end of last week. Flowers and plants on the graves were removed, grave markers pulled out and anti-Muslim graffiti sprayed on the ground. Speaking to news agency ATS, Jorge Lemos from the socialist group SolidaritéS, said the demonstration was necessary “because it is important to condemn these acts.” “We stand in solidarity with the 30,000 Muslims in this canton,” he added. Town councillor Oscar Tosato praised the city’s quick response. “Defiling the peace of the deceased, whatever their religion, is unacceptable,” he added.
© The Local - Switzerland

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Switzerland to hold referendum on whether to ban burqa after successful far-right petition

Ballot put on the table after campaign by groups including Swiss Peoples Party

15/10/2017- Voters in Switzerland will decide whether to ban Muslim face veils including the burqa after a campaign by far-right groups to outlaw the garment which they say undermine the "dignity of women". The public will get a chance to have its say in a referendum expected to be rolled out next year in the country where less than 5 per cent are Islamic in the largely Christian nation. It was tabled after extremists gathered 100,000 signatures for the ballot, forcing officials to react under a rule in the country where voters decide the agenda in a system known as direct democracy. If the measure goes through, Switzerland would follow suit with other countries in Europe including France and Austria which have cracked down on full-face veils. The measure was proposed by a group including MPs from the nationalist Swiss People's Party (SVP) that was also behind a ban on building minarets in Switzerland. It came after the Italian-speaking Swiss region of Ticino brought in a ban last year, and offenders can be fined thousands of pounds for flouting the rule.

Officials brought in the policy in the Catholic area after a poll found that some 65 per cent of people supported a ban. Walter Wobmann, an SVP politician campaigning for a country-wide ban, claimed in recent months that a crackdown would “maintain public order and respect for the dignity of women”. “Veils are an attack on integration in a free society,” he added. “The ban of religiously motivated coverings in public is proportionate and violates neither freedom of religion nor expression. It does not constitute discrimination.” nly around 350,000 of Switzerland’s 8.3 million inhabitants are Muslim, but issues around religion and integration have become a key focus in recent months. France and Belgium already enforce a bans on full-face veils, while Germany and the Netherlands are considering similar laws. Regions of Italy, Spain and Russia also regulate religious attire. A recent survey by YouGov found the British public supported a universal ban on Islamic veils by an overwhelming margin of more than two-to-one.
© The Independent

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Spain's far-right gains visibility in Catalonia crisis

As Catalonia's separatist challenge heats up, far-right groups are increasingly taking to the streets in their quest for Spanish unity, sparking fears they will grow stronger after decades on the margins, analysts say.

15/10/2017- In central Barcelona on Thursday, xenophobic group Hogar Social, far-right party Vox and ultra nationalist group Espana 2000 rallied along with tens of thousands of families, couples and retirees for Spain's national day. Not far off on Barcelona's mountain of Montjuic, several hundred other far-right supporters rallied, holding fiery speeches next to a stand selling memorabilia like Adolf Hitler's "political testament" or items marked with "SS", the insignia of the Nazi elite force. Small groups of far-right supporters have gathered on other occasions in Barcelona, or further afield in Valencia or the Balearic Islands - parts of Spain with strong regional identities - sparking scuffles. While these types of incidents have happened in the past, some fear that the far-right could grow stronger if the face-off between Spain's central government and Catalan leaders who want to break away persists.

Far-right weak in Spain
"The longer the polarisation (in Spain) and the harder it is to resolve the conflict, the more the potential for these groups to get organised and gain political influence, or take to the streets," says political analyst Pablo Simon. "There have never been such big protests with Spanish flags, and that's what these groups are taking advantage of to grow bolder and expand. "They're becoming more visible." Historian Xavier Casals, who specialises in the far-right, counters that there is currently no political party with a brand strong enough to capitalise on the Catalan crisis. But he adds it is difficult to gauge what will happen as "the situation in Catalonia is evolving rapidly, with unpredictable and changing scenarios." Unlike other European countries such as France or Germany, Spain's far-right is very much on the margin and "has been hugely fragmented since the start of the 1980s," says Jordi Borras, a photojournalist who has long studied the issue. The country's national parliament has not had any far-right lawmaker since 1982. After Spain transitioned to democracy in the 1970s, the far-right found itself unable to broaden its appeal beyond nostalgia for Francisco Franco's 1939-1975 dictatorship, says Borras. Not only that, but many people who identify with the far-right vote for Spain's conservative Popular Party, which is currently in power, he adds.

Catalyst of Spanish unity
But while issues such as immigration or Islamophobia federate the far-right in other countries, "the catalyst for Spain's far-right is Catalonia's independence movement, because their main obsession is guaranteeing Spain's unity," says Borras. On Thursday in Barcelona, Manuel Andrino, leader of the Falange, a small far-right party, pointed out in an angry speech that Madrid was hosting its traditional national day military parade. "I don't think there's any parade to celebrate, and even less in Madrid. Our army needs to be here, now, with our compatriots," he shouted. Sociologist Narciso Michavila says that while opinion polls show "a rise of parties like Vox," they still don't have much support.

But Catalan nationalist leaders, in his opinion, "have spread xenophobia with regards to other Spaniards," with themes such as "Spain is robbing us," in reference to a widely-used complaint that Catalonia pays more in taxes to Madrid than it gets back. Michavila says this has contributed to the far-right's response to the Catalan crisis at a time of high political tension. "At the end of the day, extremes need each other," he says. "They live off this radicalness and this confrontation." Borras, meanwhile, says he has "been warning for a while that things will escalate." "It's very probable that there will be more incidents."
© AFP.

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Gay men and trans women were suddenly rounded up in Azerbaijan. Here’s why.

By Katy Pearce

14/10/2017- During the last two weeks of September, Azerbaijani police launched a violent campaign of “arresting and torturing men presumed to be gay or bisexual, as well as transgender women,” according to Human Rights Watch and local advocacy organizations. On Oct. 2, by all accounts, police released all the detainees, officially acknowledging that 83 had been detained. Local advocacy organizations claim that beatings, electroshock, coercion, blackmail and other abuses were carried out based entirely on sexual orientation and gender identity. Azerbaijan is “the worst place to be gay in Europe,” the 2015 and 2016 Rainbow Europe reports by ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association) concluded. The LGBT community in Azerbaijan has no legal protection. But for the most part, the state leaves the community alone — except when police extort money from individuals, often sex workers. The state can ignore the community because families routinely and effectively stigmatize, discourage and punish deviations from societal rules. So when the state does intervene, as it did in September, there’s usually a motive.

Why the September crackdown?
Early in September, an investigative journalism coalition called the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) released a report on something called the Azerbaijani Laundromat, apparently a slush fund that for two years laundered $2.9 billion in cash that helped Azerbaijani elites and officials buy luxury goods and that paid European lobbyists and politicians to support Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan reacted to the report by attacking the OCCRP, linking it to American Hungarian financier George Soros. European politicians called for investigations. Separately, on Sept. 12, more than 20 international human rights organizations sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin calling for sanctions against the Baku chief of police for abusing political prisoners. The head of the Council of Europe called for legal action against Azerbaijan over its refusal to release one such prisoner, despite being ordered to do so by the European Court of Human Rights. On Sept. 26, two U.S. congressmen introduced legislation charging Azerbaijan with human rights abuses and calling on the U.S. government to respond. In response, Azerbaijan renewed its anti-Western campaign.

Why target the LGBT community?
Historically, Azerbaijan’s anti-Western campaigns targeted civil society and pro-democracy groups. This time, the regime targeted the LGBT community, more vulnerable in the Trump era. The LGBT community is also widely disliked in Azerbaijan; it’s a group no one is willing to defend. Survey research in Azerbaijan is challenging because citizens self-censor and the government interferes. Nonetheless, when asked, Azerbaijanis express very negative attitudes toward LGBT people. In a 2012 nationally representative survey, 63 percent of adult Azerbaijanis said they would not like to have neighbors of a different sexual orientation, and 72 percent said they would not like to have neighbors who have AIDS. The World Values Survey, collected in Azerbaijan in 2011-2012, reports that 93 percent of Azerbaijani adults believe that homosexuality is “never justifiable,” with a mean of 1.19 on a scale of 1 to 10. Similarly, a 2011 Pew study finds, that, when asked, 92 percent of self-identifying Azerbaijani Muslims say that homosexual behavior is morally wrong.

LGBT groups are seen as a symbol of the West’s attack on traditional values.
And no group is more symbolically associated with the West. As political scientist Emil Edenborg explains in his new book, LGBT rights have been characterized as the key difference between the West and more traditional societies such as Russia and Azerbaijan. After years of media framing, Edenborg argues, many in “traditional societies” conflate LGBT people with the West’s imagined attack on traditional, national moral values. That’s how the Azerbaijani government is portraying the recent attacks on gay people and trans women. Pro-government media explicitly describe the raids as measures to “prevent acts contrary to national and spiritual values,” associating these individuals with sex work. In an interview with Eurasianet, a Ministry of Internal Affairs spokesman said:
“The main reason for such raids was the numerous appeals from the residents of the capital. People complain that such people walk around us, walk in our streets, and sit in our cafés. ‘These are people who do not fit our nation, our state, our mentality, please take action against them.’”

Gay men and trans women are framed as a health risk.
Edenborg explains that LGBT people are characterized as not only a moral threat, but also a health risk. In Azerbaijan, much of the early official response claimed that nearly all detained have several sexually transmitted infections, although the most recent statement said that fewer than 40 percent had at least one. The Ministry of Internal Affairs spokesman said, “This once again proves that both our citizens’ concerns and the actions we take about it are justified. It is important for the health of our people. Those who have diseases are being isolated from society.”

Attacking LGBT people may shore up the government’s relationship with the Muslim majority.
Further, although Azerbaijan is an officially secular country, religiosity is growing — which the government considers one of the strongest threats to the regime. The LGBT raids let the regime display a commitment to protecting spiritual values and nod toward the country’s Islamic religious groups, a faction with whom it has had a challenging relationship. This is a particularly sensitive time for that relationship. Political commentator and religious history scholar Altay Goyushov notes that the LGBT raids come during Muharram, one of the holiest times in the Islamic calendar, which may be an effort to appease religious groups. Finally, the LGBT raids are a boon to the government in that they further marginalize and divide the opposition. No one, not even human rights and pro-democracy groups, can afford to defend the LGBT community, according to Azerbaijani LGBT advocates, and the raids prompted heated social media debates between LGBT advocates and opposition figures. Creating drama within the opposition is a favorite authoritarian tool for social control, particularly in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan, ironically, brands itself “the land of tolerance,” notoriously sponsoring op-eds making the same claim. By finding a hated and indefensible target, the regime wins. The domestic benefits of these raids profoundly outweigh any international costs.
Katy Pearce is an assistant professor in the department of communication at the University of Washington. She studies technology and inequality in the South Caucasus.
© The Washington Post.

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Chris Mullin: far right is driving Europe back to dark age

By Chris Mullin

14/10/2017- As the Syrian refugee crisis spread across Europe in autumn 2015 the leader of a Dutch far-right party, Geert Wilders, warned of an Islamic invasion – “an invasion which threatens our prosperity, our security, our culture and identity”. He was not alone, all over Europe – even in traditional liberal democracies such as Holland and Denmark – white populist politicians have cynically exploited economic crisis and the migrant influx for their own political ends and have been rewarded with levels of support unprecedented since before the last world war.

Austria came within a whisker of electing a far-right president. In the recent French presidential election the National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, took second place. Even in Germany, where the weight of history hangs heavily, a white nationalist party recently took 13 per cent of the vote and now has more than 90 seats in the Bundestag. In the UK, despite the implosion of Ukip, globalisation and migration have led to impending British withdrawal from the European Union. And in the United States similar forces have led to the election of a narcissist who, like hardline nationalists everywhere, trades on fear and prejudice. As the author says, political views and parties that were once peripheral are now mainstream. How has this happened?

Actually the causes are not hard to divine. Globalisation has led to the disappearance of many traditional working-class jobs in the general direction of China and India, and in many areas they have been replaced by low-skilled, minimum-wage jobs, rising levels of unemployment and a growing sense of alienation. Unsurprisingly the victims of this process are looking for someone to blame for their plight and inevitably their attention has been directed to the growing number of foreigners in our midst. In the US the Mexicans get the blame. In Europe it is the rising tide of migration from eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa that has fanned the flames. This, combined with a widespread feeling that the liberal elites who have personally benefited from globalisation, who do not live in the ghettoes and whose livelihoods and culture are not threatened by mass migration, are indifferent to the feelings of the have-nots. Recent outbreaks of Islamist terrorism have only exacerbated the situation.

Germ of truth
Sasha Polakow-Suransky, a former op-ed editor at the New York Times, has painstakingly documented this phenomenon. He has interviewed populist politicians across northern Europe and engages with their arguments. Although inevitably they attract a fascist fringe, many are not crude nationalists, their arguments are often sophisticated and contain a germ of truth. Some started on the left and have moved steadily to the right. Likewise many of their voters switched directly from left to right without passing through any middle ground.

The author’s conclusion, however, is uncompromising. “Far right leaders are correct that immigration creates problems; what they miss are that they are the primary problem.” He goes on, “The greatest threat to liberal democracies comes not from immigrants and refugees, but from the backlash against them by those on the inside who exploit the fear of outsiders to chip away at the values and institutions that make our societies liberal. By attempting to deal with the challenges of immigration by publicly denouncing judges, casting aside constitutional protections of minority groups and stripping some citizens of their nationality, many of the world’s most advanced democracies are hitting the self-destruct button rather than take on new passengers.”

I don’t entirely buy this. Given that the author concedes, albeit quietly, that mass migration is a problem, one might reasonably have expected that he would have something to say about how we got to where we are today and what is to be done. He might, for example, have pointed out that it was a serious mistake for Angela Merkel, who is in many respects an outstanding leader, to say at the height of the refugee crisis that Germany would take all comers. Likewise it was a mistake for Tony Blair’s government, when the EU absorbed east European countries, to waive Britain’s right to a moratorium on free movement on the basis of predictions about the likely flow of migrants that proved to be utterly wrong.

Hard questions unanswered
Nor is it sensible for the EU to treat all arriving migrants as potential refugees from persecution when they openly admit that their motivation is economic. After the fall of the tyranny in Tunisia, for example, the first thing that happened was that thousands of young men got on small boats and sailed to southern Italy. What ought to have happened is that they should have been given a decent meal and a bed for the night and then sent home. Instead they were asked if they wanted to claim political asylum and allowed to melt away into the hinterland. Ditto for most of those coming from most of west Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Even in the case of Syria, we should be taking only UN-certified refugees directly from the camps, not simply those with the means to pay people smugglers to get them into Europe.

We should be in no doubt as to the seriousness of the crisis. The collapse (aided by the West) of viable government in Libya has opened up a massive backdoor into Europe, which needs to be closed as soon as possible. Population movements on this scale have the capacity to bring down governments. Italy and Greece, which are bearing the brunt of the crisis, are receiving precious little help from the rest of the EU. The overall effect is driving European politics back towards a dark age. The author has accurately analysed the problem, but has dodged suggesting answers to some of the difficult questions that inevitably arise.
Chris Mullin is a former UK Labour minister.
© The Irish Times.

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Conservative German state premier quits after far-right surge

18/10/2017- The conservative premier of the eastern German state of Saxony resigned on Wednesday, saying a younger generation of leaders is needed after his party bled support to the far right in national elections last month. Stanislaw Tillich’s decision not seek re-election as leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) in Saxony signals tension among her conservatives over the surge of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD). The AfD won the most votes in Saxony itself in Germany’s Sept. 24 general election, as conservative voters drifted to the hard right in protest at Merkel’s decision in 2015 to welcome more than one million mainly Muslim asylum seekers.

“Today we face big communal challenges,” said Tillich, who had warned Merkel after the election that the weakened CDU must change course notably on immigration policy to stop a rightward shift in Germany’s formerly communist east. “Saxony needs new answers. And this requires new and fresh strength,” the 58-year-old outgoing premier added in remarks published on Saxony’s state Twitter account. His criticism was echoed by Rainer Haseloff, premier of Saxony-Anhalt state where the AfD came in second after the CDU. Haselhoff said voters wanted guarantees that politicians were not forfeiting Germany’s national identity. The AfD stormed into Germany’s Bundestag (lower house of parliament) for the first time, winning almost 13 percent of the vote nationwide to become the third largest party.

Merkel’s conservative bloc, which includes the CDU’s Bavaria-based Christian Social Union (CSU) sister party, on Wednesday launched exploratory talks with the pro-business Free Democrats and the Greens on a possible coalition government. Merkel has told CDU lawmakers that compromises would have to be made to make the complicated talks a success. The Greens, FDP and conservatives disagree on many key issues including immigration, euro zone integration, and environmental policies. The Saxony CDU will hold a congress on Dec. 9 to elect a successor for Tillich.
© Reuters

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Germany: Holocaust denier Ursula Haverbeck, 88, on trial again for denying Nazi atrocities

A Berlin court has sentenced serial Holocaust denier Ursula Haverbeck to six months in jail for denying the Nazis' extermination of Jews. She has never spent time in prison despite several previous convictions.

16/10/2017- The 88-year-old Ursula Haverbeck, who has several previous convictions all related to Holocaust denial, was on Monday found guilty of once again denying the mass murder of millions of Jews during the Nazi era in Germany, this time at an event in Berlin on January 30, 2016. Haverbeck will also stand trial in the western town of Detmold again on November 23. She had appealed two verdicts by a Detmold court, handed down for incitement to hatred after she sent a letter to Detmold's mayor and various media in which she refutes the genocide of Jews between 1941 and 1945. She once said on television that the Holocaust was "the biggest and most sustainable lie in history." German media have dubbed her the "Nazi grandma."

Defiant pamphlets
At the Detmold trial earlier this year, she defiantly handed out a pamphlet titled "Only the truth will set you free" to journalists as well as the judge and the prosecutor. In it, she again denies the Nazi atrocities. Haverbeck and her late husband Werner Georg Haverbeck, who was an active NSDAP member in the run-up to and during World War II, founded a right-wing education center called Collegium Humanum, which has been banned since 2008. She has written for the right-wing magazine Stimme des Reiches (Voice of the Empire), in which she also denied the existence of the Holocaust.

Haverbeck: 'Auschwitz lie'
In August, she was sentenced to two years in prison as a consequence. At the trial, she spoke of an "Auschwitz lie," claiming it was not an extermination camp, but merely a labor camp. She has also filed charges against Germany's Central Council of Jews for "prosecuting innocent people." Under German law, incitement to hatred is a criminal offense often applied to individuals who deny or trivialize the Holocaust. It carries a sentence of between three months to five years in prison. Haverbeck has not served her sentences as she has appealed all of the verdicts, with hearings ongoing.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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German soccer team takes a knee before Bundesliga game 'for a tolerant Berlin'

The “take a knee” movement crossed the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday morning as Hertha Berlin’s players and coaches kneeled before their Bundesliga soccer game against visiting Schalke in a call for “tolerance and responsibility.”

14/10/2017- Some NFL players, as well as a few other U.S. athletes, have been taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem for some time now, but Hertha Berlin is thought to be the first European soccer team to do the same. The German national anthem is not usually played before Bundesliga games and was not Saturday. “Berlin is colorful,” the Hertha stadium announcer told the fans in attendance, according to ESPN. “Hertha BSC stands for diversity and against violence. For this reason, we are joining forces with the protest of our fellow American athletes to take a stand against discrimination. For a tolerant Berlin, both now and forevermore.” Hertha Berlin features players from 10 nations and plays in a city with a sizable immigrant population, with nearly one in five residents being foreign nationals.

“Hertha always stands against racism. If we can fight against that as a team, and as the city of Berlin, then that’s something we want to do,” Salomon Kalou, a forward from Ivory Coast, said after the game (again per ESPN). “I think Hertha is living a good example to fight against this phenomenon. The idea comes from the whole team. We stand against racism, and we will always fight this behavior as a team, as a city. “As Hertha we always fight against racism. For us, kneeling down is a way of fighting against this kind of behavior. It should not exist in any kind of sport. Not in NFL, and not in football or soccer, like they call it in the U.S. — it shouldn’t exist in any sport, period. For us, it’s a good example to show.”
© The Washington Post.

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Germany: Frankfurt Book Fair: Violence follows calls for 'active debate'

Organizers of the Frankfurt Book Fair have stood by their decision to invite far-right publishers in the name of freedom of speech. That freedom seems to have gotten out of control during scuffles over the weekend.

14/10/2017- The Frankfurt Book Fair was the site of tumult over the weekend, as demonstrators protested a book presentation by right-wing publisher Antaios, which included controversial far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) politician Bjorn Höcke. Höcke, who made headlines earlier this year by decrying the Holocaust Monument in Berlin as a "monument of shame," was at the fair for the release of the book "Mit Linken leben" ("Living with Leftists").

'Nazis out!'
When protesters began shouting "Nazis out!" Höcke's supporters retorted with "Everybody hates the Antifa!" They were referring to the radical left-wing anti-fascist movement that has now itself achieved international notoriety. Police were called to intervene. Later in the day, two authors from the right-wing extremist Identitarian Movement were forced to abandon a reading due to loud protests.

'Sieg Heil!'
Those scenes followed a violent incident in which Nico Wehnemann, a member of the anti-political group Die Partei, was attacked after showing up at a right-wing stand to protest. Wehnemann claimed he was punched by a neo-Nazi and then pushed to the ground by private security as police looked on. His personal details were taken, Wehnemann said, though not those of the man who attacked him. Onlookers are said to have chanted "Sieg Heil!" as Wehnemann was escorted from the premises. Wehnemann later went to the hospital to have his injuries treated and has said he will be pressing charges.

Provocative stands
The events came on the heels of violence at the fair on Friday, when a music producer was punched in the face near the stand of right-leaning Junge Freiheit (Young Freedom) weekly newspaper. When Achim Bergmann, head of the left-wing Trikont record label, passed by a reading, a member of the audience punched him, splitting his lip. It has been said that Bergmann made a derisive comment in passing, provoking the man. A spokeswoman for the fair confirmed the event, saying the perpetrator had been detained and that his personal details had been taken down. Bergmann, like Wehnemann on Saturday, went to the hospital for treatment and said that he, too, will be pressing charges.

Protecting the right to free speech
Antaios and other right-wing publishers have accused organizers of not adequately protecting their stands from left-wing activists. On Friday night, a stand shared by Tumult magazine and Manuscriptum publishers was raided and its entire inventory was stolen. Organizers were widely criticized for inviting right-wing publishers to participate in the fair, the world's largest, but said they had done so in the interest of freedom of speech, encouraging visitors to engage in "active debate." Whether active debate is possible was questioned by some, including publicist Jutta Difurth, who tweeted, "Freedom of opinion? Fascism is not an opinion but a crime." After the Antaios publishing house invited the Amadeu-Antonio Stiftung, an organization that fights racism, to debate, the latter declined.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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UK: Shocking figures reveal: spike in anti-Islam hate crime in London

Shocking figures published today have revealed a stark increase in the number of Islamaphobic hate crimes recorded across London in the last year.

17/10/2017- A report revealed more than 17,000 race or religious-related crimes were reported to police in the financial year from 2016 to 2017. The sharpest increase was recorded among anti-Islam crime, with almost 25 per cent more offences in the past year than in the previous one. The report, published by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, also noted a 4.5 per cent increase in anti-Semitic offences. And there has been a spike in crimes relating to sexual orientation, with more than 12 per cent more committed against transgender people. The troubling stats were made public a day after the Metropolitan Police and Transport for London launched a campaign to reduce anti-Muslim crime on London’s buses, trains and Tubes. As part of the drive, more than 200 community events will be hosted to reassure and educate people across the city.

Officers will encourage reporting of hate crime in certain parts of east London, including routes to the East London Mosque – the biggest in the capital. “We want to send a clear message, that you do not have to be afraid and that you can report incidents discreetly to the police,” Nozmul Hussain, chief executive of mosque Trust said. "We will never tolerate those that seek to divide us through hatred and bigotry we will always stand united.” "We must continue to encourage all those affected by hate crimes to speak out, and in doing so send a clear message that hate and prejudice can have absolutely no place in modern Britain,” added Mustafa Field, the director of the Faiths Forum for London group. "Victims need to know that their voices will be heard and that they will receive both justice and the support they need. “Perpetrators need to know that such offences will not be tolerated in our communities, and that they will be dealt with under the full force of the law."

Additional Home Office statistics revealed that, overall, hate crime soared by almost a third. The rise was, in part, driven by a spike in offending after the Brexit vote and the Westminster terror attack earlier this year – which was shown by additional figures not included in the overall report. Hate crime rose after each event, with the highest totals recorded after the London Bridge killings. Home Office statisticians said that the rise in hate crime was partly due to better recording by police but was also driven by an actual rise in offending. As the figures were published, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said there was “absolutely no place for hate crime in our society and this Government is taking action to tackle it”. “No-one in Britain should have to suffer violent prejudice, and indications that there was a genuine rise in the number of offences immediately following each of this year's terror attacks is undoubtedly concerning."’

Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said: "This rise in hate crime is unacceptable, especially after a drop in police referrals has seen a fall in prosecutions. "The Tories have made great claims about tackling burning injustices. But they are clearly not tackling the great injustice of being attacked simply because of your religion, your sexuality, the colour of your skin or your disability."
© The Evening Standard.

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UK: Syrian family could be torn apart after Home Office say teenage son must leave

Mohammed Mirzo could be separated from his family

15/10/2017- A Syrian family fear they will be torn apart after the Home Office said their young son must be deported from the UK. The Mirzo family were reunited with their son Mohammed in April after more than four years apart, but the Home Office say he must return to Bulgaria where he first arrived in the EU. His family say he was badly mistreated in Bulgaria, a country that has been strongly criticised for its treatment of refugees and migrants. Mohammed Mirzo, 19, is currently being held in an immigration detention centre in Oxfordshire and could be deported at any moment. A keen footballer, Mohammed was separated from the rest of his family when he was aged 16 and ended up in Bulgaria after they fled from Aleppo. He then made it to Cardiff where he was saw his mum for the first time in two years and met his newborn baby brother for the first time.

Ali Mirzo, Mohammed’s father, said: “Mohammed’s mother and I are desperately worried about our son. We visited him in the detention centre this week and his medical situation is already getting worse. “His greatest fear is being removed to Bulgaria, where he had a such traumatic experience when he was still just a child. “His life was turned upside-down when he became a refugee at the age of 16 and he lived through suffering in Bulgaria and Germany that no child should experience. “Not only will he be alone and vulnerable in Bulgaria, but he has threatened to harm himself in the past, and we are concerned that his current situation will lead him to do this.” After around five months in Bulgaria, Mohammed travelled to Germany, where his family say he was attacked by a neo-Nazi gang suffering a broken shoulder which has still not fully healed.

When Mohammed made it to Cardiff he applied for refugee status, but during one Home Office meeting he was detained and held at Parc Prison for two days before being sent to the Campsfield Immigration Removal Centre in Oxfordshire. His family say he could be deported to Bulgaria before November 2, prompting a petition which has gained almost 6,000 signatures in three days. According to human rights charity Amnesty, in 2016/17 Bulgaria failed to provide “all required services” and “access to proper procedures” for the growing number of migrants and refugees in the country. Mohammed’s brother Salah, 21, said: “Almost every hour we have to call him to give him hope. “If he is sent to Bulgaria I don’t think anything good will happen. “The situation will be very bad, and it’s like they took a piece of my mother’s heart.”

Mohammed’s father Ali, a teacher by profession, arrived in Cardiff in 2015 and gradually brought the rest of his family to join him. Settling in Lakeside, Ali set up the Royal Coast Cafe in the city centre and volunteers as an interpreter for child refugees. Ali said: “We are so grateful for the welcome that Cardiff has offered to my family and to other Syrian refugees. “Not only are we safe here, but I have been able to set up a business and make a future for our family. “I have also been able to make a contribution to society, as a taxpayer, an employer, and a volunteer with community groups. “We have been given the kind of warm Welsh welcome that we will never forget, but that only makes us fear the situation my son will face in Bulgaria if he is deported there even more.” Ali’s two teenage daughters have settled at Cardiff High and Llanishen High schools and he and his wife have a young baby boy. The family said they are appealing the Home Office decision.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK has a proud history of providing protection to those who need it, but it is only fair that we do not shoulder the burden of asylum claims that should rightly be considered by other countries. “Asylum seekers should claim in the first safe country they arrive in. “Where there is evidence that an asylum seeker is the responsibility of another European country we will seek to return them there.”
The petition can be signed HERE.
© Wales Online

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UK: Disabled children hate crime reports increasing

Reported hate crimes against disabled children are rising, a BBC investigation has discovered.

15/10/2017- Figures from police forces across the UK show there were 450 incidents reported last year, up from 181 in 2014-15, 5 live Investigates found. Families with disabled children described being targeted online and verbally abused in the street. The Home Office said the rise was due to better reporting and more victims willing to come forward.

'They wished she was dead'
Bethan Germon's 23-month-old daughter Lydia has hydrocephalus, or water on the brain, which causes her head to swell. It means at one point Lydia's head was double its natural size. She also has cerebral palsy and is fed through a tube. "You see a really ugly side of people online to the point where they say they wish she was dead or why don't we kill her," Bethan said. "The online commenting has easily been the worst and my husband has actually made sure that I come offline for a couple of days when things have been said. "He really does try to protect me as much as he can." The 29-year-old from Swansea said that while the family was most regularly targeted through social media, abuse was also doled out in the street. "Some of my friends have had the word cabbage used against their children. "This isn't unusual for us."

A disability hate crime is defined as anything from online abuse to physical violence in which the victim was targeted because of their disability. 5 live Investigates sent Freedom of Information requests to all 45 police forces in the UK, to find out how often these incidents were happening, and 29 of them provided full responses. Overall the number of disability hate crimes increased by 101%, from 1,531 in 2014-15, to 3,079 in 2016-17. But the crimes against children increased at an even greater rate. The incidents reported to police range from verbal and online abuse to arson and even violent, physical attacks.

Prosecutions rising
Amanda Batten of the Disabled Children's Partnership said the findings echo a new survey it carried out of nearly 2,700 parents of disabled children which revealed hate crime and abuse was commonplace. "Families often feel like they can't go into busy public spaces or post images onto social media for fear of being publicly shamed or having to be submitted to people telling them that their child must lack quality of life because of their disability. "The idea that so many parents and children with a disability are facing such a lack of support and outright abuse from the general public is truly heart breaking."

The Crown Prosecution Service for England and Wales has seen year on year rises in prosecutions and convictions for disability hate crime. A Home Office spokesman said: "All forms of hate crime are completely unacceptable and the UK has some of the strongest laws in the world to tackle it. "Our hate crime action plan has improved the response of law enforcement and the criminal justice system to these horrendous attacks. "We are still concerned that disability hate crime is significantly under-reported by victims, and that is why the government is working with community groups to raise awareness of how to report it amongst, disabled people, their carers and families."
© BBC News.

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Britain First Deputy Leader, Arrested In Sunderland After Neo-Nazi Radio Appearance

Britain First’s deputy leader has been arrested for violating the terms of her bail after embarking on a far-right tour of Europe during which she appeared on a neo-Nazi radio show.

15/10/2017- Jayda Fransen was detained in Sunderland on Saturday during a protest in the city and led away by police. Fransen and Britain First leader, Paul Golding, were charged last month with causing religiously aggravated harassment and were both bailed to appear before Medway Magistrates’ Court on October 17. Both have been required to present themselves weekly at a police station as part of their bail conditions but the pair has spent the last few weeks touring far-right events across Europe. On Friday Fransen conducted a phone interview with Radio Aryan whose tagline is ‘SAVE THE FATHERLAND’. She said: “We’re away against our will if you like, I’m actually desperate to get home - I’ve got so many activities to organise and carry out in Britain and at the minute I literally can’t come home because if I do I’m going to be arrested and detained. “The whole ‘fugitive’ status is not as fun as it may seem.”

Fransen appeared shortly after the show had aired part 35 of its retelling of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. The original charge against Fransen and Glding relates to the distribution of leaflets in the Thanet and Canterbury areas and videos posted to social media during a gang rape trial at Canterbury Crown Court in May. That trial saw Shershah Muslimyar, 21, Tamin Rahmani, 38, Rafiullah Hamidy, 24 and a 17-year-old all convicted and jailed for the rape of a 16-year-old girl in Ramsgate. Fransen, 31, faces four counts of causing religiously aggravated harassment and Golding, 35, faces three counts, Kent Police said. The pair, both from Penge in south east London, were arrested on May 10.
© The Huffington Post - UK

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UK: NHS praised after racist tweet about sickle cell disease sufferers

The NHS has been praised for its response to a racist comment on Twitter regarding black blood donors.

14/10/2017- NHS Blood and Transplant tweeted an appeal for more black donors to help black people with sickle cell disease. A user replied "If we deport all blacks, this will stop being an issue". The NHS responded: "OR.. we could just deport you.". An NHS spokesman said: "There is no place for any kind of racism within our online communities". The offending tweet has since been removed. Hundreds of people have tweeted in support of the organisation's response, with many saying it has encouraged them to give blood. Bec Awuor‏ tweeted: "Going to sign up now, this has definitely given me the push to do so thank you for this! Love from a girl who is Black AND English." Liz Lindley said: "Not only is it game, set and match to @GiveBloodNHS they have won the tournament, new balls please." And Caroline Crossland posted: "Seriously, one of the best Tweets EVER. Donating on the 18th - will be doing so with an even bigger grin on my face now!"

NHS Blood and Transplant, which has centres in Bristol and Plymouth, said: "Donors from all backgrounds are fundamental to our life-saving work. "There is no place for any kind of racism within our online communities and we do not tolerate abusive and offensive behaviour." A spokesman said currently only 1% of active blood donors in England were from black or mixed race communities. Black donors are more likely to have rare blood and tissue types and black patients are more likely to require these rare types, he said. People from black communities can also be susceptible to conditions, such as sickle cell disease, which leave them requiring regular transfusions. In these cases, blood from donors with a similar ethnic background can provide the best match and better outcomes in the long term.
© BBC News.

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Headlines 13 October, 2017

Win or lose in Austrian vote, the far right triumphs as rivals back policies once deemed fringe

13/10/2017- For nearly two years — through the height of the European refugee crisis and beyond — the far-right Freedom Party dominated opinion polls here with its message of keeping Austrians happy by keeping newcomers out. Then came the youthful new face of the establishment: Sebastian Kurz, the wunderkind of Austrian politics, with his sweptback mane of dark brown hair, golden tongue and boasts of actual success in stopping migrants from reaching this land of Alpine vistas, low unemployment and generous social welfare. At 30, Kurz took control of the People’s Party, the fusty center-right party that had long lagged in the polls. At 31, the foreign minister is likely to become Austria’s next chancellor following elections here Sunday that Kurz and his People’s Party are widely expected to win. Yet the far right will still be able to claim victory.

Kurz’s face may be fresh, and his party may be comfortably rooted in the mainstream. But the hard-line ideas behind Kurz’s success are unmistakably those long advocated by the Freedom Party, which has seen its once-fringe policies increasingly imitated at the center of Austrian politics. People always felt shame saying they were for the Freedom Party, because others would say, ‘You’re a Nazi,’ ” said Stefan Petzner, a political consultant and former adviser to the far-right party. “Now the People’s Party has the same positions. But saying that you’re for Kurz is sexy. It’s cool.” The validation of hard-line rhetoric and policies by the European mainstream reflects just how far the continent’s politics have shifted, even as far-right parties fall short of outright electoral victory. From Hungary to the Netherlands, anti-immigrant positions and slogans have gone from the margins to the middle. 

Nowhere is that more apparent than Austria, a country at the meeting place of Europe’s east and west, with a starring role in the 2015 refu­gee crisis. Here, unlike in other parts of postwar Europe, far-right politics have long been a fixture, with the Freedom Party tracing its lineage to its founding in the 1950s by a former SS officer. The party enjoyed relative success long before the current wave of nationalist politics swept Europe; in 1999, a second-place finish earned the Freedom Party a position in a coalition government and inspired fellow members of the European Union to impose sanctions on Austria. The Freedom Party is again a strong contender to join the government this year, with an expected second-place finish making it a likely partner for Kurz. But no one is talking about sanctions this time around. And unlike in past elections, when mainstream politicians largely ­ignored the Freedom Party’s ­relentless emphasis on anti-immigrant policies as a balm for the nation’s ills, this time they are joining in.

None are doing so with as much zeal as Kurz, who has placed get-tough immigration policies at the center of his campaign. In one of the campaign’s final debates this week, Kurz went toe-to-toe with the Freedom Party’s leader — onetime neo-Nazi youth activist Heinz-Christian Strache — to prove that he is every bit as serious as his far-right rival about closing the central Mediterranean route for migrants, slashing benefits for new arrivals and curbing the influence of Islam in Austria. “Mr. Strache, you’re in the wrong debate,” Kurz, wearing a crisp, open-collared white shirt, interjected at one point when challenged on his hard-line credentials. “You think you’re sitting in front of a left-wing politician.”  There’s little chance voters will make the same mistake.

On the campaign trail, Kurz, who has been the nation’s foreign minister since 2013 and would be the world’s youngest head of government if made chancellor, draws cheers by touting his role in the spring 2016 decision to close Austrian borders to new arrivals. The move set off a chain reaction down the Balkan route and stranded thousands of people fleeing war, persecution and poverty as they sought to reach destinations farther north and west in Europe. The closure was praised by the nationalist Hungarian leader ­Viktor Orban — a point Kurz made with pride during this week’s debate — but rankled German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was pushing for a more orderly end to the crisis.

Kurz says he will push for similarly decisive action to shut the central Mediterranean route, which is now the primary path for asylum seekers trying to enter ­Europe. He also highlights his ­efforts to pass Austria’s burqa ban, and has vowed to put more money into the pockets of Austrian citizens by sharply reducing benefits for newcomers, whether they’re refugees from Syria or immigrants from elsewhere in the E.U. To the Freedom Party, it all sounds very familiar. “Mr. Kurz took nearly 100 percent of our program,” said Markus Tschank, one of the party’s parliamentary candidates in Vienna. “He just copy-pasted it, and put a nice smile on it.” To the ruling Social Democrats, who have been top dog in a coalition government with Kurz’s party for the past four years, the foreign minister’s promises sound “like a fairy tale,” said Johannes Vetter, the Social Democrats’ campaign manager.

“He claims that by solving the refugee problem, he’ll solve all your problems,” said Vetter, whose party is mired in third place amid a scandal involving deceptive Facebook pages. “It’s like Donald Trump saying he’ll solve all problems by building a wall.” But the center-left Social Democrats have hardly been a beacon of support for immigrants and refugees. Many of the party’s policies are similarly tough on new arrivals, and Vetter said public opinion in Austria has swung so far right that it’s not worth trying to change minds. “We don’t have a dreamy view of multiculturalism,” Vetter said. Especially compared with Germany, attitudes in Austria toward newcomers have never been terribly friendly. But the refugee crisis hardened opinions as hundreds of thousands of people made their way through the country — and tens of thousands settled.

Kurz’s allies say his focus on voters’ concerns over immigration and integration will blunt the appeal of the populist right by offering a more palatable alternative. “One of the biggest challenges for Europe is the present polarization, and the biggest cause of ­polarization is when you look away from a problem and don’t address it head-on,” said Karl Mahrer, a People’s Party candidate in Vienna. But the anti-immigrant rhetoric also risks feeding the polarization. On the streets of Vienna’s working-class 10th District, where women in hijabs push strollers past kebab stands, some native-born Austrians aren’t shy about expressing their contempt. “I was born in 1941, and Austria was absolutely destroyed,” said Rudolf Wollner, a retired factory manager. “We had to work for everything we had. But the people coming now, they don’t want to work.” His 70-year-old wife, Irene, said she had been counting what she considered “foreign” faces as she walked from the subway station. “There were 15 of them, all with dark skin,” she said, shaking her head.

Miriam Iddrisu, 32, was among the nonwhite faces — though she was born in Austria, to an Austrian mother and a Ghanaian father. Attitudes in the country, she said, were becoming more hostile as the rhetoric from politicians turned sharply xenophobic. “There’s been a shift. A few years ago, they would have talked behind your backs. But now people are becoming more and more openly racist,” said Iddrisu, a social worker who works with Vienna’s homeless. “The politicians are blaming foreigners for everything. It’s an easy explanation for all the problems of Austria.”
© The Washington Post.

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UK: Anti-Muslim Hatred, Terrorism, Media Sources, Far Right Networks & Spike Points

13/10/2017- The recent Independent article highlighted the sharp rise in mosque attacks that have been seen across the country and which Tell MAMA has been systematically documenting for over 5 years now. Attacks on mosques, we have said time and time again, have a wider destructive impact on Muslim communities who use it – with some reading into the attack that they are not wanted or that they are not part of the local community. Attacks on mosques and Islamic institutions have the potential to cause long-term impacts on cohesion, the further escalation of hate crimes and in the worst instances, the possibility of further public order offences. Allied to this, all the data we have shows that terrorism, in particular, creates spikes in hate crimes, as reported by the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC), though their data acknowledges other factors. There is a consequence for cohesion and the variations in far-right extremism towards Muslim communities feed off such narratives and events.

To give context to the Independent article, it is important to state the following given the fact that there are other issues that drive anti-Muslim sentiment. Terrorism is one, inflammatory media headlines are another and we have seen this when headlines are emblazoned across front pages, only for minute retractions to be printed after IPSO complaints. Such work, (of holding to account stories that are not factually correct and meant to sell more newspapers or drive more traffic to a website), is essential and we salute those who carry out this vital work since it does help to reframe facts from fiction. There are a growing number of activists from Muslim and non-Muslim communities doing this and we value their much-needed work with the hope that it continues in the future.

We also understand that many people focus on the role of inflammatory and inaccurate media coverage. This does not make them Islamists, nor should their work be curtailed since holding to account the powerful is a fundamental plank of a healthy democracy, while we primarily focus on supporting those affected by anti-Muslim hate crime, we also use our platform to challenge press inaccuracies, or when hate crime spikes occur in other major political events, be it domestically or internationally. What is a problem, is when some believe that the media is the only driver, as others may choose to deny or even acknowledge the lasting impacts of terrorisms on communities and individuals, either directly or indirectly. Some may feel that terrorism is not their responsibility, and that is their position to hold. We understand such a position but digress, as it is still our desire to challenge those who seek division through acts of terroristic violence, and how such hatreds manifest, and we remain committed to challenging all forms of hatred.

Some may seek to avoid the issue or seek to position themselves as the loudest community voice, when the voices that need to be heard loudest, are those directly impacted by anti-Muslim hatred, abuse, and hate crime. Additionally, it is clear is that the vast majority of anti-Muslim hate incidents are opportunistic in nature and where individuals come across visible Muslims. In many of the cases that we have worked on, a language related to terrorist attacks is thrown at visible Muslims, such as “you were responsible for Manchester”. The link between terrorism, opportunism, and perpetrators feeling emboldened is clear. Some may feel emboldened due to press articles and comment pieces which blame all Muslims for extremism and terrorism or framing Muslim communities as culturally threatening or culturally at odds with Britain. As for others, they may have come across far-right extremist material or anti-Muslim rhetoric on social media pages or websites. Causation factors are many, including terrorism. It is neither one or another, but a combination of factors.
© Tell Mama

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German liberal, far-right MPs to sit next to each other, despite protest

Seats in the German parliament are being reshuffled after September election.

13/10/2017- Far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) politicians will initially sit next to members of the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) in the Bundestag, despite the FDP’s protests, German media reported Friday. Outgoing Bundestag President Norbert Lammert said that he will stick to the same seating plan in the parliament as in the Federal Convention, which elects the German president and consists of MPs as well as representatives of state parliaments. This puts the AfD’s MPs on the far right of the chamber. Seats in the Bundestag are being reshuffled after the AfD made it into the parliament for the first time following the September 24 election.

The FDP had previously said they wanted to be closer to the middle of the room, on one side of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) of Chancellor Angela Merkel. FDP spokesman Nils Droste confirmed that his party would accept the seating plan for the new Bundestag’s first meeting on October 24, but did not rule out that the FDP would try to alter the seating plan afterward. Bernd Baumann, a member of the AfD’s parliamentary executive board, said last week that he “could live” with the party’s placement on the far right. “That is similar to the regional parliaments. We will be sitting next to the government bench, that’s very nice,” Baumann said.
© Politico EU

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Poles pray en masse at border; Some see anti-Muslim agenda

7/10/2017- Polish Catholics held rosaries and prayed together Saturday along the country's 3,500-kilometer (2,000-mile) border, appealing to the Virgin Mary and God for salvation for Poland and the world in a national event that some felt had anti-Muslim overtones. The unusual "Rosary to the Borders" event was organized by lay Catholics but was also endorsed by Polish church authorities, with 320 churches from 22 dioceses taking part. The prayers took place from the Baltic Sea coast in the north to the mountains along Poland's southern borders with the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and all along the border of this country of 38 million where more than 90 percent declare themselves Roman Catholics.

Organizers say the prayers at some 4,000 locations commemorated the centenary of the apparitions of Fatima, when three shepherd children in Portugal said the Virgin Mary appeared to them. But the event also commemorated the huge 16th-century naval battle of Lepanto, when a Christian alliance acting on the wishes of the pope defeated Ottoman Empire forces on the Ionian Sea, "thus saving Europe from Islamization," as organizers put it. Prime Minister Beata Szydlo showed her support by tweeting an image of rosary beads with a crucifix and sending greetings to all the participants. While organizers insisted the prayers Saturday were not directed against any group, some participants cited fears of Islam among their reasons for praying at the border.

Halina Kotarska, 65, traveled 230 kilometers (145 miles) from her home in Kwieciszewo, central Poland, to express gratitude after her 29-year-old son Slawomir survived a serious car wreck this year. She described it as a miracle performed by St. Mary. She said she was also praying for the survival of Christianity in Poland and Europe against what she sees as an Islamic threat facing the West. "Islam wants to destroy Europe," she said. "They want to turn us away from Christianity." Poles also prayed in chapels at airports, seen as gateways to the country, while Polish soldiers stationed in Afghanistan prayed at Bagram Airfield there, the broadcaster TVN reported. A leading Polish expert on xenophobia and extremism, Rafal Pankowski, saw the prayers Saturday as a problematic expression of Islamophobia coming at a time of rising anti-Muslim sentiment in Poland, a phenomenon occurring even though the country's Muslim population is tiny. "The whole concept of doing it on the borders reinforces the ethno-religious, xenophobic model of national identity," said Pankowski, who heads the Never Again association in Warsaw.

At the Polish-Czech border near the town of Szklarska Poreba, hundreds of pilgrims arrived in buses and cars to pray at the Karkonosze mountain range. The procession, which included young and old and families pushing children in strollers, was made up of pilgrims who held rosaries and prayed to the Virgin Mary, braving the cold and rain. "It's a really serious thing for us," said Basia Sibinska, who traveled with her daughter Kasia from Kalisz in central Poland. "Rosaries to the border means that we want to pray for our country. That was a main motive for us to come here. We want to pray for peace, we want to pray for our safety. Of course, everyone comes here with a different motivation. But the most important thing is to create something like a circle of a prayer alongside the entire border, intense and passionate."

In the northern city of Gdansk, people prayed on a beach lapped by waves as seagulls flew above. Krzysztof Januszewski, 45, said that he worries Christian Europe is being threatened by Islamic extremists and by a loss of faith in Christian societies. "In the past, there were raids by sultans and Turks and people of other faiths against us Christians," said Januszewski, a mechanic who traveled 350 kilometers (220 miles) to Gdansk from Czerwinsk nad Wisla. "Today Islam is flooding us and we are afraid of this too," he added. "We are afraid of terrorist threats and we are afraid of people departing from the faith."
© ABC News

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Headlines 6 October, 2017

Activists Announce First Pride Parade in Kosovo

LGBTI organizations in Kosovo announced that the first ever Pride Parade in the country will be staged next Tuesday, urging people to support this 'sensitive' cause.

6/10/2017- Kosovo's Centre for Equality and Liberty, CEL, the Centre for Social Group Development, CSGD and some other organizations will stage the first ever Pride Parade in Kosovo, called “In the name of Love”, next week in Pristina. The parade will be held next Tuesday, starting from the Pristina's main Skenderbeg Square and ending at Zahir Pajaziti Square. Blert Morina, from CEL, said he hoped people in the socially conservative mainly Muslim country would lend their support, despite it being a “sensitive” topic. Morina told BIRN that since it was all about human rights, everyone who supported that cause should join the march. “We are aware that we are dealing with a sensitive cause, and this may be reflected in hesitation to join and support the LGBT community, but we feel very positive, based on the reactions we have received since the event was made public,” Morina said.

Although this will be Kosovo's first Pride Parade, LGBTI rights activists have organised other marches over last three years so, according to Morina, this is just a continuation of those efforts. While those marches in Pristina draw support from important political leaders, the mood of the general population remains far behind that of the politicians. In theory, Kosovo's Law against Discrimination, which parliament approved in 2004, guarantees the rights of sexual minorities. In reality, members of the LGBT community in Kosovo remain subject to heavy discrimination - more by society than the politicians. If a gay couple wishes to marry in Kosovo, it is also not clear if this is possible or not. The constitution says that "everyone enjoys the right to marry" but the Law on Family specifies that those who enter into a marriage must be of different sexes.

Morinia said they could not “predict at this point” whether they will face a hostile reaction from the public. He added that the organizers were in contact with the police and the support they had received was satisfactory. So far, they have not received confirmation of whether either Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj or President Hashim Thaci will join the Parade.
© Balkan Insight

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Does Finland need its swastikas?

Finland has officially used the ancient symbol of the swastika on monuments, awards and decorations for nearly a century. Today, it is still prominently displayed on military flags and insignia, but one professor is now asking what its use actually means for the defence capabilities of the armed forces. Does holding onto this tradition have benefits that outweigh risks to the nation’s image?

5/10/2017- A symbol most of the world associates with the atrocities of Nazi Germany and modern hate groups is alive and well in Finland, and an emblem still proudly displayed. "When I first arrived in Finland I saw a military parade with these particular insignia being flown. I was scared for my life,” relates Keegan Elmer, an American Labour Researcher resident in Helsinki. ”I was running through the square and calling my friend and saying, do you realize there's some sort of fascist parade going on? I had just arrived. I had no idea. I was very alarmed and my friends told me to calm down. Since I've arrived in Finland, I've had this predicament. Is this a good thing? And, I've had many arguments with my Finnish friends about it."

This is all familiar to Teivo Teivainen, Professor of World Politics at the University of Helsinki. “One reaction,” says Professor Teivainen, “is don't Finnish people ever travel? Don't you know what this looks like? Second, aren't you supposed to have good schools? Do you have history at school? Or third, what a wonderful exotic people in the forest who use a symbol that most of the western world has rejected. It's kind of exotic, an almost tribal thing about Finns in the forest, so there can be this kind of admiration.”

The question
Professor Teivainen has now raised a very specific issue about the use of the swastika, especially by the Finnish military. In his new book covering the history of Finland, Teivainen asks about the relevance and potential drawbacks of using the swastika in the modern world. "My question about the swastika is whether it makes sense for the military of Finland today and tomorrow to use it for the tasks that the military has.” Teivainen says he can see different kinds of scenarios where the fact that the Air Force Command and different branches of the Finnish Air Force have a swastika as an official symbol, could maybe not be of great harm, but a problem nevertheless for Finland in complicated security situations.

”So I've been trying to ask if those in charge of the military can find benefits for the use of the swastika. Because if they are professional in defending Finland, there should be some benefit for the symbols, as there is for the arms that they use. And to this day, I haven't found convincing arguments why using the swastika would be beneficial for Finland, today and tomorrow, in conflict situations." When raised even for academic analysis, Teivo Teivainen has found that the subject receives a chilly response. ”When I talk to top politicians or people in the military about it, normally the response is that it has nothing to do with the swastika of the Nazis, it predates the swastika of the Nazis…end of conversation,” Professor Teivainen explains.

That backstory
The Finnish military does indeed give a quick and strident answer when asked if the swastika really projects the right image. "First of all, it had nothing to do with the Nazis, because we got it 1918, much before the Nazis ever existed. It has always been a symbol of independence and freedom in Finland,” says Lt Col Kai Mecklin (Ret.) who is the Director of the Finnish Air Force Museum. The swastika is a symbol that has been used for thousands of years across a wide spectrum of cultures all over the world.

In Finland, the use of the swastika dates back to a least the early Iron Age, sometimes in a form known as “The Heart of Tursas” a stylized representation of a rose associated with a god of the old Finnish pagan religion. The centre lines stand out clearly as a swastika. During the 19th century, as advocates of Finnish nationalism mined ancient tales and myths for inspiration and identity, the swastika was one sign that experienced a resurgence. It became a favorite motif of Finland's leading painter of the late 19th and early 20th century, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, best known for his illustrations of the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. When commissioned in 1918 to design the new Finnish government's first decoration, the Cross of Liberty, Gallen-Kallela chose to superimpose a short-limbed swastika, known in heraldry as a “fylfot”, on the cross. This is a symbol often seen on war memorials in Finland and is displayed on the official flag of the President of Finland.

Later, in 1920, Gallen-Kallela was called upon to design the decorations of the Order of the White Rose of Finland. Again he included swastikas, this time in their more familiar form as a part of the collar chain carrying the medallion. The second and more controversial strand of swastika tradition owes its origin to a Swedish aviator, Count Eric von Rosen. As early as 1901, von Rosen had adopted the swastika as a personal good luck charm and had it painted on the wings of his aircraft. He made a gift of one of those planes to the White forces in Finland's civil war in early 1918. The swastikas were retained and painted on all Finnish Air Force planes up until 1945.

There have been claims that von Rosen's good luck symbol was also the inspiration for the swastika of Nazi Germany. Count von Rosen was acquainted with a German aviator, Hermann Göring, who would go on to marry his wife's sister and later become one of the most powerful figures of the Third Reich. It is all but certain that Göring knew of von Rosen's use of the swastika. However, the Nazi Party had already adopted its own version of the swastika a full two years before Göring met Adolf Hitler for the first time. Neo-Nazis in Finland do not use the swastika as their emblem of choice, rather an ancient rune character that looks like an upright arrow and is associated with the Norse god Tyr. Finland's National Police Board this year filed a court motion to dissolve the Finnish branch of the Neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement. It is expected that if banned, propaganda and symbols associated with the neo-Nazi group will be outlawed.

Distance and revival
In 1939-1940 Finland defended itself against an invasion by the Soviet Union in a conflict known as the Winter War, and did so alone. Hostilities resumed in 1941 with what the Finns call the Continuation War. This time Finland battled the USSR as a co-belligerent of Germany, receiving aid and assistance up until an armistice with the Soviet Union in the early autumn of 1944. Under the terms of that agreement, Finland entered yet a third conflict, the Lapland War of 1944-1945 to drive Nazi German forces from Finnish territory. A British-Soviet Allied Control Commission was installed in Helsinki to oversee the implementation of the interim peace agreement. In 1945, a Soviet member of the Commission privately and unofficially voiced objections to the continued use of the swastika by the Finnish Air Force. As a result, at the end March 1945, the swastikas were replaced with a blue-white roundel, and all other Air Force symbols including the swastika motif were abandoned.

President Urho Kekkonen (in office 1956–1982) displayed an ambivalent attitude toward the use of the swastika. In 1957, he approved its reinstatement on the flags of Air Force units, but five years later he saw to its removal from the Grand Cross of the White Rose of Finland. Another four years, and Kekkonen signed off on swastika-patterned uniform badges for the Air Force Command Organization and the Air Force Academy. “It’s a funny thing,” Professor Teivo Teivainen points out, “that many people in Finland say ‘why should we let the Russians interfere with what we do?’, and they present the swastika today in the Finnish military as kind of symbol of belonging to the West, a sort of ‘the Russians can’t tell us what to wear, what symbols to use.' You ask the Germans, you as the French, you ask the Dutch if this makes us look like we belong to the West. That question normally gets a hilarious response.”

The eye of the beholder
If and when the subject of swastikas comes up, many Finns display what Professor Teivainen calls “false memory” and will immediately claim that the Finnish swastika faces left, not right like the Nazi symbol. This may be in part because the first photo that comes up in a Google image search for the flag of the Finnish Air Force shows it in reverse. Just as much, it may reflect a deeply engrained cultural perception that both the symbol and what it means are “different”.

Kai Mecklin of the Air Force Museum says that there has been some discussion about changing the swastika shoulder insignia for operations abroad. “Our soldiers are ready to tell the story, but they have to tell it all the time. The worst thing is if there is just whispering going on about the swastika and not asking why we have it. Many of the military people who come to Finland know the history of the swastika, so they're not surprised. Most of the surprise is seen among Finns themselves, schoolchildren who come to the museum and shout 'hey, look Nazi planes!’ So, we have to tell them the story of our symbol.”

Still, Teivo Teivainen is not convinced that this message about the nature of Finland's "separate swastika", as he's called it, is a clear one.
 ”My main concern is that I can easily imagine scenarios where, let's say, Finland needs help, and then whether it’s the German Parliament or the French cabinet or Dutch this and that, somebody brings it up, ’ look this is the official symbol of the Finnish Air Force’, so at least it wouldn't help. Whether it creates true harm is hard to say, but certainly it is a risk"

”It's kind of controversial thinking”, counters Kai Mecklin. If we now deny the use, or stop using the swastika, we could give a signal abroad that actually it was a Nazi symbol in Finland - which it never was. We are still proud of it and still using it. It's also a symbol of Finnish stubbornness that we don't give up our right or our own history, if there is not any reason to be ashamed of it. ” "I've never advocated prohibiting the use of swastika, I've asked about the usefulness of using it as the official symbol of the Finnish Air Force, today and tomorrow. When you try to ask here in Finland if there are some benefits for it, does it have a real military use, if it helps to defend the nation, then I get very few answers,” points out Teivainen.
© YLE News.

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Police raid offices of women's groups in Poland after protests

Organisations which help victims of domestic violence have documents and computers seized after women stage marches to protest against abortion law

5/10/2017- Women’s rights groups have denounced police raids on their offices in several Polish cities that resulted in the seizing of documents and computers, a day after women staged anti-government marches to protest at the country’s restrictive abortion law. The raids took place on Wednesday in the cities of Warsaw, Gdañsk, £ódŸ and Zielona Góra. They targeted two organisations, the Women’s Rights Centre and Baba, which help victims of domestic violence and participated in this week’s anti-government protests. Women’s rights activists said on Thursday that the loss of files would hamper their work, and accused authorities of trying to intimidate them. Prosecutors denied the accusation, saying the timing of the raids a day after the marches was coincidental.

Some fear the ruling Law and Justice party, led by Jaros³aw Kaczyñski, is following in the footsteps of neighbouring Hungary, where non-governmental groups have faced harassment under the prime minister, Viktor Orbán. “This is an abuse of power because, even if there is any suspicion of wrongdoing, an inquiry could be done in a way that doesn’t affect the organisations’ work,” Marta Lempart, the head of the Polish Women’s Strike, which organised the protests, told Associated Press. The women’s groups said they were told by police that prosecutors were looking for evidence in an investigation into suspected wrongdoing in the justice ministry under the former government. At the time the ministry provided funding to the women’s groups. “We are afraid that this is just a pretext or warning signal to not engage in activities not in line with the ruling party,” the Women’s Rights Centre said in a statement.

Anita Kucharska-Dziedzic, who heads Baba, said police entered her office in Zielona Góra, western Poland, at 9am on Wednesday and worked until 6pm removing files. She told AP her group was not aware of any wrongdoing by justice ministry officials it was in contact with. She also said she now expected problems continuing her projects due to the loss of files, and is also concerned because the documents contained private information on victims of domestic abuse who had sought the group’s help. Barbora Cernusakova, Amnesty International’s researcher on Poland, called the police operations “very worrying”. “We understand that the police actions came in the context of an investigation against former staff of the Ministry of Justice, but the NGOs, and the women and girls they support, will suffer the consequences,” Cernusakova said.

Jacek Pawlak, a spokesman for prosecutors in Poznañ, where the investigation is being led, said the raids were part of an ongoing investigation but would not divulge what the probe was about. He said there was no attempt to harass the women’s organisations. This week’s street demonstrations came on the first anniversary of a mass Black Protest by women dressed in black that stopped a plan in parliament for a total ban on abortion. Despite that success, women’s rights activists marched to protest that abortion was still illegal in most cases, and called for a liberalisation of the law.
© The Guardian.

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Was far-right French journalist the target of failed Paris gas canister bomb?

A French extreme-right journalist, who wants Islam banned in France, believes he may have been the target of a failed bomb attack on an apartment building in a plush district of Paris.

5/10/2017- Anti-terror police have arrested six people in connection with the attempted attack but are apparently still mystified as to why the perpetrators placed gas canisters attached to detonators inside the building in the chic 16th arrondissement last weekend. But one theory put forward is that the bomb makers were trying to hit a figure known for his anti-Islam views but got it all wrong. Not only did the bomb not go off, but the man they may have after doesn't live there. Olivier Renault, a journalist known for his virulently anti-Islam writings, says the would-be attackers probably targeted the building because another man with the same name as him lives there. “The attack that targeted my homonym proves that we are at war” (against Islam), Renault wrote on the news website of the far-right militant group Riposte Laique, which says he is one of their correspondents in Germany.

He compared the failed attack on his namesake that was thwarted at 4.30am last Saturday to a deadly knife attack by “criminal Muslims” that left two young women dead in the main train station in Marseille on Sunday. One of the men arrested by police in connection with the gas canister plot had been on the intelligence services’ watchlist of suspected Islamist extremists. But police sources told Le Parisien newspaper that the suspect was refusing to cooperate, leaving security forces still struggling to find a motive for the plot to blow up the plush apartment block. One British tabloid suggested that it might have been a bid to kill Paris Saint-Germain football fans, as the building is a short walk from the Parc des Princes, where PSG play their home matches. The team were due to play a game at the stadium later on Saturday. But police sources said that two attempts were made to detonate the gas canisters at around 4.30 am, many hours before any fans would have been on the streets.
© The Local - France

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France, 'in a state of war', to vote on anti-terrorism law

3/10/2017- France’s parliament adopted an anti-terrorism bill on Tuesday that will bolster police surveillance powers and make it easier to close mosques suspected of preaching hatred, but rights groups warned it would lead to civil freedoms being infringed. Before the vote, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb described France as being “still in a state of war” as authorities struggle to deal with the threat posed by foreign jihadists and homegrown militants. More than 240 people have been killed in France in attacks since 2015 by assailants who pledged allegiance to, or were inspired by, Islamic State. In the latest attack on Sunday, a man cried Allahu Akbar -- God is Greatest -- before fatally stabbing two women outside the rail station in Marseille. Legislators in the lower house adopted the bill by a margin of 415 to 127. “Lawmakers realise that today’s threat is serious and that we must protect ourselves against terrorists.

This must be done in a way that balances security and freedom,” Collomb told reporters after the vote. “This text will help protect French people.” Emergency powers in place since November 2015, when Islamist suicide bombers and gunmen carried out attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, have played a significant role in enabling intelligence agencies to disrupt plots, the government says. The new legislation would see many of those emergency powers enshrined in law, with limited oversight from the judiciary. The interior ministry, without approval from a judge, will be able to set up security zones when there is a threat, restricting the movement of people and vehicles in and out and with power to carry out searches inside the area. It will have more power to shut down mosques and other places of worship, if intelligence agencies believe religious leaders are inciting violence in France or abroad or justifying acts of terrorism.

Police will also have greater powers to raid private property, if they have judicial approval, and there will be an increased ability to impose restrictions on people’s movements, including via electronic surveillance tags, if they are regarded as a threat to national security. A parliamentary commission will now seek compromise on amendments put forward by the Senate and Assembly before a second reading and definitive vote, expected in mid-October.

Social Cohesion Threatened
President Emmanuel Macron, painted by rivals as weak on security during his election campaign, has already acted to bolster counter-terrorism efforts, creating a task force in June to improve coordination among France’s multiple intelligence agencies. The anti-terrorism bill has met little resistance from the public, with people still on edge after the series of Islamist-related attacks and smaller incidents that have followed. But rights campaigners say it will curb civil liberties. “France has become so addicted to the state of emergency that it is now injecting several of these abusive measures into ordinary law,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

It added that French parliament members had chosen the politics of fear over the protection of hard-won civil liberties and urged parliament and the judiciary to closely monitor how the government uses its new power. Nonetheless, some conservative opponents of Macron say the draft legislation, which is not as all-encompassing as the state of emergency currently allows, does not go far enough. “We need to rearm the state,” right-wing lawmaker Eric Ciotti said in a radio interview before the vote. He called for authorities to have greater powers to expel foreigners who threaten public safety.
© Reuters

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Residency rule to become Dutch remains 5 years; senators vote no to change

3/10/2017- The residency requirement to become Dutch will not go up from five to seven years after senators on Tuesday rejected the draft legislation. The plan, backed by the lower house in June, was rejected in the upper house by a narrow majority after the two senators for 50Plus voted against it. 50Plus had included a proposal to increase the residency requirement to 10 years in its election manifesto. However, during last Tuesday’s debate on the issue, 50plus senator Jan Nagel said he was unconvinced of the value of increasing the time someone should live in the Netherlands before they can become Dutch, throwing the bill’s passage into doubt. In the week running up to today’s vote, Dutch expats had also lobbied hard to persuade Nagel to reject the bill and over 600 had contacted him directly ahead of Tuesday’s key show of hands. Although the increase was included in the previous coalition agreement, it is not supported by the Labour party, who voted against. The anti-immigration PVV, the right-wing VVD, the Christian Democrats and fundamentalist Protestant group SGP voted in favour of the change, taking 36 of the 75 senate votes.
© The Dutch News

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Refugees' health problems in Greece mostly unmet: medical charity

3/10/2017- Refugees and migrants in Greece receive little or no medical care for most health problems they face and fewer than half of those pregnant had access to maternal care, aid group Doctors of the World said on Tuesday. About 60,000 migrants and refugees are stranded in Greece, most in overcrowded camps with unsanitary conditions. More than half of this year’s 20,000 arrivals were women and children, United Nations data shows. Doctors of the World interviewed over 14,000 women treated at its clinics in Greece over three years and found fewer than 47 percent had access to antenatal care before it intervened. It also found as many as 72 percent of the health problems refugees faced were treated “inadequately” or not at all. While most countries offer new arrivals some kind of medical screening, the quality was “questionable” and overlooked mental health problems, the charity said.

Often, women did not seek medical care because they were unaware of their rights, they found the healthcare system too complex or they were afraid of being arrested or discriminated against. Limited resources and lack of access to services such as translators also posed practical obstacles. “Every mother deserves good care before, during and post pregnancy. Their residential status should not affect this basic right,” said Nikitas Kanakis, head of Doctors of the World Greece. The charity, together with healthcare company MSD, known in the United States as Merck, is implementing a two-year initiative aimed at providing maternal healthcare services to pregnant women and babies from vulnerable populations in Greece.

Asylum seekers in Greece have free access to hospitals and medical care but the public health system, already battered by years of economic crisis, is struggling to cope with the numbers. Adult migrants without documents only have access to emergency care unless they are considered “vulnerable”. “Access to quality maternal healthcare can save lives, yet across Europe the most vulnerable pregnant women are still facing challenges in accessing this basic care,” said Mary-Ann Etiebet, director of MSD for Mothers. A lack of antenatal care to prevent and identify conditions that may harm the fetus or mother increases the risk of complications during childbirth or passing on diseases such as HIV or Hepatitis B, the World Health Organisation says. “We must work together this address this issue before it escalates further,” Etiebet said.
© Reuters

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Swiss lawmaker resigns after comparing pigs to Auschwitz victims

2/10/2017- A Swiss lawmaker has resigned after comparing the transportation of pigs for farming to the transportation of prisoners to Auschwitz. “The (Nazi) deportees had only a slight chance to survive. As for the pigs, they are condemned to certain death,” Swiss Green Party lawmaker Jonas Fricker said Thursday during a debate in the National Council, the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Switzerland. During the debate Fricker, 40, apologized to the parliament and the Jewish community for his “naive” comparison. The Swiss media was blanketed with coverage of Fricker’s comparison, The Jerusalem Post reported. On Saturday night, Fricker submitted a letter of resignation to his party. “This comparison was hurtful and unfortunate. Resigning my mandate to parliament is the strongest signal that I can send,” Fricker wrote, the news website Swissinfo reported. He also wrote that he considers the Holocaust to be a “crime without comparison.”
© JTA News.

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Serbia Claims EU 'Hypocrisy' Over Catalan Vote

2/10/2017- Serbia's president says the European Union has shown "double standards and hypocrisy" in rejecting the Catalan referendum but not the independence of ex-Serbian province of Kosovo. Aleksandar Vucic said Monday his government supports the territorial integrity of Spain, one of five EU member nations that have not recognized Kosovo. Kosovo declared independence in 2008, following a brutal 1998-99 war. It was backed by the United States and its allies, but not Russia and China. Meanwhile, Poland's government has expressed hope for a "quick stabilization of the situation in Catalonia" through dialogue and compromise, "without resorting to force or street demonstrations." But Poland's foreign ministry also described the situation in Catalonia to be Spain's "internal matter," saying "we fully respect the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and the unity of the Kingdom of Spain."

The U.N. human rights chief is calling on Spain's government to ensure "thorough, independent and impartial investigations" into acts of violence linked to the Catalan independence referendum. Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein says he's "very disturbed" by Sunday's violence in Catalonia. He said police responses must "at all times be proportionate and necessary." The rights chief said in a statement Monday the situation should be resolved through political dialogue. Catalan health officials say 893 people were treated in the hospital during Sunday's clashes with riot police who turned up to stop people from voting. Zeid, a Jordanian prince who goes by his first name, also urged Madrid to accept "without delay" the requests of two U.N.-mandated investigators on freedom of assembly and minorities to be granted access to visit Catalonia. Rights office spokesman Rupert Colville said the two U.N. "special rapporteurs" had previously sought the access before the weekend's violence.
© Novinite

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Spanish anti-separatists in Madrid protest with fascist arm salutes while singing far-right song

Many of the protesters were teenagers and chanted for the Catalan president to be put in prison

1/10/2017- Protesters in Madrid have been filmed performing fascist arm salutes while singing a far-right political song. The anti-separatist supporters, many of who were teenagers, were protesting against the Catalonia independence referendum and to show their support for a unified country. The protesters could be seen carrying the Spanish national flag and holding their arms in a high salute. They were also singing a song associated with the far-right Falange party which held power during the Francoist dictatorship period of the country. The song ‘Cara Al Sol’ – Face to the Sun- was the anthem for the party which was the main political party during the period after winning the civil war. Around 5,000 people from the Foundation for the Defence of the Spanish Nation (DENAES) gathered at the Cibeles Square in Madrid to show support of Spain’s national police and civil guard, the El Nacional newspaper reported.

Chants such as “Puigdemont, in prison” and “national unity” were heard, referencing the regional leader of Catalonia, President Carles Puigdemon. More than five million people have been invited to take part in the independence referendum by the regional Catalan government despite it being deemed 'illegal' by the Spanish central government and courts. The ballot papers contain one question: "Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?" with two boxes: Yes or No. Regional separatist leaders have promised to declare independence if the "yes" side wins, and have called on all 5.3 million eligible voters to cast ballots.
© The Independent

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Germany: Reichsbürger and neo-Nazis infiltrating Thuringia gun clubs

More and more Reichsbürger and neo-Nazis are getting legal access to firearms at shooting clubs, according to Thuringia's state intelligence agency. The state is thought to be home to about 1,000 Reichsbürger.

4/10/2017- Thuringia's state intelligence agency, the Verfassungsschutz, has warned that neo-Nazis are increasingly infiltrating shooting clubs to get legal access to weapons. "We want to and have to investigate here because we can help the clubs that way and work together with the clubs to clean up the sport and keep neo-Nazis away from legal weapons," Stephan Kramer, the president of the agency, told the local Thüringische Landeszeitung. According to Kramer, gun ownership has become more and more important for both far-right extremists and Reichsbürger, or "citzens of the Reich," the name chosen by people who doubt the legitimacy of Germany's postwar constitution, the Basic Law, and consider themselves citizens of the prewar Reich. The deadly shooting of a police officer with a gun kept on a revoked license by a suspected Reichsbürger last October led the agency to step up operations. Several members have been caught with illegal weapons hoards in recent months. Police officers and soldiers have also been suspected of harboring Reichsbürger sympathies.

Threat to the state
Kramer told the newspaper that members of Germany's far-right movements had placed increasing emphasis on acquiring weapons. He said the state intelligence agency would work together with Germany's sports-shooting clubs to prevent extremists from getting their hands on guns. Political scientists who track Germany's far-right groups said it was high time that security forces look into the problem. "It's surprising that this is only being talked about now and that they're only now having the idea of asking the shooting clubs if they have people with xenophobic attitudes," said Jan Rathje, program director at the Amadeu Antonio Foundation. "We know that there are a lot of people from the Reichsbürger scene who own weapons legally." "But, just generally when it comes to the far-right scene, it's often been mentioned that far-right radicals have an attraction to weapons and are always looking for them and aren't just looking for illegal ways to acquire them," Rathje added.

"I do think that the shooting clubs didn't pay enough attention in the past. And I would agree with Mr. Kramer that, of course, you have to talk to them as partners." When contacted by DW, Thuringia's intelligence agency did not offer an estimate on the number of neo-Nazis or Reichsbürger registered in the state's shooting clubs. But the agency did acknowledge a possible increase in activity. "In the last few months, there were several serious crimes in which members of shooting clubs were involved," a spokesman wrote in an email. "So-called Reichsbürger in particular are trying to infiltrate shooting clubs in order to get at weapons more easily. The number of Reichsbürger in Thuringia has risen drastically." But, picking up Kramer's caveats, the spokesman also warned against making "blanket judgments" against gun clubs. "Other sports clubs could be infiltrated by far-right extremists too," he wrote.

The Reichsbürger problem
The intelligence agency suspects that there are about 950 Reichsbürger living in the state as part of what the spokesman called a "heterogeneous" network. "The people in question have very different motives and ideologies," he wrote. Though police have previously declared Reichsbürger and far-right extremists a terror threat, questions have arisen over how such cases are handled. Last week, a 31-year-old suspected Reichsbürger was briefly detained in the Thuringian town of Sondershausen after chemicals and parts that could be used to make a bomb were discovered when police searched his home. But he was released without charge after paying the fine that had constituted the official reason for the raid. Earlier this year, the federal police reported that there are about 12,800 Reichsbürger in the country, of whom 800 are considered far-right extremists.

In March, Thuringia announced that it would set up a Reichsbürger "information center," where the state's various authorities can share information on threats. Adherents of the movement have threatened various officials in the state, including the judiciary, financial authorities and the police. They have been known to print their own ID cards, and even paint borders around their homes to demarcate what they consider their sovereign territory.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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German prosecutors accuse former far-right party leader of perjury

4/10/2017- German prosecutors said on Wednesday they were pressing perjury charges against Frauke Petry, former leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), who last week quit the party and will sit in the national parliament as an independent lawmaker. Lorenz Haase, senior public prosecutor in the eastern city of Dresden, said it was unlikely the case against Petry would proceed quickly as Dresden’s regional court would need to apply to lift her immunity as a member of the national parliament. Petry has been dogged by allegations that she lied under oath to a committee of the Saxony parliament about how the party’s campaign for the 2014 election in the state was financed. She has denied the allegations. In August the regional parliament of the state of Saxony lifted Petry’s immunity from prosecution.

But now that she is due to take up her seat in the Bundestag, the lower house of the German federal parliament, she will be granted immunity there. A majority of lawmakers in the Bundestag would have to vote to lift her immunity. The first session of the lower house is expected to take place by Oct. 24 at the latest. Petry, long considered the face of the anti-immigrant AfD, had for months been on the losing side of a dispute between the party’s warring wings. She had advocated a more moderate course while others shifted further to the right and wanted the party to focus on a role in opposition rather than trying to govern. Some AfD members have followed in Petry’s footsteps to quit the AfD and she now plans to set up a new party. The AfD won 12.6 percent of the vote in the Sept. 24 federal election, making it the first far-right party to enter the Bundestag in more than half a century and the third largest parliamentary bloc.
© Reuters

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Germany: Deadlock over Bundestag seating, as liberals refuse place next to AfD

The German constitution dictates that a new parliament's first session has to take place no later than 30 days after the election. But the parties still can't decide on who is sitting where.

4/10/2017- The seating order in the 18th Bundestag (2013-2017) was simple. Die Linke, the successor party to the East German communists, went on the far left. The Social Democrats sat next to them, the Greens went in the middle, and Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Union went on the right. The seating thus reflected the parties' positions on the political spectrum. But things have been complicated for the 19th Bundestag by the arrival in parliament of the Free Democrats (FDP) and the far-right Alternative for Germany. While no one is disputing that the AfD will be seated on the very right of the plenum, conflict has arisen over where the FDP should go. At a meeting held on Wednesday, representatives of all six parties met to thrash out the seating order. But no consensus could be met after the FDP rejected the plan to put them next to the AfD. The pro-business party are determined to be placed in the centre of the Bundestag.

FDP MP Marco Buschmann told Spiegel that the party “belongs in the middle of the parliament” and that sitting there is a question of “great symbolic importance.” The FDP have pointed to the fact that in state parliaments they have traditionally sat in the middle between the Green party and the Christian Union. On the other hand, the last time they were represented in the national parliament they sat to the right of Angela Merkel's Union. Party representatives will meet again on October 13th to try and find a solution to the deadlock. At the national election on September 24th the AfD won 12.6 percent of the vote, making them the third largest party in the Bundestag. It is the first time that a party further to the right on the political spectrum than the Christian Union has made it into the parliament since the late 1940s.

Despite the FDP and the CDU talking tough during election campaigning on the AfD's main political focal point - immigration - neither party is keen to be associated with the upstart party. Both FDP and Christian Union have ruled out forming a coalition with the AfD. As the SPD have also ruled out joining the next government, a coalition deal between the Union, the FDP and the Green party is the only viable option.
© The Local - Germany

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Germany: Muslims prefer to be talked to rather than talked about

Mosques have been opening their doors to the German public for 20 years. But is the dialogue working given the rise of far-right parties like the AfD? DW's Kathleen Schuster reports from Cologne on how mosques see it.

3/10/2017- On a day celebrating German unity, many Muslims have reason to wonder if "German unity" applies to them in light of recent federal election results. The third strongest party in the Bundestag will be the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), a party which has rejected the Islamic faith as part of German cultural identity. October 3 is the country's national holiday and, for many Germans, just a day to sleep in or earn some extra cash at work. For mosques around the country, however, it's the day of their national open house: neighbors can take a tour, satisfy their curiosity about Islam and local Muslims and – of course – eat.

To be Muslim and nonpartisan
Indeed the smell of oil and charcoal wafting into the prayer room is the only indication that something different is going on at this Cologne mosque. The plush Bourdeaux carpeting of the sacred space seems to absorb all outside sounds – and our feet – as Tarik Yilmaz and Mustafa Karatas talk community outreach. "Our religion is at the forefront of our work. Not politics," Karatas tells DW. Muslims have become the center of many heated debates over public safety, women's rights and even loyalty to the German state in recent years. Hence, dispelling misconceptions is one of their priorities. However, they emphasize that this work is nonpartisan, just like their cooperation with local religious groups and charities. "It's a mosque community so it's a good idea not to be politically active," the board's representative explains. Yilmaz, a 27-year-old theologian who recently started working at the primarily Turkish house of worship, agrees: "People come here to pray or because they have friends here and to eat some food. We don't really talk politics." Still, in a community where they have strong partnerships, what do they make of the AfD winning over 9 percent in their constituency? An answer is out of the question.

Feeling the pain of neo-Nazi terrorism
Just a few blocks away from that mosque and theology school in northeastern Cologne is the site of a nailbomb attack perpetrated by the neo-Nazi National Socialist Underground (NSU). It was a hit on the Turkish community and an attack on social cohesion and multiculturalism in Cologne. The wounds of the attack lie much deeper than the shrapnel that left over 20 injured in June 2004. The terrorist attack on Keupstrasse was one of a dozen the NSU carried out between 2000 and 2007. Yet, despite the attackers' identities being known to police in the late 1990s, it wasn't until a botched robbery brought the right-wing terror cell to light in 2011 that officials cleared members of the Turkish community of suspicion. The case has raised questions about right-wing sympathizers among police and a how large the blind spot to right-wing extremism in Germany is. And, with the rise of the a party like the AfD – one whose leaders have made racist and Islamophobic comments, as well as relativized the Holocaust and have been known to use Nazi rhetoric – critics worry that a far-right party in parliament could embolden the country's radical right-wing scene.

Rising violence toward Muslims
For Ahmed Erdogan, like many on Keupstrasse, the swift rise of the far-right AfD has been a shock. "Where will this lead?" he wonders. Tucked away from the frilly bridal dress shops and bounteous bakery display cases that line Keupstrasse, the local mosque is easy to overlook. It's one of the oldest in the Cologne neighborhood of Mühlheim, where over 40 percent of the population has foreign roots. According to Erdogan, who's on its board, it has been and remains very active in community outreach and cooperation – making the AfD's popularity all the more puzzling. This year, there have nearly 20 attacks on Muslims and nearly 400 incidents of "Islamophobic crimes," ranging from hate speech, threats and damage to property, according to a governmental inquiry from the Left party. As it's the first year officials have assessed the crime rate against Muslims, no previous data for comparison has been analyzed.

Meanwhile, the AfD's rhetoric surrounding Islam has also raised concerns. In addition to dismissing the religion – one practiced by over 4 million people in Germany – as being a part of German society, the AfD also wants to prohibit minarets and the call to prayer. "The AfD sees a great danger to our state, our society and our set of values through the spread of Islam and the presence of over 5 million Muslims, whose numbers are increasing," the AfD said in its party platform, which states that Muslims who obey the law and are "integrated" are "valued members of society." The far-right party denies all accusations of Islamophobic or racist rhetoric. Given the need for dialogue these days, mosques can choose to stay out of politics, but as a Muslim it's hard to "keep out it," Erdogan tells DW. The Keupstrasse mosque doesn't participate in the national open house because it's open to anyone everyday, just like most mosques. And if there's one point Erdogan and his colleagues at the neighboring mosque agree on, it's this: dialogue – and not fear – is the only way forward.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Some German Parties Reject Far-Right's Candidate for Parliamentary Post

2/10/2017- Three of Germany's main parties have raised objections to the far-right Alternative for Germany's (AfD) candidate for the post of parliamentary vice president, highlighting its political isolation despite a strong showing in the Sept. 24 election. The anti-immigrant AfD swept into the Bundestag lower house of parliament with 12.6 percent of the vote, making it the third largest parliamentary group. It is the first far-right party to enter the Bundestag since the 1950s. All parties represented in the Bundestag are entitled to have their own vice president of the parliament, who chairs sessions, sets the agenda and calls lawmakers to order where necessary. But the candidates need to be approved by an absolute majority of all sitting lawmakers.

The Greens, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the radical Left Party spoke out against the AfD's nomination of 75-year-old Albrecht Glaser, who has called Islam a political ideology rather than a religion, and said Muslims should not have the right to freedom of religion as Islam did not respect that freedom. Their objections demonstrated the difficulties the AfD may face in pushing its agenda - ranging from immigration and an insistence that Islam does not belong in Germany to problems it sees in the euro zone. The parliamentary vice presidents are generally elected in the first session of the lower house, which is expected to take place by Oct. 24 at the latest.

Freedom of Religion
Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc has so far not taken a public position on the AfD's choice. Michael Grosse-Broemer, the head of the conservatives' parliamentary group, declined to comment on Monday. Carsten Schneider, parliamentary manager of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), told Reuters TV he did not know Glaser personally, did not want to pre-judge him and would seek to clarify with other parliamentary groups whether they could get to know Glaser in some format first. However, Dietmar Bartsch, head of the Left's parliamentary group, and Cem Ozdemir of the Greens told newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung they would not vote Glaser into the position. "Whoever questions the freedom of religion has disqualified themselves," Ozdemir said. A representative of the FDP also expressed doubts about the AfD's choice of Glaser.

Glaser was a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) for 40 years until quitting in 2012 and helping to found the AfD in 2013. Alexander Gauland, head of the AfD's parliamentary group, told Reuters his party was sticking to its choice of candidate. "We all share Mr Glaser's opinion so it's completely clear," he said. Gauland provoked outrage by saying during the election campaign that Germans should be proud of their World War Two soldiers. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told mass-selling Bild newspaper that Gauland was not conscious enough of the feelings of other European countries who suffered under Nazi rule. "I won't accuse the whole AfD or its voters of being total Nazis - that would be simplistic - but if you're head of a group in Germany's Bundestag you need to consider how Germany's neighbors feel. And Gauland doesn't do that," he said.
© Reuters

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'The AfD is the new CSU' – How the far-rright won big in Germany's Bavaria

Bavaria's CSU was the most right-wing party in parliament until the populist AfD's recent electoral upset. Bavaria's Deggendorf saw the highest results for the AfD outside of eastern Germany. DW went to find out why.

2/10/2017- "I was very happy with the AfD result," a woman in her early 70s tells DW, her unsmiling face concentrated on her ice cream cone. Sitting outside a Catholic church in the eastern Bavarian town of Deggendorf, the woman says Germany is in need of much "stricter politicians." "We need a fresh wind in politics," she adds. Like many in the town, located near the Czech border, the woman does not wish to be identified. In the Bavarian constituency of Deggensdorf, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) snagged 19.17 percent of the vote in the September 24 national election – the highest level of support in the former West German states. Deggendorf's market at Luitpoldplatz slowly fills in with people enjoying a coffee at a local cafe while others browse stands selling pumpkins, vegetables and bundled sunflowers. The woman, however, disagrees with the observation that Deggendorf seems like a nice place to live. "We no longer think so," she says over her shoulder, taking another bite out of her ice cream cone. "Not anymore."

Fear of foreigners widespread
When asked why the AfD managed to be so successful, the woman notes that "a lot of refugees" were processed in the reception center that was set up in Deggendorf in 2015 as record numbers of asylum-seekers entered Germany. "We're not xenophobic in Bavaria," she emphasizes, "but the last two years were too much." Something that sets Bavaria apart from AfD strongholds in eastern Germany is that it was one of the main entry points for asylum-seekers who arrived in 2015 and also has the second-highest immigrant population in Germany. According to the latest figures from the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, Bavaria saw the second-highest number of asylum applications this year after the state of North Rhine-Westphalia with over 16,000 applications – a significant drop from the 67,000 applications it received in 2015.

The AfD's new Bavarian stronghold
For years, politics in Bavaria has been dominated by the Christian Social Union (CSU), the sister party and more conservative counterpart to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU). Until the AfD's electoral surge in this election, the CSU was the furthest-right party in Germany's Bundestag. Indeed, the CSU came out on top in the election – but with much smaller margins than the conservative politicians are used to. The recent election results saw the party's lowest election result, with 38.8 percent of the vote – dropping over ten points from the last federal election, in 2013. The CSU still holds an absolute majority in Bavaria, but with a state election looming next year, many in the party are looking for ways to win back the conservative base they lost to the AfD.

Several people in Deggendorf and other areas of Bavaria wondered why so many voters shifted to the AfD, as the economic situation for many in the state is better than the national average. Bavaria has the lowest unemployment rate out of Germany's 16 states. The CSU is known for taking a more conservative route compared to Merkel's CDU specifically in law enforcement and immigration. CSU chairman and Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer has clashed with the chancellor over his party's insistence on an upper cap for asylum applications – a topic which may prove to be a point of contention as the CDU/CSU move into coalition talks. Seehofer, who is fending off calls to resign from voters and fellow CSU politicians, promised Bavarians the day after the election that the CSU "understands" the message sent by voters. "Carrying on as before wouldn't be good," the CSU leader said.

Emotions running high
Sitting on a park bench across town, two pensioners dismissed Seehofer's calls for a yearly upper limit for refugees because they think Germany shouldn't allow any more refugees in – period. "Close the borders and send the refugees back to their home countries. Germany can give them aid there but they don't need to be here," a 65-year-old woman told DW. "I was so happy about the AfD result. It's unbelievable what's going on with the refugees," her 64-year-old friend says. Both say they emphatically voted for the AfD – out of a sense of duty to "protect" their families and their town. The two women explain that they were originally born in Kazakhstan but have been living in Deggendorf for decades and have been German citizens for quite some time. For several minutes, they share their fears about asylum-seekers, growing more and more upset. "I worry about my family, about my grandchildren. About their safety, do you understand?" the 65-year-old woman says as she begins to cry. Patting her friend on the shoulder, the 64-year-old woman wipes tears out of her eyes as well. "We were very happy living here until two years ago," she says. "I am very angry with Mrs. Merkel."

Islam remains a flashpoint
A block away from the park, AfD posters hang alongside a busy intersection with contrasting images of women in traditional Bavarian dresses and a woman with a black veil. Each poster carries the slogan: "Islam doesn't belong in Germany" — a message that appeared to resonate with some, but not all in Deggendorf. In such a small area, however, perceptions about the reality and impact of the town's new arrivals can vary widely based on who is passing along in the street. A 20-year-old Syrian refugee who asked to remain anonymous says he was glad that Merkel and the CDU/CSU emerged as the strongest party in the national election. "I was very happy to hear that, as a refugee myself," he told DW. "She helps us a lot." The young man, who is studying mechanical engineering at the Deggendorf Institute of Technology, said that although he noticed the AfD's "anti-foreigner" campaign posters, he felt very welcomed in the town. He noted that "the people of Deggendorf have been helping the refugees" and that he gets along well with his new German friends. "It's super living here," he says with a smile.

Generational divide
Önder Saglar, a 34-year-old German student with a migrant background, noted that there is a disconnect between the concerns of the Deggendorf's older voters and the way the younger generation views immigration. "I have lots of mixed feelings about the election. Somehow, Germany is drifting to the right," Saglar tells DW, standing outside the Deggendorf Institute of Technology where he is pursuing a Master's in business. "The old people, they think they can change things this way, but I'm not sure it's the right way," he adds. In Deggendorf, the AfD played upon people's fears to persuade them to vote, using phrases like "we're overwhelmed by foreigners" and "Islamic people are dangerous," Saglar notes. "There's a lot of people who don't want to be stamped as a Nazi….but people are scared, every time they see a guy with a beard and dark hair. People don't talk about it." After the election, Saglar said someone he knows who was a longtime CSU voter told him that he switched to the AfD this election because the man was upset with the conservative's grand coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD). "For some, I think, the AfD is their new base. The AfD is the new CSU for them," Saglar notes.

Johanna Freund, a 23-year-old student currently living in the nearby city of Regensburg, says that a number of issues contributed to AfD's encroachment into the CSU strongholds. "I thought the AfD would win a lot less here in Bavaria," she says, noting that the unemployment rate in Bavaria "is much lower compared to other areas." Shortly before the election, concerns about refugees were raised again "and it brought back up the topic in a lot of people's minds," Freund says, noting that the refugee reception center saw a large number of asylum-seekers arrive in the area. Freund was confused by the surge of backlash against the government's refugee policies, saying that she thought that the integration programs were going well and that at the time, lots of volunteers in the area showed up to help the newcomers. In order to win back voters, the CDU/CSU needs to rework immigration policies, Freund says, noting that "there needs to be clear laws and clear rules." "The election showed that the topic didn't just go away, but that it's still an important issue for voters," she says.
© The Deutsche Welle*

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Former leader of Germany's far-right planning to found new party

2/10/2017- Frauke Petry, the former co-leader of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), wants to form her own party after quitting the far-right group following the Sept. 24 national election which catapulted it into parliament as the third largest bloc. Petry, a 42-year-old chemist who was the most high-profile figure in the AfD’s more moderate wing, was asked in an interview with Welt am Sonntag newspaper whether she wanted to form her own group in the Bundestag lower house and then a party. “Yes,” she said. She also said she and her supporters in the regional assembly of the eastern state of Saxony would form a group and perhaps a parliamentary group with the aim of running in the 2019 regional election.

Petry was the AfD’s most recognizable face for much of the last two years as she transformed it from an anti-bailout party into a predominantly anti-immigration party capitalizing on rising public anger over Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2015 decision to open the borders to more than a million migrants. Petry sought to distance herself from some of the AfD’s more extreme positions as she explained her reasons for wanting to found a new party. “The clientele for what we want to do, namely practical politics with a clear market orientation, is much bigger outside the AfD,” she said. Last week Petry shocked the party by announcing she would take up her seat as an independent MP and quit the AfD after it won 12.6 percent in the election, becoming the first far-right party to win seats in parliament since the 1950s. Several other AfD members have followed Petry - who had for months clashed with other senior figures because she wanted the party to take a more moderate course - in leaving.

Petry stressed she would not aim to cause an exodus from the AfD: “We won’t seek to remove the core of the AfD because it won’t work,” she said. “I know that AfD members want to switch to us because we have received requests from them.” Petry, whose Facebook page now describes her as “free and conservative”, declined to say what the party would be called. She did not give much detail on what it would stand for but said she agreed with much of the AfD’s manifesto. The AfD says Islam in general does not belong to Germany but Petry said if Muslims accepted religion was their private issue and did not make political demands based on it, they could make Germany their home. She also said she favored controlled immigration of qualified foreigners while others in the AfD were against all kinds of immigration. The AfD is ostracized by all other parties, which refuse to work with it. None of them even want to sit next to the AfD in parliament.
© Reuters

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On the Front Lines of Antifascism With Teens in Eastern Germany

What German antifa can teach its American counterparts.

2/10/2017- A shy grin spreads across Maximillian's face as he stretches out his arm to show where he was bitten by a Nazi. A faint, teeth-shaped scar marks where the attacker's jaw clamped down on the 17-year-old. Wearing suspenders and a flat cap studded with anti-fascist badges, Maximillian says his assailant was probably on drugs but that he knew he was a neo-Nazi because the guy called Maximillian "a fucking anti-fascist." Maximillian shrugs as if to say it happens all the time. In the same month, December of 2016, he was ambushed by another gang of neo-Nazis in the town center. That time, they broke his jaw.

The teenager's hometown of Bautzen in eastern Germany has earned a reputation for right-wing extremists since Angela Merkel opened Germany's borders to almost 900,000 refugees in 2015. Over the past two years, Bautzen has seen anti-migrant demonstrations, a mass brawl between the town's residents and its asylum-seekers, and an attack on the information desk of a pro-diversity non-profit. But the town's rising tensions reflect a nationwide surge in support for the far-right Alternative for Germany party (AFD). In the recent national election, the AFD became the first far-right party to sit in the Bundestag since World War II, with 12.6 percent of the vote (according to provisional results). In Bautzen's local state of Saxony, that number rose to 25.4 percent, and the town itself was one of only three constituencies where the AFD won outright.














Like the AFD, which was founded in 2013, the Bautzen branch of this Die Linke youth group is also relatively new. "It started about two years ago," says Kat, a rangy and energetic 19-year-old with thin-rimmed glasses. (We have changed his name for this story.) "Since the situation got very bad in our town with neo-Nazis, we had to do something." The group has regular meetings, holds demonstrations against the town's far right, and hands out fliers to earn support from the local community. "But it's difficult for us to find people who support us because neo-Nazis here are very deeply rooted," he says. Bruno Roessel agrees. The official party spokesperson for the youth group, Roessel is dressed all in black and carries a bag printed with the words "Make Solidarity Great Again." "People in Bautzen think it's cool to be a Nazi," he says.

While the group is committed to welcoming refugees, most of its members are Germans. "Sometimes refugees join our demonstrations," says Sophie, who wears her long blonde hair draped over a "No More Violence" T-shirt. "But there are a lot of racists who want to hurt them. Of course, they're on our side but they want a peaceful life." (We have changed Sophie's name for this story.) Members of the group have sacrificed basic security to be here. Each person has their own story about clashes with local neo-Nazis: beatings, threats, racist insults, getting called names at school, being spat on in the nearby shopping center. "It's shocking because they do the attacks in daylight and not in the night," says Lisa, 17, speaking through a curtain of dark hair. (We have changed Lisa's name.)

It's a gray September in Bautzen. The town's empty cobbled streets, flanked by pastel-fronted houses, are an unlikely setting for this ongoing battle between Germany's left- and right-wing fringe groups. Today, the only sign of violence is the scrawled message in the underpass—"Fuck the Antifa [antifascists]"—and the scorched remains of the refugee shelter that was set alight last year as a crowd cheered in approval. It is disorientating to hear Nazis referred to as a contemporary threat, rather than as a distant wartime memory. Kat lists their modern-day incarnations: the extreme-right groups active in the area. These include the white supremacist Aryan Brotherhood (complete with local clubhouse) and a Bautzen branch of the identitarian movement, branded Europe's "hipster new right."





Similar groups have a presence throughout Bautzen's state of Saxony, which sits in Germany's eastern armpit, bordering both Czechia (formerly known as the Czech Republic) and Poland. In 2016, Saxony saw more xenophobic incidents targeting refugees than any other state in Germany. Why Saxony has a "racism problem" is a question that's long puzzled the German media. But there is a consensus among anti-fascists and the far-left that Angela Merkel's ruling party, the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, is partly to blame. "The CDU needs to say Nazism is a problem," says Deniz, 18, part of the Die Linke group back in Bautzen. The others agree, arguing that local representatives consistently fail to condemn neo-Nazi actions. The teenagers point to the example of Udo Witschas, Bautzen's deputy district councillor who was revealed to be exchanging friendly Facebook messages with local neo-Nazi figure Marco Wruck. To Bruno, the conversation showed that the two shared similar views.





Juliane Nagel, a Die Linke politician based in Leipzig, also considers herself an antifascist. She believes that the CDU focuses its energy on fighting "left-wing extremism" instead of tackling established neo-Nazi networks. "The CDU has a problem with the democratic culture," Nagel says over mint tea in a Leipzig café. "They don't accept that the Antifa are part of this society. That's a problem. Where the left and right are now being treated as equals in the United States, that's been happening in Germany for the last 25 years." As in the U.S., the German antifascist movement is struggling with public perception. While Donald Trump reacted to violence in Charlottesville by notoriously blaming "both sides," antifascists in Germany have suffered from a lack of mainstream support for years. And after far-left riots at the G20 in July caused millions of euros worth of damage and injured roughly 500 police officers, the relationship between the antifascists and the country's public soured even further.





"Since G20, there has been a campaign against left-wing people," Nagel says. She believes it is wrong to see left- and right-wing extremists as equals. "Why are they different?" She asks, then explains as if it's obvious: "Because the Antifa fight for a society where every person has a right to live—whatever they look like, whoever they love, wherever they come from. The right wing don't want an equal society. They have a hierarchical system in their head." Die Linke's Kat sees the CDU's approach to left- and right-wing extremism in his town's attitude. "People in Bautzen don't see that Nazis are the real problem, they see us as the problem," he says. "They think we're vandals." The town's leftist activists also feel disadvantaged because they struggle to retain their group's members, suffering a regular turnover as their peers leave Bautzen to work or study in nearby cities.

Kat is next to go. This evening, he joins his friends after spending the day looking for an apartment in Dresden. "That's why the racists are so much stronger in comparison, because most of them stay here," Sophie says. "We feel completely outnumbered." While the group feels overwhelmed, political scientist Dietrich Herrmann says their presence in Bautzen is rare among other small towns in Germany's east. While xenophobic attacks "of course" happen across the country, Herrmann says, east Germany's transition to democracy after the fall of the Berlin wall has left civil society weaker in the country's east than in its west. "I think Bautzen is a very interesting place," Herrmann says via phone from Dresden. "There you actually do have an active civil society where some people are very open minded and help refugees."

While the group of anti-fascists plans the next demonstration, many of Bautzen's other residents are desperate for the town to crawl out of the spotlight and escape the bad press. Most people here are not interested in politics, says Tim, who works in local government (but does not wish to say in what role). "But it's not as bad as people read in the newspaper. Not everyone has problems here. I have no problems even though I volunteer with refugees." Under orange umbrellas in the colorful Hauptmarkt square, just as the wind picks up, Tim says he has something important to say: "There's no war here. it's just a normal town."







© The Pacific Standard
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'Nazi!' 'Stasi!': German state where far right won big, political culture quickly turned toxic

1/10/2017- For years, debate in the parliament of this east German state capital on the banks of the Elbe flowed as languidly as the cool waters of the river on a clear autumn’s day. But then, in March 2016, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party stunned the cozy local political establishment with a second-place finish. Ever since, the currents in the state parliament have boiled and churned, the glass-paneled debating chamber transformed into a forum for seething exchange. Lawmakers question each other’s patriotism, and some refuse to sit together in the parliamentary cafeteria. Innocuous-seeming debates over issues such as elder care devolve into bitter re-litigations of the country’s refugee policies. And, almost daily, insults fly that evoke the worst of German history. “Nazis!” the far right’s opponents shout. “Stasi!” the AfD’s lawmakers reply, using the name of communist secret police in Cold War East Germany.

The sudden transformation of the political culture in Magdeburg from numbing to noxious offers a preview of the future that could await Germany’s federal Parliament in Berlin after the AfD surged to third place in Sept. 24’s election, becoming the first far-right party in more than half a century to win seats in the Bundestag, the legislature’s lower house. As in Magdeburg’s legislature before last year, the tone in the Bundestag has long been consensual in the extreme, with the two major parties joined in a coalition government and with little else to disturb the harmony of a body where, in direct response to the darkest chapters of Germany’s past, civil discourse is prized. But the AfD, which won 94 seats in the recent vote, has vowed to intrude noisily on the quiet. On election night, party leader Alexander Gauland thundered that the AfD would use its prominent new platform to “hunt” Chancellor Angela Merkel and her government.

The five parties that control the remainder of the seats in the 709-member Bundestag have said they will not cooperate with the AfD and have denounced the party’s anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric. That makes the AfD’s chances of actually using its perch in the federal Parliament to enact legislation minimal, at best. Yet, as Magdeburg shows, the party doesn’t need to pass laws to have an outsize influence. “The tone has changed,” said Roger Stöcker, a political scientist at the city’s Otto von Guericke University. “It’s more aggressive. It’s more rough. There’s less respect. The language used is not what you’d expect in [the state] parliament. “I think,” Stöcker said, “the Bundestag will go the same way.”

The AfD’s emergence last year as the second-largest party in Saxony-Anhalt, the struggling eastern German state of which Magdeburg is the capital, was even more surprising than its relative triumph nationally on Sept. 24. At the time, the three-year-old party had never scored higher than 12 percent in a state election. But on March 13, 2016, it doubled that total in Saxony-Anhalt, storming its way into a parliament that had been dominated for a decade by a tightknit coalition between the country’s two dominant parties. “It was a big shock,” said Stöcker, who is an active member of one of those establishment parties, the Social Democrats. “There was paralysis. Nobody thought they would get that kind of result.” The outcome forced the two main parties to add a third — the Greens — to the state’s coalition government, just as results of the national election are likely to yield an uncomfortable three-way coalition among parties that are less than natural allies.

And just as it plans to do nationally, the AfD’s disruption of the existing order did not stop there. AfD opponents in the state parliament say the party’s lawmakers brought a new mode of behavior to the chamber, one in which they openly cheered their own, jeered others, interrupted when they disagreed and smashed long-standing taboos. When climate change comes up, AfD members interject that it’s a hoax. If there’s a debate over funding for the elderly, the far-right party demands to know why refugees are getting money that it says should be going to German senior citizens. Issues that were never on the state parliament’s priority list, such as the wearing of burqas among members of the very small Muslim population in Saxony-Anhalt, have crept onto the agenda. “It’s not who makes the best argument anymore,” said Tobias Krull, a member of the state parliament from the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which leads the government here and nationally. “It’s who makes the loudest argument.”

Krull said a group of children recently visited the parliament to observe the debate. Afterward, one of them shared his impressions, Krull said: “He said, ‘If we behaved in school as you behave here, we’d be kicked out.’” It’s not just in Saxony-Anhalt. The AfD now has a presence in 13 of the 16 German state parliaments. A recent study by the Otto Brenner Foundation found the party had brought a sharper and more belligerent tone to state government, along with a new focus on polarizing issues such as refugees, Islam and immigration. Members of other parties in Saxony-Anhalt said the behavior goes well beyond rudeness, and echoes the rhetoric of the Third Reich. In February, the AfD’s leader in the state, André Poggenburg, denounced left-wing activists in local schools. “Help us once and for all get rid of these malignant growths on the German national body,” he said, words that struck many here as being uncomfortably similar to those of Nazi leaders.

Members of left-wing parties say they’ve been verbally attacked in ominous and dehumanizing ways, including with the German word “versifft,” meaning “filthy.” “Their choice of words is shameful,” said Dorothea Frederking, a member of the Saxony-Anhalt parliament from the Greens. “It’s really a pity that right-wing extremists are sitting in our parliament 70 years after the Second World War. Years ago, it was unthinkable to have these kinds of debates. But now they’ve come back.” Poggenburg, blond, blue-eyed and younger-looking than his 42 years, acknowledged in an interview that his party’s members are inflaming tensions. But that, he said, is what they were elected to do. “Before the AfD, the debates had been very sleepy and comfy,” he said. “It’s our goal to provoke. That’s what the people wanted.”

He also dismissed any similarity between his party’s rhetoric and that of the Third Reich. “If you’re going to make 10 statements, the likelihood of one of them being used in Nazi times is high,” said Poggenburg, who described his party as the only patriotic one in Germany. And he accused the AfD’s rivals of stooping to incivility first. Members from some other factions, he said, won’t shake the hands of AfD members, sit with them in the cafeteria or acknowledge them at social events. Plus, he said, the name-calling goes both ways, with the far-left Die Linke party being especially aggressive. “For every three times they call us Nazis or fascists, we might call them communists or Stasi once,” he said.
© The Washington Post.

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Pope wears refugee ID bracelet in appeal for help for migrants

1/10/2017- Pope Francis on Sunday urged governments and people to do more to help migrants and not see them as enemies, wearing a plastic ID bracelet used by asylum seekers to drive home his message. Francis visited a drab refugee centre on the outskirts of Bologna known simply as "The Hub". Run by a charity, it is home to about 1,000 asylum seekers, most of whom risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean from Africa and the Middle East. There, they live in grey containers and other forms of temporary housing while awaiting decisions on their asylum requests to be moved to other towns in Italy. Many of the refugees and migrants are without documents and all wear a plastic yellow bracelet. The pope wore one bearing his name and the number 3900003 on his right wrist. It was given to him by an African refugee. "Many who don't know you are afraid of you," he told them as a light drizzle fell. "That makes them think they have the right to judge (you) coldly and harshly," he said.

He paid homage to those who "never arrived because they were eaten up by the desert or the sea". Some 600,000 impoverished migrants and refugees have arrived in Italy in less than four years. In that time, more than 13,000 have died trying to cross the Mediterranean. Francis, who has made defence of migrants and refugees a major plank of his papacy, also condemned internet trolling against foreigners, saying they had been subjected to "terrible phrases and insults." "If we look on our neighbours without mercy we risk that even God will look on us without mercy," he said. The pope's defence of migrants, his second in less than a week, comes at a time of growing anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States and many European countries where far-right parties have made inroads.

Last week, the far-right, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (Afd) party surged to third place in a national election, tapping into public disquiet over the arrival of more than a million migrants in Germany over the past two years. Francis called on more governments to facilitate initiatives backed by the private sector and community groups to set up "humanitarian corridors for refugees in the most difficult situations." This was a reference to programmes such as one run in Italy by the Rome-based Sant' Egidio peace community, which regularly brings into Italy refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria. Italy's anti-immigrant Northern League, whose base is in the regions just north of Bologna, has vowed to clamp down on migration from developing countries if it forms part of a coalition government after next year's elections.
© Reuters

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Austria puts the squeeze on refugees with benefit cuts

4/10/2017- Ahmed Ali, a 34-year-old teacher, fled the war in Syria two years ago and settled in a quiet Austrian town on the hilly border with the Czech Republic. He was hoping to raise a family there. But voter attitudes towards immigrants have hardened due to concerns about security and the economy after Austria took in more than 1 percent of its population in asylum seekers in 2015. This fueled support for the far-right party Freedom Party and its candidate came close to winning last year’s presidential election. Immigration is still the dominant political issue ahead of the Oct. 15 parliamentary election. In January, lawmakers in Lower Austria, where Ali lived, reduced benefits for new arrivals. They said the benefits system needed protecting from being overstretched by the influx of refugees.

Ali and his pregnant wife moved again to Vienna in July, where their benefits would still be paid in full. “Most of us fled when the letter came telling us our social benefits would be cut. At first we didn’t believe it but then we saw it on our bank balance,” said Ali, who says his German is not yet good enough to find work. Three of Austria’s nine provinces -- Lower Austria, Burgenland and Upper Austria -- have reduced benefits for new arrivals. Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, leader of the conservative People’s Party which is leading in the polls, wants to make similar cuts apply to the whole country. Chancellor Christian Kern, whose Social Democratic Party polls show competing with the Freedom Party for second place, has resisted the idea but said he could support them in cases where new arrivals turn down job offers.

Legal Challenge
So far, the cuts have primarily impacted migrants like Ali who sought asylum in Austria when it opened its border in 2015 although some Austrians returning home have also been caught. In Burgenland the rules apply to all people seeking help who have spent fewer than five years of the six preceding their application for benefits in Austria. A statement accompanying the Upper Austrian bill painted the cuts as a way to tackle the problem of “welfare magnetism” in the context of refugees. The Lower Austrian government declined to comment due to a legal challenge against the cuts. In a case brought by a charity, Austria’s Constitutional Court is expected to rule next year on whether the cuts by Lower Austria, decided in late 2016 and implemented since early 2017, are illegal.

The 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention says host countries must grant refugees “the same treatment with respect to public relief and assistance” as their own nationals. A 2011 EU directive sets a similar rule. The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR), which has denounced “xenophobic debates” in Austrian politics ahead of the election, has described the cuts as breaches of international and European law but no international cases have been started. A Burgenland spokeswoman defended the benefits changes, saying they targeted Austrian nationals as well. “Therefore there is no violation of ... the EU directive and the refugee convention,” she said. A spokesman for Kurz said legislation to expand the cuts would be passed and phrased in such a way “that no doubt for the highest courts will emerge”.

Bare Minimum
The three provinces have cut benefits for new arrivals, even after obtaining asylum, to around 570 euros ($669) a month, less than half the poverty threshold of 1,200 euros, compared with around 850 euros for an Austrian who has never lived abroad. Benefits for a household have been capped at 1,500 euros. Rather than live off less than what is considered the bare minimum for most Austrians, many of those affected have moved, particularly to the capital. Ali moved to an apartment with his uncle and aunt in a dilapidated building on the outskirts of the city costing 1,100 euros a month. “They don’t care how many children you have. And maybe they’ll cut again,” Ali said in his living room with two sofas, a television set and a picture of Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani.

He found more affordable apartments but the landlord did not want refugees as tenants. One landlady was concerned social benefits for refugees might be cut in Vienna, too. “Instead of cutting the social safety net, integration and independence should be supported. We fear that language learning, training and the search for work will suffer if those affected don’t know how to pay their rent anymore,” said the chief the UNHCR‘s Austria office, Christoph Pinter. Although the Freedom Party and Kurz’s conservatives have been the most vocal about cutting benefits for new arrivals, the three provinces that have put cuts in place are governed by various two-way combinations of all three main political parties.

But most of those affected who spoke to Reuters fear an election victory for Kurz. “If Kurz wins, it will be a big problem,” said 24-year-old Basel from Deraa in Syria. He moved from Lower Austria to Vienna in July, leaving behind friends and a job as a hairdresser. He says the cuts paralyze people like him with fear. “You stop thinking about the future.”
(For a graphic on Austria's parliamentary election, click tmsnrt.rs/2hKIi65)
© Reuters

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Austria just slapped a burqa ban on the 150 women who dare to wear one

1/10/2017- Austria’s burqa ban comes into force today (Oct. 1). The law is expected to affect just 150 women—that’s 0.03% of the Austrian Muslim population and 0.002% of the entire population. Under the new law, devout Muslim women wearing the full-face and body veil in public will be fined €150 ($177) on the spot. The ban was part of a larger package of measures defended as a way to integrate migrants. The requirements include making all recent migrants participate in classes to learn the German language, as well as Austrian norms and values. The government’s decision to ban the burqa sparked protests across the country. Austria’s own president, Alexander Van der Bellen, had opposed the law, saying: “It is every woman’s right to always dress how she wants.” The move was largely seen as a knee-jerk reaction to the rise of the far right in the country. In 2016, Austria narrowly avoided electing a far-right candidate in what turned out to be one of the most dramatic presidential elections in its history.

To avoid accusations of Islamophobia and racism, the law doesn’t just ban face veils worn by Muslim women. The government has been careful to use language that states the bans includes all face coverings, with certain exceptions. The number of women who wear face veils is minuscule throughout Europe. In France—the first European country to ban the burqa, in 2007—government documents showed the ban would affect 1,900 women, 0.04% of the French Muslim population and 0.003% of the total population. In the Netherlands, which implemented a partial burqa ban in 2016, there are 100 to 500 women who wear face veils. Despite this, Europe continues to wrestle with an issue that affects so few of its citizens. In December 2016, chancellor Angela Merkel called for burqa ban in Germany, saying “Our law takes precedence over codes of honor, tribal or family rules, and over sharia law.” However, the numbers show that such a ban would affect relatively few women in Germany, where studies indicate that 70% of Muslim women don’t even cover their hair.

Europeans—citizens and politicians alike—greatly overestimate their country’s muslim population. According to a recent survey conducted by Ipsos Mori in 40 countries, French respondents were most likely to overstate their country’s Muslim population (the average French estimate was that 31% of the country’s population was Muslim, when the actual figure is 7.5%). The same is true of Belgian, British, German, Italian, and Dutch participants. At the heart of Europe’s far-right propaganda is the myth that Muslims are overtaking Europe and pose a risk to the Western way of life. The obsession with the burqa suggests those views are crawling into the mainstream.
© QUARTZ

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Top Austrian Social Democrat steps down over election smear campaign

30/9/2017- The number 2 figure in Austria’s ruling Social Democratic Party has said he is resigning over a smear campaign against the main conservative party’s leader, adding to a sense of disarray on the centre-left of politics weeks before a parliamentary election. The Social Democrats had denied having any connection with two websites making unsubstantiated allegations against 31-year-old Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, who took over the conservative People’s Party (OVP) in May. Since Kurz took up his post, his party has topped the opinion polls. But Austrian newspaper Die Presse and weekly magazine Profil reported on Saturday that a former adviser to the Social Democrats who was dismissed this summer was originally behind the sites and that they had been kept in operation.

At a hastily convened news conference on Saturday, Georg Niedermuehlbichler, the Social Democrats’ chairman and campaign manager, said that until recently he had been unaware of any connection with the websites. Although the party never paid for or commissioned the websites, he said, he had discovered that one member of his staff had been aware of work on them. “It is my duty as election campaign manager to ensure that such things do not happen. They happened. I will therefore assume the consequences as campaign manager and as party chairman,” he said. Niedermuehlbichler’s resignation adds to the troubles of a party that is now competing with the far-right Freedom Party for second place in the polls, well behind Kurz’s OVP, ahead of a parliamentary election on Oct. 15. The Social Democrats remain deeply divided over whether to consider forming coalitions with the Freedom Party, having recently lifted a self-imposed ban on working with them.

The Social Democrats are also at loggerheads with the OVP, in a country where parties rarely have enough votes to govern alone. The Freedom Party said Niedermuehlbichler’s resignation was not enough and that the party leader, Christian Kern, should also step down. Niedermuehlbichler appeared to blame Tal Silberstein, an Israeli political adviser who worked for the party until recently, for the websites. Profil and Die Presse also reported that he was originally behind them. The Social Democrats dismissed Silberstein in August after he was detained and questioned in Israel along with billionaire businessman Benny Steinmetz in a fraud investigation. “The events after that showed that this decision was right in every aspect, if too late. Evidently there were then activities that I could not imagine happening to that extent,” Niedermuehlbichler said. “It was certainly a big mistake to hire Tal Silberstein,” he added.

Shortly before Niedermuehlbichler’s announcement, tabloid daily Oesterreich published an interview with Silberstein in which it said he had declined to comment on the allegations about a smear campaign but said the party was right to sack him. On Saturday, Israel was observing Yom Kippur, when the country effectively shuts down for a day.
© Reuters

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Hungary Blacklists Dutch Journalist Stefan J. Bos, Founder BosNewsLife

30/9/2017- Central and Eastern Europe's first Christian news agency BosNewsLife has condemned Hungary's right-wing government for "blacklisting" eight journalists, including its founder Stefan J. Bos, who also reports for other media. The Netherlands-born Bos is the only non-Hungarian journalist on the list published by the government-backed website 888.hu. Others on the list are all Hungarian or Hungarian-born reporters, photographers and producers of international media such as Reuters, Bloomberg, ZDF, Politico and the English-language website Budapest Beacon. "I believe that am specifically targeted for the way I covered growing anti-Semitism, a Hungarian government crackdown on media and other previously independent institutions as well as corruption and more recently migration," Bos told BosNewsLife. "I reported on these issues for BosNewsLife, Germany's international broadcaster Deutsche Welle, Vatican Radio Worldnews, Dutch BNR Newsradio and other Dutch media, Belgium's VRT Radio and Television as well as U.S. outlets such as CBS News and Voice of America among others," he added.

Bos said it is part of wider government action against him and other critical independent journalists. "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs first declined to renew my accreditation. That was followed by an order to halt my radio, online and publication activities from my current address in the center of Budapest. Now they come up with that list. A reporter friend of mine compared it to the 1930s when step-by-step authorities started to limit the rights of Jewish people," he said. Bos pledged to "continue" his work as a journalist in Budapest "as long as possible, including writing about persecuted Christians for BosNewsLife and human rights in former Communist nations such as Hungary." 888-hu, which has close ties to the ruling Fidesz party, defended its list saying the journalists are “serving the interests” of George Soros, a Hungarian-born U.S. billionaire, and philanthropist who is increasingly the target of attacks by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government. "Here is the list of 'Soros’s foreign propagandists,' the site announced, adding the names and biographical details of Bos and the other journalists working for international media outlets.

"Propaganda Service"
888.hu said Bos and the others mentioned on the list are providing “a propaganda service” for Soros branded by Orbán as Public Enemy No. 1. The government plastered the country this year with posters containing a photo of the grinning 87-year-old Hungarian Holocaust survivor with the slogan: 'Don't let him have the last laugh,'" in the debate on migration. The campaign raised eyebrows among representatives of Hungary's embattled Jewish community. 888.hu said the blacklisted reporters including Bos are neither “objective” nor “independent” and they “discredit” Hungary in the eyes of the outside world. "Stefan J. Bos who reported from Hungary for German and Dutch public media" [among others] "painting a rather one-sided picture of our homeland," 888.hu said. "It was under the [previous Socialist government of Prime Minister Ferenc] Gyurcsány that Bos alerted the world of the dangers of impending Nazism, turning a blind to police terror, the unfettered looting of Socialists, and unprecedented state corruption," the site stressed.

It also referred to the refusal by BosNewsLife News Agency to register itself with the government-controlled Media Authority. Bos said it would mean subscribing to journalistic guidelines set by the state and would threaten BosNewsLife's independence. 888.hu disagrees. "Naturally, in 2010, Bos started to care about the rule of law, democracy and press freedom. As the star guest contributor for [non-government newspapers] Népszava and the late Népszabadság (1956 – 2016). Bos decided in 2011 that the Hungarian media laws are not applicable to him and refused to abide by them," the site said.

Controversial Opinions
The website claimed that the listed reporters in Budapest are spreading "views – masked as facts" and "do everything to label the Hungarian people and Hungary in front of the international media." 888.hu stressed that "international media, with a few exceptions, generally write bad things about the government because a small minority with significant media influence does everything to tarnish the reputation of Hungary in front of the world — prestige that has been built over hundreds of years by patriots." It cited "those familiar with the situation of the international press" as saying that "foreign journalists work with zeal when a right-wing nationalist government is in power in Hungary. These same journalists turn a blind eye to outright theft when left-liberal governments are in power. We can modestly say that the reporting on Hungary changes in line with changes in government."

888.hu said Bos and other journalists view George Soros as "their sugar daddy." Bos joked it was time "to send Soros a bill as I never knew that I was his spokesman." The Dutch journalist said the list comes amid a diplomatic row between the Netherlands and Hungary after the outgoing Dutch ambassador in Budapest accused the government of looking for outside enemies, just as Islamic militants tend to do while explaining their actions. "He said what other European diplomats have been thinking or even suggested privately," Bos stressed adding that the "new Dutch ambassador has pledged to look into the list." Several international organizations, including Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), have expressed concern about the blacklist. “These targeted attacks on journalists are extremely disturbing for media freedom and pluralism in Hungary,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s European Union desk. “Such stigmatization of independent journalists who are critical of the government is unworthy of democracy.”

Dutch Media
Dutch media, including major online news site amstelveen.blog.nl, leading fashion and news magazine couturekrant.nl, journalism magazine villamedia.nl, RTVA.nl television and others have reported on the situation. "Critics say that Hungary should realize that the European Union is not just an ATM-cash machine for subsidies, but also a 28-nation bloc based on solidarity and values such as press freedom. I agree," Bos noted. He and other critics say that since the 2014 national election, Fidesz has used its massive media empire to run tabloid-like character assassination pieces on opposition politicians, members of civil society, independent journalists and anyone critical of the ruling party and the increasingly autocratic prime minister. "Hungary is now just months away from parliamentary elections in April 2018 in which Orbán hopes to tighten his hold on power and boost the influence of his party, Fidesz," RSF explained. Since Orbán’s return to the premiership in 2010, "democracy has been in retreat in Hungary," the group argued. Hungary now ranks 71st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.
© BosNewsLife

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UK: Hate crime against disabled people increased 61 per cent in one year

Police believe these figures will continue to rise

4/10/2017- Disabled people are increasingly the target of hate crime according to police figures. Shocking statistics have revealed a 61 per cent rise in the number of disability hate crimes recorded by Avon and Somerset police over the last year and police believe these figures will continue to rise. According to the latest force figures, overall in 2016/17, 4,352 incidents of hate crime were recorded. This includes crimes committed against people because of their disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, race and religion. Out of these, 427 were disability hate crimes. However, in comparison, 264 instances of disability hate crime were recorded 2015/16 - showing an increase of 61 per cent. Andy Bennett, Avon and Somerset police lead for hate crime, said: “Hate crime can have a devastating impact on victims and their quality of life; it divides communities and neighbourhoods. "We will always support anyone who is victimised and work closely with all communities to stamp out crimes motivated by prejudice and hate."

He continued to say over the past two years police has seen an increased level of reported hate crime, but this could be due to more victims feeling confident enough to come forward. “As more victims feel confident about coming forward to report incidents, we expect these levels in Avon and Somerset to continue to increase. For us, that’s a tangible demonstration of their belief in us to tackle crime and bring offenders to justice. “We will support victims unequivocally from the point they report a crime and throughout the entire length of the investigation. “There is never an excuse for hate crime in any shape or form and this criminality will not be tolerated," he said. If you have been a victim of hate crime, call the police on 101, Crimestoppers on 0800 555111 or via their website at www.crimestoppers-uk.org,  or visit the True Vision website (www.report-it.org.uk)  for information, advice and to report online. In an emergency, always dial 999.
© The Bath Chronicle

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UK: Pig's head thrown through Pig's head thrown through window of Asian family's home

Police have called it an 'disgusting act against an innocent family'

3/10/2017- A pig’s head was hurled through the window of an Asian family’s home in what is being treated as a hate crime by police. The culprit first smashed the front window of the terraced house in Chapel Road, Hollinwood , Oldham , with a brick. The animal’s head, wrapped in plastic, was then thrown into the lounge. Ajaz Mahmood’s wife, Ghazala Kauser and their four children were in the property at the time. Mr Mahmood’s son, Hammas, aged 14, and daughter, Zeina, 6, were in the front room when the attack happened at about 10pm on Saturday. The brick flew just inches from Hammas, who was sat in a chair next to the window watching TV. Mr Mahmood said: “I am not sure whether it is racial or Islamaphobic. My family have been living in this area for 29 years and in this house for 11 years. “We have never experienced anything like this. It took the police three hours to come out, but I don’t blame them - all the officers are at the Tory conference.

“They have taken the pig’s head away and will do forensics to see if there are any fingerprints from the bag. “I am not living in a predominantly white area, there a Asian families here too. It could possibly be a case of mistaken identity. “I was at work when I took a phone call from home and could hear hysterical screaming. “It was not a nice experience, especially when your family are in the house, and they are vulnerable without me there. “I’ve never had any trouble in Oldham. The only incident like this I have heard of was when bacon was left outside a mosque down south. “It’s strange and very disturbing. The kids are absolutely petrified. The glass was smashed first and then the head was thrown in straight afterwards. “I have worked in Newton Heath, Moss Side, and have always gone on with people, my mates are white and Asian. It’s baffling.”

Police have established that a Vauxhall Corsa pulled up on the road with three men inside. One of the men got out of the back seat and then threw the brick and the pig’s head at the window. He then ran back to the car which drove off. He was around 18-years-old and was wearing a black hoody that was pulled up over his head. Det Chf Insp Chris Downey, from Oldham CID, said: “This was a disgusting act against an innocent family who have lived in this community for years and were enjoying being at home together on a quiet Saturday night. “We are treating this appalling incident as a hate crime and are doing everything we can to find those responsible. No one should be made to feel scared in their own home. “The family were extremely shook up by this and we have been out to see them to offer assurance that we will do everything in our power to track the offenders down.

“Neighbours and the community as a whole have been extremely supportive and I want to thank them for this. “We have spoken to residents, carried out forensic work and have been reviewing CCTV, while officers will continue patrols in the area. “I would ask anyone who knows anything about this attack to please call us. “Maybe you saw the car in the area around that time? Any information you have, even if you think it is just a tiny detail, could really help us.”
© The Manchester Evening News.

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UK: Blood and soil: how a neo-Nazi terror group wrapped itself in the Scottish flag

The Ferret, a crowdfunded investigative website, exposed Scottish Dawn's links to the banned neo-Nazi group National Action.

2/10/2017- When Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced recently that two neo Nazi groups would be banned under UK terror laws, it is fair to say that the name Scottish Dawn was new to most people. But myself and my colleagues at investigative website the Ferret know them well: our journalists spent seven months infiltrating Scottish Dawn. The story began earlier this year when Scottish Dawn appeared publicly at far-right rallies in Scotland for the first time. It was shortly after National Action became the first far-right group to be proscribed under anti-terrorism legislation. National Action supporters have been found guilty of racially motivated attempted murder, and arrested amid fears of plots to target individuals. They also celebrated the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox.

Scottish Dawn clearly aped National Action. Their bright yellow banners advocated “blood and soil” and “defending our country”. But the group also had a self-consciously Scottish tinge: where many Scottish neo-Nazis would wave the union flag, Scottish Dawn carried the Saltire. In promo clips, Scottish Dawn declared “Alba gu bràth” (‘Scotland Forever’) and aligned themselves to the far-right Identitarian movement across Europe. Infiltrating a neo-Nazi group isn’t easy. Since the Ferret launched as an investigative journalism website in 2015 we had covered the far-right, but we had never gone undercover with one of these groups. For this investigation – as with others – one of our senior directors, Billy Briggs, worked with a young reporter, Jamie Mann.

The first step was to gain access to Scottish Dawn. This took time. We’d been in talks with National Action, who’d suggested a meeting, but they went underground after being banned. So Mann – working under an alias with false ID – contacted Scottish Dawn through their website (which, surprisingly, is still live at the time of writing). After talking online and attending the same far-right rallies, a meeting was arranged. In an upmarket Edinburgh pub, far right activists “Fraser” and “John” – not their real names – told our reporter that Scottish Dawn was linked to National Action. “Basically there are some members in the group that were in National Action. It’s kind of hard to talk about it because it’s a prescribed [sic] terrorist organisation.” He added: “National Action were a good organisation and the stuff we [Scottish Dawn] do is very similar.”

The link between National Action and Scottish Dawn is crucial. Both Scottish Dawn and NS131 (National Socialist Anti-Capitalist Action) have been identified as aliases of National Action. Announcing the ban on the two groups, Rudd said she would not allow National Action to "masquerade under different names". As of 29 September, being a member – or inviting support for – Scottish Dawn will be a criminal offence, carrying a sentence of up to ten years’ imprisonment. The decision to proscribe Scottish Dawn comes three months after the Ferret published its investigation into the group, in tandem with the Daily Record. This was the longest investigation that the Ferret has worked on, but by no means the only one – we have run hundreds of stories over the past two years.

The success of the Scottish Dawn probe shows the potential of new media outlets to produce in-depth, hard-hitting public interest journalism. The Ferret is a co-operative – which means that it is owned by readers, not shareholders. Everyone who subscribes to the Ferret, which costs £3 a month, becomes a member of the co-operative, getting voting rights and access to exclusive content. Since being created by a small group of mainly freelance investigative journalists, the Ferret has added hundreds of new members. Some have become active members of our community, attending regular public events. On Saturday 7 October, we will hold our autumn conference in Glasgow, with a focus on transparency and fact-checking. Earlier this year, the Ferret Fact Service (FFS – geddit?) was launched, backed by a grant from Google’s Digital News Initiative

The Ferret’s model is essentially the antithesis of click bait. There is no advertising, and no pressure on writers to publish daily. Rather than pay per click, all journalists are paid a set daily rate per story to “nose up the trousers of power”. This way of working is not opaque to our audience but made explicit. Every quarter the Ferret publishes transparency reports that tell subscribers – and everyone else – exactly how much money was spent, and on what. The Ferret’s co-operative approach is not a panacea to the problems of funding journalism. Most of the editorial work is done by a core team of journalists who still often work pro-bono. Resources and time are limited. But as the Scottish Dawn investigation shows, independent investigative journalism is not only worth supporting, it can help bring about real change, too.
© The New Statesman

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UK: Ukip has picked a new Farage, keeping its darker side hidden – for now (opinion)

Henry Bolton, a former Liberal Democrat, is the new party leader. But the anti-Islam agenda of the contest’s runner-up, Anne Marie Waters, has not gone away
By Mary Dejevsky, writer, broadcaster and former foreign correspondent
 

1/10/2017- The unpredicted victory for Henry Bolton in the Ukip leadership contest had even seasoned observers asking, “Henry Who?” But the clear margin for the candidate – who came across in many ways as closest in priorities and tone to Nigel Farage – leaves the party still just inside the UK political mainstream, with its focus on Brexit intact. Whether it will now be more of the same – or rather, more of the same as it was before the party’s troubled post-referendum year – is another matter. In his first formal address to the party faithful, Bolton coupled a focus on making sure there would be no government backsliding on Brexit with sharp attacks on what he saw as excessive migration and the cultural harm he said it was inflicting. He might have stepped back from past Ukip pledges of a cap or even a moratorium on net migration, preferring the old chestnut of an Australian-style points system, but hostility to migration was a prominent theme.

The CV of the former Liberal Democrat, former policeman and former army officer – who quoted the Sandhurst motto, “serve to lead”, in his victory speech – suggests that he might have at least a chance of restoring some measure of cohesion to Ukip, something it surely needs after welcoming its fourth leader in a year. And he made a point of emphasising organisation and structure – what might be seen as the boring nuts and bolts. The attention he paid, alongside Brexit, to migration and culture suggested more than a nod to the campaign conducted by the runner-up for the leadership, Anne Marie Waters, despite the nine percentage points that separated them. Even if party members, or those who voted, have resisted her anti-Islam platform for now, Bolton’s words hint that her message carried seductive force.

So while a big majority of Ukippers opted for the sense of continuity offered by Bolton – or more accurately, perhaps, the return to pre-Brexit Farage-ism he appeared to offer – this may not last. Waters’ candidacy fed off a strand of xenophobia that runs through Ukip’s support. The question now is how far and fast that generic xenophobia, reflecting to a large degree English cultural nationalism, might develop into a specifically anti-Islam agenda. Waters received only 21% – fewer than 3,000 votes – from members of a party that attracted only 1.8% of the vote at the last general election. The main concern of Ukip members still appears to be Europe, and that familiar slogan “taking back control”. It is worth adding that the UK’s first-past-the-post electoral system makes it hard for minority parties to win parliamentary representation. An Alternative for Germany scenario, for instance, would be nigh impossible here.

On the other hand – as Bolton appeared to acknowledge – the votes for Waters should not be dismissed too lightly. She took second place, after all, on a very clear platform that vilified a particular faith group, in a country that prides itself on tolerance and the freedom for individuals to worship, select their schools, and dress as they choose. And while her defeat means that the mass defections from Ukip that were likely in the event of her victory will be avoided, and pre-empts Farage’s threat to set up a new party, she has demonstrated that there is an audience for overt opposition to Islam when it is presented in a strictly political context, rather than on the streets by a group such as the English Defence League.

Much will depend now on Bolton’s performance as Ukip leader. At least as much, though, will depend on the way British politics evolves in the short term. It may be that – if the progress of Brexit starts to stall more than it already has – Ukip will return to its anti-EU roots and become the natural home for frustrated Brexiteers. If not, however, it may find itself looking for other causes, and then the question arises as to whether classic libertarianism, a la Farage, with a dash of all-purpose xenophobia, will be sustenance enough. By then, Waters, or someone else with a similar agenda, might have organised themselves more effectively – through extra-parliamentary groupings, say, such as Waters’ own Pegida – and be ready to swoop on a debilitated Ukip. An anti-Islam platform could then be an even more tempting sideline for a party that had failed to regain support after the Brexit referendum and was searching for a new reason to exist.
© The Guardian.

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UK: Boy, 14, critical after being stabbed outside mosque in Birmingham

Man arrested in connection with attack – one of several incidents in four cities that have left left two dead and several injured

30/9/2017- A man has been arrested in connection with the stabbing of a 14-year-old boy outside a mosque in Birmingham. The attack, which left the teenager in a critical condition, was one of several violent incidents in four cities that left two people dead and several others injured on Friday night and the early hours of Saturday. West Midlands police said a 29-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder on Saturday morning and is in custody. Police said the teenager suffered several stab wounds in the attack in the Small Heath area shortly after 1am on Saturday and was taken to hospital by paramedics. A cordon has been put in place at the scene in Herbert Road while specialist teams carry out forensic investigations. Police said they were not treating the attack as a terrorist incident but the motivation remained unclear. One line of inquiry was that the incident could have been a racially motivated hate crime.

The incident occurred when the boy was dropped off at the Idaara Maarif-e-Islam mosque, commonly known as Hussainia, by his father, who went to park the car. Azhar Kiana, the president of the mosque, told the Birmingham Mail: “It happened on the pavement. By the time the dad parked his car his son was on the floor. There was a young man who was brutally beating the boy with a knife. “There was blood everywhere, he was hitting the boy’s neck and head. Then the attacker ran off and got into a car.” Harun Khan, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, expressed his shock in a tweet: Shocked to hear reports of a stabbing outside a mosque in #Birmingham last night. Monitoring situation. Praying for victim and family.
10:40 AM - Sep 30, 2017

DI Jim Colclough from the complex crime investigation team at Bournville Lane police station said: “Our investigation is progressing quickly but it is still in the early stages. We do not believe it to be terror-related. The motivation for the attack is not yet known. We are keeping an open mind as to whether it could be racially or religiously motivated.” Colclough said officers were working closely with local communities and had increased police presence in the area to provide reassurance. “It is a tragic event which has left a young boy in hospital fighting for his life,” he said. “We’ve spoken to a number of witnesses but would continue to urge anyone who was in the area and saw what happened, or has any other information which may help our investigation, to contact me or my team on 101 or to call Crimestoppers as soon as possible.”

Amjad Shah, general secretary of Hussainia mosque, confirmed that the boy was a member of their congregation. “This was a cowardly and unprovoked attack and the victim is critically ill in hospital. The board of trustees and the entire community is praying for his swift recovery. Our sympathies are extended to the victim’s family.” He reiterated that the motive behind the attack was unclear. “Background checks so far have not associated the suspect with any particular mosque or community,” he said. “The board of trustees emphasises that whatever the motive behind this attack, it should not be sensationalised or used as a justification to spread hatred or incite violence. Hussainia mosque will not tolerate the disturbance of the communal harmony between the various communities that share this geography.”

Meanwhile, two 21-year-old men have been killed in London and Manchester. In London a murder investigation has been launched after a man, who has not been named, was found with stab wounds and later died. Police were called to reports of a disturbance in Ropery Street in Bow at about 2.30am on Saturday. They found the victim, who had been stabbed in nearby Eric Street. He was treated at the scene by paramedics from the London Air Ambulance service before being taken to hospital, where he died at 4.52am. A Met police spokesman said no arrests had been made. “His next of kin have been informed. Formal identification is yet to take place. A postmortem examination will be held in due course.”

In Manchester, police are appealing for witnesses after a man was fatally stabbed during a large fight near Deansgate in the city centre. At about 2.50am police were called to reports of a large fight involving men and women, which is believed to have begun in the Suburbia nightclub. A 21-year-old man was treated for stab wounds to his neck at the scene but died as a result of his injuries. Several other people were taken to hospital with injuries, including a man who had been hit with a glass and two women, aged 19 and 21, who were left unconscious after being punched. In Sheffield five people have been injured in two linked stabbing incidents in the city centre. Four people have been arrested in connection with the incidents, which took place early on Saturday morning, according to South Yorkshire police.

In a series of tweets, the force said: “We are dealing with two linked stabbing incidents in Sheffield city centre in the early hours of Saturday 30. Five people were injured. “Four people have been arrested and detained in relation to the stabbing incidents in Sheffield early this morning. One person was critically injured and is in a serious but stable condition in hospital.” A police cordon remained in place and police vans were at the scene. Forensic officers could be seen closely examining items within the cordon, which were surrounded by blood, in an area of the city centre that is popular for its nightlife.
© The Guardian.

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Sweden: 'We can't let racists re-define Viking culture'

When a Swedish neo-Nazi group staged a demonstration in the country's second largest city last weekend, they were by far outnumbered by counter-demonstrators.

6/10/2017- One of the groups which protested the march was Vikingar Mot Rasism (Vikings Against Racism), a network set up by Viking fans to challenge the use of Viking symbols by white nationalists. "Viking enthusiasts get mistaken for racists and Nazis all the time, and we're very uncomfortable with that. White nationalists don't get to reinvent what Viking culture is," says Solvej von Malmborg, an admin for the network's Facebook group who was at the march. The network was first set up three years ago, after Swedish Viking enthusiasts noticed an increasing number of people with racist values had begun attending Viking-themed markets and other events. "These events are meant to be open to everyone, and these people would turn up and that makes other people feel unwelcome," von Malmborg tells The Local. She first got involved in the Swedish Viking community through LARP (live action role-play) seven years ago, and says she has always found the community to be very inclusive.

Vikingar Mot Rasism (VMR) now numbers over 1,000 members; predominantly LARPers, historical reenactors, heathens, and others interested in the Viking Age, while there are other similar groups for archaeologists  and historians. They share details of upcoming events where the group can spread its message, including Viking-related gatherings, far-right events such as the one in Gothenburg, and other demonstrations such as the Stockholm Pride march, in which members of the group have taken part. At Gothenburg, von Malmborg says the atmosphere among the groups of counter-demonstrators was like a "party" and a "huge contrast to what the Nazi march was". "People from all different backgrounds gathered with a common purpose to show we choose love and courage over fear and resistance to change," she adds. She and other members of VMR spoke to several other counter-demonstrators to answer questions about the Viking enthusiast community, and to dispel myths about its association with the far right.

Symbols from the Viking era have been used by far-right movements for decades, including in Nazi Germany. And as extreme factions of the movement have gained prominence in Nordic countries as well as in America over recent years, so too has the misappropriation of Viking iconography. Thor's hammer and the Odal rune (ᛟ), which means 'heritage', have both been used as symbols by white nationalist groups, which often link Scandinavia to Aryanism and ideas of racial purity. Another example is the Týr rune, used by the Nordic Resistance Movement, the group behind the neo-Nazi march in Gothenburg. Those who have a genuine historical interest in the Vikings are not just concerned about being mistaken for racists, but also fear that the symbols could fall out of use entirely. "When a symbol becomes too closely connected with a racist movement, it becomes theirs – it belongs to the racists and eventually, using it can be seen as a form of inciting racial hatred. Then the symbol is removed from common cultural use," says von Malmborg.

One way the group hopes to tackle this is by raising awareness about Viking culture, and von Malmborg says the image projected by white nationalist groups is largely based on myth. In the 19th century, nationalistic movements spread across Europe, and this was when historians created the image of the Viking many of us are familiar with today. "The National Romantics were looking for something exclusively Nordic, and they settled on the Viking age as a symbol for nationalism. They painted the era as a picture of strength, and later the Nazis wanted to be associated with strong civilizations so they used Viking runes and symbols – as well as the eagle from the Roman Empire, for example," explains von Malmborg.

Another common misconception of Viking culture, and one which is perpetuated by nationalist movements, is that men were viewed as superior to women. "We don't know a lot about gender roles in the Viking era but we do know that both men and women were empowered, and that there were female warriors, for example," she says, pointing out that one Viking burial grave long believed to belong to a male warrior was recently discovered to belong to a woman. Revisions such as this prove the need to be open-minded as to what historical finds might mean, argues von Malmborg, who says: "We should be aware that we will never know for sure what that culture was like, so we can't just project our own standards onto history." "There's a problem with history as a subject in general: we project our own culture and values onto the cultures we study," she adds. "But that's not an accurate representation. We know that the Vikings had lots of intercultural relations, and positive ones too, which you don't often hear about. They were traders and mixed with cultures all over the reachable world."

Von Malmborg says her own experience as a LARPer has helped her explore other, historical cultures in a deeper way, and she says that the opportunity to 'step back' from her own culture also forced her to look more critically at the world around her. She hopes that the work of Vikingar Mot Rasism will encourage more people to look critically at historical representations and be aware of possible problems with historiography. "I wouldn't say we are 'reclaiming' Viking culture; we don't have any more right to this culture than others, but we don't want our interest to become associated with racist and Nazi values. We won't let them appropriate Viking culture and make it theirs."
© The Local - Sweden

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Is Sweden Getting Democracy “Right”?

Sweden is known for protecting human rights, but does the recently heightened far-right presence show a failure to protect minority rights?
By Jonelle Twum, freelance writer with a regional focus on Sub-Saharan Africa and Scandinavia
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3/10/2017- At a rally in Florida earlier this year, President Trump told his supporters that Sweden was attacked by terrorists due to its soft approach to migration. The statement baffled Swedes, who were unaware of any such attack, and former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt refuted the claim in a tweet: “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking?” Both Trump and Bildt’s statements speak volumes about the near-universally acknowledged perception of Sweden: peaceful, harmless, open and tolerant. On the one hand, Bildt’s tweet disproves a groundless claim, but on the other hand affirms his country’s national image in positive terms – Sweden, the defender of human rights and liberal values. In practice, the public attitude towards refugees has hardened. Stricter asylum laws and migration policies – as well as gruelling reports of arson attacks on housing centres for asylum seekers – have formed part of the political landscape since late 2015. The country’s national identity as a champion of humanitarian values are at stake.

Between 28th September to 1st October 2017, Scandinavia’s largest cultural event, the Göteborg Book Fair (Bokmässan), took place in Sweden. The fair is a demonstration and celebration of literature and culture, priding itself as an event embracing a diversity of ideas and opinions. In the past the fair has hosted several Nobel Prize Laurates including Wole Soyinka, Doris Lessing, Desmond Tutu and Mario Vargas Llosa. Yet discussions around this year’s fair were not about high profile writers and thinkers, but the presence of the far-right newspaper Nya Tider. On their website, Nya Tider describe themselves as the only Swedish newspaper that challenges the lies of the established press. In practice, they dilute daily news with xenophobic, Islamophobic, and occasionally anti-Semitic sentiments. The book fair’s decision to allow Nya Tider to be present at this year’s fair induced a series of debates and threats of boycott from writers and other cultural producers.

In May 2017, over 200 writers and translators announced in the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter that they would not participate in this year’s fair. The intensity of the debate and protests against Nya Tider must be understood not only against the symbolic meaning of the fair for the public, but also the country’s self-perception as a progressive liberal democracy. Though the fair is privately organized, it has become a public gathering for the culturally interested general public. Moreover, as a public programme, it continuously reflects and reproduces the norms and values of the Swedish community, with themes such as freedom of expression and “Bildung and cultivation” – this year’s theme. The fair’s organizers appeal to democratic values defending their decision to allow Nya Tider to participate in the fair. They explain in a press statement that freedom of expression is the core value of the fair; to maintain and promote democracy, freedom of expression must remain unnegotiable. The debate among the general public about the fair follows a similar logic.

On both sides of the debate – supporting or condemning Nya Tiders’ participation – most agree that anti-democratic forces pose a threat to Swedish values of democracy and tolerance. But it is freedom of expression which has become the main cause of division. Uncontested freedom of expression makes Sweden a progressive country, and follows the Swedish Fundamental Law. And to resist far-right forces is an equally valued national norm. The dilemma in the debate is how to protect the liberal value that guarantees citizens’ the right to express their ideas, opinions and thoughts – without undermining democracy or Sweden’s national image.

But the debate invokes other democratic questions beyond the issue of freedom of expression. Swedish writer and journalist Kawa Zolfagary argued in an article that in the debate democracy is approached as an objective concept and with naivety. He argues that there is an expectation from the mainstream media and general public that anti-democratic forces will absorb democratic values as society openly debates freedom of expression. Zolfagary continues, “This is an idea that takes democracy as something passive, a kind of fog resting over the country and inevitably infects everyone in it.” Moreover, the debate shines a light on how liberal states practically balance core values of liberalism: maintaining an open society while protecting minority rights.

The reality is that certain groups in society are at more risk of the violence of prejudice and discrimination than others. The increased presence of anti-democratic and xenophobic forces in public spaces come at the risk of minority rights and safety, both physical and emotional. And the United Nation’s Human Rights Council have repeatedly criticized the Swedish government for not sufficiently combating hate crimes against Muslims, Roma and other ethnic groups.

The book fair controversy forms part of the increased public visibility of anti-democratic, nationalistic and populistic forces in Sweden. The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, elected to parliament in 2010, are now the second largest party in the polls. The Nordic Resistance Movement gained a permit to organize a neo-Nazi march during the country’s largest political event, Almedalsveckan, and again in Gothenburg on the 30th September 2017 – during the weekend of the book fair.

The presence of forces such as Nya Tider and the Nordic Resistance Movement in public arenas will not cease due to public debates on liberal values. The balance of ideals such as freedom of expression and protection of minorities are not always practically possible. Eventually, sacrifices will need to be made. In the wake of the neo-Nazi marches, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven wants to discuss with the other political parties (except the Sweden Democrats) the defence of freedom of expression from forces not interested in its safeguard. Perhaps this will be the start of a national discussion on freedom of expression, different from the one currently keeping the country at a loss.
© The Reddington Report

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Sweden: Gothenburg neo-Nazi demonstration ends after hours of unrest

A neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (NMR) demonstration in central Gothenburg has ended, two hours after police permission for the march expired.

30/9/2017- The neo-Nazi group was forced to bring its march through Gothenburg to a premature end but has reportedly threatened new demonstrations – possibly without police permission. A huge effort by police was successful in keeping the NRM and counter protestors separated, although two people are reported injured and 60 detained by police as a result of the day’s events. Several hundred NRM supporters began the march along the route for which authorities issued permission, but several protestors tried to break out of the designated area near the Ica Focus shopping mall and Svenska Mässan conference centre, which was hosting a Book Fair on Saturday. Several of the protestors who tried to break through police lines were arrested, including NMR leader Simon Lindberg, reports TT.

Two hours after the demonstration was scheduled to disperse, the NMR, waving banners and surrounded by police, left the area near the Ica Focus shopping mall and Svenska Mässan conference centre in central Gothenburg. The group returned to the starting point of the march, according to the report. Road blocks in the city have since been lifted. The neo-Nazi organisation’s spokesperson Pär Öberg said in the group’s own online broadcast of the demonstration that he regretted that the demonstration could not be completed. Öberg said that he expected “this will be the last time [NMR] will ask for permission” to demonstrate. NMR protestors clashed violently with police during the demonstration, shouting slogans such as “race traitor” (folkförrädare) and “Nordic revolution, no pardon” (nordisk revolution, utan pardon).

NMR demonstrators also attacked a group of journalists, forcing them towards a line of empty police busses, according to a report by newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. At least two people have been injured as result of the day’s unrest. The number of counter demonstrators far outweighed the amount of NMR supporters, and violent elements of these attacked police on several occasions, including by throwing stones, reports TT. Counter-protestors rushed at police near the Liseberg Amusement Park, with horses deployed to keep them under control. According to a statement on the police website, stones were thrown during that flashpoint with a number of people held by police near the main entrance to the amusement park. “In connection with the disturbances at Liseberg, where we moved away counter-demonstrators, stones were thrown, resulting in injury to one civilian.

The person was hit by an object and has been taken to hospital by ambulance,” police press spokesperson Peter Adlersson said. A police officer was also taken to hospital with minor injuries earlier in the day. NMR leader Simon Lindberg has been arrested on suspicion of assault, reports newspaper Expressen. “Simon Lindberg participated at the beginning of the unrest and is suspected of violent unrest and assaulting a police officer,” police press spokesperson Hans Lippens told the newspaper. Several people, including foreign citizens, were detained prior to the demonstration by police in Gothenburg and other parts of Sweden on suspicion of intending to carry out assault.
© The Local - Sweden

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