A summary of news reports this week from Europe and Australia for January 24, 2009.

THE UK: Protest march over BBC Gaza move

Thousands of people have joined in a protest against the BBC’s decision not to broadcast an appeal for emergency funds for Gaza. Tony Benn delivered a letter of protest to the BBC Former Government minister Tony Benn was one of the people attending the Stop The War march. “I never thought I would live to see (the BBC) refuse to broadcast a humanitarian appeal on the grounds that it was controversial,” he said. “I know why it is because (Tzipi) Livni, the Israeli Foreign Minister, has said there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”The BBC raised £10m for the Congo and £18m for Burma. That decision is denying the aid agencies money they desperately need. People are dying in Gaza. There’s an absolute crisis in Gaza.” Palestinian authorities say more than 1,300 people died during Israel’s offensive. The condemnation came after BBC director-general Mark Thompson turned down a request from International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander to reconsider his decision. Mr Thompson said he was concerned that broadcasting the appeal to help Gazans in need of food and shelter might compromise the BBC’s impartiality. The BBC also expressed anxiety about whether any aid raised could be delivered effectively on the ground in Gaza. – http://news.sky.com

VATICAN CITY: New Vatican-Jewish Crises

The Vatican’s relations with Jews risked a new crisis Friday after an excommunicated British bishop reportedly in line for a return to the church said that the Nazi gas chambers probably didn’t exist. Two Italian newspapers reported Thursday that Pope Benedict XVI planned to lift the excommunication of Richard Williamson and three other bishops punished for having been consecrated without papal consent 20 years ago by the late French conservative Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. The Vatican declined to comment on the reports, but the Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Friday that a decree revoking an excommunication might be made public soon. He didn’t mention Williamson by name. In an interview with Swedish state TV given in November while he was in Germany and aired Wednesday night, Williamson said the Nazis did not use gas chambers during World War II. “I believe that the historical evidence is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler,” he said. He cited what he called the “most serious” revisionists who, he said, had concluded that “between 200,000 and 300,000 perished in Nazi concentration camps, but not one of them by gassing in a gas chamber.” Vatican officials declined Friday to comment on his remarks. Rome’s chief rabbi asked the Vatican to halt the reported rehabilitation of Williamson. Rabbi Ricardo Di Segni said it was “inconceivable” the pope didn’t know Williamson’s views. –http://wwrn.org

FINLAND: Finnish Green organisation stands accused of antisemitism

Finnish Green League organ Vihreä Lanka was accused of antisemitism on Tuesday over a strip, penned by Sami Aho and printed last week, where a character compares the Star of David to a swastika and dubs them “cousins”. Bjarne Kallis, the chair of the Christian Democrat parliamentary group, was quoted as saying by the Helsingin Sanomat website on Tuesday that the strip amounted to the worst brand of racism and antisemitism. Roni Smolar, the chair of the Jewish Community of Helsinki, said he regarded the strip as classic antisemitism. Elina Grundström, the editor of Vihreä Lanka, rejected the accusations and said there was nothing to apologise for in Aho’s strip. “I am sorry if somebody has been upset by it,” Grundström said. “But its aim was not to comment on the Jews as a people in any way.” Grundström added the cartoonist had commented on the political situation in the Middle East. “And it is quite clearly the flag of Israel featured in the strip and not just any Star of David.” Asked whether linking any concept whatever to Nazi symbols was a perilous business by default, Grundström fell silent for quite some time. “It is one of those art forms open to a number of interpretations and surely I cannot be expected to delve into the motives of the author.” She added the strip would not have been printed if she had judged it offensive. Grundström declined to comment when asked whether she had discussed the strip with Aho before the Friday issue went to print.  –http://virtual.finland.fi

GENEVA: Iran and Syria Dominate Day 2 of Durban II Planning

Iran and Syria dominated the second day of the planning meeting for Durban II which is now taking place in Geneva. On day 2 of the week-long session, January 20th, Iran took the floor more often than any other single state. “Iran’s attempt to dominate Durban II planning,” says Anne Bayefsky, Editor of EYEontheUN, “is not surprising. They are a Vice-chair of the Durban Preparatory Committee and have long understood Durban II as the playing field of Islamic and Arab states.” Both countries are actively shaping the outcome document of the Durban Review Conference, hailed by its supporters as an important international effort to address racism. “Today’s meeting, dominated by these two rights-abhorring, terrorism-supporting countries, resulted in a circus that is a slap in the face to anyone serious about human rights and racism” said Bayefsky. By the end of day two the meeting had completed 9 out of 37 pages. The strategy of all those states who seek to bolster support for Durban II – particularly Arab and Islamic states and various African states such as South Africa – is to bury the real agenda under a mountain of UN verbiage and avoid getting to any issue of real importance. –http://www.eyeontheun.org/durban.asp

AUSTRALIA: Australian PM demands apology from Muslim leader on marital rape

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has demanded an apology from an Islamic cleric who declared marital rape “impossible”. As exclusively revealed by the Herald Sun this morning, a Melbourne Islamic cleric has told his male followers they can force their wives to have sex and hit them if they are disobedient. Coburg’s self-styled cleric Samir Abu Hamza said despite Australian rape laws it was impossible for a man to rape his wife even if she refused to have sex with him. Mr Rudd said the views were completely indefensible, and inconsistent with both Australian and mainstream Muslim values. He called on the cleric to repudiate these views and apologise. “Under no circumstances is sexual violence permissible or acceptable in Australia – under no circumstances,” Mr Rudd said. “Under no circumstances are other forms of violence, physical violence, acceptable towards women in Australia nor are they acceptable in my view to main stream Muslim teachings.”… Australia will not tolerate these sort of remarks. They don’t belong in modern Australia, and he should stand up, repudiate them and apologise.”  –http://www.muslimnews.co.uk

ISRAEL: After Gaza war, Israel sees Hamas prisoner swap

After pummelling Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Israel now hopes to push through a prisoner swap to retrieve a soldier held by the Palestinians since 2006, Israeli officials said on Thursday. They said Israel was conditioning any lifting of its Gaza blockade on immediate progress in Egyptian efforts to free Gilad Shalit, and would be willing to relax its objections to a list of Palestinian prisoners which Hamas wants released in exchange. The Islamists demand amnesty for 1,400 inmates, including 450 senior militants. Israel long balked over the latter group, saying their release would sap Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s peace strategies by bolstering rival hardliners. But after its 22-day offensive against the Hamas administration in Gaza, Israel appears to be more flexible. “There is a sense that we can afford to relax our criteria on the prisoner release, as any benefit to Hamas would be more than offset by the damage it sustained in Gaza,” said one Israeli security official.  –http://www.chinapost.com.

DENMARK: No help for terror suspects

The US prison at Guantanamo Bay is a problem that the Americans will either have to sort out themselves or seek help from European countries other than Denmark, according to Per Stig Møller, foreign minister. In response to newly-elected US President Barack Obama’s wishes to close the controversial prison on Cuba’s coast, a majority of European Union nations have indicated they will not offer their help in the matter. Both Amnesty International and the Danish Refugee Council have demanded that Anders Fogh Rasmussen give asylum to at least three of the jailed suspects at Guantanamo. Møller said Denmark plans to stay out of the matter, adding that it had contributed more than its fair share to the war on terror. ‘Denmark has carried a huge part of the load in Afghanistan,’ said the foreign minister. ‘Now some of the other European countries who haven’t contributed much are going to have to step up if the US can’t solve the problem itself.’ Møller added that he did not blame other countries for refusing to help in closing Guantanamo, where suspects from the war on terror have been held since 2002 – often without trial. . .  Why can’t they just be relocated in the US and start a new life there instead of coming to little Denmark?’ Albania is the only country so far to have agreed to help the US in the Guantanamo matter.  –http://www.cphpost.dk

FINLAND: Helsinki sees demonstrations almost every second day

Whenever some kind of agitation occurs in the world it also results in public concern on the streets of Helsinki. Demonstrations take place in the centre of the Finnish capital almost every second day, with the total number for last year being 170. “The latest cause for protest has been the Israel-Gaza conflict, which has generated a demonstration every third day”, reports Chief Inspector  Juss-Pekka Lämsä, who is in charge of the Downtown Police Precinct. Last Tuesday, the supporters of Israel organised an exceptionally large demonstration, with more than 2,000 participants. The march went peacefully. –Helsingin Sanomat, Finland.

TAJIKISTAN: Islamic fundamentalist group banned

The Supreme Court of Tajikistan has outlawed the Salafi movement, a fundamentalist strand of Islam that is growing in popularity among young people in urban areas of Tajikistan. The court outlawed the group at the request of the prosecution service, which says the Salafis are a threat to national security. “The Salafis conduct propaganda that would be a danger to any state, and all the more so to Tajikistan,” said chief prosecutor Muhammadjon Khayrulloev. “Salafis, Wahabbis and Hizb ut-Tahrir* all have the exactly same policies, the same orientation.” Reporter Khalil Qoimzoda says it is now common to see bearded young men accosting people in the streets of the Tajik capital Dushanbe, trying to win them over. The group’s doctrine is hostile to Shia Islam, but also to the main “mazhabs” or schools of Sunni Islam. The bulk of Tajiks are Sunnis of the Hanafi school; a minority are Ismailis. There are suspicions the Salafis are receiving funding from sources in Saudi Arabia . A Salafi representative says they do nothing harmful or illegal, and the ban is politically motivated. – Central Asia Radio, (Institute for War and Peace Reporting).

GERMANY: EU set to remove terrorist label from Iranian group

An Iranian opposition movement appears poised to be removed from the EU’s official list of terrorist organisations on 26 January, a move that follows three victories by the group in European courts against its inclusion on the list. European Voice understands that the People’s Mujahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI) has been removed from a draft update of the blacklist. The list now needs the formal, unanimous approval of the EU’s 27 foreign ministers, but the blacklist’s inclusion on the foreign ministers’ agenda as an item to be adopted without discussion suggests that last-minute objections would be a surprise. A revised version of the list was agreed upon by a committee of national experts in the Council of Ministers over the past two weeks. EU ambassadors then agreed, on 22 January, to send the list to ministers for approval. That draft does not contain the PMOI. The European Court of Justice annulled the PMOI’s inclusion on 4 December, concluding that the procedure used by member states to adopt the list had infringed the group’s right to defend itself and that the Council of Ministers had not provided the court with sufficient evidence that the PMOI’s terrorist label was justified. –http://EuropeanVoice.com


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