Category: Europe

Islam debate in France sparks controversy

Ref: President Nicolas Sarkozy’s party, the UMP, has hosted a controversial debate on the practice of Islam in secular France.

The debate provoked protests from Islamic and other religious groups, and even from some members of the governing party itself.

Critics have accused the party of pandering to a resurgent far right.

The debate was held a week before a law banning the Islamic full-face veil in public comes into force.

With Muslim religious leaders boycotting the event, only politicians or representatives of other faiths took part in the three-hour, round-table discussion at a Paris hotel.

The BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris says the political atmosphere in France in recent days has been poisonous, with accusations flying between left and right.

According to government estimates, France has as many as six million Muslims, or just under 10% of the population, making it the biggest Muslim minority in western Europe.
French people 'challenged'
French people protest against UMP debate on secularism The debate has provoked outrage among some

The UMP argued that it would be irresponsible not to debate the great changes posed to French society by its growing numbers of Muslims.

It outlined 26 ideas aimed at underpinning the country's secular character, which was enshrined in a law of 1905.

The law poses modern-day quandaries about issues such as halal food being served in schools and Muslims praying in the street when mosques are too crowded.

Proposals discussed on Tuesday included

* banning the wearing of religious symbols such as Muslim headscarves or prominent Christian crosses by day care personnel

* preventing Muslim mothers from wearing headscarves when accompanying children on school field trips

* preventing parents from withdrawing their children from mandatory subjects including physical education and biology.

Launching the debate entitled simply "Secularity" before 200 guests and scores of journalists, UMP leader Jean-Francois Cope defended the idea of holding it at all.

Accusing the opposition Socialists of being in denial and the National Front of demagoguery, he called for "a third way, that of responsibility".

"Many French people have the feeling that the republican pact to which they are attached is being challenged by globalisation and the failures of integration," he said.

However, one of Mr Cope's most senior UMP colleagues, Prime Minister Francois Fillon, declined to take part in the debate, warning that it risked "stigmatising Muslims".

Gilles Bernheim, France's chief rabbi, said the debate was "importune" but he was taking part nonetheless.

"We did not ask for this debate but there was no question for us of boycotting it and stigmatising a political party, even if it is a ruling party," he told reporters after arriving at the hotel.

Salim Himidi, a former foreign minister of the largely Muslim Comoros Islands, said Islam's relations with the secular state was "an important subject" that had to be discussed.

"I think France has a mission that goes beyond its geographical limits," he added.

Condemning the debate, Hassan Ben M'Barek of the pressure group Banlieues Respect, said it was aimed only at "keeping the UMP in the media in the year before the [next presidential] election".


Ref: Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin has likened the UN Security Council resolution supporting military action in Libya to medieval calls for crusades.

Putin, in the first major remarks from a Russian leader since a coalition of Western countries began air strikes in Libya, said on Monday that Muammar Gaddafi’s government fell short of democracy, but added that did not justify military intervention.

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SQ Chy’s son lobbying: British MP Ellwood coming Sunday

British MP Tobius Ellwood set out on a trip to Bangladesh where he may lobby for the release of opposition BNP lawmaker Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury and the Jamaat leaders detained on war-crime charges.

According to the schedule Ellwood along with a delegation will land direct in Sylhet Sunday and attend some charitable programmes of Maya, a non-profit organisation funded by London-based Pakistani organisation Islamic Relief, in the city. Read more →

'UK trained Rab with full respect to human rights'

Ref: British government provided specific training to support the Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) to meet its obligation to go about its business fully respecting human rights.

“The UK decided to impart training in the area where Rab needs support and assistance to develop its capacity and understanding about the importance of the human rights, said British High Commissioner in Dhaka Stephan Evans on Tuesday. Read more →

French PM Fillon says Mubarak lent him plane on holiday

Ref: French Prime Minister Francois Fillon has said the Egyptian president lent him and his family a plane during a holiday in Egypt at Christmas. Hosni Mubarak, who is facing widespread anti-government protests, also paid for Mr Fillon’s holiday accommodation.Another French minister has said she used a Tunisian businessman’s plane during the country’s uprising.

Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, who has faced calls to resign, said she deeply regretted her actions. Read more →

French Qaeda hostages in Africa still alive: Sarkozy

Ref: France is “certain” that five French hostages seized in Niger by an al-Qaeda regional offshoot are still alive, President Nicolas Sarkozy told reporters Monday.

“We believe that they are still alive. We are certain of it,” he told reporters, adding that two French journalists held in Afghanistan for more than a year were also still alive.
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Police quell riot at British prison

Specialist police resolved a riot at a British prison after inmates set buildings alight when staff tried to clamp down on contraband alcohol on New Year`s Day, police said Sunday.

Prison authorities launched an investigation into the day-long rampage involving around 40 inmates which started early Saturday at Ford open prison near Arundel in southeast England.
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SQ Chy’s family seeks British Govt. support

Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury’s son Fayyaz Chowdury has called on the British government to intervene to stop alleged torture on his father in police custody.

Lawyers acting for the SQ Cyowdhury’s family also blame the British government over allegations it was complicit in the torture of Bangladeshi MP Salauddin Chowdhury, who was arrested by the country`s security forces mid December.

They claim the training provided by British forces to Bangladesh`s Rapid Action Battalion, which arrested him, places the UK in breach of its obligations under international law, reports British newspaper the Guardian.

“The UK government is up to its neck in this case having provided practical and financial support to RAB who are responsible for my father`s ill-treatment. I am a British national and they must now intervene to secure my father`s immediate release from prison and a binding undertaking from the Bangladesh government that he will not be subjected to any further torture and ill-treatment or a patently unfair trial,” Fayyaz mentioned in his petition.

Phil Shiner, of Public Interest Lawyers, which is bringing the legal challenge on behalf of Fayyaz Chowdury said: “The UK government owe the clearest of international obligations to my client, a British citizen, in circumstances where they are complicit in the torture of people like Mr Salauddin Chowdury. These obligations reflect international law principles that prohibit states from aiding and assisting other states in international crimes such as torture and extrajudicial executions. The UK government must use all means at their disposal to secure the immediate release of my client`s father and to ensure that he cannot face a kangaroo court for war crimes that he did not commit.”

Rioting prisoners set fire to British jail

Ref: Rioting prisoners torched buildings at a low-security British jail on Saturday, an incident the prison guards’ union said highlighted the risks of government plans to slash spending on the justice system.

About 40 prisoners took part in rioting at Ford prison near Arundel, southern England, that began around midnight (GMT) on New Year’s Eve, the Prison Service said.
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British PM fires 2011 terror warning

Ref:Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain had to combat its home-grown Islamic extremism in 2011, in his New Year message released Friday.

He said 2011 would likewise be a “crucial year” in Afghanistan, where British troops are fighting Taliban insurgents, as the country deals with fighting terror on two fronts. Read more →