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News digest: 27 January 2014

Albania and Kosovo form strategic partnership (SETimes.com): "Kosovo and Albania signed an agreement for co-operation and strategic partnership, enabling the two governments to implement joint political, socio-economic and cultural policies"

Austria denies having citizenship-by-investment programme (Times of Malta): "Austria is denying ever operating a citizenship-by-investment programme, insisting that sections of the Maltese media and public officials are “misinterpreting” its laws"

Balkan armies benefit from NATO training (SETimes.com): "NATO continues to train Balkan militaries to participate in the Alliance's missions abroad, while also strengthening their forces' capacity and determination to become Alliance members, officials said"

BALKANS: HRW Notes Scant Progress on Balkan Rights Abuses (Balkan Insight): "Documenting human rights concerns in Bosnia, Serbia, and Kosovo during 2013, the organisation's World Report said progress in ensuring accountability for war crimes and in countering discrimination against the Roma minority as well as curbing harassment of journalists and LGBT communities was limited"

BELGIUM: Antwerp to urge homeless Poles to go home (flandersnews.be): "The City of Antwerp is to join forces with Barka, an organisation that helps homeless Poles to return home to Poland. City cabinet member Liesbeth Homans says that after Belgian homeless people it's homeless people from Poland that create the greatest disturbance, often due to alcohol abuse."

BELGIUM: Risk for Rasmussen: New NATO Headquarters in Financial Trouble (Spiegel Online): "NATO is building a new headquarters for one billion euros. But the construction consortium is in financial difficulties and the project is at risk of being halted. It's an embarrassment for outgoing NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen"

Bulgarian Prosecution Halts Probe in Latest 'Snooping' Saga (Novinite): "Bulgaria's Prosecutor's Office has terminated its probe in the tipoff in the latest "Watergate" claims"

Bulgaria's Nationalist Ataka Party Gives Up Immunity (Novinite): "Bulgaria's ultranationalist party Ataka and its leader Volen Siderov have given up their parliamentary immunity, Wednesday." See: Bulgarian Prosecution to Indict Nationalist Siderov Over Airport Row (Novinite) and Bulgaria Nationalists Probed Over New Conflict (Balkan Insight)

CROATIA: EU concerned about minority rights referendum in Croatia (SETimes.com): "The leader of an initiative in Croatia to reduce minority citizens' rights to use their mother tongue said the effort will continue in spite of concerns voiced in a recent letter from the European Parliament. "

CROATIA: EU praises Croatia's use of European arrest warrant in Perkovic case (SETimes.com): "EU officials have praised Croatia for using the European arrest warrant, which has been the subject of a months-long dispute between Brussels and Zagreb for months." See: Croatia Court Approves Yugoslav Spy Chief Extradition (Balkan Insight)

CYPRUS-UK: Bases deal a ‘leap’ in relations (Cyprus Mail): "THE “historic” agreement signed last week in London between the Republic of Cyprus and the United Kingdom for the development of property within the British Bases represents a “qualitative leap” in the two countries’ often stormy relations, President Nicos Anastasiades said yesterday."

DENMARK: Former PET head cleared of wrongdoing by new employer (The Copenhagen Post): "Jakob Scharf, the former head of domestic intelligence agency PET and the first man to fall in what has now been dubbed the ‘Christiania Case’, has landed a new job with the national police force, Rigspolitiet. And just one day after Scharf’s new position with Rigspolitiet was announced, the same organisation cleared Scharf and other PET officials of allegations of abusing power and exploiting travel rules"

DENMARK: Man shot by police dies (The Copenhagen Post): "The 48-year-old man who was shot by police in Slagelse in the early morning hours of Friday has died, TV2 News has reported." See also: Video raises questions about fatal police shooting

DENMARK: MP: Black people should be called 'neger' (The Copenhagen Post): "Esben Lunde Larsen (V), a member of parliament from Ringkøbing-Skjern Council in Jutland, has decided that he will from here on it only refer to a black person as a ‘neger’."

DENMARK: Police launching new cybercrime centre (The Copenhagen Post): "100 specialist staff will help regional police forces tackle thieves, conmen and hackers"

DENMARK: Police turn blind eye to illegal immigrant clinics (The Copenhagen Post): "A health clinic for illegal immigrants has opened in Aarhus but the police will let the volunteers work in peace"

EU: Bulgaria, Romania Must Put Criminals behind Bars (Novinite): "Seven years after becoming EU members, Bulgaria and Romania still have trouble putting corrupt politicians behind bars, the European Commission said on Wednesday (22 January)"

EU: Bulgaria's Supreme Judicial Council: EC Report Helpful Corrective (Novinite): "The European Commission monitoring report on Bulgaria serves as a helpful corrective for Bulgaria's Supreme Judicial Council." See also: Bulgarian Foreign Minister Not Surprised by EC’s Critical Report (Novinite) and: European Commission: Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council On Progress in Bulgaria under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (COM(2014) 36 final, pdf)

EU: Commission Issues Positive Monitoring Report on Romania (Novinite): "The European Commission made public on 22 January its monitoring reports on the progress of Bulgaria and Romania in reforming their deficient law-enforcement systems. The report on Romania appears to be much more positive than the one concerning its southern neighbour, with the EU executive noting “real commitment to reform”." See also: Romania's Judicial Reform Uneven, EC Report (Balkan Insight) and: European Commission: Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council On Progress in Romania under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (COM(2014) 37 final, pdf)

EU: Serbia’s 35 Steps to EU Membership (Balkan Insight): "Before it can join the EU, Serbia has to close 35 chapters covering all aspects of government and economic activity as well as the sensitive Kosovo issue"

FINLAND: Court: Judges' racist slurs have not affected rulings (Helsinki Times): "Use of inappropriate language during recesses is a problem at the Helsinki Court of Appeal"

France to shell out €1.5b on cyber defences (The Local): "France is to take action after being targeted by hundreds of cyber attacks against its Defense Ministry last year. This week a government minister revealed Paris will soon launch a €1.5 billion project to bolster its defences against a "cyber war""

FRANCE: Brit fined over Nazi outfit at stag party in France (The Local): "A French court on Tuesday slapped a fine on a British man for wearing a Nazi uniform to a stag party attended by a member of Britain's parliament who lost his post over it"

FRANCE: Longest-serving French inmate wins parole (France 24): "Philippe El Shennawy (pictured), a French convict infamous for being the longest-serving prisoner alive in France and a string of escape attempts, will be released on parole on Friday"

FRANCE: Man jailed for 'anti-white racist' attack in France (The Local): "The contentious issue of anti-white racism in France reared its head this week when a thug was handed a four-year jail sentence for attacking a white Frenchman. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the case is the heritage of the convicted assailant"

FRANCE: Poll finds xenophobia on the rise in France (France 24): "The divide between the French and their elected leaders is growing, according to a new poll carried out by Ipsos, which also shows that the French are increasingly wary of foreigners"

FRANCE: Plan to arm French village with tear gas (The Local): "Fearful village folk wanting to arm themselves with guns might sound like an image pulled from a forgotten corner of the US, but it's exactly what's happening in a French village after a recent violent robbery. But Town Hall chiefs have an alternative plan to avoid any shoot-outs"

FRANCE: Turkish spy agency denies link to Paris Kurd murders (France 24): "Turkey's intelligence service has rejected allegations contained in an online audio recording linking it with the murders of three Kurdish activists in Paris in 2013"

GERMANY: Human Rights Watch calls for legislation against surveillance (Deutsche Welle): "Spying on private communications violates fundamental data protection rights, says Human Rights Watch in its annual report. They have called for a clear regulatory framework to keep intelligence services in check"

GERMANY: Politician's anti-neo-Nazi speech becomes YouTube hit (Deutsche Welle): "A young Social Democrat politician spoke out against xenophobia at a rally of Germany's right-wing NPD party. The video of his speech became a YouTube favorite, even though - or because - the NPD is trying to ban it"

GERMANY: Xenophobic Stain: Hoyerswerda Gets Second Chance with Refugee Hostel (Spiegel Online): "The city of Hoyerswerda made international headlines during a wave of attacks against foreigners in 1991. Twenty-three years later, a new hostel for asylum-seekers is opening. The far-right is campaigning against it, but many locals are fighting for tolerance."

GREECE: Coast guard rejects blame for migrant sea tragedy (ekathimerini): "The coast guard on Wednesday rebuffed reports that one of its vessels had been towing a boat full of would-be immigrants back to Turkey when a number of the passengers fell into the sea, resulting in several drownings, following criticism from international bodies over the incident." See also Varvitsiotis reacts to criticism following deadly boat incident (ekathimerini); background: Investigation into alleged Greek coastguard abuse of migrants - Probe follows letter from Europe's top human rights watchdog (EnetEnglish, link) and Letter from Nils Muižnieks, Commissioner for Human Rights to Greek Ministers (pdf)

GREECE: Independent Greeks MP’s Immunity Lifted (Greek Reporter): "Greece’s Parliament decided on Wednesday January 22, to lift the immunity of the Independent Greek MPVassilis Kapernaros, but not of the deputies Miltiadis Varvitsiotis and Argyris Dinopoulos"

GREECE: Military junta was a 'revolution', New Democracy MP claims (Enet English): "Dimitris Christoyiannis says the 1967-74 military dictatorship cannot be likened to today's terrorists because 'at the time the junta was a revolution' "

GREECE: More Arrests: Greece Makes Progress on Arms Deal Corruption (Spiegel Online): "Greek prosecutors last week arrested two more people suspected of having taken bribes from German armaments firms during the last decade. The detentions are the latest in the country's intensified efforts to go after corrupt, high-ranking officials."

GREECE: Police boost security after terror threats (ekathimerini): "Amid rising fears of a possible terrorist attack on a high-level target, the Greek Police is enforcing security measures akin to those used for the Athens Olympics in 2004, Kathimerini has learned... Greek authorities are believed to have enlisted the help of the FBI and Scotland Yard to boost security." See: Fugitive November 17 gunman vows armed action (Enet English) and 'Fairy tale is over,' brother of escaped convict says (ekathimerini)

GREECE: Riot police in the dock (Enet English): "After two and a half years, 18 policemen go on trial for the orgy of violence unleashed against demonstrators protesting against austerity measures in June 2011"

HUNGARY: Civil orgs appeal to ombudsman over unlimited pre-trial detention (Politics.hu): "The Eotvos Karoly Institute and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee have decided to appeal to the ombudsman over a new legislation under which suspects could be held in pre-trial detention for an unlimited period of time, which they think is against the constitution"

HUNGARY: DK accuses research institute director of Holocaust denial (Politics.hu): "The leftist Democratic Coalition (DK) has filed a complaint against the director of a newly founded historical research institute who, DK said, had publicly denied a crime committed by the national socialist regime, the party told MTI on Monday"

ICELAND: Interior Minister Responds To State Prosecutor (Reykjavík Grapevine): "The Ministry of the Interior has responded to a formal request from the State Prosecutor's office for any and all documents related to a leaked memo on an asylum seeker"

ICELAND: NATO Air Force Meeting Next Week (Reykjavík Grapevine): "Military aircraft and personnel from numerous NATO countries will be visiting Iceland as a part of "Iceland Air Meet 2014""

ICELAND: Vodafone Supplied Police With Illegal Data (Reykjavík Grapevine): "Telecom company Vodafone supplied police with data from 2007 despite it being illegal for Vodafone to retain information on calls for longer than six months, reports RÚV"

ICELAND-UK: Protester Convictions Overturned (Reykjavík Grapevine): "29 environmental activists had their convictions overturned when it came to light that Mark Kennedy - a British cop who also infiltrated Kárahnjúkar dam protests in Iceland - was amongst those involved"

IRELAND: Gardaí eject protesters during D’Arcy court hearing (The Irish Times): "Four supporters of anti-war activist Margaretta D’Arcy (79) were forcibly removed by gardaí from court in Ennis yesterday after disrupting proceedings by holding up banners and chanting anti-war slogans." See also: Mrs Higgins' jail visit revealed by anti-war group (Irish Independent)

IRELAND: Government urged to release secret adoption files (The Irish Times): "The Irish Government has been called on to release over 60,000 secret adoption files to assist adult children, now living abroad, in tracing their natural families"

IRELAND: Judge calls for Civil Defence after ‘social order breakdown’ (The Irish Times): "A judge has suggested the Civil Defence be drafted in to help police the Dublin suburb of Tallaght following a number of violent deaths in the area"

ITALY: Defense min. praises Italian efforts to save migrants at sea (ANSA): "Italian Defense Minister Mario Mauro said Wednesday that a major search-and-rescue operation for migrants at sea was proving a success." See also: Navy helicopter spots 200 migrants off Italian coast (ANSA)

ITALY: Lampedusa tragedy: Another survivor says Italy and Malta bickered on rescue (Malta Independent): "Italy and Malta bickered over the 11 October rescue operation, each insisting that the other was responsible to save 400 migrants from a sinking boat, another survivor of the tragedy has alleged"

Kosovo Slaps Visas on Bosnian Visitors (Balkan Insight)

MALTA: EU commission prepares legal challenge on Malta passport sales (Malta Independent): "The European Commission is laying the groundwork for a legal challenge to Malta’s passport sale scheme despite red lines on national sovereignty, euobserver.com reports today." See also: EU passport and visa-free travelto the US – how the IIP is being sold

MALTA: Journalists should be allowed the freedom to do their jobs - IGM (Malta Independent): "Journalists, photographers and camerapersons should be allowed the freedom to do their jobs, especially when this is in a public place, they are not breaking any regulations and when the subject is of news value, which they feel is of national interest, the Institute of Maltese Journalists said in a statement"

MONTENEGRO: EU wants action after attacks on Montenegro journalists (SETimes.com): "If perpetrators in the new wave of attacks on journalists in Montenegro remain unpunished, the situation could endanger the country's EU accession negotiations, Union representatives said." See also: Montenegrin Journalists Stage Silent Protest (Balkan Insight) and Bulgaria to Support Montenegro's Bid to Join EU, NATO (Novinite)

NETHERLANDS: Welfare payments to be cut for claimants who fail to learn Dutch (The Amsterdam Herald): "The cabinet is introducing a law that would require all non-Dutch speakers to learn the language and pass an exam if they want to receive the basic level of state support (bijstandsuitkering)." See also: Councils say tough new rules for claiming welfare need revising (Dutch News): "Council executives in Amsterdam, Utrecht, Leiden and Hengelo have serious doubts about the government’s plans to tighten up the conditions for claiming welfare benefits, the NRC says on Wednesday"

NETHERLANDS: Hundreds of Amsterdam Jews could be compensated after wartime ghetto boundaries redrawn (The Amsterdam Herald): "More than 1000 people who were forced to live in Amsterdam’s ghettoes during the war could receive compensation in the wake of a boundary review"

NETHERLANDS: Police stop anti-surveillance protesters taking coffin on board train (The Amsterdam Herald): "A group of masked protesters who tried to take a coffin on board a train to highlight the issue of digital privacy were thwarted after railway staff read about their plans on social media"

NETHERLANDS: Shops are secretly monitoring consumers via their mobile phones (Dutch News): "At least three Dutch retail chains are secretly monitoring the behaviour of consumers by using wifi to track them via their mobile phones as they move about the shops." See also: UK: Public should be informed whenever phone-tracking technology is used, says expert (Out-Law.com)

NORWAY: Drop in the export of arms (The Norway Post): "The value of Norwegian exports of military equipment dropped by over NOK 400 million in 2013, to a total of about NOK 2.1 billion, Statistics Norway (SSB) reports. Weapon exports have fallen every year since their peak in 2008"

NORWAY: Fears police state if government agencies get more control (The Norway Post): "The Norwegian Association of Lawyers suggests that some government agencies should be able to do their own police investigations. "This is one step closer to a police state," says Hårek Elvenes (Conservative Party)"

NORWAY: Record-number of immigrants were deported in 2013 (The Norway Post): "5935 people who did not have legal residence status in Norway were deported in 2013, an increase of 21 percent from the previous year, and an all-time record, Police inform. More than a third of the people who were deported last year, 2224 persons, had been convicted of criminal acts in Norway"

NORWAY: Security expert fears terror attack on Norway (The Norway Post): "Norway may be affected by another terror attack soon, warns former security chief at Statoil, Bernard Duncan Lyng. Five months prior to the terrorist attacks in Norway on July 22, Lyng had warned of a greater risk of terror acts in Norway or against Norwegian interests abroad. Now he has issued a second warning."

Poland mulls face-covering ban (The News): "A draft amendment to the law on public assembly will be addressed by parliament, Wednesday, banning hoods and other face coverings after violence at recent public events in Poland"

POLAND: Anti-Islamic group patrols clubs to 'protect' Polish women (The News): "The far-right Polish Defence League (PLO) has launched "patriotic patrols" in Poland's bars and nightclubs in a bid, it says, to protect Polish women from being chatted up by Muslims"

POLAND: Polish football fans on anti-semitic list of shame (The News): "A game played by fans of first division Polish football club LKS Lodz has been cited in a top ten anti-semitic list of shame published by the US-based Simon Wiesenthal Center"

POLAND: Wounded Polish soldier sues Defence Ministry (The News): "A Polish soldier wounded in Afghanistan in 2010 and left with permanent injuries is suing the Defence Ministry for the costs of his rehabilitation." See also: UK: Soldiers' families can sue Ministry of Defence, supreme court rules (The Guardian)

ROMANIA: Romanian President addresses concerns of anti-semitism and Holocaust denial during his Israel visit (Romania Insider)

SERBIA: 'Soft' Censorship Undermining Serbian Media, Report (Balkan Insight): "Soft censorship in Serbia - facilitated by political and partisan allocation of ill-regulated and non-transparent state media assistance and advertising is having a dire effect on media freedom, undermining the development of a sustainable media market"

SLOVENIA: Hungary’s Gripens to join control of Slovenian airspace (Politics.hu): "Hungary’s Gripen fighters will join air control operations in Slovenia in line with an agreement signed by Hungarian Defence Minister Csaba Hende and his Slovenian counterpart, Roman Jakic, at the air base of Kecskemet, C Hungary, on Friday." See also: Hungarian Fighters Policing Slovenian Airspace (The Slovenia Times)

SPAIN: “Everyone steals from you on the way” (El País): "Each year thousands of Africans try to cross the Sahara to reach Europe - En route, many die and many just get trapped, unable to go on and unable to get back home"

SWEDEN: Cop faces manslaughter charges after shootout (The Local): "A police officer in western Sweden faced manslaughter charges on Wednesday after he shot and killed a knife-wielding 24-year-old last summer."

SWEDEN: Government to seal lid on secret donations (The Local): "The Swedish government wants to protect the identities of political party donors, a proposal that left the opposition crying foul on Monday. Sweden remains one of few EU countries without total party-funding transparency."

SWEDEN: New review of threats to Sweden's mosques (The Local): "In the wake of several high-profile incidents, Muslim groups in Sweden plan to carry out a comprehensive survey of threats facing the country's mosques."

UK: Amendment 'stigmatising' social tenants passes in House of Lords (Inside Housing): "A heavy defeat for the government in the House of Lords last night paved the way for an amendment which ‘stigmatises’ social tenants." See also: Reconsider eviction powers against riot offenders, says committee and Human Rights Joint Committee: Eviction for riot-related anti-social behaviour (Part 5)

UK: Charges of Obstructing Nuclear Disaster Dropped on Five Women Pensioners (Trident Ploughshares): "Charges were dropped to against five women, members of the Muriel Lester’s Trident Ploughshares affinity group, who were appearing on on trial at Reading Magistrates Court for non-violently blocking the private road to the Atomic Weapons Establishment Burghfield on Monday 2nd September 2013."

UK: Exclusive: Devastating dossier on 'abuse' by UK forces in Iraq goes to International Criminal Court (The Independent): "A devastating 250-page dossier, detailing allegations of beatings, electrocution, mock executions and sexual assault, has been presented to the International Criminal Court, and could result in some of Britain's leading defence figures facing prosecution for "systematic" war crimes." See: European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights and Public Interest Lawyers: Communication to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court: The Responsibility of Officials of the United Kingdom for War Crimes Involving Systematic Detainee Abuse in Iraq from 2003-2008 (pdf)

UK: Home Secretary urged to ban Hungarian nationalist visit (ITV News): "The Home Secretary has been urged to stop an extreme Hungarian nationalist party from hosting a gathering in London this weekend"

UK: Kurdish protesters claim anti-terror police confiscated their cash (The Guardian): "Kurdish protesters detained overnight at Dover on their way to a demonstration in Paris have claimed that their wallets were all but emptied by Metropolitan police officers under controversial anti-terror laws"

UK: Mark Duggan marksman cleared to return to armed police duties (The Guardian): "The police marksman who killed Mark Duggan will be allowed to have his gun back and return to armed duties. The officer was found to have lawfully killed Duggan by an inquest jury last week though the jury decided his account of the shooting, in which he said Duggan had had a gun in his hand, was wrong." See also: Police aware shooting of Mark Duggan risked triggering wider disorder (The Guardian)

UK: MP would not 'share platform with anarchist groups' (BBC News): "Tottenham MP David Lammy has said he refused to attend a vigil for Mark Duggan because he did not want to share a platform with "anarchist groups""

UK: No Housing Benefit for new EEA migrants from April (Electronic Immigration Network): "The government has announced today that new migrant jobseekers from the European Economic Area (EEA) will no longer be able to get Housing Benefit from April 2014."

UK: Pictures and video of tuition fees protest force Scotland Yard to pay out twice over 'inconsistent' claims (Evening Standard): "Police allegations against two students at a tuition fees demo were thrown out after YouTube film and photographs showed “shocking” inconsistencies in Met officers’ accounts of the incidents"

UK: Police crime figures lose official status over claims of fiddling (The Guardian): "The gold-standard "national statistics" status has been withdrawn from police recorded crime figures following repeated allegations that some of the quarterly published figures have been subject to "a degree of fiddling"." See also: Statistics watchdog deems police crime data ‘unreliable’ (Channel 4 News)

UK: Police officers lose libel case over footage of them smashing up Mini during arrest (Evening Standard): "Six police officers have lost a libel claim over a broadcast which showed them smashing up a car with a baseball bat during an arrest"

UK: Undercover whistleblower Peter Francis gives evidence to official inquiry (The Guardian): "This week the whistleblower who revealed how undercover police officers infiltrated the campaign to bring the killers of Stephen Lawrence to justice gave evidence to an official inquiry"

UK: Vodafone takes a stand on privacy with plan to disclose wiretapping demands (The Guardian): "Vodafone is to take a stand on privacy by asking British ministers, and the governments of each of the 25 countries in which it operates, for the right to disclose the number of demands it receives for wiretapping and customer data"

UK-USA: Defence cuts 'threaten UK military partnership with US' (The Guardian): "A smaller armed forces would mean the UK could no longer be a full-spectrum military partner to the US, America's former defence secretary has warned suggesting the traditional military basis of the UK-US special relationship is under threat"

UKRAINE: Standoff remains today after Jan. 22 clashes kill five protesters, injure more than 300 (Kyiv Post): "A tense standoff remained overnight on Jan. 23, a day after violent clashes between police and anti-government demonstrators left five protesters dead, including four from gunshot wounds, medical workers said. Despite official denials, the victims were killed by advancing police officers, EuroMaidan activists, eyewitnesses and opposition politicians allege." See also: Ukraine protesters declare eight-hour truce as talks with government continue (The Guardian) and Ukraine protests: Demonstrators in Kiev receive disturbing mass text (The Independent)

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