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April 28, 2006

POLAND: VIOLENT ATTACK ON KRAKOW GAY MARCH

Poland_map_5 In the latest indicator of the growing climate of homophobia in Poland since the election of the notoriously anti-gay President Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother Jaroslaw, who controls parliament (photo right), aKaczynski_twins_4 Gay Tolerance March in the city of Krakow was attacked today by rival demonstrators from the All Poland Youth Group, the ultra-homophobic youth arm of the League of Polish Families, the reactioonary, anti-Semitic, Catholic extremist political party. The All Poland Youth group, its ranks composed in part of skin-head thugs, is noted for its violent attacks on gay events.

The BBC reported within the last hour that,  "Several arrests were made after members of the far-right All Poland Youth Group began throwing stones and eggs at the participants of the tolerance march. More than 1,000 people, including an ex-deputy PM, took part in the march to promote tolerance to gays and lesbians."

"At the same time, activists from the nationalist All Poland Youth were holding what they called a 'tradition' march. Some held banners daubed with the words, 'Stop deviation'. Others chanted, 'Lesbians and gays, all of Poland is laughing at you.' The tolerance demonstration changed its route to avoid a clash, but some members of the tradition march ran after it, hurling stones and eggs," the BBC added

For background on the anti-gay climate in Poland under its new ultraconservative and homophobic regime, see these previous DIRELAND articles: March 31, 2006: Warsaw: Police Attack Le Madame, Expel Occupants; March 29, 2006: The Siege of Le Madame--A Polish Stonewall? December 1, 2005: Polish Gays Fighting Back: Demonstrations in 8 Cities; November 21, 2005: Poland: A First-Hand Account of an Official Gay-Bashing; October 28, 2005: "Is Poland's New President Another Putin, or Another Peron?"; October 25, 2005 "Poland Could Lose E.U. Rights Over New Leadership's Homophobia"; October 24, 2005 "Poland Elects a Hard-Right, Homophobic President"

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April 26, 2006

IRAN HACKS WEB SITES TO BURY ANTI-GAY POGROM (Updated)

The following is an expanded version of an article I wrote for this week's Gay City News -- New York's largest gay weekly -- which hits the newsstands tomorrow:

Websites of gay Iranian organizations and of groups that support and advocate for gay Iranians were sabotaged and driven off-line last week by hackers for the Tehran regime, and are still off-line. The goal of the hack attack was to bury news of, and stifle protest about, the Islamic Republic of Iran's massive anti-gay pogrom. Among those sites shut down is the multilingual website of the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization -- PGLO, Iran’s largest gay group, with 29,000 Pglo_logo_7 people on its e-mail list and secretariats in four countries. The PGLO website has sections in Persian, English, French, and German, and contains a raft of documentation of the horrors the Islamic Republic of Iran is perpetrating against its gay citizens, including photos of its torture victims and their wounds. The website also includes access to a monthly gay magazine in Persian, Cheragh, and Persian-language streaming radio web-casts aimed at Iranian gays.

The PGLO’s website has been replaced by a page from a non-political commercial gay shopping service; in the upper-right hand corner of the home page displayed instead of the PGLO’s, one reads: “This domain is parked, pending renewal, or has expired.” The hack attack has completely disrupted the PGLO’s communications, since the group’s officers and key activists all have e-mail addresses that functionArsham_parsi_1  through their website, and depend on the Internet to communicate with gay Iranians inside and outside Iran. Reached by telephone in Turkey, PGLO human rights secretary Arsham Parsi (right) said they were working to repair the site and hope to be back online soon.

Also sabotaged at the beginning of last week and driven off-line was the website of the militant British gay rights group OutRage, which has been prominent in mobilizing global protest against Iran’s reign of terror against gay people -- and which had just announced that it was about to release an important new report on Iran’s lethal anti-gay pogrom. This carefully documented and footnoted report, written for OutRage by Simon Forbes after a nine-month investigation, is based on public and press reports, official documents, interviews, and translations from the Persian; the reporting of Gay City News on the repression of gays in Iran is cited at several points in the report.

Among the report’s conclusions:

“The Iranian dictatorship now realises it is not good PR to execute people for merely being gay. That risks an international outcry. To pre-empt condemnation, the Iranians now craftily pin on same-sex lovers additional charges involving pedophilia, violence and rape. It is a clever tactic that has hook-winked even some human rights groups…The regime clearly does not want its people to view same-sex relations as something Iran_new_photo_mahmoud_ayaz a respectable person might engage in with consent. That could present Lavaat [the Persian word for sodomy] as something desirable and positive, and this might encourage tolerance – and even curiosity and experimentation. The clerical regime wants to depict sodomy in the worst possible light to deter and discourage its practice. To do this, it needs to present gay and lesbian people as repellent, dangerous individuals. In these circumstances, the mere charge of Lavaat is not sufficient. To prompt revulsion and support for executions, homosexuality needs to be associated in the public mind with violence and child abuse….” (Above, a photo -- previously unpublished in the U.S. -- of Mahmoud and Ayaz, the two teenage lovers hanged last July in the public square of Mashad, Iran, for their homosexuality)

To get around the hack attack, the first part of the OutRage report on Iran has been posted on the Peter_tatchell_1 personal website of OutRage founder Peter Tatchell (left), and you can read it by clicking here.Tatchell said that this “is the first document in a series of documents that will be published by OutRage! in the coming weeks and months. These documents expose the state-sanctioned torture and murder of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people by the Iranian clerical regime. Mr. Forbes's pioneering investigation is based on information from credible, verified sources inside Iran. It provides clear evidence of homophobic honor killings, arrests, torture and executions.”

Websites of other exile Iranian groups critical of the Tehran regime’s human rights record have also been sabotaged, including Iran Focus and the website of the U.K.’s Ahwazi Friendship Society (which advocates for the 4.5 Ahwazi Arabs who live in a formerly autonomous region in Southwest Iran.)

Iran has a long history of Internet censorship, including the blocking, filtering, and sabotage of websites. Decisions on which websites should be targeted for government action are made by a secret five-member committee in Iran’s Ministry of Communication. This committee is dominated by officers from the Ministry of Intelligence and by members from the Organization for Islamic Culture and Ayatollah_ali_khomeini_2 Communication, an ultra-conservative religious group which is mostly funded by the office of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Supreme Leader, a constitutionally-established post currently held since 1989 by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (right), successor to the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The Supreme Leader is the highest-ranking political authority in the nation.

John_palfrey According to John Palfrey (left), executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, “Iran has put in place one of the world's most extensive and sophisticated Internet censorship regimes. Along with China, Iran has committed to adapting its filtering practices with changes in Internet technology, which suggests that the cat and mouse game between those who would speak freely and those who would stop them is bound to continue. Bloggers who write in Persian in Iran have a much harder job today in trying to reach their audience than bloggers in most other parts of the world."

Last June, the Harvard University-based OpenNet Initiative (ONI) released "Internet Filtering in Iran," a report that documents the degree and extent to which the Iranian government controls the information environment in which its citizens live, including websites, blogs, email, and online discussion forums. This report indicated that websites, blogs, and e-mails with gay and lesbian content accounted for a major part of government censorship and interference.

According to Reporters Without Borders, the Paris-based advocacy organization for freedom of the press, “Privately-owned ISPs [Internet Service Providers] began to develop timidly in Iran in 1994, in the shadow of the big state-run ISP, Data Communication Company of Iran (DCI), which is directly controlled by the Intelligence Ministry. They have to be approved by both this ministry and the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry and must have filters for websites and personal e-mail. All users are required to promise in writing not to access ‘non-Islamic’ sites,” under threat of imprisonment. That ukase includes interdiction of access to websites for or about lesbians and gays. Reporters Without Borders has also named Supreme Leader Ali Khameini as one of the globe’s 16 “Predators of Press Freedom,” defined as those who “have the power to censor, imprison, kidnap, torture and, in the worst cases, murder journalists.”

UPDATE WEDNESDAY NIGHT 11:00 PM EST-- PGLO WEBSITE BACK ON-LINE I have just received word that the PGLO has succeeded in getting its website back on-line, but at a new Internet address, at http://www.pglo.net/ ; at this hour, however, the OutRage website is still down.

For background on the new wave of anti-gay repression in Iran, see my previous articles: July 21, 2005 -- Iran Executes Two Gay Teenagers (Updated); August 11 -- Iran Sources Question Rape Charges in Teen Executions; August 12 -- Two New Gay Executions Scheduled in Iran, Says Iranian Exile Group; August 17 -- Iran's Deadly Anti-Gay Crackdown: With Two More Executions Scheduled, the Pace of Repression Steps Up.August 25 -- Iran's Anti-Gay Purge Grows: Reports of New Executions. September 8 -- Iran and the Death of Gay Activism. September 20 -- "They'll Kill Me" -- A Gay Iranian Torture Victim Speaks of His Ordeal ; September 29 -- Iranian Gays Urgently Appeal for Help ; October 6 -- Canada Introduces UN Resolution Condemning Iran's Human Rights Record; November 24, "Save Us"-- A Gay Iranian Who Married His Partner Begs for Help from the West ; January 12, 2006 -- "Kidnapped: Another Gay Iranian Torture Victim Speaks".....January 27, 2006 -- "A Call to Solidarity: U.S. Gay Groups Must End Their Isolationism; February 8, 2006 -- "An Iranian Trans Torture Victim Speaks from Inside Iran."  February 9, Stop the Deportation of Saba Rawi; March 3, "Dutch to End Freeze on Deportation of Gay Iranians"; March 4, "Commotion in Dutch Parliament Over Deportation of Gay Iranians."; March 16, "England: Another Gay Iranian Faces Deportation"; April 20, "Dutch Deportations of Gay Iranians on Hold"; Also, don't miss Rob Anderson's excellent article in the November 10, 2005 New Republic, "How America's Gay Rights Establishment is Failing Gay Iranians."

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April 24, 2006

POLAND: GAY TOLERANCE MARCH IN CRACOW UNDER THREAT OF VIOLENT ATTACK

Poland_map_4 The third annual Festival of Culture for Tolerance in Cracow, Poland, and its Gay Pride March, scheduled for April 28, will take place in a climate of fear and apprehension of physical attacks, the French gay monthly Tetu reports today in its on-line daily news bulletin. "Two years ago," Tetu reports, "the festival was the target of multiple administrative attacks by city authorities and decried by the media -- and it's Gay Pride March was violently attacked by an organized crowd of homophobic thugs. Last year, the Gay Pride March was canceled because of the national day of morning decreed by the government after the death of Pope John Paul II."

This year, Tetu continues, "On April 20 the organizers had to cancel (temporarily, they Rainbow_flag_2_2 hope" a conference on sexual minorities, because the location where the conference was to have been held -- the Graduate School of Management and Finance, which had previously been open to LGBT events -- asked the festival organizers to cancel the conference there. So, just a week before the Tolerance Festival opens, the organizers are desperately looking for a venue in which to hold the conference. which is not easy in a city engulfed by a strong climate of homophobia and conservatism."

"Moreover, the organizers of the Tolerance Festival and the Gay Pride March have just learned that the city of Cracow has officially authorized a March for Tradition and Culture, organized by the Polish League of Families, an ultra-right-wing political party one of whose main ideological crusades is violent homophobia, and their March is to terminate in the central square of historic Cracow -- the same place where the Gay Pride March for Tolerance is to take place. It is legitimate to believe that when these two demonstrations meet, they could terminate in violence. Two years ago, the attacks against the Gay Pride March were led by thugs from the League of Families. All this is happening in a tense climate--in these last days, the walls of the city have covered with posters reading 'Stop Homosexuality!' The posters were produced  by an association close to the League of Families." You can read a full program and schedule for the Festival, in English, by clicking here.

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April 21, 2006

FRANCE: ONE-THIRD IDENTIFY WITH NEO-FASCIST RIGHT IN NEW POLL

Le_pen_finger_raised Four years after neo-fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen created a political earthquake in France when he beat the French Socialists' candidate for place in the presidential run-off, a  disturbing new poll released today in France shows that a third of the French -- 34% ---say the extreme right is close to their pre-occupations (as opposed to 66% disagree). The poll, taken by the leading polling institute IFOP and published today in the Paris daily Metro, also shows that 35% believe that the extreme-right "enriches" political debate. And 48% of the French say neo-fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen (above left), leader of the National Front, best incarnates the extreme right (followed at 24% by ultramontane Catholic Viscount De_villiers_arrogant Phillipe de Villiers (left), the aristocratic leader of the ultra-right, xenophobic,Marine_le_pen_2  homophobic, and extreme nationalist MPF (Movement for France). Le Pen's daughter and designated successor, Marine Le Pen (right), the National Front's vice president, gets 19%). Combine the scores of Le Pen and his daughter, and 67% of the French who identify with the extreme right say their sympathy goes to the neo-fascist National Front.

Immigration tops the preoccupations of those who identify with the neo-fascist extreme right  with 43%, followed by security (meaning crime in France) at 31%, unemployment at 14%, and education at 7%. With immigration and crime together totaling 74%, it's a clear indication that this poll reflects the heightened climate of racism in France since last fall's ghetto riots, which produced two weeks of car-burnings and arson, and confrontations by ghetto youths with police all across France. Indeed, I predicted a rise in racism would manifest itself in the riots' wake (for background, see my analysis of the ghetto riots from last November 6, "Why is France Burning?" and my followup, "France After the Riots: 'Autism,' Repression--and the Socialists' Impotence."The resurgence of that violence on the margins of the two successful nation-wide general strikes against a reactionary youth labor contract last month -- even though that much-televised disorder was mostly generated by only a few hundred ghetto youths out of millions of peaceful demonstrators -- also contributed to the increase in security hysteria and anti-immigrant sentiments this new poll records. (See my analysis of these general strikes, "France: Why the Students Won." )

Sarko_gesturing_speech_2 This poll is also good news for the likely conservative nominee for president in 2007, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy (left). The hard-line law-and-order Sarkozy -- who called the ghetto rioters "scum" and worse, and has been pursuing a tough policy of deporting immigrants and making it harder for them to get French citizenship -- is well-positioned to pick up the Le Pen sympathizers in the presidential run-off two years hence against the Socialist-led coalition's candidate. Racism in France, this new poll tells us, is clearly on the increase.

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April 17, 2006

AT LAST! BBC FIRST MAJOR NEWS ORG TO RUN STORY ON ORGANIZED KILLING OF GAY IRAQIS

The BBC today became the first major news organization in the world to run a Iraq_map_1 story on the organized murders of gay Iraqis -- a story I first broke in the March 23 issue of Gay City News (see my article, "Shia Death Squads Target Iraqi Gays" ) The BBC's story, by Michael McDonough (with additional reporting in Arabic by Muhayman Jamil), ran on its website at 12:35:57 GMT this morning. Here is the complete text of the BBC's story:

Gays in Iraq fear for their lives

By Michael McDonough
BBC News website

"I don't want to be gay anymore. When I go out to buy bread, I'm afraid. When the doorbell rings, I think that they have come for me." That is the fear that haunts Hussein, and other gay men in Iraq. They say that since the US-led invasion, gays are being killed because of their sexual orientation.

Ayatollah_sistani_good They blame the increase in violence on the growing influence of religious figures and militia groups in Iraq since Saddam Hussein was ousted. Islam considers homosexuality sinful. A website published in the name of Ayatollah Sistani (left), Iraq's most revered Shia cleric, says gays should be put to death. "Those who commit sodomy must be killed in the harshest way," says a section of the website dealing with questions of morality. The statement appears on the Arabic section of the website, which is published in the Iranian city of Qom, but not in the English section.

The BBC asked Mr Sistani's representative, Seyed Kashmiri, to explain the ruling. "Homosexuals and lesbians are not killed for practising their inclinations for the first time," Mr Kashmiri said in a response sent via email. "There are certain conditions drawn out by jurists before this punishment can be implemented, which is perhaps similar to the punishment meted out by other heavenly religions." Mr Kashmiri added: "Some rulings that are drawn out by jurists are done so on a theoretical basis. Not everything that is said is implemented."

Violent attacks

Killings and kidnappings are widespread in Iraq, with much of the bloodshed being Hussein_bbc_gay_iraqi linked to sectarian tensions and the anti-US insurgency. But homosexual Iraqis who have spoken to the BBC say they are also being targeted because of their sexual preferences. Hussein (right, photo from BBC website) is 32 and lives in Baghdad with his brother, sister-in-law and nieces.

He says his effeminate appearance and demeanour make him stand out and attract hostility. "My brother's friends told him: 'In the current chaos you could get away with killing your brother without retribution and get rid of this shame,'" Hussein said, after agreeing to speak to the BBC only if his real name was not used. A transsexual friend of his, who had changed names from Haydar to Dina, was killed on her way to a party in Baghdad about six months ago, Hussein said.

Gym terror

Ahmed is a 31-year-old interior decorator who used to live in Baghdad with his boyfriend, Mazin. Ahmed fled to Jordan nine months ago after Mazin was murdered outside a gym.

I fled from Iraq because of the threat to my life
Ahmed

After his partner was shot dead, Ahmed hid in the gym toilets then slipped away and later flew to Amman, the Jordanian capital. He says it was well known that they were a couple and Mazin was targeted because of his sexuality. "I fled from Iraq because of the threat to my life, because I was a gay man," he told the BBC.

Ahmed also said that, before the gym shooting, he and a gay friend had survived a grenade attack and he still had fragments of shrapnel in his face. The friend was killed a week later by gunmen who raided his house, he added.

Powerful militia

Iraq's deputy interior minister Maj Gen Hussein Kamal told the BBC that he was unaware of any minority groups being specifically targeted for kidnappings and killings. He also said he was unaware of the statement on Ayatollah Sistani's website calling for gays to be killed. But he added: "We do not condone vigilante action. We encourage the victims to inform the authorities if they are subjected to any attacks." However, Hussein says gay people are afraid of the police.

The Interior Ministry is run by members of Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) which is one of Iraq's country's leading Shia parties. SCIRI has its own militia, the Badr Brigades, and there are widespread concerns that large parts of Iraq's police force are under the control of such groups. Hussein blames the Badr Brigades and other Shia militia for many of the attacks on gays.

Saddam was a tyrant, but at least we had more freedom then
Hussein

Human rights group Amnesty International has focused most of its work in Iraq on the high levels of violence linked to the insurgency. The organisation said it had no information on reports of anti-gay activities in the country. "It is not an area that we have been actively looking at, but that is not to say that we will not look into the issue at some point," said a spokesman at the group's London headquarters.

But Hussein, Ahmed and gay activists outside Iraq say there is clear evidence that the situation has deteriorated dramatically for Iraqi homosexuals. "Saddam was a tyrant, but at least we had more freedom then," said Hussein. "Nowadays, gay men are just killed for no reason." You can read this story on the BBC website by clicking here.

While I'm delighted the BBC has finally broken the blackout on this story that has so far reigned in the major media, its report left out many crucial aspects, which were covered in my original report. The BBC failed to note the relationshihp between the killings of Iraqi gays and the lethal anti-gay pogrom in Iran -- it does not mention that Ayatollah al-Sistani is himself an Iranian, that SCIRI (Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq) is backed by Iran -- its headquarters were in Tehran for more than 20 years during the Saddam Hussein dictatorship -- and that the Badr Corps is financed by Iran. This is common knowlege in Iraq -- indeed, in an important February 17 interview with Le Monde that was ignored by the English-language press, the fact that the salaries of the soldiers of the Badr Corps -- whose death squads are carrying out the "sexual cleansing" campaign of murder of gay Iraqis -- are paid by Iran, was confirmed by Ali Debbagh, a counselor to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a member of the Iraqi parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, and a university professor specializing in religious political parties. And while the BBC report did mention that "there are widespread concerns that large parts of Iraq's police force are under the control of such groups," it omitted the fact that Badr Corps members in Baghdad and elsewhere wear the uniforms of the official police under the control of the Interior Ministry.

Still, the BBC is miles ahead of the U.S. press, which up to now has ignored this important story. I previously detailed on DIRELAND a report by a United Nations agency, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), confirming that Iraqi gays are being kidnapped and murdered in an organized way. But when will American media wake up and begin reporting on the Gcn_cover_iraq_1 importation of Iran's anti-gay pogrom into Iraq, and the large numbers of Iraqi gays being systematically killed by the Iran-paid Badr Corps -- right under the noses of the U.S. occupier, whose authorities remain indifferent when begged for help by gay Iraqis, as I previously reported? Last week's issue of the famous French investigative-satirical weekly Le Canard Enchainé also ran an article by David Fontaine which reprised and credited my original GCN report on the anti-gay Iraqi death squads. To read my original March 23 article in Gay City News on this story, "Shia Death Squads Target Iraqi Gays," click here. (Left, the March 23 cover of GCN with my story on the anti-gay Iraqi death squads)

For background on the new wave of anti-gay repression in Iran that the Ahmadinejad regime has now exported to Iraq, see my previous articles: July 21, 2005 -- Iran Executes Two Gay Teenagers (Updated); August 11 -- Iran Sources Question Rape Charges in Teen Executions; August 12 -- Two New Gay Executions Scheduled in Iran, Says Iranian Exile Group; August 17 -- Iran's Deadly Anti-Gay Crackdown: With Two More Executions Scheduled, the Pace of Repression Steps Up.August 25 -- Iran's Anti-Gay Purge Grows: Reports of New Executions. September 8 -- Iran and the Death of Gay Activism. September 20 -- "They'll Kill Me" -- A Gay Iranian Torture Victim Speaks of His Ordeal ; September 29 -- Iranian Gays Urgently Appeal for Help ; October 6 -- Canada Introduces UN Resolution Condemning Iran's Human Rights Record; November 24, "Save Us"-- A Gay Iranian Who Married His Partner Begs for Help from the West ; January 12, 2006 -- "Kidnapped: Another Gay Iranian Torture Victim Speaks".....January 27, 2006 -- "A Call to Solidarity: U.S. Gay Groups Must End Their Isolationism; February 8, 2006 -- "An Iranian Trans Torture Victim Speaks from Inside Iran."  February 9, Stop the Deportation of Saba Rawi; March 3, "Dutch to End Freeze on Deportation of Gay Iranians"; March 4, "Commotion in Dutch Parliament Over Deportation of Gay Iranians."; March 16, "England: Another Gay Iranian Faces Deportation"; Also, don't miss Rob Anderson's excellent article in the November 10, 2005 New Republic, "How America's Gay Rights Establishment is Failing Gay Iranians."

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April 15, 2006

Letter from Rome: POST-ELECTION DIARY--TROUBLES ON THE LEFT

Italy_map_5 The following report from DIRELAND's Rome correspondent, Judy Harris -- a veteran ex-pat journalist and former Wall Street Journal and TIME magazine staffer in Italy -- arrived yesterday, when I was away from my computer and couldn't post it. But it's still worth reading: 

Finger_pointing_right_1  ROME -- Finger_pointing_left Remember the song? "Two different worlds/we live in two different worlds." Tune in to the politicians, and you know that in this post-election, pre-election springtime of sturm und drang, two different Italys dwell in two different worlds: Pluto and Uranus.

Berlusconiprodi The rancor that characterized the campaign continues. "Oh, just go home," Prodi said rhetorically to Berlusconi. The answer to that: Berlusconi's allegations of fraud at the polls. A mere 20,000 votes seperate Il Cavaliere (as Berlusconi is known) from Prodi. Therefore, said Berlusconi, "The result must change" ("deveLuciano_violante  cambiare"). That "must change" unnerved many. "They are trying to delegitimize the results," former magistrate Luciano Violante (right), a deputy from the Party of the Democratic Left (PDS), protested, "in a climate of intimidation and threats." "Stop demonizing Berlusconi!" exclaimed a spokesman for Forza Italia (Berlusconi's party.)
    Beppe_pisanu Yet there are signs that Berlusconi's own allies are unhappy with him. Beppe Pisanu (left), Minister of the Interior, and Berlusconi apparently quarreled yesterday over the former's not pressing to have a wholesale recount: "whose side are you on?" Berlusconi is reported as saying. The neo-fascist Alleanza Nazionale's Ignazio Russo today said flatly, "I have no knowledge of fraud."
    A few on the left acknowledge that Prodi himself made errorsProdi_smiling_good  that shrank his initial advantage. One was that Il Professore ("the Professor," as Prodi -- right -- is known) had used in-group economic terms that the public did not understand. He also frightened many middle class voters by threatening to apply an inheritance tax. This rankled some, for, as Il Giornale, a right-wing newspaper, reported, Prodi himself had already taken advantage of Berlusconi-promoted legislation
to hand over to his children nearly a million tax-free dollars.

Prodi has now set out to calm the troubled waters, saying today that the general climate has already improved. Not enough, however, for either the Pope or for President Bush to phone congratulations, even though Angela Merkel and a few others (Zapatero, Chirac) have. Among those who have not: the Israelis, fearful that a Prodi government will tilt toward support of the Palestinians. For his part. Prodi went on record that he will follow the policy line on Palestine of the European Union.
         Carlo_ciampi The cat-and-mouse game being played at home is as complex as an18th century minuet. Along with local elections coming up in Rome, there's the question of replacing Italy's octogenerian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi (left), whose seven-year term ends in mid-May. Another crucial deadline looms: a referendum to ratify a Berlusconi-sponsored constitutional revision giving the premier broader powers. Which comes first: a new government? or the referendum? If Berlusconi can force postponing the formation of a new government by recount after recount, and charges of fraud dominate the pre-referendum period, this helps explain Prodi's haste to form a new government.
         On Wednesday, the executive committee of Fausto Bertinotti's Rifondazione Bertinotti_gestures_quizzicallyRifondazione_2006_logo_1  Comunista held a fractious session. Fausto Bertinotti (right) became a major player in the election last weekend when his party's share of the vote shot up to 7.5% for the Senate (but only 5.8% in the Chamber of Oliviero_diliberto_1 Deputies). Compared with the Comunisti Italiani party of Oliviero Diliberto (left) -- a 1998 left-wing split-off from the Comunisti_italiani_1 Rifondazione, it got 2.3% of the  vote this year -- Bertinotti's cashmere Communism seems pretty tame fare for some in his party. At Wednesday¹s executive session, an assembly-line-and-railroad-worker faction sometimes described as Trotskyite threatened to wrench its 11 of Refondazione's 41 winning deputies in parliament out of Rifondazione, should the party back Romano Prodi for premier. Said a faction spokesperson: "This [backing the centrist Prodi]would signal the end of Rifondazione's position at the heart of opposition to the politics of the padroni" (bosses).

In dispatches and radio broadcasts earlier this month, the Rifondazione's left-wing Marco_ferrando Pane e Rose (Bread and Roses) faction, led by Marco Ferrando (right) and Francesco Ricci, had already complained that, whereas "everyone is asking if we are trustworthy for Prodi, we want to know if we can trust him." Bertinotti, they charged, is selling the party out to the Dalema_3 "sirens of capitalism," with the result that young voters preferred the Party of the Democratic Left (PDS), led by Massimo D'Alema (left), the party built on the old PCI (Italian Communist Party) which is the second-largest in the Prodi-led center-left coalition. Rifondazione has become "a party of divisive politics that builds false illusions in the working class," said a Pane e Rose editorial yesterday. Losing eleven deputies in parliament is unikely to block either Bertinotti's move into the power circle or the formation of a Prodi government. Bertinotti, meanwhile, was busy denying that he will accept a Judy_hareris_13 cabinet post. He is also a candidate for the prestigious slot of Chamber of Deputies president.   -- from Judy Harris (right) in Rome

Read Judy Harris's previous exclusive reports for DIRELAND on Italian politics: October 1, 2005, "Italy--The Church Re-Enters Politics." July 22, 2005-- Judges On Strike Against Berlusconi; June 13, 2005 -- Italy's Referendum a Fiasco; June 11, 2005 -- Italy's Referendum: It's Really About Abortion....March 6, 2006 -- Will Berlusconi Lose?; March 9, 2006: Italian Elections: What a Difference a Week Makes; March 12, 2006 -- Italy's Bizarre Election Campaign: Silvio's Spies and Cartoon Fairy Tale Videos; March 14, 2006 -- The Berlusconi-Prodi TV Debate; March 15, 2006 -- After the Debate; March 17, 2006 -- Italy: The Election Campaign's Dark Underbelly; April 10, 2006 -- Berlusconi Defeated? Maybe Yes, Maybe No; April 10, 2006 -- Prodi Claims Victory: Latest Election Returns; April 11, 2006 -- Latest Returns Show Fragile, Uncertain Center-Left Majority; April 12,  2006-- 5 Gays in New Italian Parliament

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April 13, 2006

U.N. AGENCY CONFIRMS GAY IRAQIS TARGETED FOR KIDNAPPING AND MURDER (Updated)

I wrote the following article for this week's issue of Gay City News -- New York's largest gay weekly -- which hit the newsstands today:

A report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) has confirmed that gay Iraqis have been targeted for kidnapping and Gcn_cover_iraq murder because of their sexual orientation, as I earlier reported for Gay City News. (Right, my original March 23 GCN cover story on the Iraqi anti-gay death squads).

This U.N. report, released April 10 by the UNOCHA‘s IRIN news and information service, described the widespread increase in kidnappings for ransom and the subsequent killings of university professors and teachers—350 in the past five months alone—and quoted Iraqi Interior Ministry official Ra’ad Hassan as saying that “roughly 50 kidnappings take place countrywide every day.”

Hassan also told the U.N. office, “Since January, the number of kidnappings has increased unabated, along with attacks and threats against certain communities.”

The U.N. report said that Iraq’s gay community is one of those targeted “for reasons other than ransom money,” and said that one local non-governmental organization reported that “members of Iraq’s small gay community had received more than 70 threats from kidnappers in the past two months, while 12 have been killed.”

The U.N. report quoted Mustafa Salim, spokesman for a local Iraqi gay organization called Rainbow for Life, as saying, “We’re trying to help these people, but it’s getting very difficult, and our organisation has been targeted twice since last month. We know for certain that those killed were targeted because of their sexual preferences.”

Ayatollah_sistani This U.N. report reinforces this reporter’s earlier exposé of the systematic campaign of kidnapping and murder targeting Iraqi gays following the death-to-gays fatwa issued last October by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (left), spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shi’ite Muslims (“Shia Death Squads Target Iraqi Gays,” GCN, March 23-29). That article attributed the sequestrations and killings of Iraqi gays to death squads of the Badr Corps, the Iranian-financed military arm of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the country’s most powerful Shi’ite political group.

While the U.N. report does not mention the Badr Corps—no doubt for political reasons having to do with a desire not to offend Shi’a religious and political authorities—it does confirm that Iraqi gays are under serious and organized attack, as I had previously written in Gay City News.

P.S. In this week's issue of the famous French investigative-satirical weekly Le Canard Enchainé, an article by David Fontaine reprises and credits my original GCN report on the anti-gay Iraqi death squads (unfortunately, the article is not available on Le Canard's very limited website.).....And, in an important February 17 interview with Le Monde that was ignored by the English-language press, the fact that the salaries of the soldiers of the Badr Corps -- whose death squads are carrying out the "sexual cleansing" campaign of murder of gay Iraqis -- are paid by Iran, was confirmed by Ali Debbagh, a counselor to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a member of the Iraqi parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, and a university professor specializing in religious political parties.

UPDATE: On April 17, the BBC became the first major news organization to run a story on the organized murder of Iraqi gays. You can read the entire BBC story, and my comments on it, by clicking here.

For background on the new wave of anti-gay repression in Iran that the Ahmadinejad regime has now exported to Iraq, see my previous articles: July 21, 2005 -- Iran Executes Two Gay Teenagers (Updated); August 11 -- Iran Sources Question Rape Charges in Teen Executions; August 12 -- Two New Gay Executions Scheduled in Iran, Says Iranian Exile Group; August 17 -- Iran's Deadly Anti-Gay Crackdown: With Two More Executions Scheduled, the Pace of Repression Steps Up.August 25 -- Iran's Anti-Gay Purge Grows: Reports of New Executions. September 8 -- Iran and the Death of Gay Activism. September 20 -- "They'll Kill Me" -- A Gay Iranian Torture Victim Speaks of His Ordeal ; September 29 -- Iranian Gays Urgently Appeal for Help ; October 6 -- Canada Introduces UN Resolution Condemning Iran's Human Rights Record; November 24, "Save Us"-- A Gay Iranian Who Married His Partner Begs for Help from the West ; January 12, 2006 -- "Kidnapped: Another Gay Iranian Torture Victim Speaks".....January 27, 2006 -- "A Call to Solidarity: U.S. Gay Groups Must End Their Isolationism; February 8, 2006 -- "An Iranian Trans Torture Victim Speaks from Inside Iran."  February 9, Stop the Deportation of Saba Rawi; March 3, "Dutch to End Freeze on Deportation of Gay Iranians"; March 4, "Commotion in Dutch Parliament Over Deportation of Gay Iranians."; March 16, "England: Another Gay Iranian Faces Deportation"; Also, don't miss Rob Anderson's excellent article in the November 10, 2005 New Republic, "How America's Gay Rights Establishment is Failing Gay Iranians."

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VILLAGE VOICE FIRES JAMES RIDGEWAY; SYDNEY SCHANBERG QUITS

Voice_logo The firing of Washington columnist James Ridgeway by the new management of the Village Voice, and the resignation of the distinguished Pulitizer Prize winner Sydney Schanberg from the paper, represent a sad moment in the history of the New York weekly. I was a columnist for the Voice for some seven years. Jim Ridgeway was not only a colleague but someone I had considered a comrade in the pursuit of truthSydney_schanberg for many years. Syd Schanberg (right), whom I also have known for years and whose work I have long admired, is the former New York Times reporter and Newsday columnist who is known to the larger public through the movie "The Killing Fields," describing his intrepid reportorial work for the Times in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge takeover and his indefatigable and devoted search for his Cambodian colleague Dith Pran. Syd is one of the most distinguished names in Americn journalism. That these two superb journalists -- Schanberg and Ridgeway -- have now vanished from the Voice is a symbol of what is happening to that paper, and of what will most likely happen to all the other alternative weekly papers in the Voice chain (including the L.A. Weekly, for which I have also long written) under the new ownership and management of Michael Lacey's New Times corporation.

"Democracy Now" this morning had an informative discussion with Ridgeway, Schanberg, and other Voice writers that I urge you to listen to or read. Among other things, Schanberg -- explaining why he left the Voice -- quotes a definition of the new editorial line given by the new owner, Mike Lacey, to an editorial staff meeting: "He said, 'If I want to read regular criticism or bashing of the Bush administration, I'll read the New York Times. I don't want it in this paper.'” You can both read a transcript of, and listen to, the archived "Democracy Now" broadcast on what's happening to the Voice, by clicking here.

The letter of protest below is signed by Village Voice writers and staffers, including some of the most able and valuable people still at the weekly, many of whom I'm proud to call friends. I associate myself entirely with their sentiments:

Ridgeway's track record   

For 30 years, James Ridgeway has, in his person, his politics, and his writing, defined what makes the Voice a special publication. From Three Mile Island to 9-11, Ridgeway has provided some of the nation's most incisive and insightful coverage of government misfeasance and malfeasance. He was one of the first journalists in America to spotlight the threat posed by a resurgent racist and neo-Nazi movement, an issue he hammered away at in the pages of the Voice years before anyone ever heard of Ruby Ridge or Timothy McVeigh. His reports on escalating environmental abuses exposed corporate lawbreakers and bureaucratic indifference. Ridgeway's writings on conflicts from Bosnia to Baghdad to Haiti have always provided the otherwise unreported flip side of the world according to the mainstream media, in short reporting that jibes precisely with the exact mission of the Voice. Over the past few years, Ridgeway expanded onto the Web, filing regular nuggets of breaking news and even posting video reports on the 2004 elections. In light of this distinguished track record, the decision last week by the Voice's new ownership to terminate Ridgeway is shameful. It also sends a terrible message as to the sort of coverage that the new ownership portends. We call on Voice Media executive editor Michael Lacey and chairman and CEO Jim Larkin to reverse his discharge.   

Tom Robbins
J. Hoberman
Lynn Yaeger
Nat Hentoff
Jarrett Murphy
Kristen Lombardi
Ed Park
Chuck Eddy
Robert Christgau
Nina Lalli
Elizabeth Zimmer
Dennis Lim
Tricia Romano
Aina Hunter
Corina Zappia
Jorge Morales
Wayne Barrett
Michael Musto
Jennifer Gonnerman
Darren Reidy   

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April 12, 2006

ITALIAN ELECTIONS: 4 GAYS, 1 BISEXUAL IN PARLIAMENT, FIRST CRACKS IN PRODI'S COALITION (Updated)

Vladimir_luxuria_1 According to the Italian national gay association Arcigay, there will be four gay, lesbian, or transgendered people in the new parliament. Luxuria (left), who headed the Rifondazione Comunista ticket in Rome, becomes the first transgendered deputy in Europe. Already she is a lively presence on Italian TV political talk shows. Franco Gianpaolo_silvestriGrillini from Romano Prodi's Ulivo party, former president of Arcigay, and  lesbian Titti De Simone (Rifondazione Comunista, lower left) were re-elected to the Chamber Titti_de_simone of Deputies. For the first time a gay candidate was elected to the Senate: Gianpaolo Silvestri of the Greens (upper right.) "The increase in the number of gay representatives [from 2 to 4] makes us especially proud of Grillini Franco_grillini (lower right) and Silvestri, who were among the founders of Arcigay," the gay association said.

In addition, the openly bi-sexual president of the Italian Alfonso_pecoraro_scanio_1 Green Party (Verdi), Alfonso Pecoraio Scanio (left), has also been elected to the Chamber of Deputies, the Verdi confirmed to me.

At the same time the first little cracks in Romano Prodi's ideologically divergent center-left coalition have already appeared. Rifondazione_comunista_logo_1 Today's Financial Times reports that, "On Wednesday,,,.12 dissidents in Communist Refoundation threatened to split the party and go into opposition if the party leadership supported a Prodi government. In a statement, the dissidents said a Prodi-led government would be 'anti-worker' and founded on 'a programme of blood and tears' dictated by Italian big business." A note from DIRELAND's Rome correspondent,Bertinotti_4  veteran ex-pat journalist Judy Harris, comments that "The Rifondazione's main consideration just now is to promote the party's leader, Fausto Bertinotti (right) as a legitimate candidate to become president of the Chamber of Deputies. He is acknowledged as a main contender." The Rifondazione has 41 deputies in the new Chamber out of 630 seats.
    She adds, "One nagging question here is why the forward-looking, most advanced and wealthiest geographical area of Italy, the North, swung its vote to Berlusconi. One theory is that Prodi hammered away too hard on inheritance taxes. In his final debate Prodi misquoted some financial figures, and this scared many up North, according to Prof. Giovanni Sartori, political expert and commentator, who spoke today in Rome with a small group of foreign correspondents." And, Judy grumbles tartly, "Prodi is a schmuck, by the way, so there is real -- very real -- trouble ahead."

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April 11, 2006

Italy: LATEST ELECTION RETURNS SHOW FRAGILE AND UNCERCERTAIN CENTER-LEFT MAJORITY

Italy_map_4 A dispatch from Reuters at 10:17 AM EST this morning reports that, "Prodi's alliance won narrowly in the lower house and Sky Italia TV projected that it would have a majority of one or two seats in the upper house Senate thanks to votes of Italians abroad that were still being counted.....In the lower house Chamber of Deputies Prodi's winning margin was around 25,000 votes, a tiny fraction of the 47 million eligible electors. In Italy_election_crowd the Senate, the centre-left was set to have a one or two seat majority, but definitive results were only expected later on Tuesday as the count of the overseas vote was completed....Under Italy's new electoral system, Prodi's coalition was awarded 341 of the lower house's 630 seats despite its margin of victory of under 0.1 percent. Berlusconi's alliance was awarded 277, with 12 overseas seats yet to be allocated.." You can read the complete Reuters report by clicking here. (Photo above right, a crowd of center-left voters in Rome on Monday await a definitive election result.)

Berlusconi_worried_4 The Reuters report noted that "Divided country" and "Split down the Middle" were headlines in Italy's newspapers today describing the closest election in Italy's modern history. Radio France reported a few minutes ago that Berlusconi (left) has still refused to concede, and has canceled several successively scheduled press conferences in the last 24 hours.

The leading Italian daily, La Republicca, has on its website a complete breakdown of the vote by party, which you can read by clicking here. It reveals that the moderate parties in Prodi's center-left Unione coalition did better than the alliance's more radical elements. But Prodii's radical ally, the Rifondazione Comunista, with 41 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, still will have more than enough to bring down the expected Prodi-led government should it choose to do so -- just as it did the last time Prodi was prime minister over programmatic differences.

The election took place under a complicated new electoral law voted six months ago by Berlusconi's parliamentary majority. France2 television reported last night that the man designated to implement the law, Berlusconi's Interior Minister, Claudio Scajola, two weeks ago had let slip in public that the electoral law was a "dirty trick'' designed to sink the center-left opposition. You can find a detailed description of ths law -- which instituted a bastardized form of proportional representation for the first time in 13 years -- by clicking here.

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