Friday, August 22, 2014

Welcome home for Talha Ahsan

FAMILY and friends of Talha Ahsan organised a rally to celebrate his return home to Britain after years of detention in Britain and the United States.
Syed Talha Ahsan is an award winning British poet and translator. He was arrested at his family home in London, on 19th July 2006 in response to a request from the USA under the US-UK Extradition Act 2003.
Talha Ahsan was detained without charge for over six years before his extradition to the United States on 5th October 2012. Ahsan was accused of helping to set up an Islamic fundamentalist website based in Connecticut that raised funds for the Taliban and other Islamic terror groups in Bosnia and Chechnya. The Americans also claimed that Ahsan had provided support to Al Qaida and that he had fought in Afghanistan. Ahsan, who suffers from Asperger's syndrome, denies all charges.
But on 10th December 2013, in the US District Court in New Haven, Connecticut he entered into a plea-bargain with the prosecution and pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to provide and providing material support for militants in Chechnya and Afghanistan. All other charges were dismissed.
 His brother Hamja said: "Talha had little choice but to enter a plea bargain: he was faced with the option of dying in a 'supermax' prison, or entering into a plea bargain, which was the quickest way to come home," he said.
The length of Talha's detention without trial or charge is among the longest in British legal history. He is also the translator of a tenth-century Arabic poem, Above the Dust, by Abu Firas Al-Hamdani, on his captivity in Byzantium.
His extradition case raised controversy due to comparison with the treatment of Gary McKinnon, whose extradition – which was expected to be 10 days after Ahsan's – was stalled after a medical diagnosis of Asperger syndrome and associative risks, similar to a diagnosis given to Ahsan.
This has led to accusations from mainstream UK media, Human Rights NGOs as well as religious groups of a racist double standard within Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May's application of the law.
Talha was declared a free man by a US judge on 16th July and was transferred to US immigration custody where he awaits release and permission to return home.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

London highlights Ming Dynasty exhibition

 London's most well-known cultural institutions gathered together last week to promote the metropolis' autumn cultural season, which will highlight an exhibition about China's Ming Dynasty.
The exhibition -- Ming: 50 years that changed China -- focuses on 1400-1450, a key period in the dynasty's early years and will be held from 18th September  2014 to 5th  January 2015 at the British Museum in London.
Between 1400 and 1450, China was a global superpower run by one family -- the Ming dynasty, which established Beijing as the capital and built the Forbidden City.
During this period, Ming China was thoroughly connected with the outside world. Chinese artists absorbed many fascinating influences and created some of the most beautiful objects and paintings ever made.
The exhibition will feature a range of these spectacular objects - including exquisite porcelain, gold, jewelry, furniture, paintings, sculptures and textiles - from museums across China and the rest of the world. Many of them have only been very recently discovered and have never been seen outside China.
At the launch event of the cultural season, Chinese Ambassador to Britain Liu Xiaoming said the exhibition "is the most valuable way to introduce Chinese culture to the public across the Britain."
"This exhibition will also play a big role and lay a good foundation for the Year of China-UK Cultural Exchange in 2015...I wish the London autumn cultural season a great success and I look forward to many more excellent cultural events in London," Liu said.
Besides the Ming dynasty exhibition, the stellar line-up of shows and exhibitions to take place in the upcoming autumn includes exhibitions of English Romantic landscape painter Joseph Mallord William Turner's works and German painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer's works as well as a Sherlock Holmes exhibition.
The autumn cultural season is expected to attract more than two million visitors.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Anti-fascists protest outside US embassy

Stop funding Israeli terror in Gaza and Ukrainian terror in Donetsk and Lugansk. Protesters outside the US embassy in London demand an end to the targeting of civilians in Ukraine and Gaza.

Commemorating the Roma Porajmos

By New Worker correspondent

ROMA people throughout Europe commemorate the Porajmos – the mass killing of Roma people by the Nazis – on 2nd August and in London this memorial event is traditionally is held at Hyde Park’s Holocaust memorial garden, near the Albert Gate.
Last Saturday a large group of Roma people, along with many Jewish supporters, met there to remember the Roma victims of the Nazi death camps – estimates vary from 250,000 to 1,500,000.
They included Ladislav Balaz, who chairs the European Roma Network and cannot return to his home country, the Czech Republic, Petr Jano, also a Czech Roma, Toma Mladenov from Bulgaria, Valdemar Kalinin, a former Red Army officer and poet from Belarus and Grattan Puxon, who heads the Roma network in Britain.
Also present were David Landau of the Jewish Socialist Group, Ruth Barnett a 79-year-old author and campaigner against discrimination who came to Britain in 1939 with the Kinder transport and Thomas Acton, emeritus Professor of Romani studies at Greenwich University.
They brought the Roma flag – top half blue to represent the sky that Roma travel under, bottom half green to represent the earth and with a big red wagon wheel in the middle – making it look a bit like the flag of India, which is where the Roma people are believed to originate.
The fate of the Roma under the Nazis is often spoken of as the forgotten holocaust and whereas now anti-Semitism is socially unacceptable, Roma people still face widespread irrational prejudice and hostility making their lives difficult and leaving them vulnerable to abuse and attacks.
This is very much the case in the former socialist republics where Roma communities have become victims again of extremist nationalists and fascists and now many go in fear of their lives.
Toma Mladenov is one such refugee – an activist for Roma rights he was imprisoned for his political activities for six months and fled to Britain on his release. He then had to fight the British Home Office to avoid extradition.
Valdemar Kalinin brought along a collection of medals awarded by the Soviet Union to Roma people who had served in the Red Army or in Soviet industry during the Second World War.
They warned of the real dangers of rising racism and Nazism in Eastern Europe and especially Ukraine.
But Roma in Britain also have real problems. Grattan Puxon spoke of a recent meeting with Communities Minister Eric Pickles and reported that our current government is definitely “Roma hostile”.
This is the government that supported Basildon council in evicting travellers from land they had bought and converted from a junkyard into living space because of technicalities over planning permission.
Grattan called for a national strategy for Roma and other Travellers that will allow them places to live together legally and to access the same health, social and educational services as anyone else.
Pickles recently issued a guidance paper: Dealing with illegal and unauthorised encampments – A Summary of Power.  This document brings together an armoury of legislation and legal processes, old and new, which can be used against Travellers.
Pickles makes no attempt to hide his purpose – its opening salvo is “This guide sets out the robust powers councils and landowners now have to clamp down quickly on illegal and unauthorised encampments.”
“This is nothing less than a declaration of war against Travellers and Roma, to batter those who try to carry on, intimidate people from continuing to live a Traveller’s life and to clear Roma encampments,” said Grattan.
“The Government and the media present Travellers as a problem. The real problem is the woeful lack of site provision.  At best no more than 150 pitches out of an officially recognised need of 3,000 individual family yards will be provided this year and next.
“Travellers have been encouraged by successive governments to buy their own land only to find, that having struggled to raise the money, they are refused planning permission to live on their land. Squeezed by the lack of sites on the one hand and Pickles’ ‘robust powers’ on other, where are Travellers supposed to go?  Nowhere. The intention is clear; to destroy Traveller identity and way of life.”
Last year’s Porajmos commemoration was interrupted by a police raid and attempt to arrest Romanian refugee Travellers at the ceremony who had been sleeping in the park because they had nowhere else to go.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Miliband’s weak and belated plea on Gaza

 LABOUR leader Ed Miliband last week condemned David Cameron’s “silence” on the genocidal onslaught by Israel on the people of Gaza, which has been continuing now for a month.
Miliband said that Cameron’s “silence” on the issue was “inexplicable” and called on the Prime Minister to publicly oppose the deaths of “hundreds of innocent Palestinians”, which he said was “wrong and unjustifiable”.
Cameron’s response was to accuse Miliband of “undermining attempts at peace negotiations”. As the carnage raged, Cameron told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he had his "strong support" for Israel's right to take "proportionate action" to defend itself.
Earlier this year Miliband visited Israel and was shown sites where Hamas rockets have landed in the past.
Appearing on LBC radio last weekend, Miliband said: "If I was David Cameron... I would be spending my time on doing everything I can to put pressure on both sides to have that ceasefire that is required.
"I think he is in the wrong place on this, because I agree with him about Hamas – Hamas is a terrible and disgusting organisation – but I think he should have said from the outset that this incursion by Israel into Gaza was not going to solve the problem."
So there is little hope for justice for the Palestinians from either the Tory of Labour leadership.
But clearly the stance of both is being affected by the massive and rising level of protests throughout the country and the world at the continuing massacre.
Last Friday 1st August saw another massive demonstration outside London’s Israeli embassy and on Saturday 2nd August pro-Palestinian demonstrators occupied the BBC in Bristol for its biased reporting of the ongoing massacre.
Campaigners occupied the lawn outside BBC Bristol over its Gaza reporting.
"Seems likely to be the only time an occupation is commented on,” said comedian Mark Thomas.
“If BBC coverage of Israel’s systematic destruction of lives wasn’t sufficient to make people hot under the collar, the corporation’s justification of its role should do so,” said a spokesperson.
“Our role is to explain what is happening and why and we endeavour to reflect a range of voices amid deeply held views.
“If that’s what it’s supposed to do, the BBC is failing its own criteria. At no time do its correspondents explain that the Palestinians are a people under military occupation and that Israel is pursuing a relentless colonisation of the West Bank, which, under the 1993 Oslo accords, is supposed to be the site of an independent Palestinian state.
“Israeli occupation forces should have evacuated the land they conquered in 1967 so a Palestinian Authority could be established and a permanent settlement finalised.
One reason alone stymied that agreement — Tel Aviv’s refusal to end its occupation of the West Bank, preferring instead to construct Jews-only settlements and infrastructure.”

St Pancras Eurostar cleaners “rock solid and determined”

 CLEANERS working on the St Pancras station and Eurostar contracts for high-profile facilities company Interserve are “rock solid and determined” on picket lines at the station, organised by the RMT transport union last Friday morning in a fight over jobs and workplace justice.
The cleaner’s downed tools at 5am on 1st August in 24 hours of high-profile action in the heart of London designed to shame the company, and those who hire them at the top of Eurostar and St Pancras International, into reversing their savage cuts plans.
RMT had demanded that morning that Interserve call off immediately a campaign of intimidation and bullying targeted at union members who have overwhelmingly voted for the strike action.
Like many contract cleaners, the Eurostar contract is subject to regular tender with cut-throat cleaning contractors competing to win the work.
Staff get transferred from one contractor to another like pieces of meat, but the business model of the companies is all the same – hacking back on pay and conditions to maximise profit while offering the workforce as little as possible.
Interserve won the St Pancras/Eurostar contract from Network Rail in exactly this fashion – through a massive cut in the price for the work.
In order to protect the company profits and hand-outs to shareholders Interserve have imposed 30 per cent job cuts on their cleaning workers.  This means massive pressure on the staff making up for the people who have been cut.
Staff are also sick of the workplace culture - continual aggression and bullying from the employers who expect the same standards of work and output, but with a third fewer staff.
 As RMT says “They call it efficiency – we call it harassment.”
As a result staff have had enough and are making a stand by taking 24-hour strike action from 5am today.  The workforce already suffer from low pay, no sick pay and get only the statutory minimum from our employer, but they are not prepared to be intimidated anymore.
The workloads that Interserve is imposing are too much and will not be tolerated in the culture of bullying and harassment that is rife at the prestigious Eurostar, St Pancras International terminal.
The RMT union demands are simple:
    An agreement with our union on staffing levels at St Pancras/Eurostar;
    A fair and reasonable workload for cleaners at St Pancras/Eurostar;
    To be treated with dignity and respect.