Monday 23 October 2017

Genocide in Armenia and death in the Mediterranean

Le Pen refuses to quit politics, Pope Francis highlights the awful plight of migrants, and France provokes the See

Pope Francis sparked a diplomatic row last Sunday by calling the massacre of up to 1.5m Armenians 100 years ago "the first genocide of the 20th Century," prompting Turkey to accuse him of inciting hatred.

Muslim Turkey accepts that many Christian Armenians died in clashes with Ottoman soldiers beginning in 1915, when Armenia was part of the empire ruled from Istanbul, but denies hundreds of thousands were killed and that this amounted to genocide.

At an Armenian-rite Mass in St. Peter's Basilica to mark the 100th anniversary of the mass killings, Francis became the first head of the Roman Catholic Church to publicly pronounce the word "genocide" to describe them.

Spain's anti-austerity Podemos would win an election by a razor-thin margin if it were held now, a poll showed, but the new leftist party has lost some support in recent months and is running virtually neck-and-neck with the two mainstream parties.

Podemos ("We Can") surprised by taking five seats in elections for the European Parliament last May, just months after its formation, demonstrating how austerity-weary Spaniards were turning away from establishment parties. Podemos led the poll, carried out for El Pais newspaper, for the fourth month in a row, garnering 22.1pc support. However, the opposition Socialists regained lost ground to come second with 21.9pc of the vote.

Far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders attempted , last Monday, to boost the German anti-Islam movement PEGIDA with a speech that mocked Chancellor Angela Merkel for saying Muslims "belong to Germany", but the demonstration failed to draw huge crowds.

Wilders offered to take Merkel back to the Netherlands with him, provoking chants of "Merkel must go!" from the audience of mostly middle-aged and elderly white men. Some waved flags and held banners saying "Stop the Islamisation of Europe!".

Hungary's Jobbik party denied it was racist or anti-Semitic, after softening its far-right rhetoric and seizing a parliamentary seat from the ruling party in a weekend by-election amid a surge in support. Jobbik has gained support as voters drift away from mainstream parties like Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz, which is battling a public view that some of its leaders have used their posts to enrich themselves.

Jewish groups say they are sceptical that Jobbik has changed. World Jewish Congress chairman Ronald S Lauder said last Sunday that the party's rise was hurting Hungary's image.

Jobbik chairman Gabor Vona, 37, said at a news conference in Hungary's parliament, that his party's shift to the centre was genuine and vowed to trim what he called its "wild off-shoots".

Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of France's far-right National Front, said he would not seek its ticket to stand in regional polls, taking some of the sting out of a damaging public row with his daughter Marine, the party's current leader.

But the 86-year-old former paratrooper told Le Figaro in an interview that he was disappointed by his daughter and would not quit politics, showing that the family feud that could emerge as a threat to the FN's bid for power is not necessarily over.

Marine Le Pen, who in 2011 took over as FN party leader from her father, has been trying to persuade him to retire both from the December regional polls and from politics altogether.

Jean-Marie Le Pen last week reiterated his view that Nazi gas chambers were a mere "detail" of war and defended Philippe Petain, the leader of the war-time government that cooperated with Nazi Germany.

Last November Pope Francis, in an address to the European Parliament, said "we cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast graveyard," referring to the thousands of migrants who drown every year seeking to reach southern Europe from north Africa and the Middle East.

Last week, hundreds of people desperate to be rescued from a packed migrant boat in the Mediterranean pushed to one side when they saw a ship approach, capsizing the craft and pitching everyone into the sea, where hundreds died.

Survivors' accounts suggested at least 500 people were on the boat when it sank on Monday evening, some 120 km (75 miles) off the Italian island of Lampedusa. With 145 people rescued, that leaves at least 350 unaccounted for - probably drowned.

Joel Millman, spokesman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said: "According to testimonies, at least one-third were women and children.

"At the time of the shipwreck, they were staying in the hull of the boat to be better protected from the cold.

"When the men on the deck became restless and started moving about because a rescue boat was beginning to approach them, the boat capsized and water flooded the hull. Women and children died immediately."

France is standing by its nominee to be ambassador to the Holy See, an official said on Friday, despite the Vatican's failure to confirm his posting for more than three months, a delay that French and Italian media said was due to his sexuality.

Francois Hollande's government nominated the president's head of protocol, Laurent Stefanini, for the post on January 5, but has still not heard back from the Vatican.

French Catholic daily La Croix cited an unnamed source as saying the Vatican considered it "provocation" that France's Socialist government, which in 2013 passed a law permitting gay marriages, had proposed a homosexual for the post.

There was no official Elysee comment and the Vatican also declined to comment on the nomination of Stefanini, who has previously occupied the number-two post at the French embassy to the Holy See. The affair risks becoming an embarrassment to Pope Francis, who has maintained Church teaching on homosexuality but has struck a more sympathetic personal tone towards gay people.

He has given no sign of easing rules against gay unions or changing the Church's teaching that homosexual acts are sinful, even if homosexuality itself is not.

But he has shown a more conciliatory attitude than many others in the Church, remarking that he could not judge gay people of good will who were seeking God, and meeting members of a Catholic gay rights group in the Vatican as recently as February.

Sunday Independent

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