Buddhist mob attacks Sri Lankan mosque, 12 injured

Buddhist mob attacks Sri Lankan mosque, 12 injured - A Buddhist mob attacked a mosque in Sri Lanka's capital and at least 12 people were injured, the latest in a series of attacks on the minority Muslim community by members of the Buddhist majority.

A mob of Buddhists, who are mainly ethnic Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, threw stones at a three-storey mosque and nearby houses in a central Colombo neighborhood during evening prayers on Saturday, residents told Reuters.

Later, hundreds of Muslim residents took to the streets, some clutching sticks, to prevent any further attacks on their community, witnesses said. Police reinforcements were sent and authorities imposed a curfew until Sunday morning.

A senior member of staff at one of the city's main hospitals said 12 injured people, including two police officers, had been brought in. Three people were still in hospital on Sunday.

Police appealed for calm and imposed a night-time curfew in the area.

"Support the police to maintain the law and order," Inspector General of Police N.K. Ilangakoon told state media.

Two Muslim women walk behind patrolling Special Task Force Commandos outside a vandalized mosque in Colombo August 11, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

There has been increasing violence against Muslims in Sri Lanka since last year, mirroring events in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which has also seen a surge of attacks by members of the majority community against Muslims.

In Myanmar, hardline Buddhist monks have been at the forefront of campaigns against Muslims.

In Sri Lanka, a group known as Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), or the "Buddhist power force", has been trying to win over Buddhists to their campaign against Muslims.

A spokesman for the BBS, Dilantha Vithanage, denied any involvement by his organization in the latest mosque attack.


Buddhists make up about 70 percent of Sri Lanka's 20.3 million population. Muslims make up about 9 percent.

"The lukewarm and ineffective measures taken by the law enforcement agencies on previous occasions ... seem to have emboldened some extremist groups who seem to determined to create chaos in the country," Muslim ministers in President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government said in a joint statement.

The mosque damaged in the Saturday night attack was only built a month ago after hardline Buddhists forced a nearby mosque to close.

The U.S. Embassy in Colombo said the incident was particularly troubling in light of a number of recent attacks against the Muslim community in Sri Lanka.

"Targeting any place of worship should never be permitted and we urge calm from all sides. We call for prosecution of perpetrators in this attack and an end to religious-based violence," the embassy said in a statement.

N. M. Ameen, president of Sri Lanka Muslim Council, said more than 20 mosques had been attacked since last year.

In a separate incident, a hand grenade was thrown at a Buddhist temple in the Jaffna peninsula, on the northern tip of the island. There were no injuries, police said.

Jaffna is largely made of ethnic minority Tamil people, most of whom are Hindu and Christian. The area was fiercely contested in a 26-year war between government forces and Tamil separatists that ended in 2009.  ( Reuters )
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Indonesia temple blast protests violence against Myanmar Muslims

Indonesia temple blast protests violence against Myanmar Muslims - A small bomb exploded at a Buddhist temple in Indonesia's capital, slightly injuring three people, in protest against violence against Rohingya Muslims in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, a government official said.

The device was detonated late on Sunday at the entrance of the Ekayana temple in West Jakarta as people were praying inside, while another bomb failed to explode, police said.

The blast caused minor damage.

Indonesian Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali said a note was found at the site saying: "We hear the screams of the Rohingya."

Thousands of Rohingyas flee Myanmar each year on rickety boats seeking refuge and jobs in Muslim-majority Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, but the number has swelled since unrest in Myanmar last year that killed at least 167 people.

Indonesia is also a common transit point for people seeking asylum in Australia.

Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia are all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations which last year warned that continuing violence in Myanmar could destabilize the region.

Earlier this year, a riot between Muslim and Buddhist refugees from Myanmar at an Indonesian refugee camp killed eight people. Two men were also arrested with explosives in a backpack as part of a suspected plot to bomb the Myanmar Embassy in Jakarta.

Indonesian officials vowed to intensify security at religious sites across the country as millions head to their home towns to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Muslim's holy month of Ramadan. ( Reuters )
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Berlusconi defends Mussolini for backing Hitler

Berlusconi defends Mussolini for backing Hitler — Former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi praised Benito Mussolini for "having done good" despite the Fascist dictator's anti-Jewish laws, immediately sparking expressions of outrage as Europe on Sunday held Holocaust remembrances.

Berlusconi also defended Mussolini for allying himself with Hitler, saying he likely reasoned that it would be better to be on the winning side.

The media mogul, whose conservative forces are polling second in voter surveys ahead of next month's election, spoke to reporters on the sidelines of a ceremony in Milan to commemorate the Holocaust.

Associated Press/Antonio Calanni - Former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, foreground, sits in front of Norther League party's leader Roberto Maroni in Milan, Italy, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013. Silvio Berlusconi says Benito Mussolini did much good, except for dictator's regime's anti-Jewish laws. Berlusconi also defended Mussolini for siding with Hitler, saying the late fascist leader likely reasoned that German power would expand so it would be better for Italy to ally itself with Germany. He was speaking to reporters Sunday on the sidelines of a ceremony in Milan to commemorate the Holocaust. When Germany's Nazi regime occupied Italy during World War II, thousands from the tiny Italian Jewish community were deported to death camps. In 1938, before the war's outbreak, Mussolini's regime passed anti-Jewish laws, barring them from universities and many professions, among other bans. Berlusconi called the laws Mussolini's "worst fault" but insisted that in many other things, "he did good." (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

In 1938, before the outbreak of World War II, Mussolini's regime passed the so-called "racial laws," barring Jews from Italy's universities and many professions, among other bans. When Germany's Nazi regime occupied Italy during the war, thousands from the tiny Italian Jewish community were deported to death camps.

"It is difficult now to put oneself in the shoes of who was making decisions back then," Berlusconi said of Mussolini's support for Hitler. "Certainly the (Italian) government then, fearing that German power would turn into a general victory, preferred to be allied with Hitler's Germany rather than oppose it."

Berlusconi added that "within this alliance came the imposition of the fight against, and extermination of, the Jews. Thus, the racial laws are the worst fault of Mussolini, who, in so many other aspects, did good."

More than 7,000 Jews were deported under Mussolini's regime, and nearly 6,000 of them were killed.

Outrage, along with a demand that Berlusconi be prosecuted for promoting Fascism, quickly followed his words.

Among those voicing condemnation were prominent Jewish figures abroad.

Mussolini "modeled his anti-Jewish laws after the Nazi Nuremberg Laws barring Jews from civil service," Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said in a statement.

"It is the height of revisionism to try to reinstate an Italian dictator who helped legitimize and prop up Hitler as a 'reincarnated good guy,'" said the rabbi, whose organization monitors anti-Semitic incidents worldwide.

Berlusconi's praise of Mussolini constitutes "an insult to the democratic conscience of Italy," said Rosy Bindi, a center-left leader. "Only Berlusconi's political cynicism, combined with the worst historic revisionism, could separate the shame of the racist laws from the Fascist dictatorship."

Italian laws enacted following the country's disastrous experience in the war forbid the defense of Fascism. A candidate for local elections, Gianfranco Mascia, pledged that he and his supporters will present a formal complaint on Monday to Italian prosecutors, seeking to have Berlusconi prosecuted.

Hours later, Berlusconi issued a statement saying he "regretted" that he didn't make clear in his earlier comments that his historical analyses "are always based on condemnation of dictatorships," the Italian news agency LaPresse reported.

He also contended that the political left was trying to exploit his comment about Mussolini for election campaign fodder.

Advocating aggressive nationalism, Mussolini used brutish force and populist appeal evoking ancient Rome's glories to achieve and keep his dictatorial grip on power, starting in the early '20s and lasting well into World War II. His Fascist "blackshirt" loyalists cracked down on dissidents, through beatings and jailings.

He encouraged big families to propagate the Italian population, established a sprawling state economy and erected monumental buildings and statues to evoke ancient Rome. Mussolini sought to impose order on a generally individualistic-minded people, and Italians sometimes note trains ran on time during Fascism.

With dreams of an empire, he sent Italian troops on missions to attack or occupy foreign lands, including Ethiopia and Albania. Eventually, Italian military failures in Africa and in Greece fostered rebellion among Fascist officials, and in 1943 he was placed under arrest by orders of the Italian king. His end came at the vengeful hands of partisan fighters, who shot him and his mistress, and left their bodies to hang in a Milan square in April 1945.

Berlusconi's former government allies have included political heirs to neo-fascist movements admiring Mussolini.

In 2010, he told world leaders at a Paris conference that he had been reading Mussolini's journals, and years earlier Berlusconi had claimed that Mussolini "never killed anyone."

Berlusconi is running in Feb. 24-25 Parliamentary elections and has repeatedly changed his mind on whether he is seeking a fourth term as premier. Monti is also running, but polls put him far behind front-runner Pier Luigi Bersani, a center-left leader who supported Monti's austerity measures to save Italy from the Eurozone debt crisis.

Polls show about one-third of eligible voters are undecided. ( Associated Press )
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Berlusconi defends Mussolini, draws outrage from political left

Berlusconi defends Mussolini, draws outrage from political left - Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi triggered outrage from Italy's political left on Sunday with comments defending fascist wartime leader Benito Mussolini at a ceremony commemorating victims of the Nazi Holocaust.

Speaking at the margins of the event in Milan, Berlusconi said Mussolini had been wrong to follow Nazi Germany's lead in passing anti-Jewish laws but that he had in other respects been a good leader.

"It's difficult now to put yourself in the shoes of people who were making decisions at that time," said Berlusconi, who is campaigning for next month's election at the head of a coalition that includes far-right politicians whose roots go back to Italy's old fascist party.


"Obviously the government of that time, out of fear that German power might lead to complete victory, preferred to ally itself with Hitler's Germany rather than opposing it," he said.

"As part of this alliance, there were impositions, including combating and exterminating Jews," he told reporters. "The racial laws were the worst fault of Mussolini as a leader, who in so many other ways did well," he said, referring to laws passed by Mussolini's fascist government in 1938.

Although Mussolini is known outside Italy mostly for the alliance with Nazi Germany, his government also paid for major infrastructure projects as well as welfare for supporters.

Berlusconi's comments overshadowed Sunday's commemoration of thousands of Jews and others deported from Italy to the Nazi death camps of eastern Europe. They were condemned as "disgusting" by the center-left Democratic Party (PD), which is leading in the polls ahead of the February 24-25 election.

"Our republic is based on the struggle against Nazi fascism and these are intolerable remarks which are incompatible with leadership of democratic political forces," said Marco Meloni, the PD's spokesman for institutional affairs.

Antonio Ingroia, a former anti-mafia magistrate campaigning at the head of a separate left-wing coalition, said Berlusconi was "a disgrace to Italy".


Faced by the onslaught of criticism, Berlusconi later issued a statement saying he had always condemned dictatorships and regretted not having spelled that out in his earlier remarks.

"There can be no misunderstanding about the fascist dictatorship," he said, accusing the left of capitalizing on his earlier comments for cheap political gain.

However, it was not the first time Berlusconi has defended Mussolini, whose status in Italy remains deeply ambiguous 67 years after he was executed by communist partisans while trying to flee to Switzerland in April, 1945.

Many Italian politicians, including the speaker of the Lower House of parliament, Gianfranco Fini, come from the ranks of the old Italian Social Movement (MSI) which grew out of the fascist party, although Fini and others have renounced the far right.

Others, including Francesco Storace, Berlusconi's candidate for president of the Lazio region, have stayed true to what they see as the "social-right" tradition of the fascist movement.

Monuments to Mussolini, who came to power in 1922, still dot many Italian cities, including Rome, where a column to Il Duce stands close to the city's main football stadium, within a stone's throw of the foreign ministry.

Although never as fervently anti-semitic as his Nazi allies, Mussolini's government persecuted Italy's Jewish population, which was then estimated to number about 40,000, according to the Jewish Contemporary Documentation Centre in Milan.

The 1938 laws imposed oppressive restrictions on Jews and some 10,000 are estimated to have been deported from Italy between September 1943 and March 1945. Most of them died in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.

While anti-semitic behavior has not been as prominently reported in Italy in recent years as in neighboring countries such as France, acts ranging from anti-Jewish graffiti to chants at football matches occur periodically.

"We must be very careful to ensure that these sparks, which recur every now and then, cannot bring back tragedies which humanity should not suffer again," outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti said on Sunday. ( Reuters )
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Holocaust victims mourned at Auschwitz and beyond

Holocaust victims mourned at Auschwitz and beyond — Holocaust survivors, politicians, religious leaders and others marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Sunday with solemn prayers and the now oft-repeated warnings to never let such horrors happen again.

Events took place at sites including Auschwitz-Birkenau, the former death camp where Hitler's Germany killed at least 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, in southern Poland. In Warsaw, prayers were also held at a monument to the fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943.
Pope Benedict XVI, speaking from his window at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, warned that humanity must always be on guard against a repeat of murderous racism.

"The memory of this immense tragedy, which above all struck so harshly the Jewish people, must represent for everyone a constant warning so that the horrors of the past are not repeated, so that every form of hatred and racism is overcome, and that respect for, and dignity of, every human person is encouraged," the German-born pontiff said.


Not all words spoken by dignitaries struck the right tone, however.

On the sidelines of a ceremony in Milan, former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi sparked outrage when he praised Benito Mussolini for "having done good" despite the Fascist dictator's anti-Jewish laws. Berlusconi also defended Mussolini for allying himself with Hitler, saying he likely reasoned that it would be better to be on the winning side.

The United Nations in 2005 designated Jan. 27 as a yearly memorial day for the victims of the Holocaust — 6 million Jews and millions of other victims of Nazi Germany during World War II. The day was chosen because it falls on the anniversary of the liberation in 1945 of Auschwitz, the Nazis' most notorious death camp and a symbol of the evil inflicted across the continent.

"Those who experienced the horrors of the cattle cars, ghettos, and concentration camps have witnessed humanity at its very worst and know too well the pain of losing loved ones to senseless violence," U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement.

Obama went on to say that like those who resisted the Nazis, "we must commit ourselves to resisting hate and persecution in all its forms. The United States, along with the international community, resolves to stand in the way of any tyrant or dictator who commits crimes against humanity, and stay true to the principle of 'Never Again.'"

As every year, Holocaust survivors gathered in the cold Polish winter at Auschwitz — but they shrink in number each year.

This year the key event in the ceremonies was the opening of an exhibition prepared by Russian experts that depicts Soviet suffering at the camp and the Soviet role in liberating it. The opening was presided over by Sergey Naryshkin, chairman of the Russian State Duma.

Several years ago, Polish officials stopped the opening of a previous exhibition. It was deemed offensive because the Russians depicted Poles, Lithuanians and others in Soviet-controlled territory as Soviet citizens. Poles and others protested this label since they were occupied against their will by the Soviets at the start of World War II.

The new exhibition — titled "Tragedy. Courage. Liberation" and prepared by the Museum of the Great Patriotic War in Moscow — removes the controversial terminology. It took years of discussions between Polish and Russian experts to finally complete it.

The exhibition narrates the Nazi crimes committed against Soviet POWS at Auschwitz, where they were the fourth largest group of prisoners, and at other sites. And it shows how the Red Army liberated the camp on Jan. 27, 1945, and helped the inmates afterward.

Also Sunday, a ceremony was held in Moscow at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, which opened in November and is Russia's first major attempt to tell the story of its Jewish community. The museum portrays Russia as a safe and welcoming place for Jews today despite its history of pogroms and discrimination.

In Serbia, survivors and officials gathered at the site of a former concentration camp in the capital, Belgrade, to remember the Jewish, Serb and Roma victims of the Nazi occupation of the country.

Parliament speaker Nebojsa Stefanovic said it is the task of the new generations never to forget the Holocaust crimes, including those against Serbs.

"Many brutal crimes have been left without punishment, redemption and commemoration," he said. "I want to believe that by remembering the death and suffering of the victims the new generations will be obliged to fight any form of prejudice, racism and chauvinism, anti-Semitism and hatred." ( Associated Press )
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