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‘Historic verdict’: Celebrations as Greece convicts Golden Dawn



Athens, Greece – Following guilty verdicts against the Golden Dawn group over a series of crimes including murder, Athens has seen a day of jubilation, tears and tear gas.

As a landmark trial spanning more than five years concluded, Golden Dawn was found guilty of four charges – significantly of being a criminal organisation.

Once the third-largest party in Greece, the leadership of Golden Dawn, including its leader Nikos Michaloliakos and current MEP Ioannis Lagos, now face lengthy prison sentences.

Giorgos Roupakias, a self-professed follower of Golden Dawn, was also found guilty of the murder of anti-racism campaigner and rapper Pavlos Fyssas, known as “Killah P”, and Golden Dawn members were also found guilty of the attempted murder of a group of Egyptian fishermen in Athens in 2012.

Wednesday marks an historic day for the country, which saw the biggest trial of self-professed fascists since the Nuremberg trials.

About 10,000 people gathered outside the court to hear the verdict, hoping for judges to find the 68 people on trial guilty.

Police buses were parked bumper-to-bumper outside the court to prevent any of the protesters from getting near the building, but the atmosphere outside was largely peaceful.

A moment of quiet came over the crowds as the news emerged – first that Roupakias had been found guilty of murdering Fyssas and then that the infamous neo-Nazi group would be indicted as a criminal organisation.

People hugged, chanted and clapped at the news, and there was a sense of relief as well as joy in the air. Up until the last minute, many in Greece still believed that Golden Dawn could escape justice.

In emotional scenes, Pavlos Fyssas’s mother, Magda, who has waited for more than seven years to see justice served for her son, punched the air outside the court and said “you did it, my son,” while members of his family cried and hugged each other nearby.

Magda Fyssas, the late Greek rapper Pavlos Fyssas’s mother, pictured on Wednesday [Pantelis Santas/EPA-EFE]

Protesters young and old embraced and chanted the names of Golden Dawn’s victims – Pavlos Fyssas and Shehzad Luqman, who was 27 when he was stabbed to death by Golden Dawn affiliates in 2013.

The joy was cut short, however, by the use of tear gas and a water cannon against the largely peaceful group.

A small number of people had reportedly started throwing objects at the police, but after dancing and clapping, many who had gathered outside the court were left struggling to breathe amid copious waves of tear gas.

Gas canisters were, however, not enough to dampen the protesters’ spirits as they left the court and headed towards Syntagma Square, chanting anti-fascist songs.

“Pavlos Lives,” were the words on everyone’s lips, from old men to young children on their father’s shoulders.

However, some warned that the far right would live on, despite the verdict.

“There are still fascists and Nazi groups everywhere,” said two men in their early twenties, who did not want to be identified. “This is only the start.”

Reading the verdict, presiding judge Maria Lepenioti said Golden Dawn founder and leader Nikos Michaloliakos and other senior members were guilty of running a criminal organisation.

None of the party’s senior members was present in the court.

Greek riot police officers charge protesters during scuffles in part of an anti-fascist rally, outside the court in Athens, following the announcement of its verdict [Yorgos Karahalis/AP Photo]

“It is really a very important day for Greek democracy,” said Daphne Halikiopoulou, a professor of comparative politics from Reading University. “It is a decision that proves that there is a democratic system, that the institutions are independent and that our judicial systems work and that this criminal organisation can actually be indicted for crime.”

Halikiopoulou said that it was still important to frame this as a “first step,” against the far right in Greece and beyond.

“I think that while the Golden Dawn verdict is a good thing, we now need to take a step back as a country and to understand why we voted this criminal organisation into our parliament. There are underlying reasons why these kinds of ideas became supported and why they were widespread. Unless we deal with that as well, then obviously there will be other Golden Dawns at the next crisis.”

Manos Moschopoulos from the Open Society Foundations said it was important to monitor far-right narratives in politics.

“The Golden Dawn grew at a time when people had lost faith in Greece’s democratic system and its ability to protect them during the severe austerity crisis. Their slogans were designed to put the blame on the most vulnerable. It wasn’t migrants who threatened the livelihoods of Greeks in 2012 when the Golden Dawn entered parliament. As was the case then, today racist politics pose a larger threat to the wellbeing of our community than any of the far right’s scapegoats.”

Eva Cosse, the Western Europe researcher from Human Rights Watch, said it was a significant day for all those who had suffered because of Golden Dawn’s actions.

“This historic verdict sends a clear message that hate-mongers will not be tolerated and have no place in a democratic society. It’s an important day for victims, their families and Greece as a whole.”

This file photo taken on June 25, 2012 shows Greek musician Pavlos Fyssas [Alexandros Theodoridis/AFP]


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Child labour rising in Ghana and Ivory Coast’s cocoa farms: Study



Children doing hazardous work has gone up in the world’s top coca producers, a US government study found.

The use of child labour has risen in cocoa farms in Ghana and Ivory Coast during the past decade despite industry promises to reduce it, academics said on Monday, largely supporting earlier findings that were questioned by both states.

The prevalence of children doing hazardous work, including using sharp tools, has also gone up in the world’s top two cocoa producers, according to the study funded by the United States government.

The levels were higher than in 2010 when companies including Mars, Hershey, Nestle and Cargill agreed to reduce the worst forms of child labour in Ghana and Ivory Coast’s cocoa sectors by 70 percent by 2020.

The two West African countries – which together produce about two-thirds of the world’s cocoa – had both questioned the methodology used in an earlier version of the report prepared by researchers from the University of Chicago and seen by Reuters News Agency in April.

Ghana again questioned the data in the new report, released on Monday after the US Department of Labor appointed a group of independent experts to conduct a review.

Mars said in a statement that it had committed $1bn to a responsible sourcing strategy and called for legislation to address the root causes of child labour on West African cocoa farms.

Hershey and Nestle referred Reuters to the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) industry group. Cargill did not respond to a request for comment.

Monday’s report cut the estimate of the number of children currently working in cocoa production in the two countries to 1.56 million, from more than two million in the April study, saying it had changed the ways it weighted its data. It did not give comparative totals from 10 years earlier.

‘Complexity and scale’

But it said the proportion of children from agricultural households in cocoa-growing areas that are engaged in child labour in the cocoa sector across Ivory Coast and Ghana had increased to 45 percent in 2018/19 from 31 percent in 2008/09.

The corresponding levels for hazardous work had risen to 43 percent from 30 percent, it added.

“Despite the efforts made by the governments, industry and other key stakeholders in combating child labour and hazardous child labour during the past 10 years, the child labour and hazardous child labour prevalence rates did not go down,” the report said.

It added that rates of child labour had stabilised since the last survey in 2013/14 and school attendance in cocoa-growing areas had risen even as cocoa production surged.

Children from cocoa areas arrive for checking at a police station during an operation to rescue children from child traffickers in Aboisso, Ivory Coast [File: Luc Gnago/Reuters]

WCF president Richard Scobey said the report showed child labour remains a persistent challenge but that government and company programmes to reduce it were making a difference.

“Targets to reduce child labour were set without fully understanding the complexity and scale of a challenge heavily associated with poverty in rural Africa and did not anticipate the significant increase in cocoa production over the past decade,” he added in a statement.

The International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), a foundation backed by industry and civil society, said what it called past sampling errors made it difficult to draw accurate comparisons over time.

Ghana’s government was quoted in Monday’s report questioning the reliability of the figures that showed a reduction in the number of child labourers from the April estimate, while maintaining a similar prevalence rate.

“This raises eyebrows about the reliability of the findings for any meaningful policy formulation and implementation,” Ghana’s ministry of employment and labour relations said.

Ivory Coast welcomed the revised results and both countries reiterated their commitment to eradicating child labour in cocoa farming.

US legislators have criticised the industry and US customs authorities asked cocoa traders earlier this year to report where and when they encounter child labour in their supply chains.


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Eyeing China, Australia joins ‘Quad’ drill with US, Japan, India



Military exercises set to take place in Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea are likely to upset China.

Australia will take part in large-scale military exercises off the coast of India next month that will bring together a quartet of countries concerned by rising Chinese influence.

India, Japan, the United States and – for the first time since 2007 – Australia will take part in this November’s Malabar naval exercise, a move that is likely to lead to protests from China.

Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said late on Monday that the drills were about  “demonstrating our collective resolve to support an open and prosperous Indo-Pacific” – a allusion to countering China’s power.

India’s Ministry of Defence said the naval drill would take place in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, which has been a hotspot for Indo-Chinese strategic competition.

Over the last few decades, China has tried to significantly increase influence in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh, prompting acute concern in New Delhi.

The drill comes at a time of diplomatic tensions between China and Australia, economic tensions between China and the US and military tensions between China and India.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne ahead of the ‘Quad’ meeting of four Indo-Pacific nations’ foreign ministers [Charly Triballeau/Pool via AFP]

India and China have poured tens of thousands of troops into a remote Himalayan border zone since fighting a pitched battle in June in which 20 Indian troops and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers were killed.

The so-called “Quad” has been touted as a means of countering Chinese influence – including a decades-long investment in modernising its army.

But the grouping has often faltered amid disagreements about how much to confront, contain or engage Beijing.

A renewed push to develop the Quad into a formal counterbalance to China included talks between foreign ministers in Tokyo earlier this month.

At that meeting, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Asian allies to unite against China’s “exploitation, corruption and coercion” in the region.


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Muted microphones for Thursday’s final US presidential debate



Organisers say the move will avoid the chaos of last month’s first encounter, when Trump repeatedly interrupted Biden.

US President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden will have their microphones muted for parts of their final debate on Thursday to allow each candidate a block of uninterrupted time to speak and avoid the rancour of the two candidates’ first encounter.

The Commission on Presidential Debates, the sponsor of the televised debate in Nashville, said changes were necessary after the bad-tempered first debate.

Trump repeatedly interrupted Biden during the encounter in Cleveland on September 29, and the discussion ended up in name-calling and insults.

“We realize, after discussions with both campaigns, that neither campaign may be totally satisfied with the measures announced today,” the commission said in a statement. “We are comfortable that these actions strike the right balance and that they are in the interest of the American people, for whom these debates are held.”

For this week’s 90-minute debate, the organisers will give each candidate two minutes of uninterrupted time at the beginning of each 15-minute segment of the debate. NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker will moderate.

“The only candidate whose microphone will be open during these two-minute periods is the candidate who has the floor under the rules,” the commission said.

US President Donald Trump frequently interrupted rival Joe Biden in the first debate on September 29 [File: Brian Snyder/Reuters]

Trump’s campaign objected to the change, but said he would still take part.

“President Trump is committed to debating Joe Biden regardless of last-minute rule changes from the biased commission in their latest attempt to provide advantage to their favoured candidate,” campaign manager Bill Stepien said.

The commission is a non-partisan body.

The Biden campaign did not immediately respond to a Reuters’ request for comment on the latest developments.

Uninterrupted time

Trump’s camp is also unhappy with Thursday’s proposed topics, which include families, climate change and race, arguing that the discussion should focus more on foreign policy.

Biden’s campaign said both sides has previously agreed to let the moderators choose the subjects. It said Trump wanted to avoid discussing his stewardship of the coronavirus pandemic, which surveys show is the top issue for voters.

“As usual, the president is more concerned with the rules of a debate than he is getting a nation in crisis the help it needs,” Biden spokesman TJ Ducklo said.

Trump, who was admitted to hospital with COVID-19 in early October, backed out of the second scheduled debate, which was supposed to take place last Thursday, because it would have been in a virtual format. Instead, the two men broadcast rival town-hall sessions.

With just two weeks before the presidential election on November 3, Biden has a strong lead nationwide, although the race is closer in some key states.

More than 30 million people have already cast their ballot through early voting.


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