Italy’s crucifixes in classrooms ‘violate rights’

A cross is seen in a classroom in France. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Italy violates parents' right to educate their children along secular lines by displaying crucifixes in classrooms.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Italy violates parents's right to educate their children along secular lines by displaying crucifixes in classrooms.

AFP – Italy violates parents’ right to educate their children along secular lines by displaying crucifixes in classrooms, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday.

The judgment sparked anger in Catholic Italy, with the country’s education minister attacking the decision, insisting the crucifix was a “symbol of our tradition”.

The Strasbourg court found that: “The compulsory display of a symbol of a given confession in premises used by the public authorities… restricted the right of parents to educate their children in conformity with their convictions.”

It also restricted the “right of children to believe or not to believe,” the seven judges ruling on the case said.

The case was brought by Soile Lautsi, who was also awarded 5,000 euros (7,400 dollars) in damages.

The ruling drew immediate criticism in Italy, where Lautsi’s efforts to change tradition have come up against stiff resistance from the Catholic establishment.

Years of legal wrangling saw the case eventually thrown out by judges in Italy, who ruled the crucifix was patriotic and a sign of the country’s tradition, not simply a symbol of Catholicism.

Italian Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini lashed out at the European court on Tuesday for its decision.

“The presence of the crucifix in classrooms is not a sign of belief in Catholicism, rather it is a symbol of our tradition,” said the minister, cited by ANSA news agency.

“No one, and certainly not an ideological European court, will succeed in erasing our identity,” she added.

Lautsi first brought the case eight years ago when her children, Dataico and Sami Albertin, aged 11 and 13, went to a state school in the spa town of Abano Terme near Venice.

She was unhappy crucifixes were present in every classroom and complained to the school.

After education chiefs refused to remove the crosses, she spent several years fighting the decision through the Italian courts.

The case was heard by a regional court in the northern Veneto region, which passed it to the constitutional court, according to a statement from the European rights court.

This court ruled it did not have the jurisdiction to judge the case.

It returned to the Veneto court, where it was dismissed on the grounds that the crucifix was “the symbol of Italian history and culture, and consequently of Italian identity,” the European rights court said.

Lautsi appealed to the council of state, which also slapped down her complaint on similar grounds. This paved the way for the battle to head to the European Court of Human Rights.

On Tuesday, the Strasbourg court found the display of crucifixes “could reasonably be associated with Catholicism”.

This did not fit in with “educational pluralism”, which was part of European rights charters recognised by Italy, the court said.

The presence of a crucifix in classrooms could also be “disturbing for pupils who practised other religions or were atheists, particularly if they belonged to religious minorities.”

The court ruled that displaying crucifixes in classrooms breached articles 2 and 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Times defends Taliban ‘bribes’ story

A leading newspaper in Britain has defended its claim that Taliban fighters were paid not to attack Italian troops in Afghanistan. The Times said it had proof that bribes were offered, despite furious denials from Rome. The paper revealed that the Taliban itself confirmed the story, backing up information from sources inside NATO.

“The reason we know about those payments is because the US intelligence services, according to our sources inside NATO, managed to tap phone conversations between insurgent commanders and Italian intelligence agents,” said Times reporter Tom Coghlan.

The Times said a deal was struck last year whereby militants were paid not to attack Italian forces operating east of Kabul. A local Taliban commander has now said it was agreed that neither side should target the other. Two senior Afghan officials have also confirmed the story.

In Rome, the Italian government reacted with outrage, accusing The Times of being anti-Italian.

“No government has ever worked in the way The Times has described,” said Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa. “I find it hateful that this newspaper seems to be repeatedly running a campaign of anti-Italianism, using all sorts of rubbish without checking. They just publish the report.”

The alleged bribes came to light when French troops replaced the Italians but knew nothing about any payments. The Taliban said it thought the Italians had reneged on the deal and attacked, killing 10 French soldiers.

Embattled Berlusconi slams foreign press

euronews-Silvio Berlusconi has launched a scathing attack on the foreign press at the end of a tumultuous week for the Italian prime minister.

Already dogged by accusations of sex with prostitutes, Berlusconi’s own law giving him immunity from prosecution was declared invalid by Italy’s top court.

He told a rally for his People of Freedom Party that foreign newspapers had made “absurd and ridiculous accusations that damage the image of the country.” He added, using terms that are unsuitable for broadcast, that the accusations badmouth Italy, its prime minister, and its democracy.

The Constitutional Court’s decision to invalidate the immunity law is supported by nearly six in ten Italians, according to opinion polls on Sunday morning.

But only a quarter of people asked thought there should be elections to cut short Berlusconi’s term of office, which is due to end in 2013.

The verdict paves the way for the resumption of trials against him relating to allegations of bribery and false accounting at his Mediaset company.

Berlusconi rejects immunity ruling as ‘farce’

The Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has dismissed the loss of his legal immunity as a politically-motivated farce. Italy’s highest court said that a law passed by Berlusconi’s government protecting him from legal action violates the constitution. Berlusconi retorted that the ruling was driven by politics:

euronews channel-“We have a minority of leftist ‘red’ judges who use the law in their political struggle,” he said. “72 per cent of the media in Italy is left-wing. The cases against me they want to re-open are utterly false. I am going to have to spend some of my working day ridiculing my accusers. But these sort of things give me a buzz, as they do all Italians. Viva Italia, viva Berlusconi!”

The Constitutional Court ruled that the immunity legislation violates the principle that all Italians are equal under the law. The prime minister’s lawyers had argued that he should be considered ‘first above equals’ but the judges rejected that.

The controversial law halted all cases against Berlusconi, including one where he is accused of bribing a British lawyer to give false testimony to protect his business dealings.

The leader of the opposition, Dario Franceschini said:

“The Constitutional Court has simply re-established a principle that had been violated: that all Italian citizens are equal before the law. Everyone is equal before the law, even the most powerful.”

The ruling comes as Berlusconi watches his until-now good approval ratings slide because of a series of sex scandals, including prostitutes being invited to parties at his home. One of the girls went public with explicit recordings of her time spent with the prime minister.

Berlusconi no longer above the law

Italy’s top court has ruled that a law giving Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi immunity from prosecution is unconstitutional.

euronews channel-The law was one of Berlusconi’s first acts after he formed his latest government last year.

Today’s verdict paves the way for two trials against him relating to false accounting and bribery to be re-opened. It could also spell trouble for his government.

A judicial source at the Constitutional Court told Reuters news agency that the 15 judges decided the legal immunity violated the principle that all citizens are equal before the law. They added that immunity would require a change to the constitution, not just a law passed in parliament.

A spokesman for Berlusconi has said the verdict is politically-motivated and that the prime minister would stay on in office.

Mass demonstration in Rome to defend press freedom

AFP – More than 100,000 people rallied for press freedom in Rome’s central square on Saturday, protesting that scandal-plagued Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi wants to muzzle the media.

“Berlusconi is bad for Italy’s health,” read one banner emulating warnings on cigarette packets at the demonstration organised by the Italian Press Federation, opposition groups and left-wing trades unionists at Piazza del Popolo.

The square was packed with protesters holding green, white and red balloons in the colours of Italy’s flag. Another banner read, “we are all scoundrels”, a term Berlusconi used to describe some TV journalists.

“We ask the prime minister to stop the campaign of accusations against journalists and to tell the truth,” Franco Siddi, head of the Italian Press Federation, told the crowd.

Organisers said 350,000 took part in the protest, while city authorities put the figure at 60,000. AFP correspondents estimated the crowd in the square at more than 100,000.

The protest comes after months of revelations about Berlusconi’s private life spurred the prime minister cum media tycoon to file a series of lawsuits against newspapers in Italy, France and Spain.

His supporters have also called on Italians to stop paying their public television viewing fees.

Il Giornale, a newspaper belonging to the Berlusconi family’s media empire Mediaset, recently fumed: “On Rai (public TV), it’s anti-Berlusconism seven days a week,”

Mediaset also owns three private TV stations while the government has de facto control over Rai.

Accusations of an anti-Berlusconi bias have spiked since Rai 2 twice invited to its studios a call girl who claims to have accepted money to spend the night with the prime minister.

The government threatened to eliminate the show in question, “Annozero”, which claimed an audience of seven million, or 29 percent of the viewing public, the second time call girl Patrizia D’Addario appeared on the show Thursday.

The government has suspended the contracts of the journalists who work for Annozero.

Berlusconi has also sued the director of La Reppublica newspaper, Ezio Mauro, who has published 10 questions asking the prime minister to clarify the nature of his relationship with a teenage model.

On Friday, the head of the press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders, Jean-Francois Julliard, said Berlusconi was on the way towards becoming the first European head of government to join the group’s “list of predators of freedom of the press.”

Recalling that in June Berlusconi urged businesses not to advertise in the left-leaning La Repubblica daily, Julliard told a news conference: “We know of similar cases only in Belarus and Zimbabwe.”

Berlusconi on Friday dismissed Saturday’s planned protest as a “farce,” saying: “Freedom is greater in Italy than in any other Western country.”

Enrico Mentana, a former star Mediaset journalist who quit after an editorial dispute, suggested that freedom of the press in Italy did not face a greater threat than before.

“Here you can read either that Berlusconi is a god or an imbecile, a saint or a confirmed delinquent,” he said.

“Each time, it’s double vision, but with a flagrant imbalance in favour of the prime minister, who by the way is a reflection of political life with an extremely weakened left,” Mentana said.

In fact, while Berlusconi is a favourite target on the few satirical or political debate programmes on Rai 2 and Rai 3, he enjoys fawning admiration from Rai 1, which is traditionally close to the government.

The station accorded the prime minister two hours recently during which he defended his policies without interruption.

“Happy birthday! You are at home here,” Rai 1’s news announcer said without an ounce of irony last Tuesday, when Berlusconi turned 73.

Bodies of troops killed in Afghanistan arrive home

The bodies of six Italian soldiers killed in one of the deadliest suicide attacks targeting NATO troops in Afghanistan arrived in Italy Sunday in an emotional homecoming at Rome’s Ciampino airport.

Family of the dead, President Giorgio Napolitano and other political leaders were present as the C-130 military plane carrying the tricolour-draped coffins with their remains touched down at 0730 GMT.

The six coffins were blessed by a priest before a military ceremony that was also attended by Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa and the leaders of the upper and lower houses of parliament, Renato Schifani and Gianfranco Fini.

Earlier a special flight brought home four Italians who had been wounded in the attack that cost the lives of their comrades.

The four who are not critically wounded were taken by ambulance to a military hospital in Rome.

The Italian government declared days of national mourning for Sunday and Monday, when the six will be given a state funeral in the Italian capital’s Saint Paul Outside the Walls basilica around noon.

The six paratroopers will then be taken to their respective home towns where they will be buried.

On Saturday the six coffins draped in the Italian flag and topped with small cushions carrying the regimental purple berets of the fallen soldiers had been displayed at the main NATO base near Kabul airport where soldiers from 40 countries paid silent homage.

An Italian priest recited prayers after which the national anthem was sung.

Saverio Cucinotta, a spokesman for the contingent based in Kabul, said the six fallen soldiers had arrived in May.

In Thursday’s attack the suicide bomber rammed a car packed with explosives into the paratroopers’ two-vehicle convoy in central Kabul not far from the US embassy on the busy airport road, killing and wounding the soldiers and 10 Afghan civilians.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said after the attack that Rome  now wants to trim its deployment in Afghanistan but only with agreement from NATO partners.

“We are keen to bring our boys home as soon as possible,” Berlusconi said.

Italy is the sixth biggest contributor to more than 100,000 NATO and US-led forces fighting in Afghanistan, deploying about 3,250 troops.

The bombing, claimed by the Taliban, was the third in Kabul in a month, in an apparent spike of attacks on international military installations and personnel in the capital.

Foreign military deaths in Afghanistan are at record levels — 357 this year according to icasualties.org — and the mounting number of body bags coming home has sent support for the war plummeting in Europe and the United States.