• Breaking: Muslims no more welcome in Germany! - AFD

    01/May/2016 // 4299 Viewers

     

    STUTTGART, Germany - Members of the anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) on Sunday backed an election manifesto that says Islam is not compatible with the constitution and calls for a ban on minarets and the burqa.

    Set up three years ago, the AfD has been buoyed by Europe's migrant crisis, which saw the arrival of more than one million, mostly Muslim migrants, in Germany last year. The party has no lawmakers in the federal parliament in Berlin but has members in half of Germany's 16 regional state assemblies.

    Opinion polls give AfD support of up to 14 percent, presenting a serious challenge to Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and other established parties ahead of the 2017 federal election. They rule out any coalition with the AfD.

    In a raucous debate on the second day of a party congress, many of the 2,000 members cheered calls from the podium for measures against "Islamic symbols of power" and jeered a plea for dialogue with Germany's Muslims.

    "Islam is foreign to us and for that reason it cannot invoke the principle of religious freedom to the same degree as Christianity," said Hans-Thomas Tillschneider, an AfD lawmaker from the state of Saxony-Anhalt, to loud applause.

    Merkel has said freedom of religion for all is guaranteed by Germany's constitution and has said on many occasions that Islam belongs to Germany.

    "ISLAM IS NOT PART OF GERMANY"

    Up to 2,000 left-wing demonstrators clashed with police on Saturday as they tried to break up the first full AfD conference. About 500 people were briefly detained and 10 police officers were lightly injured, a police spokesman said.

    The chapter of the AfD manifesto concerning Muslims is entitled "Islam is not a part of Germany". The manifesto demands a ban to minarets - the towers of a mosque from where the call to Muslim prayer is made - and the burqa, the all-encompassing body garment worn by some conservative Muslim women.

    Germany is home to nearly four million Muslims, about five percent of the total population. Many of the longer established Muslim community in Germany came from Turkey to find work, but those who have arrived over the past year have mostly been fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Last month the head of Germany's Central Council of Muslims likened the AfD's attitude towards his community to that of Adolf Hitler's Nazis towards the Jews.

    Although the AfD aimed to broaden its political agenda during the congress, members hardly debated on domestic issues, such as taxation and social welfare.

    The party's leadership has proposed the introduction of an income tax bracket system and the abolition of inheritance taxes, which experts say would benefit high earners.

    The head of Germany's DGB confederation of trade unions, Reiner Hoffmann, sharply criticized the AfD's program.

    "Their alternatives are nothing but simple, dull and inconsistent," Hoffmann said in a speech at an DGB event in Stuttgart to mark Labour Day.

    He said the AfD was not only conducting a hate campaign against refugees, but also aiming for a tax policy that was against the interests of workers. - Reuters


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  • 15 refugees missing in Mediterranean Sea

    01/May/2016 // 336 Viewers

    The UN refugee agency says at least 15 asylum-seekers have gone missing in an incident during which their boat sank in the Mediterranean Sea, the second such incident in a day.

    According to Carlotta Sami, a spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who was speaking on Sunday, a boat carrying around 120 people sank early Friday four hours after leaving the eastern coast of Libya for Italy.

    Some 15 people went missing, most of them from Africa, Sami added.

    Survivors from the incident were being disembarked in Pozzallo, Sicily, according to Sami, who also said that eight people had been taken straight to hospital “due to their serious health conditions.”

    The news came a day after the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that 26 people had been rescued from an inflatable boat that was carrying around 110 refugees off Libya in a separate accident on Friday.

    The refugees rescued had been reportedly transferred to two coastguard vessels and taken to the Italian island of Lampedusa. The rest reportedly perished.

    Large numbers of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa have died over the past months while trying to reach Europe via sea routes.

    Over 183,000 asylum seekers have reached Europe via the Mediterranean so far this year, while over 1,200 people died in their journey to the continent, according to the latest figures by the IOM.

    Europe is facing an unprecedented influx of refugees, most of whom are fleeing conflict-ridden zones in Africa and the Middle East.

    Many blame support by some Western countries for militants operating in the Middle East as the main reason behind the departure of the refugees from their home countries.

     

     


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  • Turkey’s AKP sweeps polls to regain majority

    01/Nov/2015 // 223 Viewers

    Adem Altan, AFP | Supporters of Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP) celebrate outside the party's headquarters in Ankara on November 1, 2015.

    Turkey’s ruling AKP scored a stunning electoral comeback in Sunday’s snap election, regaining its parliamentary majority after a nearly five-month period of uncertainty.

    With most of the votes counted, the Islamist AKP (Justice and Development Party) won over 49% of the vote, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency, giving the party 315 seats in the 550-member parliament.

    Final results were due to be released 11 or 12 days after the election, according to Turkey’s Higher Election Board officials.


    Reporting from AKP headquarters in the Turkish capital Ankara Sunday night, FRANCE 24’s Jasper Mortimer said the crowd at the premises was “deliriously happy. AKP officials themselves did not expect such a result. The AKP’s analysts were expecting to get 45% at most. Instead they got 49%. That means virtually one out of two Turks have voted for this government.”

    Acknowledging the victory, Turkish Prime Minister and AKP leader Ahmet Davutoglu told his supporters the result was “a victory for democracy.” Speaking in his hometown of Konya in central Turkey, Davutoglu noted that “victory belongs to the people”. But he also called for “humility” and “national unity”.

    In the lead-up to Sunday’s vote, analysts had predicted a replay of the June 7 election, when the AKP won only 40 percent of the vote and lost its majority for the first time in 13 years.

    “In June, when the AKP failed to get a majority this crowd here had a lot of gloomy faces,” said Mortimer. “Today, they’re deliriously happy.”

    Sunday’s victory was a huge personal victory for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's divisive strongman who is seeking a constitutional change that would expand the role of the presidency.

    Pro-Kurdish party crosses threshold - barely

    Preliminary results showed the pro-Kurdish HDP had managed to cross the 10% threshold needed to enter parliament. But the party lost a little over 2% of the vote they gained in the June parliamentary election.

    HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtas said the party respected the will of the voters. But he attributed the drop-off in their votes to the violence targeting party supporters on the campaign trail.

    Demirtas said the party was forced to cancel election rallies and television stations gave party representatives little air-time amid government attacks branding the party as the political wing of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party), a banned group considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey and its allies.

    "I regret to say that there wasn't a fair or equal election,” said Demirtas. “We were not able to lead an election campaign, we tried to protect our people against attacks."

    The HDP was the target of three suicide attacks over the past five months, including the October 10 twin bombings of an HDP rally in Ankara, which killed 102 people.

    Minor clashes broke out in the mainly Kurdish southeastern city of Diyarbakir Sunday evening with police using tear gas against dozens of HDP supporters.

    In June, HDP, for the first time cleared the 10% threshold, taking seats mostly at the ruling party's expense. But tensions with Turkey's large Kurdish minority have escalated as the deaths of Kurdish rebels fighting the government have mounted.

    Security and stability dominate election concerns

    The HDP favors the resumption of peace efforts to end the Kurdish conflict. The stakes for the peace process are high for the region. Turkey is a key US ally in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group and, since it hosts more Syrian refugees than any other nation in the world, a crucial player in efforts to end the war in Syria and resolve Europe's massive immigration crisis. The US is also relying on allies of the PKK in Syria in its fight against the IS group.

    In the lead-up to Sunday’s poll, security was the main election issue, relegating the economy, corruption and EU accession to the backburner.

    Jana Jabbour, associate researcher at the Paris-based CERI (Centre de Recherches Internationales) and a lecturer at Sciences-Po, attributed Sunday’s election outcome to a number of factors, including AKP discipline, Erdogan’s charisma and “the fact that the opposition was divided and failed to take a clear stand against the PKK”.

    Turnout in the election was about 87 percent among the 54 million people eligible to vote at more than 175,000 polling stations.


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  • Ukraine leader says arrest of oligarch ally just 'the start'

    01/Nov/2015 // 448 Viewers

     AFP/File | Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, pictured on October 25, 2015, has promised to crack down on oligarchs as part of a drive to tackle graft

     

    KIEV (AFP) - 

    Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko warned Sunday that the arrest of a millionaire associate of one of the country's most powerful oligarchs was only "the start" of a fight against the corruption plaguing the ex-Soviet country.

    Guennadi Korban, 45, a businessman and right-hand man of billionaire Igor Kolomoyski, was arrested Saturday as part of a probe into organised crime and corruption.

    "Korban won't be the last," Poroshenko said in a joint interview with three television networks.

    "The fight against corruption and to restore order will continue," he said, vowing "no one will enjoy immunity... neither the representatives of the new dispensation nor the representatives of the old regime" -- a reference to the pro-Russian regime of ousted former president Viktor Yanukovych.

    Korban is being investigated among other things over the reported theft of 40 million hryvnias (1.5 millions euros, $1.7 million) earmarked for Ukrainian soldiers fighting pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country, according to the SBU security service.

    Ukraine's army alleges the money was used to finance private militia.

    Korban's Ukrop party has blasted his arrest as "political repression" targeting "patriots."

    Poroshenko, himself a millionaire businessman, has promised to crack down on oligarchs as part of a drive to tackle the graft that fuelled the street protests which brought down Yanukovych in 2014.

    Last year, he dismissed Kolomoyski -- one of Ukraine's richest men with major interests in banking and energy -- as governor of the eastern region of Dnipropetrovsk.

    The government accused Kolomoyski of setting up his own militia and of trying to take control of a state-owned oil company.

    Saturday's arrest of his associate Korban came a day after an annual wealth list showed Poroshenko's own assets soaring in value to $979 million (889 million euros), despite a deep economic crisis.

    Several dozen Ukrainians travelling in a convoy of vehicles protested Saturday outside the presidential palace in Kiev, demanding tougher action against graft.


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  • Russia holds day of mourning after 224 die in Sinai plane crash

    01/Nov/2015 // 173 Viewers

     AFP / by Samer Al-Atrush with Maria Antonova in Moscow | Russia is holding a day or mourning after 224 people died when a Russian airliner crashed in Egypt's Sinai

     

    CAIRO (AFP) - 

    International investigators have begun probing why a Russian airliner carrying 224 people crashed in a mountainous area of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, killing everyone on board in one of the deadliest Airbus incidents of the past decade.

    Flags will fly at half mast on official buildings in Russia on Sunday and entertainment television programmes will be cancelled as part of a national day of mourning for the victims, most of them Russians aged from 10 months to 77 years.

    Cairo and Moscow have both rejected the claim from a militant group affiliated with Islamic State jihadists that it downed the aircraft flown by the Kogalymavia airline, operating under the name Metrojet, en route from Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg.

    Egyptian Prime Minister Sharif Ismail said experts had confirmed the militants could not down a plane at the 30,000 feet (9,000 metre) altitude the Airbus 321 was flying, while Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov said the claim "cannot be considered accurate".

    The plane's black box data recorders have been recovered and sent for analysis, and late Saturday Sokolov and Russian Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov arrived in Cairo with a team of experts to help with an Egyptian-led investigation.

    Two air accident investigators from France -- Airbus's home country -- are also to travel to Egypt along with six experts from the aerospace giant to help with the probe.

    Germany's Lufthansa, Emirates and Air France all said they would halt flights over Sinai until the reasons behind the crash became clear.

    The plane, carrying 214 Russian and three Ukrainian passengers and seven crew, lost contact with air traffic control 23 minutes after taking off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

    "Unfortunately, all passengers of Kogalymavia flight 9268 Sharm el-Sheikh-Saint Petersburg have died. We issue condolences to family and friends," the Russian embassy in Cairo said.

    - 'Nothing abnormal' -

    Wreckage and dead bodies were found scattered over an area of six to eight square kilometres (two and a half to three square miles), around 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of the town of El-Arish, Egyptian officials said.

    The IS affiliate waging an insurgency in the Sinai claimed it brought down the plane in revenge for Russian air strikes against IS in Syria.

    But experts rejected the idea they would have either the equipment or expertise to hit the charter flight, which an Egyptian official said was flying at some 30,000 feet when communication was lost.

    To reach a plane at that altitude "you would need hard-to-use missiles, so it seems unlikely," added Jean-Paul Troadec, former director of France's BEA aviation investigation agency.

    "This requires trained people and equipment that IS does not have, to my knowledge."

    Experts said a surface-to-air missile strike could have taken place if the aircraft had been descending, but a technical or human error were more likely.

    An Egyptian air traffic control official said the pilot told him in their last exchange that he had radio trouble, but Civil Aviation Minister Mohamed Hossam Kamal rejected reports that the captain had asked to change course before the crash, saying communications had been "normal".

    "There was nothing abnormal... and the pilot didn't ask to change the plane's route," he said.

    Kogalymavia released a statement offering condolences to the families of the victims and defending the pilot, Valery Nemov, who it said had more than 12,000 hours of flying experience, including 3,860 hours on an Airbus A321.

    - 'Keep hoping' -

    Russia has a dismal air safety record, and while larger carriers have started to upgrade their ageing fleets the crash will likely raise concerns about smaller airlines like Kogalymavia.

    Metrojet said the aircraft underwent safety checks last year, and Russian aviation agency Rosaviatsia said there was "no reason to consider that the cause of the disaster was a technical problem or a crew error".

    Russian aviation official Sergei Izvolsky told Interfax news agency the aircraft took off from Sharm el-Sheikh at 5:51 am (0351 GMT) and 23 minutes later failed to make contact with air traffic control in Cyprus.

    At Saint Petersburg's Pulkovo airport, family members faced an anxious wait for news.

    "I will keep hoping until the end that they are alive, but perhaps I will never see them again," said Ella Smirnova, 25, who had come to meet her parents.

    The US, France, the UN and Venezuela all offered their condolences to relatives of the victims.

    The last major air crash in Egypt was in 2004, when a Flash Airlines Boeing 737 plunged into the Red Sea after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh. All 148 people on board, most of them French, died.

    Millions of tourists, including many Russians, visit the resort, but an Islamist insurgency has raged in north Sinai since the army ousted president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

    by Samer Al-Atrush with Maria Antonova in Moscow


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  • 11 migrants, including 6 children, drown off Greece: coastguards

    01/Nov/2015 // 219 Viewers

     AFP | A baby is handed to safety as migrants arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos on October 31, 2015

     

    ATHENS (AFP) - 

    Eleven migrants, including six children -- four of them babies -- drowned on Sunday in a new tragedy off the Greek island of Lesbos, coastguards said.

    Ten of the dead were found in the cabin of the boat, which overturned as it made the hazardous crossing from the nearby Turkish coast, authorities said. The final victim, a young girl, was washed up on the island, where dozens of refugees have died trying to reach Europe in recent days.


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  • Airbnb offers Halloween night in Paris Catacombs

    01/Nov/2015 // 258 Viewers

    Airbnb | The Catacombs are home to the bones of around six million Parisians
     
    Most travellers searching for a room in Paris want a clean, well-lit apartment with a nice view. But for anyone looking for just the opposite, flat-sharing website Airbnb is offering a deeply spooky Halloween experience.
     
    Airbnb, which has some 30,000 apartments listed in the French capital and is fast becoming the bane of the city’s hoteliers, forked out 350,000 euros to list space in Paris’s Catacombs, a public museum that is home to the bones of around six million dead Parisians.
     
    The space for two people is on offer for one night, October 31, for the winners of a competition which Airbnb users can access through the Catacombs’ profile page.
     
    The lucky winners will have a "real bed", dinner with private concert and breakfast included.
     
    "Before bedtime, a storyteller will have you spellbound with fascinating tales from the catacombs, guaranteed to produce nightmares. Finally, enjoy dawn with the dead, as you become the only living person ever to wake up in the Paris catacombs," reads the listing.
     
    In the “house rules”, guests are warned to "respect the Catacombs as you would your own grave". No pets are allowed, the site says, although “you can be assured there will be a monster under your bed”.
     
     

    The two-kilometre-long Catacombs, part of a much larger network of abandoned quarries, were filled up with the bones of the dead at the end of the 18th century when Paris authorities realised that the decomposition of bodies in the city's overcrowded cemeteries had become a health risk.

    "It was said that the wine was turning bad and the milk was curdling," Sylvie Robin, the site's curator, told AFP in an interview last year.

    Some 20 metres under the sewers and metro system, the Catacombs lure some 500,000 visitors a year. They are regularly rented out to film crews and for fashion shows.

    Airbnb, which was launched in 2008 and now has some 40 million users worldwide, recently agreed to pay a tourist tax to Paris from each of its bookings in the city.

    The Paris town hall said the temporary privatisation of the Catacombs would "boost capital by finding new sources of revenue [and allow for] the preservation of this heritage site”.


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  • Thousands march as death toll in Romania disco fire rises

    01/Nov/2015 // 415 Viewers

    Thousands of people marched in central Bucharest on Sunday to honour the victims of a weekend disco fire as the death toll from the tragedy climbed to 30.

    Police said some 10,000 people marched from the city's emblematic University Square to the scene of the blaze, where many were already gathered before a sea of flowers and candles set out by mourners.

    Authorities said three more badly burned victims succumbed to their injuries on Sunday, bringing the death toll from the late Friday blaze to 30, adding that the toll could still rise "significantly".

    "I came to pay homage to those who died and to show my support for those who are fighting for their lives," one marcher in his early 30s, Gabriel Mistodie, told AFP.

    "It was a tragedy caused in a way by corruption, indifference and incompetence... and a sign that things should change in Romanian society."

    Romanian media on Sunday slammed as "irresponsible" both authorities and the owners of the Colectivu nightclub where the fire and subsequent stampede killed 27 on the spot and left nearly 200 injured.

    Some 140 were still in hospital on Sunday, with 35 in critical condition, according to state secretary for health Raed Arafat.

    Investigators say 29 of the injured have yet to be identified.

    President Klaus Iohannis had on Saturday pointed to safety failings at the nightclub, a former shoe factory.

    "It is unimaginable that there could have been so many people in such a (small) space and that the tragedy happened so quickly because simple rules were ignored," he said after visiting the scene. "We already have indications that the legal regulations had not been respected."

    The Evenimentul Zilei newspaper, under the headline "Coincidence, a curse or criminal negligence?", alleged that two other nightclubs belonging to one of the owners of the Colectivu club have also been destroyed by fire in recent years.

    An editorial in the daily Gandul accused authorities of failing to impose stricter safety regulations in bars and discos after similar deadly accidents.

    It blamed the disaster on "irresponsibility" and "unscrupulousness".

    The interior ministry said between 300 and 500 mostly young people had been in the disco.

    Witnesses said fireworks unleashed a blaze that was followed by a stampede as terrified clubbers scrambled to get out through only one exit and that there was no emergency exit.

    Flammable soundproofing

    A representative of the private company that carried out renovations in the industrial building told the DigiTV channel that the club's owners had sought to skimp on security measures to save money, and failed to consult the fire service.

    He said poor quality flammable material was used for soundproofing, which caused the blaze to spread rapidly.

    The disco also did not have the required authorisation to hold concerts or to stage pyrotechnic displays, Arafat said.

    Investigators spent about 10 hours at the scene on Saturday to gather clues.

    "We have collected samples of fabric, soundproofing material and other elements, that we must now analyse," said the head of the team of experts, George Gaman.

    "We have identified those among the injured in hospital whose condition allows them to tell us what happened," the prosecutor's office said.

    According to several witnesses, most of the victims were overcome by thick smoke before being trapped by the flames.

    "To get out I had to dig through the bodies of those who were lying, unconscious, in front of the only exit," one of the survivors, a young man who did not give his name, told Romanian television.

    The tragedy inspired gestures of solidarity across the country.

    In Bucharest and in several large cities, hundreds of people queued up at transfusion centres to give blood for the injured.

    Several musicians and groups also announced that all receipts from their concerts would go to help the victims and their families.


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  • Top French weatherman 'sacked' over climate change book

    01/Nov/2015 // 166 Viewers

    A popular weatherman announced Saturday evening he been sacked by leading French news channel France Télévisions for publishing a book which accused top climate change experts of misleading the world about the threat of global warming.

    Philippe Verdier, a household name in France for his daily weather reports on the France 2 channel, announced in an online video that he had received a letter of dismissal.

    “My book ‘Climate Investigation’ was published one month ago. It got me banned from the air waves,” said the weatherman, who was put “on leave” from the TV station on October 12.

    “I received this letter this morning and decided to open it in front of you because it concerns everybody- in the name of freedom of expression and freedom of information.”

    His announcement comes four days after France Télévisions chief Delphine Ernotte told French MPs that Verdier had been summoned to a formal interview that could lead to his dismissal.

    An employee who picked up the phone at France Télévisions on Sunday morning told FRANCE 24 that there were no PRs present to confirm or deny Verdier’s dismissal.

    ‘Many positive consequences to global warming’

    The controversy around Verdier’s claims has likely been heightened by their timing, with his book coming just weeks before the start of a much-anticipated UN climate change summit, known as COP21, to be held in Paris at the end of November.

    "I put myself in the path of COP21, which is a bulldozer, and this is the result,” Verdier told RTL radio station in October.

    He said he was inspired to write the book after France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius met with TV meteorologists and asked them to highlight climate change issues in their broadcasts.

    “I was horrified by this speech,” Verdier told French magazine Les Inrockuptibles last month.

    In his book, Verdier accuses state-funded climate change scientists of having been “manipulated” and “politicised”, even accusing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of publishing deliberately misleading data.

    He also argues that there are “a great many positive consequences to global warming”, such as lower consumption of fuel used for heating and fewer cold-related deaths in winter.

    “I am being punished for exercising my freedom of expression,” the weatherman told RTL.

    Date created : 2015-11-01


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  • Pope Francis praises secular Sweden over asylum seekers

    01/Nov/2016 // 212 Viewers

     

    MALMO, Sweden (Reuters) - Pope Francis celebrated Mass on Tuesday for Sweden's tiny Catholic community, made up of many refugees and migrants, praising as "blessed" those in this overwhelmingly non-religious nation who take in asylum seekers.

    The main purpose of the pope's two-day trip was to take part in a joint commemoration with Lutherans of the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation.

    After the historic inter-religious ceremony on Monday, Francis turned his attention to largely secular Sweden's record of accepting tens of thousands of asylum seekers last year, in contrast to many other European nations.

    In a football stadium packed with some 15,000 spectators, Francis weaved his homily around Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount," which lists the Beatitudes, but added a few modern twists.

    "Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized and show them their closeness," the Argentine-born pontiff said. "Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others."

    Francis's statement held special symbolism in Malmo, which has become a gateway for thousands of immigrants who have fled from Middle East wars over the last few years.

    The Mass was also a shot in the arm to Sweden's small Catholic community, which numbers only about 150,000 out of a population of about 10 million. That total is less than the attendance for some papal ceremonies in Rome.

    "A decade or so ago, people were even uneasy about wearing crosses, having to explain to Swedes who did not understand," Josephine Kabogoza-Muksoke, a Ugandan-born Catholic, said as the pope drove by in a golf cart around Malmo stadium.

        "That isn't so now. Catholics have more confidence and there are more of us - thanks to immigration."

    ACCEPTANCE AND CRITICISM OF IMMIGRATION

       Thousands of Swedes, many immigrants from Latin America, the Middle East and Asia, had lined up outside the stadium in cold autumn rain.

    Sweden took in 163,000 asylum seekers last year, more than any other European Union state relative to population. Its reputation for tolerance and stability have made it a haven for refugees for decades.

    Polls say Sweden is one of the world's most irreligious nations. In a WIN-Gallup survey last year, around eight in 10 Swedes said they were either "not religious" or "convinced atheists." Surveys show Swedes trust institutions like the tax agency more than the Lutheran Church.

    Still, they have been more accepting of migrants and refugees than Catholic countries such as Poland and Hungary.

    The mood started to change last year, with many Swedes unnerved by reports of rising foreigner crime including gang activity in immigrant-heavy cities.

    Even many liberal Swedes are having second thoughts, put off by reports of crime including sexual assaults by asylum seekers and financial strains on the nation's prized cradle-to-grave welfare system.

    With about 17 percent of Swedes now foreign-born, multi-culturalism has challenged Sweden's comfortable secular identity.

    Concerns about immigration have boosted support for the rightist Sweden Democrats, now backed by around 17 percent of voters in polls, up from the 13 percent they received in a general election in 2014.

    In his homily, the pope also appeared to praise Sweden for its strong defense of the environment and efforts to fight the effects of climate change, saying; "Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home.


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