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An illegitimate government carries out death sentences and Mussolini's heirs are rushing to power

25-7-2022 |

Fresh - freshly squeezed news from the international press. We prepare it 3 times a week.

France24: Brothers of Italy, the far-right party on the cusp of power

The only party in opposition during the reign of technocrat Mario Draghi’s national unity government, the post-fascist Brothers of Italy, looks set to do well in Italian elections on September 25, making party leader Giorgia Meloni the favourite to become Italy’s next prime minister.

Widely favoured to become Italy’s first female prime minister, Meloni makes repeated use of her signature slogan at rallies:

“I am a woman, I am a mother, I am Italian, I am a Christian and you will not take that away from me.”

The Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni
Photo: Getty Images 

Born in Rome’s working-class Garbatella district to a Sicilian mother and a father from Sardinia – a world away from the city’s elites – the Brothers of Italy leader is now reaping the rewards of betting on making her party the sole opposition force to Draghi after he formed his grand coalition in February 2021.

Brothers of Italy leads among Italy’s political parties with 23 percent after a slow but steady ascent, according to Politico’s polling aggregate.

“For a year and a half, whatever discontent Italians have had, it’s had only one outlet: Brothers of Italy,” said Marc Lazar, an Italy specialist at Sciences Po University in Paris. “That’s why it made great progress in local elections and is now one of the country’s leading parties, as the polls show.”

The Brothers of Italy currently edges out the centre-left Democratic Party by just one point. But collectively, the far right and right carry much more weight than the other side of the political spectrum.

Meloni’s party was founded in 2012 as the successor to the National Alliance, which rose from the ashes of the 1946-1995 Italian Social Movement formed by members of dictator Benito Mussolini’s National Fascist Party.

Meloni denies any link with Mussolini’s ideas but is careful not to condemn his rule.

“Meloni has been an activist in post-fascist politics since her youth,” said Piero Ignazi, a professor emeritus at the University of Bologna and an expert on Brothers of Italy. “The party’s identity is, for the most part, linked to post-fascist traditions. But its platform mixes this tradition with some mainstream conservative ideas and neoliberal elements such as free enterprise.”

But Brothers of Italy does have some members who are nostalgic for the Duce’s rule, and its Secolo d’Italia newspaper has made ambiguous statements on this chapter of the country’s history.

However, Meloni has distanced herself from the leader who became Adolf Hitler’s puppet and eventually shot by Italian partisans.  

Presenting itself as the guarantor of the family and of Italian national identity, Brothers of Italy endorses pro-natalist policies to deal with the country’s low birth rate, proposing the creation of free nurseries and the introduction of a €400-per-month family allowance. 

Meloni has opposed gay civil partnerships and wants to close Italy’s ports to migrants arriving from Libya. 

She is close to Hungarian nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban as well as the French far-right National Rally and Spain’s Vox. Meloni also has ties with the US far right, having attended the 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference and the National Prayer Breakfast alongside ex-president Donald Trump.

Now Meloni has also softened her stance on some issues, pledging to safeguard access to abortion in Italy, a reversal of her earlier positions.

Meloni has also displayed firm support for Ukraine and the Atlantic alliance since the February 24 Russian invasion, creating a contrast with the more equivocal positions of both Salvini and Berlusconi, both of whom have links with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Brothers of Italy has also greatly toned down its anti-EU stance; the party does not favour leaving the bloc or even the Eurozone, saying it prefers a “Europe of Nations”.

Meloni may be finding this position easier to endorse now that Italy is benefitting from nearly €200 billion in EU Covid recovery funds.

“Meloni is making the post of her coherent programme and her substantial work ethic,” Lazar said. “Meloni is the only woman in a very male environment; she organised an inter-party convention in May, surrounding herself with intellectuals and politicians on the right but not necessarily the far right. This helps present her as a suitable candidate for prime minister.”

BBC: The secret mission to save LGBT Afghans

"They said they were going to look for LGBT+ people. They had names, they had addresses, they were searching homes, stopping people on the street."

Ali (name changed) has spent his life being cautious. If officials in his home country of Afghanistan ever found out he was bisexual, he could have been arrested and taken to court.

But when the Taliban seized control of the country a year ago, he knew he had to leave. Under their interpretation of Sharia law, homosexuality is punishable by death.

Almost overnight, people like Ali began being actively hunted.

"They are not primitive like you think they are. They can hack phones, they can look at your messages, even a simple song could have been enough to get you in trouble."

Shortly after the Taliban regained power, Ali and about 30 others were evacuated in a highly secret mission, organised by the UK government and charities, which BBC News can reveal details of for the first time.

As the Taliban took over, Bella - a teacher from Afghanistan who had kept the fact she was transgender secret all her life - scrambled for a way out of the country.

"Maybe the Taliban would kill me by stone, or by fire, maybe hanging or [pushing me] off a high building," she said.

She contacted Rainbow Railroad, a Canadian organisation that helps LGBT+ people escape persecution.

But with embassies closed and chaos in the streets, the plan to get Bella to safety took several weeks to put in motion.

It was a race against time as Rainbow Railroad worked with UK charities and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) to get vulnerable LGBT+ people on the final few flights leaving Kabul.

Bella spent those tense days at home, only leaving the house to get food, until she was told she had a place on an evacuation flight.

With only one set of spare clothes, her passport and a cover story about going abroad for medical treatment, she made her way to the airport.

She knew she was taking a "huge risk" by even leaving her house but that staying in Afghanistan meant "100% facing death".

At the airport, she was searched by the Taliban multiple times.

"The atmosphere was so cold, so frightening and stressful," Bella said.

Bella boarded the plane feeling relieved but worried about family members she was leaving behind. She also felt lonely, especially as she was still keeping her gender identity a secret - but on that same flight were others in her situation.

At that point, none of them knew each other and they had no idea which country they would eventually end up in.

After a top-secret evacuation BBC News follows a small group of LGBTQ+ Afghans settling in the UK.

Ahmed (name changed), who is gay, flew in the same group as Bella.

"Everyone was desperately trying to find any way to get out of Afghanistan because it was the only chance to stay alive," Ahmed says.

He remembers hearing of people "rushing" to the airports - but at first was too frightened to leave himself.

Christian Turner, the British High Commissioner for Pakistan and one of several foreign diplomats involved in the mission, said: "It was very clear as we were looking at events unfold during August in Kabul that we'd have to support those at risk.

"Those moments when they were travelling were always nervous ones, whether people are going to make it, would they get through the authorities to fly or cross the border? They were obviously very scared and traumatised."

MPs have described the UK's overall withdrawal operation from Afghanistan as a disaster that failed to prioritise some of the most vulnerable until it was too late.

Despite that, the UK government was the first in the world to offer an evacuation programme specifically for LGBT+ people. This came after meeting with charities such as Stonewall, who were being inundated with requests for help.

After leaving Afghanistan, Bella, Ali, Ahmed and their companions were held in another country while their paperwork was processed before travelling to the UK. Their exact route has not been disclosed for safety reasons.

The BBC approached the Taliban for comment, but they did not respond.

UPI: The price of dissent - Myanmar's military regime rxecutes 4 people

Myanmar executed four anti-coup activists including a former lawmaker, its military junta announced Monday, sparking widespread condemnation over the country's first use of the death penalty in decades.

Well-known democracy activist Kyaw Min Yu, known as "Ko Jimmy," and lawmaker Phyo Zeya Thaw of Aung San Suu Kyi's ousted National League for Democracy party were among those killed under charges of "brutal and inhumane terror acts," the government's information ministry said.

Former NLD lawmaker and hip hop artist Phyo Zayar Thaw, 2016
Photo: Nyein Chan Naing/EPA

The four defendants were executed "according to prison procedures," the ministry said. No further information was provided on how or when the killings occurred.

"I am outraged and devastated at the news of the junta's execution of Myanmar patriots and champions of human rights and democracy," Tom Andrews, the United Nations' human rights envoy for Myanmar, said in a statement.

"These individuals were tried, convicted and sentenced by a military tribunal without the right of appeal and reportedly without legal counsel, in violation of human rights law," Andrews said. "These depraved acts must be a turning point for the international community."

Ko Jimmy, 52, and Phyo Zeya Thaw, a 41-year-old lawmaker who was also a trailblazing hiphop artist in Myanmar, were sentenced to death in closed door trials in January. The other two men executed, Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw, were convicted in April 2021 for allegedly killing a military informant.

"The Myanmar junta's execution of four men was an act of utter cruelty," Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. "This horrific news was compounded by the junta's failure to notify the men's families, who learned about the executions through the junta's media reports."

According to the United Nations, the executions were the first in Myanmar since 1988. At least 114 people have been sentenced to death under the military junta, which overthrew the elected civilian government of the Aung San Suu Kyi-led NLD on unsubstantiated charges of voter fraud in February 2021.

Civil disobedience and nationwide protests sprung up immediately after the coup, which the junta brutally suppressed and have since hardened into an internal conflict that some describe as a full-fledged civil war.

Rights groups accused the military of using the executions to attempt to demoralize the anti-coup movement.

"It is clear that these executions are made to strike fear among representatives of the democratic forces and political activists who oppose the junta," Tom Villarin, a former Philippine lawmaker and board member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said in a statement.

"Many political prisoners are subjected to torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and now there are dozens of prisoners in Myanmar jails who could be executed at any moment," he said.

According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, the junta has arrested nearly 15,000 civilians and killed 2,114.

A March report by the U.N.'s human rights body found that the military's abuses in Myanmar may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Reuters: Monkeypox vaccine from Bavarian Nordic wins EU approval

Danish biotechnology company Bavarian Nordic (BAVA.CO) said on Monday the European Commission had given permission for its Imvanex vaccine to be marketed as protection against monkeypox, as recommended last week by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The approval comes just one day after the World Health Organization issued a high-level alert declaring the rapidly spreading monkeypox outbreak as a global health emergency.

"The availability of an approved vaccine can significantly improve nations' readiness to fight emerging diseases, but only through investments and structured planning of the biological preparedness," Bavarian Chief Executive Paul Chaplin said.

Bavarian's vaccine, the only one to have won approval for the prevention of monkeypox disease in the United States and Canada, has in the EU so far only been approved to treat smallpox.

But the company has supplied the vaccine to several EU countries during the current monkeypox outbreak for what is known as "off-label" use.

The approval is valid in all European Union Member States as well as in Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway, Bavarian Nordic said in a statement.

The development of Imvanex was made possible through significant investments from the U.S. government during the past two decades, the company added.

Bavarian's share price has risen by 122% in the last three months, driven by strong demand for the monkeypox vaccine.

Picked and squeezed for you: Irina Iakovleva