Monday, 19 September 2011

Former Labour MP Margaret Moran sobs in court

Expenses charge ex-MP Margaret Moran has appeared in court accused of fiddling her expenses by around £80,000.

The 56-year-old former Labour MP, who represented Luton South, faces 15 charges of false accounting and six of using a false instrument.
It is alleged that she "flipped" her designated second home, making claims for properties in London, Luton and Southampton.

Prosecutors also claim that she submitted forged invoices.
Moran appeared at City of Westminster Magistrates' Court on Monday, speaking only to confirm her name and date of birth.

Wearing a dark suit, she could be heard crying in the dock before the hearing.
Moran, who stood down at the last election, will appear next at Southwark Crown Court on October 28.

The charges include an allegation that Moran dishonestly claimed £22,500 to repair dry rot at her Southampton home.
She is also accused of falsely claiming £14,805 for boiler repairs and work on her conservatory.
Prosecutor Louis Mably told the court that the charges involve a total in the region of £80,000.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

France bans Muslim street prayers

A French ban on praying in the street came into force on Friday, driving thousands of Muslim worshippers in northern Paris into a makeshift prayer site in a disused fire brigade barracks, angering a small but vocal minority.

The street-prayer ban has highlighted the problem of a 5-million-strong Muslim community assimilating into  French way of life and traditions, and follows a long-running controversy, fanned by Marine Le Pen, over Muslims forced to lay their prayer mats on the streets in big cities.

Interior Minister Claude Gueant directed Muslims in Paris to temporary spaces made available pending the building of a huge new prayer space and warned that force would be used if necessary as police end their tolerance of street prayers.

Seven months before a presidential election, the ban has struck some in France as an attempt to rally far-right sympathizers to President Nicolas Sarkozy's center-right camp.

At the barracks, Cheik Mohammed Salah Hamza oversaw prayers for Muslims who had migrated from around the city. Worshippers streamed in, spreading their woven prayer mats over the floor of the hangar-like building and out into the courtyard."It's the beginning of a solution," Hamza told Reuters before the start of the service. "The faithful are very pleased to be here.

The space, which holds 2,000, is full."Many worshippers were also upbeat. "This will be better than rue Mryha," said one man, referring to a Paris street renowned for hosting street prayers. "Apparently, it shocked people."

Le Pen has described the growing phenomenon of praying on the streets and sidewalks as an "invasion." "It's Marine Le Pen who started all this," a woman who gave her name as Assya said on her way into the former barracks on the outskirts of Paris. "Now the government has banned street prayers and sent us here so they can gather votes from the National Front party -- that's all.""NO SYSTEM CAN CONTROL US".

In France, where a strict separation of church and state has been in force for a century, public displays of religious activity are frowned upon.Yet efforts by Sarkozy's conservative government to restrict religious displays, such as a ban on full-face veils, have drawn criticism as empty measures that unfairly single out Muslims.

France counts the largest Muslim population of any European country. But only a portion -- about 10 percent, or the same proportion as among Catholics -- are practicing, according to Muslim associations.

As a rule, radical Muslim voices in France are rare, but Friday's prayers in northern Paris drew a small but angry protest from a radical minority more often seen in online posts.

An hour before the first prayer young men with beards, green headbands and banners gathered on rue Myrha to discourage worshippers from moving to the new site."No system in the universe can control us aside from Allah," shouted one young man. "There is more dignity in praying in the grass than in their false mosque," said another.

As the prayers began, dozens of young men belonging to a group called Forsane Alizza disrupted the service with shouts of "Allahu akbar" -- "God is greatest" -- and jostled with security.

In the long run, a new Islamic centre is supposed solve the problem. That is scheduled to be finished by 2013, although the timeline is far from certain.

About 1,800 more mosques are needed for France's estimated 6 million Muslims. The shortages have led to similar problems in Marseille and Nice.

Dutch Government Drafts Burqa Ban Legislation

The Dutch prime minister says the government has drawn up legislation to ban face-covering veils such as the burqa worn by some Muslim women.

Mark Rutte says the proposed ban will be sent to the government's legal advisory body, the Council of State, before lawmakers vote on it, a process likely to take months.

The government said in a statement Friday that the ban aims at "protecting the character and customs of public life in the Netherlands."

If, as expected, parliament approves the ban, the Netherlands will follow in the footsteps of European neighbors France and Belgium in outlawing face-covering veils. While Islamic headscarves are an increasingly common sight on Dutch streets, only a very small number of women wear burqas.

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