$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

EU Not Happy With Facebook, Twitter Consumer Rule Remedies

The European Commission says social media giants Facebook and Twitter have only partially responded to its demands to bring their practices into line with EU consumer law.


The Commission asked the two companies a year ago to change their terms of service following complaints from people targeted by fraud or scams on social media websites.


The EU’s executive arm said Thursday that the firms only partly addressed “issues about their liability and about how users are informed of possible content removal or contract termination.”


It said changes proposed by Google+ appear to be in line with demands.


Europe’s consumer affairs commissioner, Vera Jourova, said “it is unacceptable that this is still not complete and it is taking so much time.” She called for those flouting consumer rules to face sanctions.


$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

VOA Interview: US Envoy Discusses Next Moves in Battle Against IS

Brett McGurk, the U.S. special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter the Islamic State group, has been meeting with partners in Kuwait this week, looking to build on the gains the alliance has made in countering and, in many instances, crushing IS militants in Iraq and Syria. VOA’s U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer spoke with McGurk about where the fight against Islamic State goes next.


Besheer: “Special Envoy, welcome. So you just had this meeting here in Kuwait. Is there a long-term political and strategic road map for countering ISIS and making sure it doesn’t regroup and re-emerge in Iraq and Syria?”

McGurk: “Well, in terms of countering ISIS (IS), you have to take into account where we were three years ago. I remember being here in Kuwait three years ago where nobody thought they’d be able to take back territory from ISIS. They were controlling, really, basically a quasi-state with 7 million people. They were planning attacks all around the world. They were committing acts of genocide, and they were approaching the capital of Baghdad. So, since then, almost 100 percent of their territory has been taken back, and most important, they haven’t reclaimed any of these areas. So in Iraq — the focus of the meetings today, really — 100 percent of the territory in Iraq has been reclaimed from ISIS, so that’s quite extraordinary.

But you ask about whether this will be sustainable. I think I’ll make three points. Number one, they haven’t retaken any territory. Number two, in areas that they have lost, 3.2 million Iraqis — these are almost all Sunni Arabs who fled ISIS — are back in their homes. That’s an unprecedented rate of returns in a post-conflict environment like this.

WATCH: US Envoy Discusses Next Moves in Battle Against IS

And now, today, the third point I make is you see really the entire world coming to help Iraq get back on its feet. And the underpinning of this is an initiative of the Iraqi government with the World Bank. So they have put out to the world, just Monday here in Kuwait, their 10-year vision. It’s a 10-year plan of reconstruction, investment, and the foundational kind of landmark event here to get this started is today. This is just a — this is not the end of the road. It’s really the beginning of the road of a 10-year process of recovery, but I think it’s an encouraging start.

Besheer: But at the same time, [U.S.] Secretary [of State Rex] Tillerson announced, I think, it was $200 million for newly liberated areas in Syria, but none for the newly liberated areas in Iraq. So how does that play into that strategy?

​McGurk: Well, we’re the number one contributor to humanitarian aid in Iraq. We’re the number one contributor in stabilization assistance in Iraq. We’re the number one contributor in military support in Iraq. A lot of our support is still in the pipeline, so of course we have a budgetary cycle of the way these things go, but we also announced yesterday — Secretary Tillerson announced an important signing of the Iraqi Minister of Finance with the EXIM Bank [the Export-Import Bank of the United States, the government’s official export credit agency] ​— about $3.3 billion to support financing for U.S. companies to do business in Iraq. And U.S. companies in Iraq are doing quite well. I mean, General Electric helps provide for almost 60 percent of all of electricity generation in Iraq. So, look, this is going to be a long-term effort.

The one point I want to make out of the conference here, because I’ve read some stories about, well, this is just a one-day event and they have to try to raise $10 billion — that’s not the case. Iraq put out a figure on Monday here that they need about $80 billion over the next 10 years to help finance their reconstruction. They also made very clear that most of their reconstruction assistance will come from their own budget, their own reform process — working with the IMF [International Monetary Fund], working with the World Bank, to reform their own mechanisms. So, they’re really not asking for handouts. They’re asking for a hand up to get themselves moving, and I think so far — of course, the meeting is still going on here, right down the hall — I think so far, the responses have been quite encouraging.

Besheer: So what do you think the game changer has been in the progress you’ve made against ISIS in Iraq and Syria? What was the key to it? Was it the choking [of] the funding or the military or a combination — I mean, what was the game changer?

McGurk: Well, I can go through a whole strategy. We have five lines of effort in the global strategy — we can go through that.

I want to make two points when it comes to Iraq. Number one, a very different way to fight the war on the ground. So when we say by, with and through, we really mean it. This was Iraqi-led. The Iraqis did the fighting, the Iraqis cleared their cities. It was the Iraqis who then held the cities and held the ground, the Iraqis working with local communities. The U.S. forces, coalition forces, were behind helping them and assisting them; we were not doing the fighting on the ground. And I think that model has actually proven to be quite effective.

Number two, we did an awful lot of diplomacy, and a lot of it behind the scenes — but not only to get the whole world organized to combat ISIS globally, to fight their networks, the finances, the foreign fighters, but also to have the region engage with Iraq. So, some of the biggest contributors here just down the hall today are really quite amazing. Turkey, one of the biggest contributors today — $5 billion of reconstruction assistance to Iraq. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE [United Arab Emirates], Kuwait, of course, with $2 billion. If you add all that up, it comes to a little less than $10 billion or so. UAE announced a fairly extraordinary private sector investment of $5 billion for an Iraqi housing project outside Baghdad. So, this engagement from the region was really not happening some years ago, and I give credit really to [Iraqi] Prime Minister [Haider al-]Abadi and his government. They reached out to the region and they helped build some bridges that had been closed.

So Saudi Arabia — you used the word “game changer.” I don’t really use that word too often, but Saudi Arabia for the first time in 30 years reopened its borders with Iraq a few months ago, direct flights from Saudi Arabia into Iraq for the first time in 30 years, and then you saw the investment the Saudis are just making now in Iraq. So, those are the types of shifts that are quite important and that we want to try to encourage to make sure that the defeat of ISIS is enduring.

Besheer: So, ISIS may be down and out in Iraq and Syria, but not so much in places like Libya, West Africa, Afghanistan. So how are you going to replicate the success you’ve had to date in those places? Is it a similar model or does it change with the environment?

​McGurk: It’s a great question. So each region is different, and we look at this — we look at this very carefully. I mean, every single day, 24/7, we’re looking at how the networks are emerging, where people are moving, how they’re getting money. So the one thing we have to do, of course: ISIS tries to be a global network. That’s what makes it different than kind of other terrorist organizations. It has become a metastasized global network. And so what we had to do was build a global network to fight the network. So, yesterday here just in Kuwait, we had all now 75 members of our coalition — Philippines joined just yesterday, so one of the largest coalitions in history — united to work together against this threat. And that’s the counterideology, the countermessaging. It’s the counterfinancing, it’s the counter-foreign fighters. And then we look at each different region of the world and who among the coalition wants to take the lead in that part of the world, and what particular tools might be needed, say, in Philippines versus Afghanistan versus in Iraq.

So every place is different, but by building this international consensus and this international coalition, that’s really the only way to stay ahead of the threat. We’re making progress, but the number one message yesterday in our coalition meetings is that we’ve made a lot of progress in the last three years, there’s no question — but this is not over. And that was the point from almost every delegation we heard yesterday: This isn’t over. We remain united as a coalition. We actually approved — all 75 delegations — a document called The Guiding Principles to guide the coalition as we go forward into the next year. And the key point of that is that this isn’t just about Iraq and Syria, it’s about the global campaign. So there was real unanimity in that room yesterday, led by Secretary Tillerson. And so you know, we’re going to stay at it. This isn’t over, and we’re going to keep our foot on the accelerator.

Besheer: Finally, I just like to ask you about accountability, because that’s a big issue. They found massive graves in liberated areas in Iraq, ISIL/ISIS-liberated areas. What about accountability for the victims of ISIS?

McGurk: So, this is also worth reminding people, what was happening in some of these areas not very long ago — you know, mass atrocities, acts of genocide, destroying our common heritage, thousands of young girls taken hostage and many of them are still missing, and we still meet with the families and we do all we can to find leads to try to rescue as many girls as we possibly can.

But, look, it gets back to the point I just made: We cannot rest against this enemy, and that means not only defeating them, but also following through and making sure that their defeat is enduring and they can’t come back, and that justice is done to those who committed these terrible crimes.

In Syria now, you know, they’re all trying to escape, so we have in Syria detained over 400 foreign fighters, including some of the most notorious former ISIS leaders, and we’re going to make sure that they can never get out. And we’re working with coalition countries and partners, if they happen to be their citizens, about how they are going to be prosecuted, how they’re going to be handled. This is a very difficult issue within our coalition. But we are very much determined that justice will be done for these terrible crimes.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Turkey Poll Shows Strong Support for Ankara’s Military Campaign in Syria 

Turkey’s military incursion into Syria against a Kurdish militia has received overwhelming support, according to a new Turkish opinion poll.

The poll conducted by A&G found Operation Olive Branch, the name of the military operation, had 90 percent support among the Turkish population.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been unwavering in his message that Operation Olive Branch is a national struggle. 

“Only Allah is victorious, and faith is more important than arms. If needed, we’ll fight against the world,” he said Wednesday to an enthusiastic parliament.

Turkey’s mainstream media have all rigidly echoed Erdogan’s stance, following a patriotic line with heavy religious overtones and constant reference to Turkey’s imperial past.

Dissenting voices, particularly on social media — one of the few remaining platforms for independent and critical views —have faced arrest.On Tuesday, 24 people were arrested for postings criticizing the Syrian offensive. More than 400 have been detained.

The aggressive response to dissent is seen by some analysts as government nervousness over the resilience of public support.

“People are supporting, yes. But are the people happy? I would doubt this,” said professor Huseyin Bagci of Ankara’s Middle East Technical University. “Every day, there are coffins, with politicians running from one funeral to another. It will not be easy in the long run for them.”

Operation Olive Branch was launched more than three weeks ago to battle the YPG militia, a group Turkey has called terrorists linked to a decades-long insurgency inside the country.

“There is a national pride among Turks for this operation,” said Cengiz Aktar, a Turkish political scientist. “We can safely say today, he (Erdogan) will win all the upcoming elections this year and next year.”

By 2019, Turkey will have faced triple polls — local, general and presidential. Speculation is rife that Erdogan will call early elections to take advantage of the current nationalist euphoria. 

How widespread public support is for Operation Olive Branch, and if the current national fervor automatically results in votes for Erdogan, are questions analysts say are likely weighing on him.

Recent opinion polls indicate little change in support for Erdogan or his ruling AK party, despite overwhelming public backing of the military operation. While Erdogan has a comfortable lead over his political rivals, polls show he is still short of the required 50 percent plus one vote needed to win re-election.

Retired Gen. Ilker Basbug, Turkey’s former chief of the general staff, warned Erdogan against seeking political advantage.

“Our soldiers are fighting and being killed in Afrin,” he said. “Now is not the time to discuss politics when our soldiers are fighting and being killed.” 

Since the launch of Operation Olive Branch, 31 Turkish soldiers have been killed. Analysts point out that there have been few spontaneous public displays of support in Turkey’s main cities, something that has traditionally been seen in previous military operations against Kurdish militants. 

“History teaches us the more the conflict lasts and the dead come every day, the government will have difficulties,” said Bagci. “This is already happening. Let’s talk about what the surveys (say) in two or three weeks.” 

Opposition party leaders are now trying to distance themselves from the military operation, while being careful not to be seen as disloyal to soldiers fighting in Syria. 

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition CHP, called on Erdogan to negotiate with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over the offensive. That stance was supported by Meral Aksener, head of the newly formed right-wing iYi Party. Erdogan has dismissed both calls.

Before the launch of Operation Olive Branch, polls showed economic concerns were the priority of voters. 

Potentially troubling for Erdogan was a December survey (by polling firm Metropol) that found only half of AK Party supporters considered living standards had improved since the 2015 election. Unemployment remains stubbornly in double digits, despite a surging economy fueled by cheap government loans. Inflation is also at a decade high. 

With the likelihood of more casualties in Syria and the absence of a quick victory, analysts suggest Erdogan more than ever will scour the polls for any changes in public sentiment.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Reports: Russian Military Contractors Killed in US-Led Attack in Syria

Russian military contractors were among those killed when a U.S.-led coalition drone destroyed a Russian-designed tank in eastern Syria, Russian and U.S. officials said. 

“We detected and saw a tank that took a shot at us,” Lieutenant General Jeffrey Harrigian, the head of U.S. Air Forces Central Command told reporters said via teleconference from Qatar.

“It continued to move, so we… executed self-defense rules of engagement to protect ourselves.”

Without mentioning the U.S. strike, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday “Americans have taken dangerous unilateral steps.”

“Those steps look increasingly like part of efforts to create a quasi-state on a large part of Syrian territory — from the eastern bank of the Euphrates River all the way to the border with Iraq,” he said.

Reuters reported the names of at least two Russian men fighting informally with pro-Assad forces who were killed in the incident in Deir al-Zor province, citing interviews with their associates.

However, Harrigian refused to speculate on the composition of the hostile force. He also wouldn’t even confirm whether Russian nationals were among the dead in the attack.

The attack comes  just days after U.S. forces for several hours used drones and B-52 bombers against several hundred “pro-regime” fighters equipped with artillery and a tank in Deir el-Zour province, an area in eastern Syria where the last IS fighters have converged among oil fields. 

Russian media have been reporting that dozens of Russians were among those killed when the U.S.-led coalition conducted air and artillery strikes on Feb. 7, killing an estimated 100 pro-regime fighters, according to a coalition statement.

The coalition described its action as being carried out in “self-defense.”

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

US Defense Secretary to Press European Allies on Military Spending

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis will press European allies on Wednesday to stick to a promise to increase military budgets as the United States offers an increase in its own defense spending in Europe.

For the first time, NATO countries have submitted plans to show how they will reach a target to spend 2 percent of economic output on defense every year by 2024, after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to withdraw U.S. support for low-spending allies.

Fifteen of the 28 countries, excluding the United States, now have a strategy to meet a NATO benchmark first agreed to in 2014 in response to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region, following years of cuts to European defense budgets.

It is unclear whether that will be enough to impress Trump when he attends a NATO summit in July.

While France plans to increase defense spending by more than a third between 2017 and 2025, Spain has said it will not meet the 2024 target, while Belgium and Italy are also lagging.

A multibillion-euro projected increase in Germany will not be enough to take Berlin up to 2 percent by 2024.

Mattis is expected to take a tough stance, according to Katie Wheelbarger, principal U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.

“He will address those who don’t have national plans to meet 2 percent and suggest they really need to develop those plans,” she told reporters.

Mixed message?

The issue of low military spending in Europe has long been an irritant in Washington. But Russia’s military modernization, Islamist militancy and electronic warfare on computer networks have underscored Europe’s heavy reliance on the United States.

According to NATO data, Britain, Greece, Romania and the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania meet, or are close to, the 2 percent goal, while France and Turkey are among those countries set to reach it soon.

One area of tension lies in the language of the NATO spending pledge of 2014. Allies committed to “move towards” 2 percent, while Trump now says 2 percent is the “bare minimum.”

Trump has also set an example by proposing a $1.7 billion increase in military expenditure in Europe for 2019, as the United States leads NATO efforts to deter Russia.

But U.S. officials have also sown confusion about their support for a new defense pact to coordinate European Union defense policy and allow countries to club together to buy arms.

Wheelbarger warned that “we don’t want to see EU efforts pulling requirements or activity away from NATO and into the EU.” The U.S. envoy to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, said there were concerns that U.S. defense companies would be shut out.

“We do not want this to be a protectionist vehicle for the EU,” she said of the proposed pact.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

With No Time for Brexit, Macron Sets Out to Redraw EU Political Map

French President Emmanuel Macron said he would not waste too much of his time on Brexit and would instead seek to redraw the map of “ossified” EU politics by launching an initiative of European progressives for EU elections next year.

The 40-year old president, who blew apart France’s traditional two-party system last year by propelling his newly-formed centrist movement to power, called for the same alliance of “reformists” to join forces at the European parliament in Strasbourg.

Macron’s comments come after EU lawmakers rejected a proposal he backed for pan-EU lists of candidates for seats in the European Parliament.

“It shows there’s an ossification and a willingness to defend party interests rather than democratic ones,” he told the Elysee Press Corps in a two-hour question-and-answer session that touched on topics ranging from Brexit to his wife Brigitte.

‘Redrawing’ needed

Macron said the current groupings in Strasbourg — including the conservative PPE and the Social-Democrats of the PES — no longer shared common values and were split between eurosceptics, populists, and progressives.

“There are inside these political parties incoherences that block us,” Macron said.

“I think Europe would be better off democratically with a redrawing of the political map,” he said, adding that he would come up with a new initiative to regroup “progressives” and “reformists” together in EU elections next year.

Asked how he would seek to influence politics inside an institution where his Republic On the Move party currently has no lawmaker, he said the picture might look very different after the next elections.

“It’s totally possible to set up your own group and I believe that European reformists have a vocation to federate around them other movements,” he said.

Must stay united

On Britain’s plan to exit the EU, Macron said it was important for the remaining 27 countries to remain united and let the Commission’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier deal with the British government.

But he indicated his impatience at a topic that has dominated the EU’s agenda, adding: “I don’t want to waste too much time on the issue.”

At a time when European capitals are preparing to promote their own nationals for strategic posts coming open next year at the top of EU institutions, Macron said he would not make a priority of finding jobs for French candidates.

He said he did not care about the nationality of the next head of the European Central Bank, as long as he or she was as competent as its current chief, Mario Draghi.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

UK Charity Watchdog to Probe Oxfam Amid Sex Abuse Claims

Britain’s charity watchdog has begun an inquiry into how Oxfam handled allegations of sexual abuse in Haiti in 2011.


The Charity Commission says documents provided by Oxfam suggest that the charity may not have “fully and frankly disclosed material details about the allegations at the time.”


The investigation comes after the resignation of Oxfam Great Britain’s deputy chief executive, who apologized to the government, donors and the people of Haiti amid reports that Oxfam staff paid for sex while working among people devastated by a 2010 earthquake.


David Holdsworth, the commission’s deputy chief executive, says “issues revealed in recent days are shocking and unacceptable. It is important that we take this urgent step to ensure that these matters can be dealt with fully and robustly.”

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Trial Rekindles Debate on Age of Sexual Consent in France

A 29-year-old man is set to appear in a French court Tuesday for having sex with an 11-year-old girl last year, in a trial that has rekindled debate on the age of sexual consent in France.


In a decision that shocked many, the prosecutor’s office in the Paris suburb of Pontoise decided to send the man to trial on charges of “sexual abuse of a minor under 15 years old,” and not rape.


If convicted of sexual abuse, the suspect faces up to five years in prison. Rape of a minor under 15 is punishable with up to 20 years in prison.


The case is the latest of several that prompted an uproar over France’s rules on child sex abusers, considered too lax by child rights and feminist groups.


The cases led French President Emmanuel Macron’s government to propose a bill that would introduce a minimum legal age for sexual consent for the first time, and include a provision saying that sex with children under a certain age is by definition coercive.


The minimum age hasn’t yet been decided on, but the cutoff could be between the ages of 13 and 15. The bill, a broad-based measure aimed at fighting “sexual and sexist violence,” is expected to be presented to the French Cabinet next month.


In the case to be heard in Pontoise on Tuesday, the girl’s family filed a complaint for rape after the incident in April in the town of Montmagny, in the suburban Val-d’Oise region.


But the prosecution considered that the suspect did not use violence or coercion. French law defines rape as any act of sexual penetration committed “by violence, coercion, threat or surprise.”


Defense lawyers have said the man and the girl met in a small park and that the girl voluntarily followed the man into an apartment block and freely consented to have sex with him. They’ve also claimed that their client, then aged 28, thought the girl was over 15. The girl is now 12.


A lawyer for the girl’s family has said she was too young and confused to resist. Lawyers for the family are expected to ask the court to re-characterize the charge from sexual abuse into rape. If the presiding judge grants their request, the case may be sent back to investigators and the trial postponed to a later date.


A similar recent case caused disbelief and outrage. A French criminal court in November acquitted a 30-year-old man who was accused of raping an 11-year-old girl in 2009. The jury in the Paris suburban region of Seine-et-Marne found that the man didn’t use violence or coercion.


The subject of sexual misconduct has drawn fresh attention in France and worldwide since rape and sexual assault allegations were made against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein.



$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Anti-Migrant Anger Intensifies in Bad Tempered Italian Election

For years Ponte Milvio, an ancient bridge spanning the Tiber river in northern Rome, has been associated with romance. Couples attach ‘love padlocks’ on the bridge and throw the keys into the river so they’ll be locked together forever. 

Last week, though, love was not on the minds of masked fascists who unfurled a banner near the bridge paying tribute to an extremist gunman who wounded half a dozen migrants in a February 3 drive-by shooting 200 kilometers from the Italian capital.

“Honor to Luca Traini,” the black lettering on the white banner read in reference to the 28-year-old Neo-Nazi skinhead who wounded six migrants during a shooting spree earlier this month in the small central Italian town of Macerata. 

“The exposure of the banner in Ponte Milvio is a deplorable act,” tweeted Rome’s mayor Virginia Raggi. “Violence is never justified,” she added. 

But in the run-up to parliamentary elections on March 4 many Italians, including right-wing populist politicians, appear eager to blame migrants for any acts of violence against them, explaining attacks on the migrants as expressions of frustration at a ‘migrant invasion,’ the issue uppermost in the minds of voters two weeks out from the polls, according to pollsters.

On the election hustings Matteo Salvini, the head of the League Party, has been turning up the heat in his courting of the anti-migrant vote. Traini was a one time regional candidate for the League and while Salvini condemned the shooting he did so as much by blaming migrants for provoking the assault for the “chaos, anger” and “drug dealing, thefts, rapes and violence” they have brought with them.

Since the shooting, which Traini carried out after the rape and murder of a Macerata teenage girl allegedly by Nigerian immigrants, Salvini has ratcheted up his demands and called for mass repatriation of migrants. Campaigning in Umbria Friday he called for the shuttering of hundreds of unlicensed mosques in Italy, describing Islam as “incompatible with our values, rights and freedom.” There are 1.7 million Muslims living in Italy and the government has licensed just a handful of mosques. Most Muslims worship in make-shift mosques set up in vacant shops and businesses or apartments. 

Salvini has ignored pleas from the Catholic Church and ministers with Italy’s Democratic Party government to temper his increasingly bellicose rhetoric demanding a “stop to the invasion.”

His party was called the Northern League until he decided to drop the goal of seeking secession for the more affluent north of the country and to court voters in the south, who he once castigated as parasites. Now independence for the north has given way to an unmitigated focus by the League on what Italy should do about the 600,000 migrants who have arrived in Italy in the past four years.

Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was meant to be a moderating influence on Salvini and populists in another party, Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), who he’s in an electoral alliance with, but in the wake of the Macerata shooting, he too has has announced that all 600,000 migrants should be expelled, although he has stopped short of calling for the closure of mosques. Commentators say he’s determined to ensure his Forza Italia party will secure a bigger share of the vote than the League. 

Winning votes

Berlusconi’s deal with his election partners is that the leader of the party which secures the most votes will become the next prime minister, if as appears highly possible the right-wing electoral alliance is able to form a coalition government. 

“Those who justify incidents like the one in Macerata throw open the door to a return of fascism,” said the country’s transport minister Graziano Delrio. Non-profits working with migrants say they are finding it increasingly difficult to secure cooperation from local municipalities and are encountering obstruction when they apply to open offices. 

On the streets of Italian cities neo-fascists certainly appear emboldened, adding more toxicity to a notably bad-tempered election. On Saturday, an anti-Fascist march in Macerata was disrupted by members of Forza Nuova, a Neo-Nazi group Traini was once a member of, who staged a muscular counter demonstration in the town’s medieval piazza and scuffled with police while chanting slogans of the Benito Mussolini era and brandishing the stiff-armed Roman salute of their grandparents. 

Neo-fascist and anti-migrant violence has been bubbling away for years. There have been reports of increasing street physical and verbal attacks on migrants and foreigners. Official hate crime records collated by the interior ministry have shown a sharp rise, from 71 hate crimes in 2012 to 803 in 2016. 

But rights campaigners say the official figures are a tip of the iceberg. 

Two years ago just meters from where neo-fascists unfurled their banner lauding Luca Traini, a 45-year-old French woman resident in Italy was beaten up by two Italians in their mid-twenties, who broke one of her legs in several places. Eye-witnesses say that as they beat her up, her assailants yelled, “We are National Socialists”, “We are the Aryan race.”

Ordinary Italians who demonstrated courtesy just a year ago to migrants in their midst are increasingly disgruntled when encountering them on their streets or when they panhandle outside supermarkets. 

Tightening his tattered jacket closer as he tries to keep the cold out, twenty-four-year-old Abeo, a Nigerian who arrived in Italy via Libya a year ago, says Italian shoppers curse at him when he asks for spare change outside a supermarket on the Via Cassia near Ponte Milvio. “They seem very angry,” he says.

Despite his name meaning bringer of happiness in his native Yoruba language, Abeo clearly doesn’t bring joy to any to Italians scurrying past him to their cars. 

Anna-Maria, a 45-year-old housewife swings her grocery bag in Abeo’s direction as she explains she will be breaking her habit of voting for the left in the forthcoming election. “The Democratic Party has done nothing to end the invasion,” she said. “These migrants are not us. We don’t have enough money for ourselves and our kids can’t get jobs. Enough is enough,” she said.